Consumers Get Chicken ‘We Wouldn’t Feed To Our Dogs,’ Worker Testifies
WASHINGTON (AP) _ Chickens are slaughtered in conditions so filthy that bugs crawl on the walls, the floors are slick with blood and guts, and when carcasses fall in the muck, they are picked up and tossed back on the line, a former poultry worker told a congressional panel Thursday.
″As a result, consumers get chicken that we wouldn’t feed to our dogs,″ Donna Bazemore said in testimony submitted to the House Education and Labor subcommittee on labor-management relations.
The subcommittee is considering legislation to standardize the treatment and protection of whistleblowers.
Bazemore, a former worker at a Perdue Industries poultry plant in North Carolina, was in a car accident Wednesday and could not appear before the subcommittee, said Tom Devine, a lawyer with the Government Accountability Project who represents her.
But her testimony described conditions straight out of Upton Sinclair’s ″The Jungle,″ a 1906 expose of the Chicago meatpacking industry.
″To start with, the plants are filthy,″ Bazemore said in her testimony. ″The floors regularly are covered with grease, fat, sand and roaches. Bugs are up and down the sides of the walls. ... Chickens regularly fall off the line and into all the muck on the floor. The supervisors have workers put them back on the line.″
Bazemore said workers are instructed every day to remove tags from hundreds of chickens condemned for diseases such as tumors and green growths on their intestines. Chicken parts are sometimes removed from a filthy floor drain and thrown back on the line, she said.
At Perdue, she said, workers were told that if they spoke to reporters or the USDA, they would be fired. Bazemore is now an organizer with the Center for Women’s Economic Alternatives, a support group for workers in the poultry industry.
Perdue Farms, with headquarters in Salisbury, Md., responded by issuing a press release calling Bazemore ″less than a model employee.″
″The only way to respond to such outrageous allegations is to invite members of Congress and the media to directly contact government officials at (the U.S. Department of Agriculture) and (the Occupational Safety and Health Administration) and ask them if they would allow any poultry plant to function under the conditions Ms. Bazemore described,″ Thomas R. Moyers, Perdue’s vice president of human resources, said in a statement.
After Devine finished reading from Bazemore’s testimony, Rep. Marge Roukema, R-N.J., expressed disbelief, asking where inspectors from the Agriculture Department and the state are?
Devine said they are present but cannot oversee the entire plant all the time.
″What Ms. Bazemore has described are gross violations that would be visually apparent to anyone at the plant,″ Roukema said, suggesting that Bazemore should be called back before the subcommittee and placed under oath.
″If these allegations are true, we have much more than just a whistleblower problem,″ she said, adding that this matter would be referred to the appropriate congressional committee, as well as to the Agriculture Department.
Robert P. Davis, the Labor Department’s solicitor, told the panel his agency opposes the whistleblower legislation, adding that other such laws already exist.
″We are concerned that a generic approach to whistleblower protection, although it is an attractive goal, could result in some unnecessary or inappropriate federal coverage,″ Davis said,
Legislation could be enacted to eliminate gaps in the existing laws, he said, but ″such gaps should be identified and explicitly covered by any new legislation.″