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When it was suggested that I visit a slaughterhouse to observe firsthand the violations of animal rights, I was very skeptical. The reason for my skepticism was that I thought a slaughterhouse didn't provide an example of cruelty distant enough from our daily lives to be poignant or relevant in a discussion about animal rights. I felt I should write about something a bit more esoteric or considered cruel or immoral, like the killing of baby seals. I was terribly wrong. The fact that what happens in a slaughterhouse is caused by the demand that the vast majority of the population places on the flesh of other living beings makes it all the more poignant and relevant.

There is no convenient escape from the guilt associated with what occurs inside a slaughterhouse, as in the case of baby seals in the Arctic. While it's easy for most of us to avoid buying items for which seals were killed - thus incurring guilt for their deaths - most people willingly (and thoughtlessly) consume the flesh of one type of animal or another whose life was ended within the walls of a slaughterhouse.

 

As I stepped out of my car in the parking lot of a packaging factory, the combination of sounds and smells emanating from the metal structure made me question whether this was something I really wanted to experience. The first thing that struck my senses was the noise of the cattle - not the bucolic and pleasant lowing one might hear on a rural road near a farm, but a rapid and frenzied mooing. It was the kind of mooing I had heard once during a weekend at my uncle's dairy farm when one of the cows was attacked by stray dogs. Aside from the noise, the adrenaline release in its body made the cow breathe so rapidly that it struggled. At that moment in the parking lot, I could feel the discomfort in the sound of the cows, but later I discovered that each one waiting in the corridor leading to the "slaughter stable" was suffering from the same symptoms of terror that I witnessed at my uncle's farm.

The second thing I noticed was also a sound. As I walked towards the building, I heard a strange whirring that could only be from a saw cutting bones still surrounded by flesh. At this point, I realized I wasn't prepared for what I was about to experience. This feeling intensified to the point of nausea when, as I approached, I first smelled the combination of odors that would linger for the next few hours: the sickly, nauseating smell of freshly slaughtered meat still so warm from the life so recently removed that heat emanated from it; the not sickly but nauseating smell of boiling sausages and wieners; and the cold creaking of meat being hung, carcass after carcass, row after row, in the refrigeration area. My imagination had prepared me for the visual experience, but I was completely unprepared for the almost unbearable smell that pervaded the entire factory.

After brief "pleasantries" with Jerry, the production manager of the factory, I was allowed to proceed through the factory without guides and at my own pace. I began the tour "where everything begins," as Jerry put it, in the "slaughter area." I entered the slaughter area through a short corridor, resembling a tunnel, through which I could see what I would soon learn was the third butchering station. The slaughter area consisted of a room where a number of operations were carried out by one or two of six butchers at four stations along the length of the room. In the slaughter area, there was also a United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) inspector who examined the parts of each animal that passed through.

The first station is the slaughter station. There works a single man whose job is to guide the animal into the slaughter stall, kill it, and begin the butchering process. This stage of the process takes about ten minutes for each animal and begins with the opening of a heavy steel door separating the slaughter stall from the waiting area.

The man working in this station must enter a corridor adjacent to the waiting yard and drive his next victim into the slaughter area with a high-voltage electric prod. This is the most time-consuming part of the operation, as the cattle are fully aware of what awaits them ahead and are determined not to enter the slaughter area. The physical symptoms of terror are painfully evident on the faces of every animal I saw, both in the slaughter area and in the waiting area.

During the approximately 40 seconds to a minute that each animal waits in the slaughter area before losing consciousness, the terror becomes visibly more intense. The animal can smell the blood and see its fellow creatures in various stages of dismemberment.

During the last few seconds of life, the animal collapses in the confined area of the stall. All four cows whose deaths I witnessed jumped frantically, futilely, and pathetically upwards -- the only direction not blocked by a steel door. Death comes in the form of a pneumatic stunner that is placed against the head and fired.

The gun is designed so that the rod never fully exits; it simply pierces the animal's head and is then pulled out by the butcher as the animal faints. I saw this being used three or four times; it did its job first-rate, but one cow struggled quite a bit before fainting. After the animal faints, the side of the slaughter stall is lifted, and a chain is placed on the right hind leg. The cow is then hoisted up by this leg and left hanging.

At this point, the butcher drains the blood from the body by making a cut in the cow's neck. When the arteries are cut, there is an impressive stream of blood, so much so that the butcher can't move away quickly and can't avoid getting soaked. This stream of warm blood lasts about 15 seconds, after which the only task left for the man at the first station is to skin the hide and remove the animal's head.

In the second station in the slaughter area, the headless animal is thrown to the ground. The body is cut in the rear, eviscerated, and, if it's female, the udder and teats are removed. At this point, all the urine and feces that were not drained from the body during the first seconds of death flow freely across the floor. The body is then cut halfway and the skin partially peeled away. A rope is tied to the hind legs, the body is lifted, and the rest is pulled through pulleys attached to the floor, removing the skin entirely. The animal's body then enters the third station of the slaughter area to be quartered and halved -- becoming two "beef halves."

The beef halves are washed and weighed at the fourth and final slaughter station. They are then placed in a refrigeration locker where the remaining heat from life slowly drains away before proceeding to the deep freezer. From the refrigeration locker, the meat moves to the main storage area where it stays for up to a week. This locker has an outlet to the butchering area where the meat sides are further reduced into portions to be sent to supermarkets and eventually make their way to meal tables.

The final stop on my tour was the sausage and wiener factory. They always say if someone could see what's inside a sausage, they'd never eat one again. Well, that saying applies tenfold to sausage production. The most violently nauseating smell I ever experienced was coming from the meat boiling tanks for sausages. When I left the complex, I was ashamed of my previous skepticism and encourage anyone who has doubts like I did to visit a slaughterhouse or spend a day on a factory farm. I believe it's clear that there must be a better way for us to feed ourselves and it is our mission, as morally capable beings, to pursue alternative methods.

About the author:

Dave Gifford is a student at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, USA.
This text was taken from "The Forum", the institution's student newspaper.

PAUL MCCARTNEY: "IF SLAUGHTERHOUSES HAD GLASS WALLS..."

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