In May of 2002, IBP- the world’s largest meatpacking “chain”- made headlines when employees of a Washington slaughterhouse complained that 10-30% of the cows were getting skinned and dismembered while still alive.
By federal law, animals are supposed to be unconscious before they are brought to slaughter. But IBP employees said that the line moves so fast that they cannot ensure that all the cows are rendered unconscious. In fact, many cows are very much aware of what is happening while they are being butchered.
“Workers open the hide on the legs, the stomach, the neck, they cut off the feet while the cow is still breathing. She makes noise… she’s looking around.”
When the workers were asked how they knew that the animals were alive when killed, these were their replies:
“You see it clearly when a cow is alive. They move their heads. Their eyes are wide open. They blink. They move their feet as if they want to stand on the ground. Sometimes they cry out,” said one worker who asked not to be identified.
“Mooooooooh, that is the noise the make.” Employee Adelaido Ramirez said.
An IBP employee, (the same one who asked for his identity to remain secret), brought a hidden camera into the IBP plant in Wallula, Washington and taped some scenes from the production line. The video shows fallen cows being trampled and dragged. One cow gets an electric prod repeatedly shoved in her mouth. Other cows dangle from chains by a hind leg, kicking and blinking.
Fully conscious, some of the cows make it to the station where their legs are removed.
By federal law, animals are supposed to be unconscious before they are brought to slaughter.
Aren’t There Supposed to be Inspections?
The USDA is supposed to inspect these huge slaughterhouses to make sure the “Humane Slaughter Act” is upheld. The Humane Slaughter Act, which was passed in 1958, forbids torture and requires that animals be “insensible to pain” before being chained and butchered. The most effective process of making an animal insensitive to pain is known as the “stunning process”. This process most commonly consists of a blow to the head or an electric shock. Evidently, “stunning” the animal frequently doesn’t work.
But unfortunately for the animals, the USDA doesn’t have enough inspectors, so the Humane Slaughter Act frequently goes unenforced. It also doesn’t help that huge companies like IBP that can cut a check to anyone who gives them a hard time. Also, the USDA has been charged with both regulating and promoting the meat industry. According to the US Secretary of Agriculture, “it is not a priority” to stop these atrocities.
The sad fact is that even an employee who moves to stop the conveyor belt is in danger of losing his job. Of the employees who spoke out, many were immigrants who- out of fear- felt it necessary to conceal their identity. Companies such as IBP, who prosper on suffering, commonly use bully tactics over their vulnerable employees to ensure that the factory runs as smoothly as possible… since maximizing profit is the only thing these companies care about.
In all, over a dozen employees came forward and confessed that they’d seen thousands and thousands of cows skinned and dismembered while still conscious. “If I see a live animal,” says a plant worker, “I cannot stop the line. Because our supervisor has told us that you have to work on a cow that’s alive.”
“If I see a live animal,” says a plant worker, “I cannot stop the line. Because our supervisor has told us that you have to work on a cow that’s alive.”
The U.S. has yet to enforce (or attempt to enforce) the Humane Slaughter Act. As a result, these slaughterhouses make up their own rules. Rules that end up killing over a thousand cows a day instead of the mere 300 they were killing just a few years ago. As production increases, the conditions become more and more appalling for the animals.
The sad fact is that even an employee who moves to stop the conveyor belt is in danger of losing his job.
Does Humane Slaughter Exist?
Which leads us to another issue, does the term “humane slaughter” even have a significant meaning.
To me, “humane slaughter” is the ultimate oxymoron. Psychologically, it gives people the clear conscience required to continue enjoying the consumption of animals. But the truth is, is that the slaughter of animals for the sake of our tastebuds, is not humane in any way. It means that we ourselves act as animals who think only about pleasing the senses. Eating animals means that the consumer has not chosen to be conscious the consequences of a meat-centered diet- and not just those consequences that befall the animal. By calling a violent process “humane”, it degrades the very meaning of the word.
As humans, we have a capacity for responsibility. We always have the choice to take care of something nicely or to exploit it. The very nature of a slaughterhouse is exploitative and neglectful of the responsibilities that accompany a human life. To invent a term called “Humane Slaughter” means we want to act like animals and feel good about it.
Information from: The Humane Farming Association, and Channel King5, Seattle, WA