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April 2003, Volume 9, Number 2

Midwest: Meat Packing

Many cities that are approached by meatpackers are reluctant to allow them to establish businesses, fearing that they will attract migrant workers. Premium Pork Allied Producers in April 2003 was reportedly considering sites for a new pork processing plant in St. Joseph, Missouri. Seaboard Farms announced similar plans in 2000, was criticized for planning to hire 2,300 employees to slaughter 16,000 hogs a day, many of whom would be migrants who may not have earned enough to support themselves. Premium said it would hire 800 workers and pay them entry-level wages of at least $10.50 an hour.

USDA threatened to close Nebraska Beef's Omaha plant, where workers voted 452 to 345 against union affiliation in August 2002, because of repeated violations of food safety rules. On January 14 2003, the USDA tried to halt operations at Nebraska Beef's plant by removing its inspectors, but a federal judge ordered inspectors back into the plant, heading off its closure. On January 24, 2003, a settlement was reached under which Nebraska Beef promised to appoint someone to oversee compliance with food safety regulations and to educate its largely immigrant employees about these regulations.

Nebraska's Employment and Investment Growth Act (LB 775) was enacted in 1987 to spur economic growth with $1.4 billion in income and sales tax credits and refunds over the past 15 years. In its 2003 re-consideration, there were calls to bar meatpacking plants from the program because, critics said, some plants have a history of hiring undocumented workers, poor working conditions and environmental violations. As modified, meatpacking plants can participate, but firms that obtain tax breaks must offer at least $8.25 an hour in rural areas and $8.70 in urban areas.

A suit filed against McDonald's by two teenagers who ate there regularly and became obese was dismissed in January 2003. The federal judge wrote: "If a person knows or should know that eating copious orders of supersized McDonald's products is unhealthy and may result in weight gain, it is not the place of the law to protect them from their own excesses." Americans spend more than $110 billion a year on fast food, and lawyers for the teens had asked that the suit be turned into a class-action case. They said they may refile the case, this time alleging that McDonald's made its food more fattening by processing it, such as with Chicken McNuggets.

Tariffs on all farm commodities except sugar, dairy products, and corn ended on January 1, 2003 between Mexico and the US. Mexican poultry farmers demonstrated against rising food imports from the US, arguing that cheap US poultry imports would put them out of business. In January 2003, US producers agreed to limit exports of chicken leg quarters- duties of 99 percent will be levied on exports of more than 50,000 tons a year.


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