So they’re up there paying one last tribute – singing the ‚Hallelujah Chorus‘ – to all their [dead] brethren who flowed into the river.“


 
fotosource: https://hortusclosus.wordpress.com/

„WINGED PIGS“

represent] the angelic spirits of all the pigs that were slaughtered and were building blocks of Cincinnati’s prosperity. So they’re up there paying one last tribute – singing the ‚Hallelujah Chorus‘ – to all their [dead] brethren who flowed into the river.“

Andrew Leicester, Cincinnati Enquirer; Friday, May 07, 1999.22

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THE SAINT AND THE PIG: A DREAM AND HOW ST. ANTONIUS IS INVOLVED


The Saint and the Pig. A dream and how St. Antonius is involved

by Regina Abt-Baechi Cover of "The Saint and the Pig"

With an introduction by Dr. Marie-Louise von Franz
196 pages with color and b/w illustrations
Extended and revised edition

ISBN 978-3-9524468-2-9

Saint Anthony and the pig – at first glance an odd pairing of opposites! Antonius, also known as Antonius “the Great”, has acquired legendary status as a personality seeking to reconcile the psychic opposites that were polarised as a result of the Christian viewpoint. In her work, which owes its origins to a dream, the author explores the symbolic importance of this figure and his attributes. On the basis of the psychology of C.G. Jung and M.-L. von Franz, she examines and interprets the legends and iconography of the saint with the pig. There are references to this day and age and the spiritual realities of modern man, which give the work an unexpectedly contemporary relevance. This book is an extended revision of the original version.

>>Look inside the book

Auch auf Deutsch verfügbar: Der Heilige und das Schwein

The Saint and the Pig. A dream and how St. Antonius is involved
by Regina Abt-Baechi
With an introduction by Dr. Marie-Louise von Franz

Saint Anthony and the pig – at first glance an odd pairing of opposites! Antonius, also known as Antonius “the Great”, has acquired legendary status as a personality seeking to reconcile the psychic opposites that were polarised as a result of the Christian viewpoint. In her work, which owes its origins to a dream, the author explores the symbolic importance of this figure and his attributes. On the basis of the psychology of C.G. Jung and M.-L. von Franz, she examines and interprets the legends and iconography of the saint with the pig. There are references to this day and age and the spiritual realities of modern man, which give the work an unexpectedly contemporary relevance. This book is an extended revision of the original version.

Auch auf Deutsch verfügbar: Der Heilige und das Schwein

Global Food Waste Creates More Carbon than any Country, except the US and China


 

pig wastePublic Domain WW2 Poster

Global food waste creates more carbon than any country, except the US and China

Chris Tackett ChrisTackett
September 12, 2013

A new report called „The Food Wastage Footprint [pdf]“ produced by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has found that globally about a third of the food produced for humans is wasted and this is creating a huge increase in carbon emissions, as well as a major waste of water. …. https://www.treehugger.com/climate-change/globally-13-food-produced-wasted.html

 

Global food waste creates more carbon than any country, except the US and China


My Blog Schwein und Meer

pig wastePublic Domain WW2 Poster

Global food waste creates more carbon than any country, except the US and China

Chris Tackett ChrisTackett
September 12, 2013

A new report called „The Food Wastage Footprint [pdf]“ produced by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has found that globally about a third of the food produced for humans is wasted and this is creating a huge increase in carbon emissions, as well as a major waste of water. …. https://www.treehugger.com/climate-change/globally-13-food-produced-wasted.html

Ursprünglichen Post anzeigen

„DIE TODESANGST DER SCHWEINE BEIM STERBEN“ Video


Jedes Jahr werden in Österreich 5,5 Millionen Schweine geschlachtet. Die Betäubung mittels Kohlendioxid ist sehr grausam, denn die Tiere leiden in ihren letzten Minuten unnötig unter Panik und Todesangst.

Bei ca. der Hälfte der Schweineschlachtungen in Österreich kommt die CO2 Betäubung zum Einsatz, Tendenz steigend. Die Schweine werden dabei in kleinen Gruppen in eine Gondel getrieben. Dann geht es abwärts in die Grube, wo sich das Kohlendioxid gesammelt hat, weil es schwerer ist als Luft. Die verwirrten Tiere erleben dort eine grausame Atemnot und versuchen verzweifelt sich zu befreien. Außerdem wirkt das Gas stark reizend auf die Schleimhäute der Tiere, sie verspüren stechende Schmerzen in Rachen und Augen.
Eigentlich werden die Schweine betäubt, damit sie bei der Schlachtung nichts spüren. Doch was den Schweinen Leid ersparen soll, führt nur zu neuem Leid!
Oftmals völlig umsonst, weil es auch Ausfälle gibt, wo Tiere nicht tief genug betäubt und während der Schlachtung noch wach waren. Dabei gibt es gute Alternativen zur CO2 Betäubung. Sogar die EU-Verordnung über den Schutz von Tieren zum Zeitpunkt der Schlachtung empfiehlt, den Einsatz von Kohlendioxid bei Schweinen einzustellen. Dennoch wird diese grausame Praktik aus reinen Kostengründen weiterhin eingesetzt. Wieder einmal leiden Tiere für den Profit der Menschen. Der VGT fordert die sofortige Einstellung dieser tierquälerischen Methode!
Die Unterzeichnenden fordern ein Ende der tierquälerischen CO2 Betäubung, da diese Methode zu unnötiger Qual und Angst führt.

KÄLBCHEN-HORROR-TRANSPORTE – WIR TIERSCHÜTZER FORDERN: sofortigen Stopp der Kälbertransporte ins Ausland sowie einen Exportstopp von Rindern über die EU-Grenzen hinaus.“


Hinweis: Der Inhalt dieses Beitrags in Wort und Bild basiert auf der Faktenlage zum Zeitpunkt der Erstveröffentlichung (28.11.2016)
Wien, am 28.11.2016
Der aktuelle Fall: Kälbchen-Transporte Steiermark
Verdeckt aufgenommene Videos zeigen den brutalen Umgang mit den Kälbchen bei der Verladung. Der VGT hat zahlreiche Anzeigen eingebracht.

Verein gegen Tierfabriken
Rinder-Ferntransporte: Die Ges… Videos & Fotos Ein kleines Weihnachtswunder

http://vgt.at/presse/news/2016/news20161128mk.php  ORIGINALREPORT

Arbeiter verdrehen den verängstigten Kälbern beim Be- und Entladen oft den Schwanz.
Hinweis: Der Inhalt dieses Beitrags in Wort und Bild basiert auf der Faktenlage zum Zeitpunkt der Erstveröffentlichung (28.11.2016)
Wien, am 28.11.2016
Der aktuelle Fall: Kälbchen-Transporte Steiermark
Verdeckt aufgenommene Videos zeigen den brutalen Umgang mit den Kälbchen bei der Verladung. Der VGT hat zahlreiche Anzeigen eingebracht.

Bergheim, über das der VGT 2014 Informationen veröffentlicht hat, ist nicht der einzige Ort in Österreich, wo Kälber in großer Zahl zusammengesammelt und für den Export vorbereitet werden. In Farrach, nahe Zeltweg, befindet sich eine große Rinderhandelsfirma. Von dort aus starten LKW und Sattelschlepper alle zwei Wochen ihre fixen Routen. Zwischen Schladming, Liezen bis nach Krieglach im Norden, zwischen Tamsweg und Graz im Süden, liegen die Milchwirtschaftsbetriebe. Von dort aus werden die Kälbchen von den BäuerInnen mittels kleinen, oftmals gesetzeswidrigen Tiertransportern an Klein-Sammelstellen geliefert, gewogen und auf große Transporter verladen.
Das Verladen
Die Kälber sind wenige Wochen alt, wenn sie auf Tiertransporter verladen werden. Eigentlich sollten sie die schützende Nähe ihrer Mutter genießen dürfen, doch Mütter und Kinder wurden zuvor brutal getrennt.
Die ängstlichen Tiere wissen nicht, wie Ihnen geschieht. Sie werden an den Stricken, die um den Mund gewickelt sind, herumgezerrt, geschubst und geschoben. Der Schwanz wird ihnen verdreht, damit sie aufgrund des Schmerzes weitergehen. Manchmal werden sie sogar angeschrien und es wird nach ihnen getreten. Sie versuchen zu entkommen, weil sie Angst haben. Doch sie sind zu klein und zu schwach, um sich wehren zu können.
Unfassbar traurige Szenen, wenn man sich vor Augen hält, dass es sich um (Rinder-) Babys handelt!
Von der Steiermark nach Bozen, Ritten
Die Fahrtzeit beträgt für einzelne Kälber meist mehr als 12 Stunden. Bevor sie wieder Milch bzw. Milchaustauscher bekommen, werden sie vom Tiertransporter getrieben. Hilflos laufen sie hin- und her, sie wissen nicht, was mit ihnen geschieht. Nach einigen Stunden kommen dann alle auf den Sattelschlepper, um 19 Uhr verlässt er Farrach und fährt Richtung Italien. TierschützerInnen haben bei einer Fahrt beobachtet, dass sogar auf der Strecke noch weitere Tiere zugeladen werden. Ein Beispiel: Verladeort nahe Klagenfurt, auf einem Feldweg, 100 m von der Straße entfernt, in einem Wald.

Lange Transportzeiten
Die Fahrt von Farrach nach Bozen dauert am längsten, auch deshalb, weil der Fahrer mehrere Pausen einlegt. Die Tiere kommen nicht zur Ruhe und schreien vor Stress, Angst, Hunger – und nach ihren Müttern.
Wenige Minuten vor der Sammelstelle in Bozen müssen die Kälber noch einige Stunden ausharren, bevor sie beim nächsten Ziel abgeladen werden, da der Fahrer schläft, und die italienischen Arbeiter ihre Arbeit erst in der Früh aufnehmen. In Bozen, am Ritten, werden die Tiere wieder mit Milchaustauscher versorgt. Doch dieser Stopp ist auch nur wenige Stunden lang, von hier wird die Reise wieder einige Stunden mehr dauern, für viele geht sie sogar bis Spanien.
Anzeigen
Nicht nur die zu langen Transportzeiten sind ungesetzlich, sondern auch andere Misshandlungen der Kälber stehen leider an der Tagesordnung.
Der VGT brachte folgende Sachverhalte zur Anzeige:
Diverse Anzeigen wegen des Ziehens der Tiere mittels um den Hals gebundenen oder an einem Halfter befestigten Stricken, stellenweise so brutal, dass die Tiere dabei zu Fall gebracht wurden. Wobei sich zeigt, dass dies insbesondere beim Aufsammeln der Tiere bevor sie nach Farrach gebracht wurden erfolgte. Dort handelt es sich bei dieser Vorgehensweise nicht um die Ausnahme, sondern um die Regel.
Diverse Anzeigen wegen des Verdrehens bzw. Quetschens der Schwänze der Tiere, stellenweise so brutal, dass die Tiere dabei zu Fall gebracht wurden. Wobei sich zeigt, dass dies insbesondere im Nutzviehzentrum Farrach erfolgte. Dort handelt es sich zumindest bei einigen Mitarbeiter_innen bei dieser Vorgehensweise nicht um die Ausnahme, sondern um die Regel.
Mehrere Anzeigen wegen des Schlagens und/oder Tretens der Tiere, in einem Fall mittels der spitzen Kante einer Schaufel, oft direkt ins Gesicht.
Zwei Anzeigen wegen des Rammens einer Schiebetür in die Körper der Tiere, wobei sie einmal mehrmals in den hinteren Teil einer Kuh gerammt und einmal einer Kuh der Hals mittels der Schiebetür eingeklemmt wurde.

