USDA: Don't Let Chicken Packing Plants Operate Their Conveyor Belts Twice As Fast

The safety of our nation's workers is as important as the quality of meat we produce. We cannot sanction lost fingers, broken arms and severe musculoskeletal injuries for $90 million.
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In response to the United States Department of Agriculture's proposed guidelines that would allow poultry processing plants to operate conveyor belts at a maximum of 175 chickens per minute, or twice the speed at which they currently operate:

These measures would make working conditions even more dangerous for poultry plants workers and would negatively impact the industry's 300,000 workers. Meatpacking is already one of the most dangerous jobs in our country, the main source of danger being the dangerous speed at which conveyor belts operate, according to Human Rights Watch and the Southern Poverty Law Center. The Food Empowerment Project explains, "When you combine sharp tools and automated machinery in a high-paced, crowded environment, injuries are inevitable." A 22-month investigation into poultry processing in the Carolina by the South Carolina Charlotte Observer found that workers broke limbs and tore off their fingers.

The United States Department of Agriculture does not have any guidelines to protect poultry plant workers' safety. Rather, worker safety guidelines fall under food sanitation guidelines, although these are not the same things.

In 1999, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that chicken slaughtering and processing workers had the fifth highest rate of repeated-trauma injury, at an average of 337 per 100,000 workers. A 2007 study by Duke University found that 43 percent of workers surveyed suffered from musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs), which The Nation reported can be so severe that one worker could not even hold a glass of water and another's thumb joint had almost disappeared.

By removing Food Inspection Service agents from the production lines, corporations will be left to enforce safety protocols and report injuries on their own. It is doubtful that they will do this with their workers' safety in mind given that the Charlotte Observer found that poultry processing companies did not accurately record injuries.

These new measures will not make poultry processed in the United States any safer for consumption. Rather, they will make it less sanitary and more dangerous. Bob Nicklas, from the American Federation of Government Employees, explained that when a similar initiative was tried in the 1990s, "feathers, lungs, oil glands, trachea and bile" ended up on the carcasses.

Tom Super, the spokesman for The National Chicken Council, stated that the proposed line speed changes will not necessarily impact workers. Poultry processing corporations will greatly increase their profit by speeding up the conveyor belts and this statement is inaccurate.

The safety of our nation's workers is as important as the quality of meat we produce. We cannot sanction lost fingers, broken arms and severe musculoskeletal injuries for $90 million, the amount that the USDA predicts saving if these regulations pass.

Our government must protect our workers' safety, and not allow them to be further put in harm's way.

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