RELEASE – Final approval given to dangerous USDA Poultry Rule

***For Immediate Release***
Contact, Jeff Sheldon
Communications Director, Nebraska Appleseed
Office: (402) 438-8853
Mobile: (402) 840-7289
jsheldon@neappleseed.org

Obama Administration Approves Dangerous USDA Poultry Rule

Advocate coalition decries regulation as harmful to food and worker safety

LINCOLN — Today, despite the opposition of hundreds of thousands of consumers, dozens of Members of Congress, and more than 100 food and worker safety organizations, the Office of Management and Budget approved the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s new Poultry Rule that will endanger the safety of our food and the workers who prepare it.

The new USDA Poultry Rule will remove federal food safety inspectors and does nothing to reduce risk of worker injuries.

The new USDA Poultry Rule will remove federal food safety inspectors and does nothing to reduce risk of worker injuries.

The rule allows for the removal of hundreds of federal inspectors from the processing lines who identify and remove chicken contaminants, leaving this important responsibility to plant workers. There are no training requirements for these workers and this creates a clear conflict of interest.

Furthermore, the rule maintains the dangerous maximum speed of poultry plant processing lines of 140 birds per minute, despite sufficient evidence that the speed of work is the primary cause of serious and crippling injuries to workers in meat and poultry plants.

Line speeds would have been raised to an unthinkable 175 birds per minute if the poultry rule had gone forward as initially proposed by the USDA, however hundreds of workers’ safety and food safety groups protested the increase. The final version of the rule does not increase speeds; however,the regulation still allows plants to force employees to work at an unreasonably dangerous pace and does not contain any meaningful safeguards to protect workers from these injuries.

“Meat and poultry workers across the country suffer from disabling injuries because of dangerously fast work speeds,” said Omaid Zabih, a Nebraska Appleseed staff attorney. “The finalization of this rule only preserves the dangerous status quo these workers must face every day.”

“Worker safety and food safety go hand-in-hand,” said Dr. Celeste Monforton, professorial lecturer at George Washington University School of Public Health. “Privatizing inspections is bad for consumers and for workers.”

“The new inspection system will put consumers at risk by reducing the number of trained USDA inspectors in poultry plants and leaving one inspector on the slaughter line to inspect two to three birds every second,” said Tony Corbo of Food and Water Watch. “Instead of improving food safety, this new inspection system will actually return us to the days of Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle.”

Meat and poultry workers suffer from an epidemic of disabling injuries because of the perilous speed of work. Government reports and surveys have noted the high rate of injuries, and experts acknowledge that there is serious underreporting of injuries in these industries.

As documented in a petition filed last September to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration by Nebraska Appleseed, the Southern Poverty Law Center, and 13 other civil rights groups, workers often make more than 20,000 forceful motions per shift. These non-stop cutting, pulling, grabbing, and hanging motions result in debilitating repetitive-motion injuries to their arms, wrists, shoulders, neck, and back.

In March, former Nebraska meatpacking and poultry employees were among a group that testified to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on these work-speed injuries. Also that month, 68 Members of Congress signed a letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack asking the USDA to withdraw the rule.

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