Tuberville Advocates for Extending Poultry Line Speed Waiver Deadline, Biden Administration Reverses Course

WASHINGTON – Following a hearing in February when U.S. Senator Tommy Tuberville (R-AL) urged Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack to extend the poultry line speed waiver past the expiration date of March 31, 2024, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced the waivers are being extended until November 15, 2024. This is big news for Alabama, as eight poultry plants in the state participate in the modified line speed waiver program to operate at up to 175 birds per minute, considerably higher than the previous maximum line speed of 140 birds per minute.

“I was glad to see the USDA take my advice and extend the poultry line speed waiver deadline to November,” said Senator Tuberville. “Our poultry producers and processors work hard to safely prepare and package food for not only the United States, but the world. We need to give them every possible tool to succeed.”


Senator Tuberville questioned Secretary Vilsack during a Senate Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry Committee hearing regarding oversight of the USDA on February 29, 2024. Read an excerpt from their exchange below or watch the full exchange here.

TUBERVILLE: “Let’s talk a little bit about poultry. Yesterday, the USDA FSIS (Food Safety Inspection Service) extended the Time-Limited Trial for pork processing facilities, allowing them to continue operating at higher line speeds. As of now, the poultry industry’s line speed waivers are set to expire at the end of March. Can you say whether USDA plans to extend the waivers?”

VILSACK: “I think we will see an extension of this because we want to make sure we get the right information about whether or not line speeds actually do relate to increased worker injury or worker safety. That’s the whole purpose of this, is to try to find out what the facts are. We need to structure these studies in a way that gives us the information. I’m not interested in making decisions on this until I have all the facts. I don’t have all the facts yet.”

Last week, Senator Tuberville joined his colleagues in sending a letter to U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai and U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack urging them to increase U.S. agricultural exports and improve the competitiveness of U.S. products abroad. In 2022, agricultural exports topped $1.7 billion in Alabama according to the USDA. Alabama ranked 4th nationally in broiler exports with $486.5 million in exports.

In May 2023, Senator Tuberville advocated for Alabama’s poultry producers’ ability to access capital during a Senate Ag Subcommittee hearing on Commodities, Risk Management, and Trade. Excerpts can be found below.

TUBERVILLE: “Mr. Wagner and Mr. Morgan, I hear from Alabama poultry producers about the rising costs of poultry houses. Four houses can cost up to $2.5 million dollars or more. In your testimony, you mention the need to increase FSA Guaranteed Loans. What is the appropriate level of FSA Guaranteed Loan limits?”

MORGAN: “Farm Credit is asking for an increase of $3.5 million for construction and up to $3 million for operating. In my statement, I indicated a similar example of what it takes for a poultry farmer to make $75,000. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the household median income for the last two years has been about $70,000. So, for a poultry producer, they’ve got to make about a $3.3-million-investment in order to achieve the same level of median income. An increase in the guarantee amount, which is currently a little over $2 million dollars, would significantly cover the cost of those houses and be an entry point for so many beginning, young, and small farmers.”

WAGNER: “When you have a construction loan and an operating loan, and those two things combined, that limit still applies. I think where we may have young, beginning farmers who may have some help on the land loan may not have that same help on the operating loan, and so that limit is real and as the cost of inputs and the cost of land move up as Senator Ernst indicated, you run into those limits really fast. So, updating is important.”

In March 2023, Senator Tuberville questioned Secretary Vilsack on poultry trade, specifically Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI), a deadly disease which impacts the poultry industry. Excerpts can be found below.

TUBERVILLE: “The poultry industry is a crucial economic driver for my state as it represents 65% of Alabama’s agricultural income and provides 86,000 jobs. Considering the U.S. exports approximately 18% of chicken meat production – which is valued at over $4 billion annually – we must maintain strong trade agreements and our export markets. I am concerned about HPAI vaccine mandates impacting those markets as most nations do not accept imports from vaccinating countries. It is my understanding that the use of a HPAI vaccine will not eliminate or eradicate the virus – similar to the COVID-19 vaccine. Since a vaccine will not keep birds from getting the virus or eradicate the virus from the U.S., do you think it is a useful tool?”

VILSACK: “At the present time there is no vaccine for the current HPAI virus. There are a number of vaccines that are in the process of being developed. There is a long way to go, Senator, before we can say we have a vaccine. Then there’s additional steps that have to be taken in order to determine the impact and effect of a vaccine on the ability to sell product overseas. There are a number of countries that will basically shut off exports if the meat has been vaccinated, if the poultry has been vaccinated. So, I think there’s a process there. But we’re a long way away from having a vaccine that is effective and a long way from having a vaccine that the rest of the world accepts.”

Senator Tommy Tuberville represents Alabama in the United States Senate and is a member of the Senate Armed Services, Agriculture, Veterans’ Affairs, and HELP Committees.