Cornucopia’s Take: The story below details the medical horrors visited on poultry plant workers subjected to dangerous antimicrobial sprays at work. The sprays include peracetic acid (PAA), which is used to kill bacteria, like salmonella and campylobacter, commonly found on birds raised in factory farm conditions across the U.S. Many undocumented immigrants work at poultry plants, and their legal status makes them unlikely to speak up about their unsafe working conditions. The USDA appears more concerned with protecting agribusiness interests than human health.
SOMETHING IN THE AIR
by Eyal Press
Jessica Robertson Got Sick Working as an Inspector at a Poultry Plant. Now She’s Speaking Out to Defend Workers Exposed to Chemicals.
Like many people in Sanpete County, Utah, a rural area roughly 100 miles south of Salt Lake City, Jessica Robertson likes to spend her Sundays in church. Unlike many of them, the house of worship she frequents is not a chapel filled with copies of the Book of Mormon, but the landscape surrounding her home, a windswept valley dotted with cedar and aspen groves that she regards as her sanctuary. Originally from Milwaukee, Robertson, who is 47, has lived here for 20 years, in a small house set behind a split-rail fence off a rutted dirt road. When tending to the horses on her property or hiking along one of the trails that twist through the valley, where elk and mule deer roam and bald eagles sometimes circle overhead, she feels at peace.
Lately, though, feeling at peace has been rare for Robertson, owing to the chronic health problems that have plagued her in recent years. In 2002, Robertson began working as a part-time poultry inspector at a turkey processing plant in Moroni, a 20-minute drive from her home. It was a good job in a place where steady employment was hard to come by, she thought at the time, even if it entailed checking the carcasses of turkeys rotating by at speeds that made spotting defects — and avoiding repetitive strain injuries — challenging. By 2008, Robertson had become a full-time consumer safety inspector for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. In the years that followed, she also had three elbow surgeries and sustained a serious nerve injury in her neck.
After completing six months of physical therapy for the neck pain, Robertson figured her health problems were behind her. But in 2015, she started to experience some stranger symptoms — itchy eyes, shortness of breath, coughing fits. At work, she noticed, her voice would start to cut out by the middle of the week. By week’s end, she could hardly speak. She also started waking up at night with a bloody nose. Robertson wasn’t the only employee experiencing odd symptoms. Another USDA inspector, Tina McClellan, with whom Robertson was close friends, complained to her of headaches, nausea, and respiratory problems. Line workers at the plant confided to Robertson that they, too, were falling ill. Read Full Article »