WASHINGTON, D.C. - Today U.S. Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) led eight of his Senate colleagues in urging Senate leaders to include language in the next COVID-19 relief package that would bar the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) from allowing meatpacking firms to increase line speeds beyond regulatory limits. In April, the USDA approved more than a dozen such requests from meat plants to exceed regulatory caps, despite the dangers increased line speeds pose to workers, animals, and consumers.

The letter comes in the wake of massive COVID-19 outbreaks among workers at meatpacking facilities across the U.S.

“During the COVID-19 pandemic, not only has the Administration failed to protect meat and poultry workers and inspectors, but the USDA’s Food and Safety Inspection Service FSIS is increasing the safety risks for workers by approving line speed increases,” the Senators wrote in a letter sent today to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY). “By increasing slaughter line speeds, plant employees become even more susceptible to work-related injuries such as repetitive trauma disorders and amputations due to the need to work faster. Rather than increasing line speeds, the USDA should be working with processing plants to slow down line speeds in order to accommodate social distancing measures aimed at reducing the spread of the virus in such plants.”

“Accordingly, we urge you to include language directing FSIS to retract previously granted approvals and suspend future approvals from poultry and meat plants to operate at speeds exceeding regulatory caps,” the Senators added.

The senators also requested Congress to direct the Government Accountability Office to research the full impact COVID-19 has had on meat packaging factories and how well the USDA has regulated the facilities.

The letter was also signed by Senators Blumenthal (D-CT), Schatz (D-HI), Gillibrand (D-NY), Markey (D-MA), Wyden (D-OR), Harris (D-CA), Feinstein (D-CA), and Warren (D-MA).

The full text of the letter can be found here.