WASHINGTON – A group of 70 congressional lawmakers, led by Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Representatives Jim Hagedorn (R-Minn.) and Dusty Johnson (R-SD), penned a letter recently that urged the US Department of Agriculture and the Department of Justice to pursue legal action and push back on a recent federal court ruling regarding US pork processing plants’ line speeds.

“While the economic impact to these packers will be significant, it is the nation’s small and medium-sized hog farmers who will suffer the greatest harm from upstream impacts,” the members wrote to the USDA and DOJ. “It is imperative that USDA act quickly, and pursue all available options, to prevent this reduction in packing capacity which is set to take place at the end of June.”

Earlier in the year, a federal court in Minnesota vacated a provision of the New Swine Slaughter Inspection System (NSIS) that enabled pork processors to establish maximum line speeds.

In late May, the Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) said plants that operate under the NSIS should prepare for a maximum line speed of 1,106 head per hour by the end of June.

Later in the letter, the lawmakers said that by removing the rule six plants would have to reduce their output and purchase fewer hogs. 

“As the hog production cycle spans nearly a year, hogs set to enter this reduced-capacity market are already being raised,” the letter said. “Farmers have little ability to alter their supply in the next year. Many farmers supplying these NSIS plants will need to find alternative destinations for their hogs. The resulting surplus and reduced demand in a concentrated geographic region will shift economic power to pork processing companies.”

A few months ago, pork industry advocates, including the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC), asked the USDA to reconsider the ruling as it would impact smaller hog producers. The trade association also wanted a stay while the appeal was considered.

NPPC said the ruling to strike down a provision in the NSIS reverses a 2019 decision to approve and implement faster line speeds. The group also added that the pilot program dates back to the Clinton administration and has continued throughout subsequent administrations in an effort to update the inspection system that had not been updated in more than 50 years.