Television

John Oliver Investigates the Meatpacking Industry

John Oliver sits behind a glass-topped anchorman desk; a graphic reading "MEATPACKING" is displayed behind him.
Succulent beef, tender chicken, and plenty of human suffering. HBO

On Thursday, it will have been 115 years since Upton Sinclair published the first installment of The Jungle, in the Feb. 25, 1905 issue of Appeal to Reason. Sinclair’s novel about abuses in the meatpacking industry, collected in a single, revised volume a year later, led directly to the passage of both the Meat Inspection Act and Pure Food and Drug Act. As we all know, those bills permanently reformed the meatpacking industry, providing laborers with safe working conditions, living wages, and a dignified retirement, a standard that ultimately became the foundation of the socialist utopia Americans share today. I’m just kidding: As soon as the American public was assured that Armour lard would no longer contain any accidentally-rendered Lithuanian immigrants, the Eloi went back to fussing over cancel culture or its 1906 equivalent and the Morlocks returned to their abattoirs. This week, Last Week Tonight took a look at the current state of the meat industry, more than a century after Sinclair first raised the alarm. Spoiler alert: It’s still not great.

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Of all the disgusting things in this segment, the most nauseating is the footage of the way Tyson Foods pampers their mostly-white salaried employees with on-site fitness sessions and meditation classes, while the mostly non-white hourly workers have to wear diapers because they’re not allowed to leave the line. This isn’t an issue of Tyson Foods or the other meatpacking giants being vicious employers in general: They know exactly which workers they have to treat like human beings and which ones they can abuse and exploit. That kind of corporate culture doesn’t happen by accident: It’s depravity, pure and simple.

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Oliver lays out a series of reforms that could improve things, including emergency regulations from OSHA to slow the spread of the coronavirus at meatpacking facilities, tighter rules from the USDA on safety and line speeds, and federal minimums for workers’ compensation. As Upton Sinclair could tell you if he hadn’t died in 1968, though, systemic reform can take an extremely long time, if it happens at all. While we’re waiting, here is a list of the brand names controlled by the worst offenders Oliver identified: JBS, the company that is denying compensation to employees who died of COVID-19, and Tyson Foods, home of the COVID-19 betting pool. Maybe don’t buy them?

JBS USA

1855 Black Angus Beef
5 Star Beef
Aspen Ridge Natural Angus Beef
Blue Ribbon Beef
Blue Ribbon Angus Beef
Cedar River Farms Natural Beef
Certified Angus Beef
Chef’s Exclusive Beef
Clear River Farms Beef
Country Pride
Del Día
Four Star Beef
Gold Kist Chicken
Gold’n Plump
Grass Run Farms
Imperial American Wagyu Beef
Just Bare Chicken
Moy Park
• O’Kane Poultry
Pierce Chicken
Pilgrim’s
• Showcase Premium USA Beef
Swift Black Angus Beef
Swift La Herencia Natural Pork
Swift Premium Pork
To-Ricos

Tyson Foods

Advance Pierre Foods
Aidells
Ball Park
Barber Foods
Big AZ Sandwiches
Bonici
Bosco’s
The Bruss Company (Tyson Fresh Meats)
Bryan
Chairman’s Reserve Meats
Fast Fixin’
Gallo Salame
Hillshire Farm
Hillshire Snacking
IBP Trusted Excellence
Jimmy Dean
Lady Aster
Landshire
Like Mom’s
Mexican Original
Nature Raised Farms
Nudges Natural Dog Treats
Open Prairie Natural Meats
Original Philly Cheesesteak Co.
Raised & Rooted
Reuben Corned Beef
Russer Brand Deli Meats
Sara Lee
Star Ranch Angus Beef
State Fair
Steak-EZE
Top Chews 100% Natural Dog Treats
True Chews 100% Natural Dog Treats
Tyson
Wright Brand
Wunderbar Brand Deli Meats

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