Food Animal Cruelty – Standard Fare or No?

Editorial:  Is HSUS trying to guilt us into going vegan?

That piece got me thinking.  When I see the HSUS commercials showing images of cows being treated cruelly at a slaughterhouse, I think of that in terms of something unusual.  Similarly, when I see images of filthy dogs in dank cages, I think, “That’s not how most breeders take care of their dogs”.  Of course I’ve known a lot of dog breeders so I feel confident in my assessment there.  But I really don’t know any slaughterhouse operators.  I just sort of assume that most people in animal agriculture are normal, compassionate folks doing a job.  Am I wrong?  Could I walk into just about any slaughterhouse and secretly film hours and hours of cows being treated inhumanely because that’s the norm, not the exception?  Or do I have the context right – that this kind of thing is an aberration?  What’s your take?

17 thoughts on “Food Animal Cruelty – Standard Fare or No?

  1. On small slaughterhouses, I don’t think you’ll find the type of egregious treatment that is commonplace on large scale slaughterhouses.

    You have to remember, at most slaughterhouses, workers are killing between 10,000-30,000 animals a day, 24/7. It is virtually impossible to NOT make mistakes. And when you have a 10-15% “mistake-load”, we’re not talking a couple animals anymore. When you are literally slitting the throats of tens of thousands of animals for a living, it’s hard not to become callous and disconnected. That’s a common coping mechanism for dealing with a horrific thing.

    More than that, the entire system is screwed up. Stopping the line to properly stun an animal is not done. Workers are coerced into believing that stopping the line means less money and possibly losing their jobs. The regulatory agencies that are supposed to ensure the line is stopped don’t. In some slaughterhouses, they aren’t even allowed on the kill floor. That’s unacceptable and ridiculous.

    How many undercover videos does it require for people to comprehend that these are not aberrations. We have hundreds of videos so far. Does it take thousands for it to be statistically significant, tens of thousands for people to stop complaining about the messenger and start looking at their own behavior (this system exists b/c of consumer demand)? What does it take?

    If you are interested in this issue, read Gail Eisentz’ book, Slaughterhouse. There was also a great Washington Post article (They Die Piece by Piece) on a cattle slaughterhouse. It was in 2001. Not much has changed. I mean, there’s a reason this is a perennial news story, why the same crap that went on in the 80’s and 90’s is still going on today. I don’t think we can label it a mere aberration.

  2. And lets not forget that a 10%-15% “mistake-load” is touted as one of the lowest in the industry – this is the “mistake-load” normally seen in slaughterhouses designed by Temple Grandin. When McDonalds hired her to design slaughterhouses for their suppliers, it was hailed as a huge victory for animal welfare. So in some slaughterhouses, you probably see one more in the realm of 25% or maybe even higher.

    I think the bottom line is that when the whole point of your industry is killing someone, who really cares what happens to them on the way? This is something you hear time and time again from people working in slaughterhouses and I think it’s a valid point. Most breeders do not want their dogs to die, for whatever reason. Even puppy mills have a much lower production margin and need their dogs to live for at least a significant period of time. Most breeders cognitively consider their dogs to be individuals, not items. This is not the case in slaughterhouses.

  3. From Jennie: “I think the bottom line is that when the whole point of your industry is killing someone, who really cares what happens to them on the way?”

    I can’t EVEN begin to describe how worrisome/frightening this way of thinking is. Wow.

  4. Rinalia, I may be wrong, but I read Laura’s comment as stating that the way of thinking you describe — not caring what happens to an animal you are going to kill — is worrisome.

    I’ve seen cows, pigs, sheep and goats killed at two small slaughterhouses, and chickens and turkeys at small processors.

    It is not pretty, and there is no Bach playing them out, but I haven’t seen cruelty, and all the animals died fast and without mistakes or undue distress.

    What may strike me or you as callous may be more businesslike to the worker.

  5. Someone on Twitter used the phrase “a few bad apples in every bunch” regarding slaughterhouse workers and this is a good way of putting my view of the issue. Again, in comparison to the dog breeders I know (show, pet, “oops”, etc.) and know of indirectly, it seems to me like the few bad apples are the ones who make the news. I’d certainly hate for JQP to look at puppy mill images from the HSUS website and think “This is typical of dog breeders” because that’s not true AFAIK.
    I don’t have fanciful notions that food animals in slaughterhouses are being celebrated in religious rituals thanking each individual for his sacrifice, but I’m guessing that to most workers, it’s a job and they do it by the rules. The inhumane acts by the bad apples make it to fundraising ads and expose new pieces but they are probably not representative of the norm.

