Factory Farms Are Repeat Offenders

Scratch the surface of a food offender whether they abuse the environment, workers, animals, the public trust or public funds and you usually find they are repeat offenders.

Nebraska Beef, the Omaha, NE-based supplier Whole Foods says it didn’t know its supplier Coleman Natural Foods was using (right) recalled more than five million pounds of beef to other customers in seven states weeks before the Whole Foods recall of 1.2 million pounds that sickened seven.

In 2002 and 2003, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) shut Nebraska Beef down three times for feces on carcasses, water dripping off pipes onto meat, paint peeling onto equipment and other non-hygienic embellishments.

And in 2004 and 2005, Nebraska Beef was cited five times for failing to remove potentially mad cow-infected spinal cords and heads from its products–changing the store’s moniker from Whole Paycheck to Whole Head at least for a while.

Then there’s the pride of Arkansas, Tyson Foods, where the chicken is cheap and the fish are dead.

Tyson was barely off probation for 20 federal violations of the Clean Water Act in 2003 when it was called back to a Tulsa, OK courtroom for polluting the Illinois River watershed this spring.

In the last year Tyson was also fined $339,500 by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) for safety and health violations at its Noel, MO plant, charged by shareholders and Amalgamated Bank with spring-loading $4.5 million in options and forbidden by the Department of Agriculture from terming its ionophores-grown chickens “raised without antibiotics.”

No wonder Tyson is gravitating toward China which won’t notice a little chicken effluvium in its water.

Then there’s the former DeCoster Egg Farms, now Maine Contract Farming LLC, where nose plugs and flyswatters have been the de facto new neighbor kit for thirty years.

In August, OSHA cited Maine Contract Farming in Turner, ME with sending workers into a partially collapsed building at the same site where workers were found living in rat and sewage infested company housing in 1996.

Last year, five years after owner Austin “Jack” DeCoster pled guilty to “the continued employment of illegal immigrants,” federal immigration agents arrested 51 workers at the DeCoster egg processing plant near Clarion, IA the site where an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) lawsuit says Mexican women workers were raped at knifepoint in 2001.

And then there’s pork offenders.

Northfield, MN-based Holden Farms Inc. let 400 sows and an undetermined amount of piglets burn to death at its Dexter, MN facility in July–just a year and a half after 5,000 trapped pigs burned to death at its Northfield operation while firemen were unable to breach the confinement structures used on factory farms.

“This reminds me of the Shepherd’s Way fire in February, 2005 [in which hundreds of sheep were killed] where no arrests were made in the arson,” wrote Northfield.org blogger Alexander J. Beeby. “I wonder if there is any potential relation between the fires. Second, why were they keeping 6,500 pigs in one barn? That sounds like a pretty intensive operation that raises its own concerns about humaneness.”

Nor is Beeby excessively skeptical in light of revelations that a new, oversized Holden confinement farm in Mower County was developed by Lowell Franzen, the ex-county feedlot enforcement officer stripped of his duties last year because of his dealings with Holden Farms, and sold to Holden Farms in an apparent less-than-arm’s-length transaction.

Of course repeat food offenders couldn’t abuse the environment, workers, animals and the public without a steady stream of undocumented workers.

Undocumented workers–and their children as seen in May at the kosher meat packer Agriprocessors in Postville, IA–are afraid to quit, complain or whistle blow.

Big meat is predicated on undocumented workers and without them the US couldn’t afford its own cheap meat habit.

No wonder Agriprocessors–half of whose work force was found to be undocumented and unceremoniously frog marched off to jail–is now canvassing homeless shelters and bus stations for able bodied workers.

Unfortunately, Agriprocessors will discover what Smithfield Foods learned when it tried to hire prisoners from the local jail to work in its hog plants in 2000 and they quit.

Some things are worse than jail.

Martha Rosenberg is a columnist/cartoonist who writes about public health. Her first book, titled Born with a Junk Food Deficiency: How Flaks, Quacks and Hacks Pimp the Public Health, has just been released by Prometheus Books. She can be reached at: martharosenberg@sbcglobal.net. Read other articles by Martha.

9 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Rich Griffin said on August 28th, 2008 at 8:39am #

    Thank you for yet another excellent article!!!

    My hope is that more and more human beings will recognize the ethical, environmental, and health benefits of a vegan diet. It is frustrating when human beings continue to stay deluded and cling to their eating habits without thought to how it impacts on others. One person at a time, one day at a time, I can imagine a world where we no longer behave so insanely.

  2. cg said on August 28th, 2008 at 9:26am #

    “As long as there are slaughterhouses there will be battlefields.”
    Leo Tolstoy

    “For as long as men massacre animals, they will kill each other. Indeed, he who sows the seed of murder and pain cannot reap joy and love.”

