Monday, January 04, 2021

USDA wants to let more poultry plants speed up processing lines, despite evidence that has helped spread coronavirus

Washington Post chart; for a larger version, click on it.
"The Trump administration allowed 15 poultry plants to increase slaughter line speeds during the pandemic, an action that boosts production and makes it more difficult for workers to maintain space between one another. It also appears to have hastened the spread of the coronavirus," The Washington Post reports. "Now the outgoing administration is rushing to finalize a rule that would make the faster line speeds permanent and expand them to dozens of other poultry plants."

The 15 plants are "10 times as likely to have coronavirus cases than poultry plants without the line-speed waivers, according a Washington Post analysis of data collected by the nonprofit Food and Environment Reporting Network," Kimberly Kindy, Ted Mellnik and Arelis R. Hernández report. "The Post analysis mirrors academic research that shows more coronavirus cases in counties with plants that have waivers to raise line speeds." President-elect Joe Biden has opposed the waivers.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture "questioned the validity of the conclusions drawn from the research," the Post reports. "The department also said many plants slowed line speeds during the pandemic, causing it to further question a connection between slaughter speeds and coronavirus cases. When meat plants became hot spots in late March and April, local health departments began to shut them down, ordering testing, personal protective gear and social distancing. But the industry petitioned the federal government for help to keep plant doors open, and Trump said plant employees were 'essential workers'. . . . With the backing of the White House — and direct intervention by federal officials with local and state governments — meat plants with active coronavirus cases were able to reopen and remain open. Days after Trump lost his bid for reelection, the USDA sent a proposed regulation to allow all poultry plants to increase line speeds to the White House’s Office of Management and Budget, seeking its approval. The odds of it being finalized before Biden’s inauguration appear slim, experts say, but past administrations have used methods to successfully push through such last-minute proposals, often referred to as midnight regulations."

The USDA's Economic Research Service recently released an overview of the pandemic's effect on rural meatpacking plants. Read more here

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