The federal government is considering a rule change that would allow poultry plants to speed up production lines. MPB's Paul Boger reports civil-rights and worker safety groups believe the changes could be dangerous.
Poultry is a 2.5 billion dollar business in Mississippi, but those who work in the industry say it's also hard and dangerous work. LaShunda Bobbitt of Forest is in her mid-thirties and worked at poultry production plant for two years.
"I was put on a line to where I had to hang the chickens to where they were de-feathered." said Bobbitt. "It was constant movement, that I developed issues with my shoulders. When I got to the doctors she told me because of the repetitive moments of the job I was performing that I developing inflammation and the early stages of arthritis."
Under current U-S Department of Agriculture regulations, poultry plants are only allowed to process 140 birds per minute. However, a proposed rule change set to take effect in April, would speed that process up to 175 birds per minute. A speed many workers feel is too fast.
Tom Super with the National Chicken Council says the rule change would have little to no impact on workers
"There's a lot of misinformation out there, and a lot of misperceptions out there." said Super. "The section of the plant that this rule deals with is the evisceration line which is almost entirely automated. So the increase in line speeds will not expose employees to higher risk of injuries."
Many workers would like to see the lines slowed down for safety reasons. Tom Fritzsche with the Southern Poverty Law Center.
"One of the biggest things we would like to see is for USDA and OSHA to slow down the lines by issuing a work speed standard that would be clear and enforceable for workers to use as a way to protect themselves to reduce the risk of repetitive motion injuries and other cumulative motion injuries that workers are suffering from right now." said Fritzsche.
According to the national Chicken Council, if the rule is allowed to go into effect the poultry industry could potentially make an additional 250 million dollars a year.