President Biden Rejects Proposal to Increase Chicken Processing Speeds

The prospect of ramping up production in U.S poultry plants by 25-percent was under consideration by the previous administration.

In 2018, then-president Donald Trump issued temporary waivers to 54 poultry plants, which allowed them to make significant increases to their slaughter line speeds. Employees in those plants are expected to process 175 birds per minute, while those at facilities that were not granted waivers process 140 birds per minute.

In the final weeks of his presidency, the Trump administration considered a proposal from the Department of Agriculture, which recommended permanently allowing a 25 percent line speed increase in all U.S. poultry plants. (A similar suggestion was made during Barack Obama's time in office, but it was not implemented due to concerns about worker safety.)

Raw whole chickens tied with string in butcher shop grocery store many uncooked skin closeup showing texture detail
krblokhin/Getty Images

During his presidential campaign, Joe Biden repeatedly expressed his opposition to speeding up the lines in any meat processing facility. "No worker's life is worth my getting a cheaper hamburger," he said during a Town Hall last spring. "No worker's life is worth that."

On Monday, now-President Biden withdrew the previous administration's proposed increase to poultry processing speeds, a move that was praised by both the United Food and Commercial Workers union and the Humane Society.

"Even though it has been less than a week since his inauguration, President Biden is already showing the type of commitment to the health and safety of frontline food workers that the American people expect and deserve," United Food and Commercial Workers president Marc Perrone said in a statement.

And in a post on her blog, "A Humane World," Humane Society president and CEO Kitty Block said that withdrawing this rule change was one of the "top priorities" for the organization. "Increased line speeds benefit no one but chicken producers looking to fatten their profits," she wrote. "Even at existing speeds, conditions inside a slaughterhouse are already immensely dangerous and inhumane [...] Human injury rates are also high as workers struggle to keep up with fast-moving lines. Imagine the additional risks to animal welfare and worker safety from increasing line speeds even more."

As Vox noted, though, this doesn't revoke the waivers that were previously issued to those 54 plants; it just stops the speed increases from being implemented at the other, non-waivered facilities.

In a statement, the National Chicken Council wrote that this was just basic procedure for a new president, and that it didn't necessarily mean that all poultry plants wouldn't be allowed to increase their line speeds in the future. "[New administrations] issue a temporary regulatory freeze to assess all rulemakings currently underway, review them in light of administration priorities, and then decide whether to move forward," the statement read. "We are hopeful that it will move forward."

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