Chicken is the most popular meat in America, and the poultry industry is booming. Profits are climbing, consumer demand is growing, and executive compensation is increasing rapidly, according to a press release issued by the NGO Oxfam America.
But poultry workers: 1) earn low wages of diminishing value; 2) suffer elevated rates of injury and illness; and 3) often experience a climate of fear in the workplace, according to Oxfam.
These problems affect the entire industry, but the top four chicken companies control roughly 60 percent of the domestic market: Tyson Foods, Pilgrim’s, Perdue, and Sanderson Farms. As industry leaders, these companies can and should implement changes that will improve conditions for poultry workers across the country, said Oxfam.
In late October OSHA launched a new Regional Emphasis Program in Alabama, Florida, Georgia and Mississippi intended to prompt employers to protect poultry industry workers properly and reduce injury and illness rates.
In 2015, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported that Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi ranked first, third and fifth, respectively, among the nation's largest chicken producers, accounting for 18 of the 51 billion pounds of chicken produced in the U.S.
OSHA's emphasis program begins with a three-month period of education and prevention outreach activities to share safety and health information with employers, associations and workers. Employers are encouraged to use this period to bring their facilities into compliance with OSHA standards, if they are not already.
The agency will then begin its targeted enforcement phase, including on-site inspections and a review of poultry processing production operations, working conditions, recordkeeping, chemical handling and safety and health programs to ensure compliance.