Can you stomach it…?

There’s a book I know I should read but can’t quite bring myself to yet.  It’s called ‘Slaughterhouse’ and is written by Gail A Eisnitz
Prometheus Books, New York, 1997. 

You can tell from the title and the front cover that it’s not going to be light reading… no happy endings or sugar plum fairies here..  The fact that we know from the title that this book is going to be deeply upsetting and disturbing tells us everything we need to know about how we really feel about slaughterhouses.  A bit like watching Schindler’s List or 12 Years a Slave, you know that reading this book is going to fill you with shame and horror and sadness and anger.  But unlike Schindler’s List and 12 Years a Slave, you won’t be able to walk away and tell yourself that you’d have behaved differently and that you’d have tried to stop it.  Because you aren’t and you don’t.   

Here’s Alex Hershaft’s (PhD,President, FARM) review of Slaughterhouse:

 In the midst of our high-tech, ostentatious, hedonistic lifestyle, among the dazzling monuments to history, art, religion, and commerce, there are the ‘black boxes.’ These are the biomedical research laboratories, factory farms, and slaughterhouses – faceless compounds where society conducts its dirty business of abusing and killing innocent, feeling beings.

        These are our Dachaus, our Buchenwalds, our Birkenaus. Like the good German burghers, we have a fair idea of what goes on there, but we don’t want any reality checks. We rationalize that the killing has to be done and that it’s done humanely. We fear that the truth would offend our sensibilities and perhaps force us to do something. It may even change our life.

        Slaughterhouse by Gail Eisnitz of the Humane Farming Association is a gut-wrenching, chilling, yet carefully documented, expose of unspeakable torture and death in America’s slaughterhouses. It explodes their popular image of obscure factories that turn dumb ‘livestock’ into sterile, cellophane-wrapped ‘food’ in the meat display case. The testimony of dozens of slaughterhouse workers and USDA inspectors pulls the curtain on abominable hellholes, where the last minutes of innocent, feeling, intelligent horses, cows, calves, pigs, and chickens are turned into interminable agony. And, yes, the book may well change your life. Here are some sample quotes (warning! extremely offensive material follows).

        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.”

        Although Slaughterhouse focuses on animal cruelty and worker safety, it also addresses the issues of consumer health, including the failure of the federal inspection system. There is a poignant testimony from the mother of a child who ate a hamburger contaminated with E. coli: “After Brianne’s second emergency surgery, surgeons left her open from her sternum to her pubic area to allow her swollen organs room to expand and prevent them from ripping her skin… Her heart … bled from every pore. The toxins shut down Brianne’s liver and pancreas. An insulin pump was started. Several times her skin turned black for weeks. She had a brain swell that the neurologists could not treat… They told us that Brianne was essentially brain-dead.”

Slaughterhouse has some problems. In an attempt to reflect the timeline of the investigation, the presentation suffers from poor organization and considerable redundancy. But that’s a bit like criticizing the testimony on my Holocaust experiences because of my Polish accent. The major problem is not with the content of the book, but with the publisher’s cover design. The title and the headless carcasses pictured on the dust jacket effectively ensure that the book will not be read widely and that the shocking testimony inside will not get out to the consuming public.

        And that’s a pity. Because the countless animals whose agony the book documents so graphically deserve to have their story told. And because Slaughterhouse is the most powerful argument for meatless eating that I have ever read. Eisnitz’ closing comment “Now you know, and you can help end these atrocities” should be fair warning. After nearly 25 years of work on farm animal issues, including leading several slaughterhouse demonstrations, I was deeply affected. Indeed, reading Slaughterhouse has changed my life.

 

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What we all know but try to ignore…

As Paul McCartney famously once said – If slaughterhouses had glass walls, everyone would be vegetarian.”

I think, deep down, we all know this is probably true.  However much we tell ourselves that animals are killed ‘humanely’, after ‘a good life’, and eating meat is, after all, ‘necessary’ etc.  None of us are actually comfortable with another animal having to die so that we can have the pleasure of eating it.  We happily buy and eat meat but we’d rather not think about the process by which that animal gets from the field to our fork.  Most of us would never have the gall to kill a pig, cow, lamb, chicken or duck in order to eat it. Most of us wouldn’t particularly want to bop a tuna over the head with a mallet even! 

At the other end of the spectrum, even my most hardy farming friends, who’ve grown up ‘culling’, ‘processing’ and ‘butchering’ animals still find the task, however necessary they feel it might be, and however pride they may take in doing it well, an unpleasant one.  At a very basic human level, it is never an enjoyable thing to take someone or something else’s life and nor should it be. 

Here’s an interesting article written by Chris Williamson on why he became involved in animal rights activism and converted to veganism which I thought was worth sharing:

THERE are meat-eaters who abhor animal cruelty and vegans who are driven by matters other than animal welfare. But, in my case, the two have always been intrinsically linked.

I vividly remember being horrified as a 14-year-old given a summer job by my local butcher.

Having been led to believe I would be serving behind the counter, I was surprised on my first day to find myself exposed to the slaughterhouse next door.

Rather than serving up some prime steak for Mrs Smith or chicken fillets for Mr Brown, my unglamorous job was to feed sheep intestines through my fingers to be used for sausage skin.

But if that was unpleasant enough, nothing could have prepared me for some of the other horrors that I experienced on that first day.

I saw the fear in the eyes of the animals who were about to be killed. I can still picture that now, just as I can still smell the rank scent of death which filled the air in that awful place.

It was an experience that stayed with me for life and something that influenced my eventual decision that I could no longer partake in this industry.

