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February 08, 2018
Feds reject industry request for faster poultry line speeds

An agency of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has rejected a petition by the National Chicken Council to waive speed limits at U.S. poultry plants.

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The following statement was issued by USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS): “After careful review and consideration, we are denying the National Chicken Council’s petition. FSIS has existing policies and detailed procedures for the submission of new technology notifications and protocols for waivers to the 140 bpm (birds per minute) line speed, and establishing a separate system would be redundant.”

The decision was applauded by groups including the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), which called it “an important victory for poultry workers in this current climate of deregulation and corporate welfare.” SPLC contends that many health and safety problems in poultry processing are rooted in fast speed lines “and the unrelenting pace of work that they demand.” The organization submitted comments opposing the waiver request and met with USDA officials as part of a coalition of worker advocacy groups.

In its petition, the National Chicken Council requested that poultry establishments participating in certain government inspection and safety programs be permitted “to operate without the arbitrary line speed limitations.” The industry group explained in its petition that a waiver would encourage more establishments to opt into the New Poultry Inspection Program (NPIS). It was established in 2014 for young poultry slaughter plants. It established a line speed maximum for participants of 140 birds per minute.

The National Chicken Council maintained that the waiver would permit establishments to choose to operate at appropriate line speeds, removing competitive barriers with international chicken producers and creating a “level playing field within the U.S. chicken industry.”

For its part, the Southern Poverty Law Center says, “Poultry plants consistently put production and profits above worker health and safety. This leads to repetitive motion injuries like carpal tunnel syndrome and prevents workers from taking breaks to use the bathroom as needed.”

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