By Meerub Nisar

“What amount of money would suffice for the unlawful employment and harrowing treatment of the underage workers?” That is the question that came to mind when Tony Downs Food Company, a Minnesota based food processing company, was pushed under fire around 2 weeks ago after an investigation found the illegal employment of minors in a high-risk environment.

Earlier this year, the Department of Labour in Minnesota received a complaint regarding hazardous working conditions at the processing plant in Madelia. An overnight inspection on the 26th and 27th January looked at the working conditions, interviewed employees, and contacted the local school districts.

The investigation found that Tony Downs had supposedly hired at least 8 underage employees (14 to 17) and also others who were employed before they had turned 18. Interviews, the inspection and employee records exposed that these young teenagers were operating meat grinders, forklifts and ovens on long, and overnight shifts. The job also came with working with meat products “flash frozen with carbon monoxide and ammonia, according to the complaint”. These children- who should’ve been in school getting an education- were also allegedly working unlawfully long hours; it comes with, sadly, no surprise that some also suffered injuries.

To make matters worse and and more heartbreaking, evidence from the investigation showed that Tony Downs was aware of the issue; the minors were not native English speakers; and were “working under assumed names”.

Though, the company ““disputes and does not admit the violations of law alleged” by the labor department, according to the agreement”, they’ve agreed to pay $300,000 in penalties. They also agreed to “obey child labour laws and hire a compliance specialist” as part of the consent order with the Department of Labour and Industry.

The story is truly saddening. 

Moreover, plants like Tony Downs also do irreparable damage to our environment. The production of meat has a significant impact on greenhouse gas emissions, and resultantly climate change: the production of beef emits 250 times more greenhouse gas per gram of protein than legumes such as beans or peanuts do. The United Nation Food and Agriculture Organization finds that approximately 14% of all emissions come from eat and dairy production. And as we know, climate change is in itself a cause for hunger. Ironic, no? As we process more meat to consume, the more we aggravate climate change. This in turn will create more world hunger. Another frightening aspect of meat production is the insane amount of water that this process requires. A case study by the University of British Columbia found that 80-90% of the United States’ water consumption is done by the agriculture production sector. Deforestation, loss of biodiversity, soil degradation etc. all are direct consequences of meat production as well. 

To sum it up, reducing consumption and creation of these products could drastically relieve the pressure on ground, on the labourers, and our environment.