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Chicken Production and Workplace Dangers

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I strongly recommend Michele Simon’s article on how Tyson Foods and the USDA have pushed forward drastic increases in chicken production line speeds that would increase the profits of meat companies at the cots of workers’ lives:

But let’s back up a bit. As Mother Jones magazine explained last year, “Currently, each factory-scale slaughterhouse has four USDA inspectors overseeing kill lines churning out up to 140 birds every minute. Under the USDA’s new plan, a single federal inspector would oversee lines killing as many as 175 birds per minute.”

USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack defends the proposal under the guise of modernization (an industry code word for deregulation) and claims the new standard would actually reduce bacterial contamination. However, Food and Water Watch found numerous food safety problems with the USDA’s pilot project owing to company inspectors missing defects such as “feathers, lungs, oil glands, trachea and bile still on the carcass.”

The rule is especially terrible for workers, who already suffer unsafe conditions, resulting in serious injuries and even lifelong disabilities. Last year the Southern Poverty Law Center released a disturbing account of worker injuries and health problems in Alabama poultry slaughterhouses due to what it called “punishing” line speeds. Workers were made to “endure debilitating pain in their hands, gnarled fingers, chemical burns and respiratory problems.” Also, for many immigrant workers, as the law center put it, “Threats of deportation and firing are frequently used to keep them silent,” making the USDA’s attempt to spin the recent NIOSH data particularly disturbing.

Federal agencies appear to be ganging up on the USDA — and rightly so. The Government Accountability Office published a report last year criticizing the USDA’s plan on the basis of inadequate and faulty safety data. Of course, the chicken industry loves the proposal. In fact, the National Chicken Council would prefer not having any limits on line speeds at all.

The Agricultre Department basically operates as the tool of agribusiness at this point and that’s why the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and DOA are basically at war, with NIOSH’s director directly calling out the Food Safety Inspection Service for lying about its data. The meat we buy from the store not only comes from a system that treats animals awfully, it destroys the lives of workers as well. It’s awful hard for the government to do much when one agency is fighting to make these factories safe for workers and other is fighting to make them unsafe.

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