Winning Animal Rights: The Battle After the Victory

by Marcia Mueller

“Rights come before abolition of rights-violating practices, not after.” Rights of All Animals. David Cantor

“Our opposition must advance the total paradigm shift needed to reduce animal abuse by undermining the full range of animal-abusing policy, culture, and practice.” Animal Rights: Remedy to Trumpism, David Cantor. Responsible Policy for Animals.

“The Democratic Party is an engine of capitalism and the Biocaust.” Ibid.

Cantor’s excellent post and the Responsible Policy for Animals organization assert that the current paradigm of fighting animal abuse through welfare reform and promoting compassion and veganism needs to shift to a new paradigm of animal rights. That paradigm would give animals a “personhood status” that no longer keeps them subservient to human needs and give them freedom from property status, exploitation, and abuse.

But will conferring personhood on animals really given them the status and protection they need? Or will the success of their rights depend upon on how willing governing organizations and institutions are to enforce those rights and punish infractions?

Looking at the slaughter industry, where animal undergo much of their greatest suffering and in the highest numbers, we see that human beings, who do have rights by law, often lose those rights in the workplace. Big Ag’s slaughter industry is an arena where laws and regulations are often ignored for both animals and people.

An example is the failure of the humane slaughter laws that are seldom enforced. Most cruelty goes unpunished and unnoticed because there are few inspections, and the facilities are now carefully guarded from view. Much of what we know comes from undercover investigations, which are now under threat by ag-gag laws.

The Humane Slaughter Act was passed in 1958 and is administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS). It was enacted to make the killing of food animals a humane process.

According to the law, the slaughter itself is supposed to involve totally  unconscious and unresponsive animals. Workers are to be fully trained to achieve that status by using (1) carbon dioxide; (2) mechanical captive bolt gun; (3) mechanical gunshot; (4) electrical current. Any ineffective or failed stunning attempt that causes the animal pain or agitation is considered an “egregious inhumane event,” with worker suspension or NOIE (Notice of Intended Enforcement) sent to the facility.

(Animals unfortunate enough to be sent to ritual slaughter houses are not given protection under the Humane Slaughter Act, and they are fully conscious when their throats are slight, side-to-side.)

Inspection Program Personnel (IPP) are supposed to conduct Humane Activity Tracking (HAT) inspections. They include checking transport rules, which demand that animals cannot be transported more than 28 hours without food, water, and rest. If animals look exhausted or dehydrated on arrival at the slaughter facility, drivers and managers are questioned about compliance. If they do not answer satisfactorily, IPP is to call the local Animal and Plant Inspection Service (APHIS) veterinarian.

Slaughterhouse workers are supposed to unload animals under safe conditions, not push them past walking speed, not shove injured animals with machines, or put injured animals with healthy animals. Prods of more than 50 volts are not permitted, nor are bats, shovels, sharp  prods, etc., to move animals. The are many more restrictions and rules in the code.

So, has the Humane Slaughter Act delivered its promise to make the slaughter process easier for the animals?

Not according to undercover investigations, YouTube videos, and reports from observers, and the workers themselves.

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 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. The slaughter lines have increased in speed. 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 the scalding tanks to drown or burn to death, whichever comes first. (There is an online video of a pig swimming frantically in a tank while a worker looks on!)

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 is frustration and rage. One informant described cutting animals’ eyes out with a knife and putting salt in the socket.

Another worker describes one manner of dealing with injured pigs at Morrell’s: “The preferred method of handling a cripple is to beat him to death with a lead pipe before he gets to the chute.”

Birds are not even covered by the Humane Slaughter Act, and undercover investigations have discovered horrendous abuse in their slaughter facilities. According to Mercy For Animals, the slaughter rate is supposed to kill 140 chickens a minute. Investigators tell of birds rushed through so fast that many of the unfortunates die in the scalding tank rather than on the line, where they are supposed to be rendered unconscious by electrical current.

Obviously the Humane Slaughter Act has not served its purpose because of loopholes, lax enforcement, and blatant noncompliance.

While a trip to the slaughterhouse is hell for the animals, a job there is also difficult for the workers.

Through the 1980s, Big Ag’s slaughter plants were often moved from urban areas to small rural communities in right-to-work states, which help break the tradition of a unionized workforce.

The new facilities contained more mechanized equipment, including hydraulic saws, industrial blenders, marinade pumps, steel hooks, metal chains, and fast-moving conveyor belts. The mechanization meant that lower-skilled workers could be hired, but the facilities often provided inadequate training. One worker asked for help and was told, “Just do what the next person is doing.”