    “The time will come when men such as I will look upon the murder of animals as they now look on the murder of men.”
    Leonardo da Vinci

    “What is it that should trace the insuperable line? …The question is not, Can they reason? nor, Can they talk? but, Can they suffer?”
    Jeremy Bentham

    “Nothing will benefit human health and increase chances of survival for life on earth as much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet.”
    Albert Einstein

    “You have just dined, and however scrupulously the slaughterhouse is concealed in the graceful distance of miles, there is complicity.”
    Ralph Waldo Emerson

  3. bozhidar balkas said on August 28th, 2008 at 9:49am #

    i eat little meat. i wld eat less or stop eating meat if i can persuade my wife to buy just enough meat for self.
    however, she cooks pounds of it every day. i can’t throw it away.
    she’s 77 now and no longer of listening age. thank u

  4. Serafina said on August 29th, 2008 at 7:21am #

    Martha – Thanks so much for this important article. I work with many undocumented mushroom farm workers in PA – and though it might not be the flesh industry – we live and see all the connections you make about the abuse of power that happens to the animals, the workers, to women, to the environment – it is an interconnected web of oppression that can not be seperated – anyone concerned with one of these issues must be concerned with all to truely allievate the suffering and injustice.

    I appreciate that you use the word undocumented and not the “right-wing” term “illegal ” to describe workers who have crossed a border to toil here. In doing this you help humanize a group of people that the US government and many others are treating without regard to their humanity – similarly to how they deem animals should be treated.

  5. Lee Hall said on August 30th, 2008 at 8:52pm #

    Thank you for the article, Martha; and I appreciate the follow-up discussion. (Hoorah for the new DV website!) A few additional thoughts to add to Serafina’s, regarding respect for migrants.

    Border walls and border violence take a terrible toll on migrants — be they non-human or human beings. Borders deceive us. They serve as proof that the country exists and divide our lives into us and them and rob us of our freedom to travel over the face of the earth. Borders dictate which side one is on and enable wars to take place, and wars may depend on seeing the non-citizen as illegal, or as non-persons. The idea that some are fully human and some are something less often dictates who will be killed or caged. The wealthy can, in some cases,
    buy proof of their humanity and the freedom to travel but most cannot, so borders punish the financially poor. As animal-rights activists, we have something unique to say about seeing through borders and about the false basis of social arrangements built on the idea of imagining us and them.

  6. William said on September 23rd, 2008 at 12:55pm #

    Of course big business is the devil with a parking lot. But there is no way to continue our way of life (especially if you like bacon and burgers) without it. Try to go for one month without buying ANYTHING from a big business, including gasoline. You will end up paying more and getting less for your money. It is unfortunate that we have to give in to it, but that’s life. I try to support ‘mom&pop’ merchants as must as possible. However, there are some things you have to buy from big business. By the way, this article and every post here was written on a computer that was assembled by sweat shop workers in China (unless you have an Alienware computer), be careful what you protest and who you point fingers at…we are ALL guilty! P.S. Alienware is a perfect example. I am writing this right now on a Toshiba laptop that was made in China (sez so on the bottom). It cost about $500. It is your average laptop: Pentium Dual-Core, 1.86 Ghz, 160 GB, dvd burner, 15.4 widescreen, etc…An equivalent laptop from Alienware (which would be their cheapest one–bone stock) is about $2000. Yeah, they’re made in Florida by adults. But if we, Americans, really cared about humanity why do we overcharge for it?

  7. Berkana said on February 13th, 2009 at 6:28pm #

    @ William

    You may be right that we have to buy SOME things from big business, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to have an impact by avoiding what we can. There’s no excuse for what big business does, but there’s also no excuse for us to sit around and do nothing.

    We can ALL make a difference, but with an attitude like yours, nothing will get better.

  8. Bob said on July 13th, 2009 at 11:06am #

    I live about 10 miles from the Holden site in Dexter, mn. and i have been in the pork industry myself my entire life. Instences like the fire that occured and the livestock’s deaths are very tragic and no one is arguing that. It was not holden’s fault. If you had any idea of the amount of money lost over the fires you would understand that having facilities burn to the ground is not in Holden’s best interest. Meat production is a buisness and an industry. It is the way it is and will be!! People need to eat. Just like anything else there are right ways of doing things and wrong ways. Corporate sized farms generally cannot hire the quality of management required to opperate in the same way as more local family owned opperations. Size of facilities, number of head in each room, weather all the pigs have a name or not does not separate a humane opperation over one that is not. I have seen the bad raps on the news, most people do not understand that the number of farms opperating inhumanely is very few! But if one farm makes it on the news saying 400 sows burned in a building it appears that everyone assumes that every other producer wants wants to engauge in malpractices on some 3 million sows nation wide. completely rediculious. If livestock is not healthy happy and content they are not eating they are not growing and the producer is not making money they are soon out of business. Poor management will not survive. reguardless if a fractional percentage wants to stop eating the most abundant sorce of potien available. i could go on all day but im done here. take it first hand from a quality pork producer if you have a problem with the way the entire industry is opperated chances are you are highly uninformed of the majority and you just saw a news program that singled out a bad manager and stereotyped the entire insustry.

  9. Steve Baker said on August 26th, 2009 at 6:50pm #

    I am a U.S pork producer in Ohio are hogs are not mistreated. We keep sows in gestation crates where they don’t have to fight over food and they are happy. If an animal is not happy they are not productive. People need to back off farmers and let us produce food because people will always eat meat. Agriculture is the biggest employer in the United States and brings alot of money in to local,state,and the federal goverment. People should not let peta and other animal rights groups fill there heads full of lies about what goes on in farms. Most farms treat there animals well god put animals on earth for people to eat and I don’t agree with Animal abuse those farm that abuse animals should be shut down.