by Marcia Mueller
Agriculture needs more exposure and more protests. For example . . .
Published in 1906, Upton Sinclair’s novel “The Jungle” exposed the ugly realities of a slaughter plant. Despite the torture of the animals, much of the public response focused on exploitation of the workers. But what he witnessed raised another question in Sinclair’s mind: Was the violence inflicted on innocent animals carried over to other acts of violence by the workers in their communities? He relates what a police officer told him about the two-o’clock-in-the-morning fights between workers that could get out of control. The officer said, “There is but scant account kept of cracked heads in back of the [stock] yards, for men who have to crack the heads of animals all day seem to get into the habit, and to practice on their friends, and even on their families between times.”
The correlation between spending all day, every day, killing animals and the violence that spills into the community–called the “Sinclair hypothesis”–has not received enough attention until lately.
Recent studies have raised concern about a correlation between work in slaughterhouses and increasing violence surrounding the facilities. A study of 581 counties from 1994 to 2002 reveals that the yearly arrest and report averages increase with the presence of a nearby slaughterhouse. New research also shows that the presence of a slaughterhouse has a 166% increase in arrests for rapes.
Amy J. Fitzgerald and Linda Kalof of Windsor University and Thoma Dietz of Michigan State University designed a study that controlled for the variables that explain crime in communities similar to the rural areas where slaughter houses are increasingly located. They discovered that the rate of violent crime found slaughterhouse workers was greater than that in other industries utilizing the same type of workforce, employing them on production lines, and reporting similar injury rates.
Fitzgerald’s study discovered that violent crime, including sexual crimes, increased whenever an abattoir was established. A sociologist from Flinders University, Dr. Nik Taylor, found that the aggression levels of meat workers were “so high they’re similar to the scores . . . for incarcerated populations
A 2014 study by Jessica Racine Jacques, a PhD student at the University of Florida, revealed a “strong” relationship between rape and the presence of a “beef” slaughterhouse in a rural community. Other consequences of the job of killing animals include domestic violence, drug and alcohol abuse, and severe anxiety. The workers are increasingly being treated for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
So what does the slaughter business look like close up?
Big Ag is one of the largest and greediest industries in the country. It is responsible for raising millions of animals who spend their lives crammed into gestation crates and battery cages. In over 1100 facilities it is responsible for slaughtering millions of cows, pigs, lambs, goats, chickens, turkeys, ducks, and geese every year. Most of the animals undergo enormous stress and suffering due to the industry’s reliance on economies of scale production and lax enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act
Not as well known is that Big Ag is also responsible for exploitation of its workers, including illegal immigrants, and for increased rates of violent crime and undesirable behaviors in the communities where the slaughter plants are located.
Many slaughter facilities are currently located in rural areas. They are isolated from the general population, and what goes on inside is hidden. Most of the workforce now is non-unionized, and the largely immigrant workforce receives minimum pay.
The work is physically difficult. Owners want the lines to move quickly through the slaughter—the faster the killing, the greater the profit. The job is ugly and gruesome. Workers spend days killing terrified animals who struggle to escape their fate. They work surrounded by blood, body parts, and the sounds of suffering and dying animals. They are often injured by flailing hooves, machinery, and knives. They are hounded by bosses who push for faster results. Most feel trapped in the jobs in order to provide for themselves and their families.
If conditions are bad for the workers, it does not compare to the fate of the animals. YouTube and multiple books reveal the brutality of their treatment. Gail Eisnitz, working for the Humane Farming Association, recalls how the cows were killed at a large Tyson plant in Washington State. Some of the employees signed affidavits describing how for decades they had been pushed to cut up hundreds of thousands of fully conscious cows. According to the affidavit, “workers open the hides on the legs, the stomach, the neck; they cut off the feet while the cow is breathing. It makes noise. It’s looking around. . . . Their eyes look like they are popping out. Sometimes they have all the skin out and they’re all peeled. Sometimes you can tell they’re alive because when you look at their eyes, you can see the tears of a cow.”
