Vilsack says extensions will be granted for line speed waivers

The U.S. agriculture secretary wants to have complete information on relation between line speeds and safety before any changes are made.

Roy Graber Headshot
Tyson Foods Line
Courtesy Tyson Foods

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said poultry processors whose line speed waivers are set to expire at the end of March can expect to get an extension.

Vilsack addressed the issue when questioned by Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Alabama, at a February 28 Senate Agriculture Committee meeting.

Tuberville said that after learning that extensions were granted earlier in the week concerning pork plant line speeds, he was wondering if the situation would be the same for poultry processors.

“We will see an extension of this because we want to make sure we get the right information about whether or not line speeds actually do relate to increased worker injury or worker safety,” Vilsack said.

A third-party study, which was discussed during a recent House Agriculture Committee meeting, is presently being conducted to assess those questions concerning safety.

“That’s the whole purpose of this is to try to find out what the facts are,” Vilsack told the committee. “We need to structure these studies in a way that gives us the information and I’m not interested in making decisions on this until I have all the facts. I don’t have all the facts yet.”

While Tuberville and his colleagues did not question the study itself, during the House hearing, Rep. David Rouzer, R-North Carolina, questioned whether the study was necessary and expressed concerns that the people conducting the study have a bias against poultry processors.

“No member of the study team is from a land grant institution with knowledge of the chicken industry, but instead are associates of the University of California system. Now, a member of that study team testified in front of OSHA against a company participating in the study, and has vocally critiqued a number of other plants. Considering the work of other team members and the information requested before each plant visit that far exceeds the scope of the study, there’s a clear bias against the industry, and leads any objective observer to the conclusion that this is a gotcha operation,” Rozer said at the time.

The waivers presently allow certain poultry plants to operate at line speeds of up to 175 birds per minute.

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