From National Public Radio, January 1:
Slaughterhouses and meatpacking plants throughout the country employ a lot of people. About a quarter of a million Americans prepare the beef, pork and chicken that ends up on dinner tables. But some of those jobs could eventually be replaced by robots. The world's largest meatpacking company is looking at ways to automate the art of butchery.
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About a quarter of a million people work in slaughterhouses to prepare the beef, pork and chicken that ends up in America's dinner tables. Some of those jobs could eventually be replaced by robots. Luke Runyon from member station KUNC reports the world largest meatpacking company is looking at ways to automate the art of butchery.
LUKE RUNYON, BYLINE: We're walking through a meat-cutting line and through JBS here in Greeley, Colo. There are workers in white frocks and white hats using hooks and knives to trim up some of the meat and get rid of the fat.
BILL DANLEY: There's right now 850 people right out in this building alone. We're go down through some of the tables. We won't go in between them, but you'll get a good view of what we do out here on the floor.
RUNYON: That's the plant's manager, Bill Danley. He's on the floor - short for fabrication floor - where whole cattle carcasses become the neat and trim cuts of beef you get at the grocery store. Hundreds of workers in blood-spattered white jackets and protective chain mail stand along conveyor belts. Carcasses inch along, hanging from a track above.
DANLEY: That is a split carcass - that's a whole beef. And then we start the disassemble process out here on the fab (ph) floor.
RUNYON: The plant is a far cry from your grandfather's butcher shop, where a single person needed to know how to turn an entire animal into cuts of meat. Large beef companies, like JBS, Cargill and Tyson, have turned each minute step of the process into a job. Danley lists some of the titles - a chuck boner, tender puller, back splitter, a knuckle dropper.
DANLEY: There's a lot of jobs out here that prep for the other person.
RUNYON: Each year, this one plant pays out more than $100 million in paychecks to its 3,000 employees. It's a huge chunk of the company's operating costs. And while robots have revolutionized the manufacturing industry, meatpackers have stubbornly held on to workers. But that could be changing. Late this fall, JBS bought a controlling share of Scott Technology, a New Zealand-based robotics firm....MORE, including audio