Slaughterhouses: The Harsh Reality of How Meat Is Made

intensive agriculture

“If slaughterhouses had glass walls, we’d all be vegetarians.”

The Beatle and decades-long vegetarian, Paul McCartney, has been speaking out on animal rights for many years. The quote is short but speaks volumes. People don’t want to know the truth.

Most people, even meat eaters, love animals. Apart from people who hunt and fish, it will be hard for you to find someone who willingly hurts or kills animals. And even if you ask the biggest meat eater you know if he or she likes animal suffering, they will likely say no. The disconnect between people and meat is simply astonishing.

Urbanization has taken people away from farms and into cities, where they have no connection to animals. Slaughterhouses are kept at a distance and don’t try to attract visitors. While some allow tours, photography and video are generally prohibited.

The companies behind the meat industry and big food know that the general public wants nothing to do with slaughterhouses, only to buy the products (slaughtered animals) that come out of them. There are even laws in some places that protect companies in their mission to keep as many secrets as possible. These businesses fought to pass what are known as ag-gag laws that punish those looking to expose the horrors within the walls of slaughterhouses and on factory farms.

There Are Over 2500 Slaughterhouses in the U.S.

slaughterhouses in america

That’s an average of 50 per state.

This sentence is being written on January 19, 2019. In the United States, less than three weeks into the new year, over 400 million land animals have been killed in slaughterhouses. By the end of the year, that number will be over eight billion land animals, just in the United States, rising to over 55 billion when you include sea animals.

That is the number of all sentient beings that have been killed in the first 19 days of 2019.

Which State Kills the Most Animals for Meat?

Nebraska kills more animals than any other state in the U.S. Approximately 11.5 billion pounds (5.2 billion kilos) of murdered animals come out of Nebraska each year. That is about 8.7% of the U.S. supply of slaughtered meat.

Close behind Nebraska are Texas and North Carolina, but no state is free of guilt. There are slaughterhouses dotted across the U.S. and countries worldwide.

What is a Slaughterhouse?

A slaughterhouse is a highly efficient facility where animals are slaughtered to harvest their meat for human consumption.

Slaughterhouses used to be much smaller, less efficient, and less regulated. Before the Industrial Revolution started emptying rural areas in favor of highly populated cities, many small farms slaughtered their own animals. They then sold their meat to people they knew in their communities.

As more people flooded into cities, the demand for meat increased and slaughterhouses started opening up in urban areas. This led to health and sanitary concerns, however. Having animals housed and slaughtered so close to where so many people were living drew outcry.

New laws emerged and slaughterhouses started spreading to the periphery, out of sight and out of mind. The combination of slaughterhouses becoming more isolated and the urbanization of society began what has now become an enormous disconnect between people and their food. This disconnect is exactly what the meat industry wants, because it makes their consumers more likely to eat meat without thinking of the products as slaughtered animals.

Laws Exist to Protect Animals: But What Really Goes On Inside Slaughterhouses?

Most of what we know about what goes on inside slaughterhouses comes from undercover videos and former slaughterhouse employees. While many slaughterhouses will distance themselves from others caught on video abusing and torturing animals, the end result in each and every slaughterhouse on the planet is the same. Animals are killed as quickly and efficiently as possible.

In a slaughterhouse cows are not cows, pigs are not pigs, and chickens are not chickens. They are commodities that need to be quickly chopped up into food that will eventually make its way to the consumer.

They are not sentient beings: they are products.

Animals Are Brutally Beaten in Slaughterhouses

Everyone has seen the headlines. Most people aren’t willing to watch the footage, though. It happens all the time. Activists infiltrate slaughterhouses and record the horrors that happen behind the scenes. Simply searching “animal abuse in slaughterhouses” will yield tens of thousands of search results in Google News.

What’s worse, governing bodies and those in charge of implementing rules and regulations against these abuses will usually turn a blind eye to what is going on. The standard protocol in the United States, issued by the USDA (the United States Department of Agriculture), is what’s called a Memorandum of Interview. This is a fancy expression for something that is less than a slap on the wrist. There are no fines involved, no one loses their jobs, operations and business continue to run as usual.

