USDA Urged to Reject Line-Speed-Increase Requests from Poultry Plants

Washington, DC—Twelve national organizations representing poultry workers, worker rights advocates, workplace safety experts, and consumer health advocates sent joint letters today urging the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (USDA, FSIS) to reject four requests from chicken processing plants that they be allowed to circumvent a 2014 rule and increase their line speeds.

The joint letters stated that the facilities’ request to operate at faster line speeds than allowable by law is “inconsistent with the Department of Agriculture’s waiver regulations, undermines the rule making process, violates the Administrative Procedure Act, as well as endangers workers and consumers alike.”

They further stated that “overwhelming evidence supports the conclusion that allowing poultry processing establishments to operate with faster line speed limitations would dramatically worsen the already unsafe worker conditions in poultry plants.”  The letters concluded that because the four requests meet “none of the requirements under FSIS’s waiver regulations, and because granting the request would likely be arbitrary and capricious in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act, we urge FSIS to reject the request.”

The four companies that had submitted waiver requests (which were obtained by Food and Water Watch through Freedom of Information Act requests) to be exempt from the 2014 USDA rule’s line speed requirements are a Pilgrim’s Pride plant in North Carolina, Ozark Mountain Poultry in Arkansas, Gerber Poultry in Ohio, and Peco Foods in Arkansas.

The 12 organizations submitting the joint letters opposing the line speed increases include A Better Balance, Center for Progressive Reform, Consumer Federation of America, Food and Water Watch, Interfaith Worker Justice, International Brotherhood of Teamsters, National Council of Occupational Safety and Health, National Employment Law Project, Oxfam, Public Citizen, Southern Poverty Law Center, and the United Food and Commercial Workers Union.

In addition, yesterday Senator Patty Murray (WA) and Representative Rosa De Lauro (CT) sent a letter to Carmen Rottenberg, acting deputy undersecretary for food safety, urging FSIS to abandon its new policy for waiving rules limiting line speeds for certain plants. The letter states, “Poultry workers suffer work related injury and illnesses at 60 percent higher than the average worker…. These are among the most vulnerable and exploited workers in the country, and FSIS must prioritize their welfare and safety when crafting line speed rules.”

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