The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals commends U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and U.S. Reps. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) and Bennie Thompson (D-MS) for reintroducing the Safe Line Speeds During COVID-19 Act to better protect animals, workers, and consumers from the dangers posed by higher line speeds in poultry, pig, and cattle slaughterhouses. This legislation would prohibit slaughter and meat processing facilities from operating at extreme speeds during the pandemic.
Extreme-speed slaughter imperils animals, workers, and food safety under normal circumstances, accelerating production and placing even more pressure on workers to move animals quickly. Higher line speeds also make it more difficult for slaughterhouses to abide by humane handling laws and regulations, putting animals at greater risk of abuse and even conscious slaughter. During the COVID-19 crisis – when it’s especially critical for workplaces to accommodate social distancing – slaughterhouses and processing plants have failed miserably to protect workers from the rapid spread of the virus, which has caused some plants to close temporarily. Since the start of the pandemic, at least 517 meatpacking plants have had confirmed cases of COVID-19 and more than 57,500 meatpacking workers have tested positive for the virus.
“Industrial agriculture’s failures during the COVID-19 pandemic have exposed massive vulnerabilities in our food system, creating an urgent need to transition to a more humane food system that values animals, people, and the environment,” said Matt Bershadker, ASPCA President and CEO. “Prohibiting irresponsibly fast slaughter speeds is one immediate step we can take to enhance protections for animals, workers, and consumers, and we thank Senator Booker and Representatives DeLauro and Thompson for their leadership on the Safe Line Speeds During COVID-19 Act.”
“Since the beginning of the pandemic, outbreaks of COVID-19 have surged in meatpacking plants across the country, where the majority of workers are from immigrant communities and communities of color, resulting in tens of thousands of COVID-19 infections among meatpacking workers and tragically at least 284 deaths,” said Sen. Booker. “The situation only worsened last year when the Trump administration approved more than 20 requests from meatpacking plants to exceed regulatory limits on line speeds despite the risks posed to the safety of workers and consumers. The Biden administration has taken an important first step in withdrawing the previous administration’s proposed rule to increase line speeds in poultry plants, but it is critically important that we continue to prioritize the safety of frontline workers and consumers over the profits of large multinational meatpacking corporations.”
“Last week, the Labor-HHS Subcommittee that I chair heard testimony on the safety of meatpacking workers that revealed corporate meatpackers pursued faster line speeds to protect their bottom lines at the tragic expense of workers,” said Rep. DeLauro. “The ongoing COVID-19 outbreaks at meat plants over the last year have raised serious questions about the safety conditions inside these plants. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, these workers experienced injuries at a higher rate than comparable occupations. And now, faster line speeds make it impossible for workers to practice social distancing and comply with safety guidelines. That is why I am proud to join the leadership shown by Senator Booker and Representative Thompson in introducing this legislation that will reign in these reckless line speed waivers for the duration of the COVID-19 public health emergency.”
“It is imperative that we ensure worker safety on slaughter lines,” said Rep. Thompson. “Safety cannot be exchanged for high production. During this unprecedented time of COVID-19, we should take the necessary precautions to ensure employees are safe while working at meat and poultry establishments.”
The Safe Line Speeds During COVID-19 Act would suspend existing line speed waivers and put an end to the issuance of new waivers amid the pandemic while halting the implementation of, and conversion to, the New Swine Slaughter Inspection System (NSIS), which removes all limits on pig slaughter line speeds. This legislation would require the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to conduct a review of actions taken by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) in response to the pandemic, while preventing the USDA from spending funds on any actions or programs that would increase line speeds during this time.
As the pandemic continues to wreak havoc across the United States, public awareness of the horrific realities of industrial animal agriculture has increased, resulting in greater support for necessary reforms. According to a recent survey conducted by Lake Research Partners, 82 percent of respondents now believe the government should mandate slower slaughter speeds to protect animals, workers, or public health.
The Safe Line Speeds During COVID-19 Act is supported by a diverse coalition of animal welfare, consumer safety, and workers’ rights organizations. Recognizing that the fates of farm animals and humans are inextricably tied, the ASPCA recently led a coalition of 65 nonprofits, farming groups, and companies in delivering an urgent letter to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack, pressing the new administration to take action in three vital policy areas under President Biden’s executive order on tackling the climate crisis: stopping extreme-speed slaughter, requiring better treatment of animals raised under the USDA Organic label and ensuring fair and just treatment for farmers across the country.
Original cosponsors of the legislation include Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Patty Murray (Wash.) in the Senate, and Reps. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), Jeff Van Drew (R-N.J.), Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.), Nanette Barragán (D-Calif.), Grace Napolitano (D-Calif.), Bobby Rush (D-Ill.), Alan Lowenthal (D-Calif.), Tom Suozzi (D-N.Y.), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Katherine Clark (D-MA), Jesús “Chuy” García (D-IL), Alcee Hastings (D-FL), Ro Khanna (D-CA), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Andy Levin (D-MI), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), Chellie Pingree (D-ME), Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ), Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) and Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio) in the House of Representatives.