The fate of pigs is no better, with the line speed being faster. One of the largest slaughterhouses in the world, here in America, kills 32,000 pigs a day. Some of the animals end up being pushed alive into scalding water tanks to drown or burn to death, whichever comes first. The ones who don’t move fast enough are hit with pipes, resulting in broken backs and other injuries. Gail Eisnitz recounts the description by one worker who would prod the pigs to the kill floor. If the pigs did not move fast enough, often because they were injured, he would ram the prod into the pig’s eye and hold it there in frustration and rage. Another informant described cutting animals’ eyes out with a knife and rubbing salt in open wounds
A worker describes one manner of dealing with injured animals at Morrell’s: “The preferred method of handling a cripple at Morrell’s is to beat him to death with a lead pipe before he gets to the chute.”
While some workers seemed to enjoy the power they had to torture the animals under their control, or at least become desensitized to the pain they caused, others had to fight a different reaction: “Pigs down 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. I can’t care.”
Another worker asked himself “Was this the purpose they were put on earth for? I asked myself that question over and over as I saw them coming out of the cattle trucks and into the corrals and even jumping the corrals and, fearing for their lives, running down the avenue and taking on automobiles head-on, crashing into them.”
Anger at people was described by the slaughterhouse workers, as well. They looked at people the way they looked at the animals they were killing: “I’ve had ideas of hanging my foreman upside down on the line and sticking him.” The same worker describes his coworkers: “Every sticker I know carries a gun, and every one of them would shoot you. Most stickers I know have been arrested for assault. A lot of them have problems with alcohol.” He went one to say that they had to drink, that they had no other way of dealing with all the killing: “If you stop and think about it, you’re killing several thousand beings a day.”
A slaughterhouse employee tells how “Guys carried on in a bloodthirsty kind of lifestyle. During work, in the early morning hours, loading trucks with these animal carcasses, men drank all night long; [they were] severely intoxicated. But they did their job.”
A recent shocking story emerged from Sulphur Springs, Texas. There a meat processing plant worker has been accused of murdering over 71 coworkers whose bones were found at a rendering plant where the slaughterhouse byproducts were sent. Someone who knew him described how much he enjoyed his work and how he could rip the skin off a carcass in seconds. The murders went unnoticed for years because he “just processed his victims as meat . . . and they just disappeared somewhere in the meat packing process.” Because of the high turnover in the slaughter industry, it was assumed the victims just left the area.
The barbaric treatment of animals in the slaughter industry has no place in a civilized society, but it continues. In their greed for profits ConAgra, Smithfield, Tyson and the rest of the industry create the conditions that attract potentially psychopathic employees whose sadistic impulses can be legally directed to helpless animals. Supervisors and managers look the other way as the animals undergo gratuitous violence from frustrated and enraged workers. The tales of horrendous abuse from virtually every undercover investigation and interview reveal the willingness of the USDA to look the other way and not enforce the Animal Welfare Act.
Workers who are more concerned about the animal suffering and death they see every day but feel trapped in the job may develop PTSD and resort to drunkenness or become involved in violent crime.
So Big Ag tortures animals, exploits workers, and creates problems in the community where their facilities are located. So how does it get by with it?
Their facilities operate out of view and are often located in areas with few job options. The USDA does not enforce its regulations for animal protection. Managers threaten protesters and whistleblowers with AETA and arrest. They attempt to enact ag-gag laws. They take advantage of our schizophrenic morality that values and protects human life but consigns animals to the status of property and units of production and ignores their suffering.
The industry also advertises to a gullible public with cartoon-like promotions of happy cows and pigs. It promotes fairy tales about “humane” meat and eggs. According to James McWilliams “Animal products these days are sold with a story–the animal was humanely raised, it was cage free, it was free ranged, it’s hormone free, it was pasture fed. Whatever. The bottom line is this: She was killed, she was a sentient being, she did not want to die, and the person who killed it [sic] so you could enjoy her with a bottle of Bordeaux and a side of arugula has been forced to declare “I can’t care.”
We contribute to the success of Big Ag and we are complicit in its crimes. We create the demand.
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