In the U.S., more than 42 million cows suffer and die for the meat and dairy industries every year. When they are still very young, many cows are burned with hot irons (branded), their horns are cut or burned off, and male cattle have their testicles ripped out of their scrotums (castrated)—all without painkillers. Once they have grown big enough, they are sent to massive, filthy feedlots where they are exposed to the elements, to be fattened for slaughter. Many female cows are sent to dairy farms, where they will be repeatedly impregnated and separated from their calves until their bodies give out and they are sent to be killed.
Like all animals, cows form strong maternal bonds with their calves, and on dairy farms and cattle ranches, mother cows can be heard frantically crying out for their calves for several days after they have been separated.
Cows are gentle giants—large in size but sweet in nature. They are curious, clever animals who have been known to go to extraordinary lengths to escape from slaughterhouses. These very social animals prefer to spend their time together, and they form complex relationships, very much like dogs form packs.
Cattle are transported hundreds of miles in all weather extremes, typically without food or water, to the slaughterhouse. Many cows die on the way to slaughter, but those who survive are shot in the head with a captive-bolt gun, hung up by one leg, and taken onto the killing floor where their throats are cut and they are skinned and gutted. Some cows remain fully conscious throughout the entire process. In an interview with The Washington Post, one slaughterhouse worker said, "They die piece by piece."
The Beef Industry
To mark cows for identification, ranchers restrain the animals and press hot fire irons into their flesh, causing third-degree burns, as the cows bellow in pain and attempt to escape. Male calves' testicles are ripped from their scrotums without pain relievers, and the horns of cows raised for beef are cut or burned off.
While "on the range," most cows receive inadequate veterinary care, and as a result, many die from infection and injury. Every winter, cattle freeze to death in states such as Montana, Nebraska, and North Dakota. And every summer, cows collapse from heatstroke in states such as Texas and Arizona.
After about a year of facing the elements, cows are shipped to an auction lot and then across hundreds of miles to massive feedlots—feces- and mud-filled holding pens where they are crammed together by the thousands. Many arrive crippled or dead from the journey.
Cattle on feedlots are fed a highly unnatural diet to fatten them up. This causes chronic digestive pain—imagine your worst case of gastritis that never goes away. The stomach becomes so full of gas (a condition called bloat) that breathing is impaired because of compression of the lungs. According to a study published in the Journal of Animal Science, this diet also causes potentially fatal liver abscesses in as many as 32 percent of cattle raised for beef. Those animals who escape this fate may still suffer from a severe increase in stomach acid, causing ulcers to form, resulting in a condition (acute acidosis) in which bloody fluid rushes into the rumen and kills the cow.
The feedlot air is saturated with ammonia, methane, and other noxious chemicals, which build up from the huge amounts of manure, and the cows are forced to inhale these gases constantly. These fumes can give the cows chronic respiratory problems, making breathing painful.
Cattle raised for food are also regularly dosed with drugs such as antibiotics to make them grow faster and keep them alive in these miserable conditions. Instead of taking sick cattle to see a veterinarian, many feedlot owners simply give the animals even higher doses of human-grade antibiotics in an attempt to keep them alive long enough to make it to the slaughterhouse.
Cattle raised for beef are subjected to numerous painful procedures during their lives. These include the repeated infliction of third degree burns (branding), having their testicles ripped out (castration), and the removal of their horns. To minimize costs, all of these practices are routinely conducted without any painkillers.
The majority of cattle spend their lives on overcrowded feedlots, "standing ankle deep in their own waste eating a diet that makes them sick", as Michael Pollen writes in the New York Times.
Typical cattle feed includes corn which the animals cannot properly digest, and "fillers" such as sawdust or chicken manure. This unnatural diet can lead to an array of health problems, such as bloat, acidosis (bovine heart burn), diarrhea, ulcers, liver disease, and general weakening of the immune system.
