U.S. chicken companies slaughter and process about 170 million chickens each week. They want to do it faster, reports the Wall Street Journal.
Meatpackers are seeking U.S. Department of Agriculture approval to raise processing-line speeds by about 25%, aiming to keep pace with growing domestic and international demand for poultry. The National Chicken Council, which represents poultry companies, said in a petition filed this month that would mean processing 175 birds a minute or more, up from most plants’ current limit of 140.
The speed increase, if granted, would reverse a 2014 Obama administration decision to limit U.S. poultry plants to the slower speed. Union officials, academics and some meat inspectors are pushing back, warning that would make it harder to ensure food and worker safety.
“This change will not affect food safety—if anything, it will enhance it,” wrote Michael Brown, the National Chicken Council’s president. He suggested that poultry plants could hire more workers, automate more tasks and change plant layouts to ensure employees’ safety. USDA officials said they are considering the petition.
Consumer groups and meat worker unions warn that moving carcasses more rapidly through processing lines will add risk to jobs already prone to cuts, infection and repetitive motion injuries. Meat worker injury and illness rates run about 64% above the national average, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, outpacing mines and construction sites.
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