Utne Blogs > Politics

Scary Dairies Mistreat Workers

 by Keith Goetzman


Tags: Politics, labor, labor law, industry, business ethics, immigration, West, immigrants, dairy, organic, Cornucopia Institute,

High Country News August 31 2009The U.S. dairy system has shifted westward, and often it doesn’t look pretty: Instead of bucolic heartland pastures dotted with grazing cows, picture huge pens or sprawling open-air sheds where the animals are fed a high-protein, shipped-in diet and milked through metal crossbars. Conditions for workers in these big dairies are often little better than they are for the cows, as Rebecca Clarren makes chillingly clear in “The Dark Side of Dairies” in the August 31, 2009, High Country News.

Eighteen Western dairy workers died from 2003 to 2009, Clarren writes, “killed in tractor accidents, suffocated by falling hay bales, crushed by charging cows and bulls and asphyxiated by gases from manure lagoons and corn silage. Others survived but lost limbs or received concussions and spent days in the hospital.”

The majority of the West’s 50,000 dairy workers are immigrants, many of them living illegally in the United States. Dairy labor laws are lax to start with, and the workers’ tenuous status makes them especially vulnerable to egregious labor abuses, which Clarren vividly documents.

The story is enough to make you want to go organic and local, buying dairy products that come from a family-scale farm instead of a distant megadairy. If you do, check out the Cornucopia Institute’s Organic Dairy Report and Scorecard to find one that treats its cows, its workers, and its land with respect.

Sources: High Country News, The Cornucopia Institute

robin lovelady_1
12/23/2009 7:11:11 PM

I am sooooo glad that someone has said something. My brother has been working at a dairy for the last 5 years and the last year he was fired and hired back 4 times. But that isn't why I am writing (by the way, I am going to have to sue the dairy for letting him go without pay!! I was a month and a half ago and he plays like he doesnt know what we are talking about!! He has ran into his son Jean with a tracker when he was mad and boke his back; he let a loader bucket drop on one of the mechanics; the dairy owner let dairy water go into the local water system where their was new homes; he took a bite out of his other workers arm; the workers are all afraid of the owner including his kids who are all in their 50s. He has ran several people off of the road when he is mad at them with his cadillac. Personally he blocked me from leaving the farm just to talk to me and I don't work there I was taking my brother to work, he blocked the gate to keep me on the ranch just to yell at me and I haven't said anything until right now and I am mad..........can you tell????? My brother is mentally disabled and this dairy owner knew it and took advantage of him. The dairy is John Boere Dairy in California, Watch out for him he is too old to be in business


lisa_1
10/14/2009 4:36:06 PM

Thanks for highlighting dairy workers. Condemning the meat industry is common, but I hadn't thought about danger at dairies. Lisa Hamilton's book Deeply Rooted does examine large-scale dairies, but her book focuses more on the discomfort of the animals from the disgusting environment they live in, rather than look at the dairy workers. I'm curious about the injury and death statistics Clarren provides. It seems like manure lagoon gases would be a hazard unique to "Big Dairy." But is (large-scale) farming in general a dangerous business? -Lisa Gulya