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Chicken Processing Industry and Pilgrim Company

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The chicken processing industry is one of the most successful sectors in agriculture (U. S. Chicken Industry History). This industry has evolved from locally oriented business to a fast moving, high production assembly lines that are shown in many factories across the country (U. S. Chicken Industry History). Pilgrim’s is one of these production driven companies, owned by the foreign based corporation, JBS. For over sixty years, Pilgrim’s has been producing food products that are sent to numerous companies like Wendy’s, KFC, US Foods, and numerous other big-name customers (About Pilgrim’s). During the numerous years of production, the chicken or broiler industry has seen many changes. In the early 1800s the chickens were owned by families, having backyards with flocks of chickens (U. S. Chicken Industry History). This changed significantly in the 1920s, when a spinoff of the egg industry introduces broilers into production (U. S. Chicken Industry History). Broilers are known as chickens that are raised specifically for its meat (U. S. Chicken Industry History).

The initial locations were placed in areas of favorable weather conditions, with access to resources that can be used to make feed used to feed these animals (U. S. Chicken Industry History). Primarily these locations were found in Georgia, Arkansas, and New England (U. S. Chicken Industry History). Wilmer Steele, known as the “pioneer” of these commercial broilers, raised a flock of 500 birds in 1923 (U. S. Chicken Industry History). She received such a high profit margin over the next few years than she increased her flock size to 10,000 broilers by 1926 (U. S. Chicken Industry History). With production demands being to rise in the 1920s and 1930s, regulations began to move into the scene. In 1949, the United States Department of Agriculture introduced regulations to ensure consumers received a high-quality product (U. S. Chicken Industry History). These regulations continued into the 1990s when USDA required hazard analysis and critical control points (HAACP) programs in all large poultry slaughter facilities (U. S. Chicken Industry History). This program was brought about to ensure customers did not receive products that could contain chemical, physical, and microbiological hazards.

Pilgrim’s Assembly LineEmployees

With numerous regulations put into place by the National Chicken Council, Pilgrim’s still must keep consumers and employees happy. Pilgrim’s, like many other producers in the manufacturing industry, strive to be the best. On the company’s website, their reason for “why do we get out of bed each morning” is “to fully realize our talents, skills and potential to create the BEST Company in the industry and a better future for our fellow team members, our families and the world. Together, we are Pilgrim’s and we are determined to be the BEST” (About Pilgrim’s). By this statement, it is shown that they have a significant value in preforming at the highest level, however they still have compassion for their fellow “team members”. While mission statements and “dreams” from the company formulate the idea of a perfect job they are not always the case. Pilgrim’s has been known for their share of complaints, not only from a customer perspective but an employee’s point of view. “There is a direct connection, if you make workers work at break neck speed, they don’t really have a choice” (Erwin, N. ). Federal data found on one of Pilgrim’s plants in Moorefield, West Virginia found that this facility had five serious injury reports in a two-year period (Erwin, N. ). This is more than any other facility in the Ohio Valley region (Erwin, N. ).


Production for Pilgrim’s has increased dramatically over the years, having the ability to process more than 34 million birds per week in their facilities across the world (About Pilgrim’s). This number is amazing considering Pilgrim’s brings live birds into a facility and then has birds in a sealed package by the end of a day. “Live hang” which is the department is know as “the worst and most disgusting job in America” (Erwin, N. ). This is where the live birds are brought in and then place in shackles to be sent into a room where they are stunned and then neck severed. A retired USDA food inspector, Phyllis McKelvey, made the point that the line moves too fast for some birds to be stunned and even too fast at the end of the evisceration line for the birds to be properly inspected (Erwin, N. ).

While the products have taken a quality hit due to the increase in mass production, employees see the changes. Paducah, Kentucky resident and former Pilgrim’s employee J. T Crawford described his experience at the chicken plant as exhausting. “Night after night after night, pushing your body to the absolute maximum to get these chickens on the lines so that they could be cut” (Erwin, N. ). Live hang, the first step in the process used to push 140 birds a minute and this number has recently increased between 170-200, meaning that employees in the live hang department are being pushed even harder (Erwin, N. ). Fortunately for those in other departments, this line speed is not nearly as fast, due to a trickle-down effect in production, however they are also moving faster than before. Faster production numbers lead to more product being sent to consumers but is it worth the lower numbers in customer and employee satisfaction?

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