40 Groups Urge Agriculture Secretary to Oppose Increasing Line Speeds in Poultry Plants

Current rate of 140 birds per minute already dangerous;
Increase would jeopardize workers’ & consumers’ safety

Washington, DC—Forty organizations, representing the civil rights, public health, consumer protection, labor, employer, nonprofit, and faith-based communities, today issued a letter to Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue urging him to oppose any increase in line speeds in U.S. poultry plants above the current rate of 140 birds per minute—which they say already exposes the nation’s 250,000 poultry workers to serious risk of injury.

The evidence is clear that any line speed increase would jeopardize the health and safety of both poultry workers and consumers at large; the faster the line speed, the greater the risk of harm, said the groups.

The letter details the already staggeringly high injury rates in U.S. poultry processing plants, where, due to breakneck line speeds, workers are injured at almost twice the rate of workers in private industry overall and face illness rates over seven times the national average. And according to the letter, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has already noted that these injury rates are likely underreported.

The letter also takes issue with unsubstantiated claims by Congressman Doug Collins (R-GA), who has requested that the USDA raise line speeds to 175 birds per minute—or three birds per second. Contrary to Congressman Collin’s recent statement claiming that USDA pilot programs allowing such an increase yielded positive results, no such outcomes can be found. In fact, the U.S. Government Accountability Office strongly criticized the USDA for the lack of credible evidence emerging from the pilot program to support its claims that higher line speeds are safe for workers and consumers.

Further, the congressman’s claim that this line speed increase is necessary to compete with German and Belgian factories that allow faster line speeds also does not bear out, as these countries are not permitted to export their poultry to the United States. Moreover, the poultry from these foreign plants has particularly high levels of Salmonella and Camplylobacter contamination.

“Poultry workers already face grueling work conditions and shockingly high injury rates. Bumping up the poultry processing line speed to 175 birds per minute—or a striking 3 birds per second—will only invite more worker amputations, hospitalizations, and injuries—not to mention increasing the risk of meat contamination,” said Minor Sinclair, director of Oxfam America’s US Domestic Program.

“Consumers are paying attention to where their food comes from. Treating poultry workers fairly is not only the just and ethical thing to do—it makes good business sense. Increasing the line speed would be a major step backward for workers and consumers alike,” said Sinclair.

“The USDA has already studied the issue of whether to increase poultry line speeds, and it adopted a rule in 2014 that rejected an increase because of the danger it poses to workers,” said Debbie Berkowitz, senior fellow for worker safety and health with the National Employment Law Project and a former OSHA senior official.

“Any attempt to change this 2014 rule would be further evidence that this administration is intent on bending the rules to benefit rich corporations at the expense of the wellbeing and safety of workers and consumers,” said Berkowitz.



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