This photo from a GAO report on meatpacking plants shows workers during normal working conditions.

There are roughly 520,000 workers who help put packages of chicken breasts, pork and ground beef on grocery store shelves.

Within the U.S. manufacturing sector, food and beverage manufacturing employees make up the biggest share — 15.4%, according to the most recent federal data.

In 2021, 30.6% of that 1.7 million contributed to meat and poultry production, according to the most recent federal data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. (This number includes nonproduction workers, too.)

“These employees helped to transform raw agricultural materials into food products for intermediate use or final consumption,” the report said. 

The second-largest share of food and beverage workers support bakeries and tortilla production: 14.7% (or more than 249,000 workers) help in the making of these products. 

“In 2021, agriculture, food, and related industries contributed 5.4 percent to U.S. gross domestic product,” according to USDA’s Ag and Food Statistics: Charting the Essentials report.

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In addition to her work at Investigate Midwest, Behnke is an adjunct faculty member at Simpson College and the student newspaper faculty adviser at Wartburg College, both in Iowa. Previously, she has been...

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