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Public Citizen v. U.S. Department of Agriculture (NSIS)

Public Citizen submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) seeking records concerning swine slaughter plants’ intent to operate under the agency’s “New Swine Inspection System” (NSIS)—which allows plants to run their lines at whatever speed they choose, and reduces the number of federally employed inspectors in each plant.  FSIS responded that it had identified seven pages of responsive records, but it withheld them in full, asserting that the records fell with FOIA exemption 4 because they “contain commercial or financial information that is customarily treated as private by the business submitters.” On April 24, 2020, Public Citizen appealed this determination, arguing that FSIS improperly narrowed Public Citizen’s request and that exemption 4 did not apply to the records at issue because FSIS did not provide the plants with an assurance of privacy and the plants did not treat their participation in NSIS as confidential information.

After the statutory deadline for USDA to rule on our appeal passed in May 2020 without a response or any indication of when FSIS would respond, we filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to compel FSIS to produce the requested records. In September and October 2020, FSIS produced responsive requested. The parties agreed to settle the case in November 2020.