Gabriel Thompson spent a summer working at an Alabama poultry plant, where he observed the hidden health and safety crisis poultry workers face. In this week’s issue of The Nation, Thompson reports on the widespread dangers poultry workers face, and the reason things are about to get a whole lot worse:
We were about to put our hands through a whole new type of hurt. I was soon tearing through more than 7,000 chicken breasts each night (I worked the graveyard shift), while nearby workers sliced up countless birds with knives and scissors. The massive plant was capable of killing and processing nearly 1.5 million birds a week, and the pace 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 in my hands.
One (worker) was unable to hold a glass of water; another had three surgeries on her wrists; a third had discovered, after a visit to the doctor, that her thumb joint had almost disappeared after twelve years of line work. She told me her doctor had taken a vein from her leg and wrapped it around her thumb in an attempt to replace the missing cartilage. “Everyone on the line had hand problems,” she said.
When the government set the maximum line speed at poultry plants—currently it’s ninety-one birds a minute—it failed to take worker safety into consideration. Instead, the limit was determined by the US Department of Agriculture, based on food safety concerns. And here’s something even worse: in January the USDA proposed a new method for poultry inspection that would allow plants to run lines at 175 birds a minute. That’s nearly double the current limit.
Read the entire story here.