After years of public outcry—and campaigning from Compassion and many other organizations—the USDA has officially withdrawn a rule proposed by the previous administration that would have given US chicken slaughter plants the power to formally increase slaughter line speeds from 140 birds per minute to an astounding 175 birds per minute.
Even before this rule was introduced, the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) has been granting waivers to many slaughter facilities during the COVID-19 pandemic and allowing them to increase line speeds to deeply dangerous levels—a move that prioritized corporate profit over the health and safety of animals, workers, and consumers.
Chickens are supposed to be stunned before being killed quickly by an automated blade, and workers are supposed to be in place to catch the ones who might miss the stunning. Faster line speeds force workers into more stressful environments, and ensure that more birds will inevitably miss this crucial step meant to limit their suffering—and could be scalded alive.
Increased speeds also put workers’ safety in jeopardy as they struggle to keep up with the frenetic pace of the slaughter line; even at current levels, the rate of injury for slaughter plant workers in the US is 7.5 times greater than in other industries. And as high-speed slaughter has forced workers into close, sustained contact with each other, slaughterhouses across the heartland have become deadly COVID-19 hotspots—a trend that prompted the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to request a dial-down in line speeds to slow the spread of the virus among workers and in surrounding populations.
Even worse, a CDC report showed that an astounding 87% of COVID-19 cases found at slaughterhouses were Latinx, Black, and Asian workers—showing that these facilities have been propagating the deadly virus in communities already disproportionately infected at rates three times that of their white counterparts.
Earlier this month, Compassion met with the Office of Management and Budget to discuss the deadly consequences of the rule and advocate for its withdrawal. We are pleased to see the Biden administration reject this reckless and profit-driven speed hike, an important move for animal welfare, worker safety, and public health. We hope to see further action to protect animal welfare—including a reinstatement of limits on pig slaughter line speeds—in the months and years ahead.
Thank you to all who contacted the USDA about this dangerous rule and demanded better for chickens and workers! Stay tuned for further updates.