The Appleseed Center for Law in the Public Interest interviewed 455 employees who worked in one of nine Nebraska slaughterhouses during 2007 and 2008.
A total of 62 percent of those interviewed said they had been injured on the job in the past year, a rate seven times higher than the government's official statistics for slaughterhouse workers.
The high percentage of injuries is blamed on increased line speeds. Seventy-three percent of workers said their line speeds had increased in the past year. The faster the slaughtering line moves, the more animals can be killed and dismembered, thereby increasing the company's profits.
These findings are not surprising to people who've read Gail Eisnitz's "Slaughterhouse." In commemoration of Labor Day last year I wrote about what workers go through in slaughterhouses.
[Slaughterhouse workers] talk of a production system that moves too fast to render animals unconscious. Despite numerous complaints to management -- as well as countless injuries -- the companies refuse to make changes because slowing the process would mean not making as much money. When animals are not properly stunned (rendered unconscious), they fight for their lives, kicking workers, falling on top of them, running over them.The American Meat Institute responded to the Appleseed report by challenging "claims that fast production lines put workers at greater risk."
It also cited government statistics for worker injuries.
Citing U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data, Janet Riley, the American Meat Institute's senior vice president of public affairs, told the paper the incident of reported injuries and illnesses for 2007 fell nearly 8 percent from the previous year.She failed to note that supervisors at slaughterhouses don't respond kindly to claims of injuries.
After Agriprocessors, the largest kosher slaughterhouse in the U.S., was raided in May 2008, employees talked about their working conditions.
Elmer L. said that he was clearing cow innards from the slaughter floor last Aug. 26 when a supervisor he described as a rabbi began yelling at him, then kicked him from behind. The blow caused a freshly-sharpened knife to fly up and cut his elbow.Virgil Butler, now deceased, recounted in 2006 his time at a Tyson chicken slaughterhouse.
He was sent to a hospital where doctors closed the laceration with eight stitches. But he said that when he returned, his elbow still stinging, to ask for some time off, his supervisor ordered him back to work.
The next day, as he was lifting a cow’s tongue, the stitches ruptured, Elmer L. said, and the wound bled again. He said he was given a bandage at the plant and sent back to work.
All but one of the most serious accidents I saw the whole time I worked for Tyson occurred in the kill room. Some of those accidents happened to me. I have scars all over my hands and arms where I cut myself. I had several nasty infections from it. When I would go to my supervisor to complain, he would tell me to prove that I got infected there and not somewhere else. I even sewed up my own hand once at break time. It took five stitches.Another reason injuries go unreported is that many workers are in the United States illegally. The Agriprocessors raid in Iowa uncovered almost 400 illegal immigrants. People here illegally wouldn't want to risk deportation by reporting injuries caused from dangerous working conditions.
(Photo courtesy of the Animal Welfare Institute.)