Tyson Foods accuses USDA of ‘negligent inspection’ of hogs

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Food processor Tyson has filed a federal lawsuit against the United States Department of Agriculture, accusing a government employee of falsifying inspections for over 4,600 hogs.

In court documents filed Tuesday, Tyson Foods alleges Dr. Yolanda Thompson, a USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service inspector, signed off on ante-mortem inspections in March 2018 of 4,622 hogs at the company’s Storm Lake plant. 

The inspections are meant to determine whether or not an animal is “safe from chemical and drug residues, and capable of being converted into safe wholesome products fit for the use and enjoyment of the consumer,” Tyson Foods writes.

“Unbeknownst to Tyson Storm Lake management, Dr. Thompson conducted negligent ante-mortem inspections of the hogs prior to slaughter,” the complaint reads. “Video footage obtained later revealed that Dr. Thompson never entered the pre-slaughter holding area to perform an in-person visual inspection of the hogs … Instead, Dr. Thompson remained in her vehicle, signing the inspection cards without entering the holding area to examine the hogs.”

Tyson notified the United States District Court for the Northern District of Iowa, Western Division that the USDA denied its SF-95 claim for damages in November 2018. Tyson says management was “unaware that Dr. Thompson was negligent” in conducting the inspections. 

As a response to the inspections, Tyson had “no choice but to destroy the negligently inspected carcasses and those with which they had been commingled, salvaging portions of the product for non-food related purposes at a greatly reduced rate”, according to the complaint. 

Tyson concludes that USDA’s negligence resulted in $2,408,961.07 of damages, including: 

• $1,971,616.61 gross loss due to contaminated product, with only a portion of the loss ($120,612.32)  offset by rendering some of the meat into nonedible products—net loss of $1,851,003.29

• $314,905.63 in cancelled sales primarily related to offal and lard that had been sold to third parties within the brief window of time between when the hogs were slaughtered and when Tyson was notified of the negligent inspection

• $50,070.85 in freight and temporary storage fees pending destruction of the product

• $51,468.25 related to overtime hours worked on an emergency basis to segregate, render, or otherwise destroy the product

• $213,513.04 due to reduction in normal processing activities while diverting resources in response to the emergency

Tyson Foods alleges the USDA and federal government are responsible for damages on four counts: Negligence, Negligent Inspection, Negligent Retention and Negligent Supervision.

“Prior to the time that Dr. Thompson conducted the negligent inspection, other USDA and/or FSIS employees and inspectors were aware of deficiencies in the quality, scope and integrity of Dr. Thompson’s inspection practices,” Tyson Foods writes. 

The complaint also notes that Dr. Thompson had difficulty walking, and that her normal inspection site was the much smaller turkey processing plant.

The federal government has until June 5 to file a response to Tyson Foods’ complaint.

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