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The American Food System and Who's Paying the Ultimate Price?

By Jessi Geist

With the rising cries for social justice ringing throughout America, and Covid19 cases spreading, the word Systematic oppression has been brought to the for front of our society. Housing inequality, education barriers and police brutality have been frequently popping up in the news lately too. Our communities have been left to ask who is really effected and how are we all involved in it?

Sadly it is not a secret that our food might be a product of slave labor or worker abuse. It is also a common fact that these professions are highly dangerous, especially those who work in slaughterhouses or out in the agricultural fields. Today we are going to take a look at our food system through a human rights lenses and explore Brave New Life's Purpose in creating an alternative compassionate food system.

Whose at Risk?

The demographic of these populations are hard to pin down. From the articles in many major news stations and personal experience, we find that there is a large population of people of color, women, and immigrants who are subjected to these dangerous environments. People with federal offenses on their record and who have been rejected from other opportunities, end up in meat packing employment as well. Sadly most people who work in these environments report that they have no other options.

How many people? 1,790 people where employed in slaughterhouses in Colorado alone as of May 2019. Throughout the entire nation we have around 73,390, people employed as slaughterhouse workers and 245,400 workers employed by animal agriculture as a whole. As for farm workers, there are 902,900 people who are reportedly employed on farms across our nation, all according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics. Which shows that it takes a lot of people to run this food system, and this number is only predicted to continue to climb as the human populations increase.

Lets look at the last decade or so...

Of all the jobs within our food system, in America, slaughterhouses are argued to be the most dangerous. According to this NPR article 151 meat packing workers died from injuries sustained at work in 2004-2013. This article does a great job of explaining why some of the dangerous hazards workers experience are not reported or over looked by OSHA. It's every where, language barriers, misclassifications of worker deaths, and worse of all is, on site medical staff or managers dismissing reports of pain, and instructing workers to return to their jobs.

"(A worker) In the meat and poultry industry lost a body part or was sent to the hospital for in-patient treatment about every other day between 2015 and 2018." According to this article by Human Rights Watch, who interview over 50 people across the nation, workers were also paid poorly, 44% less then other factory jobs. Sadly losing a body part isn't the only thing that meat packing workers endure, noxious fumes, swollen joints, illnesses and mental health strain can also be some factors that effect workers daily lives.

Unfortunately 2020's Coronavirus Pandemic only exacerbated the issues slaughterhouse workers experience. According to the Washington Post, "At least 42,534 meatpacking workers have tested positive for the novel coronavirus in 494 meat plants, and at least 203 meatpacking workers have died." Workers have been Unionizing and fighting ever since the beginning on this year. Their ask is simple, to have a clean environment to work in, increase pay and benefits for workers and their families.

When it comes to holding these companies accountable OSHA has a track record of letting workers down. One of the latest examples happened this year where two fines around 15,000, a relatively small fine for the many human rights violations and 6 deaths reported against JBS in Greeley Colorado. The message is clear workers can't rely on our government agencies to provide protection or safety measures even the face of national crisis.

Where does Brave New Life Project come in?

Out of the million people who work in these dangerous environments, many of them have skills that are important to our communities. However, the path of certification for those professions or a new career in general, can seem overwhelming or impossible in a slaughterhouse workers current situation. That is where Brave New Life is stepping in and helping out. By offering free employment services to animal agriculture workers and creating a compassionate model for farmers, we can transform our systems to ensure human rights are upheld in this nation.

Our programs are modeled around the holistic approach to social work which involves examining all social factors of a person’s life, rather than focusing on one issue. Individual's are most successful when they are allowed to find their own purpose, make their own profit, and build their own careers. This is why we are currently offering free employment services to help these workers build their resume and decide where they want to apply, and offer to do all the job hunting for them. This allows them to continue to work their full time job without added stress of where to transition to next.

In the future we will be offering regenerative farming paid internships to help people amend the soil and their overall health, through proper nutrition. We are partnering with Tindakan Innovations next spring 2021 to plant our first crop on a wildlife preservation area, as a demonstration of how farmers can coexist with nature. We would love for you to join us in building the world we all thrive in.

Stay tuned for more details about our Future CSA coming soon! Thanks for reading!

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