In February 2020, AWI, along with Farm Sanctuary, Animal Legal Defense Fund, Animal Outlook, Compassion in World Farming, Farm Forward, and Mercy For Animals sued the US Department of Agriculture, alleging three causes of action. First, the USDA denied the plantiffs’ petition for rulemaking, which asked the department to end the cruel practice allowing the slaughter of pigs who are unable to walk or move on their own (frequently referred to as “downed,” “nonambulatory disabled,” or “NAD” animals). Additionally, the USDA failed to investigate and regulate the humane treatment of nonambulatory pigs as required by Congress.
In 2002, Congress amended the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act (HMSA) to require the USDA to take regulatory actions to prevent inhumane handling at slaughter of “livestock”—which is defined to include pigs. Under the Federal Meat Inspection Act (FMIA), the USDA is similarly required to prevent the sale of meat unfit for human consumption. As argued in the petition, the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), which was delegated these duties by the Secretary of Agriculture, has failed to meet these statutory mandates by allowing the slaughter of NAD pigs to continue.
NAD pigs are much more likely to experience abuse at slaughterhouses relating to handling and moving the animals. Abuses observed by the FSIS itself include pigs being electroshocked, prodded, kicked, shoved, and dragged by workers attempting to force the animals to move. NAD pigs are also at a higher risk of carrying human-transmissible pathogens because they are held longer than ambulatory pigs, often in feces-ridden pens.
Because NAD animals are at a higher risk of being abused and transmitting disease in violation of the HMSA and the FMIA, the USDA banned the slaughter of NAD calves in 2016. Plaintiffs seek the same protection for pigs.
The plaintiffs’ petition requested that, in order to meet its obligations under the HMSA and FMIA, the FSIS engage in rulemaking to end the slaughter of NAD pigs. Unfortunately, on September 16, 2019, the FSIS denied plaintiffs’ petition, stating that its existing regulations and inspection procedures “are sufficient and effective” in ensuring that NAD pigs are humanely handled and in preventing diseased animals from entering the food supply. Plaintiffs were unsatisfied with this outcome, and chose the last resort of suing the agency to force it to address its failures under the law.
The USDA then filed a motion to dismiss the plaintiffs’ complaint for a lack of standing. The district court denied the motion in June 2021 because the plaintiffs proved the USDA’s actions forced the organizations to divert substantial resources to combat the agency’s unlawful activity. The case can now proceed and the court will hear the merits of the case.
Case Name: Farm Sanctuary v. Perdue
Nature of Case: The lawsuit, filed in the US District Court for the Western District of New York, asks the court to order the USDA to investigate and report on nonambulatory pigs, and to promulgate necessary regulations based on those findings. The complaint also asks the court to set aside the USDA’s denial of the plaintiffs’ rulemaking request, per the Administrative Procedure Act’s requirement that agencies not engage in arbitrary decisionmaking.
Court: US District Court, Western District of New York
Year Filed: 2020
Plaintiffs: Animal Welfare Institute, Farm Sanctuary, Animal Legal Defense Fund, Animal Outlook, Compassion in World Farming, Farm Forward, and Mercy for Animals
Defendants: Sonny Perdue (in his official capacity as Secretary of Agriculture), US Department of Agriculture, Food Safety and Inspection Service, and Paul Kiecker (in his official capacity as Food Safety and Inspection Service Administrator)
- USDA-FSIS denial of rulemaking petition
- Petition for rulemaking
- Denial of motion to dismiss