November 16, 2021


US pork plants allowed to apply for operating faster processing-line speeds


The United States Department of Agriculture said last week that nine pork plants can apply to operate faster processing-line speeds under a one-year trial, after a federal judge in March struck down a Trump-era rule that removed line speed limits.


Faster slaughtering would help meat companies like WH Group's Smithfield Foods and JBS USA, a unit of Brazil's JBS SA, boost pork production at a time of strong demand and high bacon prices.


The companies and others like Hormel Foods Corp supplier Quality Pork Processors, are eligible to apply for the trial programme as they were previously able to accelerate processing under the earlier rule.


A federal judge invalidated the 2019 rule after the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Union sued the USDA over concerns about worker safety.


Some activists criticised USDA for starting a new waiver programme.


"With this decision, the Biden administration is caving to industry pressure," said Zach Corrigan, senior attorney for Food & Water Watch.


But the UFCW, America's largest union for meatpacking workers, said the programme will create a mechanism to collect data that shows how to protect workers and promote food safety.


In the pilot programme, plants will implement worker safety measures under agreements with labor unions or worker safety committees, USDA said.


Plants will collect data on how line speeds affect workers and share it with the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration, USDA said. The data could be used to make future rules for the industry.


Meat companies welcomed the programme as an "opportunity to restore lost production and help ease supply chain challenges but will need to examine further the specific requirements for participation," said the North American Meat Institute, an industry group representing major meatpackers.


Pork companies lost 2.5% of their slaughtering capacity following the March court decision, the National Pork Producers Council said.


Futures traders said the pilot programme’s announcement boosted Chicago Mercantile Exchange lean hog futures amid concerns that slower processing speeds had reduced meatpackers' demand for pigs to slaughter.


- Reuters