The Humane Slaughter Act From the perspective of the meat industry, the Humane S

The Humane Slaughter Act
From the perspective of the meat industry, the Humane Slaughter Act
is problematic because it creates rules that result in a loss of profit. It
takes too much time to follow the Humane Slaughter Act’s mandated
procedure for killing animals. It takes time to properly stun an animal. It takes time to correct an improper stun. And of course it takes
time to keep the line slow enough to protect the workers. However,
too often, what actually occurs in an attempt to speed up production
and increase profit is that animals do not get stunned properly, if they
get stunned at all.
As discussed by Thompson in his essay on time, industrialization
in wealthy nations within the Modern World System coincided with
the development of a new time sense. Increasingly, time became “currency: it is not passed but spent.”29 Further, Benjamin Franklin clarified, “Since our Time is reduced to a Standard, and the Bullion of the
Day minted out into Hours, the Industrious know how to employ
every Piece of Time to a real Advantage in their different Professions:
And he that is prodigal of his Hours, is, in effect, a Squanderer of
Money . . . Time is Money.”30 This way of experiencing time as money,
clock time, gripped most aspects of modern life. In slaughterhouses
today, the concern over the potential wasting of time—and with the
loss of time, profit—helps explain the matter-of-fact everyday cruelty to animals and the profoundly unsafe working conditions for
Along with the issue of time, there is a second concern over the
potential loss of profit through stunning animals. Many in the meat
industry believe that stunning an animal to the point of stopping its
heart will make the meat less valuable. Blood retained in meat offers
bacteria a good place to develop and thrive. And of course, harboring thriving bacteria means a shorter time span from kill to plate
for meat, and this could mean that more meat goes bad before the
industry is able to sell it. Yet it is an industry myth (and incorrect) that
an animal’s heart has to keep beating in order to pump all the blood
from its muscles.31 Eisnitz interviewed Bucky White, a meatpacker at
the John Morrell plant in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, about this myth
and the worry over “too dead” cattle. Bucky White said, “‘We got a
superintendent who claims the big bolt kills the cattle ‘too dead’ and
they don’t bleed properly . . . I’ve headed [skinned the heads of] and
stuck cattle for twenty-one years, and I’ve never heard of cattle being
too dead.’”32
Fully stunning animals is good for the animal about to be slaughtered and also good for the workers processing its meat. The animal
is processed with minimal suffering, and workers stay safer, as they
stick, skin, and cut large animals that are dead and do not fight the
meatpackers as they work.
In the early 1980s, numerous studies demonstrated that the
amount of blood retained in meat has no relationship to whether one
stops an animal’s heart (kills it) or just stuns it. Nonetheless, because
of the worry over “too dead” cows, management often kept the stun
gun current turned down. White explained to Eisnitz that the knocking guns they used had two sizes of bolts, and plant management
required that the smaller, less effective bolt be used.33
Eisnitz asked White how often alive and conscious cattle come
through the stunning process. “The way I look at it,” White said,
“out of the 1,228 beef I stuck today, it would have been okay if a few
were still alive. But it’s all day. Constantly, all day, I get live cattle.”
When Eisnitz asked how he can tell that the cattle are alive and conscious, White said, “The live ones you could tell ’cause they’re bellowing, blinking, looking around.” In the month immediately before
he spoke with Eisnitz, White was kicked in the mouth, nearly driving
his tooth through his lip. He was also kicked behind his ear, above his
eye, and under both arms on separate occasions.34
Eisnitz also met with USDA meat inspector, Kevin Walker, about
his experience at Kaplan Industries, a slaughterhouse in Bartow,
Florida. Before their meeting Walker had contacted Eisnitz by mail
with his concerns. He claimed that cattle were being skinned alive at
Kaplan Industries.
“This is not only extremely cruel,” he wrote, “but also very dangerous for the plant personnel who have to skin these kicking animals.”
Plant management knew about the problem, he said, but didn’t want to
correct it because that would mean slowing down the production line.
