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.
Just 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.
The 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.
We’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