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Chicken Plant Workers Say Chemicals Sprayed on Carcasses Making Them Sick

Poultry factory
Photo by Maqi.

Producing 26 million pounds of chicken a day, Georgia is the poultry capital of the nation.

The poultry industry employs over 100,000 people in the state and contributes $28 billion to the state’s economy; but U.S. Department of Agriculture inspectors and workers in poultry plants across the southeast say the process of preparing chicken for grocery store shelves has made them sick.

“This is my morning breakfast,” said former USDA inspector Sherry Medina, referring to her collection of pill bottles. Medina said her day starts with a regimen of medications and oxygen.

“I’ve never had asthma in my lifetime, was never born with it, never had it – was diagnosed in 2007,” said Medina.

Medina worked a chicken processing lines for years. As a USDA inspector, her job was to inspect chicken carcasses as they came down the line. Medina said it wasn’t until 2006 when the poultry processing plant she was working in implemented the spraying of anti-microbial treatments that she slowly started to notice health issues.

Experts on both sides of the issue explain what’s in the chemicals, why they’re being used and the alternatives being used chicken plants in other countries.

“My nose is starting to burn. I can feel my face is starting to burn. It’s burning now. My throat, chest; it never stops burning,” USDA inspector Beth Summers said describing the symptoms she suffers from as she comes to work each day.

After four years of inhaling these chemical treatments, Summers said, “My face right now…It never stops, burns all the time.”

Summers worked the same chicken processing line as Medina at a Tyson plant in Albertville, Alabama. Tyson is not the only poultry processing plant that uses these chemical compounds, it is a practice used across the country to prevent deadly bacterial outbreaks.

“The idea is to kill the salmonella,” said Dr. Mike Doyle the Director of Food Safety at the University of Georgia.

Doyle’s team works with various food industries to develop ways to detect, control and eliminate harmful bacteria. Doyle said the industry is constantly looking for effective ways to kill deadly pathogens.

“The industry it continually feeling pressure from the USDA to continually reduce the level of salmonella in poultry,” said Doyle.

“It is the industry’s little secret,” said Amanda Hitt, with the Government Accountability Project’s Food Integrity Campaign.

She said the industry is under pressure to keep the levels of deadly bacteria down, and do it in the most cost-effective way, “they just blast them with these chemicals and send them on their way to your store shelves.”

Hitt said she isn’t satisfied with the level of testing done on these chemical compounds prior to their implementation, especially when it comes to worker safety.

These anti-microbial washes can include a variety of chemical compounds, including solutions containing chlorine, Peroxyacetic acid, cetylpyridium chloride, lactic acid and others.

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