Beyond the Dinner Table -- U.S. Poultry Plant Workers at Risk

by Katie Tracy | November 20, 2017

On Thanksgiving Day, families across the country will sit down for huge feasts, filling their bellies with turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, and lots of gravy. My mouth is watering just writing about it. In many households, it's tradition for each person at the table to say what they're thankful for and express their appreciation for the meal in front of them. But when it comes to that delicious meal, we often overlook the workers inside the poultry slaughter facilities and processing plants who do the incredibly labor-intensive and dangerous work required to bring our turkeys from farm to table. This year's the perfect time to get woke

At this very moment, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is considering a petition that would eliminate a standard that sets the maximum speed of poultry plants' "evisceration lines" – that's the line of hooks or hangers that carries live birds to be killed, scalded, defeathered, and have their feet and organs removed – at 140 birds per minute (bpm). That's already 2.33 birds every second. Trying to keep up with that speed, workers throughout the plant commonly suffer musculoskeletal injuries like carpal tunnel and shoulder injuries performing tasks that require forceful and repetitive twisting, cutting, and chopping, often from awkward postures. 

USDA has previously attempted to speed up poultry processing lines as part of an Obama-era rulemaking to "modernize" the inspection process by removing federal inspectors from the ...

CPR Lauds OSHA's Continued Vigilance over Rampant Dangers in the Poultry Slaughter Industry

by Matt Shudtz | July 29, 2016
Earlier this week, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) cited Pilgrim's Pride, one of the world's largest poultry processors, with more than a dozen serious workplace health and safety violations. CPR Executive Director Matthew Shudtz issued the following statement today:  Credit OSHA for pushing the envelope. The poultry slaughter industry loves to tout its declining injury rates, but outside experts have many reasons to believe the industry's cooking its books. This isn't the first time OSHA's investigators have uncovered ...

GAO Confirms Dangerous Working Conditions across Poultry Industry

by Katie Tracy | May 25, 2016
This morning, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report finding that hazardous working conditions across the meat and poultry industry put workers at risk of on-the-job injuries and illnesses. While injury and illness rates reportedly declined in the decade from 2004 to 2013, GAO emphasizes that the decrease might not be because of improved working conditions in the industry. Rather, the drop is likely due to data-gathering challenges at the Department of Labor and underreporting across the industry.  ...

New Oxfam Report: Poultry Industry Denies Worker Requests for Bathroom Breaks

by Katie Tracy | May 11, 2016
Can you imagine working for a boss who refuses you the dignity of taking a bathroom break? According to a revealing new report published today by Oxfam America, denial of bathroom breaks is a very real practice at poultry plants across the country, and line workers at these plants often "wait inordinately long times (an hour or more), then race to accomplish the task within a certain timeframe (e.g., ten minutes) or risk discipline."  If you've never worked on an ...

USDA Official Throws OSHA Under the Bus

by Matt Shudtz | March 22, 2016
Partisan efforts in Congress to roll back health and safety rules are common fodder on this blog. But last week, we saw a new twist, with a high-level Obama Administration official giving cover to a right-wing attempt to weaken protections for hundreds of thousands of workers in the poultry industry. The workers in question are at the center of the highly industrialized process of turning live chickens into shrink-wrapped skinless parts. That puts them at a critical juncture in the ...

Testimony: Maryland Needs Effective Manure Management Policies to Restore Watersheds

by Evan Isaacson | February 23, 2016
Legislative committees in both the Maryland House and Senate are holding hearings this week on the Poultry Litter Management Act, a bill that has been attracting a lot of attention in Maryland and beyond. I have been asked to testify as part of a panel featuring representatives of the United States Geological Survey and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. The focus of my testimony will be the problems posed by farm animal manure – in this case, poultry litter on Maryland’s Eastern ...

What Are 'Ag-Gag' Law Proponents Trying to Hide?

by Mollie Rosenzweig | February 19, 2016
At a time when consumers are demanding greater transparency in the food system – and some food companies are delivering by means of genetically modified organism labeling and removal of artificial food dyes — a troubling North Carolina law that runs counter to that goal has recently gone into effect. The state’s so-called “ag-gag” law prohibits whistleblowers from making audio or video recordings inside industrial agricultural facilities. Following the success of a similar suit in Idaho last year, consumer protection ...

Delmarva CAFO Expansion Continues Despite Calls for a Moratorium

by Evan Isaacson | January 12, 2016
Last September, the Environmental Integrity Project put a spotlight on the dramatic increase in the number of industrial scale poultry houses being established on the Delmarva Peninsula.  In its report, More Phosphorus, Less Monitoring, the organization found that more than 200 new chicken houses had been permitted on the peninsula since November 2014, including 67 in just one Maryland county (Somerset County, on the state’s lower Eastern Shore). Shortly thereafter the Maryland Clean Agriculture Coalition, supported by the Center for ...

Chickens Aren’t the Only Ones Suffering at the Slaughterhouse

by Katie Tracy | November 10, 2015
A startling new report by Oxfam America reveals just how dangerous it is to work inside a poultry processing plant. The report is packed full of alarming statistics and heart-breaking personal stories from brave workers, exposing an industry that fails to protect workers from well-known hazards and that discourages workers from reporting injuries when they occur. Despite the underreporting of injuries and illnesses, the poultry industry’s safety record is dismal. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the industry had ...

Heading in the Right Direction: OSHA Nails Poultry Processor for Ergonomics

by Matt Shudtz | June 22, 2015
Last week, OSHA issued noteworthy citations against a poultry slaughtering facility in Delaware. The agency is using its General Duty Clause to hold Allen Harim Foods in Harbeson, Delaware responsible for ergonomic hazards that plague the entire industry—hazards involving the repetitive cutting and twisting motions that lead to musculoskeletal disorders like tendonitis and carpal tunnel syndrome. This case follows another from October of last year, when, in response to a complaint by workers and their advocates from the Southern Poverty ...

Large OSHA Fine for Poultry Processor Highlights Flaw in USDA Proposal to Revise Inspection System

by Matt Shudtz | May 03, 2013
Just days before The Washington Post's Kimberly Kindy published her eye-opening story of chemical showers in chicken processing plants and the untimely death of a federal food safety inspector, OSHA announced fines totaling $58,775 in a case involving a worker fatality at another chicken processing plant – this one in Canton, Georgia. According to OSHA's press release, the worker "became caught in an unguarded hopper while attempting to remove a piece of cardboard."  The agency does not typically release the full ...

All Beaks Turned to the Illinois River: Oklahoma Poultry Case Begins

by Yee Huang | October 08, 2009
On September 24, arguments began in Oklahoma v. Tyson, a 2005 lawsuit filed by the Oklahoma Attorney General against poultry companies operating in the Illinois River Basin. The lawsuit alleges violations of federal environmental laws, state and federal public nuisance law, and state statutes regulating pollution of waterways. Oklahoma’s legal strategy is unique: the state is bringing the suit under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA, more commonly known as the Superfund Law) to target the nonpoint ...

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