Fudge, DeLauro, Thompson introduce bill to slow meatpacking line speeds
Democratic Reps. Marcia Fudge of Ohio, Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut, and Bennie Thompson of Mississippi today introduced the Safe Line Speeds in COVID-19 Act, a bill to stop the Agriculture Department from allowing increases in line speeds in poultry and meat packing plants.
In a joint news release, Fudge, DeLauro and Thompson noted that the Agriculture Department issued a final rule, implemented in December, establishing the New Swine Slaughter Inspection System, which removes federal limits on the speed of production lines.
Meanwhile, the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service has issued nearly 20 waivers for meat and poultry processing plants to increase the speed of their production lines since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, they added.
For the duration of the COVID-19 public health emergency declaration, the Safe Line Speeds in COVID-19 Act would:
▪ Suspend all active waivers issued by USDA related to line speeds at meat and poultry establishments and suspend USDA’s authority to issue new waivers in this area;
▪ Suspend implementation of, and conversion to, the New Swine Slaughter Inspection System established under USDA’s final rule published on Oct. 1, 2019 titled, Modernization of Swine Slaughter Inspection; and
▪ Prohibit USDA from using federal funds to develop, proposed, finalize, issue, amend, or implement any policy, regulation, directive, constituent update, or any other agency program that would increase line speeds at meat and poultry establishments.
Additionally, the Safe Line Speeds in COVID-19 Act would:
▪ Ensure the provisions of the bill are in addition to, not in lieu of, any state laws or regulations designed to further protect worker safety or animal welfare beyond what this bill provides;
▪ Require Government Accountability Office to review the effectiveness of various actions taken by USDA, the Department of Labor, the Department of Health and Human Services, and meat and poultry establishments in response to the COVID-19 pandemic to protect animal, food, and worker safety; and
▪ Require USDA, DOL, and HHS to issue a report to Congress by Dec. 31, 2020, including their respective actions taken in response to the COVID-19 pandemic to protect animal, food and worker safety.
“The meat and poultry processing industry has been devastated by the COVID-19 pandemic, with infection hotspots appearing in plants across the country,” said Fudge.
“Fast line speeds make the dangerous conditions workers at these plants already face even worse by packing them closer together and placing them at greater risk of contracting or spreading the virus. Waiving limits on processing speeds also threatens the safety of our food supply.
“As COVID-19 cases continue to soar at processing plants, we must prioritize worker, food, and animal safety over increased production and profits.”
Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., intends to introduce companion legislation in the Senate, the House sponsors said.