As we have heard from hundreds of people who work in meat and poultry processing, “the speed kills you.” Relentless work speed and thousands of repetitive motions cause workers’ hands to swell with pain and later lead to permanently crippling injuries. Workers are told they have to “learn to live with the pain,” and many undergo multiple surgeries on their hands, arms, and backs as the work tears at their tendons, nerves, and joints.
Now the USDA is proposing to nearly double the allowable speed of poultry processing from 91 birds per minute to 175 (the public comment period has been extended until May 29). Read Gabriel Thompson’s powerful account of his experience in poultry processing in The Nation. And public health researcher Celeste Monforton provides additional background on the proposed USDA rule.
The USDA should withdraw the proposal until the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) can complete a study of its impact on workers’ safety and health.
Nebraskans want to see a strong and sustainable meat and poultry industry. One that is a proud part of our communities, not one that transfers the costs of production to families, communities, and society.
For additional reading and documentation of poultry processing injuries, see this 2008 series in the Charlotte Observer –The Cruelest Cuts – documenting the human cost of poultry processing for thousands of Carolina workers. A February 2012 study in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine found that Latino poultry workers were more than two and a half times more likely to suffer carpal tunnel injuries than Latino workers in other manual labor. A Duke University 2007 study found that 43 percent of poultry workers surveyed reported symptoms of musculoskeletal disorders.