“I have contacted a number of federal agencies but have been told there
is nothing they can do. They also told me that the problems I described
exist all over the country, that they are just a little worse at Kaplan’s.”35
Eisnitz was initially skeptical about Walker’s claims. It was hard to
believe that anyone would skin conscious cows, making a hard job
harder, particularly while being watched by USDA meat inspectors.
Eisnitz assumed Walker had seen involuntary reflexes; to the inexperienced, that might look like the kicking of a conscious animal.
Eisnitz decided to look into the matter.36
Clearly, skinning alive and conscious animals violates the Humane
Slaughter Act. Oddly enough however, the very group who is supposed to enforce the Humane Slaughter Act, the USDA, resists the
Act and allies itself with the meat industry. Further, there are no penalties—no fines or possible prison time—for violating the Humane
Slaughter Act. USDA meat inspectors are merely supposed to shut
down the kill line until the slaughterhouse remedies the violations.
Shutting down the kill line, even momentarily, cuts into company
profits and that potential loss of profit is meant to keep the meat
industry obeying the law.37
Unfortunately Eisnitz found that rather than forcing a shutdown, the USDA simply ignored nearly all violations of the Humane
Slaughter Act. Eisnitz interviewed numerous workers at various levels of work inside American meat packing businesses and found that
slaughterhouses are consistently violating the Humane Slaughter Act.
Again and again different people involved in meatpacking with different companies reiterated similar stories. Cows were being skinned
alive and conscious. Awake and aware pigs were regularly immersed
in scalding water and boiled alive. One man who worked at John
Morrell and Company stated:
I’ve seen live animals shackled, hoisted, stuck, and skinned. Too
many to count. Too many to remember . . . It’s just a process that’s
continuously there. I’ve seen shackled beef looking around before
they’ve been stuck . . . I’ve seen hog in the scalding tub trying to swim . . .
In the wintertime there are always hogs stuck to the sides of the floors
of the trucks. They go in there with wires or knives and just cut or pry
the hogs loose. The skin pulls right off. These hogs were alive when
we did this. Animal abuse at Morrell is so commonplace nobody even
thinks about it.38
And because the Humane Slaughter Act does not protect poultry in
the United States, the USDA does not have to bother ignoring the
brutal poultry-slaughtering process. Conscious chicken are normally
bled out and scalded in boiling water (to loosen their feathers), and it
is completely legal.39
Eisnitz interviewed David Carney to learn more about why the
Humane Slaughter Act seems to be ignored in most slaughterhouses.
Carney worked as a meat inspector for the USDA in an Ohio meatpacking plant and as the chair of the federal meat inspector’s union,
the National Joint Council of Food Inspection Locals. Carney stated,
“There’s a specific problem with enforcing the Humane Slaughter
Act. That’s because these large slaughtering operations are primarily concerned with productivity and profit . . . They don’t care about
the effects on the animals. It’s as if they’re not even killing animals.
They’re ‘disassembling’ them, processing raw materials in a manufacturing operation.”40
Carney explained that although the USDA meat inspectors have
the authority to stop the slaughter process—the line—at a slaughterhouse if they witness a violation of the Humane Slaughter Act, they
are rarely in the slaughter area of a plant. About this, Eisnitz asked
Carney, “How often does someone go down to the slaughter area
and look?” Carney responded, “And leave his station?” He continued,
“If an inspector did that, he’d be subject to disciplinary action for
abandoning his inspection duties. Unless he stopped the line first,
which would get him into even more trouble. Inspectors are tied to
the line.” Eisnitz asked Carney what the procedure was for checking
compliance with the Humane Slaughter Act. Carney simply stated,
“There isn’t one.” Eisnitz said,
“Hold on. You’re telling me that inspectors have the authority to stop
the line when they see humane violations, but basically, they’re never
allowed to see them?”
“That’s right,” [Carney] said. “Inspectors are required to enforce
humane regulations on paper only. Very seldom do they ever go into
that area and actually enforce humane handling and slaughter. They
can’t. They’re not allowed to.”