Stun Guns and Cattle Prods Are Used to Make Them Move

Because slaughterhouse workers are trying to create the most efficient workplace possible, they adopt cruel ways of speeding things up. When you’re dealing with thousands of cows or pigs that must all be slaughtered quickly, the last thing you want is a bottleneck as the animals are ushered to their imminent death.

Slaughterhouse workers use stun guns and cattle prods to shock and beat their animals into submission. If a cow is walking too slowly or a pig tries to run away, the workers will shock the animals into obedience.

Animals Are Tortured and Abused in Slaughterhouses

animal abuse at slaughterhouses
Image via WeAnimals

From animals having their ears tagged and sliced for identification purposes, to animals being shot in the face, the range of cruelty existing in slaughterhouses is beyond imagination.

Footage surfaces from undercover cameras of workers kicking, punching, and slamming animals into walls. Animals are chained and dragged across slaughterhouses, and beaten with tools ranging from cattle prods to shovels. Before even arriving at the slaughterhouse, they are packed into trucks and driven great distances. These animals fear for their lives on these trucks and there are even cases of pigs jumping from moving trucks on highways while trying to escape their unfortunate fate.

Even in the mythical case of “humane” slaughterhouses, there is rampant abuse and mistreatment of animals. The famous case of Agriprocessors just goes to show that labeling the killing of sentient beings as humane is nothing more than marketing and lies. Agriprocessors was the world’s largest glatt kosher slaughterhouse, and was eventually closed down after years of shocking abuse. Kosher slaughterhouses are meant to minimize the suffering of animals and provide the most “humane” experience possible. PETA spent years investigating Agriprocessers and some of their investigation notes are extremely difficult to read.

The Conditions in Slaughterhouses Are Terrible

Every aspect of the slaughterhouse seems to be taken from the pages of a dystopian work of fiction. Big ag and the food industry only focus on the profits they can make from animals thanks to the human addiction to meat. They completely disregard animals as sentient beings.

When an animal is viewed as a product and not a living creature, the idea of treating them humanely simply ceases to exist. Some slaughterhouses will pass the blame to others and say they are different. However, it’s important to remember that there is not a single slaughterhouse in the world without rivers of blood on their hands.

Animals Aren’t the Only Ones Affected, so Are the Workers

psychologic trauma slaughterhouse workers
Image via WeAnimals

Beyond the unimaginable suffering experienced by billions of animals every single year, the workers at slaughterhouses are also affected by the work they do.

Slaughterhouse workers didn’t wake up one day with the urge to brutally kill cows and pigs. Food companies tend to open up slaughterhouses in rural areas with few work opportunities for the local population. And while most people would happily choose any other job rather than working the kill line at a slaughterhouse, many don’t have choices, and need to provide for their families. While it is easy for most people to say that they would never partake in something as cruel as working in a slaughterhouse, it’s naive to pretend to understand everyone’s situation from afar.

People Have Never Been Exposed to This Kind of Brutality Before

Slaughterhouse workers are usually in for a rude awakening when they start their new jobs. Many slaughterhouse workers describe the work as numbing and traumatizing. They try to block out as much as possible while they become completely desensitized to the reality they face in every moment at work.

In a chilling op-ed written by an anonymous ex-slaughterhouse employee, they say that they still have “suicidal thoughts from the guild. I still dream about it now, and I can’t look at the dead animals packaged up in the supermarket.”

Most slaughterhouses operate 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. A report released by Oxfam showed that many workers at some of the largest food companies were denied breaks while working. Some workers even went as far as wearing diapers while they worked because they weren’t even allowed to use bathrooms during their shifts.

As well as working in cruel conditions, slaughterhouse workers get paid very little. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, half a million people in the U.S. alone work in slaughterhouses. The average workers make around $12 per hour and less than $28,000 per year before taxes. Considering the psychological and physical trauma of this kind of work, the compensation is low and leaves workers less inclined or motivated to treat the animals well.

