Former President Donald Trump
companies in speeding up production lines
within their plants
in order to process more animals
, despite concerns that it would result in more worker injuries. However, the Biden administration
has delivered a very different message: Not so fast.
The pork industry suffered a setback this week when President Joe Biden
's Agriculture Department announced that it would comply with a court ruling that invalidated key parts of a Trump-era meatpacking rule, forcing some pork facilities to slow their lines.
The Trump rule allowed certain plants to increase their speeds above the traditional limit of 1,106 hogs per hour. However, a federal judge in Minnesota
ruled in March that USDA
officials under Trump instituted that rule in an “arbitrary” and “capricious” manner, failing to consider worker safety. The judge gave hog processors and the USDA 90 days to sort things out.
The pork industry lobby asked the Biden administration to appeal the ruling, claiming that slowing the plants would harm meat production; however, the administration now appears unlikely to do so.
The USDA issued an alert on Wednesday, instructing pork plants to prepare to slow their lines by June 30. The USDA stated that it was “committed to worker safety and ensuring a safe, reliable food
supply,” and that it intended to comply with the Minnesota ruling.
The United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), a union that represents 33,000 workers in pork plants, applauded the move. The UFCW and the progressive advocacy group Public Citizen filed the Minnesota lawsuit
, claiming the Trump rule was dangerous.
“The safety of America’s frontline food workers must never again be sacrificed for corporate profits,” said the union’s president, Marc Perrone, in a statement.
For years, labor unions
and the meat industry have fought over line speeds; meat producers claim they can increase production safely, but labor unions and occupational health
experts say the faster speeds create more hazards in a field known for repetitive-motion injuries and other damage.
Late last year, the Trump administration
issued a separate rule allowing certain poultry plants to increase their production rates from 140 chickens per minute to 175 chickens per minute.
A so-called midnight regulation, issued just before Trump's presidency ended, would have fulfilled a long-term goal of the poultry industry, even as meat plants were experiencing some of the worst coronavirus
clusters in the country. A November 2020 study found that plants that had received speed waivers had higher COVID-19
However, just days after Biden's inauguration, the new administration reversed the poultry rule.
The Trump administration implemented the pork rule in 2019. Previously, only a few pork plants had been operating at faster speeds in a pilot program dating back to the Clinton administration, but the Trump rule would have increased the number of plants that could operate at faster speeds.
The National Pork Producers Council, the industry's lobbying group, said the court decision would be "disastrous" for hog farmers because they had bred pigs assuming plants could handle increased capacity, and urged the USDA to "intervene."
So far, Biden's stance on line speeds is consistent with his campaign statements, as he stated on the campaign trail a year ago that he believed the processing lines inside meat plants were already moving
“Whether it’s cattle, beef, pigs, or chicken, they’re moving down that line faster and faster and faster to increase the profit rate,” Biden said at a Yahoo News
town hall in May 2020. “People
are getting sicker. People are getting hurt, and the very thing we should be doing now is making sure these people are protected.”