Each month, One Green Planet tracks legal developments that can improve (or, in some instances, threaten) the lives and well-being of animals. This month, we are highlighting a case about child labor in slaughterhouses and a second about water pollution from factory farms.

U.S. Department of Labor Brings Lawsuit Over Child Labor in Slaughterhouses

Veganism” is, of course, primarily about the animals. Vegans reject the idea that it is acceptable to torture and kill animals to use as commodities. So, we oppose the meat industry because we know how much—and how many—animals suffer in farms and slaughterhouses.

Source: Animal Outlook/Youtube

But it’s important to remember that the meat industry isn’t just cruel to animals—it’s also cruel to workers. To give a few examples, farmworkers and slaughterhouse workers are painfully underpaid—the average worker in a slaughterhouse makes around $25,010 a year, and undocumented farm laborers are often forced to accept unlivable salaries. Workers are exposed to chemicals like ammonia and hydrogen sulfide gases and can develop respiratory illnesses. And they suffer injuries from repetitive motions and dangerous equipment—including severe injuries like finger and hand amputations, fractured hips, and chemical burns.

The U.S. Department of Labor (“DOL”) recently filed a lawsuit against Packers Sanitation Services (“PSSI”), which brings to light a unique example of labor exploitation in the meat industry. The lawsuit alleges that PSSI, a company that provides cleaning and sanitation services for slaughterhouses nationwide, has been exploiting children in violation of U.S. labor laws. According to the complaint:

PSSI employs or has employed at least thirty-one (31) minor male and female children, as young as thirteen, to clean dangerous power-driven equipment with corrosive cleaners during overnight shifts at three (3) separate slaughtering and meat packing facilities in Nebraska and Minnesota. The Secretary’s initial evidence review indicates PSSI may employ minor children under similar conditions at its other 400 operations across the country.

Cases like this are important to the animal rights movement because they put another cruel facet of the meat industry on public display. Abuse of child labor should make all people—vegans and non-vegans alike—question the meat industry and what they put on their plates.

Environmental Groups Bring Lawsuit about Water Pollution from “CAFOs”

Animal agriculture not only harms animals and workers, but it also wreaks havoc on the environment. Raising and slaughtering animals contributes to air pollution and climate change, and it’s one of (if not the) leading causes of water quality impairments in U.S. rivers and lakes.

The Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) should be limiting this water quality damage. Under a statute called the Clean Water Act, Congress requires the EPA to regulate water pollution from Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (“CAFOs”)—operations that cram thousands of animals into confined spaces to raise them for slaughter. But as the EPA has admitted, its current CAFO regulations are inadequate.

In 2017—given the EPA’s inaction—environmental groups petitioned the agency to fulfill its statutory mandate and properly regulate CAFOs. But the EPA has failed to correct regulatory defects, let alone respond to the petition. Last month, the environmental groups sued the agency to force its hand. As the complaint explains, “EPA has violated its duty to timely respond to the Petition, and its egregious delay warrants this Court’s intervention.”

If the lawsuit succeeds and EPA properly regulates water pollution from CAFOs, it will help protect the nation’s waters—and the animals and humans depending on those bodies of water. Regulations could also force CAFOs to internalize costs, curtailing the profits they make from harming animals and the environment.

For previous Animal Law Updates on One Green Planet:

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