Our VoiceHealth & Environment

Poultry Workers to USDA: “#Pardon ME”

Lauren Taylor • Nov 27, 2013

In years past, racial justice advocates have called attention to the plight of workers in meatpacking and poultry processing plants, particularly during the holiday season. In a similar vein, this week the Northwest Arkansas Workers’ Justice Center asked supporters to oppose new regulations that would allow for faster line speeds in plants that process turkey and chicken. This Thanksgiving, they asked supporters to tweet at the US Department of Agriculture, and to consider the workers who bring the turkey to the table. A worker at a poultry processing plant wrote:

“This week, in keeping with White House tradition, President Obama will pardon a Thanksgiving turkey.  For turkey processing workers like me, it’s hard to witness this ritual knowing that many of my co-workers don’t get the same humane treatment.  Many workers experience pain and injuries to their hands and bodies trying to keep up with the speed of the production line, repeating the same hanging, cutting, and twisting motions countless times each shift.  Now, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is proposing to allow the lines to run even faster.

Using the hashtag #PardonMe, tweet at the USDA and urge them to not speed up poultry processing lines.”

The government’s plan to change inspection procedures has been widely criticized for creating more dangerous workplace conditions in an already-dangerous industry. Specifically, the proposed changes to inspection would increase the maximum line speed from 45 to 55 turkeys per minute, and from 140 to 175 chicken per minute. Speed-ups on the line would exacerbate repetitive motion injuries, and would also come with increased use of chemical cleaning agents. In a series of investigative reports on the proposed regulatory change, Washington Post reporter Kimberly Kindy found that the government has not conducted independent research on the effect such chemicals might have on consumers or employees.

For the past 18 months, the US Department of Agriculture has been accepting feedback on a plan to change regulations for poultry processing plants. A wide variety of groups have come out against the changes, from civil rights organizations to workers’ centers, from health and safety experts to animal welfare groups. Earlier this month, doctor of public health Celeste Monforton collected a compelling list of evidence that the new poultry rule would undermine worker safety, consumer health, and animal welfare. She summarized: “Salmonella, crippled workers, tortured chickens, and toxic chemicals: surely USDA is now ready to ditch its plan to ‘modernize’ poultry inspection.”

The twitter campaign is the latest in a series of efforts to block the changes in inspection. A petition created by Interfaith Worker Justice asks the USDA “to go back to the drawing board and propose a new rule that will ensure that chicken processed in the United States is safe to eat, and that poultry processing workers are given the workplace protections they deserve.” Nearly 100,000 people have signed on.

This Thanksgiving, we should heed the call to make the poultry industry safer, and stand with workers who are speaking out.

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