The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!
Poultry production in the U.S. employs roughly 250,000 workers, most of whom are people of color, immigrants or refugees, and many of whom are women. The value of these workers’ wages has declined 40 percent since the 1980s, while processing line speeds are twice as fast now as they were in 1979, according to new research by Oxfam America.
Profiles of poultry workers in the report reveal horrifying accounts of acute injuries that were not treated correctly or ignored to keep production lines moving. Photo credit: Oxfam
The report, Lives on the Line: The Human Cost of Cheap Chicken, uncovers many hidden costs of industrial poultry production through dozens of semi-structured interviews with workers, advocates, medical experts and other community members. Oxfam also analyzed government reports, books and medical research to illustrate the full economic impacts of poultry production on workers and communities.
The report exposes the true costs of cheap chicken, revealing that industrial production practices result in high social costs, including worker safety, occupational injuries, chronic illness and lost wages from wage theft and lack of sick leave. Oxfam reports that for every dollar spent on a McDonald’s McNugget, only about two cents pays for workers in the processing plant to hang, cut, trim, bread, freeze and package those chickens. And wage distribution within companies is another issue; the president and CEO of Tyson Foods, for example, earned $12.2 million in 2014, which is 550 times what the average poultry worker makes.
Profiles of poultry workers in the report reveal horrifying accounts of acute injuries that were not treated correctly or ignored to keep production lines moving. Other basic worker rights—from bathroom breaks to protective gear—are regularly missing, according to the research.
“Oxfam should be commended for exposing the true cost of poultry processing on worker health and safety. These workers are providing food to millions of Americans, yet don’t receive a living wage, paid time off, retirement security or strong worker safety protections,” says Food Tank President Danielle Nierenberg. “By highlighting these conditions—and naming the companies responsible for them—Oxfam continues its long tradition of exposing problems in our global food system and supporting America’s food workers.”
Oxfam claims that the poultry industry inaccurately describes a trend of declining incidents that may actually be attributed to changes in injury reporting systems. Many workers reported fear of employer retaliation during interviews, and studies reviewed by the researchers indicate that immigrant populations and other vulnerable groups are less likely to report injuries.
The companies “keep a climate of fear where the employees believe that at any moment they can and will be fired,” says Mary Goff, a former staff attorney at Legal Aid of Arkansas Legal Services Partnership. “Then they are able to keep their workforce doing exactly as they please and they are able to treat people as a commodity that can be done away with when they want.”
Coinciding with the release of the new report, Oxfam will launch a Poultry Workers Campaign on Oct. 27 to target the poultry industry and highlight the importance of worker health and safety.
Emily Nink is a masters candidate of the Agriculture, Food and Environment program at the Tufts Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy in Boston, Massachusetts.
YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
Tuna auctions are a tourist spectacle in Tokyo. Outside the city's most famous fish market, long queues of visitors hoping for a glimpse of the action begin to form at 5 a.m. The attraction is so popular that last October the Tsukiji fish market, in operation since 1935, moved out from the city center to the district of Toyosu to cope with the crowds.
gmnicholas / E+ / Getty Images
Kristan Porter grew up in a fishing family in the fishing community of Cutler, Maine, where he says all roads lead to one career path: fishing. (Porter's father was the family's lone exception. He suffered from terrible seasickness, and so became a carpenter.) The 49-year-old, who has been working on boats since he was a kid and fishing on his own since 1991, says that the recent warming of Maine's cool coastal waters has yielded unprecedented lobster landings.
The climate crisis is getting costly. Some of the world's largest companies expect to take over one trillion in losses due to climate change. Insurers are increasingly jittery and the world's largest firm has warned that the cost of premiums may soon be unaffordable for most people. Historic flooding has wiped out farmers in the Midwest.
Hawaii's Kilauea volcano could be gearing up for an eruption after a pond of water was discovered inside its summit crater for the first time in recorded history, according to the AP.
'We Should Be Retreating Already From the Coastline,' Scientist Suggests After Finding Warm Waters Below Greenland
By Johnny Wood
The Ganges is a lifeline for the people of India, spiritually and economically. On its journey from the Himalayas to the Bay of Bengal, it supports fishermen, farmers and an abundance of wildlife.
The river and its tributaries touch the lives of roughly 500 million people. But having flowed for millennia, today it is reaching its capacity for human and industrial waste, while simultaneously being drained for agriculture and municipal use.
Here are some of the challenges the river faces.
By Jake Johnson
As a growing number of states move to pass laws that would criminalize pipeline protests and hit demonstrators with years in prison, an audio recording obtained by The Intercept showed a representative of a powerful oil and gas lobbying group bragging about the industry's success in crafting anti-protest legislation behind closed doors.
Speaking during a conference in Washington, DC in June, Derrick Morgan, senior vice president for federal and regulatory affairs at the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM), touted "model legislation" that states across the nation have passed in recent months.
AFPM represents a number of major fossil fuel giants, including Chevron, Koch Industries and ExxonMobil.
"We've seen a lot of success at the state level, particularly starting with Oklahoma in 2017," said Morgan, citing Dakota Access Pipeline protests as the motivation behind the aggressive lobbying effort. "We're up to nine states that have passed laws that are substantially close to the model policy that you have in your packet."
Big Oil is now using its political power to try and criminalize protests of oil & gas infrastructure.— Friends of the Earth (@foe_us) August 19, 2019
"This legislation has potential to punish public participation and mischaracterize advocacy protected by the First Amendment."https://t.co/bmiHjONEhy
The audio recording comes just months after Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law legislation that would punish anti-pipeline demonstrators with up to 10 years in prison, a move environmentalists condemned as a flagrant attack on free expression.
"Big Oil is hijacking our legislative system," Dallas Goldtooth of the Indigenous Environmental Network said after the Texas Senate passed the bill in May.
As The Intercept's Lee Fang reported Monday, the model legislation Morgan cited in his remarks "has been introduced in various forms in 22 states and passed in ... Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Missouri, Indiana, Iowa, South Dakota, and North Dakota."
"The AFPM lobbyist also boasted that the template legislation has enjoyed bipartisan support," according to Fang. "In Louisiana, Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards signed the version of the bill there, which is being challenged by the Center for Constitutional Rights. Even in Illinois, Morgan noted, 'We almost got that across the finish line in a very Democratic-dominated legislature.' The bill did not pass as it got pushed aside over time constraints at the end of the legislative session."
Many of the state bills restricting the right to protest have been "drafted by companies and passed through groups like ALEC, the secretive group of corporate lobbyists trying to rewrite state laws to benefit corporations over people." @greenpeaceusa https://t.co/ZxpTjWdrwT— Stand Up To ALEC (@StandUpToALEC) May 6, 2019
Reposted with permission from our media associate Common Dreams.