Posts Tagged ‘poultry’

USDA: What’s up with your “for the birds” food processing legislation?

Monday, September 16th, 2013

Chickens have been a hot potato on the legislative circuit lately — well, the processing of chickens, that is. Even if you thought you had absolutely no interest in poultry processing, if consuming tasty chicken is something you enjoy, you may want to know about these laws. We’re wondering what’s up with the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) – could there be something in the water?
Elizabeth Grossman of The Pump Handle offers the lowdown on one of those laws in her post Hazards behind a chicken dinner: US poultry workers ask USDA and OSHA to protect their safety. Last year, about a half million poultry workers processed about 8 billion chickens, many handling about 100 birds a minute. Now a rate like that is pretty amusing when you see Lucille Ball on a chocolate packing assembly line in the old sitcoms, but it’s a little less comical for workers wielding sharp knives while “standing in chilled processing plant facilities, cutting, gutting, scalding, defeathering and hanging birds as they speed by on automated machinery.”
But as Grossman notes, this apparently isn’t fast enough:

“If a rule proposed by USDA and supported by the poultry industry is finalized and goes into effect, the speed at which chickens and other poultry are typically processed could increase to as much as 175 birds per minute – a rate at which some plants are already operating.”

And one more thing:

“The proposed USDA rule would change the way poultry processing plant inspections work. It would shift the inspection process to one in which individual companies set inspection guidelines for their own plants.”

Now that’s not good for the workers, who are already plagued with notoriously poor working conditions and an injury rate that is about twice the national average (see also Unsafe at These Speeds) — it doesn’t sound too propitious for consumer quality, either. We’ll forgo the fox guarding the hen-house analogies and simply pose the radical idea that guidelines set by profit-driven companies may not always be in the interests of the greater good in an era that is flirting with drug-resistant Salmonella and other super pathogens.
It hasn’t worked so well in pilot programs in pork plants: See Kimberly Kindy’s Washington Post article: USDA Pilot Program fails to stop contaminated meat. Her article notes:

“Auditors from the inspector general’s office found that three of the five plants in the pilot program had racked up scores of health and safety violations, many of them for problems that were never fixed. The report did not identify the five plants and said that, since no study had been done, it was difficult to determine if contamination and other deficiencies could be attributed directly to the inspection system.

But the auditors pointed out that the safety records at the three most-troubled pilot plants were worse than those at hundreds of other U.S. swine plants that continued to operate under the traditional system, which features slower processing speeds and about double the number of government inspectors.”

But wait, there’s more. If you care about poultry workers and or food safety — pick one or both (although we see them as issues that are inextricably linked) — the news gets even worse.
Wired reports: USDA: Chicken Processed in China Can be Sold in the US Without Labels to Say So. So in addition to increasing US worker output, USDA now allows for off-shoring some of the chicken processing jobs to the wonderful folks that produced glow-in-the-dark pork. Do you trust your kids chicken nuggets to be processed by the country that produced these rather alarming food products? Of ocurse, you’ll have no way of knowing because these processed meats won’t be subject to Country Of Origin Labeling (COOL) the way that fresh meats are.
For now, the chickens will be bred, raised and slaughtered in the US and China will only be doing the processing. Note the key phrase “for now” – many industry insiders expect that this is a prelude to allowing China to export domestically raised chickens to the US.
Additional info
NIOSH study finds widespread carpal tunnel among poultry workers, underscores why Poultry Rule is a bad idea
OSHA: Poultry Processing

Will you know when your chicken was processed in China?
Your chicken nuggets may soon come from China

The human cost of bringing poultry to the table

Wednesday, November 26th, 2008

Last week, North Carolina’s Occupational Safety and Health division levied 49 citations and $178,000 in fines for workplace hazards on the House of Raeford Farms, one of nation’s largest poultry processors. This action was taken in response to serious, repeat safety violations, many involving hazardous chemicals that pose a threat to the safety of both the plant workers and the community. These violations are startling given the company’s past record:

“In 2003, House of Raeford worker Bruce Glover died after a leak sent chlorine gas seeping into the company’s Rose Hill plant. The next year, a major ammonia leak at that plant forced a large-scale evacuation and sent 17 workers to the hospital with respiratory problems and burning throats. N.C. OSHA cited the company for chemical violations after each of those accidents – and each time agreed to slash the proposed penalties.
After the 2004 ammonia leak, regulators found that the company didn’t do enough to prevent and detect such accidents and had not installed an alarm system to speed evacuations.”

