MEAT PACKING INDUSTRY

Good or Bad??

HOW HAS THE MEAT PACKING INDUSTRY CHANGED SINCE UPTON SINCLAIR'S THE JUNGLE?

In 1906, Upton Sinclair's novel "The Jungle" discovered horrible conditions inside America's meat packing plants and started a period of transformation in the nation's meat industry. The Pure Food and Drug Act and the Federal Meat Inspection Act were both passed later that year, and labor organizations slowly began to improve the conditions the country's meat packers made. But some say America's meat business has been in the same shape for decades and that the poor conditions found in slaughterhouses and packing facilities today are often little better than those described by Sinclair a century ago.

The 1980s was a changing decade for America's meat packing industry. Developments such as improved distribution channels allowed meat packing companies to move out of urban centers and relocate to rural areas closer to livestock feedlots. New industry powerhouses like Iowa Beef Processors looked to undercut the competition by operating on slim profit margins, increasing worker speed and productivity, and cutting labor costs. Such tactics encouraged industry consolidation, increased hazards for workers, and renewed resistance to employee organizing efforts.


By the late 1990s, the meat packing industry had consolidated such that the top four firms accounted for approximately 50 percent of all U.S. poultry and pork production and 80 percent of all beef production

Though pro-industry organizations such as the American Meat Institute point out that the number of staff injuries in meat processing facilities have been declining over recent years, meat packing remains one of the most dangerous factory jobs in America. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that there was an average of 12 injuries or illnesses per 100 full-time meat packing plant employees in 2005, a number twice as high as the average for all U.S. manufacturing jobs back in Sinclair’s time. Some experts maintain that this number is actually too low as many workers' injuries go unreported due to employee misinformation or intimidation. Today, America's meat industry is the nation's largest agricultural sector and sales of meat and poultry exceed $100 billion a year in the U.S

The face of the average meatpacking plant worker has also changed. Over the past two decades, the number of immigrant laborers in meat packing plants and in the Midwestern areas in which they are primarily located has increased dramatically. According to the USDA, the percentage of Hispanic meat-processing workers rose from less than 10 percent in 1980 to nearly 30 percent in 2000.