Our VoiceImmigration

Fear and Loathing on the Killing Room Floor

Carlos Rich • Jun 15, 2011

Where animals are slaughtered and processed, where the meat is portioned and packaged, several dangerous elements exist.

Processing plants in this country dispense with over 400 head of cattle per hour, which from living animal to fully processed meat is more than six per minute. Maintaining that high rate of speed, workers regularly complete 20,000 cutting motions in a single day. As a result, these workers often develop crippling cumulative trauma disorders, their hands and limbs can be mangled by meat processing machines, and they may sustain deep wounds from their razor-sharp knives.

These workers, of course, are exposed to these dangers every minute of every shift. These dangers, needless to say, are expectations, components of a harsh daily reality.

Death, however, is not.

Earlier this week I received this article, which offered the following insights into the horrors that the stresses of the killing room and factory floor can provoke:

“According to the Finney County Sheriff’s Office, a preliminary investigation revealed [Cesar] Muniz and a 34-year-old co-worker were working in the same area of the plant on the processing side [for Tyson Fresh Meats]. Witnesses said the two men bumped heads while working, and in doing so, Muniz was stabbed in the neck by the 34-year-old man who had a work knife in his hand, according to a release from Finney County Sheriff Kevin Bascue.”

In many plants across the USA, many must work in a hostile environment. For example, many must endure mistreatment by their supervisors, like being denied bathroom breaks. In some cases, supervisors have told workers that they may only go to the bathroom once or twice a day across entire ten-hour shifts.

Some supervisors, unsurprisingly, yell and bully workers who they know do not have proper documentation.

As a meat consumer, I am angered by the exploitation outlined above.

I know that many people base a decision to stop eating meat on the horrible treatment of animals or for health reasons; and while these are legitimate reasons that should be respected, I think that more people in this country eat meat without ever giving a second’s thought to the conditions under which these products are manufactured.

We perhaps give even less thought to those who do the manufacturing.

Pondering the many social dilemmas that accompany issues of consumption is difficult and absorbing. In this day and age, many of us who also work long hours and are as strapped for spare time as we are for spare money simply seek quantity over quality.

And I don’t mean quality as far as pure, safe food.

The type of quality I’m underscoring is a more general quality that necessarily includes the treatment of workers, which inherently involves safer working conditions and decent wages. Paying the workers who are handling our foods low wages will only perpetuate the massive negatives plaguing this industry—negatives that are transferred to our homes through products of poor quality.

We not only need to demand quality foods from these big corporations, but we also must push the government to enforce fair labor practices. It is in our best interests, as well as those of the workers. Chief among our complaints should be the speed of the line: it must be slowed down.

Please, take a minute or two to sign the slow-down-the-line petition.

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