    1. The “few bad apples” refers to slaughterhouse workers who are excessively uncaring and abusive, but the entire system is problematic. Food animals are treated like crops, both by the law and by the industry. To keep food prices low, it’s become a “quantity, not quality” business. That’s why there’s a problem with “downer” animals – the ones too sick or injured to stand who are dragged, shocked, and forklifted to the slaughterhouse floor. If they get there, they’re money; if they’re euthanized, they’re worthless to the farmer.

      Also, there are virtually no animal cruelty laws that apply to how food animals are treated. It’s very telling that when the industry brags about their “welfare standards,” it includes guidelines such as giving chickens the living space equivalent to less than a sheet of 8.5.x 11 paper. Even if they were more concerned about these animals as living things, it’s impossible to provide any semblance of care to that many animals in one place, whether you’re looking at the farm or the slaughterhouse.

      The (other) unfortunate thing is, the vast majority of livestock all end up at the same place. Almost all of the smaller slaughterhouses have been shut down by agribusiness, so even most free-range cattle eventually end up at the same brutal slaughterhouse as factory farmed cows.

      Many organizations besides HSUS are trying to fight this systemic cruelty. It’s also been exposed by several independent documentaries (Food, Inc; Supersize Me) and in dozens of books. Unfortunately, it’s definitely standard fare.

  6. I spent most of a week at a large slaughterhouse about 8 years ago. Can’t provide details because it was work related.

    But, the place seemed reasonably well-run to me. Killing and cutting was purely business, but the facility made efforts to keep the stock as calm as possible.

    I believe that this attitude is more common than many believe because stressed out, panicked animals don’t make good meat. If large numbers of animals are poorly treated, the plant produces a poorer quality product and makes less money.

  7. I have to disagree that it is a few bad apples that are causing the debate re: slaughterhouses. The majority of the meat you purchase from your grocery market or eat at chain restaurants comes from large slaughterhouses. These slaughterhouses differ greatly from the small operations Houlahan describes. There is no doubt that the slaughtering of animals is not pretty but large scale slaughterhouses take it to another world. Unfortunately factory farming/slaughtering is what farming industry has become. In these large scale facilities mistakes and filth are common. They don’t even treat their workers with humanity they certainly don’t have concern for the animals. You should watch Food Inc or read some of the books available on the subject of factory farming (Animal Factory by David Kirby is one but there are many many others). Ideally the farming industry of the future will return to small farming practies where animals are given space to graze and live daily without constant suffering. Factory farms/slaughterhouses deprive animals from their very being. They are no longer sentient beings they are objects, a commodity. The atrocities of factory farming are so great and so often ignored I can’t even begin to describe them. Suffice to say I am a vegetarian and can not fathom eating another piece of meat (after spending 17 years in a beef/dairy/chicken/pig/turkey farming community). I despise PETA and did not base my opinion on any campaigns or slogans. It was a personal decision I made after everything I had learned through documentaries, books and online research. After opening my eyes to the reality of the consequences of what I was eating I could not stomach and still can not stomach it. If you have doubts the problem is not only wide spread but enabled and acknowledge by lack of regulation, I really hope you research more on the subject don’t take my word for it by any means. If your pressed for time Food Inc. is an excellent documentary that presents a logical and factual depiction of the factory farming/slaughter industry. You will be greatly surprised. Unless you buy your meat/dairy/egg products from local small operation farmers or butchers the products you consume come at a great toll of animal suffering.
    Sidenote: I am in no way trying to be condescending. I just truly believe if more people were aware of the truth of factory farming/slaughterhouses they would make drastic changes to what and how they consume. What I learned will never leave me. (Dramatic but true)

  8. Re Food, Inc. I’ve seen it. It was depressing. The thing that disturbed/stuck with me the most was the fistulated cow. I’d never seen that before and it just bothered the hell out of me. I can’t help thinking there must be other ways to monitor e-coli levels and whatever else they use it for.

    It is disturbing to me, and I know to some others, to see food animals slaughtered. But it is something I accept. What I was trying to target was the incidences of cruelty, such as pushing the downer cow with the forklift as shown in the commercial. This is a two-fer because it not only goes against humane treatment but it also violates food safety regulations. It’s a good example of the the kind of thing I’m assuming is the exception, not the rule.

    1. The forklift thing is an example of the rule, not the exception. Maybe you won’t find that exact image at every slaughterhouse, but you’ll find variations of it because it’s impossible not to abuse animals in the current factory farming system. I’m not trying to ban slaughter – I think that’s unrealistic – but I think that animals need to be treated like living things, not like walking slabs of meat.

      (On a side note re: Food, Inc. – I deal with animal issues every day, so while that footage was disturbing, as always, it wasn’t new. But the information about Monsanto and their GM crops taking over everything was infuriating! Our food system needs serious change all-around.)

