Meatpacking Plant Workers Are Applauding Joe Biden. Here's Why

If you've been paying attention to the news cycle, you'd know that President Joe Biden has signed 25 executive orders, 10 presidential memos, and four proclamations since he stood before the Capitol and took the oath of office on January 20. The executive actions, which covered issues from fighting the coronavirus pandemic to climate change and from immigration to racial justice, topped the tally racked up by his predecessors (via Quartz). 

But unless you were paying close attention, you might have missed a Biden decision to reverse a Trump administration initiative that called for an increase to the maximum number of chickens which can be processed per minute on a production line from 140 to 175 (via HuffPost). If you think that sounds like a lot of chickens to go through, you would be right, because that speed has consequences for both the chickens and the humans that are working on the production lines.

Vox says processing 140 chickens a minute means workers need to work on birds at the rate of 2.33 per second. This, in turn, raises questions about whether the birds are actually being humanely slaughtered (short answer: a few, but still significant number aren't because of the way conventionally farmed chickens are killed). Even without the increase, the need for speed has also resulted in a sharp increase in COVID-19 infection rates among meatpacking workers, because working faster means it is difficult to socially distance (via The Washington Post).

The industry is still wary of the Agriculture Department

During a Yahoo! town hall in May of 2020, then-candidate Joe Biden addressed the perils of speeding up meat processing. "Whether it's cattle, whether it's beef, whether it's pigs, whether it's chicken, they're moving down that line faster and faster and faster to increase the profit rate,"  said  (via Yahoo! News). "People are getting sicker... People are getting hurt. The very thing we should be doing now is making sure these people are protected ... Slow the process up." It seems that he is making good on that call to action.

But watchdogs aren't letting up, because they say the industry is not out of the woods yet. HuffPost says the increase was actually considered once before: the Agriculture Department under once and current Secretary Tom Vilsack had already considered boosting chicken production line outputs during the time of the Obama Administration. Wenonah Hauter, executive director of watchdog Food and Water Watch considers the production line freeze "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. Given Secretary Tom Vilsack's record, we must be diligent and aggressive in holding this administration accountable."