I made that choice in 1976, some five years after that dreadful experience in the butcher’s slaughterhouse.

Thinking back, I was inspired by people like Mahatma Gandhi, who said: “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”

I can even remember hearing Spike Milligan discussing his vegetarianism as he was being interviewed on the Michael Parkinson Show. That unquestionably influenced me, too, and may well have been the deciding factor. But, for me, becoming a vegan was less about emulating my heroes or making a statement.

It was much more about taking what seemed to be the next natural step, as a 19-year-old who was beginning to come to terms with some of the social injustices that would epitomise much of the next couple of decades.

It was an era that shaped the person and politician I became. My ideologies and beliefs were shaped in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and becoming a vegan was part of that.

Cruelty seemed inherent within the meat industry. So why would I want to partake in such a thing when I felt so passionately about it?

I joined the Hunt Saboteurs Association at around the same time and was elected on to the League Against Cruel Sports’ board of trustees in 1979. It’s a position I still hold with pride. And I’m as passionate now about fighting against cruelty to animals as I was back then. That made it easy for me to take my natural position on debates such as fox-hunting before that was finally resolved by the last Labour Government. It also sheds some light on why I have been such a vocal opponent of the appalling badger cull which remains in place, even if our campaign against it has forced the Tory-led Government to slow its progress. All that is because it is easy to campaign on an issue when it rankles with the belief systems you hold at your very core.

I abhor cruelty in any form and the way in which animals are reared has become more intensive, which has inevitably compromised welfare. But there are so many other reasons to believe that eating animals is fundamentally wrong, especially at a time when the earth’s natural resources are under intense pressure and energy efficiency is more topical than ever.

Farmed animals consume 13 pounds of grain for every pound of meat produced.

Even more perversely, farmed fish need to be fed five pounds of wild-caught fish for every pound of flesh produced for human consumption.

It is grossly inefficient and makes no sense whatsoever.

In terms of energy consumption, 11 times more fossil fuel is exhausted to make a calorie of animal protein than it takes to make a calorie of food protein. And the livestock industry is responsible for nearly 20 per cent of the world’s climate changing emissions.

Add in other alarming statistics, such as the fact that 50% of antibiotics are used to tackle health problems of animals being reared in intensive conditions, and it casts a dark shadow over the whole meat industry.

So, while my original decision was about cruelty to animals, there are dozens of other factors that reinforce my view that veganism is not just about morals, but about making a sustainable life choice.

Population growth and environmental considerations mean that meat consumption at present levels is untenable. Consequently, the likelihood is that, for future generations, a vegan diet will be the norm rather than the exception that it is today.

So this is an amusing prank video carried out in a supermarket in Brazil which is worth watching just for people’s faces and reactions:

Click here to watch video

the reality of how our sausages get from piggy to pan is something that none of us are actually comfortable with.  When faced with the reality of it, we are completely repulsed by it.  So why do we happily buy and east sausages?  Because we can do so without ever having to face up to the reality of the hideously cruel world we are financing and supporting.  How many of you have been to a pig farm like this one in Scotland?

Or this one in Vermont?

How many of you have ever been inside a slaughterhouse and watched a pig being ‘processed’?

Or butchered?

I was bought up surrounded by animals and farmers and my dad was a sheep farmer.  But the reality of the slaughterhouse process, especially the industrial scale ones we are seeing more and more of as the world’s appetite for meat grows, sickens me to my stomach and I’m sure it would yours if you were brave enough to do your research and take a closer look at how your sausages arrive on your supermarket shelves or butchers hooks.

Really upsetting video but people need to see this stuff.

I have phoned a lot of ‘meat production units’ around the UK and not one will give me a guided tour and show me around the premises to see what goes on inside. Not outside of working hours, not any time. So we have to resort to undercover filming… And this is what we find. This is not an improvised scene. This is not elaborated. This is cold hard footage and as upsetting as it is to watch – I think it’s important that we do. if this doesn’t make you question whether or not you can really justify eating meat, then I don’t know what will.

Between 2009 and 2011, Animal Aid filmed secretly inside nine randomly chosen British slaughterhouses. We found evidence of cruelty and law breaking in eight of them. The problems are serious and widespread. Our films revealed animals being kicked, slapped, stamped on, and picked up by fleeces and ears and thrown into stunning pens. We recorded animals being improperly stunned and going to the knife while still conscious. We filmed animals deliberately and illegally beaten and pigs burned with cigarettes.

Even where no laws were broken, animals still suffered pain and fear. And ‘high welfare’ plants, such as those accredited by the Soil Association and Freedom Food, were no better than the standard ones, and were guilty of breaches of the welfare laws. Animal Aid believes that whether ‘conventional’, organic, kosher or halal, all slaughter is unnecessary and immoral, and the only way to prevent such suffering is to go vegan.

How Can You Help?
•Choose an animal-free diet. There is no kind way to slaughter animals, and the best way to prevent their suffering is not to eat them. Animal Aid is here to help and advise anyone wishing to adopt a more compassionate diet.
•The slaughter industry is demanding less external regulation, even though Animal Aid’s investigations show it cannot be trusted to obey the law. Please help us campaign for mandatory CCTV in all UK slaughterhouses by ordering campaign postcards from info@animalaid.co.uk.
•Ask your MP to sign EDM 951, which calls for mandatory CCTV for all slaughterhouses.
•Write a letter to your local newspaper about slaughterhouse cruelty. Let its readers know that Animal Aid can send a free Go Veggie and Vegan pack to anyone who requests one.