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WASHINGTON — The Trump administration has rejected a petition from the chicken industry to speed up poultry inspection lines, cheering public-health advocates who warned that a line-speed increase would harm workers and food safety.
The National Chicken Council asked the USDA in September to let meatpackers operating under a new inspection system to run their plants "at any line speed" they could handle safely, having failed to convince the Obama administration to raise the limit from 140 birds-per-minute.
In its letter rejecting the petition, USDA said that the poultry industry "did not include data to demonstrate that inspectors can conduct an effective carcass-by-carcass inspection at line speeds faster than those authorized" under the new inspection system.
Outside advocates had conducted an aggressive lobbying campaign urging the USDA to reject the proposed line speed increase, fearing that it would endanger poultry workers already operating under dangerous conditions and increase food contamination.
"This decision is a victory for hard-working poultry workers who hold one of the most dangerous and difficult jobs in America, and the consumers who depend upon them to provide chicken that is safe to eat," said Marc Perrone, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union.
"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," said Debbie Berkowitz of the National Employment Law Project, a research and advocacy group.
The administration said that it received over 100,000 public comments on the line-speed petition. The UFCW said that thousands of its members had submitted comments on the proposal.
The administration added, however, that it would consider waiver requests from individual poultry plants allowing them to operate at line speeds up to 175 birds per minute, saying that it expected it grant "a limited number" of waivers.
The National Chicken Council said it was disappointed about the denial of its petition, but the group said it "encouraged that there will be a viable path forward in the near future" for poultry plants to ask for increase line speeds through the waiver process, according to NCC president Mike Brown.
Rep. Doug Collins, R-Ga., had also pushed for the administration to increase line speeds.
"I am disappointed in the decision to deny the petition and the request for uncapped line speeds that would increase the competitiveness of America’s poultry industry with countries that allow higher line speeds," Collins said in a statement, though he added that he was “hopeful” about the USDA’s waiver process.