Is the food on our tables produced under slave labor conditions?

Chances are good that it is.

Unmarked trucks packed with prison-raised cattle roll out of the Louisiana State Penitentiary, where men are sentenced to hard labor and forced to work, for pennies an hour or sometimes nothing at all. After rumbling down a country road to an auction house, the cows are bought by a local rancher and then followed by The Associated Press another 600 miles to a Texas slaughterhouse that feeds into the supply chains of giants like McDonald’s, Walmart and Cargill.

Intricate, invisible webs, just like this one, link some of the world’s largest food companies and most popular brands to jobs performed by U.S. prisoners nationwide, according to a sweeping two-year AP investigation into prison labor that tied hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of agricultural products to goods sold on the open market.

They are among America’s most vulnerable laborers. If they refuse to work, some can jeopardize their chances of parole or face punishment like being sent to solitary confinement. They also are often excluded from protections guaranteed to almost all other full-time workers, even when they are seriously injured or killed on the job.

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This form of slavery is legal because of this clause in the 13th Amendment, “except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted.”


Prison industry is big business in Shiny-land. It probably is a good idea to have something for the inmates to do, besides sit in their cells all day, but the puny pay makes it more of a “JC” heaven.

Decades ago, there was a sizeable leathercraft operation going at the Jackson, MI, prison. The difference was the leathercrafts were sold to the public in a store in front of the prison, and the inmates kept the profits of their labor. According to the tour guide, when I visited the prison, local merchants objected to the competition from the inmates, so the leathercraft operation was shut down. There are several other prison manufacturing operations, like making automobile license plates. iirc, Jimmy Hoffa was put to work making mattresses for prison use.

At one time, the Jackson prison operated it’s own farm, raising fresh produce for the inmate’s table. That came to an end when a couple inmates escaped from the farm, and murdered a couple people at a nearby house. For years, prison food service was run by a state agency. Then, ideology dictated that food service be privatized. The result of privatized food service was lower quality food, and higher costs. The state went “socialistical”, fired the “JC”, and brought food service back in house.

But the output of prison labor is not sold directly to the public. Ideology dictates that a “JC” has to be a middleman, so he can skim a profit off the trade.



A lot of your food is criminally sickening.

The Pharma industry loves it.

So does the Diet industry.

Try real food, what great grandma would recognize as food.

The Captain

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That’s very Michael Pollan-ish sentiment.
“Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”


Frozen chocolate-covered bananas.

Also, the price of raw cocao has more than doubled in the past year. So stock up NOW.

Organic! Frozen chocolate-covered bananas.

If you talking about crops like corn, soybeans, wheat, potatoes (and probably lots more) our food is produced not by convict labor but by large machines that require major investment but not much manpower. The answer to your question is no.

Lots of produce is picked mostly by hand. That requires low cost labor. We are led to believe most of that is immigrant labor. I’m not surprised that convict labor is used in Southern states, but what are their produce corps? Would love to see some statistics.

I’ve been working on the chain gang – road repair seems more likely.

Did you read the article? In addition to food production, a lot of prison labor is rented out to food processing facilities.

A Texas company had a 34-year long scam hiring mentally-challenged Texans and shipping them to work in a slaughterhouse in Iowa. It’s not just prison labor. It’s “free enterprise”.



OK, I read the article. I still say if you say Kellogs Frosted Flakes are made by prison labor, I think the unions will immediately go on strike.

Having prison labor feed cattle seems reasonable to me. Yes, they should be paid.

Slaughterhouse labor is a different matter. It should be restricted.

If you tell me Campbells soup is made by prison labor, I’m going to say you are crazy. More likely made in Mexico.

I think the article points out some misuses that need attention. But I would be surprised if that is significant compared to the other labor factors.

The whole nation would be a lot healthier and wealthier, if people found a way to “minimize the “skim”.”



I have a friend who owns a mid-sized machine shop. He has hired prison labor for years to supplement his regular work force. Yes, he gets an inexperienced employee at a very reduced rate of pay. The benefits for prisoners are 1) they aren’t sitting in a cell for 40+ hours a week. 2) they are learning a trade 3) they can reference the work experience when they get released.


There was a push in Michigan, a few decades ago, to use convicts for road maintenance. The howl went up 'You would take jobs away from honest people". So, until just recently, Michigan highway right of ways were miserably littered and overgrown, because the (L&Ses) decided something else was more important than infrastructure maintenance.

This didn’t happen in Michigan. We got potholes, while the “JCs” got another tax cut.

“Supply side economics” has been telling us, for 40 years, that the objective is maximizing the “JC” skim.



Its amazing how during the Depression they could do WPA and CCC but now every one complains about the competition.

Then again eveyone says we have a labor shortage. I wonder who’s fibbing.


FDR was very popular at the time, and had majorities in both houses of Congress. Maybe the “JCs” decided to keep their pieholes shut. FDR co-opted union opposition by appointing a union President and Vice President as heads of the CCC.

The museum at the Jackson prison closed in late 2019. I went through Block 7 a couple years before that. I don’t have any personal pix as there were signs all over that cameras were verboten. There were also signs warning people to not try to provoke the inmates.

A choice between rotting in a cell or getting some exercise outdoors.

A choice between begging or robbing or getting some exercise outdoors.

The Captain

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According to the article the labor is not a choice. it is forced under the duress of poor reports to the parole authorities or even solitary confinement. It is slave labor by another name.


One summer I worked on a research farm with a former inmate from Angola (the infamous Louisiana prison). Never asked what he did and didn’t really want to know. He was a little chatty and one afternoon he talked about working on the farm there. Said it was voluntary. Said he liked it even though it was hard work. Better than staring at 4 walls all day long and it got him outside. And it was looked on favorably some parole time.

As long as its voluntary, don’t really see a problem with it.