A major food workers’ union praised President Joe Biden for withdrawing a rule that would have permanently allowed U.S. poultry producers to kill more chickens per minute. Industry trade groups said the speeds were safe.
Donald Trump’s administration in its waning days had pushed to install the rule, which would have upped potential chicken-slaughter rates to 175 birds per minute from 140. Just three days after Trump lost his re-election bid in November, the U.S. Department of Agriculture submitted its proposal to speed chicken lines by 25%.
Critics have said elevated line speeds, which were already in place in some plants that were given waivers to do so, increased already high rates of injuries for meat plant workers and also potential Covid-19 infection rates. Social distancing would require fewer workers on each line, which means it takes longer to process the animals.
The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union supported the move by Biden while the trade groups National Chicken Council and North American Meat Institute said plants operating at faster speeds were safe and effective.
“This policy change is a critical step to putting worker safety ahead of industry profits as these plants continue to face elevated risks while Covid-19 cases surge nationwide,” the UFCW, which represents 1.3 million workers in food plants, grocery stores and other front line industries, said in a statement Monday.
The National Chicken Council said not allowing the elevated line speeds would be ignoring science.
“The modernized system has been studied, debated, and reviewed in depth for 25 years to assure its effectiveness in further modernizing chicken inspection while improving food safety and protecting workers,” Ashley Peterson, senior vice president of scientific and regulatory affairs of the NCC, said in a statement. “While the poultry industry has been safely increasing line speeds over the past 25 years, our injury and illness rate has fallen 86% and is now at an all-time low.”
The meat institute said that it’s customary for a new administration to withdraw proposed rules so they can be reviewed.
“In this case, FSIS will have plenty of data from decades of experience that show establishments can operate at lines speeds of up to 175 birds per minute while maintaining exceptional food and worker safety standards,” Sarah Little, a spokeswoman for NAMI, said in a statement.
–With assistance from Mike Dorning.
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