Coalition to USDA: Withdraw unsafe poultry-processing rule

Washington – A coalition of consumer, labor, public health and civil rights groups is calling on the U.S. Department of Agriculture to withdraw a proposed rule that would increase poultry-processing line speeds, claiming the rule would put workers at risk of injury.

In a Sept. 20 letter (.pdf file) to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, the coalition cited a recent study that found 59 percent of poultry workers had definite or possible carpal tunnel syndrome when line speeds were 70-91 birds per minute. Increasing line speeds to 175 birds per minute, as the rule proposes, would lead to more workers developing carpal tunnel syndrome and other repetitive motion injuries, the coalition states.

Although NIOSH will carry out a study on the impact that increased line speeds have on workers, the coalition suggested the study – which will be limited to one facility and will take three-and-a-half years – would not be timely or comprehensive enough.

The coalition also said OSHA should have been consulted on the rule. “Considering the impact the proposed changes would likely have on workers, OSHA should have substantive input into the proposal to assure worker protections,” the letter states.

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