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Unions Are Suing the USDA Over Unsafe Conditions in Meat Plants

Plus, Trader Joe’s does not think its “ethnic” names are racist, and more news to start your day

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Poultry Processing Plant Shutterstock
Jaya Saxena is a Correspondent at, and the series editor of Best American Food Writing. She explores wide ranging topics like labor, identity, and food culture.

Meat packing plans are under fire from workers, and politicians

The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union and other local unions are suing the USDA, claiming the speed regulations at chicken processing plants increase the likelihood of coronavirus spread and put workers in danger. “As COVID-19 continues to infect thousands of meatpacking workers, it is stunning that USDA is further endangering these workers by allowing poultry companies to increase line speeds to dangerous new levels that increase the risk of injury and make social distancing next to impossible,” UFCW International President Marc Perrone said in a statement. The lawsuit alleges that USDA waivers that allow poultry plants to increase line speeds violated the Administrative Procedure Act, and that the “USDA failed to follow required procedures and ignored the agency’s own rules and policies when it adopted the waiver program.”

The working conditions within meat plants has been a point of concern throughout the pandemic, as meat plants became hot spots for COVID-19 spread. Yesterday, Senator Cory Booker introduced the Safe Line Speeds in COVID-19 Act, which would halt “all current and future USDA waivers and regulations that allow companies to increase production line speeds at meatpacking plants during the COVID-19 pandemic.” According to an investigation opened by Booker and Senator Elizabeth Warren, meat companies used the cover of potential meat shortages to create unsafe working conditions, and successfully lobbied Donald Trump into ordering that meat plants stay open. “If these companies believe they’re doing everything required of them to protect workers, yet workers continue getting sick and dying, then it’s clear that non-enforceable CDC guidance is not enough—the next coronavirus relief package must include an OSHA ETS to keep workers safe,” said Warren. “We also need to massively reform our broken food and farm system to give workers, farmers, and consumer real bargaining power.”

The USDA and the major food plants have not commented on the UFCW lawsuit, but a spokesperson for the National Chicken Council, an industry lobbying group, said the faster line speeds have been deemed effective. But the UFCW, and other experts, disagree: “Federal and private research, as well as the experiences of poultry workers, show that an increase in work pace caused by faster line speeds increases the risk of injury to workers.”

And in other news...

  • Budweiser is launching a non-alcoholic beer in order to capture the “wellness” market. [CNN]
  • Even though Trader Joe’s is changing the names on some of its “ethnic food” products, the company insists those names were not racist, and that the petition calling for the names to be changed had no influence on their decisions. They just independently decided to change labels at the exact same time! How convenient! [USA Today]
  • Fast food companies like McDonald’s and Starbucks are charging more for delivery service, because third-party delivery services cut into their earnings. [BI]
  • Watermelon burgers! Sure, ok! [The Takeout]
  • McDonald’s is closing more than 100 restaurants located inside Walmarts. [NRN]
  • Dunkin’ is making caffeinated cereal. [Forbes]