Washington, DC - On Friday afternoon, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) announced it stopped accepting additional requests for poultry slaughter line speed waivers. This announcement comes in advance of an FSIS plan to propose a new rule to raise the chicken line speed cap .to 175 birds per minute for all plants.
Because many slaughter plants failed to provide workers with proper protective equipment or to enforce pandemic safety protocols, food workers are now contracting some of the highest numbers of coronavirus cases in the nation. As reported by Bloomberg, almost 1,000 USDA food inspectors, or about 15% of the workforce, are currently unable to work for coronavirus related reasons.
In response, Tony Corbo, Sr. Government Affairs Representative for Food & Water Action issued the following statement:
“Don’t let FSIS pull the wool over your eyes. The agency is closing poultry line speed waivers in order to pave the way to raise the line speed caps for all poultry plants. In fact, since the coronavirus pandemic began, FSIS approved record numbers of line speed waiver requests - clocking in at 16 chicken plants in March and April. In total, the agency has approved 53 chicken and 15 turkey line speed waiver requests since 2012.
“These faster line speeds mean FSIS inspectors on chicken slaughter lines have to inspect 3 birds per second all on their own and plant workers have to hang carcasses on the slaughter line faster. It also means that process workers have to work faster to break those carcasses down into chicken parts. You don’t need over 67 trial runs to know faster inspection equals less effective inspection and more on-the-job injuries.
“If FSIS follows through with its plans to raise the line speed caps, they’re dooming our already struggling food system to an even more disastrous future. Poultry inspectors are what stand between consumers and dangerous diseases, including diseases that can move from animals to people. If this pandemic has made anything clear, it’s that our public safety agencies should be enforcing policies that create less dangerous conditions for food workers and stronger food inspection standards, not worse. Line speeds should be capped so that trained USDA inspectors staffing those lines can perform adequate inspection to protect consumers.”