Delmarva Poultry Industry, Inc. Petitions USDA for Line Speed Flexibility
Delmarva Poultry Industry, Inc. has joined the National Chicken Council in asking the U.S. Department of Agriculture to allow chicken processing plants that participate in rigorous inspection programs to operate at line speeds higher than the arbitrary line speed limits now imposed on the chicken industry. Without compromising on food safety or worker safety, the result would be more affordable chicken.
DPI is asking the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) to implement a waiver system permitting young chicken slaughter establishments participating in the New Poultry Inspection System (NPIS) and the Salmonella Initiative Program (SIP) to operate without the arbitrary line speed limitation of 140 birds per minute imposed under NPIS. (Many other nations with modern animal agriculture practices, including several European countries and Canada, allow line speeds of 175-200 birds per minute.) NPIS was initiated as a voluntary program in which plants, in return for greater regulatory oversight by FSIS, would have greater operational flexibility, including more control over line speeds. The program was intended to improve food safety outcomes and generate cost efficiencies for both plants and FSIS. But without the incentive of higher line speeds, the arbitrary line speed cap realized in the final rule has discouraged many establishments from opting into NPIS, and the enrollment rate substantially is lower than predicted. Restricting the line speeds to 140 birds per minute has caused the industry and USDA to forego potential cost savings associated with making better use of resources, all without any offsetting benefit to food safety or worker safety.
We can increase line speeds and keep making chicken safer to eat.
Regarding food safety, the National Chicken Council (NCC) has cited October 2017 USDA data from NPIS and non-NPIS establishments that confirms plants permitted to operate at line speeds greater than 140 birds per minute on a test basis continued to meet FSIS performance standards for Salmonella and Campylobacter levels. These data also demonstrated that inspectors are performing four times more off-line food safety verification tasks in NPIS plants compared to non-NPIS plants. "FSIS inspectional data reinforces that establishments operating under NPIS at line speeds greater than 140 bpm have compliance records at least as strong as those operating under other inspection models," NCC's petition supporting line speed flexibility reads.
We can increase line speeds and keep making workers safer.
In terms of worker safety, the evisceration part of the line that deals with the speed increase is almost entirely automated. Second processing lines, where workers debone and cut up chicken parts, do not run at the same speed as the evisceration line, nor would they increase in speed. Further, at the same time the industry has been increasing evisceration line speeds over the past 20 years, the poultry industry's injury and illness rate has fallen 82 percent, according to the Department of Labor. In fact, the incidence of nonfatal occupational injuries and illnesses in the poultry sector, which includes slaughter and processing, is at an all-time low. The total recordable poultry processing illness and injury rate for 2016 was 4.2 cases per 100 full-time workers (per year). That is below the rate of 6.9 for similar agricultural industries in terms of injuries per 100 full time workers and lower than the rate of 4.7 for the entire food manufacturing sector. To put the rate of 4.2 into perspective, it is lower than soft drink manufacturing (6.3), cheese manufacturing (5.6), and bakeries and tortilla manufacturing (4.3).