October 18, 2021


USDA denial of poultry handling rule subject to Administrative Procedures Act review


A US federal judge in Rochester, New York, has ruled that he can review the denial of a rulemaking petition that suggests the United States' Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) should prohibit behavior that has the potential to cause birds to die other than by slaughter.


FSIS denied the petition in 2019, saying its humane handling authority does not extend beyond poultry slaughter establishments. The Animal Welfare Institute (AWI) and Farm Sanctuary, represented by Harvard Law School's Animal Law & Policy Clinic, appealed the denial of the rulemaking petition in August 2020.


USDA asked the US District Court for Western New York to dismiss the complaint, but district judge Charles J. Siragusa opted to keep the case alive.


"Consistent with the Supreme Court's reasoning, the Court finds in the present case that FSIS' denial of plaintiffs' rulemaking petitions was not an agency decision that has been precluded from judicial review as an action committed to agency discretion under the APA (Administrative Procedures Act)," Siragusa said. "Rather, FSIS' denial is subject to the Court's review to determine whether it must be set aside as arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with the law."


In addition to denying USDA's motion to dismiss the case, Siragusa ordered the department to "file and serve an answer to plaintiff's complaint within 30 days of the date (October 13) of this order."


AWI and Farm Sanctuary said they sued USDA to address "systematic mistreatment" of poultry at slaughter, which can compromise food safety and meat quality in violation of the Poultry Products Inspection Act (PPIA),


"This ruling moves us one step closer to improving poultry product quality and helping to protect the vast majority of land animals who are routinely abused on the slaughter line," said Dena Jones, AWI's farm animal programme director. "Each year, nine billion chickens and turkeys are killed for food in the United States, yet the USDA does virtually nothing to limit their pain and suffering at slaughter."


AWI claimed government enforcement records document that "tens of thousands of birds suffering excruciating deaths before they even reach the slaughter line."

Exposure to extreme weather, blunt force trauma and asphyxiation are cited as pre-slaughter causes of death.


The plaintiffs also claimed slaughter plant employees routinely engage in intentional acts of cruelty and can "forego humane handling practices with little, if any, consequences."

Not everything in the judge's ruling goes against USDA.


Siragusa said he does not agree with the animal activists when they said the US Secretary of Agriculture "shall promulgate such other rules and regulations as necessary to carry out the provisions of the PPIA."


The judge added that the secretary has "a broad degree of discretion."


Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack has taken the place of his predecessor, Sonny Perdue, as the top defendant in the lawsuit.

- Food Safety News