The Humane Society of the U.S. and other groups are suing USDA over its 2018 rule allowing chicken processing plants to increase their line speeds to a rate of 175 birds per minute.

“Slaughtering animals at this rate is not only inhumane, it makes working conditions even more dangerous for workers and compromises the safety of the food that Americans put on their table,” the plaintiffs said in a news release.

Filed in the Northern District of California, the lawsuit says, “Not only did the agency authorize this increase in speed limit, [its] decision forces facilities that decide to speed up to operate at least one line faster than the previous recklessly high limit or risk losing the ability to operate at higher speeds altogether.”

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Increased line speeds, the lawsuit says, “will make it more difficult for [Food Safety and Inspection Service] inspectors to examine the carcass of each bird,” which is required by the 1958 Poultry Products Inspection Act. That problem will be exacerbated, the lawsuit says, because USDA’s New Poultry Inspection System, adopted in 2014, “allows slaughterhouses to reduce the number of FSIS inspectors along the slaughter line.” At the time, then Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack argued the plan placed inspectors "where they can better ensure food is being processed safely."

The lawsuit alleges USDA violated the Administrative Procedure Act by not providing adequate notice or an opportunity to comment, or evaluate the environmental impacts of the plan.

In its Sept. 28, 2018, decision, FSIS said in order to receive a waiver to operate at up to 175 birds per minute, a facility “must be able to demonstrate that the new equipment, technologies, or procedures that allow the establishment to operate at faster line speeds will maintain or improve food safety.”

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