‘Extreme-speed’ slaughter lines targeted in proposed legislation as safety risk during pandemic

By Elizabeth Crawford contact

- Last updated on GMT

Picture credit: GettyImages-photovs
Picture credit: GettyImages-photovs

Related tags: Slaughterhouse, COVID-19

Twin bills reintroduced in the House and Senate yesterday would reverse Trump-era waivers allowing higher-speed slaughter lines and prohibit new waivers to increase line speed during the pandemic on the grounds that they hinder social distancing and could contribute to the development of coronavirus hot-spots.

Sen. Cory Booker, D-NJ, and Reps. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., and Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., reintroduced March 11 the Safe Line Speeds During COVID-19 Act, which they originally introduced in July during the last legislative session but which did not receive a vote before the end of the term.

“Since the beginning of the pandemic, outbreaks of COVID-19 have surged in meatpacking plants across the country, where the majority of workers are from immigrant communities and communities of color, resulting in tens of thousands of COVID-19 infections among meatpacking workers and tragically at least 284 deaths,”​ Booker said in a statement.

“The situation only worsened last year when the Trump administration approved more than 20 requests from meatpacking plants to exceed regulatory limits on line speeds despite the risks posed to the safety of workers and consumers,”​ he added.

DeLauro said in statement that the faster speeds “make it impossible for workers to practice social distancing and comply with safety guidelines.”

The proposed legislation was introduced weeks after President Biden signed an executive order lauded by the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union and others that withdrew a controversial US Department of Agriculture proposed rule issued under the previous administration that would have permitted line speeds at certain poultry-processing plants to increase from 140 birds per minute to 175 if certain criteria were met.

'It is critically important we continue to prioritize the safety of frontline workers'

Booker said that the executive order was “an important first step in withdrawing the previous administration’s proposed rule to increase line speeds in poultry plants, but it is critically important we continue to prioritize the safety of frontline workers and consumers over the profits of large multinational meatpacking corporations.”

The proposed legislation also would suspend implementation of the similarly controversial New Swine Slaughter Inspection System, which the North American Meat Institute says would have allowed faster line speeds as long as inspectors could still safely check all live animals prior to slaughter and all carcasses after slaughter.

NAMI also argues that line speeds under NSIS would not be allowed to operate faster than workers could maintain control and comply with food and worker safety rules.

When the legislation was first introduced last July, NAMI argued in a statement that proponents “had not presented any evidence demonstrating a difference between COVID transmission in traditional or NSIS establishments.”

It also stressed at the time that “thanks to community outreach and education, coupled with controls put in place at meat and poultry plants of all types and sizes, illnesses among meat and poultry workers have reduced to the point that many plants are running at full capacity.”

The proposed legislation also would require the Government Accountability Office to review USDA and other key agency’s response to the pandemic and prevent USDA form spending funds to increase line speeds during the pandemic.  

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