We’ve been pushing for antibiotic and cage-free chickens, because we believe that chickens should be happy to roam free. If you’ve seen Food Inc., then you know what I’m talking about — the conditions that chickens are typically kept in are inhumane, even for animals.
And the industry responded; we got the big corporations to listen to us. There have been an increase in restaurants serving antibiotic-free chicken and in companies selling or using only cage-free eggs. But have you ever thought about the people who work packaging your chicken?
Oxfam’s Lives on the Line campaign shows the heartbreaking reality of the workers on the production line. According to Oxfam, “These women and men stand on the line hour after hour, faced with an endless stream of chicken carcasses. They hang, cut, debone, twist: repeating the same motions tens of thousands of times each shift, with few moments to rest, stretch, or take a bathroom break.”
There is too much work for these workers to do. They are being treated as machines, not as humans. And they are not being paid nearly enough to work in this type of environment in order to keep the cost of your chicken so cheap. For example, for every dollar spent on McDonald’s chicken nuggets, only two cents go to the processing workers.
It’s a sad day for America when the chickens people are eating are treated better than the people who work to get that chicken to your plate. There are four companies known as the “Big Poultry” (Tyson Foods, Pilgrim’s, Purdue, and Sanderson Farms) that control about 60% of the entire American poultry market. These companies use a climate of fear in order to keep workers quiet and force them to work in these terrible conditions.
Since some workers are undocumented or desperately need the money, they comply with these unsafe work conditions for fear of losing their jobs. Over time, not being able to use the restroom and the repetitive motions that they must make on the line result in severe stress on their body. This causes workers to have extremely swollen hands, missing fingers, or even urinary tract infections. They go home and they cannot even hug their children properly because their bodies don’t work as they want them to.
So how can you help? According to these workers, the answer goes beyond just not eating chicken.
It goes to calling for change, for demanding that these companies improve work conditions and compensate their workers fairly. And if you do buy chicken, buy it from local farmers who are not part of Big Poultry. However, this can be difficult, because many store brands, dining halls, small companies, and restaurants buy chicken from the big four corporations without you even knowing it.
But our voices are not silent; our voices can be heard and can make a difference. We as millennials have changed and are capable of changing the future of food. Take action now. Enact change now. Be the voice of those whose voices cannot be heard; be the voice that betters humanity.
You can sign the petition for the Big Poultry companies to improve worker conditions here. For more information, you can read the full Oxfam report here. To take action on other Oxfam campaigns, visit their website here.