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Feds Deny Poultry Industry Request To Increase Work Speed

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has denied a petition by the National Chicken Council to remove the speed limit on work at some slaughterhouses, a move that food safety advocates are calling a victory for workers and consumers. 
As the Ohio Valley ReSource reported in October, the National Chicken Council proposal could have increased the line speed for some workers in processing plants where accidents and injuries are already a concern.
Since then the USDA received more than 100,000 public comments and this week the department’s Food Safety Inspection Service turned the petition down.  
“This is a direct rebuke of the poultry industry, whose business model is to sacrifice worker health in order to reap profits,” Debbie Berkowitz said. Berkowitz is a former senior official with the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration who is now a senior fellow with the worker rights group National Employment Law Project.
Berkowitz and other food safety and worker rights advocates opposed the council’s petition, which the poultry industry said would have increased efficiency and modernized systems.  
In September, the council petitioned the USDA to allow plants that operate under what’s known as the New Poultry Inspection System a waiver that would remove the current limit of 175 birds per minute. But the Food Safety Inspection Service’s Acting Administrator Paul Kiecker said the council’s proposal is redundant.  
“We currently have a procedure in place for waivers and we would expect to follow that,” he said. “We don’t want to set up any kind of a separate procedure that is strictly for line speed waivers for chicken plants.”
So far only 20 poultry processing plants operate under the optional inspection program, and some evidence indicates those plants have issues with worker and food safety.
A recent report by the advocacy group Food & Water Watch found that 30 percent of plants under the new system failed performance standards for salmonella. Andfederal data show that one Pilgrim’s Pride plant in Moorefield, West Virginia, operating under the new system had five severe injury reports in a two-year period. That’s a higher injury rate than in any other similar facility in Kentucky, Ohio and West Virginia.
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