Animal or Man: Mistreatment of Workers in the Meat Industry

By Miranda Todd

Throngs of pigs are thrown aside by metal arms, leaving streaks of blood in their wake. A cow’s plaintive moo rings through a barn as a farmer delves his hands into its stomach. Chickens, forced to grow too quickly, find that their insides grow before their bodies can, find that they cannot stand on their own, cannot breathe or move against the mass of other birds surround them. In the midst of it all are the men and women with gloved hands and dirt-line faces, working for little pay, treated like the animals they slaughter, in constant fear of firing or even arrest for the many that came illegally (Food). This quote from George Orwell’s Animal Farm seems to ring true: “The creatures outside looked from pig to man, from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.” The documentary Food Inc. accurately depicts the mistreatment of animals and workers in factories and on farms, showing the conditions of these employees and why we should change them.

The conditions were not anything resembling proper standards. The factories were crowded, hot, and unsanitary. People were packed shoulder-to-shoulder, manning machines to more efficiently slaughter the animals, many of which were coated in their own fecal matter (Pollan). The farms were equally as disturbing. Farmers who were previously quite passionate about their jobs were forced to crowd their chickens into dark, stinking rooms. They are forced to drag these chicken corpses from a sea of fat, feathered bodies, and forced to keep it quiet. With four large companies controlling a whole eighty percent of the meat market, their only option is silence or a missing paycheck (Weber). They can either work without morals, or live without money.

It is not just the average farmer that is forced to undergo this. Illegal immigrants are frequently taken advantage of. The documentary revealed that fifteen undocumented immigrants are shuttled over to factories per day. Their only way into the country is a net, designed to trap them in a low-paying, inhumane job an average worker would probably refuse to do unless absolutely desperate. The factories, and the companies that own them, can fake whatever papers need to be faked. They have complete power and are not at all afraid to use it against frightened and confused people, whose only goal was to have a better life.

With the combination of fear and mistreatment, how are they anything more than the animals they slaughter? They are kept in filthy conditions, just as the animals are. They are packed together, just as the animals are. They are unable to stand up for themselves, just as the animals are, and are forced into being products instead of creatures, unable to even move. The companies share the same disregard for the people as they do for the product, and, in doing so, practically make them one and the same; both are tools for financial gain (Food, Inc.).            Many would say that illegal immigrants do not deserve to be treated like American citizens because they are not, corporations would say they need to be paid cheaply if we want to have cheap meat, and businessmen obviously know business–they want to make, and keep, as much money as possible. They are trying to do their work efficiently, as anyone does.

However, there are answers to all of these issues, the first of all being that while illegals are not citizens, they are humans. We do not treat humans in a standard American job like we treat pigs in a factory dedicated to making hot dogs. In a standard American job – for example, a classroom or law office – there is air conditioning, light, and opportunities for hygiene. This is common knowledge.

As mentioned previously, businessmen know how to do business. They take in these immigrants not to grant them opportunity, not to give them a break, but to ensure they make as much money as possible. If they pay a dime to a worker and get seven dollars for a pack of meat, they profit. They do not see their workers as people, but as machines, working to the larger goal of succeeding financially and keeping companies, and themselves, on top (Pollan).

There are ways to solve these issues, however. With some work from our government – for example, increased FDA searches – less would slip by the American public. Additionally, truth required in advertising would greatly boost citizen awareness, which is another important factor. If citizens were aware, they could band together with farmers and other employees who sought to reveal the truth. This strength in numbers would assure that it would not be as easy for a corporation to sue those who offer truth. It would be impossible for them to take advantage of the little guy because the corporations would be facing a threat as big as they are – the American people.

Works Cited

Food, Inc. Dir. Robert Kenner. Movie One, 2008. DVD.

Orwell, George. Animal Farm. England: Harcourt Brace & Company. 17 August 1945. Print.

Pollan, Michael. “PBS LearningMedia.” PBS LearningMedia. Eight, 31 Mar. 2002. Web. 08 Dec. 2014.

Weber, Karl. “Food, Inc.” New York City: Participant Media and PublicAffairBooks, 2009. Print.

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