Diese Anzeigen erfolgten jeweils gemäß Anhang I, Kapitel III, 1.8 VO (EG) 01/2005:
Es ist verboten,
Tiere zu schlagen oder zu treten;
auf besonders empfindliche Körperteile Druck auszuüben, der für die Tiere unnötige Schmerzen oder Leiden verursacht;
Tiere mit mechanischen Mitteln, die am Körper befestigt sind, hoch zu winden;
Tiere an Kopf, Ohren, Hörnern, Beinen, Schwanz oder Fell hoch zu zerren oder zu ziehen oder so zu behandeln, dass ihnen unnötige Schmerzen oder Leiden zugefügt werden;
Treibhilfen oder andere Geräte mit spitzen Enden zu verwenden;
Tiere, die durch einen Bereich getrieben oder geführt werden, in denen mit anderen Tieren umgegangen wird, vorsätzlich zu behindern.

Mehrere Anzeigen wegen des Anbindens von Kälbern. Dies ist nur bei Tieren erlaubt die bereits an das Anbinden gewöhnt sind. Da in Österreich die Anbindehaltung von Kälbern, also bis zum sechstem Lebensmonat, verboten ist, muss bei ihnen davon ausgegangen werden, dass sie nicht ans Anbinden gewöhnt sind.
Diese Anzeigen erfolgten jeweils gemäß Anhang I, Kapitel III, 1.10 VO (EG) 01/2005:
Märkte und Sammelstellen halten Vorrichtungen bereit, um Tiere erforderlichenfalls anbinden zu können. Tiere, die nicht daran gewöhnt sind, angebunden zu werden, müssen unangebunden bleiben. Die Tiere müssen Zugang zu Wasser haben.
Eine Anzeige gegen das Nutzviehzentrum Farrach wegen unhygienischen Haltungsbedingungen. Die Tiere müssen dort zum Teil in ihrem eigenem Urin und Kot stehen. Ein Ausruhen und/oder Hinlegen ist nicht möglich, ohne, dass sich die Tiere mit ihren eigenen Exkrementen beschmutzen.
Diese Anzeige erfolgte gemäß § 5 Abs 1 iVm § 5 Abs 2 Punkt 13 TSchG, § 13 Abs 2 TschG sowie 1.Tierhaltungsverordnung Anlage 2 Punkt 2.1.1.
Eine Anzeige, weil zumindest bei einem Tier fraglich ist, ob es überhaupt transportfähig im Sinne der VO (EG) 01/2005 war, da es einen körperlich sehr geschwächten Eindruck machte.
Diese Anzeige erfolgte gemäß Anhang I, Kapitel I der VO (EG) 01/2005
Tiere dürfen nur transportiert werden, wenn sie im Hinblick auf die geplante Beförderung transportfähig sind und wenn gewährleistet ist, dass ihnen unnötige Verletzungen und Leiden erspart bleiben. […]
Eine Anzeige wegen der Sonderproblemstellung der nicht bestehenden Möglichkeit zur ausreichenden Tränkung von Kälbern bei sogenannten langen Beförderungen, also Transporten von über 8 Stunden (Siehe nächste Seite).
Diese Anzeige erfolgte insbesondere gemäß Anhang I, Kapitel V, 1.4 a) VO (EG) 01/2005
Die Zeitabstände für das Tränken und Füttern sowie Beförderungsdauer und Ruhezeiten sind bei Verwendung eines unter Nummer 1.3 genannten Fahrzeugs die Folgenden:
Kälber, Lämmer, Zickel und Fohlen, die noch nicht abgesetzt sind und mit Milch ernährt werden, sowie noch nicht abgesetzte Ferkel müssen nach einer Beförderungsdauer von 9 Stunden eine ausreichende, mindestens einstündige Ruhepause erhalten, insbesondere damit sie getränkt und nötigenfalls gefüttert werden können. Nach dieser Ruhepause kann die Beförderung für weitere 9 Stunden fortgesetzt werden.
Alle Anzeigen erfolgten sowohl gegen die handelnden, als auch gegen die verantwortungstragenden Personen. Den Behörden wurde weiters nahe gelegt, in eventu und in Gesamtschau aller Übertretungen nach eigenem Ermessen allenfalls eine Strafanzeige wegen § 222 StGB einzubringen.

Männliche Kälber, die für die Milchproduktion unbrauchbar und für die Mast in Österreich unrentabel sind, werden meist nach Italien exportiert. Von dort gelangen sie laut VGT – ganz legal über Zwischenhändler und oft ohne das Wissen der Landwirte – auch in Nicht-EU-Länder wie Ägypten, Libanon oder die Türkei. Die Tierschützer belegen das anhand der Ohrmarken der Kälber.
Video starten
Auf Videos des VGT ist zu sehen, wie österreichische Kälber im Ausland gequält und getötet werden. ACHTUNG: Die Bilder sind zum Teil brutal und sehr drastisch.
In diesen Ländern werden die Tiere oft gequält und ohne Betäubung geschächtet. Damit die Rinder vor der Schlachtung nicht

Auf Videos des VGT ist zu sehen, wie österreichische Kälber im Ausland gequält und getötet werden. ACHTUNG: Die Bilder sind zum Teil brutal und sehr drastisch.
In diesen Ländern werden die Tiere oft gequält und ohne Betäubung geschächtet. Damit die Rinder vor der Schlachtung nicht davonlaufen, gibt es in Ägypten und dem Libanon beispielsweise die
:

Ländle-Kälber kommen im Ausland qualvoll zu Tode
Kälber aus Vorarlberg und anderen Bundesländern landen über Zwischenhändler immer wieder im Nahen Osten oder in der Türkei. Dort werden sie oft auf brutale Weise gequält und getötet. Das belegen Videos des Vereins gegen Tierfabriken (VGT).
Männliche Kälber, die für die Milchproduktion unbrauchbar und für die Mast in Österreich unrentabel sind, werden meist nach Italien exportiert. Von dort gelangen sie laut VGT – ganz legal über Zwischenhändler und oft ohne das Wissen der Landwirte – auch in Nicht-EU-Länder wie Ägypten, Libanon oder die Türkei. Die Tierschützer belegen das anhand der Ohrmarken der Kälber.
Video starten
Auf Videos des VGT ist zu sehen, wie österreichische Kälber im Ausland gequält und getötet werden. ACHTUNG: Die Bilder sind zum Teil brutal und sehr drastisch.
In diesen Ländern werden die Tiere oft gequält und ohne Betäubung geschächtet. Damit die Rinder vor der Schlachtung nicht davonlaufen, gibt es in Ägypten und dem Libanon beispielsweise die Praxis, ihnen Sehnen durchzutrennen oder die Augen auszustechen.
Moosbrugger: „Grausamkeit“
Tobias Giesinger vom VGT fordert, dass Tierschutz nicht an der Landesgrenze aufhört: „Da müsste man auch die Politiker in die Verantwortung nehmen.“ Der designierte österreichische Landwirtschaftskammer-Präsident Josef Moosbrugger spricht von einer „Grausamkeit“, die absolut abzulehnen sei. Der Konsument müsse dazu gebracht werden, vermehrt regional einzukaufen.
Grüne, FPÖ und NEOS mit Kritik
Der grüne Landwirtschaftssprecher Daniel Zadra und die grüne Tierschutzsprecherin Nina Tomaselli verlangten am Mittwoch in einer Aussendung, der zuständige Landesrat Erich Schwärzler (ÖVP) möge sich bald mit dem VGT, der Landwirtschaftskammer und den Landschafts- und Tierschutzsprechern aller Parteien an einen Tisch setzen, um eine Lösung zu finden.
Ähnlich die FPÖ: „Landesrat Schwärzler ist aufgefordert, alle Beteiligten an einen Tisch zu holen“, so Tierschutzsprecherin Nicole Hosp. Es gebe dringenden Handlungsbedaf. NEOS-Landtagsabgeordneter Daniel Matt forderte indes einen

„sofortigen Stopp der Kälbertransporte ins Ausland sowie einen Exportstopp von Rindern über die EU-Grenzen hinaus.“

Publiziert am
14.03.2018

http://vorarlberg.orf.at/news/stories/2901105/ reportAGE

FOXES´ PAIN CHAMBERS: New Undercover Investigation Shows How Baby Foxes Are Raised For Their Fur (VIDEO) – One Green Planet


 New Undercover Investigation Shows How Baby Foxes Are Raised For Their Fur (VIDEO) – One Green Planet

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Michelle Neff
September 27, 2017

As any animal lover will tell you, the fur industry is one of the cruelest imaginable. Each year an estimated one billion animals are bred, raised, and killed on fur farms around the world for their pelts. Once in processing facilities, they are kept in wire cages until they face death through a variety of means, all of which are chosen to avoid damaging the animal’s valuable fur, including gas chambers and neck breaking.
And now we have even more insight into the cruel fur industry… Animal Defenders International (ADI) recently released a short film titled “A LIFETIME” that tells the story of two foxes, brothers Borys and Eryk, born and killed on a Polish fur farm. According to ADI, Poland is the fourth largest producer of fox fur in the world and almost all of the fur is exported, with the United States being one of the biggest importers.
ADI placed hidden cameras on the farm to capture this rare footage. In the short film, the brothers, including a sister named Aleska, are followed from birth, where viewers can witness them take their first steps and nurse from their mother. Their whole world is a small wire cage.
As the cubs grow and their fur becomes a think white coat, their time is numbered. At less than seven months of age, the brothers are dragged from their cage, where they desperately try to run away from the farmer. Borys and Eryk are electrocuted and their bodies were thrown on a cart to be skinned. All while Aleska watched from the wire cage.
There is no true humane way to care for or kill thousands of animals at a time (or to kill animals at all, really). Although they may claim to care for the animals in their care, fur farms are mere businesses that view their animals as commodities. Animal welfare, more often than not, takes a backseat as fur farms – like any business – will always attempt to maximize their profits while cutting costs and labor. When dealing with animals, this often means worse conditions and incredibly cruel treatment – regardless of the industry.
Ultimately, we have to ask ourselves if we really need to wear fur; unlike the animals who are brutally slaughtered to produce our fur hats, coats, and shawls, we do not need fur. Please always choose fur-free clothing when shopping. Check out all of these awesome companies that have chosen to commit to going fur-free in their designs.
For more information on ADI, visit their website. And please share this article with friends and family. We must always continue to speak up for the voiceless.

http://www.onegreenplanet.org/news/how-baby-foxes-are-raised-for-fur/

 

 

Junge Elstern verletzen hilflosen Eber Hack-Attacken auf Hängebauch-Schwein „Moses“


Junge Elstern verletzen hilflosen Eber
Hack-Attacken auf Hängebauch-Schwein „Moses“

Hängebauchschwein „Moses“ wird von den Elstern immer wieder blutig gehackt, bekommt zum Trost Maiskolben

09.03.2018 – 06:53 Uhr
Familie Stupp aus Köln macht sich große Sorgen um ihr Hängebauchschwein Moses (9). Der Eber wird seit einiger Zeit immer wieder von Elstern attackiert….https://www.bild.de/bild-plus/regional/koeln/schwein/elstern-verletzen-eber-55039822,view=conversionToLogin.bild.html

The Spam Factory’s Dirty Secret First, Hormel gutted the union. Then it sped up the line. And when the pig-brain machine made workers sick, they got canned.


The Spam Factory’s Dirty Secret

The Spam Factory’s Dirty Secret
First, Hormel gutted the union. Then it sped up the line. And when the pig-brain machine made workers sick, they got canned.
Ted GenowaysJuly/August 2011 Issue

On the cut-and-kill floor of Quality Pork Processors Inc. in Austin, Minnesota, the wind always blows. From the open doors at the docks where drivers unload massive trailers of screeching pigs, through to the “warm room” where the hogs are butchered, to the plastic-draped breezeway where the parts are handed over to Hormel for packaging, the air gusts and swirls, whistling through the plant like the current in a canyon. In the first week of December 2006, Matthew Garcia felt feverish and chilled on the blustery production floor. He fought stabbing back pains and nausea, but he figured it was just the flu—and he was determined to tough it out.
Garcia had gotten on at QPP only 12 weeks before and had been stuck with one of the worst spots on the line: running a device known simply as the “brain machine”—the last stop on a conveyor line snaking down the middle of a J-shaped bench [DC] called the “head table.” Every hour, more than 1,300 severed pork heads go sliding along the belt. Workers slice off the ears, clip the snouts, chisel the cheek meat.

