What Do Immigration and Religion Have To Do With The Price Of Meat? Everything!

Orthodox Jews and Latinos are clashing in Postville, IA. Somalis and Latinos are clashing in Shelbyville TN. Somalis, Latinos and Sudanese are clashing in Grand Island, NE. And you’d think it has nothing to do with slaughterhouses.

It’s about prayer breaks during Ramadan, paid holidays, cultural clashes and “assimilation into the American melting pot,” say news reports. Not the $8 an hour knocker, sticker, bleeder, tail ripper, flanker, gutter, sawer, and plate boner slaughterhouse jobs that even Americans prisoners on work release won’t do.

Since US immigration officials began plucking 2,000 illegal Latino workers from meat packing plants in late 2006, hundreds of Somalis have taken up the cudgel, pun intended.

Unfortunately, it has led to new problems.

When Tyson Foods made Eid al-Fitr instead of Labor Day a paid holiday for Somali workers at its Shelbyville, TN plant in August there was such a backlash from other workers, they had to reverse the decision.

When JBS Swift’s Grand Island, NE plant gave striking Somali workers the concession of an earlier dinner break so they could pray at sunset, it sparked a counter demonstration of whites, Hispanics and Sudanese workers charging favoritism.

Prayer rights have conflagrated at the JBS Swift plant in Greeley, CO and Gold’n Plump poultry processor plants in Cold Spring and Arcadia, WI.

And the death of a slaughterhouse worker from TB at a Tyson Foods slaughterhouse in 2007–the employee was reported as “injured while helping prepare an animal for slaughter”–brought tempers to a froth in Emporia, KN.

“Was Tyson attempting to deceive the public as to the reason or cause for this employee’s death?” asked a commentator on the Emporia Gazette‘s web site.

“When the Gazette ran a story that Tyson’s was testing employees and none of them had TB…who was lying to us, the Gazette or Tyson’s?” posted another.

Entries raising questions about the safety of workers and food products at the plant followed.

The plant has since closed.

Of course the Poster Company for immigration abuse is Agriprocessors, the nation’s biggest kosher meatpacker whose Postville, IA slaughterhouse lost half of its work force to an immigration raid in May.

Agriprocessors was filmed ripping conscious cows’ tracheas out with meat hooks in defiance of kosher slaughter laws in 2004 and again in 2008 after “reforming” by humane investigators.

But it took criminal charges for employing children–“They have kids in there wielding buzz saws and cleavers,” said President-elect Obama on a Davenport, IA visit– $10 million in fines for wage violations, reports of employee sexual abuse and the arrest of CEO Sholom Rabashkin in November for authorities to realize when it comes to ethics where there’s smoke there’s fire.

Still, read about the “diverse” work force in Postville before the bankruptcy and you’d think you were reading a Steinbeck novel.

You’d think the robed Somalis and Hasidic Jews, “beetle nut spitting” Palauans and Guatemalans in post-arrest ankle bracelets as the Des Moines Register describes them were gathered for an international film festival instead of to disembowel animals for $6 an hour.

You’d think the Somalis and Palauans were in Iowa for the crisp fall air instead of as the result of a concerted campaign by Big Meat to hire two cheap labors pools allowed to work legally in the US due to special arrangements with the government.

The story is not about the niceties of religious observance, cultural assimilation and the wonders of the melting pot in small towns in America that happen to have slaughterhouses.

It’s about jobs that can only be filled with children, people with TB, African refugees and Pacific islanders used to earning $2.50 an hour.

It’s about the fact that America cannot afford its cheap meat habit without imported labor.

It’s about what’s for dinner.

Martha Rosenberg is a columnist/cartoonist who writes about public health. Her latest book is Big Food, Big Pharma, Big Lies (2023). Her first book was Born with a Junk Food Deficiency: How Flaks, Quacks and Hacks Pimp the Public Health. She can be reached at: martharosenberg@sbcglobal.net. Read other articles by Martha.

