Myths and Facts

Myths about the meat and poultry industry are often reported as fact by the news media and others. Below are some myths and facts about our work places, work force and industry.

Meat packing plants are the same as portrayed in Upton Sinclair's The Jungle.

The meat and poultry industry's fatality rate is one of the highest in the world.

The meat and poultry industry employs a large number of undocumented workers who have come to the U.S. illegally.

Wages in meat plants are low.

Line speeds at meat plants are too fast and contribute to injuries.

Injury rates in the industry are among the highest in the country.

Union membership in the industry is minimal and generally not encouraged by management.

The industry benefits from high employee turnover.

Employees are provided dull knives that increase their risk of repetitive motion injuries.
Employees must take knives home in the evening to sharpen them.


Meat packing plants are the same as portrayed in Upton Sinclair's The Jungle.

In the 100 years since the publication of The Jungle, a wide array of laws have been passed by Congress to enhance consumer safety, worker safety and the environment. U.S. food is among the safest in the world and Americans spend less of their disposable income on meat than any other nation in the world. The meat and poultry industry has been transformed in the last 100 years. In the industry' view, if Upton Sinclair were alive today, he'd be amazed by the U.S. meat and poultry industry. top


The meat industry's fatality rate is one of the highest in the world.

Fatal injuries in the meat industry (2.78 fatalities per 100,000 workers in 2007) are lower than the average for all private industry categories (3.9 fatalities per 100,000 workers). This rate is also much lower than many other industry groups, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In comparison with other industries, fishers and related workers had a fatality rates of 141.7 fatalities per 100,000 workers, the highest among all industry groups. Aircraft pilots and flight engineers had 87.8 fatalities per 100,000 workers, logging workers had 82.3 fatalities per 100,000 workers and structural iron/steel workers had 66.1 fatalities per 100,000 workers. top


The meat industry employs a large number of undocumented workers who have come to the U.S. illegally.

The industry benefits from a legal and stable workforce. Meat companies take a variety of steps to ensure that job applicants are eligible to work in the U.S. Among the tools commonly used is the federal Basic Pilot program, an online system that allows employers to check a workers' eligibility to work. The meat and poultry industry embraced the program when it was tested in a limited number of states and fought to ensure Congress authorized extension of the program nationwide. top


Wages in meat plants are low.

As of 2007, the most recent year of data available, workers in meat and poultry plants averaged about $13.34/hour, and typically worked a 40 hour week.  This wage compares favorably with a number of other occupations, and is nearly double the U.S. minimum wage.  Benefits include health insurance, life insurance, disability insurance, wellness programs, pension/401K plans, educational assistance, and other programs.  As workforce needs are not expected to diminish in the industry, continued emphasis on providing competitive wages and benefits will remain an issue of great importance.

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Line speeds at meat plants are too fast and contribute to injuries.
 
USDA sets limits on how fast lines can move. However, the speed of the line is determined by how the line is staffed. USDA inspectors, present at all times in plants, can reduce line speeds if they belief they are not staffed sufficiently to ensure compliance with federal rules.

Companies benefit when line speeds are set appropriately so they ensure optimal worker safety, food safety and food quality. top


Injury rates in the industry are among the highest in the country.

Injury rates in meat plants have declined steadily since worker safety was declared a non-competitive issue in the early 1990s and now stand at the lowest level ever recorded, according to 2007 data. Over the last 17 years, injury/illness rates at meat processing operations have improved by more than 70 percent.  top


Union membership in the industry is minimal and generally not encouraged by management.

According to an estimate by the United Food and Commercial Workers union, 60 percent of meat packing employees are represented by the union. This compares to the overall U.S. private sector representation rate of 7.9 percent. top


The industry benefits from high employee turnover.

The industry benefits from stability and strives to prevent turnover. Member companies estimate that they spend several thousand dollars to equip and train new employees in safety principles and other aspects of work in a meat plant. Preventing turnover has distinct benefits; turnover increases, not decreases, costs. top


Employees are provided dull knives that increase their risk of repetitive motion injuries.
Employees must take knives home in the evening to sharpen them.

Knives are sharpened in plant sharpening stations. Employees may not remove knives or other equipment from plants. Companies benefit by providing workers with freshly sharpened knives that ensure that carcasses and meat cuts may be cut with precision. top

 
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