Comment: Perspective from a hog slaughterhouse worker...

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Perspective from a hog slaughterhouse worker...

I worked in a hog slaughterhouse two summers (2001 & 2002) during college as it was the best paying temp position I could find.

The first summer, I worked on the "hot" side of the plant, which does the initial processing: slaughter, decapitation, primary cuts (to halve the hog), and processing of all internal organs (hearts, kidneys, intestines,...ovaries, etc.). I was used as a general worker to fill in for absent workers, so I pretty much did everything except special-skill jobs. When I wasn't filling-in, they stuck me on the large intestine processing line (literally flushing the sh#t out of intestines). I was also on the daily clean up crew which hosed the place down with fire hoses during lunch break. I was covered with blood, guts, feces, and urine daily. For about 2 weeks of the height of summer, they had me out back "herding" the live hogs toward their slaughter. More on this in a second.

My second summer I worked on the cold side in bacon smoking and processing. It smelled great, and we'd snack on delicious smoked meat all shift. Despite these "perks" this work was actually much harder physically as pork bellies (bacon) were 15-30 lb frozen slabs of fat that were incredibly slippery. We'd process a couple thousand bellies a day...very hard on hands and fingers. And I will stand by this til the day I die: Uncomfortably cold is worse than uncomfortably hot.

So, my first hand account of treatment of live hogs comes from the 2 weeks I was assigned to herd live hogs toward their slaughter.

The system was set up to be humane:

The group of penned hogs would be moved (by use of electric prods and mostly harmless plastic paddles) toward increasingly narrowing chutes (like funnels) until the hogs were in single file chutes. They would then be driven into gas chambers in groups of 3-4 and be exposed to excessive CO2 gas which would cause them to black out. The factory transitioned from electric shock to gas just months before I started working. The hogs would then be hanged upside down by their a hind leg and their throat would be cut (more of a stabbing motion than a slicing motion). Initially it was a blood explosion, but the hogs would hardly even react. After 10 seconds or so, they were pretty much dead, probably not even conscious for any of it.

Like I said..."set up" to be very humane.

But here's what actually happens:

Hogs don't herd worth crap. They aren't sheep! The hogs in the front get spooked easily and the ones in the back just pile on sometimes 3 or 4 high, crushing / suffocating the hogs on the bottom. Broken bones and other injuries were common place.

Hogs don't have a way to deal with heat (naturally, they'd dig in shaded ground). In the summer that place was typically a few degrees hotter than outside temps, reaching 100F+ often. Hogs basically shut down when overheated.

When hogs get injured or overheated they block the flow of hogs which pisses off the workers something fierce. Workers will use a steel rod with a hook on the end and hook the inside of the hog's mouth and drag it out of the way. Sometimes they'd hook inside the hog's anus instead. The hog's instinctively react to pain by digging in and pulling the other way, making it worse. These hogs weigh 200-300 lbs so you can imagine the force needed to drag them. I will never forget the squealing...exactly like 3:35 in the fact they were probably trying to move that hog by the hook-in-mouth technique.

When moved out of the way, trouble hogs (usually just overheated) were repeatedly kicked, punched, and beaten with rods by frustrated workers. This could go on for a while, until a supervisor would come around and use some sort of a gun that looked like a power screwdriver to shoot the "sidelined" hogs in the head. Not sure if it was an actual bullet, or a retracting rod that would penetrate the skull. I saw one hog kicking and squealing for 30 seconds or so after the "shot" to the head before slowing down and eventually dying there.

I never saw a worker reprimanded for beating a hog, even right in front of a supervisor.

Previous abuse was also evident, as the hogs were often in really bad shape when they arrived at the slaughterhouse. Lame or broken legs, abscessed pockets of infection on their bodies, tumors, lost eyes, and scars and wounds of all sorts were very common. I understand that hogs can be quite bullying to each other and constantly bite weaker or newer hogs when kept in confinement.

So that's that.

No, I am not a vegetarian. In fact, bacon is probably my favorite food. I have no ethical issue with killing of animals for the same way I have no ethical issues with killing plants for food.

I'm definitely troubled by the inhumane conditions I witnessed. I think the industry probably has incentives to improve the conditions and should definitely do that. In my opinion, oversight of ethical treatment of animals is something that falls under the realm of reasonable government, to some degree (not sure exactly what degree). I just don't accept that property rights give owners the unfettered right to unnecessarily torture animals.

At the same time, people need to remember to compare alternative options. Without people eating meat, these animals would never be alive. And it's not like the natural life of these animals (hogs in this case) is some rosy sweet Disney tale...even the few that actually get to survive the harshness of nature probably end up dying in natural ways that are equally awful.

That doesn't mean we should turn a blind eye to unnecessary inhumane treatment...just keep a perspective.