Matthew Garcia
They scoop out the eyes, carve out the tongue, and scrape the palate meat from the roofs of mouths. Because, famously, all parts of a pig are edible (“everything but the squeal,” wisdom goes), nothing is wasted. A woman next to Garcia would carve meat off the back of each head before letting the denuded skull slide down the conveyor and through an opening in a plexiglass shield.

On the other side, Garcia inserted the metal nozzle of a 90-pounds-per-square-inch compressed-air hose and blasted the pigs’ brains into a pink slurry. One head every three seconds. A high-pressure burst, a fine rosy mist, and the slosh of brains slipping through a drain hole into a catch bucket. (Some workers say the goo looked like Pepto-Bismol; others describe it as more like a lumpy strawberry milkshake.) When the 10-pound barrel was filled, another worker would come to take the brains for shipping to Asia, where they are used as a thickener in stir-fry. Most days that fall, production was so fast that the air never cleared between blasts, and the mist would slick workers at the head table in a grisly mix of brains and blood and grease.
Tasks at the head table are literally numbing. The steady hum of the automatic Whizard knives gives many workers carpal tunnel syndrome. And all you have to do is wait in the parking lot at shift change to see the shambling gait that comes from standing in one spot all day on the line. For eight hours, Garcia stood, slipping heads onto the brain machine’s nozzle, pouring the glop into the drain, then dropping the empty skulls down a chute.
Click on the links labeled “[DC]” to explore primary sources using DocumentCloud’s suite of investigative tools.
And then, as the global economy hit the skids and demand for cheap meat skyrocketed, QPP pushed for more and more overtime. By early December, Garcia would return home spent, his back and head throbbing. But this was more than ordinary exhaustion or some winter virus. On December 11, Garcia awoke to find he couldn’t walk. His legs felt dead, paralyzed. His family rushed him to the Austin Medical Center, not far from the subdivided Victorian they rented on Third Street. Doctors there sent Garcia to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, about an hour away. By the time he arrived, he was running a high fever and complaining of piercing headaches. He underwent a battery of exams, including MRIs of his head and back. Every test revealed neurological abnormalities, most importantly a severe spinal-cord inflammation, apparently caused by an autoimmune response. It was as if his body was attacking his nerves.
Garcia inserted a compressed-air hose and blasted the pigs’ brains into a pink slurry. One head every three seconds.
By Christmas, Garcia had been bedridden for two weeks, and baffled doctors feared he might be suicidal. They sent a psychiatrist to prepare him for life in a wheelchair.

There is no Matthew Garcia.

Or, rather, Matthew Garcia is not his name. It’s the made-up name I’ve given him to shield him from Immigration and Customs Enforcement. I don’t know his real name anyway, not the name his mother cooed when she cradled him in her arms. All I know is the name on his driver’s license, his I-9 and ITIN, his medical records and workers’ comp claim. There is no Matthew Garcia in Austin, Minnesota, and if you go looking, you won’t find him, but then there’s no Emiliano Ballesta or Miriam Angeles either. Not really. Because many QPP employees are working under a fake name with false papers and a phony address.
And not just the people on the kill floor. You see: QPP is simply another way of saying Hormel and its corporate headquarters in Dallas is just a tax-accounting firm in a poured-concrete office park along the LBJ Freeway. And if you leaf through the Austin phone book, you can find a listing for Kelly Wadding, the CEO of QPP, but if you drive there, you’ll find no house, no such address.
In Austin, such half-truths and agreed-upon lies are as much a part of the landscape as the slow-moving Cedar River. On one bank stands the Hormel plant, with its towering six-story hydrostatic Spam cooker and sprawling fenced compound, encompassing QPP and shielded from view by a 15-foot privacy wall. When I asked for a look inside, I got a chipper email from the spokeswoman: “They are state-of-the-art facilities (nothing to be squeamish about!) but media tours are not available.” On the other bank is the Spam Museum, where former plant workers serve as Spambassadors, and the sanitized history of Hormel unfolds in more than 16,000 square feet of exhibits, artifacts, and tchotchkes.
One room is done up as the Provision Market, opened by George Hormel (pronounced HOR-mel to rhyme with “normal”) in the Litchfield Building on Mill Street in November 1891. But the company we know today—and its most famous product—didn’t emerge until after Hormel’s son, Jay, took over in 1929. Jay Hormel was a masterful manager and a gambler in the true capitalist sense. In the trough of the Great Depression, he bet Americans would buy into the idea of low-cost canned dinners. Hormel chili, Dinty Moore stew, and Spam were born.
Around the same time, Hormel attempted to institute a progressive pension plan in which the company would contribute $1 to a worker’s 20 cents per week. But he didn’t bother pitching its benefits to employees; he simply instructed foremen to collect signatures—a style of leadership he later rued as “benevolent dictatorship.” Wary line workers refused, and when one gave in, labor organizers incited a work stoppage. Local business leaders panicked. Hormel urged them to accept union labor in Austin. “I am not going to get mixed up in a fight in my hometown,” he declared. But he was too late.

The Spam Museum
In November, poorly armed union organizers, dissatisfied with the slow progress of negotiations, escorted Hormel from the general offices and shut down the plant’s refrigeration system—threatening to spoil $3.6 million of meat. For three straight days, Hormel went to the picket line to address workers from an improvised platform and meet with union leaders. He brought the strike to a quick end by agreeing to a series of forward-looking incentives, including profit-sharing, merit pay, and the “Annual Wage Plan,” an unheard-of salary system in an industry dominated by piecework and hourly rates. Hormel also agreed that increases in output would result in more pay for workers, and he even guaranteed them 52 weeks’ notice prior to termination.
Fortune derided Hormel as the “red capitalist,” but the moves earned him a matchless period of management-labor cooperation and national goodwill. During World War II, the company cranked out K-rations, sending canned meat up supply lines across the Pacific and securing Spam acclaim as the “meat that won the war.” Hormel even created a “special workers” program, designed to assist veterans, in which up to 15 percent of the workforce could be given light duty if disabled. But all that started to change when the company passed out of family hands and fell under new corporate leadership that wasn’t interested in Jay Hormel’s progressive benefits. In 1975, future president Richard Knowlton began to negotiate an agreement that would build a whole new plant with the promise of reducing workloads—and allow him to gut longstanding incentive programs. That led to a bitter strike—and completed the transition from George A. Hormel & Co., the family business, to Hor-MEL, the corporation. But that era was about more than rebranding. It was the start of shell companies and shell games; this was when everyone learned to speak this local dialect of truth, when the cut-and-kill side of the operation became QPP, and the workforce became populated with undocumented immigrants working under false names.
It was February 2007, and the pipes under Emiliano Ballesta’s trailer home on the outskirts of Austin had frozen solid. Worried about his wife and five children—most of all, his five-year-old son, who had recently been diagnosed with leukemia—Ballesta shimmied into the crawl space with a pair of small kerosene heaters. Instead of thawing the pipes, he ignited the wispy insulation hanging from the floorboards, and, in no time, flames engulfed the place. When police and firemen arrived, black smoke was rolling from under the eaves. By morning, nothing remained but a blackened hull.

Emiliano Ballesta at the Queen of Angels church, Austin, Minnesota

The family slept on friends’ couches and floors for weeks after that. Despite 12 years of working at QPP’s head table, Ballesta was only making $12.75 an hour, barely a $26,500 base salary. But he had worked Saturdays for overtime as long as he could remember, and lately there were plenty of additional hours available as production ramped up to meet surging demand.
Spam, it turns out, is an excellent economic indicator. As the recession took hold, both Hormel and QPP offered more and more hours to workers. Hormel employees told the New York Times that they’d never seen so much overtime, and Hormel’s CEO, Jeffrey M. Ettinger, confirmed that sales figures were climbing by double digits. Though head meat goes into sausage, not Spam, the increased production of one item increases output of everything else. One Hormel worker told the Times he’d bought a new TV and refrigerator with his overtime hours; Emiliano Ballesta could afford to move his family into a rental home.
In May 2007, Ballesta was at a son’s high-school commencement when he noticed his legs starting to feel tight and numb. Within days, his right hip and thigh were throbbing, and it was as if the soles of his feet were on fire. At first, he chalked it up to fatigue, so many extra hours standing, but soon he was having trouble walking from the QPP parking lot to the plant door.
Ballesta wasn’t alone. Miriam Angeles, who worked near the head table removing remnants of spinal cords, had started having burning pain in her lower legs, too, and now her right arm had begun falling asleep—both at work and at home, when she tried to feed her infant daughter. Susan Kruse, who cleared neck meat from the foramen magnum—the aperture where the spinal cord enters the skull—had a knot in her left calf that wouldn’t go away. When the cramps spread to her right leg, and stiffness in her hands turned to tingling, Kruse finally went to the doctor. Even Pablo Ruiz, a process-control auditor who only passed by the head table, was starting to have numbness in his legs and once fell to the plant floor.
At first, Ballesta chalked it up to so many extra hours standing, but soon he was having trouble walking from the parking lot to the plant door.
In the meantime, Mayo doctors had prescribed Matthew Garcia a steroid to calm his nerve inflammation, and he’d improved enough to get around without a walker. He had lost pelvic floor function, robbing him of bowel control, and had to catheterize himself, but he managed to return to the brain machine in May. Within three weeks, though, Garcia couldn’t stand again. Relatives rushed him back to the emergency room.

Dale Chidester, until recently the office coordinator of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 9, is a bear of a man with unruly hair and a salt-and-pepper goatee, but he’s good-looking (he could be a ’70s action star gone to seed) and speaks in a sweet, soft rasp. We met in his office in the Austin Labor Center. The building’s institutional architecture, mostly reserved these days for elementary schools and county lockups, is like a time capsule of Depression-era proletarianism. Each morning, Chidester opened the window at the check counter, pushing up the wooden shutter as if it were a gate on a service elevator, and planted himself in his creaky office chair—a picture of FDR over one shoulder, a picture of Geronimo over the other.
The Head Cases
QPP workers diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder were clustered around the machine used to liquefy 1,350 pig brains every single hour.

Chidester didn’t yet live in Austin during the 1985-86 strike—he worked at Hormel’s plant in Ottumwa, Iowa—but he remembers well the regular four-hour runs up I-35 to deliver supplies to the families struggling through those lean months. He started in meatpacking in the late ’70s, just as the country was sliding toward recession and all of the major meatpacking companies were consolidating and forcing workers to accept lower wages. Chidester says he witnessed a lot of dirty tricks meant to double-cross the unions. The Wilson Foods pork-processing plant in neighboring Albert Lea filed for bankruptcy in 1983 in order to nullify existing contracts and cut workers’ average pay from $10.69 an hour to $6.50. With improved margins, owners were able to sell the company at a sizable profit.
In Austin, the Packinghouse Workers Local 9 (P-9, as it was then known) bristled at talk of lower wages. Workers had already conceded too much in return for Richard Knowlton’s wan promise to build a state-of-the-art plant and keep Hormel’s full operation in Austin. He had convinced P-9 to give up the incentive pay system; freeze wages until the new plant was complete; and sign away the right to strike until three years after the plant opened. Knowlton had recognized that profit margins were vanishing from butchering as automation transformed the trade into increasingly monotonous, low-skill jobs.
There was no reason, in his mind, to pay union wages for cut-and-kill workers. Like a latter-day Jay Hormel, he saw the future in making a new generation of packaged meals that America’s increasingly female workforce could pop in the microwave at the end of the day. But, unlike Jay Hormel, Knowlton was reaching for increased profits (as well as a hefty bump in his own salary) by wresting away worker benefits. In October 1984, Knowlton demanded a 23 percent wage cut (PDF), from $10.69 an hour to $8.25. But under the strike restriction, P-9—which had just been absorbed into the United Food and Commercial Workers—had no recourse until August 1985.
When the no-strike period expired, P-9 walked out, beginning a 13-month strike that would stand among the most notorious and rancorous in American history. Believing that Hormel couldn’t compete against larger companies that had already brought union wages down to $8.25, the UFCW asked P-9 to accept the lower wages, so as to restore the pattern bargaining that had existed for decades, with a common wage scale across all companies and plants. When P-9 refused, and even organized a nationwide boycott of Hormel products, the UFCW sent a letter to every local in the AFL-CIO asking them not to support P-9. Strikers who crossed the picket line were joined by scabs, the windows of their cars pounded daily by outraged union members. Minnesota Gov. Rudy Perpich called in the National Guard to protect the scabs. Finally the UFCW ended the strike by putting P-9 into receivership and negotiating a 1-cent increase over the wages proposed by Hormel, along with a promise that strikers would be given preference for rehiring as scab-occupied positions were vacated.