During transport to feedlots, auctions, and slaughterhouses, cattle also endure extreme cruelty. Food is not given to the animals during transport or the day before since it will not be converted into profitable flesh. Some cattle succumb to pneumonia, dehydration, or heat exhaustion, and may even freeze to the sides of transport vehicles during long trips.
Dr. Lester Friedlander, a former USDA veterinarian, put it this way: "In the summertime, when it's 90, 95 degrees, they're transporting cattle from 12 to 15 hundred miles away on a trailer, 40 to 45 head crammed in there, and some collapse from heat exhaustion. This past winter, we had minus-50-degree weather with the wind chill. Can you imagine if you were in the back of a trailer that's open and the wind-chill factor is minus 50 degrees, and that trailer is going 50 to 60 miles an hour?" 
Those who make it to the slaughterhouse alive are often electrically prodded off the truck.
Federal law requires that cattle be stunned (rendered insensible to pain) prior to slaughter. Most cattle are shot in the head with a "pistol" that thrusts a metal rod through the skull and into the brain. However, the law is rarely enforced and routinely violated since shooting a struggling animal is difficult and production lines move at an alarming pace. As a result, some animals go through the slaughter process kicking and screaming as they are skinned and dismembered while fully conscious.
An April 10, 2001 Washington Post expose revealed: "It takes 25 minutes to turn a live steer into steak at the modern slaughterhouse where Ramon Moreno works... The cattle were supposed to be dead before they got to Moreno. But too often they weren't. 'They blink. They make noises,' he said softly. 'The head moves, the eyes are wide and looking around.' Still Moreno would cut. On bad days, he says, dozens of animals reached his station clearly alive and conscious. Some would survive as far as the tail cutter, the belly ripper, and the hide puller. 'They die,' said Moreno, 'piece by piece.'"
1 Rollin, B. 1995. Farm Animal Welfare. pp. 55-65.
2 Pollen, M. (2001, March 31). Power steer. NY Times.
3 Eisnitz, G. (1997). Slaughterhouse (p. 211).
4 Eisnitz, G. (1997). Slaughterhouse.
Veal is a by-product of the dairy industry. In order for dairy cows to produce milk, they must be impregnated and give birth. Half of the calves born are female, and they are used to replace older cows in the milking herd.
The other half are male, and because they are of no use to the dairy industry, most are used for beef or veal.
Within moments of birth, male calves born on dairies are taken away from their mothers and loaded onto trucks. Many are sold through auction rings where they are subjected to transportation and handling stresses. The fragile animals are shocked and kicked, and when they can no longer walk, they are dragged by their legs or even their ears.
Every year, approximately one million calves are confined in crates measuring just two feet wide. They are chained by the neck to restrict all movement, making it is impossible for them to turn around, stretch, or even lie down comfortably. This severe confinement makes the calves' meat "tender" since the animals muscles cannot develop.
Published scientific research indicates that calves confined in crates experience "chronic stress" and require approximately five times more medication than calves living in more spacious conditions. It is not surprising then, that veal is among the most likely meat to contain illegal drug residues which pose a threat to human health.
Researchers have also reported that calves confined in crates exhibit abnormal coping behaviors associated with frustration. These include head tossing, head shaking, kicking, scratching, and stereotypical chewing behavior. Confined calves also experience leg and joint disorders and an impaired ability to walk.
In addition to restricting the animals' movement, veal producers severely limit what their animals can eat. The calves are fed an all liquid milk-substitute which is purposely deficient in iron and fiber. It is intended to produce borderline anemia and the pale colored flesh fancied by 'gourmets'. At approximately sixteen weeks of age, these weak animals are slaughtered and marketed as "white" veal (also known as "fancy", "milk-fed", "special fed", and "formula fed" veal). Besides the expensive veal which comes from calves who are kept in small wooden crates, "bob" veal is the flesh of calves who may be slaughtered at just a few hours or days old. While these calves are spared intensive confinement, they are still subjected to inhumane transport, handling, and slaughter, and many die before reaching the slaughterhouse.
The Milk Industry
Traditional small dairies, located primarily in the northeast and midwest are going out of business. They are being replaced by intensive 'dry lot' dairies which are typically located in the southwest.
