Meatpacking and Slaughterhouse Workers
The United States, despite a growing trend of reduced meat consumption, maintains its status as the world’s highest per-capita consumer of meat. This voracious demand requires the annual slaughter of nearly 9.5 billion animals within the country, a task that disproportionately burdens a relatively small number of industrialized slaughterhouses, largely controlled by a handful of large corporations. These 800 federally-inspected slaughterhouses shoulder the responsibility of processing the animals that contribute to the majority of the nation’s 52 billion pounds of domestically-produced meat. However, the workers in these facilities grapple with an increasingly demanding workload and the necessity to operate at extreme line speeds. In an average cattle slaughterhouse, for instance, the “knocker,” responsible for stunning or killing each cow, processes approximately 2,500 animals per day, equivalent to one cow every twelve seconds.
This high-pressure environment, characterized by violent, physically demanding work at increasingly accelerated speeds, has made animal slaughter one of the most hazardous occupations in the United States. In 2015, 5.4 percent of slaughterhouse workers experienced job-related injuries or illnesses, and a significant number of these injuries were severe. A 31-week period from 2015-2017 reported 550 “serious” injuries in US slaughterhouses, including 270 incidents that led to amputations. Workers who do not suffer a severe acute injury are still at a disproportionately high risk of developing long-term conditions due to the repetitive and strenuous nature of their work.