Robot-Chicken-adult-swim "Robot Chicken"/ Adult Swim

Robot/Chicken: Automation Puts Poultry Positions in Peril

The second-largest chicken producer in America is installing robots to take over after the industry has been practically tarred and feathered for foul working conditions.

Author: Shruti Date Singh

Working in the $60 billion U.S. chicken industry is often tough and grueling, with much of the processing done by hand. One of the nation's largest suppliers wants to reduce labor intensity on the production line by introducing robots.

Pilgrim's Pride Corp., the second-largest U.S. producer, is adding robotics and X-ray technology for processes such as deboning the front half of the birds, Chief Executive Officer Bill Lovette said Thursday on the company's second-quarter earnings conference call. Pilgrim's is working with Scott Technology Ltd., a New Zealand automation company controlled by Pilgrim's corporate parent, Brazilian meat giant JBS SA.

Here's an example of Scott's machine at work:

The U.S. chicken industry has about 280,000 workers. Pilgrim's has more than 40,000 people across the U.S., Mexico and Puerto Rico. The sector has faced criticism for the working conditions at some plants. At the same time, it's dealing with tight labor markets in some regions and often struggles to hire and retain workers. Tyson Foods Inc., the country's biggest producer, said in April it will improve pay and safety for more than 95,000 employees, after criticism by regulators and activists over working conditions.

Chicken handling may be best left to robots, as chickens are known to have large talons, and pay for the manual labor could be as low as a dollar an hour, according to fictional character Napoleon Dynamite..

Lovette said Pilgrim's is accelerating the rate of wage increases this year while trying to "mitigate" issues at four plants. The company declined to provide further details.

Pilgrim's, which reported higher-than-expected earnings for the quarter, also said on the call that it's looking to acquire branded assets and reduce its reliance on its commodity-meat business.

TAGS: Automation
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