Biden repeals USDA proposal to increase poultry-processing line speeds
Washington — President Joe Biden on Jan. 22 signed an Executive Order withdrawing a controversial U.S. Department of Agriculture proposed rule that would have permitted line speeds at certain poultry-processing plants to increase to 175 birds a minute from the current 140.
Under the proposal, submitted Nov. 6 to the White House Office of Management and Budget by the USDA Food Safety Inspection Service, plants operating under the New Poultry Inspection System would have been allowed to increase line speeds if “certain criteria” were met.
Long-standing opponents of accelerated line speeds contend the maneuver would have compromised the health and safety of poultry workers, especially amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The National Employment Law Project, an advocacy group, supports the reversal of the proposal, which came late in the Trump administration.
“This is a true victory for all of the 250,000 poultry workers in the U.S. – the majority of whom are Black, Latinx and immigrant workers – and for the coalition of worker rights, public health, consumer rights and animal welfare groups that has fought the line speed increases for the past four years,” Debbie Berkowitz, program director for workers safety and health at NELP, said in a press release.
The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union also praised the move. In a statement, UFCW President Marc Perrone listed the withdrawal of the poultry line speed increase proposal among the Biden administration’s early actions that display “the type of commitment to the health and safety of frontline food workers that the American people expect and deserve.”
The National Chicken Council, which represents the poultry industry and is an established advocate of unrestricted line speeds, maintains that operating at speeds of up to 175 bpm is a long-standing and safe industry practice.
According to annual data released Nov. 4 by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the total recordable rate among workers in the industry was 3.2 cases per 100 full-time equivalent workers – down from 3.5 per 100 FTE workers in 2018. Additionally, the total rate of 3.2 was below both the rate for the food manufacturing sector (4.0) and manufacturing at large (3.3), NCC states.
In a statement, Ashley Peterson, senior vice president of scientific and regulatory affairs at NCC, indicated she expected the initiative.
“This action by the administration is a standard process that every incoming administration does – issue a temporary regulatory freeze to assess all rulemakings currently underway, review them in light of administration priorities and then decide whether to move forward,” Peterson said. “We are hopeful that it will move forward.”
Peterson added that rescinding the rulemaking “would hamstring the U.S. poultry industry on a global scale.”