Dangerous Jobs, Cheap Meat
Ralph “Ed” Horner is buried a short drive from his rural Larimer County home. (Dan Boyce/Rocky Mountain PBS for Harvest Public Media)
(Dan Boyce/Rocky Mountain PBS for Harvest Public Media)

Dangerous Jobs, Cheap Meat

 

The Human Toll Of Our Meat Habit 

Americans love meat – we have one of the highest rates of consumption in the world.

While U.S. shoppers enjoy relatively low prices and an array of choices, there is a high human price tag. The more than 500,000 men and women who work in slaughterhouses and meat processing plants have some of the most dangerous factory jobs in America.

The meatpacking industry has made a lot of progress on worker safety since publication of Upton Sinclair’s “The Jungle” in 1906, but some things remain the same: the work is mostly done by immigrants and refugees; they suffer high rates of injuries and even, sometimes death; and the government lags in oversight.

Harvest Public Media has been investigating worker safety in the meatpacking industry for over a year. We found:

  • Some workers pay a high price for their job, some with their life and others with long-term injuries. “Employees aren’t cattle that go through the chutes,” said the widow of one worker. “They’re people with families.”
  • The government’s fines for worker deaths and injuries are “embarrassingly low,” according to a former OSHA official. The average initial fines leveled on multi-million dollar meatpacking companies are $19,340 per case, which are negotiated down to, on average, $10,993.
  • Federal regulators are creating enforcement programs meant to lower injuries and deaths at meatpacking plants. A new reporting regulation that kicked in last year found roughly 145 serious accidents at the top four U.S. meat companies – injuries that had previously gone unreported to the very authorities charged with keeping workers safe.

Find all of the stories in our series to the left.