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If Slaughterhouses Had Glass Walls

“The question is not,
Can they reason? nor,
Can they talk? but,
Can they suffer?

Jeremy Bentham
An Introduction to the Principles of Morals & Legislation, 1789

If they survive the farms and transport, the animals – whether factory-farmed or free-range – are slaughtered.

Animals in slaughterhouses can smell, hear, and often see the slaughter of those before them.

As the animals struggle, they’re often abused by frustrated workers, who are under constant pressure to keep the lines moving at rapid speeds.


Methods of Slaughter

Cow restrained for stunning
Large plants commonly use conveyor systems to restrain cows and pigs during stunning (photo courtesy of Temple Grandin).


Federal law requires mammals (other than rabbits) be stunned prior to slaughter (exempting ritual slaughter).34 Typically, electric current is used to induce a heart attack and/or seizure; or a captive bolt gun is used to deliver a blow to the skull or shoot a rod into the animal’s brain.34

It’s not uncommon for an animal to suffer one or two failed stuns.25 In the case of a failed electrical stun, an animal may be paralyzed without losing sensibility.10 Unconscious animals whose necks are not cut soon enough may regain their senses after being hung on the bleed rail.34

As reported by the Washington Post:20

Hogs, unlike cattle, are dunked in tanks of hot water after they are stunned to soften the hides for skinning. As a result, a botched slaughter condemns some hogs to being scalded and drowned. Secret videotape from an Iowa pork plant shows hogs squealing and kicking as they are being lowered into the water.

Pig being skinned

“You have just dined, and however scrupulously the slaughterhouse is concealed in the graceful distance of miles, there is complicity.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson
“Fate,” The Conduct of Life, 1860

At left, slaughterhouse workers skin a pig (click for larger image; courtesy of PETA).

Shackled turkeys


Over 95 percent of U.S. land animals killed for food are birds, yet there is no federal law requiring they be handled humanely.34 To facilitate automated slaughter, birds are usually immobilized via electrical stunning. Hanging in shackles, the birds’ heads are passed through an electrified water bath.8

It is not known whether this renders them unconscious,2 and the potential for birds suffering severely painful pre-stun shocks is difficult to eliminate.21 Each year, several hundred thousand chickens and turkeys reach the scalding tanks alive.7,22,24

At right: Turkeys enter the slaughter area, hanging shackled by their legs (click for larger image; courtesy of Farm Sanctuary). The pain birds suffer from shackling can be extreme and inevitably causes violent wing flapping, which may result in dislocated joints and broken bones.21 Due to their wingspan, turkeys are prone to intensely painful pre-stun shocks.21


Ritual Slaughter

Ritual slaughter
Ritual slaughter (click for larger image).

During religious slaughter, such as kosher and halal, animals are usually fully conscious as their throats are cut.34 This is supposed to induce rapid loss of consciousness. However, in a study of cattle at five kosher slaughter plants in several different countries, the time – from the end of the cut until the eyes rolled back and the cow started to collapse – ranged from 8 to 120 seconds.18 Some cattle may have prolonged periods of sensibility lasting up to 385 seconds.19

Undercover videos taken by PETA between 2004 and 2008 at two U.S. kosher slaughterhouses revealed workers ripping the tracheas and esophagi from the throats of fully conscious cattle after the ritual cut; some of the animals are shown writhing in pools of blood, struggling to stand for minutes afterwards.

“Animals are God’s creatures, not human property, nor utilities, nor resources, nor commodities, but precious beings in God’s sight.”

Rev. Andrew Linzey
Oxford University
Animal Theology, 1995

In Thinking in Pictures, Dr. Temple Grandin describes the “shackle and hoist” method of ritual slaughter:

Prior to slaughter, live cattle were hung upside down by a chain attached to one back leg. It was so horrible I could not stand to watch it. The frantic bellows of terrified cattle could be heard in both the office and the parking lot. Sometimes an animal’s back leg was broken during hoisting.

The shackle and hoist procedure can be seen in PETA’s December 2009 video footage of a South American plant that supplies kosher meat to the United States.

See also: If This Is Kosher… video; “shechita” photos.


Undercover Investigations into Poultry Slaughter

Chickens about to be shackled
Chickens prior to being shackled and hung on the line (photo courtesy of PETA).

In January of 2007, a Mercy For Animals investigator took a job in North Carolina at one of the nation’s largest poultry slaughterhouses to witness the conditions firsthand: Birds with broken legs and wings, open wounds, and large tumors were shackled and hung on the slaughter line; some of the injured were left writhing on the floor for hours beforehand. Workers punched, kicked, threw, and mutilated live birds; they tore eggs from the birds’ cloacae to toss at coworkers, and ripped the heads off birds who were trapped inside the transport cages.

