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Terrence O’Keefe, WATT’s content director, provides his perspective on everything from animal agriculture trends that impact our food chain to food-safety related issues affecting chicken and egg production. O’Keefe has covered the poultry industry as an editor for more than a decade and also brings his experience in plant management and poultry production to comment on today’s issues.
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Counting the absurdities in the Oxfam poultry report

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Like George Costanza on 'Seinfeld' said: 'It’s not a lie if you believe it.' The same goes for the Oxfam poultry report. | www.photobucket.com

Advocacy group’s 'research' of working conditions in poultry processing plants is fatally flawed with statements that are so easily refuted that they should be ashamed of themselves.

May 19, 2016

“In our interviews and review of industry research, there is not one report of a line worker getting paid time off, including personal time, vacation days, or sick days,” states the Oxfam report, Lives on the line.

Now just think about that for a few minutes. They didn’t find any evidence that a poultry plant line worker ever even got a vacation day. They must not have been trying very hard, because every poultry company I worked for offered paid vacation. They could have just said that many poultry companies don’t offer paid sick days, and that statement would be accurate, but not inflammatory enough, so they have to follow up a half-truth with a lie and hope no one noticed or cared.

I think that the report’s authors must be fans of the show "Seinfeld," for, as one of that show’s fictional characters, George Constanza, famously said, “It’s not a lie if you believe it.”

The most-often cited portions of the report focused on bathroom breaks afforded line workers or, rather, the lack thereof. Here is one anecdotal report of one worker's ordeal: “His health also suffered from the long stretches (four to six hours) without a bathroom break, and he developed a problem with his prostate.”

U.S. poultry plants are inspected by U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) inspectors, and their union work rules dictate length of time between line stoppages in most plants. You can’t run a production line for four to six straight hours. Most plants run between 2.5 and three hours between line stoppages, and the breaks are usually 30 minutes in length, which is ample time for a “potty” break for most people.

The report also complains about the cold temperatures inside the poultry plants, but it doesn’t mention that, unlike Ebenezer Scrooge, who denied his employee, Bob Cratchit, coal for the office stove to save money, the processing areas of poultry plants after the chiller are kept below 50F for food safety reasons. This temperature is uniform year-round, and it is up to employees to dress accordingly; it is part of the job.

“Oxfam America is a global organization working to right the wrongs of poverty, hunger, and injustice,” according to the group’s website. With all of the poverty, hunger and injustice in the world, working conditions in U.S. poultry plant are what Oxfam is worried about?

The report frets that the recent changes in carcass inspection in the U.S. raised the possibility that high-speed evisceration lines in U.S. broiler plants could have been allowed to operate at speeds faster than the currently allowed 140 birds per minute. First, these evisceration lines are almost totally automated, so very few workers are affected by the speed at which these lines are run. Second, high-speed evisceration lines in some other countries operate at speeds as high as 225 birds per minute without issues.

It seems silly to have to respond to statements that are so obviously incorrect, but not responding just lets them hang out on the Internet and, perhaps, be taken as truth by some people.