The People Have Spoken: USDA Should Withdraw Its Proposal to Roll Back Protections in the Meatpacking Industry

Following is a statement by Deborah Berkowitz, senior fellow for safety and health with the National Employment Law Project:

“Now that the comment period has closed, the U.S. Department of Agriculture should take heed: more than 83,000 members of the public submitted comments on the USDA’s proposal to roll back worker protections and consumer safeguards in hog slaughter plants, with the overwhelming share opposed to this dangerous proposal to radically alter the way meat is inspected.

“The reason for this outpouring of public opposition is clear:  this is a misguided and dangerous proposal that would directly threaten the safety of tens of thousands of hog slaughter workers, jeopardize public health, and endanger animal welfare. The message, too, is clear: the Trump administration must reject any increase in line speeds in hog slaughter plants and withdraw this rule.

“The Trump administration is proposing a radical change in food safety inspection that, the administration admits, would not actually increase food safety. Instead, the proposal ignores facts and science, and would return packinghouses to the days of Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle by weakening current protections for the sole purpose of increasing corporate profits. The rule would actually undermine food safety, increase serious work-related injuries, and roll back animal welfare protections—all to line the pockets of already rich corporate executives.

“By allowing an unprecedented increase in production line speeds, the proposal threatens public health and would dramatically increase serious injuries in an industry where the workers, who are mostly immigrants and people of color, already face injury and illness rates that are among the highest in the country.

“This proposed rule is a travesty. It is simply beyond comprehension that the USDA would ignore the human costs to workers, their families, their communities, and the broader consuming public in its zeal to side with corporate special interests.

“A broad and diverse coalition of dozens of organizations and individuals—representing academia, occupational doctors, hog slaughter workers, animal welfare advocates, food safety experts, consumer organizations, community organizations, unions, worker rights organizations, and interfaith organizations—came together to oppose the Trump administration’s misguided proposal.”

(Following is a partial list of national organizations that submitted comments opposing the USDA rule: United Food and Commercial Workers Union, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Food and Water Watch, the Consumer Federation of America, the Center for Science in the Public Interest, Economic Policy Institute, National Employment Lawyers Association, the AFL-CIO, Legal Aid Justice Center, Interfaith Worker Justice, Southern Poverty Law Center, Association of Occupational and Environmental Clinics, Center for Progressive Reform, Public Citizen, ASPCA, Compassion Over Killing, Mercy for Animals, National Employment Law Project, The Humane Society, National Council on Occupational Safety and Health, Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, The Center for Biological Diversity, Food Chain Workers Alliance, and APHA’s Occupational Health Section.)

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