Monday, November 20, 2006

Slow Line Speeds In Meatpacking

The Nebraska Appleseed Center has called for the federal government to issue regulations slowing the pace of meatpacking production lines in to improve the safety of workers and food.
Swift-moving production lines processing 400 head of cattle per hour are the major cause of worker injuries and put food safety at risk, said Milo Mumgaard, executive director of the public policy center.

“The simple truth is that it all happens too fast,” he said.

Mumgaard urged Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns to “require the industry to slow down.”

It is Johanns’ job to “ensure our hamburgers -- and the workers who process them -- are as safe as they can be,” Mumgaard said. “Slowing down the line is a great place to start.”
The industry counters with it usual disingenuous argument that production line pace is already regulated.
Janet Riley, spokesperson for the American Meat Institute in Washington, D.C., disputed Appleseed’s conclusions.

Line speed already is regulated by U.S. Department of Agriculture inspectors, she said.

“Inspectors are in our plants every minute we operate and they are fully empowered to take action” if line speed adversely affects food safety, Riley said.

Production lines are allowed to move only at a speed that “permits compliance with federal rules,” she said.

“It’s not so much the speed of the line,” she said, but whether the production line is adequately crewed.
The fact is that the inspectors are concerned about the quality and safety of the meat, not the safety of the workers. According to a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report last year,
Line speed is regulated by USDA to permit adequate inspection by food safety inspectors. According to USDA, when the maximum speeds were originally set and when they are adjusted by the agency, the safety and health of plant production workers is not a consideration.
Not to worry:
Tyson Foods spokesman Gary Mickelson said: “Appropriate staffing for a production line is set by industrial engineers who conduct studies to determine the number of people needed to safely, yet effectively, process certain product mixes.”

Key factors in establishing staffing levels are “protecting the safety of our team members as well as the quality of our products,” Mickelson said.

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