“Besides,” he continued, “our inspectors are already overwhelmed
with their meat inspection duties and the agency has never addressed
the responsibility of humane slaughter.’41
Eisnitz found that one slaughterhouse, Kaplan, was killing around
six hundred cows every day: “Not as many as some of the nation’s
newer high-speed mega-operations, but still high enough to make it
the largest beef slaughterhouse in Florida.”42 Yet according to Walker,
the facility was in poor repair and simply could not even handle the
slower line times, when they slaughtered only 50 to 70 cows an
hour. This meant that when the line speed increased—typically when
the foreman wanted to slaughter and process as many cattle as possible at the end of the day—the workers were unable to maintain the
fast pace.43
Rushing at their work, stun operators would sometimes miss and
knock the animal at the side of its head instead of straight on. Some
of the improperly stunned cows responded by breaking free and running wildly through the plant. Most regained consciousness once
they had been hoisted onto the rail. These animals, hanging by one
leg, fought, twisted, and turned, trying to get free.44
Conscious animal or not, the overhead moving rail continued, and
with it the cow moved to the next stage in the process—to the sticker.
When the cow was conscious and fighting, and particularly when the
line was moving fast, the sticker might not manage to cut the cow’s
throat in such a way that it bled out fast. Nonetheless, within seconds after being cut, the cow arrived at the head-skinners. Walker
explained to Eisnitz that the skinner would sometimes realize “an
animal is still conscious when he slices the side of its head and it starts
kicking wildly. If that happens, or if a cow is already kicking when it
arrives at their station, the skinners shove a knife into the back of its
head to cut the spinal cord.”45
Cutting the spinal cord paralyzes the animal from the cut cord
down. However, the cow remained conscious and able to feel everything from the cut up. In other words, the paralyzed cow could no
longer kick or fight—making the human worker significantly safer—
but it could still fully feel the pain of having its head skinned.
Live cattle struggling and fighting as they were being processed
into meat presented an extremely dangerous situation for the meat
packers processing them. The workers were crowded together and
unprotected, many carrying knives. It was a perfect set-up for accidents. Walker explained that sometimes animals would break free of
their shackles and come crashing down headfirst to the floor 15 feet
below, where other men worked. “It’s a miracle that nobody’s been
killed. There were three in one day, one right after another. One hit
a worker, just a glancing blow, broke his leg. I almost got crushed by
a falling bull.”46
Even beyond the physical health risks faced by slaughterhouse workers, research indicates that slaughterhouse work negatively impacts the
workers’ psychological well being. One sign of this comes in the form
of increased crime in communities where slaughterhouses are located.
In their research, Amy J. Fitzgerald, Linda Kalof, and Thomas Dietz
refer to this as the “Sinclair hypothesis.”47 Early in the history of
industrial slaughter, Sinclair himself made the connection between
the work of slaughtering animals and increases in violent crime in the
larger community. Sinclair writes, “Men who have to crack the heads
of animals all day seem to get into the habit, and to practice on their
friends, and even on their families, between times.”48
Fitzgerald, et al. note that ethnographic studies of communities
that contain large slaughterhouses provide evidence of “dramatic
increases in crime that have outpaced increases in the population,”
including in the category of violent crime. In terms of violence,
they write, “Most of the increases in violent crime rates have been
attributed to increases in domestic violence and child abuse.”49 They
suggest that the increase in family violence indicates “a connection
between the victimization of animals and the victimization of less
powerful human groups, such as children and women.”50
In their study, Fitzgerald, et al. test the Sinclair hypothesis. This
theory, they explain, “suggests that the work of industrial animal slaughter . . . has a different effect on local communities than
other forms of industrial work.” About their research on the Sinclair
hypothesis, Fitzgerald, et al. write,
We examine the relationship between slaughterhouse employment levels and crime rates, controlling for the variables commonly proposed
in the literature as associated with crime in communities, and we compare the effects of the slaughterhouse industry with other manufacturing industries that are similar in labor force composition, injury
and illness rates, but different in that the materials of production are
inanimate objects, rather than animals.51
In their study, as suggested by the earlier ethnographic studies,
Fitzgerald, et al. find that slaughterhouses do indeed have a unique
statistically significant relationship to increased crime rates in the
communities surrounding the slaughterhouses. Communities with
slaughterhouses experience higher crime rates. In contrast, the other
manufacturing industries that they study do not have a significant
relationship to crime rates going up. In sharp contrast to slaughterhouse communities, the only significant relationship that some of the
other industries had to crime rates was a decrease in the rates of crime.
