Washington, DC – A proposed rule released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to lift caps on line speeds and reduce federal oversight in pork processing plants will add to the existing high risk of worker injuries and food contamination according to worker safety experts. “Workers who bring food to our tables deserve safety and dignity on the job, and consumers deserve and demand safe food,” said Jessica Martinez, co-executive director of the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health. “Raising line speeds in pork processing plants will only make a bad situation worse.”
Meatpacking workers currently experience a higher rate of occupational illnesses than workers in any other industry, seventeen times higher than workers nationwide. The USDA proposal, part of an industry-backed plan to privatize safety inspections at U.S. pork processing plants, will lift the cap on line speeds. Currently, pork producers slaughter an average of 1,100 hogs per hour. The result, safety experts say, will be more amputations and other disabling injuries for animal slaughtering workers.
About 150,000 workers in the U.S. slaughter large hog carcasses into ham, bacon, loins and other pork products sold in groceries, restaurants, and schools. Major U.S. pork processing firms include Smithfield, Hormel, JBS Swift, and Clemens Foods.
“On each and every shift, meatpacking workers use their hands and upper extremities to make tens of thousands of forceful, repetitive motions,” said Celeste Monforton, public health lecturer at Texas State University “Unrelenting line speeds already lead to high rates of carpal tunnel syndrome, tendonitis and other musculoskeletal injuries. Higher line speeds will translate into even more illness and injury.”
The USDA proposal also poses increased hazards to consumers. It would allow processing firms to use their own staff, in place of federal inspectors, to look for fecal matter and other contaminants on the pork processing lines. A report from the USDA’s Office of Inspector General shows significant problems with food safety issues at pork Processing plants that have piloted “self-inspection”.