Emphasis was placed on an increasingly fast pace. That meant more accidents and more injuries. In spite of the speed, wages were low, and the work was turned into another job that Americans no longer wanted to do.

As the slaughter industry sought to reduce employee turnover without raising pay, they increasingly turned to immigrant workers. They began hiring more Hispanics and then later added more workers from Central America, Somalia, and Asia. Tyson’s was even indicted to a plan to smuggle illegal workers in from Mexico. Most of the immigrant workers are undocumented, leaving them at risk for deportation if they are noncompliant, if they attempt to unionize, or if they try to report work injuries.

Workers in this industry have a high rate of injury and suffer amputations of legs, arms, hands and fingers. One worker was killed when he was told to climb on to an industrial mixer when a ladder was not available. His shirt got caught in a conveyor belt, and he was dragged under the machine and asphyxiated. One worker was electrocuted. One was scalded to death by a burst steam pipe. Another was crushed under a block of ice.

Repetitive stress injuries are commonplace, but workers are encouraged not to seek help or report their problems. A worker tells of going to the nurse’s station 90 times before being referred to a doctor. Some, because of language barriers, are not aware of their rights, and others are threatened with being fired or deported if they become injured and cannot work.

The Occupation Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) apparently does not have any control over the pace of the work, is understaffed when it comes to inspections, and facilities are often warned when OSHA is coming. In that case, the assembly line is slowed down and extra workers are added, making the working conditions look safer.

So Big Ag’s slaughter industry is an ugly mix of cruelty, greed, and the flouting of regulations and laws. The millions of animals entering the slaughterhouses face horrific suffering before death. The nearly 500,000 or so people who work in the facilities face harsh work conditions, intimidation, and occupational injuries.

The obvious conclusion is that when government agencies fail to enforce laws and regulations and relinquish their power to the corporations, those corporations can make their own rules.

Obtaining information is getting increasingly difficult:  “When Big Agriculture gets into hot water, it rarely apologizes or makes amends. Instead, its go-to solution has been to cut off the public’s ability to discover the truth and learn more about the industry’s immoral behavior.” (“Big Ag Bullies and Lobbies to Keep Americans in the Dark,” Food & Agriculture, May 5, 2016.) The USDA also removed FOIA statistics from its website.

Animal rights activists and organizations have been fighting Big Ag and the slaughter industry with undercover investigations, protests, petitions, and public education. They demand punishment for workers who brutalize the animals and supervisors who do not stop it. However, legally the animal are just commodities that are turned into profits and products.

However, people do have rights that are not being recognized by the slaughter industry. Undocumented immigrants, who can be intimidated, are hired and given inadequate training. They are threatened with deportation if they try to unionize. They are pushed to keep up a rapid production process that harms animals and themselves. Safety rules are lax or ignored, and OSHA complaints are underreported.

So where are the defenders of human rights? Where are the Democrats, those social justice warriors who purport to be champions of the downtrodden and the powerless? Why are they silent about the workers, the animals, and the law-breaking?

The lesson of all this is that both human rights and animal suffering can be ignored by Big Ag and the slaughter industry with their army of lobbyists, their minions in Congress, and with both political parties needing handouts at election time. The real problem is a corporate world that is out of control and too big to fight.

And it all begs this question:  Under capitalism, which will be more difficult–gaining rights for animals or enforcing them?


REFERENCES Eisnitz, Gail A. Slaughterhouse: The Shocking Story of Greed, Neglect, and Inhumane Treatment Inside the U.S. Meat Industry, (Prometheus Books, 2007). Marcus, Eric. Meat Market: Animals, Ethics, & Money, (Brio Books, Boston, Massachusetts, 1996). Schlosser, Eric. Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal (First Mariner Books, 2012).



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4 thoughts on “Winning Animal Rights: The Battle After the Victory

  1. Couldn’t agree more with the viewpoint of this article. Big Ag can basically pretty much do what it likes in the USA – it is subjected to the minimum of regulation.

    The only way to change this is for the consumer to stop buying mass-slaughtered meat and instread opt for meat from animals reared on small farms that treat their livestock humanely – and these do exist around the country.

    The European Union and consumer groups are inow starting to put pressure on slaughter houses, industrial farmers etc. to clean up their act and the former is also forcing them to keep their animals under more humane conditions. America should follow suit.


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