<$BlogRSDUrl$> The Cyberactivist

Behind the scenes of the fight for the protection of animals and workers and the preservation of the environment - my experiences as a Tyson slaughterhouse hanger/killer turned activist. Exposing the evils of factory farming, by Virgil Butler. If you have arrived here looking for the Tyson stories, view the early archives. Some of them are now featured on the sidebar for easy searching.

Monday, March 15, 2004

Fecal Feet - the Delicacy 

Well, I promised you a story on the chicken feet yesterday, but I got pretty sick after coming in contact with a Tyson plant worker fresh off of work who was still filthy, at Wal-Mart the day before and shaking hands with him. I didn't even stop to think about it, since the natural thing to do when someone sticks out their hand to shake yours is to shake it. I didn't even think about it, didn't think to wash my hands before touching my face a few minutes later, and ended up getting a sinus infection that has swollen up my face, made it hard to breathe, and given me a bit of a ringing in my ears. Anyway, because of feeling so bad, and not having the money to go to a doctor and get any medicine, I just took it easy yesterday and didn't manage to get the post written. I am a little better today, but not much. However, I figured that I owed it to you after teasing you the way I did in that last post, only linking to an article about all the chicken feet stuck on ships and the Chinese demanding inspections of them to determine contamination levels.

So, here it goes.

When Tyson first started harvesting the chicken feet, called paws in the industry, I was extremely surprised. I couldn't imagine what in the world they would be used for. So, I asked. The answer I got shocked me. Why would anybody want to eat anything that had spent its entire existence buried in chicken feces? Nasty!

Anyway, the Chinese that are demanding that these paws be subjected to the same inspection as the USDA provides for the chicken pieces consumed as food in this country, have a very valid reason for needing such inspections. However, it is my opinion that this inspection process should go back further down the line than that. I believe that there should be inspections of the houses where they raise the chickens, as there is a big difference between the houses as far as the level of nastiness is concerned. But, that's another story. Let's get back to our topic today.

By the time that chickens are caught out of a house - even a "clean" house - the feces is 3-4 inches deep. A really dirty house can be as bad as three times that much. Now, we are all aware of the fact that the feces is the most common source of contamination on the meat. And, if we take into account that, despite all the inspections, antibiotics given to the chickens, and the other measures that are taken, people still fall ill, sometimes even fatally, from disease caused by this fecal contamination. This is on the cleanest meat that has gone through the most rigorous process offered to make sure it is safe.

Now, how much worse do you think that the feet could be, especially given the fact that they don't inspect them like they do the meat? Oh yeah, the Chinese do have a valid point when they say that they deserve the same level of protection of their food as what is provided here, even if what we get is extremely inadequate.

The only type of inspection that is done on these feet before they are shipped and sold to the unsuspecting Chinese consumer is a quick visual inspection of the top of the heap by a Tyson Quality Control (QC) person. That's it. And this QC knows that if he/she holds up production for a problem found, he/she will probably end up back on the line, working for $1.75/hr less, doing much harder work than QC. This is used as an example to the next QC that might dare to cause a ruckus for finding fecal contamination on these paws.

Therefore, the Chinese get a little "bonus" with their paws. Let's talk about that bonus - or should I say "bonuses".

Now, the first argument that comes to mind that Tyson may make against this allegation is that the paws are run through what is supposed to be a disinfectant bath. What that is is a high-pressure sprayer that sprays a cold-water chlorine solution. But, that doesn't do anything for the ones that we, as hangers and killers and utilities, picked up off the floor and carried back to the paw room. And, the bath itself doesn't have much chlorine in there. I caught some of the water coming from the sprayer in my hand once and couldn't smell or taste the chlorine in it. I didn't drink this, just stuck my tongue in it to see how much was actually in it and whether or not the amount of chlorine was high enough to be likely to do any good. Nope.

And, not all of the feet go through the chlorine bath, either. Well, they do go through it initially, but then some of them will be re-contaminated by hitting the floor after the "disinfection" process. Let me explain why.

You see, when you are running over-size birds and you have to wedge the legs into the shackles to get them to fit, the machine called the "hock puller" that is supposed to knock the feet off, doesn't actually end up doing that. So, they come back around to the 1st hanger, who pulls them off and throws them into a pile on the floor of the hanging cage. And, if you have been reading this blog for awhile, then you know how nasty that floor actually is. Then, every once in a while, the utility for back dock comes around with a big 5-gallon bucket with a bunch of holes drilled into it that looks kind of like a homemade colander. He will scoop them up with a scoop shovel, along with everything else on the floor, spray a little water on them with a hose to get the big chunks off, then dump them back there in the paw room. Of course, these get packed up right along with the ones that have been "disinfected" in the bath. They are dumped into the same bin right on top of the others that are supposed to be clean. None of them - even the so-called "disinfected ones" - are actually very clean, though.

I've seen the paw room workers have to peel the fecal matter from the paws with a pair of needle-nose pliers. Sometimes it can be done with your fingers, though. Regardless, the fact of the matter is that no "disinfectant" bath or hosing-off gets rid of all of this fecal matter. It is clumped up and dried on there on the feet like cement. Sometimes it will actually take the skin off the feet when they peel it off and throw it on the floor. A blast of water just doesn't get all of this stuff off - in fact the high pressure just drives the contamination deeper. That's why someone has to do it by hand. And no one really pays much attention to what kind of a job this person does.

I asked a supervisor one time how they could actually sell this stuff to people for food with a good conscience. She just laughed and told me, "There's too damn many Chinamen over there anyway. What's it matter if a few of them die. They'll never miss them anyway." She's not down there anymore. Last I heard, she was night-shift superintendent at another plant. Makes me wonder how much more damage she is doing now with the increased authority. But, that goes to show you the type of "team player" that Tyson likes to promote.

I also knew a guy that worked in there in the paw room that dipped Copenhagen snuff, just like I used to do. He tried to keep him a spit can for awhile, but that never worked out. So, he just started spitting in the bin of paws. These were the ones that were about to be shipped out. I knew several other people that smoked in there that let their ashes fall on them. There were other incidents of things getting on the paws, but I won't go into them all here. I have my reasons for that.

The point is that this was behavior that occurred on someone's food, and no one seemed to care about that fact. There was no real inspection. There was only selective enforcement of the rules pertaining to this behavior. If they wanted rid of you for some reason, they would use these rules to do so. Otherwise, you could pretty well get away with anything you wanted to. You just had to be a "team player."

I don't ever remember seeing an inspector going into the paw room. Not one single time.

Sounds yummy, huh? I wouldn't eat one of them, even if I was starving. And I can't imagine the Chinese people doing so if they knew about this. I hope they stick to their guns on this one and make sure that if they are going to eat these nasty things, that they get the same sort of inspection that our food does, even if that level is woefully inadequate. At least it is something.

Perhaps the Chinese should just quit eating such nasty things at all. I think that they just don't understand what the inside of a factory farm chicken house over here looks like. Because I just can't imagine that they don't care about this. I know that I would.

Wouldn't you?
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