Poultry farmers would have more protection against abuse by processors under a USDA proposal to revamp the “tournament” system that pits producers against each other in a competition for income, said the Biden administration on Thursday. The administration also announced $200 million in funding to help independent meat processors go into business or expand production.
The USDA will propose three rules to give cattle, hog and poultry producers more leverage in dealing with meat processors in an increasingly concentrated industry, said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. The initiatives would make it easier for a producer to prove unfair treatment by a processor and would write a new regulation on use of so-called tournament systems by processors to determine pay for poultry farmers.
Forty percent of the poultry plants participating in the USDA's controversial line speed waiver program have had Covid-19 outbreaks, according to an analysis of FERN’s outbreaks database. Labor advocates have warned that faster speeds on crowded processing lines could expose slaughterhouse workers to a greater risk of Covid-19, and even the top federal workplace authority has suggested that meatpackers reduce line speeds to curb the spread of the virus.(No paywall)
Ten members of the U.S. House filed a bipartisan bill to provide grants to poultry and red meat processors that want to improve their facilities so they can move to federal inspection and sell their products across state lines. Sponsors include leaders of the House Agriculture Committee and the House Appropriations subcommittee that oversees USDA spending.(No paywall)
Up to $7 million will be paid in bonuses to "team members who continue to produce food during the Covid-19 outbreak," said Hormel Foods on Thursday. The money will be paid in July to employees at Hormel's meat and processed food plants and would follow a $4 million bonus paid in April. (No paywall)
Sen. Cory Booker introduced legislation yesterday that would require more transparency and oversight of how poultry loans are allocated by the Small Business Administration. The proposal comes just a week after a report from the Office of the Inspector General questioned nearly $2 billion in loans from the SBA to poultry farmers. (No paywall)
A class-action lawsuit in Arkansas challenges as unconstitutional two drug- and alcohol-rehabilitation programs that require participants to work for free at chicken processing plants and a plastic manufacturing plant, reports Reveal, from the Center from Investigative Reporting. The programs are populated by defendants who are sent to rehab as an alternative to imprisonment.
Republican lawmakers and the chicken industry "are aggressively lobbying to speed up" inspection lines, now limited to 140 birds per minute, at poultry slaughter and processing plants, says NBC News. The trade group National Chicken Council has petitioned USDA to allow plants participating in a new inspection system to operate "at any line speed" they can handle.
The 21-day-old chicken — white-feathered, dark-eyed, with a brush-cut of pale yellow bristles above its beak — climbed carefully up a ramp, teetered briefly at the top, then launched itself into space. It landed on another bird, flapped hard, and gave its accidental landing pad an apologetic peck. Then it wandered off into a crowd of more than 49,000 chickens just like it that were hopping into boxes, poking their beaks into straw bales, and settling in pools of sunlight for a snooze.
Workers at poultry processing plants endure "grim" conditions, says Oxfam America, in a report that calls for a better working environment at plants run by the four largest companies - Tyson Foods, Pilgrim's Perdue and Sanderson Farms.
USDA said it certified four processing plants in China's Shandong Province to cook and ship poultry meat to U.S. customers, the latest step in a decade-old proposal.
The government revamped its poultry inspection system so USDA inspectors devote more time to preventing pathogen contamination of meat while processors have more responsibliity for finding quality defects.
"(C)ivil rights and worker-safety groups arranged for poultry workers to meet with lawmakers and administration officials to warn against the proposed acceleration of processing-line speeds...