Bloody Business: Unappetizing Slaughter House Cruelty

by Claudius J West

Born-with-a-Junk-Food-Deficiency-How-Flaks-Quacks-and-Hacks-Pimp-the-Public-HealthLiving long and well has got a lot do with the foods we put into our bodies.

After reading Born With A Junk Food Deficiency: How Flaks, Quacks, and Hacks Pimp The Public Health, I am dismayed. I am dismayed by meat. I am dismayed by eggs.

I’m a bona fide, meat-eating omnivore. I fully endorse the Snorg Tee that says, “You either like bacon, or you’re wrong.” Thick-cut bacon, of course.

I don’t want to give up eating meat, but after what I’ve read in Martha Rosenberg’s book, I am stuck in a quandary half moral and half “I don’t want to risk it.”

You can’t accuse me of being ignorant of how meat makes its way between a hamburger bun. I grew up on a small farm in Wisconsin where, among other animals, we butchered chickens for our family’s consumption. My job was to hold the chicken to the chopping block, then release the decapitated carcass to thrash in the tall grasses without, I hoped, being sprayed excessively with sticky chicken blood. Then I joined in the de-feathering.

My sisters, mother, grandmother and aunt were the ones who dressed the birds, pulling out the vitals and cleaning the body cavity where they so recently had lodged. I felt lucky to be spared that part, grisly as it seemed to me, but the womenfolk carried on nonchalantly.

My sisters’ favorite job was scraping the grit and stones out of the gizzards, favorite perhaps because my grandma told them they might find a diamond among the debris. (My grandmother’s tale strikes me, now, as one that must have served to entice generations of gizzard-cleaning girls into a happier acceptance of their task.)

I saw a steer butchered. My father shot it between the eyes from ten feet away using a .22 gauge rifle, bolt action. “Draw an imaginary X between the ears and the eyes,” my uncle advised. At the instant the shot cracked, the steer’s legs went out and it halumphed straight down into the mud and manure. My uncle pranced into range and slashed it across the throat with a fillet knife. Blood spurted far overhead.

We lifted the beast out of the bloody muck with chains around its back legs and the tractor’s manure loader, and held it up that way during the cutting. The guts went onto a flattened cardboard refrigerator box that we later dragged off to the back fields to decompose and become a feast for foxes and neighborhood dogs. We needed the tractor to do the dragging. You couldn’t shift the cardboard by hand even an inch once hundreds of pounds of guts were on it.

Seeing the pig butchered affected me most. We coaxed the four hundred pound hog outside the shed that was its home, using a piece of board held in front of it to dissuade it from running away, as it so easily might have done, board or no board. The professional butcher cocked his spring-loaded stunning rod, popped the pig on the forehead, and the pig fell to its back. With a knife no bigger than a paring knife, a seemingly insignificant two inches of sharp metal, the butcher pushed though layers of fat and severed the arteries of the throat. The blood ran out shockingly bright. The pink of the pig’s eyes turned black.

Other than acting as an unlikely impediment to the pig’s escape, my part in the drama had been simply to stand witness to the facts of life.

calvesThe pig’s legs were waving in the air as if it were trying to run away. The butcher stuck a baling hook (a large metal hook with a handle on it) into the roof of the pig’s mouth, and, for no apparent reason, dragged it several feet forward. The butcher began removing skin. A pig without its skin is white underneath, from the fat.

Even at age eleven, I knew that dead animals should not be moving around, waving their legs, even if dead chickens did. That meant that the knife in the throat, the hook in the mouth, the removal of skin, was happening to a living creature. But if that were the case, how could my father stand by and let an atrocity like that happen? I waited for the other shoe to drop, the one that made sense of a world that had been knocked out of kilter.

I must have been turning green around the gills because eventually my father told me I could head for the house. I watched for a while longer from the farthest window to see when the pig’s legs stopped waving, but for as long as I watched, they never did.

For all of that, you’d think I wouldn’t like bacon as much as I do.

In her book, Martha Rosenberg tells us that cattle in slaughter houses, by law, are supposed to be stunned and insensate before their throats are slit. If the animal is not properly stunned, it costs $5,000 a minute to stop the production line to ensure the animal is properly stunned.

As you can imagine, the production lines are not stopped. Multiple times a day, animals have their throats sliced without benefit of bolt, jolt or bullet.

You might think that a cow with its throat cut open would expire quickly. Not quickly enough. Rosenberg quotes one abattoir worker recounting regularly cutting off cows’ hocks and bits even though he could see the animals’ eyes moving around, far from stunned or dead.

That’s pretty bad, but not as bad as what happens to chickens that miss getting their heads pinched off on their way to being turned into food: these “red birds” get scalded to death to the point their eyes pop out and they break their limbs in their attempts to escape the pain.

Even at the lowest estimates, these processing mistakes mean tens and hundreds of thousands of cruel deaths every day. They’re not just a little bit cruel but as cruel as it is possible to be. That’s some bad karma.

“Pigs that experience stress and panic at slaughter develop pale, soft, and exudative meat (PSE) that is of “poor quality and is generally unacceptable to the consumer.”” p. 248

The terror some pigs experience can be so great that it changes their meat into something “generally unacceptable” to eat? That must require a lot of terror.

Except for insemination, there is no need for roosters in the food chain. As soon as chicks are sexed as male, they are thrown into a grinder. It’s a fast death, and efficient, but somehow disturbingly inhuman.

What does agri-business do with pigs they don’t want, the runts, the played out sows, the damaged? They’re gassed, not with a chemical that kills them quickly, but with carbon dioxide, so that they suffocate slowly. It would be nice to think they get sleepy and nod off before dying, like ice fishermen in a hut with a faulty heater, but it isn’t so.

There are lots more atrocities that Rosenberg chronicles in her book, believe me. I have only scratched the surface.

Surely, the animals we eat could be given space to live their short lives with some comfort and decency. They could go to their deaths without being tortured and terrorized. In theory, all of that is possible.

Unfortunately, in the food production system we have, everything is geared to give consumers the lowest priced food at the greatest profit to producers. That is why antibiotics are used so pervasively in animal feed, not to keep animals healthy but to increase their rate of growth. Reducing an animal’s time to market by months saves vast amounts of money in feed and labor costs. It’s hard to see how tender sentiments for animal welfare can overturn the cold calculation of dollar signs.

bacon and eggs in frying panI want to eat meat, but I don’t want to be an accessory to what, to my mind, is a cruel and functionally evil system of food production. To knowingly accept this much intentional cruelty, as our system of food production does, has to be evil, otherwise evil has no meaning.

I want my bacon and eggs. I don’t want to be on the side of the bad guys. What to do?

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