Every year, Americans consume 8 billion chickens. While 30 years ago, most Americans bought their chicken whole, today 90 percent are purchased as cut-up parts or processed into nuggets or strips. Poultry plant employees put in long hours to meet that demand. Paid an average wage of about $13.76 an hour, these workers faced pre-pandemic injury rates 60 percent higher than the national average, and illness rates five times as high, Berkowitz notes. Some repeat the same motion 20,000 times a day.
“Line speed is to blame for many injuries—acute lacerations and amputations, which run rampant, and also repetitive strain injuries,” says Stuesse, a cultural anthropologist at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.
“This industry is never going to regulate itself. The only hope for a more ethical food system is more government intervention and regulation. At the same time, the industry has a lot of political power, and that is why the work NELP does is so, so, so important,” she says.