      1. Absolutely. The hole in the cow to treat e-coli was scarring. E-coli generated by man from the food they feed the cows and the unsanitary and horrible conditions they are kept in. Instead of say changing their practices to allow cows space to graze grass….they put a hole in the side of a cow and shove grass in it. WTF.
        I too was previously aware of the gruesome images I was sure to see. I was more interested in seeing the politics and greed that surround the farming industry now. There is a documentary out called “Monsanto” I watched after seeing Food Inc. It’s almost overwhelming to say the least.
        There are standard practices that despite overwhelming evidence they put not only the public at risk but put the animals through living hell are allowed to continue. Unfortunately it is permitted by the USDA for downed animals to be sold for slaughter and then as our food. Cows are the only exception. Pigs, goats, sheep etc. are permitted to be ‘stored’ for slaughter while down. Stored literally means piled in a room out of sight, the surviving ones go to slaughter. There are efforts to try and ammend the legislation that permits this ( and others). To date Obama has unfortunately failed to support the ‘downed animals protection act’. These slaughterhouses and farming facilities are massive corportations with huge lobbying powers.
        I first stopped eating meat based on the horrors of the large scale facilities but as I continued to research it became more. I don’t want my dinner to come at the cost of another’s suffering. Not while I have a choice. I value these animals’ lives more than their meat. I know that is not something common to everyone but it never use to be to me either.
        To answer the original question of this blog post directly, yes animal cruelty in food industry is not only rampant but legally permitted.

      2. I too value the life of living beings more than having a peice of meat for dinner. People don’t realize when they pick up their packaged meat at a grocery store the torture, violence and pain that went into putting that meat on a shelf. If they did they certainly would not want to eat it.


    For her book Slaughterhouse, Gail Eisnitz, chief investigator for the Humane Farming Association (HFA), interviewed slaughterhouse workers in the U.S. who say that, because of the speed with which they are required to work, animals are routinely skinned while apparently alive, and still blinking, kicking, and shrieking. Eisnitz argues that this is not only cruel to the animals, but also dangerous for the human workers, as cows weighing several thousands of pounds thrashing around in pain are likely to kick out and debilitate anyone working near them.

    The HFA alleges that workers are required to kill up to 1,100 hogs an hour, and end up taking their frustration out on the animals.[13] Eisnitz interviewed one worker, who had worked in ten slaughterhouses, about pig production. He told her:

    “ Hogs get stressed out pretty easy. If you prod them too much, they have heart attacks. If you get a hog in the chute that’s had the shit prodded out of him and has a heart attack or refuses to move, you take a meat hook and hook it into his bunghole. You try to do this by clipping the hipbone. Then you drag him backwards. You’re dragging these hogs alive, and a lot of times the meat hook rips out of the bunghole. I’ve seen hams — thighs — completely ripped open. I’ve also seen intestines come out. If the hog collapses near the front of the chute, you shove the meat hook into his cheek and drag him forward.”

    Now how can anyone read that and knowing that this is in the top 5 of the smarest animals on earth, think this is no big deal. These animals have the mental intelligence to know what is happening to them. This is torture that is going unnoticed to animals that are smarther than our domesticated dogs. Shame!

    1. Further to your question… animal cruelty in industrial slaughterhouses is constent. Some free range farms and their slaughter houses do not practise such cruel murders of their animals… It is hard to define what is cruel to some and not to others. Killing a mass amount of healthy animals, to have a large percentage of it thrown out and wasted by North Americans, well to me that is not only cruel but wastefull. These animals have nerve ending and feel pain the same as you and me. They are not a stock of corn, which is how they are treated by the people who run these industries.

  10. i was able to find a list of the usda slaughterhouses for poultry, eggs, & meat, and i’ve seen it stated that there are over 6200 of these facilities (but i didn’t count):

    there is also am inspection report online as well, this one is from q3 of 2009:

    i have no idea what sort of “non-compliance” or “prohibited activity” is being referenced in the report.
    but – it seems like a good starting point – we have the names of slaughterhouses, the type of food they process, and whether or not they’ve been cited for anything.

    of course, if there is gross misinformation in the reports, they’re pretty useless for knowledgizing our decisions. then again, my ability to prove for certain any of the information i use as the basis for my choices is poor at best (thanks for nothing internet), and the validity of this kind of information seems to be on par with just about any other available to the public by the government agencies, so i’ll take it. and while i’m still in a vague research-y mode, i may even be inspired to make a chart. 4reals, a chart. no promises though

    1. Good finds! I wonder if any companies will own up to buying the millions of condemned carcasses or if we’re supposed to believe those are all disposed of? One good thing – compliance is nearly 99%. OTOH that means tens of thousands of non-compliance issues documented. Yes chart!

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