Regardless of where they live, however, all dairy cows must give birth in order to begin producing milk. Today, dairy cows are forced to have a calf every year. Like human beings, the cow's gestation period is nine months long, and so giving birth every twelve months is physically demanding. The cows are also forced to give milk during seven months of their nine month pregnancy. In a healthy environment, cows would live in excess of 25 years, but on modern dairies, they are slaughtered after just 3 or 4 years and then used for ground beef. Credit: Farm Sanctuary
With genetic manipulation and intensive production technologies, it is common for modern dairy cows to produce 100 pounds of milk a day -- ten times more than they would produce in nature. The cows' bodies are under constant stress and they are at risk for numerous health problems.
Credit: Dr. Michael W. Fox Approximately half of the country's dairy cows suffer from mastitis, a bacterial infection of their udders. This is such a common and costly ailment that a dairy industry group, the National Mastitis Council, was formed specifically to combat the disease. Other diseases, such as Bovine Leukemia Virus, Bovine Immunodeficiency Virus, and Johne's disease (whose human counterpart is Crohn's disease), are also rampant on modern dairies, but they are difficult to detect or have a long incubation period, and they commonly go unnoticed.
A cow eating a normal grass diet could not produce milk at the abnormal levels expected on modern dairies, and so today's dairy cows must be given high energy feeds. The unnaturally rich diet causes metabolic disorders including ketosis, which can be fatal, and laminitis, which causes lameness.
Another dairy industry disease caused by intensive milk production is "Milk Fever". This ailment is caused by calcium deficiency, and it occurs when milk secretion uses calcium faster than it can be replenished in the blood.
Although the dairy industry is familiar with the cows' health problems and suffering associated with intensive milk production, it continues to subject cows to even worse abuses in the name of increased profit. Bovine Growth Hormone (BGH), a synthetic hormone, is now being injected into cows to get them to produce even more milk. Besides adversely affecting the cows' health, BGH also increases birth defects in their calves.
Cows produce milk for the same reason that humans do—to nourish their young—but calves born on dairy farms are taken from their mothers when they are just one day old and fed milk replacers so that humans can have the milk instead.[1,2]
In order to keep a steady supply of milk, the cows are repeatedly impregnated. Several times a day, dairy cows are hooked by their udders to electronic milking machines that can cause the cows to suffer electrical shocks, painful lesions, and mastitis.
Some spend their entire lives standing on concrete floors; others are crammed into massive mud lots.
Although cows would naturally make only enough milk to meet the needs of their calves (around 16 pounds a day), genetic manipulation, antibiotics, and hormones are used to force each cow to produce more than 18,000 pounds of milk a year (an average of 50 pounds a day).[3,4,5]
Cows on factory farms suffer from a variety of health problems including mastitis, a painful inflammation of the mammary glands. In order to further increase profits, Bovine Growth Hormone (BGH), a synthetic hormone, is now being injected into cows to get them to produce even more milk. The hormones adversely affect the cows' health and increase the rate of birth defects in their calves. BGH may also cause breast and prostate cancer in humans.
Cows have a natural lifespan of about 25 years and can produce milk for eight or nine years, but the stress caused by factory farm conditions leads to disease, lameness, and reproductive problems that render cows worthless to the dairy industry by the time they are four or five years old, at which time they are sent to the slaughterhouse.[8,9]
cruelty in a crate
Few consumers realize that veal is a direct by-product of the dairy industry. Dairy cows must be impregnated in order to produce milk. While female calves are slaughtered or added to the dairy herd, many male calves are taken from their mothers when they are as young as one day old and chained in tiny stalls to be raised for veal.[10,11]
The confinement is so extreme that they cannot even turn around or lie down comfortably. As author John Robbins notes, "The veal calf would actually have more space if, instead of chaining him in such a stall, you stuffed him into the trunk of a subcompact car and kept him there for his entire life."
