July 21, 2018

Legislators Angry About Increased Poultry Line Speeds

According to Food and Water Watch, congressional leaders and poultry workers have asked the Obama administration to stop the USDA from letting poultry plants increase line speeds. The new regulations, which were announced two years ago, will increase line speeds from 140 birds per minute to 175, despite a lot of evidence that this speed is a primary contributor to worker injuries. OSHA does not regulate line speeds or enforce safety rules for poultry plants; the USDA is the only federal agency involved in this area.

Chicken CarcassesThe coalition, which includes Center for Effective Government and Center for Progressive Reform, is also stating that this increase will make workers less able to identify and remove tainted chicken. Hilary O. Shelton, director of the NAACP Washington Bureau said in a statement, “we are deeply concerned about the implications of the proposed policy on the safety and well-being of workers and consumers. Furthermore, the proposed elimination of federal inspectors from the processing lines can potentially lead to a significant decrease in the quality of chickens in our supermarkets and restaurants and on our dinner tables.”

The new regulations, known as HIMP, have been promoted as an attempt to “modernize” the poultry industry. They would also remove hundreds of federal inspectors from processing lines, and replace them with company employees who receive no training.

A Southern Poverty Law Center survey of 302 current and former poultry factory workers in Alabama found that 72% suffered a “significant work-related injury or illness.” Those injuries include carpal tunnel syndrome, knife cuts, and respiratory illnesses. The poultry industry reports 20,000 repetitive cutting, pulling, grabbing, or hanging motions per shift. Alabama is the country’s third-largest poultry producer.

Tony Corbo, senior lobbyists at Food and Water Watch said, “this step is not only bad for workers, it’s terrible for consumers. It’s the first step in deregulating meat inspections, which means fewer consumer and worker protections.”

Janet Murgui, president and CEO of the National Council of La Raza said, “safer food begins with safer workplaces. Instead of advancing a proposal that would make already dangerous workplaces even more hazardous, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez must work together to improve worker safety in the poultry industry.”┬áThe recent Foster Farms Salmonella chicken outbreak and last month’s recall of more than 8 million pounds of adulterated Rancho Feeding Corporation beef highlight the concerns of this group.

 

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