Newsletter - Animal Writes sm
24 October 1999

By Steve Best, [email protected]

by Gail. E. Eisnitz
Email: [email protected]
Prometheus Books, 1997

Imagine hell: plaintive screams, rivers of blood, mountains of viscera and gore, dissection and dismemberment of still living beings who are butchered and tortured by unfeeling sadists. Welcome to the world of slaughterhouses, and it's worse than you dared to imagine.

Slaughterhouse is a tale of unfathomable insanity, cruelty, and evil. The most gruesome and unethical practices are repeated around the country, and yet it is a story that media programs have deemed "too disgusting" to report. It has taken the relentless work of a courageous woman to bring the horrifying details of the slaughterhouse to public attention. This is investigative journalism at its best, as Eisnitz does the job that government agencies will not do, tied as they are to the meat industries.

Eisnitz's hard-earned research is based on government documents, first hand observation, interviews with whistleblowers and slaughterhouse workers, and the files of the Government Accountability Project (GAP). Eisnitz's reputation precedes her: she has worked dangerous undercover jobs to infiltrate and expose rings of animal abusers, and she broke open the clenbuterol story by proving that dangerous and illegal growth hormones were being used to fatten veal calves. In Slaughterhouse, and her recent legal activism, she takes on the USDA itself and reveals its lies and disinformation campaigns.

On Eisnitz's account, serious problems in the industry started in the late 1970s, when new technologies were increasing the slaughter rates and, with them, levels of pathogenic contamination. Under the Reagan administration, the USDA, like other government agencies, was deregulated, allowing the meat industry to police itself. The result was the "Streamlined Inspection System" (SIS) that dramatically reduced the number of government inspectors, while doubling or tripling the line speeds at the slaughterhouses and packing plants.

The "USDA seal of approval" gives the appearance of federal regulation when in fact there is little or none. Standing at the end of the line, unable to witness the killing and trimming processes, inspectors are allowed to sample only a fraction of a per cent of the carcasses. Like the veterinarians, they give their imprimatur that all is safe, healthy, and well, knowing that if they remain quiet and compliant they can have a cushy job with the meat industry later in their careers.

The system pursues maximal speed and efficiency, driven by the quest for profit over concern with animals, workers, and the public health. A large percentage of the animals are not adequately stunned, and therefore are clipped, shackled, hoisted, hooked by the nose or anus, bled, dismembered, skinned, boiled, and ground up while still aware and alive. Animals are forced to endure up to a half-mile long trip through the slaughterhouse, and ten minutes of electric prodding, beating, and step-by-step dissection before they finally die.

Those who get caught in the gate guards or the line have their legs or heads chopped or burned off. Often, workers grow angry and vent their frustrations on the animals, as they pummel them with lead pipes or gouge out their eyes, some making it a source of amusement. The so-called "Humane Slaughter Act," passed by Congress in 1958 but opposed by the USDA, is not enforced. Chickens and poultry animals have no law whatsoever protecting them, and violations of the law carries no penalties.

Management does not care any more about workers than animals. The slaughterhouses employ the economically desperate, including many immigrants, legal and illegal. Working in a slaughterhouse is among the most dangerous jobs one can work. Workers often are badly cut as they try to kill an animal improperly stunned; their hands or arms get cut off in the machinery; hoisted animals fall on them; and they suffer various kinds of repetitive motion syndrome. They have little break time, and often are forced to urinate on the floor rather than leave their station. The routinization of death has dehumanized them, although some privately admit concern for the animals. Many are alcoholics and drug abusers, and bring their violence home to their families.

With deregulation, eating meat has become increasingly dangerous. Death from food poisoning more than quadrupled during the decade of deregulation from 2,000 in 1984 to 9,000 in 1994, and according to the Center for Disease Control estimates, there are now between 6.5 and 81 million cases of food poisoning each year. Since 1978, USDA inspectors have steadily lost authority to condemn bad meat, and consumers are eating carcasses contaminated with pus, feces, urine, lung and heart infections, ingesta, maggots, tumors, e-coli, salmonella, and possibly the prions that cause Mad Cow Disease.

No animal lover or activist will want to read this book, but no one can do without it. Of all the horrors I personally have read about, nothing prepared me for this. It is a tale of unbelievable abuses -- of animals, workers, and the public trust -- and of vast government corruption. In particular, it is a stinging indictment of the USDA: not only does the USDA fail to protect animals, workers, and the public, it commissions junk science to disseminate disinformation to the public and protect the interests of the very meat industry it is supposed to regulate.

Eisnitz paid a high price for the stress of constant work and encounters of animal abuse, as she contracted cancer during the writing of the book (from which she apparently has recovered). Having done her part, Eisnitz leaves us with the burden of knowledge -- and the responsibility ourselves to become involved.

This review originally appeared in "Life Giving Choices", the newsletter of the Vegetarian Society of El Paso (VSEP).

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