Safe food from safe workplaces: protecting meat and poultry processing workers

Over a century ago, Upton Sinclair’s novel The Jungle exposed the dehumanizing labor conditions and unsanitary environment of the meatpacking industry. These hazards involved in slaughtering and processing meat and poultry for our food supply are well known and predictable.  Solutions that prevent these harms are feasible.

See Lessons Learned: Solutions for Workplace Safety and Health by Molly M. Jacobs, David Kriebel, and Joel Tickner

The faster the production line moves, the greater the risk of injuries and of contaminated meat entering our food supply.

Yet since Sinclair’s time, rates of injuries and illnesses in the meatpacking industry have been notoriously high. The long history of the meat and poultry slaughter and processing industry shows how solutions to protect the safety and health of workers cannot be addressed in isolation.

Eliminating hazards on the production line, providing dignity and job satisfaction to line workers, and ensuring a safe and ecologically sound food supply are all components of the same food systems approach to this industry.

The roadblocks to effective food safety practices and to healthy jobs are the same: workers with little control over their jobs on the plant floor, regulatory agencies with inadequate resources and powers, and the perverse economics of our industrial meat and food production system in which narrow profit margins drive business decisions with insufficient commitment to either working conditions or food quality.

Additional Resources
“The Speed Kills You.” The Voice of Nebraska’s Meatpacking Workers. Nebraska Appleseed, 2009.
"Cruelest Cuts: The Human Cost of Bringing Poultry to Your Table". Charlotte Observer, 2008 Special Report.
"Blood Sweat and Fear: Worker’s Rights in U.S. Meat and Poultry Plants". Human Rights Watch, 2005.
United Food and Commercial Workers International Union.