BOOKS: Slaughterhouse

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, April 1998:

The Shocking Story of Greed, Neglect, and Inhumane
Treatment Inside the U.S. Meat Industry
by Gail A. Eisnitz
Prometheus Books (distributed by the Humane Farming Association,
POB 3577, San Rafael, CA 94912), 1997. 310 pages, hardcover, $25.95.

Gail Eisnitz offers a nightmare view
of the meat industry. Her ten-year investigation
of meat packers, the industry’s
euphemism for slaughterhouses, depicts a
world in which cattle are skinned alive and pigs
are boiled to death in giant scalding vats.
When fully conscious cows dangle by one hind
leg from a steel shackle, workers snip off their
front legs to prevent them from kicking.

Eisnitz was already an experienced
investigator when she received a tip from a former
slaughterhouse worker about conditions in
a Florida slaughter plant. Scarcely able to
believe what she heard, she began to travel
around the U.S., at great personal sacrifice,
investigating slaughter plants and interviewing
scores of workers who shared accounts of the
most horrific animal abuse.
According to Eisnnitz, who became
chief investigator for the Humane Farming
Association midway through her research, the
trouble begins in the parking lot. Workers
describe how “downers,” or animals too weak,
injured or sick, to move on their own, are
dragged and beaten, sometimes to death.
There are accounts of animals arriving in subfreezing
conditions who are frozen to the metal
bars of the trucks, and of workers using crowbars
to pry frozen animals off the truck’s metal
rails, leaving a chunk of hide behind.
Many of those who can move on
their own are shocked with electric prods or
beaten mercilessly if they balk at entering the
killing line. Here, the first step is the stunner.
Cattle are stunned with an air-driven bolt gun
applied to the forehead, while pigs are rendered
unconscious with an electrical device.
Eisnitz reports that the line speeds
are so fast that some conscious animals pass
without being stunned. The result of inadequate
stunning and accelerated line speeds is
the same: conscious animals continue down
the disassembly line, because, writes Eisnitz,
nothing stops the line. Time is money.
What follows, conscious or unconscious,
is “sticking” (piercing the throat to
induce bleeding), skinning, and removing
legs. In the case of pigs, they are stuck, bled
and dragged through a tank of scalding water to
remove their bristles. Conscious pigs have
been boiled to death or drowned.
There is more. Tthe book addresses
the tremendous physical and psychological
danger to workers. The workers emerge as victims
of the system. Eisnitz also deals with the
growing epidemic of contaminated meat, suggesting
that the industry has the same callous
disregard for humans as for animals.
S l a u g h t e r h o u s e is not a survey of
slaughter practices across the country, but
rather an expose of abuses that Eisnitz
observed or that were reported to her. Thus it
is not clear from Slaughterhouse how prevalent
the abuses reported are. But S l a u g h t e r h o u s e
offers convincing arguments for better supervision
of slaughterhouses and stronger enforcement
of the Humane Slaughter Act. It also
reminds us that the slaughter industry should
not police itself.
Eisnitz’s expose is so powerful that
we can almost see the bellowing cows and
helpless squealing pigs. And we can’t help but
visualize the children whose lives were cut
short because they took a bite out of a tainted
hamburger. It has been said that if most meat
eaters walked through a slaughterhouse, they
would quickly become vegetarians. Eisnitz’s
book is the only tour most readers will ever
need. With wide exposure, it could create a
new generation of vegetarians.
––Henry Spira
(Henry Spira is founder of Animal
Rights International, including the Coalition
for Nonviolent Food.)


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