Slaughterhouse Rules: Human Error, Food Safety, and Uniformity in Meat Packing

David A. Hennessy
October 2003  [03-WP 346]

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Hennessy, D.A. 2003. "Slaughterhouse Rules: Human Error, Food Safety, and Uniformity in Meat Packing." Working paper 03-WP 346. Center for Agricultural and Rural Development, Iowa State University.


Meat retailers and processors express demand for a more uniform product, and technical innovations are allowing an increasingly uniform supply. Meat packers can promote uniformity through pre-slaughter sorting, or earlier through contractual procurement. Emphasizing human error and the efficacy of effort on the packing line, we develop a model whereby packers gain from expanding revenue and reducing processing costs when exogenously determined carcass uniformity increases. Line speed and occupational risk increase with uniformity. Whether optimally regulated or not, equilibrium food safety can decline with increased uniformity. Effort-saving automation also will have an adverse effect on occupational safety, and may have this effect on equilibrium food safety. Under endogenously chosen carcass uniformity, a line speed regulation may not support first-best because it distorts grower-level technology adoption incentives. We also provide a precise ordering on pre-slaughter lot sorts such that packing line capital efficiency increases.