Immigrant labor and agriculture today: fully integrated

The Washington Post ran an article highlighting the tight relationship between immigrant workers and food production, especially corporate meat processing, in America. I have discussed this before. Steve Striffler’s book, Chicken, is an excellent description of the evolution of the poultry industry hand in hand with Hispanic labor. See my posting on meat processing as a de facto guest worker program.
The article said that “The meat production unit of privately held Cargill Inc on Tuesday said it decided to close down operations at five U.S. beef plants and two hog plants next Monday while employees participate in mass immigration rallies. Similar rallies on April 10 cut U.S. meat production at top meat producer Tyson Foods Inc. Tyson spokesman Gary Mickelson said on Tuesday Tyson was not encouraging workers to participate in planned rallies if it meant missing shifts. “


Reportedly, an INS raid in Nebraska some years ago scared off so many employees in beef processing plants and cattle owners faced a decline in demand for their cattle, cutting cattle prices.

A recent study by the American Farm Bureau Federation said a crackdown on illegal immigrant labor could cause production losses in U.S. agriculture of $5 billion to $9 billion in the first one to three years and up to $12 billion over four or more years. The fruit and vegetable sector would feel the effects immediately, but problems would be felt everywhere in the crop and animal-feeding sectors, notably in the Midwest.

‘It’s not just a fruit-and-vegetable California problem. This affects anyone who owns the machines, custom harvests,’ said Austin Perez, policy director for largest U.S. farm group. These jobs are performed by virtually 100 percent migrant labor, he added. The Farm Bureau says that despite heavy use of machines to plant and harvest the largest U.S. crops — corn, soybeans and wheat — Midwestern farmers often rely on cheap immigrant labor to fill positions that family members once performed.

Reflecting the situation with diary workers in my very own Vermont:

Dairy operations from a few hundred to many thousands of cows are round-the-clock milking and feeding jobs. Massive hog and poultry barns now housing thousands of animals in close quarters also require constant labor and monitoring in what can be harsh, unsanitary and dangerous conditions.

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