The Food Integrity Campaign (FIC) has worked for years to protect whistleblowers who bravely speak out about unsafe conditions in poultry plants. The strongest voices are the federal meat inspectors employed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to keep our food supply safe. Several inspectors have told FIC that the meat industry wants to slaughter and process chickens faster in order to increase profits while simultaneously ignoring risks to animal welfare, worker safety, and consumer health.
Rather than heed the warning of its own employees, the USDA recently decided to side with the poultry industry. On September 28, the USDA released new guidelines that would allow poultry plants to increase line speeds to processing as many as 175 birds per minute if the plants meet certain guidelines. The National Chicken Council had previously petitioned USDA to waive line speed limits altogether, so, in the eyes of USDA, their offer is a compromise.
Whistleblowing inspectors have told FIC that the new line speeds put consumers in danger by increasing the risk of foodborne pathogens contaminating poultry. In pilot plants allowed to test out the faster line speeds, inspectors reported they could not adequately inspect the poultry carcasses for signs of illness and fecal contamination. Even worse, USDA officials have told the inspectors to keep quiet about contamination they would usually report.
The inspectors who reached out to FIC used to feel pride in their work protecting consumers. Here’s how some inspectors describe current conditions:
Increased line speeds aren’t just bad for consumers; they’re bad for workers too. Poultry plant workers, as well as inspectors, are already at risk for severe injuries, chronic pain disorders, and unsafe chemical exposures. Increasing the line speeds increases the risks to the workers who produce our food every day in an already dangerous industry.
We can’t let the USDA’s actions go unchallenged. We urge the USDA and the Trump administration to heed the warnings of its own employees and acknowledge the food safety risks in its proposed inspection system.