The only thing worse than a chicken with its head cut off is one with its head in the sand. That was my initial reaction after reading Administrator Alfred Almanza's piece defending Big Poultry's push to dramatically increase line speed in our nation's plants.
Much of the discussion surrounding the controversial poultry inspection rule has been about food safety. What's been missing is a focus on the safety of the workers who process that food. This rule does nothing to protect them.
The proposed rule will throw out the current method of inspecting poultry, reducing the number of Food Safety & Inspection Service (FSIS) inspectors and increasing the speed that birds are processed from 70-91 a minute to a maximum of 175 a minute.
Big Poultry is in a rush to see this rule take effect, yet no comprehensive effort has been made to determine the impact it will have on the health and safety of workers. No study of injuries and illnesses, including in the 20 "broiler plants" Almanza mentioned, has occurred. No Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standard has been implemented.
In other words, workers will be at heightened risk of repetitive motion related injuries and Musculoskeletal Disorders (MSDs) without any enforceable safety standard to rely on.
This is compounded by recent research out of Wake Forest University which shows that that 59 percent of poultry workers had definite or possible carpal tunnel syndrome at current line speeds.
Poultry workers are being asked to work harder and longer than ever before. And now birds will be whizzing by them at record speeds.
It is little wonder why Big Poultry is pushing this system--faster lines mean more money in their pocket. What I don't understand is why Administrator Almanza is complying.
The USDA needs to slow down and shelve this rule until a comprehensive study on worker health and safety is conducted.
Because the only way to ever truly guarantee safe food is to have safe workers.