When you combine the horrors these workers face on a daily basis with the pressures of a fast-paced, chaotic work environment, it’s no wonder that many slaughterhouse workers suffer from severe psychological damage.

Psychological Trauma and PTSD in Slaughterhouse Workers

ptsd in slaughterhouse workers

Beyond the low pay and risk of severe physical harm, slaughterhouse workers suffer extreme psychological trauma from their work as well. According to the PTSD Journal, slaughterhouse employees are “hired to kill animals, such as pigs and cows that are largely gentle creatures. Carrying out this action requires workers to disconnect from what they are doing and from the creature standing before them. This emotional dissonance can lead to consequences such as domestic violence, social withdrawal, anxiety, drug and alcohol abuse, and PTSD.”

In the early 2000s, the meat industry in the United Kingdom was hit heavily by foot and mouth disease. Many workers lost their jobs but some were paid extra to go in and kill as many animals as possible. They needed to try and get rid of the disease that was spreading rapidly among the animals. One worker, “Brad,” told VICE about his experience as a slaughterhouse worker. “You’d be killing 300 to 400 cows a day, for weeks. I was a loader, so I’d load bodies onto the fire, which is the only way you could kill the disease. There were just piles and piles of burning bodies, big black acidic smoke and the smell of barbecue in the air. You had to keep going over to make sure the bodies were still burning. Most didn’t make it; they’d end up crying and had to leave.”

How Can We Stop This Brutal Abuse?

There are many different ways that we can actively decrease the number of animals being killed in slaughterhouses. But a lot of these take time, and this can discourage people looking to make fast changes to the system.

Becoming a Vegan to Reduce Slaughterhouse Deaths

There are many cases of ex-slaughterhouse workers becoming vegans and animal rights activists, and helping to open people’s eyes to the atrocities they witnessed. But even though going vegan is the ideal way to end animal suffering, it isn’t realistic to think that all people will just go vegan.

Human habits are extremely hard to break. And while eating meat has become a human habit, it is actually much more than that. It isn’t like cracking your knuckles or biting your fingernails. Eating meat is cultural. It’s something humans have been doing for countless generations, even though we don’t need to anymore. The traditional and cultural aspect of eating meat is ingrained in human behavior. Asking some people to stop would be like asking a religious person to stop having faith.

Not everyone is going to go vegan. It’s important that we understand that so that we don’t push people away. We want them to try other options that might potentially lead to the end of animal farming and suffering. We don’t want division.

Technology, Innovation, Plant-Based Meat, and Clean Meat

cultured meat

A lot of people are betting on technology and innovative solutions to help end animal farming once and for all.

The End of Animal Farming: How Scientists, Entrepreneurs, and Activists Are Building an Animal-Free Food System is a phenomenal book by Jacy Reese. Reese brings the reader on an eye-opening journey that shows how the Silicon Valley mindset can change our food system. Companies like Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods are leading the way in creating “meat” products that come from plants but taste like the real thing. Their target market is meat eaters rather than vegans (though vegans benefit greatly as well).

As well as plant-based meat companies, clean meat can also help to end animal farming as we know it today. Clean meat is actually meat. Companies like Memphis Meats are working around the clock to create meat that is identical to the meat people currently consume. The only difference is that it is created in a lab using animal cells, not in a slaughterhouse that kills factory-farmed animals.

The clean meat movement can help drive far more people toward a plant-based diet. At the same time, people are able to satisfy their old habits.

What You Can Do 

It is very likely that future generations will look back at slaughterhouses and shake their heads in disbelief. Slaughterhouses have evolved into efficient machines that serve one purpose and one purpose only: they are designed to kill as many animals as fast as possible. Slaughterhouses aren’t going anywhere in the immediate future. But companies around the world are working tirelessly to make sure they eventually close their doors for good.

Billions of dollars are being invested in new ways to create food. This will pull meat eaters away from the status quo and into a new and more humane world. We need to treat animals with the love and respect they deserve.

What do you think about slaughterhouses? What are you doing to help ensure their time is limited?