The UFCW, which represents 30,000 workers in US pork processing plants, has filed a federal lawsuit to block a new rule by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) which eliminates all restrictions on pork processing line speeds while reducing the number of government food safety inspectors on those lines and transferring key inspection roles to the companies. The rule is scheduled to take effect on December 2.
Current regulations set a maximum of 1,106 hogs per hour – less than one every four seconds. When the USDA introduced its proposed “Modernization of Swine Slaughter Inspection” rule in January 2018, one of the justifications provided was that “Traditional inspections limit line speeds.”
The UFCW, consumer advocacy and food safety groups submitted extensive evidence to the USDA highlighting the risks to worker and consumer health and safety. In May 2018 alone, over 6,500 UFCW members in the industry submitted comments on the proposed rule, which is estimated will bring a USD 3.8 million windfall in annual savings to large plants. The health and safety comments were ignored by the USDA, which claims it has no remit to take safety considerations into account. Injury rates for meatpacking workers at current line speeds are 2.4 times the rate of other industries; illness rates are 17 times greater.
“Increasing pork plant line speeds is not only a reckless giveaway to giant corporations, it will put thousands of workers in harm’s way,” said UFCW International President Marc Perrone. “This new rule would also dramatically weaken critical protections that Americans depend on to be able to select safe, healthy food to feed their families every day.”