As Chicken Council Pushes for Fewer Regulations, Investigation Reveals Lax Enforcement of Existing Rules
Earlier this year, the National Chicken Council petitioned the U.S. Department of Agriculture to eliminate the processing line speed limits imposed on poultry processing plants. This request sparked outrage from Mark Perrone, President of the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) who represents workers inside these processing plants.
“With the health and safety of over 250,000 thousand hard-working poultry workers in mind, 70,000 of whom are members of our union family, we write to urge you to reject a petition submitted by the National Chicken Council (NCC) to run food processing lines with no speed limits,” wrote Perrone in a letter to Acting Deputy Undersecretary Rottenberg. “For the sake of keeping hard-working families safe – whether they’re preparing, buying, or eating chicken – the USDA must reject this petition.”
“According to U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) data, in 2015 the meat and poultry industry had the 8th-highest number of severe injury reports of all industries. In 2016, we reported that workers in meat and poultry slaughter and processing plants continue to face hazardous conditions, including sharp knives used in close quarters, slippery floors, and chemical exposures. In the 2016 report, we found that additional data are needed to address these hazardous conditions and recommended that DOL improve its data on musculoskeletal disorders and sanitation workers in the meat and poultry industry,” wrote the Government Accountability Office (GAO).
Today, GAO released their findings related to the health and safety of workers in poultry processing plants and the results show significant problems for workers in these facilities.
“The hard-working people who work in poultry plants have some of the most dangerous and physically demanding jobs in America,” said Perrone. “This report sadly confirms that many of these skilled professionals who keep our food safe are struggling to keep themselves safe at work. They have earned and deserve better.”
- This GAO report confirms the U.S. Department of Agriculture doesn’t consider worker safety when allowing new and dangerous chemicals to be used in poultry plants, and that OSHA can’t or won’t adequately protect poultry workers from injury.
- The GAO also found a pattern of poultry companies repeatedly denying access to federal safety and health inspectors, leaving workers in at least 15 plants across the South working in potentially dangerous environments.
- This report supports findings by Oxfam that poultry workers struggle to get adequate bathroom breaks, even to the point of endangering their health.
- Other GAO reports in 2005 and 2016 also found significant problems with safety and health in the poultry industry.
- In addition to worker risks, countries with higher line speeds have higher rates of foodborne contamination in poultry plants.
“The dangers endured by poultry workers that are highlighted in this report also underscore why a recent request by the National Chicken Council to increase line speeds defies common sense and is being clearly driven by greed. We urge the U.S. Department of Agriculture to take this report seriously and reject that request so that poultry workers and the food we all consume can be kept safe,” Perrone concluded.
Read the full GAO report here.