After these incidents and before the most recent inspections, the House of Raeford had been fined $117,000 but was able to whittle those fines down to $26,500. Unfortunately, negotiating OSHA fines down has become common practice in recent years, a practice that does little to discourage irresponsible companies from engaging in repeat violations.
That the inspections and fines were levied at all is due in no small part to the investigative series that the Charlotte Observer ran on the poultry industry and their continued reporting on the issues of safety violations, child labor, and illegal immigrant exploitation in the poultry industry, beginning with the The Cruelest Cuts, an extensive 6 part series. The series focused on the difficult and unsafe conditions facing the the 28,000 poultry workers in the region – conditions that seem more in tune with the turn-of-the century slaughterhouses depicted in Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle than in our modern, high tech 21st century world. An editorial accompanying the series states:

“Our team of reporters and editors spent 22 months interviewing more than 200 poultry workers throughout the Southeast and analyzing industry documents. Their investigation soon led them to focus on one of the largest Carolinas-based poultry producers, House of Raeford. Its eight plants have been cited for more serious safety violations than all but two other poultry companies in recent years — and more than some companies several times their size.
Our journalists found evidence that House of Raeford has failed to report serious injuries, including broken bones and carpal tunnel syndrome. They discovered that plant officials often dismissed workers’ requests for medical care that would cost the company money.
They also found that House of Raeford has undergone a work force transformation. In the early 1990s, its workers were largely African Americans. Today, between 80 percent and 90 percent of workers at some of its plants are Latinos. Most have no legal standing in this country; most are poor.
They are our newest subclass.”

It’s difficult reading on the eve of the day when most of us prepare to enjoy a turkey feast tomorrow, but if not now, it’s worth a bookmark for reading at a later time. We commend the Charlotte Observer for their reporting. When corporate social responsibility fails and when public policy enforcers are weak, it’s important that someone take up the banner for worker and public safety.

Cavalcade of Risk; WC and hospital profits; poultry industry expose

Wednesday, July 2nd, 2008

It’s Cavalcade of Risk day, and Louise Norris has an Independence day edition posted at Colorado Health Insurance Insider. Louise and her husband Jay have an interesting story about how they came to the field of health insurance: literally, through the school of hard knocks after intersecting with the health care industry through personal experience, a series of sports-related injuries. Today, as a locally-owned Colorado brokerage, they are respected health insurance consultants. One nice thing about the web is how an informative site such as theirs can serve as a great equalizer for smaller entrepreneurial firms – if you live in Colorado, they sound like great people to do business with.
Meanwhile, check out today’s edition. There’s a lot of good reading material linked – be sure to catch Nancy Germond’s entry on writing a workplace incident report and Joe Paduda’s entry on the horrors of universal coverage. And while over at Joe’s place, also see his post on workers comp – the hospital profit engine – it’s a real eye opener. Here’s a teaser: “The entire US hospital industry generated profits of roughly $25 billion, workers’ compensation – which you will remember represents only about 1.5% of total hospital revenues – accounts for approximately 16 percent of all the profits for US hospitals.” He follows this post with another on DRGs, Medicare, hospitals, and workers comp, where he delves into further explanation for the costs. If you work in workers comp or managed care, these are must-read posts.
Bill Moyers on the poultry industry and worker safety – We’ve blogged several times about the appalling state of safety in the poultry and meat packing industries. This year, there has been a concerted focus on the poultry industry, largely thanks to the excellent investigative journalism in the Charlotte Observer’s The Cruelest Cuts, a six-part multimedia series – well worth exploration if you missed it first time around. Now, Bill Moyers has picked up the ball, covering the topic in a 22 minute investigative report of the poultry industry (video clip), which shows how official statistics showing a drop in workplace injuries may have been the result of deceptive reporting. See much more information on poultry worker safety at Bill Moyers’ Journal on PBS.