This week, the Biden Administration withdrew a pending rule that would increase the national slaughter speed of chickens to dangerous levels that would have further jeopardized animal welfare, worker safety, and public health. Since 2018, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has issued waivers to allow slaughterhouses to increase the speed with which they slaughter chickens from 140 birds per minute to 175 birds per minute—an action encapsulated in a rule proposed in 2020 called “Maximum Line Speed Under the New Poultry Inspection System,” which the Biden Administration withdrew.

“The Biden Administration’s withdrawal of this pending rule is simply common sense. Allowing the USDA to ratchet up line speeds would have been an animal welfare and worker safety nightmare, all but guaranteeing inhumane slaughter and another terrible spike in COVID infections within slaughter plants,” Sara Amundson, president of animal-rights group Humane Society Legislative Fund, said. “Both the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Centers for Disease Control have suggested that line speeds be decreased to allow slaughter facilities to implement stronger social-distancing protocols. Allowing this rule would have demonstrated a staggering lack of judgment and recklessness under the circumstances. We will continue to work with the Biden Administration to make sure additional steps are taken to slow down line speeds across the industry to protect animal welfare and worker safety.”

Increasing slaughter speeds during COVID-19
In April, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) approved a record number of waivers for poultry plants to start operating at breakneck line speeds. An analysis by the National Employment Law Project found that the plants that received these waivers have all had records of severe injuries, have been cited for worker safety violations, and/or have become COVID-19 hotspots. In February 2020, a group of animal-rights organizations—including The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), Animal Outlook (formerly Compassion Over Killing), Mercy For Animals, Government Accountability Project, and Marin Humane—filed a lawsuit against the USDA to halt the increased slaughter speeds.

“The Biden Administration’s rejection of the USDA’s 2020 rule to increase slaughter line speeds puts worker safety and the treatment of animals ahead of corporate interests. It also sends a clear message to the meat industry, the agency’s new leadership and the American public,” HSUS President and CEO Kitty Block said. “Profit shouldn’t matter more than the basic welfare and safety of people and animals, and the mitigation of pandemic risks associated with slaughter plants. This was a priority ask for us with the presidential transition team and we’re thankful that President Biden followed through on his expressed concerns about speeding up slaughter lines.”