This five-part series deeply reports on an often unprotected, unseen workforce. Our investigation offers a deep dive into worker risks, including acute injuries and long-term illness, and the corporate behavior that sometimes obscures those harms from public view.
What We’ve Found:
- Ninety percent of the animals grown for food in America are raised in concentrated animal feeding operations, known as CAFOs. Each one houses at least 1,000 cows, 2,500 hogs, or 125,000 chickens.
- As CAFOs growing chickens, hogs, cattle and dairy cows become larger and more automated and efficient, the workers inside are less protected by federal OSHA.
- Federal OSHA protections don’t apply to workers on farms with 10 or fewer workers due to a 46-year-old budget rider intended to protect family farms. Today, that exempts 96 percent of the animal-ag operations that hire workers from OSHA oversight.
- Agricultural work is meanwhile some of the most dangerous work in the country, ranking third in fatal injuries among all occupations.
- As government oversight lags, risks compound. Animal confinement workers are subject to long-term lung and acute respiratory injuries from their work environments, and are exposed to asphyxiating gasses from manure. As animal agriculture consolidates and more animals are crowded into CAFOs, these and other hazards become more dangerous.
- In a push toward renewable energy, the government has incentivized the construction of more CAFOs to harvest biogas. It has done so without expanding protections for workers inside the CAFOs, even while the incentivizes favor the largest operations.
- CAFO owners, like the large meatpackers they serve, have begun to adopt risk management models that limit their exposure to risk and liability. The strategy pushes workers further from federal safety nets by breaking large corporations into smaller ones, which reduces the number of employees in each, potentially eliminating OSHA oversight in cases.
- The outsourcing of risk is not new to the industry. The large corporations that process chickens, hogs, cattle and milk into consumer products have long outsourced risks to the farmers and smaller companies that own CAFOs and employ the workers inside. Tyson Foods’ own model now strategically routes injured workers to company nurses and clinics, a process some allege short-circuits injury reports to OSHA, limits scrutiny, and complicates injured workers’ access to healthcare, workers compensation, and damages for life-changing injuries.
You can read about our methodology for this series here. We will continue to follow up on this investigation, and will post updates in the days and weeks ahead.
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