CFA joined organizations representing poultry workers, occupational safety experts, workers rights advocate, and other consumer groups in opposing three requests made by chicken processors to USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) that would allow the companies to increase line speeds at slaughter to up to 175 birds per minute. The petitions seek an exemption from the current line speed caps pursuant to USDA regulations that provide for temporary regulatory waivers. The regulatory waivers are meant “to permit experimentation so that new procedures, equipment, and processing techniques, may be tested to facilitate definite improvements.” Yet none of the petitions refer to new procedures, equipment, or processing techniques, nor explain how the requested increase in line speeds might “facilitate definite improvements” in food safety.
Earlier this year, FSIS announced in its Constituent Update newsletter that it will consider waiver requests from individual young chicken plants to permit these establishments to operate at faster line speeds than permitted under current Department regulations. The agency outlined “criteria,” such as that plants not be in violation of Salmonella performance standards, that it has said will factor into decisions of whether to grant a waiver request. The agency’s “criteria,” however, are less comprehensive than the underlying regulatory requirements they purportedly interpret. Granting line speed waivers under the criteria would therefore violate the Administrative Procedures Act.