In our family community presentation, my daughter–who started our journey toward vegetarian eating as a sophomore in high school 10 years ago–did research on the impact of slaughterhouses and factory farming on workers, community and the public. Here is what she shared.
Work Conditions in the meat industry
- The meat industry is the most dangerous according to Bureau of Labor and Statistics – about 40,000 workers injured each year (¼ of workers in some years). These are just official reports – many injuries may never be reported due to workplace intimidation or fear of retribution.
- Meatpacking used to be a solid middle class job – until the industry moved to employ migrant and rural workers at cut-rate wages and busting unions. Now the entire industry is run on low wages – fell over 50% over the past 30 years.
- Low wages means there are not many who want to work there – meaning slaughterhouses are dangerous and understaffed.
- Because the industry has centralized power, the unions that once existed have lost power.
- 75% of workers in some slaughterhouses are non-native English speakers.
- The typical line speed in an American slaughterhouse 25 years ago was about 175 cattle per hour. Some line speeds now approach 400 cattle per hour…. When hundreds of workers stand closely together, down a single line, wielding sharp knives, terrible things can happen when people feel rushed. The most common slaughterhouse injury is a laceration. Workers stab themselves or stab someone nearby. They struggle to keep up with the pace as carcasses rapidly swing toward them, hung on hooks from a moving, overhead chain. All sorts of accidents—involving power tools, saws, knives, conveyor belts, slippery floors, falling carcasses—become more likely when the chain moves too fast.
- Also repetitive strain injury – rate of cumulative trauma injury to meat-packers is 33 times higher than national average.
- Big agribusiness firms resist paying workers’ comp or other payments, leaving injured workers with nowhere to go.
- Read more at the Mother Jones article “The Chain Never Stops” or this Food Empowerment Project article with many references.
Community public and global welfare.
- Agri-farmers as neighbors. Not only do workers suffer ill effects of working in slaughterhouses, but many communities that live near factory farms (called Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFO)have to deal with tainted water and severe air pollution. People who live near or work at factory farms breathe in hundreds of gases, which are formed as manure decomposes. The stench can be unbearable, but worse still, the gases contain many harmful chemicals.
- Animal Waste. Since humans began farming there has a symbiotic relationship between farming plants and farming animals. Animal manure is a wonderful fertilizer for plants, and when this is in balance, wonderful things can happen. The problem is that in the past 50 years, with the rise of CAFO farming, we have billions of tons more manure than we can possibly use for crops. In my home state of Maryland, our lovely Chesapeake Bay has suffered dramatic loss of plant and animal life due to run off of the numerous chicken farms on the Delmarva Coast, due to 650 million pounds of chicken manure that cannot be used each year. The problem is so bad that Maryland representatives are considering legislation that would burn chicken waste so it could become a “renewal resource” similar to wind, solar and geothermal. But chicken poop is highly toxic. Not something I want wafting in my breathable air!
- Impact on family farming. Meat companies often place strict limits on how their growers will raise their animals – and pull financial pursestrings that keep farmers in debt and following their system. For example – journalist Christopher Leonard, author of The Meat Racket: The Secret Takeover of America’s Food Business, compared Tyson foods to serfdom – they control farmers’ chicken supply and feed choices etc. and force them to build chicken houses to their specifications. Takes away farmers’ agency in how to raise chickens. Farmers pay between $500,000 and 2 million to build a chicken house to their specifications and then get told what to do – otherwise they are not going to be a chicken farmer. This has robs them of agency. By that time they are too in debt from building the chicken house to do anything else.
- Global impact of agri-business farming. In developing countries, demand for animal agriculture displaces indigenous people and causes deforestation. This happens both when there are no laws to protect this from happening, or when the government lacks resources or will to enforce them.For example, Nicaragua – from 2009 to 2013 it was reported that illegal cattle ranchers destroyed 370,000 acres of rain forest land that had been protected for indigenous people to live on. Took away their rights and limited their livelihoods and traditional lifestyle