House Appropriators voted to revoke 16 pandemic-related meat and poultry line-speed waivers during the Trump era, but not before a lively debate over line-speeds and worker health and safety. California Democrat Barbara Lee offered the amendment to the FY ’22 USDA/FDA spending bill, saying, “This amendment helps protect the health and safety of meat packing workers, by suspending and prohibiting any line-speed increases in meat and poultry plants, during the pandemic.”
But top Ag Appropriations Republican Jeff Fortenberry pointed to safety and productivity at one of the affected plants in his Nebraska district, and says, “This plant helped pick up the slack for those that had shut down, thereby mitigating the impact of disruption on our food supply. That plant had very specific practices in place that protected workers and maintained production.” Appropriations Chair Rosa DeLauro said she’s visited plants and higher speeds prevented social distancing, meaning more infections and says, “Fifty thousand tested positive during COVID…250, dead from COVID. Harmful? Do we want to talk, harmful? Dying is harmful.”
But Republican John Moolinaar of Michigan says the swine inspection rule started as a lengthy pilot in the Clinton Administration, and the data shows it’s working. Moolinaar says, “The data shows fewer worker injuries in NSIS facilities over time and fewer injuries at plants, when compared to plants outside of the program. Moreover, there’s no connection between COVID-19 and these line speed waivers, which processors had to provide substantial safety data to receive. Revoking these line-speed waivers would harm American farmers that have already faced an unprecedented situation over the past year.”
Ashley Hinson represents Northeast Iowa and says, “Secretary Vilsack did recently echo this point on a radio show, a few weeks back. He said, quote, ‘we’re looking for an opportunity to expand our processing capacity…and it’s fairly clear that producers believe, we don’t have enough.” But Vilsack separately agreed to comply with a court order ending the faster line-speeds, while several farm-state senators are asking him and the solicitor general to appeal that court decision.