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Agencies bicker over NIOSH poultry study

Washington – NIOSH Director John Howard is accusing the U.S. Department of Agriculture of misinterpreting a recent NIOSH study on increased poultry-processing line speeds and the effect on worker safety.

In an April 7 letter to USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service Administrator Al Almanza, Howard criticized a recent blog post in which Almanza suggested the study indicated line speeds were “not a significant factor in worker safety.” The Food Safety and Inspection Service is pursuing a rule that would increase poultry line speeds, a move opposed by several worker advocacy groups.

Howard said the study – which examined a single poultry facility – shows that although the line speeds increased, the number of birds processed by each worker remained the same. Additionally, he said, the study did not cover a long enough time period to observe changes in health status due to the altered speeds.

In a statement to Safety+Health magazine, a USDA spokesperson said the study shows that increased line speeds at the facility did not increase injuries and also illustrates how a plant can change its processes to maintain birds-per-minute numbers.