Miss. Poultry Industry Could See Changes In Production
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Workers in Mississippi's poultry industry are sounding the alarm about new regulations that they believe could but them in physical danger.  The federal government is considering allowing companies to speed up the lines at the processing plants.

Poultry is Mississippi's biggest agricultural product but advocates for chicken workers say proposed new rules would make processing plants too dangerous.

As soon as this month, OSHA and the USDA could let factories speed up their processing lines to 175 birds a minute and shift some inspection responsibilities to companies.

Tom Fritzsche with the Southern Poverty Law Center says that is too fast for workers who are already under pressure.

"Workers said they are discouraged from reporting work related injuries and forced to endure constant pain. They are usually unable to stop or slow down the processing line even when they are hurt. The rush to process as many birds as possible with as few workers as possible leads to many serious illnesses and limits workers access to breaks," Fritzsche said.

Franco, who is a former poultry plant worker, says his years in the factory left him with permanent pain from trying to keep up with existing line speeds.

"Because of the line speed I have suffered carpel tunnel syndrome and I also had a grave injury to my back and waste. Because of the carpel tunnel I have had to have injections in my hands," Franco said.

However, many in the poultry industry are supportive of the changes saying it is appropriate to update rules that have been unchanged for decades.

Mike Cockrill with the Mississippi-based poultry company Sanderson Farms says the portrayal of his industry is not rooted in reality.

"The fact of the matter is that safety in our industry has improved something like 400% over the last 20 years and 40% over the last five years. it just continues to get better and better. And that is due in part to the technology available now," Cockrill said.

Cockrill says his factory would not speed up their lines even if they have the option because it would decrease quality.

A pilot test of the rules has been in place for 20 factories nationwide since 1998, and representatives for the industry say that long test has shown that these changes are safe and smart.