Anyone who has watched Earthlings probably remembers the scene where the men were beating on and cursing at the pigs, who were squealing in terror. The terror squeal is the pigs only defense – they squeal loudly, which sparks the other pigs to rally around them, and hopefully startles the predator into dropping them. Of course in a pig farm or slaughterhouse, the pigs can’t rally around each other, and the predator/human is just going to keep beating them. And then kill them.
My first reaction was outrage at the treatment of the pigs, though realistically they could have been singing lullabies to the pigs, and I still would have hated what they were doing – treating sentient beings as commodities, disregarding their most basic rights. My second reaction was horror at what was being done to the humans working there.
The behavior exhibited was of people going out of their way to be extra cruel in a situation that had no kindness to begin with. Who does that? Are they sociopaths, unable to empathize with others? And then I realized that whatever they were before they worked there, and maybe even whatever they are outside of work, they have to become an unfeeling uncaring creature to take part in mass slaughter for hours and hours every day.
And it gets worse the more you think about it. Reading in Diet for a Dead Planet, I learned that these same workers are often denied things such as: medical treatment for injuries, adequate bathroom breaks, adequate housing, adequate salaries. Basic safety equipment is often the worker’s financial responsibility, even though their pay does not support the burden. The turnover rate is high, and with obvious reason. The exploitation and abuse is unjustifiable.
A book I haven’t read yet, but which talks about these issues in more depth is Slaughterhouse. An excerpt from the review on GoVeg’s website:
While investigating the slaughter industry, Eisnitz gains the trust of dozens of workers across the United States. Without exception, the individuals interviewed admit to deliberately beating, strangling, boiling, or dismembering animals alive in violation of the federal Humane Slaughter Act or failing to report those who did—all in an effort to “keep the production line running.” Many also discuss the web of violence in which they have become ensnared and the alcoholism and physical abuse that plague their personal lives.
In an effort to understand how such rampant violations could occur right under the noses of United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) inspectors—the individuals charged with enforcing humane regulations in slaughterhouses—Eisnitz examines the inspectors’ track record for enforcing meat and poultry safety regulations, their primary responsibility. Following a long paper trail, she learns that contaminated meat and poultry are pouring out of federally inspected slaughterhouses and, not surprisingly, deaths from foodborne illness have quadrupled in the United States in the last 15 years.
Determined to tell the whole story, Eisnitz then examines the physical price paid by employees working in one of America’s most dangerous industries. In addition to suffering disfiguring injuries and crippling repetitive-motion disorders, employees describe tyrannical working conditions in which grievances are met with severe reprisals or dismissals.
The cost, of course, isn’t just to the workers, but also to the consumers. However, it doesn’t stop there either. The pollution created from animal agriculture affects all of us. There is simply no aspect of the industry that doesn’t harm everyone it touches. Which is essentially everyone on the planet. The cost to humans is huge. The cost to the animals themselves is everything.