Increased Slaughter-Line Speeds 10 Times More Likely to Spark COVID Outbreaks

According to academic research and nonprofit data, chicken slaughterhouses that were granted government waivers to increase their slaughter-line speeds are 10 times more likely to cause COVID-19 outbreaks.

Since 2018, the Trump administration has granted 54 chicken slaughterhouses permission to increase their slaughter-line speeds. This means that the chicken plants went from a cap of 140 birds a minute to a staggering 175 birds per minute. The higher speed makes social distancing practically impossible for workers as they struggle to keep up with the lines. What’s more, these slaughterhouses generally tuck thousands of workers into tight spaces, facilitating the spread of COVID-19.

In April 2020, George’s—an Arkansas poultry plant—received a line-speed waiver. The plant employs more than 1,000 workers, including Juana Hernandez. According to Hernandez, she and her fellow workers must lean over the plastic dividers used to separate their workstations in order to cut chicken carcasses:

We are inches from one another, knocking into each other through the plastic sheets. I eat lunch in my car to protect myself because the break room is too crowded. We are on top of one another as we clock in. It’s scary. I worry about bringing it home.

The increased line speeds not only put workers at further risk of COVID-19 but in many cases force them to stand so close together that they cut one another with their knives. No wonder slaughterhouse workers suffer some of the highest rates of injury and dismemberment on the job.

We have also long known that speeding up slaughter lines results in unspeakable animal suffering. Indeed, increased line speeds lead to improper shackling and stunning, leaving countless animals conscious throughout the slaughter process. Many birds miss the kill blades and are still alive when they reach the scalding feather-removal tanks. According to the USDA, in 2018 more than 600,000 birds drowned in these tanks.

On February 25, Mercy For Animals, Animal Outlook, the Humane Society of the United States, Government Accountability Project, and Marin Humane filed a lawsuit challenging the United States Department of Agriculture’s decision to increase line-speed limits at chicken slaughterhouses.

The coalition argues that the USDA’s 2018 decision violates the Administrative Procedure Act, Poultry Products Inspection Act, and National Environmental Policy Act. The suit seeks to reverse the increase in line-speed limits and ensure that any future increases comply with the law.

The current situation highlights the need for policies that protect farmed animals, and it is advocates like you that will bring about these reforms. Make sure you are signed up for our Action Center to receive alerts when notable legislation is pending where you live.