Washington, DC - Just in the last week, the U.S. States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) approved line speed waivers for three additional chicken slaughter plants – bringing the total to four just in first 7 days of April.
The three new plants include two Tyson plants – one located in Oklahoma and another in Arkansas- and a Waynes Farm plant in North Carolina. These approvals come on the heels of FSIS approving a line speed waiver for the Foster Farms plant in Kelso, Washington. These four plants will be permitted to run their lines as fast as 175 birds per minute, with only one FSIS inspector stationed at the end of the line.
The regulatory waiver process is hidden from the public; there is no public comment period; and rarely does FSIS reveal whether the waiver has improved food safety.
The FSIS action comes on the same day that Vice President Mike Pence urged food industry workers to stay at work and “do their jobs” as concern spreads among workers that their safety is being jeopardized in meatpacking plants because they have not been given proper protective equipment and “social distancing” is impractical at their workplaces. Reports have surfaced that some meatpacking plant employees and an FSIS inspector have died from COVID-19.
In response, Tony Corbo, Sr. Government Affairs Representative for Food & Water Action issued the following statement:
“While food plant workers and FSIS inspectors are literally putting their lives on the line to work during the COVID-19 pandemic, FSIS and their industry henchmen are continuing their campaign to jeopardize food safety and worker safety by deregulating standards.
“Line speeds of up to 175 birds per minute mean FSIS inspectors on slaughter lines have to “inspect” 3 birds per second all on their own. At the same time, plant workers will need to work faster in order to hang carcasses on the slaughter line. How can anyone think that poultry will be safer under those conditions?
“These are already dangerous jobs but FSIS just found a way to make them even more dangerous. The Trump Administration is using the COVID-19 crisis to hide its march toward deregulating industry. Food safety and worker safety should be strengthened and not weakened during this pandemic, Congress needs to step in.”