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A Victory for Activism: Worker Safety and Line Speed

Opinion

The Modernization of Poultry Slaughter Inspection final rule moved forward like a dog digging under a fence.

While concerned activist groups certainly have issues yet to be resolved, there is a huge victory for plant workers’ and consumers’ safety within the final version of the rule. Line speed.

I have said all along that line speed is everything in the proposed changes in slaughter line configuration. Whether discussing increases in contamination through processing errors or injury to line workers through increases in repetitive tasks, line speed is everything.

While problems remain within the current system at the current line speed, FSIS made a bold and logical move by holding line speed at the current rate. They really had no choice. The NIOSH study and follow-up reaction to the FSIS administrator’s comments made on the FSIS blog post made increasing the line speed seriously problematic.

Activist groups should skip the victory lap but take measured satisfaction in this significant success. This is not an easy pill to swallow for industry. All along, the promise of increased production rates was incentive for taking on the duty of sorting activities. Of course, industry still retains the benefit of controlling the line and preventing line stops or slowdowns for the most part.

For activist groups, the lesson is this: Perseverance and organized networking pays off in achieving meaningful goals. This is, after all, a major win for worker health and safety. Industry will benefit as well. Increased line speed would undoubtedly result in increases in worker’s compensation claims, employee turnover, liability, litigation and injury to public image.

The lesson for consumer and worker representative groups is clear. Focus on quantifiable issues, focus on moving forward and not backward, persevere and push hard on important issues but avoid the minutia, and never give up.

Any hope of derailing change and keeping the old system was, and is, unrealistic. This was known long ago in the late 1990s when the inspector’s union proposed changes to the traditional model of inspection. The matter then was how to improve the system to change with scientific trends and processing movements while improving working conditions for inspectors. It was only when FSIS reneged on key elements of the union’s proposal that it was faced with filing a lawsuit to gain leverage over a faulty program. One of those features that FSIS gutted from the proposal was keeping the line speed at current rates.

The next frontier will be holding the line on the Zero Tolerance Rule for Fecal Contamination. Many plants will not be able to do as well as others on sorting or on-line reprocessing. It may be the case that there could be an increase in some plants of Zero Tolerance failures. This is a HACCP issue, and plants are required to apply an effective preventive measure to any HACCP deviation. Visible fecal contamination going into the chilling system is an extreme measure of processing failures. The standard must be held on this critical issue. Dilution of pollution is not a good manufacturing practice.

In the meantime, chalk one up for organized activism and accountability. Well done.

© Food Safety News
  • yogachick

    It’s so much easier to simply eat a plant-based diet.

    • MN Born

      Please don’t forget the thousands of people who pick your produce with a discouraging lack of protections. Our most deadly outbreak of foodborn illness in recent years wasn’t in the meat industry at all. Be active in protecting farmers and workers of your food – whatever food serves your primary needs. That would be simple…