Many veal calves are deliberately kept anemic in order to produce light-colored meat, which fetches higher prices in restaurants. Their liquid-based, iron-deficient diets cause numerous health problems.
Motherless and alone, they suffer from ulcers, diarrhea, pneumonia, and lameness.[13,14] After three to 18 weeks of this deprivation, they are trucked to the slaughterhouse and butchered.
1 Goldstein, D. (2002, May 30). Up close: a beef with dairy. KCAL.
2 Mad Cow Casts Light on Beef Uses. (2004, Jan. 4). L.A. Times.
3 National Agriculture Statistics Service. (2004, Feb. 17). Milk production. United States Department of Agriculture.
4 Blaney, D.P. (2002, June). The changing landscape of U.S. milk production. Statistical Bulletin Number 978, United States Department of Agriculture.
5 Pace, D. Feeding a bucket calf. Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service, Oklahoma State University.
6 Christiansen, A. (1995, July). Recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone: alarming Tests, unfounded approval. Rural Vermont.
7 McKenzie, J. (1998, Dec. 15). Is cow's milk additive safe? ABC News.
8 Karpf, A. (2003, Dec. 13). Dairy monsters. The Guardian.
9 Wallace, R.L. (2004). Market cows: a potential profit center. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
10 Kahler, S. C. (2001, Jan. 15). Raising contented cattle makes welfare, production sense. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association.
11 Food Safety and Inspection Service, USDA. (2003, Feb.). Safety of veal, from farm to table.
12 Webster, A. J. F. & Saville, C. et al. (1985). The effect of different rearing systems on the development of calf behaviour. British Veterinary Journal, 141, 249-265.
13 Friedlander, L. C. May 23, 2002. Letter to New Jersey Assembly.http://www.njfarms.org/support/friedlander052302.htm.
14 McDonough SP, Stull CL, Osburn BI. (1994). Enteric pathogens in intensively reared veal calves. American Journal of Veterinary Research, 55, 1516-1520.
The dairy industry spends a lot of money on advertising. You can find dairy ads in magazines, on television, in school cafeterias and on billboards. It is almost impossible to grow up in our society without being told how great dairy products are.
They definitely fooled me. As a teenager, I was a very proud dairy consumer. Even after I had become vegetarian, I still continued to consume dairy products. I knew that animals were abused and killed for meat, but didn't see anything wrong with dairy. Cows need to be milked and milk is good for us. Those messages were completely ingrained in me. When I was twenty, I found out the true facts about the dairy industry and decided to make the step to veganism. I would like to share those facts with you, so you can make your own informed decisions.
Cows are mammals. Just like other mammals, when a cow has a baby, her body will make enough milk for her baby. In a normal situation, cows don't need any help getting rid of too much milk. The goal of the dairy industry however, is to make as much money as possible. To get more money, they have several commonly used methods to get cows to produce more milk:
a dairy cow is impregnated every year, so she continues to produce a steady supply of milk. This is usually done through artificial insemination.
calves are removed from their mothers almost right after birth.
especially in intensive dairy farming, cows are genetically engineered and fed growth hormones to force them to produce more milk.
I recently visited a small dairy farm in Wisconsin. Most dairy cows are raised in intensive factory farms, where the situation for the cows is of course much worse. Still, I think this small dairy farm illustrates some common dairy practices really well.
The dairy cows are chained by their necks and kept indoors most of the day. Cow trainers hang above the cows to give them a shock when they arch their backs. This forces them to move back to drop urine and manure into a gutter. They are artificially inseminated each year and are milked on average 305 days per year. As with humans, a cow's pregnancy lasts nine months. Having to give birth every year is physically very demanding.
Even though this small dairy farm has given their cows names in addition to their numbers, it is very clear that their cows are viewed as not much more than milk machines.
After giving birth, their babies are removed from them and kept in another building. I asked someone who works at the dairy farm about this and was told that removing the calves after birth is "standard practice in the dairy industry".
Most cows in the regular dairy industry are also given growth hormones, causing their udders to become unnaturally big and heavy, resulting in frequent infections. The Bovine Growth Hormone (BGH) also increases birth defects in calves.
