December 1, 2014


The One Thing Worse Than Big Dairy's Abuse of Cows? Its Abuse of Workers. : While the dairy industry's cruel treatment of cows has been well documented, workers face vile and often dangerous conditions. (JOSEPH SORRENTINO, 12/01/14, In These Times)

New Mexico's dairies, like almost all dairies in the United States, never stop running. Cows are milked two or three times a day, every day. "Cows don't know holidays," says Alfredo Gomez, a 56-year-old dairy worker in southeastern New Mexico. "Here, there's no Christmas." For the vast majority of dairy workers in New Mexico, as in most states, there's also no holiday pay, no overtime, no sick pay and no workers' comp. They work in dirty, difficult and sometimes dangerous conditions for an industry they're convinced values milk over milkers. [...]

Three-quarters of workers are Mexican, and most of the milk produced in New Mexico (and nationwide) comes from concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs. Cows don't graze in green pastures. Instead, they are kept in corrals, standing on dirt or, more frequently, in the muck that is generated by their urine and feces. A dairy cow expels as much as 150 pounds of manure a day.

"Basically, all the cows are walking in the waste; nothing's clean," says Roberto Achoa, a soft-spoken college student who began working in dairies as a sophomore in high school. Like Gomez and all but two of the workers interviewed for this piece, Achoa requested a pseudonym for fear of retaliation from dairies.

Achoa is what's known as a corralero, the person who drives the cows from their pens to the milking barns. Corraleros get plenty of exercise. "You walk and walk to get the cows and never stop," says José Varela, who worked on dairies for several years. "Maybe you're fat when you start, but in three months, you're a skeleton." It's a dirty and treacherous job. Achoa says, "People sink into the waste, get stuck." Working in pens with 200 or 300 cows has other risks, explains José Martinez, another corralero. During storms, the cows get scared: "They can turn around and run at you. They'll kick you, jump real high."

At milking time, cows lumber from the corral toward the milking barns, the corralero behind them, shouting and often waving a small towel. The cows, who have done this thousands of times, know to file into the milking barn and line up in two rows along raised platforms. Milkers move quickly up and down the platforms, milking 2,000 or more cows in a shift.

"It's nasty [work]," says Matías Soto, a short, strongly built 59-year-old originally from Durango, Mexico, who has worked in dairies in southeastern New Mexico for three years. "We have aprons, [but they get] completely covered in manure and urine." The smell in a milking barn can be noxious. Just a few minutes in one can leave a lasting foul taste in your mouth. But, workers say, you get used to it.

Of course, some work no one will do, Your Food Is Going To Be Grown By Robots, As They Take Over The Farm (Ben Schiller, 12/01/14, Co.Exist):

The automation of agriculture is upon us. There are already dozens of robots churning around the countryside--chopping, weeding, digging, and pot-moving--and, in the future, there'll likely be many more. Dozens of companies are working automated farm machines that reduce costs, extend harvesting periods, and improve safety, or so they say. Here are some projects we came across.

Posted by at December 1, 2014 7:58 PM

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