WASHINGTON – Last week, Representative Andrew Clyde (R-Ga.) and 34 other members of Congress sent a letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to postpone a USDA poultry plant safety study deadline of Sept. 1.

The Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) study looks at the New Poultry Inspection System (NPIS) that allows the operation of poultry lines at speeds up to 175 birds per minute.

As of late July, 55 poultry facilities participating in the USDA waiver program received a letter from the agency within one month. The plants must participate in the study to retain line speed waivers, according to Clyde’s letter.

“If an establishment does not meet the agency’s aggressive timeline, establishments will lose their waivers and only have 60 days to return to operating at 140 birds per minute (bpm),” the letter said. “If the agency forces the industry to cut production, the ripple effects will be disastrous to consumers of American-raised chicken both domestically and abroad, the family farmers that work tirelessly to raise broiler chickens, the health and welfare of millions of broiler chickens, and the industry as a whole.”

In a previous statement, USDA said that the waiver would be terminated if poultry plants do not participate in the study or provide worker-safety information. The action could reduce poultry plants line speeds by up to 25%.

The letter also noted FSIS expected plants to agree to participate in a third-party worker safety study and agree to provide worker safety data in order to receive a modified waiver to continue operating at current line speeds. Other deadlines for worker safety information include Sept. 30 and Nov. 1.

Clyde and others asked for several questions to be answered by the FSIS by Sept. 30, especially with information about the study’s intent and future use of its resources.

Organizations that supported Clyde’s letter included the National Chicken Council.