On The Chicken Line: Animal And Human Costs of Factory Farming
The cruelties of factory farming are no secret to animal advocates, from the brutal ways animals are bred to the intensive way they’re confined throughout their lives, right up until the inherent suffering with being slaughtered. Like all factory farmed animals, chickens have it bad in the system. Because of their size and weight, we actually consume many more individuals through our chicken consumption than we do any other farmed animals (with the possible exception of fish). The chicken industry in the U.S. is now a $50 billion juggernaut, dominated by four companies: Tyson Foods, Pilgrim’s Pride, Perdue, and Sanderson Farms. The chicken industry employs 250,000 people in the U.S., with a huge reliance on migrant labour, refugees, or otherwise disadvantaged workers. As the industry rakes in huge profits, it comes at the expense of intensified pressure on animals as well as humans.
This report from OXFAM looks at “the human cost of cheap chicken,” and highlights the issues that workers face as the chicken industry’s intensification continues apace. It’s not hard to imagine why working in chicken processing is hard work. But the scale of the industry – fueled by nearly ubiquitous chicken consumption – means that the work is increasingly industrialized. The industry kills and processes millions of animals a day across the country, birds that are “caught, trucked to factories, hung and slaughtered, processed into pieces, and packaged” by employees who come into contact with literally thousands of birds in a single shift.
This intensity is about productivity and slaughtering the maximum number of birds per hour with the fewest employees to pay. “Line speeds” have been increasing for years, with the upper limit reaching 70 birds per minute in 1979. The max line speed increased to 91 birds per minute in 1999 to a stunning 140 birds per minute today. What’s more, the industry “continues to seek even faster line speeds – despite well-documented and wide-ranging dangers to the workforce,” not to mention what it says about how animals are treated.
The report is extensive and not easily summarized, though it is available in full for advocates and scholars. It’s important to note that this is a document focused on workers and doesn’t directly relate to animal welfare. That said, it’s easy to see how animal welfare concerns are implicated in virtually all of its findings. The report underlines that, for workers, “These are tough jobs. But the industry does little to make it easier for these workers to endure.” They describe the company-worker relationship in unflattering and yet familiar terms: “[The industry] does not do enough to protect workers, compensate them fairly, or take care of them once they’re injured or disabled. Rather, it simply replaces them with people likely to encounter the same fate.”
The comparison between workers and animals continues with a quote from a former chicken processor: “We’re not asking you to stop eating chicken. We’re simply asking to be treated as human beings and not as animals.” Though it may be tempting for some advocates to criticize the irony of such a statement, what it actually underlines is that the chicken industry treats both humans and chickens with the same kind of reckless disregard and cruelty. Though their plights are different, they share a great deal in common.
Animal advocates have long shown concern for the workers who are so blatantly abused by the factory farming industry, with more concerted efforts emerging very recently. For example, The Save Movement makes worker’s rights and worker outreach one of the key dimensions of their advocacy. More and more, advocates are seeing that the intersection between worker abuse and animal abuse is an important connection for people to make. How do we advocate for the rights of workers who are part of industries that kill animals, but also advocate for the animals themselves? It’s an important question and this report helps connect the dots between human and animal abuse in a major industry.