A Behemoth

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A Behemoth

By David Gerow Irving, author of The Protein Myth: Significantly Reducing the Risk of cancer, Heart Disease, Stroke and Diabetes while Saving the Animals and the Planet

I was of three minds as I learned that cows in the slaughterhouses were having their feet cut off and their hides torn from their bodies while they were still alive and conscious.

My first mind filled with grief for the suffering animals that had been so severely abused and disrespected. How I longed to offer them comfort and remove their suffering.

Rage filled my second mind against those who committed these atrocities. But the rage melted into thoughtfulness as I considered the conditions of the workers forced to do this nightmarish deed, killing one animal after the other hour upon hour upon hour, day after day, week after week, month in and month out, year after year.

Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation tells us how it was back in the old days in the Chicago stockyards for the workers. Bad as conditions were for the animals, for the workers at least those were halcyon union days. That was before the new industrialists came along and moved the industry to rural states hostile to labor unions where they built vast new feed yards, slaughterhouses, and paid workers as much as two-thirds less than they earned in Chicago. In no time the Chicago meatpackers were broken and forced to close their doors. An industry that once numbered 40,000 workers was reduced to 2,000.

The new work force for the slaughterhouses is made up of the low-skilled, the uneducated, and the disenfranchised. They are poor, speak little English, and come from Mexico and other third world countries. Malleable and easy to exploit, they live in old trailers and motels, sleeping many to a room on mattresses on the floor. On their work shifts they carry out their brutal work. It is workers like these who are paid to rip the hides from animals. How many of the cows are still living and conscious when it happens, nobody knows.

My third mind turned to the greedy industrialists responsible for creating this hell. They are the ones responsible for the suffering of the animals, the deplorable condition of the workers, and the contamination of the food supply that millions and millions of Americans consume. As machines remove the hides from animals, chunks of dirt and manure fall from the animals to contaminate the meat. The contents of the digestive systems are also prone to spill out onto the meat. The speed employed on the production line to meet the standards demanded by the food producers ensures that this will happen. According to Schlosser, “at the IBP (Iowa Beef Packers – presently Tyson Fresh Meat, Inc.) slaughterhouse in Lexington, Nebraska, the hourly spillage rate at the gut table has run as high as 20 percent, with stomach contents splattering one out of five carcasses.” No wonder he says there is shit in the hamburgers people consume. Years ago a hamburger at a restaurant likely came from the same side of beef. Today, the fast food restaurant hamburger can contain meat from dozens, even hundreds of different animals due to the way the beef is transported and mixed at assembly sites. The risk of contamination is great. So is the chance that a hamburger contains cow shit.

Schlosser tells us that the same kinds of processes also apply to chickens. The slaughter machines spatter bacteria-laden feces onto the carcasses so that up to 90 percent of all chicken flesh sold in the United States is swarming with salmonella, campylobacter (one of the main causes of bacterial food borne disease in developed countries), and other dangerous bacteria. As many as 4,000,000 Americans get sick from salmonella “flu” each year; and about 500 die.”

The effects of diseased food on the consumer are well known by the industry but not well publicized for the public. Schlosser notes that “every day in the United States, roughly 200,000 people are sickened by a food borne disease, 900 are hospitalized, and fourteen die.”

It is the corporate giants of the new agriculture that are responsible for the food production system that spews out diseased food to every part of the nation. IBP (Tyson Fresh Meats) is one of the top four meatpacking firms that together slaughter about 84% of the nation’s cattle, the other three being ConAgra, Excel and National Beef. As Schlosser points out, IBP has controlled prices, manipulated the market, broken unions, consorted with the mob, befouled the air of communities, and created an environment where crime cannot fail to fester in towns where their plants are located.

But these giants depend on partners like McDonald’s and ConAgra. ConAgra, founded by Mike Harper, is the biggest meatpacker in the world. McDonald’s, founded by Ray Kroc, is the nation’s biggest purchaser of beef, and one of the four biggest hamburger chains in the world, the others being CKE (Carl Karcher Enterprises), Burger King and Wendy’s.

The industrialists and the corporations have all become enormously wealthy at the expense of all segments of the American public, children, young people, adults, and senior citizens.

We are now confronted with a behemoth of massive proportions that has crept out of the murky darkness of human greed to enslave and abuse the animal population of the world. Much of the blame can be laid at the doorstep of the Republican Party for its penchant for deregulation that was lead by the one whom party stalwarts proudly hail as the great communicator. Schlosser tells us that “The Reagan and [George H.W.] Bush administrations cut spending on public health measures and staffed the U.S. Department of Agriculture with officials far more interested in government deregulation than in food safety. The USDA became largely synonymous with the industries it was meant to oversee. President Reagan’s first secretary of agriculture was in the hog business. His second was the president of the American Meat Institute…And his choice to run the USDA’s Food Marketing and Inspection Service was a vice president of the National Cattleman’s Association. President [George H.W.] Bush later appointed the president of the National Cattleman’s Association to the job.”

Meanwhile, a host of conservative, Republican legislators were out in front blocking and leading the charge down the field. As Schlosser notes, “the unusual power of the large meatpacking firms has been sustained by their close ties and sizable donations to Republican members of Congress…The meatpacking industry also directed most of its campaign contributions to conservative Republicans, providing strong support in the Senate to Mitch McConell of Kentucky, Jesse Helms of South Carolina, and Orrin Hatch of Utah. Between 1987 and 1996, Phil Gramm, a Republican from Texas, received more money from the meatpacking industry than any other U.S. senator. Gramm was a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, and his wife, Wendy Lee, sits on the Board of IBP [Tyson Fresh Meats].”

The Behemoth is exposed. It is the meat industry in the United States. It will sit in the middle of the dining room table of most American households this Thanksgiving Day in the form of beef, turkey, chicken, or ham.

Originally published on Cyrano's Journal.

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