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After Oxfam and allies in the poultry worker coalition organized thousands of people to take action to oppose the rule change, the agency today announced its decision to keep the line speed at 140 birds per minute.
Among the challenges that workers face inside poultry plants in the US, the speed of the processing line stands out. The maximum speed has doubled since 1979 (from 70 birds per minute to 140 today), and now poses myriad dangers to workers and consumers. As hundreds of birds roll down the processing line, workers need to execute hundreds of thousands of motions per shift, which often results in injuries and illnesses. At the same time, it’s increasingly difficult to execute effective inspections of the birds.
When the National Chicken Council petitioned the US Department of Agriculture, once again, to lift the cap on line speed altogether (whereas the previous attempt had been an increase to 175 bpm), the poultry worker coalition sprang into action and organized consumers, advocates, workers, and experts to oppose the move. Of the more than 100,000 comments on the petition, all but a scant handful opposed the request.
Today, the USDA announced that it would deny the move to lift a limit on line speed; however, the agency left open the door for an individual plant to petition for a waiver on the limit of 140.
“While we welcome this victory for the workers across the country, we also sound a note of caution about the potential for individual plants to ask to raise the speed in their operations,” says Minor Sinclair, director of Oxfam’s US Domestic Program. “Workers report that they’re already working at breakneck speed – slicing and cutting 40 or 50 birds per minute. They’re exhausted and hurting, and they worry about the problems they see in the food supply.”
The US poultry industry is currently enjoying record productivity and profits, as chicken consumption continues to steadily climb here and abroad.