Food & Water Watch filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) for denying repeated requests for data and critical records used to create the agency’s New Swine Inspection System (NSIS).
The NSIS, finalized in September 2019, is a fundamental gutting of the country’s food-safety system finalized in September 2019. It removes swine inspection responsibilities from government control and into the hands of the pork industry. Government employees who were previously assigned crucial animal and carcass inspections will now be replaced by plant employees.
Food & Water Watch submitted four separate FOIA requests during the new inspection rulemaking process. USDA dragged its heels in responding to the requests for the last 20 months, even though the agency had granted expedited processing so that the information requested ostensibly could be made public and available for the public to comment. It failed to disclose records, ignored clarification requests, and released inaccurate, non-responsive records. With one of the requests, the agency went so far as to indicate that it was simply quality checking the data before its imminent release, only to deny the request altogether, reversing course and claiming it does not track the requested data.
Now the new rule has been finalized without revealing how it will truly affect public health.
In answer, Food & Water Watch Senior Staff Attorney, Zach Corrigan said:
“The USDA does not want the public to know how these rules threaten public health and the extent to which the agency papered over these impacts with its problematic studies. FOIA exists to protect the public from such under-the-table threats to public health and safety by requiring agencies to disclose the information supporting their decisions. The USDA’s violation of FOIA is a serious threat to the safety of food and cannot go unchecked.
“The new pork rule undermines hog slaughter inspection and will mean more food contamination in this country. The USDA should, at the very least, provide the data and information that it used to give the pork industry its newly granted unchecked freedom to produce and serve Americans more unwholesome pork.”
Full complaint here: https://www.foodandwaterwatch.org/sites/default/files/usdafoialawsuitstamped.pdf