A year later, PETA released footage of two other large plants, in Tennessee and Georgia, where many conscious birds were mangled by the killing machines or had their heads yanked off by workers. PETA’s 2005 investigation of an Alabama plant, also found the neck-cutting machines routinely missed, slicing open the chickens’ wings, faces, and other body parts; numerous birds entered the scald tanks for feather removal while fully conscious. The three facilities were owned by Tyson, a leading supplier to KFC.

Between October 2003 and May 2004, an undercover PETA investigator captured footage at a Pilgrim’s Pride chicken slaughterhouse in West Virginia. Workers were filmed violently and repeatedly throwing live chickens into a wall, picking chickens up by their legs and swinging their heads into the floor, and kicking and jumping up and down on live chickens. According to a New York Times article on the investigation, this plant had previously received KFC’s “Supplier of the Year” award (“KFC Supplier Accused of Animal Cruelty,” July 20, 2004).

Below are two of the many chickens whose bodies were sliced open by the killing machines at the Alabama plant investigated by PETA in 2005.
Chicken whose thigh was sliced open Chicken whose chest was sliced open

Government Oversight

Pigs on bleed rail
Above: Pigs hang on the bleed rail (photo courtesy of Temple Grandin).
Watch the Hallmark video
Above: A downed dairy cow at the Hallmark slaughterhouse (photo courtesy of HSUS). Watch the video.
USDA inspector
A USDA inspector examines a cow carcass (photo courtesy of USDA).

USDA FSIS is responsible for ensuring compliance with the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act. The agency employs veterinarians and inspectors to monitor activities at federally inspected plants; however, investigations and statements from federal whistleblowers have revealed widespread violations. Gail Eisnitz documents many examples in her book Slaughterhouse:28

It was a plant where squealing hogs were left straddling the restrainer and dangling live by one leg when workers left the stick pit for their half-hour lunch breaks; where stunners were shocking hogs three and four times; where inadequately stunned hogs were jumping from the shackling table into the blood pit below, smashing into metal pipes on the trip down and fracturing legs and backs; where, whether broken or not, thousands of squealing hogs were immersed in the plant’s scalding tank alive.

In January 2008, HSUS released video footage from a six-week undercover investigation at Hallmark Meat Packing Co. – a federally inspected California slaughterhouse that had been a major supplier of ground beef to the National School Lunch Program and was honored as a USDA “supplier of the year” for the 2004–2005 school year. The Des Moines Register (“Inspectors Didn’t Catch Cattle Abuse in California,” March 23, 2008) pointed out:

The undercover videos were bad enough: packing-plant workers abusing sick or disabled cattle and dragging at least one of the cows to be slaughtered, a violation of federal food-safety standards.

But consumer advocates say what’s also disturbing is what happened within days of that video being shot at a California slaughterhouse. Independent inspectors from two auditing firms visited the Westland/ Hallmark Meat Co. plant and gave it glowing marks.

The Los Angeles Times (“Cattle Inspections Thwarted,” February 20, 2008) reported:

Slaughterhouse workers watch every move of federal inspectors. They know when they take bathroom breaks. They use the radio to alert one another to the inspector’s every step.…

One USDA inspector, who asked not to be named because he is employed by the Inspection Service, said the agency did not have the adequate staff and resources to enforce multiple regulations on meat production given workers’ efforts to dodge oversight.…

Slaughterhouse employees often struck up conversations with inspectors to keep them from going to parts of the plant where workers were doing something against regulation, the inspector said. At Hallmark/ Westland, five on-site inspectors oversaw around 100 employees.

But with limited staff, monitoring the workers’ treatment of animals often took a back seat to inspecting the carcasses of cattle after slaughter.

Bushway calves
Days-old calves at the Bushway plant (photo courtesy of HSUS).

In October 2009, HSUS revealed the results of another investigation – this time at Bushway Packing, Inc. in Vermont, a plant that slaughtered days-old male dairy calves for the production of “bob veal.” The undercover video shows infant calves, too weak to stand or walk on their own, being kicked and repeatedly shocked with electric prods. In one scene, a plant employee is shown attempting to skin a conscious calf directly in front of a USDA inspector. Instead of stopping the worker, the inspector warns, “[If the FSIS veterinarian] sees you peeling pieces off of him before he’s bled out, it’s done. You guys will be shut down.”

