The USDA has established new guidelines that will allow some slaughterhouses to process chickens at a faster rate. Companies can now apply for a waiver to increase the 140-chicken-per-minute cap established under the Obama Administration to 175 chickens per minute.
To be eligible for a waiver, a chicken plant must have been operating with latest safety measures in place for at least one year and have a proven 120-day track record.
The Washington Post reports that this increase in processing speed limits does not coincide with increased demand for chicken in the U.S. The outlet reports that the amount of chicken currently being stored in U.S. warehouses is at its highest since 2006.
Twenty of the nation's 200 chicken processing plants are already operating at these faster speeds following the introduction of a pilot program in 1997. Five more plants have been approved for the new speed since the notice was published in the Federal Register last month.
The new guidelines were published on September 28, a day after Christine Blasey Ford gave her testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee regarding then-U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. While a spokesman for the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service tells the Washington Post that this timing was "coincidental," consumer and labor rights activists remain skeptical.
Deborah Berkowitz, a director at the National Employment Law Project and former senior policy adviser for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, criticizes the publication of the new regulations "with no notice requesting comments from the public."
She is also critical of the fact that the decision was made "despite increasing evidence that this will endanger vulnerable workers, public health and animal welfare."
Chicken processing plant workers have already alleged that lines move so quickly that they occasionally resort to wearing diapers at work. An OSA memo released in 2015 showed that poultry workers experience serious injuries at a rate that is nearly double that of the private industry average.
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