2 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. brian said on November 10th, 2008 at 3:09pm #

    This doesn’t have a darn thing to do with eating meat. Almost all hard labor in the ag sector — meat, vegetable and fruit — is done by immigrants, many of whom are illegal.

    This story actually is about Americans not being willing to do hard manual labor $6 an hour.

  2. Grace Weaver said on November 24th, 2008 at 10:43pm #

    Meat, dairy and egg consumers do not want to face the unimaginable horror and suffering of animals, confined, castrated, debeaked (etc) and all too soon slaughtered for their flesh. The ramifications of this brutal relationship of human to non human animal are far reaching.

    The meat, dairy and egg industry workers are injured and killed more than any other workers. In addition, the mostly black, female and immigrant laborers are exploited more than any other workers. Cutting into a live sentient being, spilling her vitals, while her eyelids are still blinking, these acts cause long lasting psychological damage.

    I appreciated the article because it presented the relationship between killing and cruelty to feeling, breathing animals and the hardships of workers doing these jobs.

    We humans are herbivores by physiology and anatomy. Our bodies are not designed to be graveyards for dead animals (as George Bernard Shaw put it), nor for their milk or eggs. Consuming animals and animals products is the number one cause of all the major and minor diseases (cancer, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, obesity, impotence ~ you name it – who needs it?!)(For evidence of this, please read “The China Study: the most comprehensive nutritional study ever conducted,” (a national best seller and labeled “the grand prix of epidemiological studies by the NY Times.))

    Not only do the meat, dairy and egg industries cause needless (since we’re herbivores) suffering to the animals and disease and imbalance to humans, but in addition, the consumption of animal carcasses and products abstracted from animals is the number one cause of the accelerating destruction of our planet.

    This includes through deforestation, soil erosion, pollution of our air, land and water, misuse of resources (including land, water and petroleum (1/3 of all petroleum goes to the meat, dairy and egg industries) and finally through catastrophic climate change (usually referred to as global warming)(methane and nitrous oxide gases from the animals and their poops are 286 times more gwp (global warming producing) than all the cars, power plants and carbon dioxide emissions put together!) For more info on this, please see the latest IGPCC (InterGovernmental Panell on Climate Change) report, the John Hopkins University for a Sustainable Future, the Earth Save Int’l report by Yale physicist, Noam Mohr and the Chicago University study showing that switching to a Vegetarian / Vegan diet is one and a half times more effective in stopping global warming than switching from a regular car to an alternative energy fueled car (like a Prius).

    Lastly, 60,000 people die of starvation every day because most of the food grown on the planet goes to feed animals that then goes to feed people (in the wealthier nations). Eighty percent of all plant food grown in the US goes to feed animals.

    Do we need any other reasons to go vegan? Eating animal carcasses and animals’ products is cruel and exploitative to the animals; it causes them tremendous pain and suffering; we humans are herbivores so eating outside our natures causes stress and dis-ease to our bodies and shortens our life spans; it puts a burden on the ones we love and on society at large; it forces workers to commit acts that violate their natural instincts to feel compassion for other living beings; it forces workers to kill and cause pain and suffering leading to all kinds of psychological problems and social imbalance (drugs, alcohol, spousal abuse, suicide); it puts these most vulnerable members of our society at risk of injury and death at meat packing and slaughterhouse plants; it exploits these workers, depriving them of sick leave, health care and other basic workers’ rights; it lowers the wages of all workers who must compete for decent wages and working conditions; it contributes more than any other industry to the destruction of our planet and puts out entire species as well as all the others species at risk of extermination on an unsustainable planet; it causes hunger and starvation (60,000 deaths/day!); Need I go on?

    I appreciate this article for raising a few of the problems and contradictions in the meat, dairy and egg industries. Anyone concerned with social justice, the fate of our planet and its inhabitants, health and health care, etc may want to consider veganism, a healthy,(relatively) cruelty free, planet sustaining, just and loving way of living. For more info along with free recipes, health tips, shopping tips (a Vegetarian Starter Kit)(DVD or booklet – free) go to GoVeg.com.

    Thank you Martha Rosenberg for raising these concerns. May we all take heed.