New Scientist this week tells of one of the new horrors found in the industrial food processing industry. It affects those workers in slaughterhouses who work on swine heads (in an area known, and you decide if this is dark comedy or not, as “the head table”).
In order to remove the brains, which are then canned and exported as a pink pig-food, workers use high pressure jets of compressed air. The process results in “an aerosol of brain matter that workers may inhale.”
Already, and in so many ways, not very nice. But this kind of industrial processing comes at a price. The Centers for Disease Control have now counted 12 cases of Progressive Inflammatory Neuropathy among slaughterhouse workers in a single plant in Minnesota. Symptoms range from prolonged weakness to acute paralysis. It’s a new disease, and I can’t find any reference to a cure. We can only guess at the prognosis for those workers already affected by this, (many of whom are undocumented and hard to find after they leave their jobs) and hope that a treatment regime can be found.
But if prevention is better than cure, it’s clear what needs to be done. This disease, just like mad cow disease and bird flu before it, is a product of industrial agriculture. For those seeking a more permanent solution, the answer is not to hold one’s breath around the head table. It is to legislate them away entirely.