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On World Food Day: Let's Boycott and Ban Factory Farms

Welcome back to “The Jungle.” That’s how writer Kim Kelly ends the article she penned recently for The New Republic.

“The Jungle” refers to Upton Sinclair’s exposé-disguised-as novel, published in 1906, which revealed the atrocious conditions—for humans and animals—in U.S. slaughterhouses

The book ultimately led to federal regulations (within four months of the novel’s publication) which forced the owners of meatpacking plants to improve the dangerous and disgusting working conditions endured by those unfortunate enough to work in the animal slaughter business.

“Welcome back” refers to the Trump administration’s success in turning back the clock, making conditions worse—for workers in corporate-owned slaughterhouses and for consumers who eat the meat processed there.

Kelly’s article is one of two hot-off-the-presses news stories that shine a light on the darkest of industries—industrial meat production—and reveal how our federal regulatory agencies continue to enable industrial meat producers to thrive in what Pulitzer Prize-winning Chris Hedges recently referred to as the “Age of Radical Evil.”

October 16 was World Food Day. So we thought it fitting to remind consumers why it’s critical to boycott industrially produced meat, and why we should never give up the battle to end factory farming, once and for all.

USDA: worker and consumer safety an ‘unnecessary obstacle’

The article in the New Republic takes aim at the decision by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to allow pork processing plants to increase their line speeds—a move that almost guarantees that the already-dangerous job of working in a slaughterhouse will become even more dangerous.

That’s bad enough. But the new regulations, set to take effect in December, also cut—by 40 percent—the number of government inspectors at pork plants.

So who will inspect the meat? To make sure it’s safe for consumers? Processing plant employees. Who oh-by-the-way have no training in food safety.

The Guardian also reported on the new line speed regulations, citing a statement by the USDA that setting limits on line speeds was an “unnecessary regulatory obstacle to industry innovation.”

In other words, corporate profits outweigh the need to protect workers and consumers.

An investigation by the Guardian and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism last year found U.S. meat workers are already three times more likely to suffer serious harm than the average American worker.

Pork and beef workers were nearly seven times more likely to suffer repetitive strain injuries.

The investigators said that amputations, fractured fingers, second-degree burns and head trauma are “some of the serious injuries suffered by U.S. meat plant workers every week.”

Ted Genoways, author of “The Chain: Farm, Factory, and the Fate of Our Food,” told the Guardian this week:

“By allowing companies to run their production lines as fast as possible, the USDA is giving the green light to dramatically expanding the volume of meat production within an already strained system. In their own study group, this increased animal abuse, environmental violations, and work safety violations."

“And by giving yet another break to corporate interests, the USDA is also harming small farmers who are producing safer and healthier pork,” he said.

Costco 'experiment' will fail consumers, farmers and the environment

Moving on from pork to poultry . . . mainstream media this month finally picked up on a story we’ve been covering for nearly two years.

CNN reported on plans by Costco to build the largest chicken factory farm operation in the world, in Nebraska. CNN called the plan an “experiment” and the “largest-scale tests of a store's ability to become its own meat supplier, adding that “there’s no guarantee it will work.”

We can’t say if it will “work” for Costco. But we do know it won’t work for consumers who value quality meat, for Nebraskans who like to drink clean water and breathe clean air, or for anyone concerned about the growing public health crisis caused by the reckless use of antibiotics on factory farms.

And it sure won’t “work” for birds condemned to live out their short lives in filthy, stressful conditions with no chance of ever spending a day outside.

According to CNN:

The nearly 400,000 square-foot plant in Fremont will employ 950 workers. The plant will take 45 weeks to ramp up to full production. Once it's at full speed, the plant will process about 100 million chickens a year, or 40% of Costco's annual chicken needs. Costco will process around two million birds a week in Nebraska to supply to stores on the West Coast.

According to Nebraska-based GC Resolve, a grassroots community development, mobilization and education organization that opposes the Costco project, more than 21 million chickens will be housed in approximately 500 barns spread out over Eastern Nebraska and Western Iowa, all upstream from the Omaha and Lincoln metro areas, creating public health concerns as litter will produce excess nutrients that will leach into Nebraska waterways.

GC Resolve has called for a boycott of Costco and a moratorium on factory farms. 

Organic Consumers has also called for a boycott, and has asked consumers throughout the country to sign this petition telling Costco that consumers don’t want more factory farms.

Nebraska Communities United, which also opposes the project, says this:

Industrial livestock production is NOT the future of Nebraska Agriculture and puts independent family farmers at risk. This extreme model of vertically integrated food production extracts wealth from rural communities, exploits farmers and workers alike, and degrades our land, air, and water. We want and are working toward a vibrant, regenerative agricultural system that produces quality food and quality employment for our communities. County zoning regulations in Nebraska are either non-existent or so weak as to provide almost no meaningful environmental, natural resource, or public health protections from the hazards posed by CAFOs. 

Read this full list of concerns about the Costco project. For more on how vertical integration of the poultry industry exploits farmers, consumers and animals, and pollutes the environment, read  “The Meat Racket,” by Christopher Leonard.

Katherine Paul is associate director of the Organic Consumers Association (OCA). To keep up with OCA news and alerts, sign up for our newsletter.

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