OCM Tells USDA to Reject Increased Poultry Line Speeds


The National Chicken Council (NCC) is on the verge of convincing the USDA to eliminate line speed limits in poultry plants. Jobs inside poultry plants are some of the most dangerous and difficult in America, and the risks to food workers and our food supply increase when the line speeds increase. OCM has joined with United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) in opposing the chicken industry’s proposal by submitting comments to USDA, and we urge you to do the same. For the sake of keeping hard-working families and the chicken we eat safe, tell the USDA to reject the petition to eliminate line speeds at poultry plants. Click here for more information and to leave a comment. Comments are due by midnight on Wednesday, December 13, 2017.

OCM Comments Regarding National Chicken Council Petition on Max Line Speed Rates for Young Chicken Slaughter Establishments Under New Poultry Inspection System and Salmonella Initiative Program, Docket No: FSIS-2017-0045:

Organization for Competitive Markets (OCM) opposes the National Chicken Council Petition on Max Line Speed Rates for Young Chicken Slaughter Establishments Under New Poultry Inspection System and Salmonella Initiative Program, Docket No: FSIS-2017-0045.

In light of the evidence reported by the U.S. Government Accountability Office in its report released on December 7, 2017, “WORKPLACE SAFETY AND HEALTH: Better Outreach, Collaboration, and information Needed to Help Protect Workers at Meat and Poultry Plants,” it is clear that current standards at poultry processing plants put workers and food safety at risk. Therefore, increasing the line speed of the slaughter establishments will only further harm workers by placing them at greater risk of injury and consumers by increasing the occurrences of food safety issues.

The GAO found a current pattern of poultry companies repeatedly denying access to federal safety and health inspectors, leaving workers in at least 15 plants across the South working in potentially dangerous environments.

This GAO report confirms the U.S. Department of Agriculture currently does not consider worker safety when allowing new and dangerous chemicals to be used in poultry plants, and that OSHA cannot or will not adequately protect poultry workers from injury.

Currently, in many U.S. chicken slaughter establishments the line speed is 2.33 birds a second. That is one second to inspect 2.33 birds for disease, fecal contamination, or other defects.

To put this in context, it must be recognized that traditional poultry plants are required to use four USDA Food Service Inspection Service (FSIS) inspectors on their lines. With multiple lines typically running at once with one inspector per line, an inspector must inspect 139.8 birds each minute.

In contrast, those plants governed under the New Poultry Inspection System (NPIS) have been allowed to lower the number of FSIS line inspectors to only one inspector, allowing the other positions to be filled by the slaughter plant’s own workers. Clearly this is a case of the fox guarding the hen house.

This National Chicken Council petition does not only ask that the line speed be increased, but also that in plants governed by the NPIS the line speed cap be waived altogether. As stated above, these plants only have one FSIS inspector on the line.

Germany has allowed for an increase in their chicken slaughtering establishments. In Germany, line speeds are at 200 birds per minute, or 3.33 birds per second. The results have proven dangerous. Reporting on a recent German Federal Institute of Risk Assessment report, Budesinstitut Fur Risikobewertung Institute set out the increase health risk associated with faster line speeds. The article stated:

“The most common disease caused by a zoonotic pathogen is still campylobacteriosis with around 63,600 reported cases in Germany in report year 2013. Accordingly, the pathogen is frequently found in foods, with poultry meat being the most common here too. The reason for the particularly high level of contamination in poultry meat with pathogens such as Salmonella and Campylobacter is to be found in the slaughter process where insufficient success has been achieved up to now in preventing the transfer of the pathogen from the animal (feathers and intestinal tract) to the meat.”

See “Pathogens in food: Improvements required to protect against Campylobacter, EHEC and Listeria,” 10/2015, 07.04.2015 Budesinstitut Fur Risikobewertung.

The evidence clearly demonstrates the risks of waiving the per-second line speed cap on young chicken slaughtering establishments is too great and the petition should be denied.

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