USDA withdraws proposals on poultry plant line speeds and SNAP

The Food Safety and Inspection Service addresses its proposal to allow line speeds of up to 175 birds per minute at poultry processing plants.

As part of the regulatory freeze announced by President Biden, the USDA withdrew proposed regulations that would have allowed much faster line speeds at poultry slaughter plants and would have ended SNAP benefits for 3.1 million people by tightening eligibility rules. They were among seven USDA regulations — all withdrawn — that were under review by the White House budget office during the change of administrations.

“We’re pleased that the Biden administration has resisted the bidding of the immensely powerful corporate poultry lobby,” said Wenonah Hauter of the consumer group Food and Water Watch. “But this is just the first of many steps the USDA must pursue to demonstrate a long-term commitment to prioritizing public health and safety over corporate profits.”

The Food Safety and Inspection Service said its proposal to allow line speeds of up to 175 birds per minute at poultry processing plants under its so-called New Poultry Inspection System (NPIS) “would allow certain young chicken establishments to slaughter birds more efficiently while continuing to ensure food safety and effective online carcass inspections.” The current limit is 140 birds per minute. Some 124 chicken plants have converted to NPIS, says USDA.

“The line speed rule is one of several rules and regulations that fall under the regulatory freeze memo issued last week by the White House,” said the USDA. “As directed, USDA withdrew this rule pending an ongoing review.”

The proposed SNAP regulation would have reduced enrollment by 3.1 million by restricting so-called categorical eligibility, according to the Urban Institute. Created by the 1996 welfare reform law, categorical eligibility allows states to modify asset tests and income limits so that people who receive social services can be considered for SNAP. “Cat El” was intended to reduce the administrative burden on states in running social programs. The Trump administration said “some states are taking advantage of a loophole” to pad SNAP enrollment when it proposed limits on categorical eligibility in July 2019.

Also withdrawn was a proposal to alter the way utility costs are viewed as part of calculating SNAP benefits, a proposal to give schools more leeway in meeting school food requirements, a proposal for a database to prevent people from collecting SNAP benefits in more than one state, and two proposed regulations on livestock.

The list of withdrawn regulations is available here.

Produced with FERN, non-profit reporting on food, agriculture, and environmental health.
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