A court order issued by the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota vacated the part of the USDA final rule eliminating line speed limits for New Swine Slaughter Inspection System (NSIS) establishments. As a result, all NSIS establishments are currently required to operate at line speeds that do not exceed 1,106 head per hour (hph). FSIS, in collaboration with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, has developed a “time-limited trial” that will enable establishments to experiment with ergonomics, automation, and crewing to create custom work environments that will protect food and worker safety while increasing productivity. NSIS establishments may apply to participate in a time-limited trial. During the trial, participating establishments will be permitted to operate at an increased line speed for a period of up to one year during which time they will collect data that measures the impact of line speed on workers.

The nine facilities that have been invited to participate in the trial are:

  • Seaboard Foods in Guymon, OK
  • JBS-Swift in Beardstown, IL, and Ottumwa, IA
  • Quality Pork Processors in Austin, MN
  • WholeStone Farms Cooperative in Fremont, NE
  • Clemens Food Group in Hatfield, PA, and Coldwater, MI
  • Tyson Fresh Meats in Madison, NE
  • Smithfield Packaged Meats Corp. in Los Angeles, CA

To participate in a time-limited trial, an NSIS establishment must implement worker safety measures included in an agreement with the workers’ union or worker safety committee that represents their employees, FSIS said in its announcement.

"The trial will facilitate experimentation with different ergonomics, automation and crewing to design custom work environments that increase productivity and protect food safety while decreasing the probability of worker injuries," Kate Waters, USDA spokesperson, told USA Today.

The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union previously had criticized the rule that allowed pork plants to increase line speeds. Some pork plants were processing up to 1,450 head an hour before line speeds were lowered to 1,106 an hour. Following the announcement of the facilities participating in the trial, UFCW President Marc Perrone said in a statement that the Biden administration was "creating a mechanism to collect the data to show how best to protect worker safety and promote food safety” with "a time-limited trial in pork plants, undertaken with input from unions and others focused on worker safety." 

Source: FSIS, USA Today