“If you visit the floor of a slaughterhouse, it will brand your soul for life.” (Howard Lyman)
NY Times correspondent David Barboza wrote an April ‘00 article on Smithfield Foods, the top pork producer in the world. Of Smithfield’s North Carolina slaughterhouse (the planet’s largest), he says: “In many ways, the Tar Heel plant — which can process up to 32,000 hogs a day — is an efficient killing machine. Squealing hogs funnel into an area where they are electrocuted, stabbed in the jugular, then tied, lifted and carried on a winding journey through the plant. They are dunked in scalding water, their hair is removed, they are run through a fiery furnace (to burn off residual hair), then disemboweled and sliced by an army of young, often immigrant, laborers.”
In another NY Times piece, Charlie LeDuff describes a self-segregated, joyless, and tension-filled abattoir of poorly-educated and low-paid workers:
Slaughtering swine is repetitive, brutish work, so grueling that three weeks on the factory floor leave no doubt in your mind about why the turnover is 100 percent. Five thousand quit and five thousand are hired every year. …its recruiters comb the streets of New York’s immigrant communities…. The company even procures criminals. Several at the morning orientation were inmates on work release in green uniforms, bused in from the county prison.
Kill-floor work is hot, quick and bloody. The hog is herded in from the stockyard, then stunned with an electric gun. It is lifted onto a conveyor belt, dazed but not dead, and passed to a waiting group of men wearing bloodstained smocks and blank faces. They slit the neck, shackle the hind legs and watch a machine lift the carcass into the air, letting its life flow out in a purple gush, into a steaming collection trough. The carcass is run through a scalding bath, trolleyed over the factory floor and then dumped onto a table with all the force of a quarter-ton water balloon. In the misty-red room, men slit along its hind tendons and skewer the beast with hooks. It is again lifted and shot across the room on a pulley and bar, where it hangs with hundreds of others as if in some kind of horrific dry-cleaning shop. It is then pulled through a wall of flames and met on the other side by more black men who, stripped to the waist beneath their smocks, scrape away any straggling bristles. The place reeks of sweat and scared animal, steam and blood. Nothing is wasted from these beasts, not the plasma, not the glands, not the bones. Everything is used, and the kill men, repeating slaughterhouse lore, say that even the squeal is sold.
The Humane Slaughter Act theoretically provides minimum welfare standards; most importantly, the animals are supposed to be stunned to unconsciousness before the shackle, hoist, and slash. The USDA is charged with the law’s enforcement, but, according to Gail Eisnitz (Slaughterhouse: The Shocking Story of Greed, Neglect, and Inhumane Treatment Inside the U.S. Meat Industry), inspectors aren’t even watching the slaughter:
When I met with the chairman of the 6,000 member meat inspectors’ union, he told me that due to industry consolidation, increased line speeds, and inspection policies developed in collusion with the meat industry, USDA meat inspectors are totally powerless to enforce humane regulations. During our conversations, and in subsequent discussions with scores of other meat inspectors, it became apparent that, while inspectors are the individuals charged by Congress with enforcing humane regulations, they are not even stationed in the areas of the plants where animals are being handled or killed. No one is stationed in these areas of the plants…. Thus, the inspectors told me, if they stopped the production line for Humane Slaughter Act violations, they would probably be disciplined for abandoning their inspection stations and for impeding production.
Eisnitz quotes an inspector:
One day when I went out to the suspect pen, two employees were using metal pipes to club some hogs to death. There had to be twenty little hogs out there that they were going to give to the rendering company. And these two guys were out there beating them to death with clubs and having a good old time. I went to the USDA vet, my supervisor, to complain. He said, ‘They’re of no value because they’re going to be tanked [rendered] anyway.’ So, according to my supervisor, it was all right to club those little hogs to death. They were beating them like they do those little seals in Alaska.
Stressed workers often fail to adequately stun, leaving the slasher a moving target. That target, a terrified, desperate pig fighting for life, may only be wounded (bloodied) before being propelled to the scalding and butchering stations. Imagine that scene. All done to animals at least as intelligent and sensitive as our pet dogs.
Direct quotes from Eisnitz’s investigation:
These hogs get up to the scalding tank, hit the water, and just start screaming and kicking. I’m not sure whether the hogs burn to death before drowning. The water is 140 degrees, not that hot. I don’t believe the hogs go into shock, because it takes them a couple of minutes to stop thrashing. I think they die slowly from drowning.
After a while you become desensitized. And as far as animals go, they’re a lower life-form. They’re maybe one step above a maggot. When you got a live, conscious hog, you not only kill it, you want to make it hurt. You go in hard, blow the windpipe, make it drown in its own blood. Take out an eyeball, split its nose. A live hog would be running around the pit with me. It would be looking up at me and I would just take my knife and–eerk–take its eye out while it was just sitting there. And this hog would just scream.
One time, I took my knife–it’s sharp enough–and I sliced off the end of a hog’s nose, just like a piece of lunch meat. The hog went crazy for a few seconds. Then it just sat there looking kind of stupid. So I took a handful of salt brine and ground it into his nose. Now that hog really went nuts, pushing its nose all over the place. I still had a bunch of salt left on my hand and I stuck the salt right up the hog’s ass. The poor hog didn’t know whether to shit or go blind.
Another time, there was a live hog in the pit. It hadn’t done anything wrong, wasn’t even running around. It was just alive. I took a three foot chunk of pipe and I literally beat that hog to death. I’ll bet there couldn’t have been a two inch diameter piece of solid bone in his head. Basically, if you want to put it in laymen’s terms, I crushed his skull.
If you get a hog in the chute that refuses to move, you take a meat hook and clip it into his anus. You try to do this by clipping the hipbone. Then you drag him backwards. Your 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 a meat hook into his cheek and drag him forward.
The preferred method of handling a cripple is to beat him to death with a lead pipe before he gets into the chute. It’s called ‘piping’. All the drivers use pipes to kill hogs that can’t go through the chutes. Or if a hog refuses to go into the chutes and is stopping production, you beat him to death.
Hogs are stubborn. Beating them in the head seems to work about the best. Piece of rebar about an inch across, you force a hog down the alley, have another guy standing there with a piece of rebar in his hand. It’s just like playing baseball. Just like somebody pitching something at you.
If the hog is conscious, … it takes a long time for him to bleed out. These hogs get up to the scalding tank, hit the water, and start kicking and screaming… There’s a rotating arm that pushes them under. No chance for them to get out.
I’ve taken out my job pressure and frustration on the animals, on my wife, … and on myself, with heavy drinking.