You are here

Coalition of Consumer, Labor, Public Health, Civil Rights Groups Urge USDA to Withdraw Poultry Slaughter Proposal Due to Food Safety, Worker Safety Concerns

Thursday, September 20, 2012
Press Contacts:

Dorry Samuels, [email protected], (508) 277-7997

September 20, 2012                                                                                                                

Coalition of Consumer, Labor, Public Health, Civil Rights Groups  Urge USDA to Withdraw Poultry Slaughter Proposal  Due to Food Safety, Worker Safety Concerns

A coalition of 22 groups and 14 individuals today urged the U.S. Department of Agriculture to withdraw a proposal that increases poultry processing line speeds and removes hundreds of federal inspectors from poultry processing plants.

The proposal, which would modify USDA’s poultry slaughter inspection program, increases the poultry line speed to an unsafe level and allows plant employees to replace federal government inspectors for certain inspection activities. In addition, the proposal reduces the numbers of federal inspectors working at poultry plants. While the poultry inspection program does need improving, the proposal was developed with limited public input. USDA did not consult with its inspection advisory committee prior to issuing its proposal; nor were public meetings held to solicit the views of the public before the proposal was announced.    In addition, the groups highlighted a number of critical food safety and worker safety concerns raised by the proposal.

Specifically, the coalition is alarmed by the proposed increase in poultry slaughter line speeds to 175 birds per minute, a five-fold increase over current speeds. At such rates, government inspectors would have only one-third of a second to examine each chicken carcass for food safety risks and other problems.

“This proposal that would allow drastic increases in poultry line speeds would have potentially devastating effects not only for consumers, but also for workers on the line,” said Tom O” Connor, executive director of the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health. “At current line speeds, thousands of workers already suffer from repetitive strain injuries such as carpal tunnel syndrome—this proposal would likely cause many more. In addition, at faster work speeds, poultry plant workers may be more exposed to knife cuts, toxic chemicals and other hazards.”

The coalition is also concerned that the proposal would change the standards for accepting or rejecting birds. There is no provision in the new rule mandating training of plant employees, who would be assigned tasks previously conducted by federal government inspectors.  USDA whistleblowers have commented that plant workers with insufficient training often overlook things.    Moreover,  employers might pressure  plant employees to let as many birds pass as possible. As a result, there would likely be an increase in the rate of “defects” such as bruises, scabs, bile and ingesta on the carcasses.

Finally, the coalition is concerned that the proposal does not require a standard for testing of poultry. Instead, the proposal would allow each plant to develop its own testing protocol. Plants would also not be required to test for  Salmonella  orCampylobacter, the two foodborne pathogens most often associated with raw poultry.

According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there has been no significant progress since 1999 in reducing illnesses from  Salmonella  and  Campylobacter. Salmonella  is the leading cause of death and hospitalization due to a known foodborne pathogen. A 2011 report from the University of Florida found that  Campylobacter  in poultry led the list of pathogen/food combinations that account for 60 percent of all foodborne illnesses.

The coalition is urging the Department of Agriculture to withdraw the proposal until these issues and others can be adequately addressed.


The letter was signed by the following groups and individuals:


American Federation of Government Employees, AFL-CIO

CATA, El Comite de Apoyo a los Trabajadores Agricolas

Center for Food Safety

Center for Foodborne Illness Research & Prevention

Centro de los Derechos del Migrante, Inc.

Consumer Federation of America

Center for Science in the Public Interest

Food & Water Watch

Government Accountability Project

Midwest Coalition for Human Rights

National Consumers League

National Council of La Raza (NCLR)

National Council for Occupational Safety and Health

Nebraska Appleseed Center for Law in the Public Interest

OMB Watch

Public Citizen

Southern Poverty Law Center

STOP Foodborne Illness

United Support and Memorial for Workplace Fatalities



Individual signatories

(Affiliations/Organizations Listed for Identification Purposes Only)  

Barbara A. Frey
Director, Human Rights Program
University of Minnesota

Matthew Keifer MD, MPH

Dean Emanuel Endowed Chair and Director

National Farm Medicine Center

Marshfield Clinic Research Foundation

Marshfield, WI


Andrea Kidd Taylor, DrPH, MSPH


Morgan State University School of Community Health & Policy

Baltimore, MD


Paul Landsbergis, PhD, MPH

Associate Professor

Department of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences

School of Public Health

State University of New York-Downstate Medical Center

Brooklyn, NY


Martha T. McCluskey

Professor, SUNY-Buffalo Law School

Member Scholar, Center for Progressive Reform


Thomas O. McGarity

Joe R. and Teresa Lozano Long Endowed Chair in Administrative Law, University of Texas—Austin School of Law

Board Member, Center for Progressive Reform


Celeste Monforton, DrPH, MPH

Professorial Lecturer

Dept of Environmental & Occupational Health

School of Public Health & Health Services

George Washington University

Washington, DC


Nancy Nivison Menzel, PhD, RN, PHCNS-BC, CPH, CNE

Associate Professor

School of Nursing

University of Nevada

Las Vegas, Nevada


Kimberly Rauscher, MA, ScD

Assistant Professor

WVU School of Public Health

WVU Injury Control Research Center

Morgantown, WV


Beth Rosenberg, ScD, MPH

Assistant Professor

Department of Public Health & Community Medicine

Tufts University School of Medicine

Boston, MA


Jeanne Sears, PhD, RN

Senior Research Scientist

Department of Health Services

University of Washington

Seattle, WA  


Sidney A. Shapiro

University Chair in Law, Wake Forest University

Vice-President, Center for Progressive Reform


Craig Slatin, ScD, MPH

Professor, Department of Community Health and Sustainability

University of Massachusetts Lowell

Lowell, MA

Editor, New Solutions, A Journal of Environmental and Occupational Health Policy


Rena I. Steinzor

Professor, University of Maryland Carey School of Law

President, Center for Progressive Reform