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Poultry Industry Proposes Speeding Up Slaughter Times

The National Chicken Council says allowing poultry processors to operate at faster speeds would not create food-safety issues. (Pixabay)
The National Chicken Council says allowing poultry processors to operate at faster speeds would not create food-safety issues. (Pixabay)
December 11, 2017

ANNAPOLIS, Md. -- The poultry industry is proposing changes that would allow faster line speeds in factories. But opponents are asking what the impacts might be, both for workers and consumers.

The National Chicken Council has petitioned the U.S. Department of Agriculture to grant increased line speeds to poultry processors. The current limit is 140 birds per minute, but the industry prefers 175 birds per minute, or about three per second.

Debbie Berkowitz, senior fellow at the National Employment Law Project, said if the USDA approves the proposed changes, poultry plants across the country could increase their line speeds - which would have consequences for product safety and quality.

"The United States Department of Agriculture sets the line speeds in poultry industry to protect consumers,” Berkowitz explained; "because you want to make sure that the inspectors have time to look at the birds, to do the testing that they need to do, to make sure consumers are protected."

The USDA is accepting public comment on this proposal through Wednesday, December 13.

The National Chicken Council says plants need higher line speeds to keep up with international competitors. But Berkowitz said she predicts the higher pace also would jeopardize worker safety in an already dangerous industry.

She said poultry workers perform their duties at breakneck speeds as it is.

"They have among the highest numbers of reported severe injuries, such as amputations,” she said. "They have illness rates that are five times the average for all industries, injury rates that are 1.5 times as high as all industries."

The poultry industry contends that workers aren't at greater risk from increased line speeds. Berkowitz said another hazard workers face is exposure to the growing use of chemicals on birds to kill pathogens.

She questioned whether the change even is legal. According to Berkowitz, the USDA studied the current limit for line speeds for three years during the Obama administration, and found it should be kept where it is.

"It would be like you petitioning as a consumer, 'I'd like to be exempt from the speed limit on this highway on my way home, because I know in other states they have higher, you know, miles per hour that they allow,’” she said. "I mean, this is just a ridiculous request."

Public comments are being accepted at Regulations.gov.

Trimmel Gomes, Public News Service - MD