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Faster Line Speeds at Hog Slaughter Plants Would Endanger Food Safety, Workers, the Public

Public Citizen Files Comment in Opposition to USDA’s Hog-Wild Line Speed Proposal

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Faster line speeds at hog slaughter plants would endanger workers and the safety of our food, Public Citizen said in a comment (PDF) submitted today to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The proposal would increase line speeds from the current rate of approximately 1,100 hogs per hour to speeds as high as 1,500 hogs per hour, while transferring inspection duties from trained inspectors to plant employees who have received little or no inspection training. The proposal seeks to expand a controversial pilot program that has been called into question throughout the federal government and by workers and their advocates.

“The safety of our food and workers should not be left in the hands of the very companies that aim to profit from hog-wild line speeds that are dangerously fast,” said Shanna Devine, worker health and safety advocate for Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division who authored the comment. “Meatpacking workers already suffer from disproportionately high injury rates, and extensive documentation demonstrates that the meat industry is not capable of self-policing. The USDA should rescind its proposal immediately before further harm is caused to workers and consumers alike.”

A series of affidavits from USDA inspectors in 2014 detailed alarming food safety violations at plants with higher line speeds. Workers reported inadequate training, insufficient time to identify fecal matter and diseases due to the faster line speeds and pressure from management to overlook contaminated meat.

In addition, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has been aware for more than 30 years that faster line speeds in meatpacking plants result in more workplace injuries. A 1993 OSHA publication recommended that plants lower line speeds to reduce the high rates of musculoskeletal injury among meatpacking workers. Since that time, the Government Accountability Office has repeatedly echoed OSHA’s reports and the USDA’s own watchdog, the Office of Inspector General, has warned about heightened food safety threats under the pilot program upon which the proposal is based.

Worker and food safety problems are compounded by the meatpacking industry’s pervasive culture of intimidation and silence, as well as management that treats workers as expendable. Meat workers are disproportionately people of color and immigrants, and they face risks of termination and threats of deportation for reporting safety concerns or becoming permanently disabled due to injuries that occurred on the line. Unlike USDA inspectors, plant employees do not have viable legal channels to challenge whistleblower retaliation.

In February, Public Citizen and a coalition of 35 organizations urged (PDF) the USDA to withdraw the proposal and put an end to its high-speed slaughter program. The warnings were echoed by a similar letter (PDF) from more than 60 members of Congress.

“The USDA should abandon this reckless proposal, which will lead to more worker injuries and contaminated food,” said Susan Harley, deputy director for Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division. “The swine proposal puts workers and consumers in harm’s way to increase corporate profits and is in direct conflict with the USDA’s mission to ensure safe meat.”