Slaughterhouses kill more than just animals. Meatpacking plants, along with prisons, have become the nation’s leading hot spots for the spread of COVID-19 infections.
Thousands of meatpacking workers have fallen ill, many have died. Virus outbreaks at meatpacking plants have lead to the virus spreading more widely in surrounding communities, said Nicholas Christakis, director of Yale University’s Human Nature Lab and a specialist in how contagion travels through social networks.
While we wrote back in June 2020 about Covid 19 spreading in slaughterhouses and meat processing plants, we now know so much more about how the virus spreads in these places. Slaughterhouses and meat processing plants are favorable environments for SARS-CoV-2 transmission. The virus thrives in lower temperatures and in very high or very low relative humidity. Metallic surfaces retain live viruses. Aerosols, densely combining dust, feathers, and feces, are produced in the plants, and intense water use carries materials extensively over surfaces. Workers must speak loudly or shout over the noise, releasing more droplets and spreading them further. Workplaces are crowded, and social distancing is difficult. The plight of the slaughterhouse workers was already dire, but this just puts another layer on their hardship.
The pandemic has also led to a massive increase in animal suffering. When the pandemic first hit, slaughterhouses across the nation were forced to close. Gruesome stories emerged of the mass killing of millions of chickens and pigs that could no longer be brought to market. Chickens sometimes had to be gassed or smothered with a foam in which they slowly suffocate. Among other methods, ready-for-market pigs, with cognitive abilities similar to dogs, that couldn’t be sold were killed by a method known as ventilation shutdown, in which the airways to a barn are closed off and steam is introduced. A whistleblower’s video shows thousands of pigs dying as they were slowly suffocated and roasted to death overnight.
Although the pandemic has focused attention on these incidents, they represent a tiny fraction of the daily abuses heaped on farmed animals. The billions of animals slaughtered every year in the United States are intelligent, sensitive beings capable of feeling a range of emotions. They are driven to raise their own young and form complex social communities, both impossible under the conditions of modern farming. Instead, they live short, painful, disease-ridden lives. Chickens, which make up over 90% of the animals slaughtered every year, suffer the worst. Their deaths are subject to effectively no federal regulation, meaning the birds are frequently frozen, boiled, drowned or suffocated to death.
Avoiding the consumption of meat, including chicken, would help alleviate many of these problems. By reducing the demand for meat, fewer workers would have to work in such awful conditions, and many fewer animals would be sent to the slaughterhouse.