On the week of June 3rd, China provided another sad example of the impacts of industrial agriculture-showing that animals aren’t the only victims. A poultry slaughterhouse in Northeast Jilin province caught fire leading to the death of at least 119 workers. The factory was overcrowded, exits narrow and unmarked, and no emergency plan was in place. And, many of the doors, in efforts to keep workers from departing during work hours, were locked from the outside, making exiting an impossible task.
Work place safety standards are commonly poor in China, with unenforced regulations often linked to corruption and prioritizing profit over human rights. But China is not alone, across the globe industrial animal agriculture fails in worker safety standards.
Human Rights Watch has called factory farm working conditions a “systematic human rights abuse”. Slaughterhouse workers regularly experience lacerations and musculoskeletal injuries from the fast-paced repetitive motion needed to uphold extreme production speed demands. Factory farm workers inhale hazardous levels of airborne particles such as dry fecal matter, skin cells, and bacteria, as well as toxic gases including ammonia and hydrogen sulfide, making chronic respiratory illnesses and cardiovascular complications common. Workers routinely experience eye and skin infections from contact with hazardous fluids, burns from exposure to hot surfaces, sprains from falls while working in congested, soiled areas, lowered immune systems from toxicity inhalation, and zoonotic flues transmitted from animals.
Moreover, the issue reaches beyond the factory farm and slaughterhouse walls. Modern day slavery exists in the Brazilian cattle industry as men are forced to clear forest land used for beef cows and soy feed production. Attempted escapees are often met with murder.
And the human rights abuses continue to trickle down society. Local small-scale farmers are forced out of business because they can’t compete with large-scale farms. Not only are families losing their income-but the village is also losing its local food source.
Industrial agriculture may produce cheap food, but at the cost of human safety, dignity, and food security, as well as animal welfare and a healthy planet.
Photo courtesy of Xie Zheng