Poultry processing lines will not be getting any faster, as the U.S. Department of Agriculture has rejected a request to increase speeds at processing plants.
In May, U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, R-Gainesville, sent a letter to Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, a former governor of Georgia, requesting the USDA allow poultry processors to hasten early stages of processing. On Tuesday, Collins said that request had been rejected.
He said in an announcement that his request was focused on first-processing zones “where workers inspect — but do not disarticulate — birds undergoing automated cleaning.”
“Evidence demonstrates that higher line speeds can preserve and even promote both worker and food safety, and I appreciate the USDA’s recognition of data indicating that inspectors can conduct effective inspections at line speeds of up to 175 birds per minute,” Collins said in the announcement.
In May, Collins said U.S. poultry processors were being outpaced by those in other countries where line speeds are faster.
His request was met with resistance on the part of poultry workers who spoke with The Times. Similar proposals have been met with organized resistance in the past.
Several years ago, the USDA proposed increasing poultry processing line speeds, a move opposed by the Southern Poverty Law Center and a coalition of civil rights groups.
“Meatpacking and poultry processing line jobs are among the most notoriously dangerous jobs in the United States,” according to a September 2013 statement on the SPLC website, citing a petition filed by the organization and civil rights groups.
While the USDA has again backed away from increasing the limit for line speeds across the board, it has signaled that an alternative could be coming for processors who hope to increase speeds. The USDA will begin exploring a program that allows waivers for companies that want to adopt faster lines.
“I look forward to learning more details about the criteria necessary for these waivers and am hopeful that this will enable domestic poultry producers to foster safer, streamlined operations that benefit workers and consumers,” Collins said.