The Jungle Comes to Minnesota

I highly recommend Ted Genoways’s shocking investigative report on the impact of a leading factory meat processor.  The piece focuses on Quality Pork Processors Inc. (QPP), in Austin, Minnesota.  One worker alleged that the workers in the plant felt nearly as disposable as the animals:

“I feel thrown away,” Miriam Angeles says. “Before, I worked hard and willingly for QPP, but after I got sick and needed restrictions, they threw me away like trash.”

Rest assured, many other employers may be planning to emulate that example.  Sickness and exhaustion are apparently a common problem at the plant. As the article notes, “The line speed at QPP had increased from 750 heads per hour in 1989 to 1,350 per hour in 2006, while the workforce barely grew.”  It’s the “They Shoot Horses, Don’t They” model of management.  Few parts of the production process, from cutting and slicing legs and other parts to vaporizing swine brains, are easy.  Health effects are dramatic:

Workers say nearly everyone suffered from carpal tunnel syndrome or some repetitive stress injury, but by October 2007, there were signs of something else. Workers from QPP’s kill floor were coming to . . . the plant’s occupational health nurse, with increasingly familiar complaints: numbness and tingling in their extremities, chronic fatigue, searing skin pain. Bower started noticing workers so tender that they struggled with the stairs to the top-floor locker rooms, high above the roar of the factory line.

A neurologist suspects a rare autoimmune disorder, and decides it’s “time to contact the Minnesota Department of Health.” The article is a great glimpse at a model of production at the heart of industrial food systems.

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