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The meatpacking industry; or, hell on earth

A slaughterhouse

Here are some excerpts from a review article of a book I’m reading called Slaughterhouse (1997), by Gail Eisnitz:

[....] The agony starts when the animals are hauled over long distances under extreme crowding and harsh temperatures. Here is an account from a worker assigned to unloading pigs: "In the winter, some hogs come in all froze to the sides of the trucks. They tie a chain around them and jerk them off the walls of the truck, leave a chunk of hide and flesh behind. They might have a little bit of life left in them, but workers just throw them on the piles of dead ones. They'll die sooner or later."
Once at the slaughterhouse, some animals are too injured to walk and others simply refuse to go quietly to their deaths. This is how the workers deal with it: "The preferred method of handling a cripple is to beat him to death with a lead pipe before he gets into the chute... If you get a hog in a 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 (anus)...and a lot of times the meat hook rips out of the bunghole. I've seen thighs completely ripped open. I've also seen intestines come out."
And here is what awaits the animals on the kill floor. First, the testimony of a horse slaughterhouse worker: "You move so fast you don't have time to wait till a horse bleeds out. You skin him as he bleeds. Sometimes a horse's nose is down in the blood, blowing bubbles, and he suffocates."
Then another worker, on cow slaughter: "A lot of times the skinner finds a cow is still conscious when he slices the side of its head and it starts kicking wildly. If that happens, ... the skinner shoves a knife into the back of its head to cut the spinal cord." (This paralyzes the animal, but doesn't stop the pain of being skinned alive.) And still another, on calf slaughter: "To get done with them faster, we'd put eight or nine of them in the knocking box at a time... You start shooting, the calves are jumping, they're all piling up on top of each other. You don't know which ones got shot and which didn't... They're hung anyway, and down the line they go, wriggling and yelling" (to be slaughtered while fully conscious).
And on pig slaughter: "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 am not sure if they burn to death before they drown, but it takes them a couple of minutes to stop thrashing."
The work takes a major emotional toll on the workers. Here's one worker's account: "I've taken out my job pressure and frustration on the animals, on my wife, ... and on myself, with heavy drinking." Then it gets a lot worse: "... with an animal who pisses you off, you don't just kill it. You ... blow the windpipe, make it drown in its own blood, split its nose... I would cut its eye out... and this hog would just scream. One time I ... sliced off the end of a hog's nose. The hog went crazy, so I took a handful of salt brine and ground it into his nose. Now that hog really went nuts..."
Safety is a major problem for workers who operate sharp instruments standing on a floor slippery with blood and gore, surrounded by conscious animals kicking for their lives, and pressed by a speeding slaughter line. Indeed, 36 percent incur serious injuries, making their work the most hazardous in America. Workers who are disabled and those who complain about working conditions are fired and frequently replaced by undocumented aliens. A few years ago, 25 workers were burned to death in a chicken slaughterhouse fire in Hamlet, NC, because management had locked the safety doors to prevent theft.
Here is a worker's account: "The conditions are very dangerous, and workers aren't well trained for the machinery. One machine has a whirring blade that catches people in it. Workers lose fingers. One woman's breast got caught in it and was torn off. Another's shirt got caught and her face was dragged into it." [....]

The author of the review compares these plants to Auschwitz. Extermination camps for animals. (Actually, insofar as the “guards” are miserable too, they may be worse than Auschwitz.)

It’s a very readable book, albeit disturbing. For example, “I glanced through the pile of complaints on my desk.... A guy in North Carolina strangled a hundred puppies for fun; a New Yorker collected two hundred homeless pets and then starved them to death. Just when I thought I’d seen it all, some new way to torture animals would land in my in-box....” But more disturbing than the random crazy people is the institutionalized craziness, the institutionalized sadism. (That’s really what capitalism is, after all.) The way workers deal with killing and torturing thousands of beings a day is, not surprisingly, through drink. And taking out their frustrations on friends and family.

“A live hog would be running around the pit. It would just be looking up at me and I’d be sticking [i.e., cutting throats], and I would just take my knife and cut its eye out while it was just sitting there. And this hog would just scream.” This guy was known in the plant for sucking on eyeballs as a joke. Another guy drank a cup of blood. “You develop a bizarre sense of humor down there.”

“I’ve drug cows till their bones start breaking, while they were still alive. Bringing them around the corner and they get stuck up in the doorway, just pull them till their hide be ripped, till the blood just drip on the steel and concrete. Breaking their legs pulling them in. And the cow be crying with its tongue stuck out. They pull him till his neck just pop.”

Aside from the corporations, the fault lies mainly with the USDA, which has abdicated its regulatory role. It simply doesn’t enforce laws like the Humane Slaughter Act. Meat inspectors who try to enforce this particular law are punished by their superiors, for a variety of bureaucratic reasons. The systemic corruption that Eisnitz unearths is stunning.

It’s ironic that the federal government is the Number 1 violator of its own laws, by not enforcing them (but also by literally violating them, as in the case of the Leahy Law).


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