The average modern dairy cow will produce about 100 pounds of milk per day, which is 10 times more than it would naturally produce. Normally cows can live an average of 25 years. Dairy cows are slaughtered and made into ground beef after about 3-4 years. Because of the intense abuse wrought upon their poor bodies, dairy cows - like beef cattle - also frequently end up being unable to walk or stand, causing them to be severely mistreated.
In the dairy industry, calves are removed from their mothers not long after being born (either right after birth or within 1-2 days). Female calves will be raised to become dairy cows and male calves will be raised and slaughtered for meat. Most male calves are killed for beef, but some will end up in the awful veal industry.
After being removed from their mothers, veal calves are loaded onto trucks and often sold at auctions. These small and fragile calves are often treated very roughly. If they are unable to walk, they will be dragged by their legs or ears.
Veal calves are confined in crates measuring about two feet wide. To make their meat more "tender", their movements are restrained by chains around their necks. To give a white color to their meat, the calves are fed an all-liquid milk-substitute, purposely deficient in iron and fiber. After about 16 weeks, these poor calves are slaughtered and their meat is sold labeled as "white" veal. "Bob" veal comes from calves who are slaughtered when they are only a few hours or days old.
The organic meat and dairy industry have become very popular recently. However, just like any other industry, the organic dairy industry has to make a profit. Even at organic dairy farms, cows are kept constantly pregnant, calves are removed from their mothers and male calves are turned into beef or veal.
Especially at larger organic farms, the treatment of the animals very much resembles that of factory farmed animals. There are very few regulations in place that deal with the amount of space the animals should be given or the amount of time they should be allowed outside.
Most animals raised organically are still handled, transported and slaughtered the same awful way factory farm animals are. They are still forcefully thrown into trucks where they are subjected to transportation without protection from heat or cold and without access to food or water. They are still hung upside down, have their throats slit and bleed to death, often while fully conscious.
Is Dairy Healthy?
Definitely! It is very healthy food for the calves whose tiny bodies need to grow into big cows. Just like the breast milk from any other mammal, it is especially formulated for the babies for whom it is intended. Dairy is high in fat, protein and cholesterol. It is low in carbohydrates and contains no fiber.
Should humans be consuming it? Absolutely not! There is no need at all for humans to be consuming the breast milk from another species. The best food for human babies is human breast milk. After a baby is done nursing, there is no need to switch to the breast milk from a cow.
Dairy products are in fact the leading cause of food allergies. They contain more than 25 different proteins that may induce allergic reactions in humans. Lactose intolerance, the inability to digest the carbohydrate known as lactose found in milk, is common to about 90% of adult blacks and Asians. This condition causes symptoms like diarrhea, gas and stomach cramps.
Breastfed babies can get colic and other milk-related food allergies if the mother consumes dairy products. Colic is the common allergic reaction infants have to proteins found in cow's milk. They give the baby stomach cramps, which cause persistent fussing and crying.
If you're still reading, there is more I'd like to share. This is about the book "Slaughterhouse" by investigative journalist Gail Eisnitz. She visited every slaughterhouse in the continental United States, as a method to rule out the "bad seed" excuse. I have yet to read it myself, have only heard excerpts, but I feel that I owe it to the animals to suffer through it. As I said, we are their only voice. Again, I warn, this is hard stuff to read, especially when you get to the section with quotes from slaughterhouse workers. But, knowledge is power. We can do this.
Slaughterhouse: The Shocking Story of Greed, Neglect, and Inhumane Treatment Inside the U.S. Meat Industry by HFA Chief Investigator Gail Eisnitz.
"Slaughterhouse is an engaging true-life detective story.... A scathing broadside about exactly what the animals on our dinner plate went through to get there." - The San Francisco Chronicle
Slaughterhouse is the first book in which workers in the meat industry speak publicly about what is actually taking place in America’s slaughterhouses. Slaughterhouse chronicles HFA's landmark investigations and recounts HFA Investigator Gail Eisnitz' harrowing journey as she enters the meat industry subculture. The book details the industry's wholesale disregard of the Humane Slaughter Act, a federal law passed in 1958 intended to protect slaughter-bound animals from cruelty.