Fitzgerald, et al. clarify:
Controlling for the extraneous variables, slaughterhouse employment has significant effects on arrests for rape and arrests for other
sex offences. Of the comparison industries, only iron and steel forging
demonstrates a significant effect on arrests for rape, but it is a negative
one. Thus, controlling for the other variables, an increase in employment in iron and steel forging is associated with a decrease in arrests
for rape.52
It seems that slaughterhouses alter human and nonhuman animals
Rendering cow
An end result of all of this routinized violence against animals is of
course food: meat to be sold, money to be made. As with the making
of meat, in the selling of meat, the logic of profit makes its demands.
As a result, humans are not the only ones eating cow. In fact, until
August 1997, even the cows ate cows. It is, as Pollan writes, “industrial logic—protein is protein.”53
Cows ate cow that came from the process of rendering. The rendering industry developed around 150 years ago. Much of the profit to
be made in cow results from it. According to former rancher Howard
F. Lyman, “When a cow is slaughtered, about half of it by weight
is not eaten by humans: the intestines and their contents, the head,
hooves, and horns, as well as bones and blood. These are dumped
into giant grinders at rendering plants, as are the entire bodies of
cows and other farm animals known to be diseased.”54
However not only farm animals are rendered. Euthanized pets such
as the six or seven million cats and dogs put down in animal shelters
each year, and also roadkill, are all transformed into something else.
The whole mix, made up of 40 billion pounds of dead animals each
year, is ground up and steam-cooked. The lighter fatty material floats
to the top of the mix and then is separated out to be used for making
candles, waxes, cosmetics, soaps, and lubricants. The renderers dry
and pulverize the heavier protein material into a powder. This protein
concentrate is used as an additive in almost all pet food as well as
livestock feed.55
In a book the National Rendering Association (NRA) published,
The Original Recyclers, the NRA proudly proclaims its role in eliminating waste via “recycling.” Discussing the early meat industry,
author Frank Burnham writes in The Original Recyclers, “As the kill
rate rose in the nation’s slaughter houses from tens to hundreds, even
thousands, of animals per week . . . without the renderer the problem
of disposing of these inedible byproducts of the beef industry would
have become one of horrendous proportions.”56 Happily, the rendering industry took care of the waste by turning it into something to
sell. As Shukin notes, rendering allows capitalist biopower to return
“animal matter to another round in the marketplace.”57
In her work on rendering and animal capital, Shukin develops the
thinking of social theorist Antonio Negri. Negri argues that time and
human labor have become one, and notes “the impossibility of distinguishing the totality of life (of the social relations of production and
reproduction) from the totality of time from which this life is woven
. . . [T]he entire time of life has become the time of production.”58
Shukin argues, “A limit in Negri’s thinking thus appears in the form
of the closed loop within which production and human labor definitionally refer back to and reinforce one another . . . There is little
room in Negri’s humanist philosophy of immanence to account for
the material labors and lives of other species that have also become
coextensive with the reproduction of capital.”59 For Shukin, nature—
with human life and labor embedded in it—is subsumed “into the
ontological conditions of capitalist production.”60
Rendering offers a perfect example of capitalist biopower. Shukin
illuminates, “More than just mopping up after capital has made a
killing, the rendering industry promises the possibility of an infinite
resubjection (‘return’) of nature to capital. The ‘industrial ecology’
metaphor of the closed loop valorizes the ecological soundness of
waste recovery and recycling just as the rendering industry effectively
opens up a renewable resource frontier for capitalism.”61 Animal life,
indeed all life, is subsumed in capital.
Following “industrial logic,” as Pollan writes, the meat industry fed
“rendered cow parts back to cows,” that is until “scientists realized
that it was spreading mad cow disease.” At that point the Food and
Drug Administration banned feeding cows cow, or at least most of a
cow cannot be fed to cows. “The FDA’s rules against feeding ruminant protein to ruminants makes exceptions for ‘blood products’ (even
though they contain protein) and fat.” Further, the rules still allow
138 THE P

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