The National Chicken Council petitioned the USDA last year.
WASHINGTON – The US Dept. of Agriculture denied a request from the National Chicken Council to lift a cap on line speeds at poultry processing companies.

In a letter to NCC President Mike Brown, Carmen Rottenberg, Acting Deputy Under Office of Food Safety, said, in part, “…Because FSIS has already implemented procedures for establishments to request regulatory waivers, we have determined that it is not necessary to establish a separate system to provide line speed waivers to young chicken establishments operating under the NPIS.”

Rottenberg added: “We have received over 100,000 comments on the petition and intend to respond to the issues raised by the comments in a separate document that also will be made available to the public. We will be publishing this letter as well.”

The NCC petitioned the agency to implement a waiver system to permit chicken processors participating in the New Poultry Inspection System (NPIS) to operate without the line speed caps imposed by the NPIS.

“While we are disappointed about the denial of the petition, NCC is encouraged that there will be a viable path forward in the near future for those plants operating under NPIS to petition the agency for increased line speeds, if they maintain a record of process control,” Brown said in a statement. “That was the original intent of the petition and we look forward to working with the agency and our members on the soon to be released criteria to apply for such a request.”

NCC proposed that eligible establishments be allowed to operate at any line speed at which they can maintain process control. In turn, the establishments would develop a process for monitoring and maintaining process control at the chosen line speed, along with corrective actions if there are problems.

NCC explained in the petition that the waiver program would encourage more processors to opt into NPIS, not compromise food safety, and promote and enhance industry efficiency, noting that current regulations impose costs on the poultry industry while creating competitive disparities. But advocates with animal welfare, labor and environmental organizations opposed the waiver program. USDA’s decision to deny the petition came as welcome news.

The National Employment Law Project (NELP) said the request would have endangered the health of consumers and worker safety.

“Poultry workers already face harsh and dangerous conditions, and there is evidence that the new poultry inspection system is not delivering on the promised public health benefit to consumers,” said Debbie Berkowitz, senior fellow for worker safety and health with the NELP and a former senior official with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

“The highly profitable poultry industry, which already pays poverty wages and keeps workers in disturbingly unsafe and unhealthy workplaces, should stop lobbying the government to allow it to further endanger workers. Instead, it should lift labor standards for the 250,000 workers who help feed this nation.”

Vandhana Bala, Mercy For Animals’ general counsel, said “…We applaud the USDA for standing up to the chicken industry’s reckless request that would have resulted in more botched slaughter, placing consumers, workers, and animals in harm’s way.”