Federal agencies Food Manufacturing

Groups oppose USDA proposal to eliminate line-speed limits in pork-processing plants

Swine modernization
Photo: United States Department of Agriculture

San Diego — A U.S. Department of Agriculture proposal to remove maximum line speeds in pork-processing plants “will translate into even more illness and injury” among workers, according to the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health.

A Jan. 19 press release from National COSH cites data showing that meatpacking workers experience occupational illnesses at a rate 17 times higher than the national average. Heightening the fast-paced work performed on meatpacking lines would increase the risk of disabling injuries such as amputations and musculoskeletal injuries, including carpal tunnel syndrome, the organization claims.

“Workers who bring food to our tables deserve safety and dignity on the job, and consumers deserve and demand safe food,” Jessica Martinez, National COSH co-executive director, said in the release. “Raising line speeds in pork-processing plants will only make a bad situation worse.”

Submitted Jan. 19, the proposed rule is part of a USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service movement to modernize swine inspection systems by amending federal regulations and creating a voluntary inspection system. The current maximum line speed at pork-processing facilities is 1,106 hogs per hour.

In the proposed rule, USDA cites analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics data showing that establishments operating under the similar Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point Inspection Models Project have “demonstrated that they are capable of consistently producing safe, wholesome and unadulterated pork products while operating at these line speeds.”

Debbie Berkowitz, senior fellow at the National Employment Law Project, issued a statement Jan. 19 calling the proposed rule “yet another example of the Trump administration rigging the rules against workers and being perfectly willing to sacrifice workers’ health to benefit corporate interests.”

USDA will accept public comments on the proposed rule for 60 days after its publication in the Federal Register.

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