(CN) - Food and Water Watch, a food safety advocacy group, lacks standing to challenge new poultry plant inspection rules issued by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a federal judge ruled.
The new rules, which were announced on July 31, 2014, give poultry plant operators more of a role in inspecting slaughter chickens for quality defects.
Officials with the Agriculture Department's Food Safety and Inspection Service contend this approach is more efficient than the prior inspection regime, will free up inspectors, allowing them to better monitor overall plant processes, and verify compliance with food safety rules.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack endorsed the plan saying it is crucial to modernize the nation's poultry inspection process.
Under the plan, poultry plant workers will now sort poultry carcasses, which will now be presented to only one federal inspector at the end of the slaughter line.
Food and Water Watch contended the new inspection regime will place consumers at a greater risk of disease.
But in a lengthy ruling, U.S. District Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson said that "[while this Court has no doubt about the sincerity of Plaintiffs' belief that the regulation adopting the MPIS is a bad rule that will lead to unwholesome poultry products, the Court is also fully cognizant of its limited power to address Plaintiffs' concern under the circumstances presented here.
"That is, because Plaintiffs have filed this suit in a court of limited jurisdiction, they must demonstrate at the outset that they have, or will have, an injury-in-fact that is traceable to the actions of the Defendants and that relief from this Court can address," Jackson continued. "This court concludes that Plaintiffs have failed to mount this hurdle."
"Whatever the merits of the allegations that the new poultry-processing regulation is a policy that the USDA should never have adopted, this court finds that such 'injury' precisely the type of generalized grievance that Article III counts are not empowered to consider," he concluded.
Jackson nevertheless went on to review the assertions of the plaintiffs, which also included consumers Margaret Sowerwine and Jane Foran, at length.
In regard to their contention that poultry producers staff members will be less willing or able to make proper judgment calls about poultry quality, Jackson found that these 'fox guarding the henhouse' assertions of increased risk ... appear to be both unsupported and overblown."
He went to say the plaintiffs' assertion that data collected during a pilot project revealed an increased risk of harm to poultry consumers fared no better, criticizing the plaintiffs' "myopic view" of the data "that homes in on a few areas in which the processing plants with modified rules scored lower than establishments with the traditional inspection systems, while missing the larger and far more significant conclusion to be drawn from the agency's interpretation of the data: that the agency anticipates an overall reduction in food-borne illnesses under the new inspection system."