I didn’t expect to already be on disability, seeking early retirement. But I'm here because of companies like Tyson which require the use of hazardous chemicals on poultry in facilities like the one I worked in. That's not safe for workers. And it's allowing companies to cut corners and put the public's health at risk. I want Tyson to be an industry leader and stop using these chemicals, especially peracetic acid, which is poured all over these carcasses. Having well-trained experts rather than an over-reliance on chemicals will help keep meat contaminated with feces or pus or harmful bacteria off our plates.
I am proud of my work as a USDA poultry inspector where one of my primary duties was to protect the public from foodborne illness. My parents and grandparents worked in the industry and none of them have ever experienced the symptoms I'm having today. But I became seriously ill as a result of heavy chemical use in the plant where I was stationed and things have changed.
Currently, I'm suffering from health problems, including asthma attacks, sinus problems, and even organ damage. My failing health has seriously impacted my lifestyle and may have ended my 16-year career as an inspector. As highlighted in a recent Washington Post article, chemical problems seem to be cropping up in plants all over the country.
In a Tyson plant I worked at in Alabama, the introduction of a chemical called peracetic acid just made things even worse. I felt as though I couldn’t breathe in the plant. One day I was coughing so hard that I broke two ribs. It was a nightmare. And as of the moment I am writing this, the USDA has not done any formal evaluation of how these chemicals affect workers' health. Additionally, there have been no studies of how these dangerous chemicals, directly applied to the carcasses in processing, affect humans' health other than directly from the very companies that profit from their sale.
There are a lot of questions. But no one has answers. I can tell you that the Tyson Team Member Bill of Rights claim that there's a 'right to a safe workplace' but it certainly does not seem like it's being followed.
Following a series of illnesses, including a serious asthma attack that sent me to the emergency room in the fall of 2011, I was left with no choice but to leave the plant and file for disability in December of that year. In addition to daily medication, I now make regular doctor visits, including to a lung specialist who advised me not to return to the plant. My doctors told me they have witnessed an increasing amount of patients coming from the Tyson plant with similar symptoms, including respiratory infections, eye irritation, and the development of serious allergies.
Inspectors and Tyson plant workers are hesitant or even afraid to admit they’re becoming ill. In particular, vulnerable company employees know they are expendable, and risk termination if they speak out against the visible dangers of chemical use in processing.
I know there are methods to improve inspection by taking birds 'offline' if they appear contaminated, so they can be cleaned up without the use of excess chemicals. After feeling powerless for so long, I now know it’s my duty to speak out on behalf of those inspectors and plant workers who fear retaliation for voicing their concerns.
Please join me in asking Tyson Foods to stop using peracetic acid in its poultry processing and improve standards at facilities so inspectors, workers, and consumers are safer.
Photo from USDAgov