WASHINGTON – After discovering four poultry processing companies recently submitted requests to the US Dept. of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) to permit them to increase production line speeds up to 175 birds per minute, 12 opposing organizations sent joint letters urging the agency to reject the request. According to a July 31 National Employment Law Project (NELP) statement, the four companies submitting waiver requests included: Pilgrim’s Pride Corp., Gerber Poultry, Peco Foods and Ozark Mountain Poultry. In late February, FSIS announced it would consider individual waiver requests from chicken plants processing young birds to allow them to operate at line speeds that exceed the current limit of 140 birds per minute.

The joint letters state that faster line speeds endanger plant workers as well as consumers of poultry products. They also contend the requests don’t meet the USDA waiver regulation criteria requirements and circumvent the rule-making process while violating the Administrative Procedure Act.   

“The criteria fail because they are not time limited; they do not require identification of a new procedure, equipment or technique that establishments need a regulatory line-speed waiver to test; and they do not require that there be any definite improvement as required by agency regulations,” the letters state.

The joint letter points out that Pilgrim’s Pride’s March 22, 2018, request, for example, does not meet waiver criteria, such as a public health emergency, requesting a limited-time waiver and isn’t based on new procedures, equipment or operational improvements. It goes on to say the evidence presented by Pilgrim’s that faster line speeds and worker safety are unrelated, are erroneous.

“Because the Pilgrim’s Pride Inc. waiver request meets none of the requirements under FSIS’s waiver regulations, and because granting the request would likely be arbitrary and capricious in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act, we urge FSIS to reject the request,” the letter concludes.

The letter is signed by NELP and the following organizations: A Better Balance, Center for Progressive Reform, Consumer Federation of America, Food and Water Watch, Interfaith Worker Justice, International Brotherhood of Teamsters, National Council of Occupational Safety and Health, Oxfam Public Citizen, Southern Poverty Law Center and the United Food and Commercial Workers Union.