Every day I read headlines or articles (literally every day: I receive Google Alerts for “beef”) and I am constantly coming across articles in which there is a strong push for consumers to consume more poultry:
If this keeps up for much longer, chicken is going to be what’s for dinner. With the price of USDA Choice grade beef hitting a 30-year high of $5.29 per pound in March, and the yet-to-be released numbers for April not expected to be any better, local consumers and businesses are feeling the pinch.
The rising beef prices are not set to go down any time soon; in fact, it will take years before the cost of beef goes back to “normal.” Cattle herd numbers are incredibly low:
Two key numbers in Friday’s [published April 25th] USDA Cattle on Feed Report came in on the market-friendly side of trade guesses. March placements, at 1.795 million head, were well below the average trade guess of around 1.916 million. The 10.860 million cattle on feed April 1 were below the average trade guess of about 11 million. March marketings, at 1.660 million, were below the average guess of around 1.7 million head. […] U.S. beef output cannot climb before 2016 and may not be able to rise before 2017.
Meanwhile, the media consistently pushes consumers to purchase more poultry. Because, you know, there are no other options other than animal flesh or animal organs. This urging from the media is incredibly dangerous: it comes without addressing animal welfare concerns and it also completely avoids the issue of the workers who process the poultry. Chickens already make up the vast majority of our animal food – over 90%. In fact, an astonishing 1,000,000 birds per week (at least!) may be slaughtered at the typical large processing plant!
But what I want to focus on right now are the workers who are generally kept out of public discussions. As a vegan, I am often accused of caring more about animals than people, but what my detractors don’t realize is that a concern for human rights factors into my decision to boycott animal products. Human workers at factory farms are also suffering. The poultry industry is an example of this reality.
Presently, poultry processing workers have to process 140 chicken carcasses a minute. From the Southern Poverty Law Center:
“We’d have a pile [of chickens] as high as a car by the end of the night,” one worker told survey interviewers. “The chicken gets thrown all over the floor if you fall behind,” another said.
SPLC goes on to describe how employees at these industrial scale farms are under great stress to work, work, work nonstop:
USDA inspectors have noted “that companies routinely pressure their employees not to stop the line or slow it down, making thorough inspection for contaminants, tumors and evidence of disease nearly impossible.” In an industry where a worker fears he may lose his job for stopping the line – even choosing to urinate on himself rather than risk angering a supervisor by requesting a bathroom break – it is a legitimate question to ask how these workers will summon the courage to slow the processing line to ensure only healthy, clean birds are shipped to the nation’s supermarkets.
In 2013, the Washington Post conducted interviews and found that USDA inspectors and poultry industry employees suffer from “a range of ailments they attributed to chemical exposure:
- asthma and other severe respiratory problems,
- burns, rashes,
- irritated eyes, and
- sinus ulcers and other sinus problems.”
Workers at poultry processing plants are working in a line for ten to twelve hours. At one plant which processes 140 birds per minute, almost half (42%) of workers had carpal tunnel. Workers incur musculoskeletal injuries from repetitive motion, can have amputations to the body from lack of safety measures, and suffer from chemical illnesses. Other serious health risks include ammonia gas leaks. Such an incident occurred in 2013 at a Tyson plant. In 2010, U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) “reported an injury rate of 5.9 percent for poultry processing workers’, which is “more than 50 percent higher than the 3.8 percent injury rate for all U.S. workers.”
The next time you come across an article urging you to consider chicken, please pause and think about the impact that consumer decision will have: on the birds, on the people, on our public health. Choose vegan.