01 February 2009

11. Slaughterhouse

Slaughterhouse: The Shocking Story of Greed, Neglect, and Inhumane Treatment Inside the U.S. Meat Industry by Gail A. Eisnitz

The second book I read recently that has to do with the U.S. meat industry, slaughterhouses, the USDA and the failures of all of the above.

This author came from a different angle than the fast food book. Her concerns are based on inhumane acts and animal rights. She does not feel that cattle, hogs, chickens, sheep, etc, should be tortured before or during the butchering process.

To tell you the truth, I did not care all that much about the animal rights part of the book that she emphasized. Yes, I would prefer that a cow was "stunned" properly and was not conscious while being slaughtered. It is the "law" that is should be that way. I would rather the animal did not feel the pain. On the other hand, I also understand that the business is there to make a profit. Stopping the line costs money. I understand not stopping the line for an animal. Call me a heartless bastard for that if you like.

On the other hand, when the company does things that cause the animals to be alive, I have a problem with them. The "knocker" is supposed to stun the animal. When you use a smaller bolt in the stunner or turn down the air pressure/current it will not function as advertised. When this is done on purpose to increase throughput it puts us all at unnecessary risk.

An animal hanging from the hook alive is thrashing and kicking. That makes it difficult to get a clean cut. That causes things to get cut that shouldn't. That causes things to fly around that normally wouldn't.

Also...it creates a very dangerous work environment. If you are supposed to make a cut on 1200 bulls each day and 25% of them are alive, well, that is an awful lot of wrestling huge animals, with razor sharp knives in your hands, in tight quarters, on slippery surfaces, under intense managerial pressure to perform. That is where I really start to care. Those are people taking those risks.

And then there is the USDA/FDA angle to the story. It opened my eyes to a few things. Under Reagan and Bush this industry was deregulated. The USDA already had minimal authority to do anything, now they had even less and had bigger problems. Clinton made it even worse because he was in the pockets of the Tyson guys who helped get him elected. All kinds of laws are passed. All kinds of new standards are initiated.... but none of them work. They don't work because the meat packing companies are running the show.

It is a very interesting read. I sat down at my mother-in-laws dinner table last night. She had a steak on my plate. Normally I would have just ate it and enjoyed. This time I looked at it and thought... "Was this cow alive when they pulled off it's hide?" "Did this piece of meat come in contact with manure?" "Was the person who cut this steak an illegal alien who is afraid to speak up about the horrors in his workplace?"

I am not a big union supporter. I think they have passed the period when they were most useful and create problems in many instances. Some unions are different though. Some are needed. Is one needed here? Should the AFL/CIO be representing these people? Yes! Yes, they should be.

Meat packers used to be unionized. They got broken up. Most shops now have employee turnover rates so high that the people are not around long enough to organize. That and many are the type of folks who are "non-persons" as far as wanting any attention.

The USDA is a joke also. Talk about a fox in a hen house. The USDA leadership came from the meat-packing industry. What the hell should we expect? We put the guys in charge of inspecting the work when the same guys are in charge of maximizing profit.

No wonder the rates of infection have increased dramatically in the last 25 years.

Fast Food Nation convinced me there is shit in your meat. Slaughterhouse showed me there is not only shit, but worms, maggots, abscesses, puss, urine, and countless other things that are definitely not "meat".

I doubt I will look at a hamburger the same way again.

Gail Eisnitz now works for the Humane Farming Association. See their site for more info.

Next book: The Jungle by Upton Sinclair. Both Fast Food Nation and Slaughterhouse state that this novel created such a stir in 1906 that President Teddy Roosevelt investigated and made wholesale changes to the U.S. meat packing industry. I am wondering what that novel said. Then I will move on and get away from the whole meat and animals stuff for a while.


  1. What you want is a skilled butcher who knows his meat and animals and can help you with your purchase. We expect to have everything handed to us perfectly wrapped and ready and that goes for meat. We should step back and learn to work for our food, to truly appreciate where it came from instead of just throwing packages into a shopping cart.

  2. I agree that a good butcher could help, but there are still problems beyond even thier control. The big slaughterhouses dictate how ranching is accomplished. The ranchers need to churn out animals or face being blackballed. To supply as much meat as is needed, the ranchers resort to "unnatural" methods. One example is using animal scraps as feed. Ground up chickens, pigs and cows are included in the feed. That causes problems because the cows, goats, sheep etc are ruminants. They should be eating grass in a field, not other animals. The junk they are ingesting is what is causing some diseases and is spilling out onto the meat during slaughter. This "junk" is cheap and easier. It does not require vast amounts of grazing land, which is too expensive for a rancher to afford without being a slave to the meat processors.

    Some farms are using "old school" methods. They are small and struggling to survive.

    So, even if you had a great butcher, that butcher would probably not have rasied the animal himself and would therefore not know what is in the meat.

    Also, I think you are in Canada. Canada has laws saying that all meat sold in Canada must have been slaughtered in a humane way. The US meat industry exports chicken to Canada with a stamp on it that says it was slaughtered humanely according to US law. This is all a lie. The poultry industry is exempt from humane slaughter in the US. The chickens die while they are being dipped in 160 degree water to remove feathers. Imagine drowning on boiling water. Nothing humane about that. But, it is according to our own laws and is technically OK to ship to Canada...where it is against the law to slaughter poultry in this way.

    What is even more unbelievable is that the USDA arbitrarily decided that rabbits were poultry specifically to avoid humane slaughter. A rabbit is a mammal. How is that poultry? Poor scalded drowned bunnies.

    So, there is much more to this than just cleaning and cooking the meat properly. A buthcer would help, but is not able to protect you, the animals, or the workers in the slaughterhouses. The USDA could help, but they have had their wings clipped and are actually just a government extension of the meat business meant to make us all feel good.

    Holy crap! I am turning into a dissenter. No wonder the Soviet Union eliminated so many thinkers and limited availability to knowledge.