Category Archives: Workers

The Forgotten Casualties of Meat – Slaughterhouse workers

slaughterhouse-workerThere’s at least 150,000 of them in America alone. Many authorities consider them to have the worst job in America and few can stand to stick at this job for more than a year. They suffer badly, both physically and emotionally, and by many measures they have the most dangerous job in America. Almost no one speaks up for them. Even fewer stand up for them. They’re slaughterhouse workers. Read more

The High Price of Pork

transport pigWhen it comes to pork, there’s a high price to be paid by the workers, by the environment, and perhaps worst of all, by the pigs themselves. The scale of the problem is enormous. We raise 120 million pigs each year in the US, and many millions more are raised around the world.

The environment pays a high price for concentrated factory-style pig farming. Factory pig farms produce huge amounts of manure – much more than can be used as fertilizer. This manure is stored in lagoons that can leak or break open after a good rain, and cause massive amounts of water pollution as the runoff enters the lakes and streams. This results in massive fish kills and food chain disruption. Methane, a greenhouse gas much more damaging than carbon dioxide, is given off from these lagoons, contributing to global warming, and the intense smell reduces the air quality in the surrounding neighborhood to an often unbearable degree. Read more

Slavery in Seafood

Thai fishing boat with peopleThe seafood industry in Thailand suffers from widespread worker abuse amounting to slavery, according to a recent report by the nonprofit organization Verité. Virtually all American and European companies that buy seafood from Thailand are at risk of receiving products tainted by slavery, according to this report, which was released on Monday. The report catalogs deceptive recruitment practices, hazardous working conditions and very severe violence on fishing boats and in processing factories.

Most of Thailand’s seafood workers are migrants from neighboring Cambodia or Burma, brought into Thailand illegally by traffickers, provided fake documents and often actually sold to boat captains, the report said. On fishing boats, these workers routinely face limited access to medical care for injuries or infection, work 16 hour days, seven days a week, endure chronic sleep deprivation, and suffer from an insufficient supply of water for drinking, showering or cooking, the report found. They are not free to quit or leave. Often they are “kept” for year or even extended periods of time. The evidence of abuse is often just buried at sea. One Burmese worker said, “When someone dies, he gets thrown into the water.”

We reported on this sad state of affairs two years ago with the hope that conditions would improve. The Thai ambassador to the US says they take the problem seriously, but while they have clamped down a bit, it’s still not nearly enough.

Other human casualties of the animal products industry include those who work in slaughterhouses. While there’s no suggestion of slavery, slaughterhouse workers also face well documented abuses and very dangerous working conditions.

While authorities try to improve these problems, the best answer is to go veg. You’ll not only stop supporting worker abuse, but you’ll help the animals and the environment as well.

Remember the Workers

Cesar Chavez

Cesar Chavez

It’s Labor Day, so don’t forget the workers.

We’ve often written in the past about the health, environmental and animal welfare problems associated with meat production. But at this time of year, let’s take a moment to remember the workers who often face very exploitative and harsh conditions in that industry as well. Please visit our posts on slaughterhouse workers, fishing boat workers and the famous labor leader Cesar Chavez to learn more.

New Slaughterhouse rules make things worse

SlaughterhouseJust when we thought the slaughterhouses couldn’t get any worse for workers, consumers and animals alike, new rules are coming out of Washington DC that will make the whole situation worse than ever.

Under the “Modernization of Poultry Slaughter Inspection” rule, a processing line could run at 170 carcasses per minute, and only one inspector- employed by the company that owns the processing plant- would be required to be on duty.  The new rules do not even mandate training for these company inspectors, whereas USDA inspectors undergo extensive training to allow them to fulfill these tasks under the current inspection system.

“These rules essentially privatize poultry inspection, and pave the way for others in the meat industry to police themselves,” said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch.

With most meat inspectors replaced by untrained slaughterhouse employees, and the kill rate increased to almost 3 chickens a second, it is virtually impossible to do any reliable testing.

The USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service says that this proposed rule would provide the framework for action to provide public health-based inspection in all establishments that slaughter amenable poultry species,” according to the rule’s official summary. However, reduced inspections make contamination with disease-causing bacteria all the more likely.

With the kill rate higher, worker stress is likely to get worse. Working in a slaughterhouse is already one of the most dangerous and stressful jobs in the country, as we’ve explained in a previous posting.

Last but surely not least, a higher kill rate is very likely to make matters even worse for the chickens. Many people are surprised to learn that unlike the very minimal legal protection that cows have, chickens have no laws to prevent cruelty at all. As the saying goes, if slaughterhouses had glass walls we’d all be vegetarians!

The situation is so bad that 68 Members of Congress have signed and sent a letter sent to the USDA demanding rules that meaningfully protect all involved.  The letter urges the USDA to “withdraw the proposed rule until the agency has thoroughly addressed its impact on the public, workers, and animals and adherence to good commercial practices.”

We can only hope that the USDA reconsiders the new rules. In the meantime there’s something you can do. Year after year the slaughterhouses continue to get worse and worse. The best solution to this problem is the vegetarian solution. By following a healthy diet composed of fruit, vegetables, whole grains, beans and other legumes and nuts, you’ll be reducing the demand for chickens until, someday, there won’t be a need for any of them to be killed.

Obama Adminstration Chickens Out

Caged chickensThe news about chicken just keeps getting worse. As if we needed yet another reason not to eat chicken, the Obama administration has just caved in to “big chicken” by issuing new slaughterhouse regulations. These will save the industry over $256 million every year by speeding up the pace of processing and reducing the number of required food safety inspectors, further compromising both consumer and worker safety. If the White House signs off on the USDA’s proposed regulations as expected, poultry plants could speed up their slaughter lines later this year. The maximum speed for chickens would increase from 140 birds per minute to 175 per minute, and for turkeys, from 45 birds to 55 per minute, and an antiseptic spray will substitute for inspectors.

Workers, who already often complain of carpal tunnel and other musculoskeletal disorders, will have to pluck, cut and sort birds even faster. We’ve already written about how slaughterhouse workers have one of the most dangerous and abusive jobs in the country.

To keep speeds up, the new regulations “would allow visibly contaminated poultry carcasses to remain online for treatment” rather than being discarded or removed for off-line cleaning, as is now common practice. The proposed rules say “all carcasses” on the line would be treated with antimicrobial chemicals “whether they are contaminated or not.” Worse still, when the chicken is tested it is allowed to continue on its way towards being eaten, since tests results won’t come back until much later. This is especially troubling since 97% of raw chicken in U.S. supermarkets are contaminated with bacteria that could make you sick, according to a new Consumer Reports study. We have recently posted how many of those disease-causing bacteria have become resistant to antibiotics.

Then there’s the issue of the safety of the antiseptics themselves. Government agencies have not conducted independent research into the possible side effects on consumers of ingesting the disinfectant residues, not to mention the increased worker exposure.

All of this adds to the many other problems caused by chicken. High levels of saturated fat and cholesterol contribute to clogged arteries and other diseases. Cooking chicken produces more cancer-causing heterocyclic amines (HCA’s) than any other meat when cooked. Raising chickens also causes massive water pollution and contributes to global warming. And the poor chickens are commonly jammed into cages so crowded they can’t even turn around, causing endless animal suffering. The ever-increasing bad news about chicken will certainly encourage more people to think twice about choosing chicken for dinner.

Slavery in the Fishing Industry

Thai fishing boatWe’ve written in the past about just how miserable it is to work in a slaughterhouse, given all the abuses and injuries that take place there. This article takes a look at worker conditions at the slaughterhouse’s counterpart on the world’s oceans and in seafood processing plants.

Most of us live and spend almost all of our time on land. All too often, what goes on in the ocean is out of our sight and therefore out of mind. But the problems and abuses on fishing vessels and at seafood processing plants are just as bad or even worse than in land-based slaughterhouses, and many of the workers are nearly slaves, often literally sold by human traffickers. You may have thought that slavery was a thing of the past – think again! Read more