Then, in November 1987, barely a year after the conditions of the strike resolution were made official, Hormel announced a shutdown of nearly half of the new plant. Hormel would continue to operate the packaging operation on the refrigerated (“cold”) side, but the cut-and-kill (“hot side”) would be taken over by Quality Pork Processors Inc. QPP then existed only on paper but was headed by Richard C. Knight, a former executive at Swift, the Chicago-based meatpacker that pioneered the conveyor line and had a major plant in nearby Albert Lea.
Knight claimed his new company would be separate from Hormel, though QPP would buy exclusively Hormel hogs and sell the butchered meat exclusively back to Hormel. They would use Hormel’s space and Hormel-owned equipment, rely on the Hormel mechanics, drive Hormel forklifts. The newly dubbed Local 9 felt this was a union-busting tactic and asserted that 550 former strikers still on the preferential recall list were entitled to the new jobs created by the subcontract—and at the wages the union had just agreed to, not the $6 to $8 an hour now being offered. Hormel denied this and, to make its point, erected a wall in the middle of the plant to divide Hormel from QPP. Eventually it would add a separate entrance and run a chain-link fence through the center of the parking lot. “It’s kind of like taking a room in the middle of a house,” Chidester told me, “and saying it’s not really part of the house.”*
Local 9’s attorney asked the St. Paul Pioneer Press: “What good is a union contract if the company can avoid the contract by simply leasing its premises to another company and get the work done at non-union rates?” On the first day of operation in June 1988, an arbitrator closed down QPP. It took a year of legal wrangling, but the union eventually conceded. The contract was amended to allow lower pay for subcontractors, and the plant reopened in June 1989. UFCW bosses hailed the deal as a victory, even though they had won an hourly wage of $9 at QPP after the local had gone on strike to protect a $10.69 hourly wage at Hormel. The two-tier pay scale that the old P-9 leadership had warned against had arrived—but cloaked in doubletalk. “It’s not a two-tiered wage,” Chidester explained with an ironic smile. “It’s just a subcontractor with a lower wage scale.”

*The courts haven’t bought the argument, either. In a 2001 class action [DC] brought by 700-plus employees who claimed they were owed wages for time spent cleaning and donning safety gear, the plaintiffs asked the judge to add Hormel as a “joint employer.” She agreed, nothing that, among other things, QPP executive salaries appear to be negotiated with Hormel, which is a $7.4 billion Fortune 500 company. QPP promptly settled for $1,075,000.
With new wages came new workers, and even rumors that QPP recruited laborers in Mexico. Matthew Garcia said he didn’t know of formal recruitment, but in his Oaxacan town of fewer than 1,000 residents, nearly every adult male he knew had, at one time or another, worked at QPP. By the early ’90s, Austin had gone from having a united local workforce to having a sharply divided workforce that, while still unionized, is, on the QPP side, decidedly less vocal and less powerful. By some estimates, QPP’s labor force today is 75 percent immigrant. But the anger of former strikers who had been promised preferential rehiring did not fall on QPP for its hiring practices; many townspeople turned on the immigrants themselves.

“It’s still leftover bitterness from the strike,” Chidester said, “because that strike was an unconditional surrender. You know, the company won.”
Many Austin locals say the town—devastated by the farm crisis as well as the strike—now depends on immigrants to survive, and they appreciate the cultural influx. Still, recently the Minutemen and a homegrown neo-Nazi group have held rallies in Austin; it’s become a regular stop-off for tea party activists. Police have followed Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s 2008 executive order (PDF) that effectively deputized local officers in enforcing federal immigration laws, and some in Austin have even advocated for ordinances like one passed by sister Hormel town Fremont, Nebraska, to force landlords and employers to run immigration background checks on prospective employees and tenants. At last year’s mayoral debates, the candidates—a former Austin police officer and a clerk at Hormel—agreed on only one thing: Illegal immigration was too complex to tackle just at the local level. By most counts, there are more than 5,000 Mexican immigrants living in Austin—about one-fifth of the town’s population—and Mayor Tom Stiehm, the former cop who won reelection, estimates that 75 percent are working under false identification.
Hormel’s calculated decision to divide itself has also divided Austin.

Since 1989, the line speed at QPP had been steadily increasing—from 750 heads per hour when the plant opened to 1,350 per hour in 2006, though the workforce barely increased. To speed production, the company installed a conveyor system and humming automatic knives throughout the plant, reducing skilled tasks to single motions. Workers say nearly everyone suffered from carpal tunnel syndrome or some repetitive stress injury, but by October 2007, there were signs of something else. Workers from QPP’s kill floor were coming to Carole Bower, the plant’s occupational health nurse, with increasingly familiar complaints: numbness and tingling in their extremities, chronic fatigue, searing skin pain. Bower started noticing workers so tender that they struggled with the stairs to the top-floor locker rooms, high above the roar of the factory line.
The line speed at QPP had increased from 750 heads per hour in 1989 to 1,350 per hour in 2006, while the workforce barely grew.
Six workers were referred to Richard Schindler, a doctor at the Austin Medical Center who’d first seen Matthew Garcia. Garcia had returned a second time to the brain machine, worked four-hour days, then six hours—but his symptoms soon returned. He began falling on the plant floor, his legs numb and motionless under him. Schindler found that Garcia and another brain-machine operator were the most advanced cases. Besides Garcia and the six workers referred by Bower, Schindler had seen another five men and women with similar symptoms—all workers at QPP. Schindler believed they were suffering from something like the rare disorder Chronic Inflammatory Demyelinating Polyneuropathy (CIDP)—death of the peripheral nerves caused by damage to the fatty neural covering known as the myelin sheath. He emailed a group of neurologists at the Mayo Clinic for advice.

One, Daniel Lachance, was struck by the case histories. He had seen a woman in 2005 who worked at QPP and had sought treatment for carpal tunnel syndrome. After seeing her EMG and other tests, Lachance suspected a more ominous nerve condition—but the woman returned to Mexico before her spinal fluid could be tested. Lachance remembered Garcia, too, from his hospitalization the year before. Steroids had helped reduce the swelling of his nerves, but doctors could never identify the cause of his spinal inflammation. When Lachance checked his employment history, he discovered that Garcia worked at QPP.
But Schindler was describing a dozen concurrent cases. “Those types of illness seem to, statistically, come up in the population at a rate of two per 100,000,” Lachance told me later. “So here, over the course of a couple of months, I was aware of up to a dozen individuals from one town of 22,000 who all happened to work in one place.” Lachance brought the affected workers in, one by one, and crossed off items from a laundry list of diseases and disorders. It wasn’t mad cow or trichinosis. It wasn’t a simple muscular disorder like carpal tunnel syndrome. It wasn’t cancer or a virus. It wasn’t bacteria or a parasite. Lachance concluded that the slaughterhouse illness was likely some kind of autoimmune disorder. It was time to contact the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH).
In early November 2007, Aaron DeVries, an epidemiologist at MDH in St. Paul, drove to Austin to review the medical records of the patients involved. He was working from a checklist of his own, eliminating possible sources of the illness. The symptoms were inconsistent with any known infections, and workers’ families were unaffected, so the disorder didn’t seem to be transmissible by human-to-human contact. Like Lachance, DeVries concluded that the illness had to be an autoimmune response, most likely triggered by something inside the plant.
DeVries arranged a site visit for November 28. Accompanied by QPP officials, the MDH team, led by state epidemiologist Ruth Lynfield, progressed down the head table and eventually reached the brain machine. They stood silently for a moment, watching the bursts of air rising into a red cloud, a small amount each time but enough, as it drifted and accumulated, to gradually coat workers at the head table. Lynfield pointed out that nearly all the affected workers were stationed near the brain machine and asked CEO Kelly Wadding, “What do you think is going on?” Wadding reportedly replied, “Let’s stop harvesting brains.”
Much would be made later of that reply, of how Wadding had ordered the brain machine removed from the factory floor immediately, of how he had the apparatus dismantled and brought to the conference room where he sat with the MDH team after the plant tour. Much praise (PDF), too, would be voiced for his willingness to speak to reporters in the wake of an MDH press release announcing an outbreak of an unexplained neurological disorder in his plant.

Each day, 19,000 pigs enter the Austin, Minnesota, complex in unmarked trucks, while the finished goods leave in Hormel trucks.
What no one knew then, and has gone unreported until now, is that, in the months prior to the announcement, QPP quietly sold an 80 percent interest [DC] in itself. The buyer, Blaine Jay Corporation, had incorporated in 2004, but this was its first purchase recorded with the Texas state franchise board (on November 15, 2007). Corporate documents [DC] list an accounting firm on the LBJ Freeway in Dallas as Blaine Jay headquarters and Kelly Blaine Wadding as president.
The shell had grown another shell.

The QPP parking lot is gravel, and on a day like the one when I was there—the first day of March, when the mercury had finally pushed above freezing and the glaciers of plowed snow were starting to drip and calve—it was muddy and rutted and pocked by potholes. At four, the sun hung blindingly bright in the sky, and the entrance to the fenced grounds was alive with workers flowing in and out: the shift change. The QPP workforce was mostly Hispanic with a smattering of Somalis and African Americans, all pushing through the narrow turnstile as I waited for the security guard to reemerge from his booth. Eventually the guard opened the door a crack, apologetically. “They are just ridiculously uptight about things like this,” he told me. Indeed, in more than three years since the outbreak, QPP had never allowed a reporter onto its grounds—until I visited.
Finally, Carole Bower arrived and ushered me toward the entrance. She was dressed in hospital white, down to her shoes. Even her manicured nails were tipped in white, and her hair had been frosted with highlights. Her demeanor, too, though not exactly icy, was officious. She was very sorry to have kept me waiting, she said, but “Quality Pork and Hormel take security very seriously.” She gestured toward the office entrance, ushering me away from a stream of workers climbing stairs toward the kill floor. They moved steadily past the laundry-room window, taking clean aprons.

Once we were inside a tight, private office borrowed for the occasion, Bower shut the door and closed the blinds. She sat behind the desk and spoke from a set of prepared talking points. She seemed taxed by the dilemma of owning up to QPP’s role in the outbreak without accepting culpability. I felt bad for her. But I didn’t know then that she’d served as one of the four directors of Albert Lea Select Foods [DC], another “co-packer” for Hormel in a nearby town—another company headed by Kelly Wadding, headquartered at the same accounting firm in Dallas, and, as of 2008, 100 percent controlled by the Blaine Jay Corporation. Shortly after that transaction, Select Foods, which then described itself as “an extension of Quality Pork Processors,” announced a $1.5 million expansion that dramatically increased capacity and added more than 100 nonunion jobs—many filled by an influx of Karen refugees from Burma, who were legal under asylum laws.

