Human Rights Issues in Meat Production



In order to keep up with high demands, the meat industry exploits not only nonhuman animals, but humans too. Slaughterhouse workers are often from vulnerable communities including immigrants and temporary foreign workers.

Slaughterhouse work has been linked to a variety of mental health disorders, including post-traumatic stress disorder. It has also been connected to higher incidents of domestic violence, as well as alcohol and drug abuse. One study noted relatively high levels of anxiety, anger, hostility and psychoticism among slaughterhouse workers. Symptoms can also include violent dreams and some workers seek treatment similar to that used to help war veterans.

Australian research suggests repeated exposure to violence in an abattoir causes psychological damage. It found aggression levels among meat workers were so high they were “similar to some reported for incarcerated populations”.

A worker at a chicken plant told The Guardian that one of his colleagues was “hauled off to the mental hospital” after he “kept having nightmares that chickens were after him.” Another slaughterhouse worker told BBC, “As I spent day after day in that large, windowless box, my chest felt increasingly heavy and a grey fog descended over me. At night, my mind would taunt me with nightmares, replaying some of the horrors I’d witnessed throughout the day.”

In addition to mental health risks, workers within the meat industry are at high risk of physical injuries too. A Human Rights Watch report named meatpacking as “one of the most dangerous factory jobs in America, with injury rates more than twice the national average.” 

Amputations, fractured fingers, second-degree burns, and head trauma are just some of the serious injuries suffered by meat plant workers every week, according to data seen by the Guardian and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.

In Brazil, the health of hundreds of thousands of meat plant workers is at risk from an industry-backed plan to reduce breaks given to employees. New rules under discussion would limit the regular breaks given to workers enduring cold temperatures, which labor specialists say helps reduce the potential for injury. “There are studies showing that continuous work in a cold environment deteriorates muscles and neural functioning,” Lincoln Cordeiro, who works for the Labour Prosecution Service said. “Exposure to cold air also causes inflammatory changes and worsening of the respiratory system.”

A report from Brazilian investigative agency Repórter Brasil found that Brazilian companies and slaughterhouses, including the world’s largest meat producer—JBS, sourced cattle from supplier farms that made use of workers kept in slavery-like conditions. Workers on cattle farms supplying slaughterhouses earned as little as £8 (11USD) per day and lived in shacks with no bathrooms, toilets, running water, or kitchens.

Learn more:

Slaughterhouses: Where Animal Rights and Workers’ Rights Suffer in Symphony: https://sentientmedia.org/slaughterhouses-where-animal-rights-and-workers-rights-suffer-in-symphony/

Brazilian beef farms ‘used workers kept in conditions similar to slavery’: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2021/jan/06/brazilian-beef-farms-used-workers-kept-in-conditions-similar-to-slavery

Animals suffer for meat production – and abattoir workers do too: https://theconversation.com/animals-suffer-for-meat-production-and-abattoir-workers-do-too-127506

Confessions of a slaughterhouse worker: https://www.bbc.com/news/stories-50986683

Source: Youtube