KANSAS CITY, Mo. – He or she could be sitting next to you in a pew in church on Sunday or standing in front of you in a long supermarket checkout line or stuck in an aggravating traffic jam right next to your car or be your child’s softball coach… and you’d never know that these folks, too, work in the meat and poultry industry. Being modest and people of few words, many seldom, if ever, talk about themselves unless they know you well.
Where the rubber hits the road in my job is when I visit plants throughout the US and meet the people throughout the ranks. But having conducted scores of plant tours since 1980…one thing that sticks out in my mind is how modest most people are who work in packing and processing facilities. Moving tons of safe, wholesome meat and poultry daily is no small feat, yet people in the industry seldom brag about it. It’s simply a given. It’s their job. Those I’ve met in the industry come off as honest, hard-working people who go about their lives happy to be working and focusing on their jobs and families. Very few I’ve met have been boastful or interested in calling attention to themselves.
But somewhat of a subtle change has been taking place in recent months. Several months ago, one soft-spoken interview subject shared with me — without being prompted — his feelings about the seemingly constant barrage of unfair and inaccurate criticisms the US meat industry gets from special interest groups, as well as an uninformed general public and consumer press. Few of them know anything about how a meat plant operates or the great care that is taken by the industry to ensure their meat and poultry products remain safe and wholesome throughout the entire process. Based on his experience, and he has been in the industry for decades, he swore the vast majority of industry folks he worked with — from producers to processors — wanted to do a good job.
Most recently following a lengthy plant tour that required walking through acres of plant operations, I finally caught my breath in the plant’s meeting room with the director of the facility’s harvesting operation. While sipping on a cold soda, I asked him about challenges he faced in his job. His face reddened a little as he stiffened up in his chair and he said in so many words that having to hear unending, unfair charges made against the industry was getting harder for him to take.
I have the feeling many in the industry feel this way. Here’s hoping that every meat and poultry plant has an official spokesperson — either on-site or at the corporate level — who can help set the record straight whenever unfair or untrue charges are levied against their company or plant. From what I’ve seen over the years, no one takes better care of live animals than those who raise them, harvest them and fabricate them into meat and poultry products. Yes, there will always be a few bad apples along the way, but I, too, believe that most people want to do a good job…and that includes both caring for animals in a humane fashion plus consistently processing the safest food.
Those who work in various meat and poultry plant disciplines also want their families to eat the safest food possible so you can bet the vast majority of them are working their hardest to ensure this consistently happens.
When employees are caught mistreating animals, they should be fired and possibly prosecuted. If someone is derelict in his or her duties, they should be shown the right way to do them and given another chance. But two strikes and you’re out. The risk is too great.
As for most folks I’ve met in plants during my career, they’re the best. Consumers have no idea how lucky they are to have these folks on the job. As for those long-time veterans in the US meat and poultry industry, you have more than earned your bragging rights. Don’t be too shy to set the record straight —factually and unemotionally — should you be confronted by those uninformed who claim they know how your company or plant works.