May 18, 2012 Celeste Monforton, DrPH, MPH 2Comment

Members of and organizations affiliated with the National Council of La Raza (NCLR) received an Action Alert today urging them to tell USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack to withdraw his agency’s proposed rule on poultry slaughter inspection (77 Fed Reg 4408.) As written here previously and by the Center for Progressive Reform’s Rena Steinzor in “The Age of Greed,” the USDA proposal was developed in response to President Obama’s edict about regulations, and his call to agencies to eliminate “outmoded” and “excessively burdensome” rules. The change proposed by USDA involves shifting the responsibility for examining and sorting poultry carcasses with obvious defects from USDA inspectors to the assembly line workers.

NCLR in its Action Alert reiterates what others in the public health community have been saying about this ill-developed proposal: it fails to look at the dire consequences for the health and safety of the poultry workers on the assembly lines.

Guadalupe, a mother of young children in North Carolina, can’t pick her kids up to comfort them when they cry. If she does, sharp pain shoots through her arms, chest, and back. Lifting used to be Guadalupe’s job. As a poultry processing worker, she spent hours each day reaching above her head to hang chicken carcasses on a production line. Keeping up with the line speed was almost impossible and her arms would go numb from the work. Eventually, Guadalupe’s doctor diagnosed her with a repetitive motion injury in her elbow and ordered her not to lift more than five pounds. When Guadalupe tried to follow the doctor’s orders, she was fired.

Guadalupe is no exception. Line speed is hurting many workers in poultry processing plants. Now, the USDA wants to let plants run their lines even faster–increasing the speed limit from 140 to 175 birds per minute! …Ironically, USDA wants to increase line speed as an incentive for poultry companies to “modernize” their plants to improve food safety. In reality, faster line speeds would turn back the clock to a dark chapter of American history when businesses had no responsibility for the health and safety of workers.”

USDA officials insist they care about the poultry plant workers, but declare they do not have responsiblity for worker safety. Actually, they do have a duty pursuant to Executive Order 12866 to assess the costs and benefits of their regulatory action, including unintended consequences, distributive impacts and equity. All of the evidence in the public health literature (e.g., here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, etc.) demonstrates the high incidence of injuries and disabilities for workers in these plants, and an increase in line speed will exacerbate those effects.

The comment period for this USDA proposed rule is scheduled to close on May 29. NCLR’s Action Alert will undoubtedly generate a flood of correspondence to Secretary Vilsack’s offce. We’ll be watching to see if the Obama Administration realizes that its quest for de-regulatory action is misguided, even if its claims of a $1 billion in benefits over five years to the poultry industry are true. The costs to poultry workers’ health and well-being is far greater, say nothing of the political cost.

2 thoughts on “Largest Hispanic civil rights group provoked by Obama USDA’s disregard for poultry plant workers

  1. This is not a food safety initiative, it is an industry backed initiative that benefits Big Meat more than anyone else. The meat industry will save $265 million while the government will only save $39 million. Inspectors will lose their jobs, workers are more subject to risk, and Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points-Based Inspection Model Project has even failed to adequately prove that chicken will be safer or cleaner under the new rule. Asking workers and inspectors to move at a pace of 175 chickens per minute, or about 3 per second, is an unreasonable and impractical standard that will result in dirtier chicken and more worker injuries.

  2. I read about this earlier but from the standpoint of food safety, too. I want to understand how (since they are supposedly including carcass inspection in a line moving this fast) they are supposed to note any issues with the carcass that would suggest its rejection?

    There is no [b]good[/b] that can come from this recommendation, only a lot more suffering and some possible serious food-borne illness consequences.

    I have repetitive motion injuries myself. When the issues first cropped up the employer at the time said, “If I ever heard the word “carpal tunnel” or “accommodation” from your lips you will be fired on the spot.” I continued working there (had no choice) and at this point can no longer feel three of my fingers on my right hand (years later).

    It’s terrible. Corporations run this country and no one seems to care enough to stop it once they get in office.

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