Meat processing is one of the most dangerous jobs in our country.
The main source of danger, according to Human Rights Watch and the Southern Poverty Law Center, is the dangerous speed at which conveyor belts operate. Workers currently have to hook at least approximately one chicken per second, which has resulted in lost limbs, other injuries, and even death. The Food Empowerment Project explains, “When you combine sharp tools and automated machinery in a high-paced, crowded environment, injuries are inevitable.” At the current speed at which conveyor belts operate, meat and poultry packing plant workers already suffer from extremely high rates of musculoskeletal injury, carpal tunnel syndrome, and tendinitis, some to the point of some employees no longer being able straighten their fingers or grab a spoon or glass of water due to too many quick, repetitive motions. A Human Rights Watch researcher studying poultry processing plants in 2004 said that he had not encountered a single poultry plant worker that did not suffer from an affliction. The faster the speed the workers operate at, the higher the risk.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture is proposing removing most Food Safety Inspection Service agents from the production lines all together and to leave safety procedures up to the corporations’ discretion, allowing plants to move from operating the conveyor belts at a maximum of 70 to 140 birds per minute to a maximum of 175. The proposal, entitled "The Modernization of Poultry Slaughter Inspection", would eliminate 800 inspector jobs. When the USDA extended its public comments on this issue, it received hundreds of thousands of letters in opposition.
The National Chicken Council alleges that changes to line-speed regulations will not necessarily affect workers. The Council’s president Tom Super contended, "Just because the pilot project allowed plants to operate at higher line-speeds as in the proposed rule, it does not mean all plants will continuously operate at this higher line speed." This seems doubtful in an industry whose profits relies on maximizing profits in the least amount of time and that has a long history of overlooking worker injuries and labor violations.
Workers’ safety, limbs, and lives are not worth the estimated $95 million dollars that the USDA will save if this plan is implemented. Nor can economically stricken places like Nebraska and Arkansas and the other rural states where meat is processed afford 800 inspection jobs.
We cannot accept dangerous working conditions in the United States. The safety of U.S. workers should always come above profit.