The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights heard testimony Tuesday that worker safety in the U.S. meatpacking and poultry industries could be compromised by pending rule changes at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), along with the Midwest Coalition for Human Rights and the Nebraska Appleseed Center for Law in the Public Interest, petitioned the commission for the hearing. During his testimony, SPLC staff attorney Tom Fritzsche called for the federal government to implement work speed safety standards that reduce poultry evisceration line speeds and to stop USDA’s Modernization of Poultry Slaughter Inspection rule because of its potential to increase line speeds to 175 birds per minute. Fritzsche said that SPLC and other human rights groups and labor unions “have submitted comments to the USDA urging it to abandon this rule, and have informed the agency that it is about to subject workers to grave human rights violations,” but that the final rule is still expected in April. “This exhaustion of our domestic avenues for relief is part of why we are here before the commission seeking assistance,” he said. Before introducing experts from the U.S. Departments of Labor and Agriculture, Lawrence Gumbiner, Deputy U.S. Permanent Representative at the U.S. Mission to the Organization of American States, set out a limitation: “In reference to any pending rulemaking and/or petitions related to pending rulemaking by U.S. government agencies, the United States unfortunately cannot discuss these matters due to the ongoing deliberative nature of the regulatory process.” Representatives from the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) acknowledged that the meatpacking industry has some of the highest rates of occupational injuries and illnesses, but they also cited the recent National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) report that found no link between increased line speeds and worker safety. “We are aware that, in the course of our rulemaking, some have raised concerns that the changes in the way that plants will operate under the new inspection rule could adversely affect safety of workers in the plants,” said Rachel Edelstein, Assistant Administrator for the Office of Policy and Program Development at FSIS. “As a food safety agency, FSIS does not have the legal authority or expertise to regulate worker safety,” she continued. “However, USDA would never put forward a rule that would put anyone in harm’s way.” While moving forward with the rule, Edelstein said that FSIS is “working closely” with OSHA and NIOSH.