What About Workers?

There’s been much talk this week – from the Washington Post to Mother Jones – of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s proposed plan to increase line speeds and privatize inspections at slaughterhouses.

The plan, called HAACP-Based Inspection Models Project (HIMP), would result in millions of dollars in increased profits for multinational agribusiness corporations at the expense of worker and consumer safety.

Evisceration of turkey carcasses at slaughterhouse Nottingham Vet School/Flickr

Evisceration of turkey carcasses at slaughterhouse Nottingham Vet School/Flickr

Most of the discussion has centered on consumer safety. A scathing report from the Government Accountability Office reveals that 3 of the 5 pilot slaughterhouses for the new program were among the top ten worst in the country for health and safety violations.

Under the new program, federal inspectors would have to inspect 10,000 birds per hour. According to one inspector, while working at this rate, “Tremendous amounts of fecal matter remain on the carcasses,” he said. “Not small bits, but chunks.”

It’s understandable that consumers are up in arms about this threat to public health. But what isn’t garnering as much attention is the dire threat to slaughterhouse workers.

* * *

Slaughterhouse workers already face the most dangerous job in America. They must carry out the same motion thousands of times everyday while surrounded by fast-moving objects, extremely sharp knives and machinery, and sometimes live kicking animals.

A list of the types of injuries (and fatalities) endured paints a grave picture:

  • Employee Hospitalized for Neck Laceration From Flying Blade
  • Employee’s Eye Injured When Struck by Hanging Hook
  • Employee’s Arm Amputated in Meat Auger
  • One Employee Killed, Eight Injured by Ammonia Spill
  • Employee Decapitated by Chain of Hide Puller Machine
  • Employee Killed When Head Crushed by Conveyor

These hideous workplace dangers were documented by Mother Jones magazine in 2001. Back then, a slaughterhouse nurse claimed she could tell how fast the line was moving by how many injured workers came to her office.

Now the USDA is proposing to move the line even faster, increasing from 140 birds per minute to 175 birds per minute - up to 84,000 birds per day.

Already 3 in 4 slaughterhouse workers surveyed reported experiencing significant work-related injuries. Further increasing line-speed will drive injury and death rates even higher.

Currently neither the Occupational Safety and Health Administration nor the USDA considers the impact of line speed on worker safety. The Southern Poverty Law Center and a coalition of civil rights groups hope to change that by suing the USDA and OSHA to take steps to protect the safety of slaughterhouse workers.

What can you do? Sign this petition to President Obama to abandon the dangerous new plan, and boycott slaughterhouse products by switching to meat alternatives like Beyond Meat, Gardein, or good old fashioned plant-based proteins.

For more information:
http://www.motherjones.com/tom-philpott/2013/09/gao-squaks-usdas-plan-speed-poultry-kill-lines
http://www.splcenter.org/get-informed/publications/unsafe-at-these-speeds/osha-offers-few-protections-for-worker
http://www.splcenter.org/get-informed/publications/unsafe-at-these-speeds/injuries-and-illnesses-extremely-common
http://www.foodwhistleblower.org/the-lifecycle-of-food/the-problems-of-processing/insufficient-government-oversight/himp
http://www.foodandwaterwatch.org/food/foodsafety/privatized-poultry-inspection-usdas-pilot-project-results/
http://www.charlotteobserver.com/poultry/
http://www.scribd.com/fullscreen/102831445?access_key=key-7b5fz4scoq80qt920m7&allow_share=false&show_recommendations=false&view_mode=scroll

2 Responses to What About Workers?

  1. Jean Thompson says:

    this is disgusting! and it is all in the name of GREED! It sickens me! and I will not buy any meat that is processed this way. I buy from the small farmer …free range…grass fed PERIOD! and not often. We have turned to seafood. and buy from local fishermen.

    • Danica says:

      Sorry to tell you this – but all meat is slaughtered this way. Free range or not. And sea creatures can feel pain too – they suffocate to death as they can’t breathe.
      Dairy cows who no longer produce enough milk (5-7 years old) and layer hens who stop producing eggs (17-20 months old) are also slaughtered like this.
      If you want to prevent cruelty – to both humans and animals – the best way is to go vegan.

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