February , 2019

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Worker health and food safety compromised in modern meat and poultry processing plants


Chicago and Minneapolis – As the Labor Day holiday celebrating workers was approaching, the Midwest Coalition for Human Rights and Nebraska Appleseed Center for Law in the Public Interest filed a petition with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) requesting a hearing to address serious human rights abuses in meatpacking and poultry processing plants across the United States.

“Meatpacking plants continue hazardous practices that put worker health and food safety at risk.” said Darcy Tromanhauser, director of Nebraska Appleseed’s Immigrant Integration and Civic Participation Program.  “Meatpacking workers are exposed to unrelenting production speed, extraordinary injury rates, extreme temperatures, denial of bathroom use, and other supervisory abuse. This year on Labor Day, we reflect on the contributions of workers to our economy and call on Congress and the U.S. government to protect workers in this dangerous industry.”

The meat and poultry processing industries violate the fundamental human rights of their workers by systematically exploiting the lack of ergonomic and work speed safety regulations in the U.S. The industries have failed to respond to the documented evidence of deplorable conditions, and the United States regulatory body that oversees worker safety, OSHA, has not sufficiently addressed the connection between production speed and worker safety.

Meatpacking is one of the most dangerous jobs in America with one of the highest rates of injury in manufacturing. A rule recently proposed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) promises to make poultry processing even more dangerous by increasing line speed from a current rate of 75-90 birds per minute up to 175 birds per minute, allowing inspectors only one-third of a second to inspect each chicken. The rule would also remove most federal inspectors from the lines and replace them with plant workers. To ensure food and worker safety, the speed of the line should decrease (rather than increase) and federal inspectors should maintain a strong oversight presence.

The IACHR is an autonomous body of the inter-American system created by mandate of the Organization of American States that promotes and protects human rights.

 The Midwest Coalition and Nebraska Appleseed petition documents human rights abuses in meatpacking plants throughout the Midwest and asks the IACHR to 1) find that the unacceptable conditions of the meatpacking industry violate the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man; and 2) recommend the need for more specific and effective work speed and ergonomic regulations through OSHA.

The Midwest Coalition for Human Rights is a regional network of 56 organizations dedicated to domestic and international human rights activities.

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