In the Spam Museum, visitors can try on safety gear, as well as see statues of Jay and George Hormel re-creating the moment the company was handed from father to son.
Bower seemed focused on defending the speed of QPP’s response to the outbreak and showing management’s deep caring for the affected workers. “When the public health department came on site, we had open meetings with all of the employees in our two big break rooms,” she said. “They took them off their work time, paid them for their time, and the president of the company and our HR manager and myself and anyone else that was involved talked to them, had interpreters, explained what was going on. We had weekly meetings just like that with everybody in the plant for the following four, five, six weeks.”
I asked why they hadn’t simply informed workers in writing, noting that the lunchroom held barely a hundred people. It would have taken a dozen or so meetings at each step of the process to inform all 1,300 QPP workers in the manner she described. Her calm reserve faltered.
“We had multiple meetings,” she said, growing flushed. “We would have the day hot side, the day cold side, livestock. We probably had four meetings in a row. Day and night. For weeks.”

Nevertheless, many affected workers didn’t know all the facts. Susan Kruse, who was at home and unable to work, didn’t learn of the outbreak until she saw it on the evening news. Emiliano Ballesta didn’t know how widespread the illness was until he arrived for a steroid treatment at the Austin Medical Center and found the waiting room filled with his coworkers. Back at work after another five months out sick, Matthew Garcia was surprised to discover that Dr. Lachance had ordered him, along with a group of fellow employees, put on light duty and referred to another Mayo Clinic neurologist.
Those who did attend the meetings, people like Miriam Angeles, remember the break-room gatherings very differently from Carole Bower. When Angeles spoke to me at Austin’s Centro Campesino with the cultural center’s director, Victor Contreras, serving as interpreter, she said management insisted that, although people from QPP had become sick, there was no evidence that the illness originated from inside the plant. The managers instructed workers to keep quiet until the company made a public statement. “We prohibit any comment about this,” she remembered being told. “Anyone who comments on this disease, you could lose your job.”
Affected workers were instructed not to identify themselves in the group meetings nor ask questions. In one meeting, however, a sick worker rose in a swell of panic to ask Kelly Wadding, “What’s going to happen with my health?”
Wadding, according to Angeles, said: “Sit down. We’re going to talk to you in the nurse’s office.”
After that, there were more meetings, but sick workers were afraid to speak out. They whispered in locker rooms. They phoned each other at home. They slowly figured out who some of their sick coworkers were, but when Wadding called a final meeting to announce that the mystery illness was under control, Angeles said the affected workers were too scared to say anything. And, though they were all in the UFCW, neither Local 9 nor the bosses in Washington took up their cause.
To this day, there is no agreed-upon number of QPP workers who were affected by the illness. The MDH conducted a survey [DC] and found 15. In his published study based on rigorous testing, Lachance says he found 21. Thirteen were sufficiently incapacitated to file workers’ compensation claims against QPP. The count is further complicated by the revelation that MDH reached out to the two other plants in America where pork brains were being harvested with compressed air, and some published reports include seven additional cases from the Indiana Packers plant in Delphi, Indiana, and one more from the Hormel plant in Fremont, Nebraska.
“I feel thrown away,” Miriam Angeles says. “Before, I worked hard and willingly for QPP, but after I got sick and needed restrictions, they threw me away like trash.”
Angeles didn’t seek out other affected workers. She resolved to just do her work and keep quiet. She never complained, she told me, even though she claims that her supervisor never honored her doctor’s orders that she sit for 15 minutes every two hours. When the strong medications that had been prescribed for pain in her arms left her with blurred vision, the supervisor still refused to let her take a break. “No,” Angeles says she was told, “you have to keep working.”
In May 2008, five months after the MDH visit, an outside social worker, Roxanne Tarrant, was assigned to guide employees through filing workers’ compensation claims. (Under Minnesota law, filing a claim precludes the possibility of a lawsuit.) In a successful claim—which is not dependent on employment or immigration status—the injured party can receive wage-loss, medical, and/or rehabilitation benefits. Those benefits—which in a case like this could cost millions, mostly in medical claims—would be paid for by insurance; QPP’s insurer was an AIG subsidiary. However, a recent appellate ruling [DC] reveals that QPP’s policy had a $600,000 deductible for “Each Accident or each Person for Disease.” QPP argued that the outbreak constituted one “accident.” The court disagreed, making QPP pay $600,000 per affected worker, which could total more than $7 million.
As the workers began filing their claims, QPP offered Angeles and several others about $20,000 each as a preemptive settlement. But QPP’s offer required workers to forfeit medical benefits. Doctors were still determining whether workers’ nerve damage was temporary or long-term, whether they would ever be able to work again or faced permanent disability. The workers rejected the offer.
Days later, on the Monday morning after the long Fourth of July weekend, Angeles was told to report to human resources, where she was informed that there was a problem with her identification. Angeles, who’d been working under another name, knew she was about to be fired. Would she continue to have her health insurance? Would she still qualify for worker’s comp?
“They said, ‘That’s your problem.’”
Angeles’ voice turned soft, lost in that memory.
“I feel thrown away,” she said, finally. “Like a piece of trash. Before, I worked hard and willingly for QPP, but after I got sick and needed restrictions and told them I was in pain, they threw me away like trash and were done with me.”

SIX MONTHS EARLIER, when Matthew Garcia was sent back to the Mayo Clinic neurology department, Dr. P. James Dyck explained to him that there was an “epidemic of neuropathy” that was affecting QPP workers—a newly discovered form of demyelinating polyradiculoneuropathy. Inhaling aerosolized brains had caused his body to produce antibodies, but because porcine and human neurological cells are so similar, the antibodies began destroying Garcia’s own nerves, as well.
The new disease theory made sense, except that, according to company officials, QPP had been blowing brains, off and on, for more than a decade. So why did workers fall ill now and not earlier? The answer is complex. First, in April 2006, the line speed increased from 1,300 pig heads moving down the conveyor belt each hour to 1,350. This speedup was slight, but it was just the latest in a series of gradual increases. “The line speed, the line speed,” Lachance told the AP, when recounting patient interviews. “That’s what we heard over and over again.” The line had been set at 900 heads per hour when the brain harvesting first began in 1996—meaning that the rate had increased a full 50 percent over the decade, whereas the number of workers had hardly risen. Garcia told me that the speed made it hard to keep up. Second, to match the pace, the company switched from a foot-operated trigger to an automatic system tripped by inserting the nozzle into the brain cavity, but sometimes the blower would misfire and spatter. Complaints about this had led to the installation of the plexiglass shield between the worker manning the brain machine and the rest of the head table. Third, the increased speed had caused pig heads to pile up at the opening in the shield. At some point in late 2006, the jammed skulls, pressed forward by the conveyor belt, had actually cracked the plastic, allowing more mist to drift over the head table. Pablo Ruiz, the process-control auditor, had attempted to patch the fracture with plastic bags. (To this day, Ruiz says he suffers from burning feet and general exhaustion.) Fourth, the longer hours worked in 2007 had, quite simply, upped workers’ exposure.
But Dyck, the Mayo neurologist, had some good news. He and Lachance diverged from the description of the disorder favored by the Department of Health and the CDC. All the doctors agreed that pig brains had triggered an autoimmune disorder. But MDH was calling it progressive inflammatory neuropathy (PIN), while the Mayo team rejected this name, because the doctors there didn’t believe that the disorder was progressive. Now that QPP had halted harvesting pig brains, Dyck explained, Garcia’s condition should improve.

Austin is home to an influx of migrants, seen worshipping at Queen of Angels Church.
But Garcia struggled to return to work for the better part of 2008. By fall, he still had burning in his feet, his knees clicked when he walked, and his bowel and bladder problems persisted. In November, Lachance found a “suspicious spot” on a nerve at the base of Garcia’s brain and would eventually diagnose it as a nerve-sheath tumor.
Still, on December 5, Garcia passed a series of tests administered by doctors at the Austin Medical Center to see if he could return to work. But Lachance, who had the final say, was concerned. Garcia had quit sweating in his extremities, a clear indication of nerve death—permanent damage. Lachance emphasized in a letter to social worker Roxanne Tarrant that Garcia should only be asked to do sedentary work as he “has some mild degree of residual gait difficulty associated with spasticity, which would affect his efficiency of walking and fatigue levels.”
Garcia met with Carole Bower to discuss reassignment. He was taken to his new station, mere feet from the old brain station. Seeing the blood on the floor and the hog parts sliding by on the conveyor, Garcia started to panic. He was afraid that he would again be exposed, that his condition would worsen. He couldn’t catch his breath; his chest tightened. He begged to leave and called Tarrant. She secured him a different job, away from the head table.
QPP doesn’t have the “special worker” program for disabled employees that Hormel has. Garcia was assigned to a job in the “box room,” where cardboard shipping containers are prepared. It worked out okay at first, though Garcia often had to lift more than the 10 pounds that doctors had indicated should be his limit. But then QPP reassigned another box-room worker, and Garcia’s workload increased. Tarrant complained to nurse Bower, to no avail.

Even after his diagnosis, Emiliano Ballesta was reluctant to transfer to another place on the factory line. His job, removing sinewy cheek meat from the tight nooks of the skull (a job known as “chiseling”), requires more handwork than most tasks at the head table. In the era of Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle, workers used an actual chisel to pry open and dislocate hogs’ jaws, then hacked away muscles from the cheeks and temples. But today most factories use a mechanized jaw-puller for the brute work, and workers make precise cuts with a straight blade, honed to razor sharpness and handled with a chainmail glove. The skill required made Ballesta’s job one of the most prestigious and—at $13.15 per hour following a raise—highest-paying positions at the head table.
In the kitchen of his rented apartment in a house on the east side of the Cedar River, Ballesta turned the blade of a butcher knife over, checking both sides.
“You have to be sure there are no dents in the blade,” he said, as one of his sons translated. “Then you sharpen it against the steel rod.”
He slid the blade out and back along the sharpening steel in a fluid motion that made the knife hum and sing. During the early days of the new plant, veteran workers complained repeatedly about the introduction of mechanical knife sharpeners, replacing personal stones and steels used to hone and feather their knives. They insisted that the mechanical sharpeners never gave knives a proper edge, leading to more strain while cutting and eventually to carpal tunnel syndrome. Some, like Ballesta, continued to use their own sharpeners.
“The skin of a hog is very thick and the blade would wear out quickly. I had to keep sharpening it all day.”

Austin is home to small-town Americana.
Everything about him was commanding—from his trimmed mustache to his iron-gray temples. Once, I spotted him among the crowd of congregants arriving for Mass at Queen of Angels, his bright-red Western shirt pressed and perfectly creased, the sleeves buttoned to conceal the circular scar of a Whizard knife slash on his left forearm. Even on the day of that injury, he had gotten patched up at the Austin Medical Center and returned to finish his shift. It must have been nearly impossible to accept that something invisible—something he referred to always as “the infection”—had robbed him of sensation and fine motor function, turning what had been surgical skill into a fumbling hazard.

