Catch and Hang Live Chickens for Slaughter: $11 an Hour Possible!

Koch Foods, a giant chicken processor that supplies Burger King, Kroger and Walmart (not affiliated with the Koch brothers) lost no time in replacing the five busloads of undocumented workers taken from its Mississippi plants this month due to an ICE raid. It is already holding “job fairs” to replace the workers.

The August ICE raids on chicken slaughter plants in Mississippi raise an issue that traditional media like to ignore. Undocumented immigrants keep the US in cheap meat. Few to no Americans want slaughterhouse jobs like knockers, stickers, bleeders and tail rippers. Employees fleeing poverty and violence, on the other hand, will work such jobs with no complaints.

Last year, Counterpunch told you about a raid on undocumented workers at the cattle slaughterhouse Southeastern Provision, in Bean Station, TN, who supplied Kentucky Fried Chicken, Taco Bell and the US government, leaving a workforce of only three. Southeastern Provision’s undocumented workers were reportedly handling harsh chemicals without proper eye protection, not paid overtime and only paid six dollars an hour.

While progressives and the clergy defend the detained undocumented workers, they carefully avoid talking about the jobs they are defending that abuse workers, animals and the environment. Maiming and amputations are disturbingly common and seldom reported by workers for obvious reasons. For example, at the huge Iowa slaughterhouse Agriprocessors, two workers required amputations in one month and one was still working at the plant with a hand missing said reporters, “hoping to collect enough to pay off his debts back home.”

A few years ago, CounterPunch told you about slaughterhouse workers who developed autoimmune diseases from aerosolizing hog brains, some ending up in wheelchairs. And who can forget the 1991 Imperial Foods chicken plant fire in North Carolina in which 25 workers were killed and 55 injured, because doors were locked to prevent “theft.”

The 2008 ICE raid at Agriprocessors included charges of use of child labor, physical and sexual abuse of workers, unsafe working conditions, wage and hour violations, and shorting workers’ pay. There was even a methamphetamine lab in the slaughterhouse, sanctioned by management. Barack Obama, then an Illinois senator said, “They have kids in there wielding buzz saws and cleavers. It’s ridiculous,” during a campaign stop in Davenport, Iowa.

And what does Big Meat do to the environment? Chicken giant Tyson pleaded guilty to violating the Clean Water Act with effluvia from its Sedalia, Missouri, facility and before its probation ended, was charged by the state of Oklahoma with polluting the Illinois River watershed. Poultry polluters eject as much phosphorous into the watershed as a city of ten million people, said State Attorney General Drew Edmondson after bringing the changes. Phosphorus causes overgrowth of algae and other aquatic plants which chokes off oxygen vital to other marine life, especially animals. Want to find a chicken operation? Just follow the dead dish.

The modern chicken industry has always been problematical says the 2017 book Big Chicken: The Incredible Story of How Antibiotics Created Modern Agriculture and Changed the Way the World Eats. In the US in the 1950s, chickens were soaked in antibiotics to leave a film in a macabre process called acronizing until resistant staph infections began appearing among chicken workers. In the United Kingdom scientists warned about antibiotic resistance and Parliament took action in 1971. Other European countries also acted.

In the US, meat and pharmaceutical lobbyists and lawmakers fought regulations and the FDA did not act until 2000 and then, with only one antibiotic. In 2012, it called for the removal of the “growth promotion” indication for antibiotics but farmers simply now call the use “disease prevention” according to public health experts. The still widely used antibiotics in chicken production are so linked to urinary tract infections (UTIs) in humans, some doctors think the UTIs should be called food borne diseases.

It is ironic that the abusive chicken industry, hawking their ubiquitous chicken “nuggets” and “tenders”, still thrives when so many chicken substitutes that abuse neither workers, animals or the environment now exist.

Conservatives, Big Food corporations and lawmakers are shameless hypocrites when they bash undocumented workers while benefiting from their cheap labor and meat. But so are progressives when in defending immigrants, they avoid discussion of Big Meat. No talk about undocumented immigrants is honest if it leaves out the fact that US slaughterhouses are balanced on their backs.

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Martha Rosenberg is an investigative health reporter. She is the author of  Born With A Junk Food Deficiency: How Flaks, Quacks and Hacks Pimp The Public Health (Prometheus).

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