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US Producers Abusers of Worker and Animals

US Food Producers Seen As Repeat Abusers of Workers and Animals


By Martha Rosenberg

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 indicted in Whole Foods' August recall of five million pounds of beef recalled 1.2 million pounds of beef in seven states just weeks earlier in an E. coli outbreak 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 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 operations in 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 fly swatters 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 the very county feedlot officer charged with enforcing regulations, Lowell Franzen, and sold to Holden Farms in an apparent less-than-arm's-length transaction.

Franzen was stripped of his duties last year because of alleged conflicts of interest with Holden Farms.

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 where underage children were employed--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 North Carolina in 2000 and they quit.

Some things are worse than jail.

*************

Martha Rosenberg, Staff Cartoonist, Evanston Roundtable.

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