 

Austin is home to small-town Americana.
Everything about him was commanding—from his trimmed mustache to his iron-gray temples. Once, I spotted him among the crowd of congregants arriving for Mass at Queen of Angels, his bright-red Western shirt pressed and perfectly creased, the sleeves buttoned to conceal the circular scar of a Whizard knife slash on his left forearm. Even on the day of that injury, he had gotten patched up at the Austin Medical Center and returned to finish his shift. It must have been nearly impossible to accept that something invisible—something he referred to always as “the infection”—had robbed him of sensation and fine motor function, turning what had been surgical skill into a fumbling hazard.
After his diagnosis, Ballesta tried other jobs: weighing and packing parts, running the circular saw that clips off snouts. He even tried a less-skilled job trimming head meat with the Whizard. But by March 2009, the tingling in his right hand had grown worse and left his middle finger completely numb. Ballesta was given lighter duty washing ears, then taken off the line altogether to work in the box room alongside Matthew Garcia. By May, Ballesta was back to chiseling, but his need for breaks jeopardized his ability to hang on to the job. Under his contract, he had to bid for the job—and the position was increasingly coveted by other workers.
Bower sent an email to Lachance about Ballesta. “Rather difficult,” she began. “He really likes the chiseling job and does not want off of it.” She explained that Ballesta had asked to return to chiseling full-time. But Lachance believed he would still need 15-minute breaks every two hours, something that Bower doubted could continue to be accommodated. Still, she wrote that Ballesta “is a very good and ethical man so wants to work hard and please his employer. Can we see how it goes for awhile?”
Of the 13 workers who had workers’ comp claims, six had been fired for working under forged or stolen identities. Ballesta was next.
In July, Bower told social worker Roxanne Tarrant that QPP had been reviewing the job lineup sheets for the workers with PIN, and it was becoming increasingly difficult to manage their required accommodations. She asked Tarrant if Ballesta could possibly chisel cheek meat without taking breaks. Ballesta balked. He said that he still had terrible burning in his feet if he stood too long; he just couldn’t do it. On October 1, Ballesta finally gave in and requested to be put on cutting and cleaning intestines—despite a 20-cent-per-hour pay cut. He was dismayed but joked to coworkers that, after years at the head table, he would finally graduate to another station. That Saturday, October 3, would be his 15th anniversary at QPP. He called it his quinceañera, his coming of age.
But that Saturday, when he arrived at work, Ballesta was summoned to human resources. It was his last day at QPP.
Six months later, in April 2010, Matthew Garcia, too, was called in to talk to Dale Wicks in human resources. Wicks said that a man had been arrested in Texas; his name was Matthew J. Garcia—and he had the same date of birth and Social Security number as this Matthew J. Garcia. Wicks asked if his papers were his own. By now, workers—who had formed a support group that met weekly at Centro Campesino—had learned not to confess the way Miriam Angeles did, the way Emiliano Ballesta did. Of the 13 workers who had workers’ comp claims, six had been fired for working under forged or stolen identities.
“I told them, yeah, they’re my papers,” Garcia said. “I have my ID, I have everything.”
During his illness, Garcia had enrolled in classes at Riverland Community College, and his English was now good enough to get him by without an interpreter; he was not as frightened as other workers had been. Wicks warned that law enforcement was investigating, that they had already found records of Garcia’s information being used in five other states. Garcia insisted he didn’t know anything about that, that those people must have somehow stolen his information.
Garcia wasn’t fired—but in June 2010, his condition suddenly worsened. A new round of tests convinced Lachance that his condition was likely now chronic. “I think his symptoms will be long term,” Lachance wrote to Carole Bower, urging QPP to find a place for Garcia to perform light work—perhaps even a job in the office. “Hopefully some day his pain syndrome will gradually remit and his tolerance for physical activity improve but for the foreseeable future, especially concerning work-related activities, I think it is reasonable to assign some permanency here.”
Tarrant told me that she understood the difficulty that QPP faced in finding light-labor positions for the injured workers. “It’s a slaughterhouse,” she said. “There really are no light jobs.” Still, she was dubious of the claim that Immigration and Customs Enforcement just happened to be investigating so many affected workers whose doctors had recommended lighter duty. (Indeed, it’s not clear ICE did.) “When the first firing happened, I thought it was interesting,” Tarrant said. “When the second, then the third happened, I thought it was fishy.”
My last morning in Austin, I drove to QPP for a final look. I parked across the road from the plant and rolled down the windows. It was still cold, the snow piled along the sidewalks turning gray and pitted. As the day shift started up, the smell was unmistakable: fresh pig shit and baking ham. Along the access road, marked Hormel Drive, 18-wheelers came barreling in, pulling livestock trailers. They took the corner through the chain-link gate and reversed into the loading docks, all but concealed by that barrier wall. But as each new truck arrived, I could hear the beeping of the backup warning, then the rattle of rear doors opening. And then there was the sound of sizzling electric prods, the clatter of cloven hooves on metal grating, and the guttural, almost human, screeching of hogs.

The check window at the UCFW Local 9
office
I dialed my cellphone and once again got Kelly Wadding’s voicemail. Weeks later, when I finally got him on the line and said that I had been struck by how many of the workers affected by PIN had turned out to be undocumented, Wadding plunged into a rambling monologue. “I know where you’re headed and I’ll tell you right now: Anybody that’s contracted PIN or any other illness or injury at work, we never, ever, ever go back and check their documentation.” I could hear his fist bang on something hard. Never, ever, ever. Bang, bang, bang.
“They’re still getting paid work-comp benefits; they’re still getting paid their medical,” Wadding insisted. “We have no desire to send these people down the road.”
What I didn’t know at the time was that Wadding was in the final stages of negotiating a settlement with up to a dozen employees who had filed workers’ comp claims. After attorneys’ fees, each received $12,500, a half-year’s pay. Matthew Garcia, because he was deemed to have been permanently injured, got $38,600. As a condition of the settlement, he would no longer be employed at QPP. “I felt pushed into it,” Garcia told me. “My attorney said, ‘If you don’t do it, you’ll end up with nothing.’” He has used the money to pay for more courses at the community college, but it’s going fast. He asked me not to use his real name for this article, fearing it might hurt his application at McDonald’s.
After leaving a message on Wadding’s voicemail, I saw the QPP security guard trundle out to his truck and begin circling the block, driving by again and again. But he couldn’t touch me. I was on a public street, next to Horace Austin Park with its clear view of the Cedar River. I sat and watched as evidence of our national industry and know-how arrived by the truckload. Our whole history of conquering the West, industrializing agriculture, and turning hog slaughter into a “custom meat operation” arrived at QPP’s door.
I once asked Dale Chidester if he ever marveled at the sheer scale of it—the relentless pace required to process 5 million hogs a year. He laughed. You don’t think about such things while you’re working on the line, he explained; mostly you try not to think about anything at all. Your muscles remember and repeat. “It’s like tying your shoes,” he said.
I rolled up the windows and turned the key in the ignition. More than 19,000 hogs were processed at QPP that day. It was like any other day.
Additional reporting by Joe Kloc….https://www.motherjones.com/politics/2011/06/hormel-spam-pig-brains-disease/

SLAUGHTERHOUSES GRUESOME CONSEQUENCES FOR ANIMALS AND WORKERS: The Chain Never Stops Thousands of meatpacking workers suffer crippling injuries each year. A special report from inside the nation’s slaughterhouses. Eric Schlosser