Eisnitz's investigation begins with a single complaint from a United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) worker alleging that cattle there are having their heads skinned while fully conscious. This single complaint becomes a full-scale, groundbreaking investigation.
Shockingly, slaughterhouse workers admit to deliberately beating, strangling, boiling, or dismembering animals alive. Today’s slaughter line does not stop for anything: Not for injured workers, not for contaminated meat, and least of all, not for sick or disabled animals.
Due to meteoric line speeds, workers are often unable to stun or bleed animals adequately, and, as a result, animals proceed through the butchering process fully conscious. In the words of one worker: "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." Poultry, exempt from coverage under the Humane Slaughter Act, are routinely conscious when immersed in the scald tank as well. Following long government paper trails, it is revealed that contaminated meat and poultry are pouring out of federally-inspected slaughterhouses. Records document major meat packers that marinate rancid meat to disguise slime and smell.... Plant employees miss hide, hair, ear canals, and teeth in product approved by the facility.... Chickens and hams are soaked in chlorine baths to remove slime and odor, and red dye is added to beef to make it appear fresh....
Top federal inspectors go on record stating that, due to inspection policies developed in collusion with the meat industry, they are virtually powerless to enforce slaughterhouse laws. Not surprisingly, deaths from foodborne illness have quadrupled in the past 15 years.
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.
“I seen them take those stunners – they’re about as long as a yard stick – and shove it up the hog’s ass… They do it with cows, too… And in their ears, their eyes, down their throat… They’ll be squealing and they’ll just shove it right down there.”
“Hogs get stressed out pretty easy. If you prod them too much they have heart attacks. 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]. 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.”
“Or in their mouth. The roof of their mouth. And they’re still alive.”
“Pigs on the kill floor have come up and nuzzled me like a puppy. Two minutes later I had to kill them – beat them to death with a pipe.”
“These hogs get up to the scalding tank, hit the water and start screaming and kicking. Sometimes they thrash so much they kick water out of the tank… Sooner or later they drown. There’s a rotating arm that pushes them under, no chance for them to get out. I’m not sure if they burn to death before they drown, but it takes them a couple of minutes to stop thrashing.”
“Sometimes I grab it [a hog] by the ear and stick it right through the eye. I’m not just taking its eye out, I’ll go all the way to the hilt, right up through the brain, and wiggle the knife.”
“Only you don’t just kill it, you go in hard, push hard, blow the windpipe, make it drown in its own blood. Split its nose. A live hog would be running around the pit. It would just be looking up at me and I’d be sticking, and I would just take my knife and – cut its eye out while it was just standing there. And this hog would just scream.”
“I could tell you horror stories… about cattle getting their heads stuck under the gate guards and the only way you can get it out is to cut their heads off while they’re still alive.”
“He’ll kick them [hogs], fork them, use anything he can get his hands on. He’s already broken three pitchforks so far this year, just jabbing them. He doesn’t care if he hits its eyes, head, butt. He jabs them so hard he busts the wooden handles. And he clubs them over the back.”
“I’ve seen live animals shackled, hoisted, stuck, and skinned. Too many to count, too many to remember. It’s just a process that’s continually there. I’ve seen shackled beef looking around before they’ve been stuck. I’ve seen hogs [that are supposed to be lying down] on the bleeding conveyor get up after they’ve been stuck. I’ve seen hogs in the scalding tub trying to swim.”
“I seen guys take broomsticks and stick it up the cow’s behind, screwing them with a broom.”
“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… And the cow be crying with its tongue stuck out. They pull him till his neck just pop.”
“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 bologna. 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 in my hand – I was wearing a rubber glove – and I stuck the salt right up the hog’s ass. The poor hog didn’t know whether to shit or go blind.”