In response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request filed by Food & Water Watch on December 9, 2019, USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) on February 14, 2020, refused to disclose information made by a hog slaughter facility to convert to the controversial New Swine Inspection System (NSIS) (see attached). FSIS argued that it was exercising its authority to withhold the documents because their disclosure would compromise confidential business information of the applicant.
FSIS finalized the rule establishing NSIS on October 1, 2019, and it took effect on December 2, 2019. The rule directs hog slaughter plants that wish to convert to the new inspection system to submit their requests to FSIS by March 30, 2020. Food & Water Watch has been filing weekly FOIA requests since December 9, 2019, to ascertain which plants have filed such requests. The FSIS response on February 14 was the first and only response to Food & Water Watch’s FOIA requests.
In the past, FSIS had withheld records that would disclose the identities of poultry slaughter plants that were seeking to switch to the similar privatized New Poultry Inspection System because the agency claimed these records were also confidential. FWW sued FSIS in 2017 and the agency agreed to settle and release all of the withheld records. There is no reason to believe that the hog-slaughter companies would think their decision to opt into NSIS is any different and that their identities would not be disclosed pursuant to FOIA.
In response, Tony Corbo, Senior Government Affairs Representative for Food & Water Watch said:
“It took FSIS two months to come up with this lame excuse. What is FSIS trying to hide? The agency and its industry allies have alleged the New Swine Slaughter Inspection System would improve food safety. Yet, when the public tries to find out which hog slaughter facilities want to convert to the new inspection system, the government is withholding the information. If NSIS is so great, why the secrecy?”
“It’s no secret that FSIS and Food & Water Watch have had a ‘love affair’ for the past 15 years, but this was not the Valentine’s Day greeting we expected. Needless to say, we will appeal the FSIS decision to withhold the documents and we will continue to file our weekly FOIAs on this matter,” continued Corbo.
NSIS is the subject of three lawsuits filed by work safety, animal welfare and environmental, and food safety advocates, including Food & Water Watch.
Food & Water Watch has filed a separate lawsuit for information FSIS failed to disclose supporting the proposed NSIS rule.