The Chain Never Stops
Thousands of meatpacking workers suffer crippling injuries each year. A special report from inside the nation’s slaughterhouses.
Eric Schlosser July/August 2001 Issue
In the beginning he had been fresh and strong, and he had gotten a job the first day; but now he was second-hand, a damaged article, so to speak, and they did not want him… they had worn him out, with their speeding-up and their carelessness, and now they had thrown him away!
–Upton Sinclair, The Jungle (1906)
Kenny Dobbins was hired by the Monfort Beef Company in 1979. He was 24 years old, and 6 foot 5, and had no fear of the hard work in a slaughterhouse. He seemed invincible. Over the next two decades he suffered injuries working for Monfort that would have crippled or killed lesser men. He was struck by a falling 90-pound box of meat and pinned against the steel lip of a conveyor belt. He blew out a disc and had back surgery. He inhaled too much chlorine while cleaning some blood tanks and spent a month in the hospital, his lungs burned, his body covered in blisters. He damaged the rotator cuff in his left shoulder when a 10,000-pound hammer-mill cover dropped too quickly and pulled his arm straight backward. He broke a leg after stepping into a hole in the slaughterhouse’s concrete floor. He got hit by a slow-moving train behind the plant, got bloodied and knocked right out of his boots, spent two weeks in the hospital, then returned to work. He shattered an ankle and had it mended with four steel pins. He got more bruises and cuts, muscle pulls and strains than he could remember.
Despite all the injuries and the pain, the frequent trips to the hospital and the metal brace that now supported one leg, Dobbins felt intensely loyal to Monfort and Con-Agra, its parent company. He’d left home at the age of 13 and never learned to read; Monfort had given him a steady job, and he was willing to do whatever the company asked. He moved from Grand Island, Nebraska, to Greeley, Colorado, to help Monfort reopen its slaughterhouse there without a union. He became an outspoken member of a group formed to keep union organizers out. He saved the life of a fellow worker—and was given a framed certificate of appreciation. And then, in December 1995, Dobbins felt a sharp pain in his chest while working in the plant. He thought it was a heart attack. According to Dobbins, the company nurse told him it was a muscle pull and sent him home. It was a heart attack, and Dobbins nearly died. While awaiting compensation for his injuries, he was fired. The company later agreed to pay him a settlement of $35,000.
Today Kenny Dobbins is disabled, with a bad heart and scarred lungs. He lives entirely off Social Security payments. He has no pension and no health insurance. His recent shoulder surgery—stemming from an old injury at the plant and costing more than $10,000—was paid by Medicare. He now feels angry beyond words at ConAgra, misused, betrayed. He’s embarrassed to be receiving public assistance. “I’ve never had to ask for help before in my life,” Dobbins says. “I’ve always worked. I’ve worked since I was 14 years old.” In addition to the physical pain, the financial uncertainty, and the stress of finding enough money just to pay the rent each month, he feels humiliated.
What happened to Kenny Dobbins is now being repeated, in various forms, at slaughterhouses throughout the United States. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, meatpacking is the nation’s most dangerous occupation. In 1999, more than one-quarter of America’s nearly 150,000 meatpacking workers suffered a job-related injury or illness. The meatpacking industry not only has the highest injury rate, but also has by far the highest rate of serious injury—more than five times the national average, as measured in lost workdays. If you accept the official figures, about 40,000 meatpacking workers are injured on the job every year. But the actual number is most likely higher. The meatpacking industry has a well-documented history of discouraging injury reports, falsifying injury data, and putting injured workers back on the job quickly to minimize the reporting of lost workdays. Over the past four years, I’ve met scores of meatpacking workers in Nebraska, Colorado, and Texas who tell stories of being injured and then discarded by their employers. Like Kenny Dobbins, many now rely on public assistance for their food, shelter, and medical care. Each new year throws more injured workers on the dole, forcing taxpayers to subsidize the meatpacking industry’s poor safety record. No government statistics can measure the true amount of pain and suffering in the nation’s meatpacking communities today.
A list of accident reports filed by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration gives a sense of the dangers that workers now confront in the nation’s meatpacking plants. The titles of these OSHA reports sound more like lurid tabloid headlines than the headings of sober government documents: Employee Severely Burned After Fuel From His Saw Is Ignited. Employee Hospitalized for Neck Laceration From Flying Blade. Employee’s Finger Amputated in Sausage Extruder. Employee’s Finger Amputated in Chitlin Machine. Employee’s Eye Injured When Struck by Hanging Hook. Employee’s Arm Amputated in Meat Auger. Employee’s Arm Amputated When Caught in Meat Tenderizer. Employee Burned in Tallow Fire. Employee Burned by Hot Solution in Tank. One Employee Killed, Eight Injured by Ammonia Spill. Employee Killed When Arm Caught in Meat Grinder. Employee Decapitated by Chain of Hide Puller Machine. Employee Killed When Head Crushed by Conveyor. Employee Killed When Head Crushed in Hide Fleshing Machine. Employee Killed by Stun Gun. Caught and Killed by Gut-Cooker Machine.
The most dangerous plants are the ones where cattle are slaughtered. Poultry slaughterhouses are somewhat safer because they are more highly mechanized; chickens have been bred to reach a uniform size at maturity. Cattle, however, vary enormously in size, shape, and weight when they arrive at a slaughterhouse. As a result, most of the work at a modern beef plant is still performed by hand. In the age of the space station and the microchip, the most important slaughterhouse tool is a well-sharpened knife.
Thirty years ago, meatpacking was one of the highest-paid industrial jobs in the United States, with one of the lowest turnover rates. In the decades that followed the 1906 publication of The Jungle, labor unions had slowly gained power in the industry, winning their members good benefits, decent working conditions, and a voice in the workplace. Meatpacking jobs were dangerous and unpleasant, but provided enough income for a solid, middle-class life. There were sometimes waiting lists for these jobs. And then, starting in the early 1960s, a company called Iowa Beef Packers (IBP) began to revolutionize the industry, opening plants in rural areas far from union strongholds, recruiting immigrant workers from Mexico, introducing a new division of labor that eliminated the need for skilled butchers, and ruthlessly battling unions. By the late 1970s, meatpacking companies that wanted to compete with IBP had to adopt its business methods—or go out of business. Wages in the meatpacking industry soon fell by as much as 50 percent. Today meatpacking is one of the nation’s lowest-paid industrial jobs, with one of the highest turnover rates. The typical plant now hires an entirely new workforce every year or so. There are no waiting lists at these slaughterhouses today. Staff shortages have become an industrywide problem, making the work even more dangerous.
In a relatively brief period of time, the meatpacking industry also became highly centralized and concentrated, giving enormous power to a few large agribusiness firms. In 1970, the top four meatpackers controlled just 21 percent of the beef market. Today the top four—IBP, ConAgra, Excel (a subsidiary of Cargill), and National Beef—control about 85 percent of the market. While the meatpackers have grown more powerful, the unions have grown much weaker. Only half of IBP’s workers belong to a union, allowing that company to set the industry standard for low wages and harsh working conditions. Given the industry’s high turnover rates, it is a challenge for a union simply to remain in a meatpacking plant, since every year it must gain the allegiance of a whole new set of workers.
In some American slaughterhouses, more than three-quarters of the workers are not native English speakers; many can’t read any language, and many are illegal immigrants. A new migrant industrial workforce now circulates through the meatpacking towns of the High Plains. A wage of $9.50 an hour seems incredible to men and women who come from rural areas in Mexico where the wages are $7 a day. These manual laborers, long accustomed to toiling in the fields, are good workers. They’re also unlikely to complain or challenge authority, to file lawsuits, organize unions, fight for their legal rights. They tend to be poor, vulnerable, and fearful. From the industry’s point of view, they are ideal workers: cheap, largely interchangeable, and disposable.
One of the crucial determinants of a slaughterhouse’s profitability is also responsible for many of its greatest dangers: the speed of the production line. Once a plant is fully staffed and running, the more head of cattle slaughtered per hour, the less it costs to process each one. If the production line stops, for any reason, costs go up. Faster means cheaper—and more profitable. The typical line speed in an American slaughterhouse 25 years ago was about 175 cattle per hour. Some line speeds now approach 400 cattle per hour. Technological advances are responsible for part of the increase; the powerlessness of meatpacking workers explains the rest. Faster also means more dangerous. When hundreds of workers stand closely together, down a single line, wielding sharp knives, terrible things can happen when people feel rushed. The most common slaughterhouse injury is a laceration. Workers stab themselves or stab someone nearby. They struggle to keep up with the pace as carcasses rapidly swing toward them, hung on hooks from a moving, overhead chain. All sorts of accidents—involving power tools, saws, knives, conveyor belts, slippery floors, falling carcasses—become more likely when the chain moves too fast. One slaughterhouse nurse told me she could always tell the line speed by the number of people visiting her office.
The golden rule in meatpacking plants is “The Chain Will Not Stop.” USDA inspectors can shut down the line to ensure food safety, but the meatpacking firms do everything possible to keep it moving at top speed. Nothing stands in the way of production, not mechanical failures, breakdowns, accidents. Forklifts crash, saws overheat, workers drop knives, workers get cut, workers collapse and lie unconscious on the floor, as dripping carcasses sway past them, and the chain keeps going. “The chain never stops,” Rita Beltran, a former IBP worker told me. “I’ve seen bleeders, and they’re gushing because they got hit right in the vein, and I mean they’re almost passing out, and here comes the supply guy again, with the bleach, to clean the blood off the floor, but the chain never stops. It never stops.”
Albertina Rios was a housewife in Mexico before coming to America nearly 20 years ago and going to work for IBP in Lexington, Nebraska. While bagging intestines, over and over, for eight hours a day, Rios soon injured her right shoulder. She was briefly placed on light duty, but asked to be assigned to a higher-paying position trimming heads, an even more difficult job that required moving heavy baskets of meat all day. When she complained about the pain to her supervisor, she recalls, he accused her of being lazy. Rios eventually underwent surgery on the shoulder, as well as two operations on her hands for carpal tunnel syndrome, a painful and commonplace injury caused by hours of repetitive motion.
Some of the most debilitating injuries in the meatpacking industry are also the least visible. Properly sutured, even a deep laceration will heal. The cumulative trauma injuries that meatpacking workers routinely suffer, however, may cause lifelong impairments. The strict regimentation and division of labor in slaughterhouses means that workers must repeat the same motions again and again throughout their shift. Making the same knife cut 10,000 times a day or lifting the same weight every few seconds can cause serious injuries to a person’s back, shoulders, or hands. Aside from a 15-minute rest break or two and a brief lunch, the work is unrelenting. Even the repetition of a seemingly harmless task can lead to pain. “If you lightly tap your finger on a desk a few times, it doesn’t hurt,” an attorney for injured workers told me. “Now try tapping it for eight hours straight, and see how that feels.”
The rate of cumulative trauma injuries in meatpacking is the highest of any American industry. It is about 33 times higher than the national average. According to federal statistics, nearly 1 out of every 10 meatpacking workers suffers a cumulative trauma injury every year. In fact, it’s very hard to find a meatpacking worker who’s not suffering from some kind of recurring pain. For unskilled, unschooled manual laborers, cumulative trauma injuries such as disc problems, tendonitis, and “trigger finger” (a syndrome in which a finger becomes stuck in a curled position) can permanently limit the ability to earn a decent income. Much of this damage will never be healed.
After interviews with many slaughterhouse workers who have cumulative trauma injuries, there’s one image that stays with me. It’s the sight of pale white scars on dark skin. Ana Ramos came from El Salvador and went to work at the same IBP plant as Albertina Rios, trimming hair from the meat with scissors. Her fingers began to lock up; her hands began to swell; she developed shoulder problems from carrying 30- to 60-pound boxes. She recalls going to see the company doctor and describing the pain, only to be told the problem was in her mind. She would leave the appointments crying. In January 1999, Ramos had three operations on the same day—one on her shoulder, another on her elbow, another on her hand. A week later, the doctor sent her back to work. Dora Sanchez, who worked at a different IBP plant, complained for months about soreness in her hands. She says the company ignored her. Sanchez later had surgery on both hands. She now has a “spinal cord stimulator,” an elaborate pain-reduction system implanted in her body, controlled from a small box under the skin on her hip. She will need surgery to replace the batteries every six or seven years.
Cumulative trauma injuries may take months or even years to develop; other slaughterhouse injuries can happen in an instant. Lives are forever changed by a simple error, a wrong move, a faulty machine. Raul Lopez worked as a carpenter in Mexico, making tables, chairs, and headboards, before coming to the United States in 1995 to do construction work in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He was 20 years old at the time, and after laying concrete foundations for two years, he moved to Greeley and got a job at the Monfort Beef plant, where the pay was higher. He trimmed hides after they came up from the kill floor, cutting off the legs and heads, lifting them up with mechanical assistance, and placing the hides on a hook. It was one of the most difficult jobs in the plant. Each hide weighed about 180 pounds, and he lifted more than 300 of them every hour. He was good at his job and became a “floater,” used by his supervisor to fill in for absent workers. Lopez’s hands and shoulders were sore at the end of the day, but for two years and two months he suffered no injuries.
At about seven in the morning on November 22, 1999, Lopez was substituting for an absent worker, standing on a four-foot-high platform, pulling hides from a tank of water that was washing blood and dirt off them. The hides were suspended on hooks from a moving chain. The room was cold and foggy, and it was difficult to see clearly. There were problems somewhere up ahead on the line, but the chain kept moving, and Lopez felt pressure to keep up. One of his steel-mesh gloves suddenly got snagged in the chain, and it dragged him down the line toward bloody, filthy water that was three feet deep. Lopez grabbed the chain with his free hand and screamed for help. Someone ran to another room and took an extraordinary step: He shut down the line. The arm caught in the chain, Lopez’s left one, was partially crushed. He lost more than three pints of blood and almost bled to death. He was rushed to a hospital in Denver, endured the first of many operations, and survived. Five months later, Lopez was still in enormous pain and heavily medicated. Nevertheless, he says, a company doctor ordered him back to work. His previous supervisor no longer worked at the plant. Lopez was told that the man had simply walked off the job and quit one day, feeling upset about the accident.
I recently visited Lopez on a lovely spring afternoon. His modest apartment is just a quarter mile down the road from the slaughterhouse. The living room is meticulously neat and clean, filled with children’s toys and a large glass display case of Native American curios. Lopez now works in the nurse’s office at the plant, handling files. Every day he sees how injured workers are treated—given some Tylenol and then sent back to the line—and worries that ConAgra is now planning to get rid of him. His left arm hangs shriveled and lifeless in a sling. It is a deadweight that causes severe pain in his neck and back. Lopez wants the company to pay for an experimental operation that might restore some movement to the arm. The alternative could be amputation. ConAgra will say only that it is weighing the various medical options. Lopez is 26 years old and believes his arm will work again. “Every night, I pray for this operation,” he says, maintaining a polite and dignified facade. A number of times during our conversation, he suddenly gets up and leaves the room. His wife, Silvia, stays behind, sitting across from me on the couch, holding their one-year-old son in her arms. Their three-year-old daughter happily wanders in and out to the porch. Every time the front door swings open for her, a light breeze from the north brings the smell of death into the room.
