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Cook Organic not the Planet Campaign

The Overlooked Plight of Factory Farm Workers

For related articles and information, please visit OCA's Factory Farming & Food Safety page and our Fair Trade and Social Justice page.

In December, NBC News published a story on an undercover video of animal cruelty in a contract farm to Tyson Meats. If you haven't seen it already, I highly recommend watching it. If nothing else, this is one perspective of a frightening story and spectacularly succeeds in giving one a sense of the problem that we have on our hands.

The footage shows brutal and harsh treatment of pigs in a barn-like facility. The article offers a warning on the graphic nature of the video, brief summarizes the footage, and then goes on to quote an apology from Tyson, who promises to terminate its contract with that farm.

This resolution leaves us with a nice sense of closure, but frankly, the entire story alarms me. In telling this story, the video means to evoke a sense of outrage and disgust, and in that I think it succeeds spectacularly. But the disgust it raises is wholly directed towards the workers. We see scene after scene of workers performing acts of violence against pigs, with no sense of what the workers are trying to accomplish. The clips chosen are often ones in which they are shouting harshly, mostly in Spanish, with the screaming of pigs as a skin-crawling backdrop. A casual viewing of this video might lead one to believe that these are a crew of sociopathic and lazy low-lives who spend their entire workday skipping from one act of pointless violence to another. The viewer is invited to let flow all internal xenophobic urges. This video seems to suggest that somehow, if this factory were staffed by a different group of workers, all would be different.

But that telling misses out on so many important details. It misses the poor pay, long hours and frightening pace of the factory line. Workers in the meat industry make an average of $23,000 a year, work 10+ hours a day, are pushed so hard they often defecate in their pants to avoid slowing down and suffer a repetitive motion injury rate 30 times the national average.