Following the investigations at Hallmark and Bushway, the U.S. Government Accountability Office evaluated FSIS’s enforcement of the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act and issued a report to congressional requesters in February 2010. Through a survey of FSIS inspectors-in-charge at 235 plants nationwide and an analysis of FSIS data, GAO found evidence of “systemic inconsistencies in enforcement,” as well as “incomplete guidance and inadequate training” for key inspection staff. For example, an estimated 449, or 57 percent, of the surveyed inspectors-in-charge provided incorrect answers on at least one of six possible signs of sensibility. GAO’s review of FSIS noncompliance reports identified incidents in which inspectors did not suspend plant operations or take regulatory actions when they appeared warranted.25,26

FSIS officials informed GAO that, for the most part, inspectors are to devote 80 percent of their time to food safety inspection activities and 20 percent to humane handling inspection and other activities. However, GAO estimated the percentage of funds dedicated to HMSA enforcement has been less than 2 percent of FSIS’s total annual inspection appropriation. After the Westland/ Hallmark incident, FSIS directed inspectors to increase the amount of time devoted to humane handling by 50 to 100 percent for March through May 2008. FSIS found that, when the amount of time spent on humane handling was increased, the number of noncompliance reports increased as well; and the total number of plant suspensions spiked from a low of 9 in 2005 to a high of 98 in 2008 – a nearly 11-fold increase.25

Shackled chickens
The Humane Methods of Slaughter Act does not include birds. Click images for larger views; courtesy of Farm Sanctuary (above) and USDA (below).
Poultry inspection

On March 4, 2010, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee held a hearing on the “Continuing Problems in the USDA’s Enforcement of the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act.” Stan Painter, who served as an FSIS inspector for more than 24 years and has been chairman of the National Joint Council of Food Inspection Local Unions for over 6 years, testified:

The agency claimed that there was a full complement of staffing at Hallmark/ Westland when that situation came to light, yet the facility management was able to game the system and abused animals in order to squeeze every last penny for the bottom line. There are some slaughter facilities in this country that are processing cattle at 390 head per hour and hogs at 1106 head per hour. At that rate of production, we would need to increase the number of inspectors assigned to be able to enforce all of laws and regulations adequately.…

We are also hamstrung by our supervisors who are either not qualified to do their jobs, unwilling to let us do our jobs, or who are not committed to making animal welfare a priority – either in FSIS-regulated facilities or in their private lives.

Dr. Dean Wyatt, an FSIS supervisory public health veterinarian for over 18 years, provided a statement citing several examples of the violations he observed – at both Bushway and Seaboard Farms, a large pig slaughterhouse in Oklahoma – and the struggles he endured trying to enforce the law:

When upper-level FSIS management looks the other way as food safety or humane slaughter laws are broken, or, as has been my experience, retaliates against people who are enforcing those laws, then management is just as guilty for breaking those laws as are the establishments. The laws are there. The enforcement of those laws – in my experience – has not been there and, in fact, has been willfully ignored by well-paid public officials.… It seems almost unbelievable to me, but I have been ignored by my own people and have suffered physically, emotionally, and financially in the process. More importantly, animal welfare and food safety have suffered as well.

Workers hoist cow
According to the Washington Post, the government took no action against a Texas beef company that was cited 22 times in 1998 for violations that included chopping hooves off live cattle.20 Above, a cow is hoisted by slaughterhouse workers; below, cans are filled with cows’ discarded body parts (click images for larger views; photos courtesy of PETA).
Discarded cow parts

“It takes 25 minutes to turn a live steer into steak at the modern slaughterhouse where Ramon Moreno works. For 20 years, his post was ‘second-legger,’ a job that entails cutting hocks off carcasses as they whirl past at a rate of 309 an hour.

“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, the hide puller.

“‘They die,’ said Moreno, ‘piece by piece.’

“Under a 23-year-old federal law, slaughtered cattle and hogs first must be ‘stunned’ – rendered insensible to pain – with a blow to the head or an electric shock. But at overtaxed plants, the law is sometimes broken, with cruel consequences for animals as well as workers. Enforcement records, interviews, videos and worker affidavits describe repeated violations of the Humane Slaughter Act at dozens of slaughterhouses, ranging from the smallest, custom butcheries to modern, automated establishments such as the sprawling IBP Inc. plant here where Moreno works.

“‘In plants all over the United States, this happens on a daily basis,’ said Lester Friedlander, a veterinarian and formerly chief government inspector at a Pennsylvania hamburger plant. ‘I’ve seen it happen. And I’ve talked to other veterinarians. They feel it’s out of control.’”

The Washington Post, “Modern Meat: A Brutal Harvest,” 4/10/01

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