The National Chicken Council has petitioned the U.S. Department of Agriculture to grant increased line speeds to poultry processors. The current limit is 140 birds per minute, but the industry prefers 175 birds per minute, or about three per second.
Debbie Berkowitz with the National Employment Law Project said if the USDA approves, poultry plants across the country could increase their line speeds, which has consequences for product safety and quality.
"The United States Department of Agriculture sets the line speeds in the poultry industry to protect consumers,” Berkowitz said. “Because you want to make sure that the inspectors have time to look at the birds, to do the testing that they need to do, to make sure consumers are protected."
The USDA is accepting public comment on this proposal through this Wednesday. The National Chicken Council said plants need higher line speeds to keep up with international competitors.
Berkowitz predicts the higher pace also would jeopardize worker safety in an already dangerous industry.
"They have among the highest numbers of reported severe injuries, such as amputations,” Berkowitz said. “They have illness rates that are five times the average for all industries; injury rates that are 1.5 times as high as all industries."
The poultry industry contends that workers aren't at greater risk from increased line speeds.
Berkowitz said the USDA studied the current limit for line speeds for three years during the Obama administration, and found it should be kept where it is.