The meatpacking companies refuse to comment on the cases of individual employees like Raul Lopez, but insist they have a sincere interest in the well-being of their workers. Health and safety, they maintain, are the primary concerns of every supervisor, foreman, nurse, medical claims examiner, and company-approved doctor. “It is in our best interest to take care of our workers and ensure that they are protected and able to work every day,” says Janet M. Riley, a vice president of the American Meat Institute, the industry’s trade association. “We are very concerned about improving worker safety. It is absolutely to our benefit.”
The validity of such claims is measured best in Texas, where the big meatpackers have the most freedom to do as they please. In many ways, the true heart of the industry lies in Texas. About one-quarter of the cattle slaughtered every year in the United States—roughly 9 million animals—are processed in Texas meatpacking plants. One of the state’s U.S. senators, Phil Gramm, is the industry’s most powerful ally in Congress. His wife, Wendy Lee, sits on the board of IBP. The state courts and the legislature have also been friendly to the industry. Indeed, many injured meatpacking workers in Texas now face a system that has been devised not only to prevent any independent scrutiny of their medical needs, but also to prevent them from suing for on-the-job injuries.
In the early years of the 20th century, public outrage over the misfortune of industrial workers hurt on the job prompted legislatures throughout the United States to enact workers’ compensation laws. Workers’ comp was intended to be a form of mandatory, no-fault insurance. In return for surrendering the legal right to sue their employer for damages, injured workers were guaranteed immediate access to medical care, steady income while they recuperated, and disability payments. All 50 states eventually passed workers’ comp legislation of one sort or another, creating systems in which employers generally obtained private insurance and any disputes were resolved by publicly appointed officials.
Recent efforts by business groups to “reform” workers’ comp have made it more difficult for injured employees to obtain payments. In Colorado, the first “workers’ comp reform” bill was sponsored in 1990 by Tom Norton, a conservative state senator from Greeley. His wife, Kay, was a vice president at ConAgra Red Meat at the time. Under Colorado’s new law, which places limits on compensation, the maximum payment for losing an arm is $37,738. Losing a digit brings you anywhere from $2,400 to $9,312, depending on whether it’s a middle finger, a pinkie, or a thumb.
The meatpacking companies have a vested interest in keeping workers’ comp payments as low as possible. IBP, Excel, and ConAgra are all self-insured. Every dime spent on injured workers in such programs is one less dime in profits. Slaughterhouse supervisors and foremen, whose annual bonuses are usually tied to the injury rate of their workers, often discourage people from reporting injuries or seeking first aid. The packinghouse culture encourages keeping quiet and laboring in pain. Assignments to “light duty” frequently punish an injured worker by cutting the hourly wage and forbidding overtime. When an injury is visible and impossible to deny—an amputation, a severe laceration, a chemical burn—companies generally don’t contest a worker’s claim or try to avoid medical payments. But when injuries are less obvious or workers seem uncooperative, companies often block every attempt to seek benefits. It can take injured workers as long as three years to get their medical bills paid. From a purely financial point of view, the company has a strong incentive to delay every payment in order to encourage a less-expensive settlement. Getting someone to quit is even more profitable—an injured worker who walks away from the job is no longer eligible for any benefits. It is not uncommon to find injured workers assigned to meaningless or unpleasant tasks as a form of retaliation, a clear message to leave. They are forced to sit all day watching an emergency exit or to stare at gauges amid the stench in rendering.
In Texas, meatpacking firms don’t have to manipulate the workers’ comp system—they don’t even have to participate in it. The Texas Workers Compensation Reform Act of 1989 allowed private companies to drop out of the state’s workers’ comp system. Although the law gave injured workers the right to sue employers that had left the system, that provision was later rendered moot. When a worker is injured at an IBP plant in Texas, for example, he or she is immediately presented with a waiver. It reads: “I have been injured at work and want to apply for the payments offered by IBP to me under its Workplace Injury Settlement Program. To qualify, I must accept the rules of the Program. I have been given a copy of the Program summary. I accept the Program.”
Signing the waiver means forever surrendering your right—and the right of your family and heirs—to sue IBP on any grounds. Workers who sign the waiver may receive immediate medical care under IBP’s program. Or they may not. Once they sign, IBP and its company-approved doctors have control over the worker’s job-related medical treatment—for life. Under the program’s terms, seeking treatment from an independent physician can be grounds for losing all medical benefits. If the worker objects to any decision, the dispute can be submitted to an IBP-approved arbitrator. The company has said the waivers are designed “to more effectively ensure quality medical care for employees injured on the job.” Workers who refuse to sign the IBP waiver not only risk getting no medical care from the company, but also risk being fired on the spot. In February 1998, the Texas Supreme Court ruled that companies operating outside the state’s workers’ comp system can fire workers simply because they’re injured.
Today, an IBP worker who gets hurt on the job in Texas faces a tough dilemma: Sign the waiver, perhaps receive immediate medical attention, and remain beholden, forever, to IBP. Or refuse to sign, risk losing your job, receive no help with your medical bills, file a lawsuit, and hope to win a big judgment against the company someday. Injured workers almost always sign the waiver. The pressure to do so is immense. An IBP medical case manager will literally bring the waiver to a hospital emergency room in order to obtain an injured worker’s signature. Karen Olsson, in a fine investigative piece for the Texas Observer, described the lengths to which Terry Zimmerman, one of IBP’s managers, will go to get a signed waiver. When Lonita Leal’s right hand was mangled by a hamburger grinder at the IBP plant in Amarillo, Zimmerman talked her into signing the waiver with her left hand, as she waited in the hospital for surgery. When Duane Mullin had both hands crushed in a hammer mill at the same plant, Zimmerman persuaded him to sign the waiver with a pen held in his mouth.
Unlike IBP, Excel does not need to get a signed waiver after an injury in Texas. Its waiver is included in the union contract that many workers unwittingly sign upon being hired. Once they’re injured, these workers often feel as much anger toward the union as they do toward their employer. In March, the Texas Supreme Court upheld the legality of such waivers, declaring that the “freedom of contract” gave Americans the ability to sign away their common-law rights. Before the waiver became part of the standard contract, Excel was held accountable, every so often, for its behavior.
Hector Reyes is one of the few who has managed to do something productive with his sense of betrayal. For 25 years, his father was a maintenance worker at the Excel plant in Friona, Texas, a couple of hours southwest of Amarillo. As a teen-ager, Reyes liked to work in the plant’s warehouse, doing inventory. He’d grown up around the slaughterhouse. He later became a Golden Gloves champion boxer and went to work for Excel in 1997, at the age of 25, to earn money while he trained. One day he was asked to clean some grease from the blowers in the trolley room. Reyes did as he was told, climbing a ladder in the loud, steam-filled room and wiping the overhead blowers clean. But one of the blowers lacked a proper cover—and in an instant the blade shredded four of the fingers on Reyes’ left hand. He climbed down the ladder and yelled for help, but nobody would come near him, as blood flew from the hand. So Reyes got himself to the nurse’s office, where he was immediately asked to provide a urine sample. In shock and in pain, he couldn’t understand why they needed his urine so badly. Try as he might, he couldn’t produce any. The nurse called an ambulance, but said he wouldn’t receive any painkillers until he peed in a cup. Reyes later realized that if he’d failed the urine test, Excel would not have been obligated to pay any of his medical bills. This demand for urine truly added insult to injury: Reyes was in training and never took drugs. He finally managed to urinate and received some medication. The drug test later came back negative.
On his fourth night in a Lubbock hospital, Reyes was awakened around midnight and told to report for work the next morning in Friona, two hours away. His wife would have to drive, but she was three months pregnant. Reyes refused to leave the hospital until the following day. For the next three months, he simply sat in a room at the Excel plant with other injured workers or filed papers for eight hours a day, then drove to Lubbock for an hour of physical therapy and an hour of wound cleaning before heading home. “You’ve already cost the company too much money,” he recalls one supervisor telling him. Reyes desperately wanted to quit but knew he’d lose all his medical benefits if he did. He became suicidal, despondent about the end of his boxing career and his disfigurement. Since the union had not yet included a waiver in its Excel contract, Reyes was able to sue the company for failing to train him properly and for disregarding OSHA safety guidelines. In 1999, he won a rare legal victory: $879,312.25 in actual damages and $1 million in punitive damages. Under the current Excel contract, that sort of victory is impossible to achieve.
Federal safety laws were intended to protect workers from harm, regardless of the vagaries of state laws like those in Texas. OSHA is unlikely, however, to do anything for meatpacking workers in the near future. The agency has fewer than 1,200 inspectors to examine the safety risks at the nation’s roughly 7 million workplaces. The maximum OSHA fine for the death of a worker due to an employer’s willful negligence is $70,000—an amount that hardly strikes fear in the hearts of agribusiness executives whose companies have annual revenues that are measured in the tens of billions. One of President George W. Bush’s first acts in office was to rescind an OSHA ergonomics standard on repetitive-motion injuries that the agency had been developing for nearly a decade. His move was applauded by IBP and the American Meat Institute.
The new chairman of the House Subcommittee on Workforce Protections, which oversees all legislation pertaining to OSHA, is Rep. Charles Norwood, a Republican from Georgia. Norwood was an outspoken supporter of the OSHA Reform Act of 1997—a bill that would have effectively abolished the agency. Norwood, a former dentist, became politically active in the early 1990s out of a sense of outrage that OSHA regulations designed to halt the spread of AIDS were forcing him to wear fresh rubber gloves for each new patient. He has publicly suggested that many workers get repetitive-stress injuries not from their jobs, but from skiing and playing too much tennis.
For Kevin Glasheen, one of the few Texas attorneys willing to battle IBP, the plight of America’s meatpacking workers is “a fundamental failure of capitalism.” By failing to pay the medical bills of injured workers, he says, large meatpackers are routinely imposing their business costs on the rest of society, much as utilities polluted the air a generation ago without much regard to the consequences for those who breathed it. Rod Rehm, an attorney who defends many Latino meatpacking workers in Nebraska, believes that two key changes could restore the effectiveness of most workers’ comp plans. Allowing every worker to select his or her own physician would liberate medical care from the dictates of the meatpacking companies and the medical staff they control. More important, Rehm argues, these companies should not be permitted to insure themselves. If independent underwriters had to insure the meatpackers, the threat of higher insurance premiums would quickly get the attention of the meatpacking industry—and force it to take safety issues seriously.
Until fundamental changes are made, the same old stories will unfold. Michael Glover is still awaiting payment from IBP, his employer for more than two decades. For 16 of those years, Glover worked as a splitter in the company’s Amarillo plant. Every 20 to 30 seconds, a carcass would swing toward him on a chain. He would take “one heavy heavy power saw” and cut upward, slicing the animal in half before it went into the cooler. The job took strength, agility, and good aim. The carcasses had to be sliced exactly through the middle. One after another they came at him, about a thousand pounds each, all through the day.
On the morning of September 30, 1996, after splitting his first carcass, Glover noticed vibrations in the steel platform beneath him. A maintenance man checked the platform and found a bolt missing, but told Glover it was safe to keep working until it was replaced. Moments later, the platform collapsed as Glover was splitting a carcass. He dropped about seven feet and shattered his right knee. While he lay on the ground and workers tried to find help, the chain kept going as two other splitters picked up the slack. Glover was taken in a wheelchair to the nurse’s station, where he went into shock in the hallway and fell unconscious. He sat in that hall for almost four hours before being driven to an outpatient clinic. A full seven hours after the accident, Glover was finally admitted to a hospital. He spent the next six days there. His knee was too badly shattered to be repaired; no screws would hold; the bone was broken into too many pieces.
An artificial knee was later inserted. Glover suffered through enormous pain and a series of complications: blood clots, ulcers, phlebitis. Nevertheless, he says, IBP pressured him to return to work in a wheelchair during the middle of winter. On snowy days, several men had to carry him into the plant. Once it became clear that his injury would never fully heal, Glover thinks IBP decided to get rid of him. But he refused to quit and lose all his medical benefits. He was given a series of humiliating jobs. For a month, Glover sat in the men’s room at the plant for eight hours a day, ordered by his supervisor to make sure no dirty towels or toilet paper remained on the floor.
“Michael Glover played by IBP’s rules,” says his attorney, James H. Woods, a fierce critic of the Texas workers’ comp system. The day of his accident, Glover had signed the waiver, surrendering any right to sue the company. Instead, he filed for arbitration under IBP’s Workplace Injury Settlement Program. Last year, on November 3, Glover was fired by IBP. Twelve days later, his arbitration hearing convened. The arbitrator, an Amarillo lawyer named Tad Fowler, was selected by IBP. Glover sought money for his pain and suffering, as well as lifetime payments from the company. He’d always been a hardworking and loyal employee. Now he had no medical insurance. His only income was $250 a week in unemployment. He’d fallen behind in his rent and worried that his family would be evicted from their home.
On December 20, Fowler issued his decision. He granted Glover no lifetime payments but awarded him $350,000 for pain and suffering. Glover was elated, briefly. Even though its workplace-injury settlement program clearly states that “the arbitrator’s decision is final and binding,” the company so far has refused to pay him. IBP claims that by signing the waiver, Glover forfeited any right to compensation for “physical pain, mental anguish, disfigurement, or loss of enjoyment of life.” IBP has even refused to pay its own arbitrator for his services, and Fowler is now suing the company to get his fee. He has been informed that IBP will never hire him again for an arbitration.
Glover’s case is now in federal court. He is a proud man with a strong philosophical streak. He faces the possibility of another knee replacement or of amputation. “How can this company fire me after 23-and-one-half years of service,” he asks, “after an accident due to no fault of my own, and requiring so much radical surgery, months and months of pain and suffering, and nothing to look forward to but more pain and suffering, and refuse to pay me an award accrued through its own program?”
There is no good answer to his question. The simple answer is that IBP can do it because the laws allow them to do it. Michael Glover is just one of thousands of meatpacking workers who’ve been mistreated and then discarded. There is nothing random or inscrutable about their misery; it is the logical outcome of the industry’s practices. A lack of public awareness, a lack of outrage, have allowed these abuses to continue, one after another, with a machine-like efficiency. This chain must be stopped. …. https://www.motherjones.com/politics/2001/07/dangerous-meatpacking-jobs-eric-schlosser/

 

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