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Interesting Information: “Work Till You Drop”

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Interesting Information:  May 11, 2012

“Work Till You Drop”

The government wants to increase line speed at poultry plants.

Gabriel Thompson, writing in “The Nation” (14 May 2012), describes what it was like to work on a chicken processing line in rural Alabama.

Thompson processed 7,000 chicken breasts each night.  The pace of the line was “as relentless as such numbers suggest.  We often didn’t even have time to wipe bits of chicken flesh from our faces, and I took to popping ibuprofen during breaks to quell the swelling of my hands.”  One wall of the break room was lined with dispensers filled with painkillers–for sale.

The repetitive nature of the work causes lineworkers to get musculoskeletal disorders like carpal tunnel syndrome or tendinitis.  Thompson met one worker who couldn’t hold a glass of water.  Another had had three surgeries on her wrists.  Another’s thumb joint had “almost disappeared after twelve years of line work.”

Current government-approved line speed is 91 birds a minute–which, Thompson writes, fails to “take worker safety into consideration.”  In January, the USDA proposed allowing plants to run the line speed at 175 birds a minute–nearly double the present limit.  On-line inspectors would be cut, creating a cost-savings for the USDA.  Poultry workers would now be responsible for inspecting birds.

This new plan will make foods safer, argues the USDA, since inspectors can now focus their attention on pathogens, like salmonella and campylobacter.  “BIG MEAT,” writes Thompson, will save about $257 million a year by operating at higher speeds.

Workers’ safety has, of course, gotten lost among the dollars saved.  But, workers have never been important to capitalism.  Workers are totally and completely expendable when industry pushes for classic speed up.  And don’t for one minute think that what’s behind this move is any government concern for its citizens’ safety or safer food.  This story is a perfect example of how industry can manipulate government into being a willing handmaiden to its purposes when good citizens do not realize what is happening to their fellow Americans.

What can you do?

Write USDA, of course.  And your congressmen.

You could, also, stop buying chicken parts.  Buy the whole chicken and cut it up yourself and tell your local store why you’re doing it.  You’ll reap a reward if you do your own cutting:  bones for chicken stock which we now know you can easily, effortlessly cook in your crock pot.

Most of all, you can realize that cheap chicken comes to you with enormous costs for way too many people:

the chickens themselves, which are miserably treated and fed very poorly on corn and soy;

the growers, who are caught in a terrible system created by and run for industry profit;

the workers who are injured processing the chickens;

the people who live on land near poultry processing plants, whose water is ruined and whose land is saturated with chicken waste;

the waste stream which has to handle all those plastic trays that hold the chicken parts;

and you, the consumer, who are being fed an inferior industrial product that’s, yes, cheap, but which is tasteless and has no texture.

My own chickens have personalities.  They have a sense of humor.  They are affectionate and social.  They can tell you they want a treat and can and do lead you to where the treats are located.  Just today, they spent the morning in the now-deep needs-to-be-cut grass in the front yard, sunbathing.  Their sense of joy was a pleasure to see.  The rooster watched over them, never lying down himself.

One Response

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  1. It’s time to go and go organic everyone! Money shouldn’t be put ahead of worker safety and public health! What a nightmare!!! Guess who will fill the jobs of poultry line workers?? Illegal immigrants who can’t complain and who’ll have no health care. The whole set up stinks!

    Susan Heath

    May 12, 2012 at 2:40 pm


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