Out of Sight Slaughter

Caged chickensOne of the most powerful motivations to become a vegetarian, for people sensitive to the plight of farm animals, is the harsh conditions on what are known as factory farms. For instance, on these farms chickens are routinely confined to battery cages so tightly they can’t even turn around, and pigs are immobilized in gestational crates for months on end. However, the suffering in the slaughterhouses, where numerous abuses and atrocities take place, in some ways is even worse than on the factory farm.

As the old saying goes, “if slaughterhouses had glass walls, we‘d all be vegetarians”. Few people have actually seen a factory farm or the inside of a slaughterhouse themselves. To be aware of these conditions, we have to rely on a combination of photographic documentations by journalists and activists, and reports by government inspectors.

Unfortunately, we’re now starting to lose both. A number of states have enacted so-called ag-gag laws.  These prohibit the videotaping of “animal enterprises,” which includes both farm and slaughterhouses.  The other problem is that now government inspections are being ignored. While the ag-gag laws have been one obstacle to “seeing” what’s really going on, we would like to highlight the lack of government inspection and enforcement.

A federal investigation released last month shows that many animals still suffer needlessly in slaughterhouses. The federal audit found that meat inspectors unevenly enforce humane-slaughter rules, or don’t enforce them at all. That’s because their bosses won’t support them, two whistle-blowing meat inspectors recently told The Kansas City Star. For instance, after federal meat inspector Jim Schrier documented problems late last year at a Tyson pork plant in Columbus Junction, Iowa, he said he was transferred to another plant miles from his home.

Even efforts by the government’s “humane handling ombudsman,” hired last year to improve enforcement, reportedly were ignored in one recent case. Kansas-based meat inspector Judy Kachanes, a 26-year veteran of the agency, said she contacted the ombudsman, Mark Crowe, after her bosses failed to take action on her complaints about humane-slaughter violations at a small meat plant in McPherson, Kan. No action was ever taken, and Kachanes has since been reassigned.

Temple Grandin, a meat industry consultant and a widely acknowledged expert on the humane treatment of animals, agrees there are still problems. Inconsistent enforcement and vague regulations mean some plants get away with “really mistreating animals and doing bad stuff,” she said.

Humane Society President, Wayne Pacelle, said these cases show that the Agriculture Department has bent to the will of the meat industry. “USDA has historically been more a protector of the meat industry than a serious-minded enforcer of the laws,” Pacelle said.

Consequently the inspectors, and there are far two few of them, can’t effectively report what they see, and so the public is unaware of what’s really going on in the nation’s slaughterhouses. It’s slaughter out of sight, which is exactly what the meat industry is depending on.

With an increasing number of ag-gag laws being enacted on the state level, and inspectors being ignored on the federal level, perhaps now more than ever, a vegetarian diet is the best way to prevent animal abuse.