Meat vs Human Rights - Where's our priority?
Updated: Apr 11
This week we take a look into the complete disregard for human rights in the animal flesh industry.
Covid19 caused the closure of meat packing facilities worldwide and farmers were forced to slaughter animals themselves. American Senators asked the White House’s Coronavirus Task Force to provide mental health resources to these pig farmers, but no such measures have ever before been in place for slaughterhouse workers. Why?
Donald Trump signed an executive order demanding slaughterhouses stay open during the pandemic, despite some breeding upwards of 900 Covid19 cases.
Day in, day out these ‘essential workers’ have no option but to risk their lives and it’s us, the consumer, putting them at risk. But the truth is, the work isn't essential, and the suffering that these workers endure goes far beyond Covid19. In fact, it’s fundamentally a human rights crisis that affects all of us.
Since the introduction of factory farming in the 1920’s, global meat consumption has been on the rise. The combination of deceptive marketing and industry secrecy makes it easier than ever for us to forget that the meat we consume comes from an animal; an animal that has to be slaughtered first. Typically, we refuse to do this ourselves. Slaughterhouse workers collectively kill 72 billion land animals a year, and the physical and mental toll it has on these workers is alarming. Physically, slaughterhouse workers endure ten hour days on their feet, handle large, frightened and often dangerous livestock, operate industrial grinders, blades, hooks, knives, guns, scissors and saws and are surrounded by a plethora of bacteria and disease. The injury rate in this industry stands at one in five and leads to a staggering two amputations per week. It’s by far, America’s most dangerous profession and appallingly, the US government has recently allowed production to speed up. Statistically speaking if you work in a meat packing factory for five years there’s now a 50% chance you’ll suffer a ‘serious injury’ and the UK isn’t far behind - the UK Health and Safety Executive says that the slaughter industry is at the ‘top end’ of their ‘list of concerns’.
A Human Rights Watch report published in 2019 showed that almost every employee interviewed for the report had scars, swelling, amputations or even blindness caused by the job and it’s easy to understand why these injuries occur when you see the pace at which they have to work. ‘Line speeds’ have increased over time meaning today, each slaughterhouse can kill upwards of 1,300 pigs an hour and the pressure on the workers is growing. In as little as 5 minutes, a pig can be bled, have their organs removed, their hair, skin and fat stripped away and their bodies placed in a freezer. A 2016 Oxfam report even showed some workers felt the need to wear nappies through fear of slowing down the line speed. “Meat and poultry industry employers set up the workplaces and practices that create these dangers, but they treat the resulting mayhem as a normal, natural part of the production process, not as what it is; Repeated violations of international human rights standards” - Human Rights Watch
Slaughterhouse workers witness the death of thousands, sometimes tens of thousands of animals a day and the mental health consequences of this are far reaching.
A report published in 2017 shows that slaughterhouse workers suffer from Serious Psychological Distress. Many workers talk of desensitisation and learning to switch off from their job, likely through a psychological mechanism known as doubling. Doubling forces individuals to create dual selves; one good moral character and one bad which participates in the endless suffering and death of others. Doubling was most notably researched during Nazi germany and helps explain the ‘spillover affect’ into local communities.
A 2013 Australian study shows that after the introduction of a meat packing facility to a rural area, an increase in arrests for violent crimes including rape, child abuse and other sexual offenses occurs. “You feel isolated from society, not a part of it. Alone. You know you are different from most people. They don’t have visions of horrible death in their heads. They have not seen what you have seen. And they don’t want to. They don’t even want to hear about it.” - Virgil Butler - Ex Tyson employee Subconsciously these workers likely suffer with something similar to PTSD, known as Perpetration Induced Traumatic Stress, or PITS. Unlike PTSD which occurs after witnessing a traumatic event, PITS occurs when you’re a casual participant in it. Living with the knowledge of their actions causes similar symptoms to recipients of trauma; substance abuse, anxiety, depression and a dissociation from reality. “It’s just you and the dying chickens. The surreal feelings grow into such a horror of the barbaric nature of your behaviour. You are murdering helpless birds by the thousands (75,000 to 90,000 a night). You are a killer.” - Virgil Butler - Ex Tyson employee
If a job is so damaging both physically and mentally, you may ask why anyone would take it.
In the UK, 69% of the meat processing workforce are EU migrants. 72% of American slaughterhouse workers were born outside of the country and as many as 48% are undocumented and are unable to unionise and unlikely to report injury or sickness due to fear of deportation. An investigation conducted by the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority warned that criminal groups were trafficking foreign nationals to the UK for undercut labour and meat processing facilities are almost always placed in areas of low education and income. Simply put by Newkey-Burden, “vulnerable animals are often slaughtered by some of society's most vulnerable humans”. The starting salary at a UK slaughterhouse is just £12k a year.
The peril doesn't stop with the slaughterhouse workers either. Study after study shows that communities surrounding animal processing facilities suffer from health and environmental burdens. Respiratory inflammation, eye irritation, depression, headaches, and nausea make up the most common side effects of living near a factory farm and many can develop PTSD through the anxiety of declining quality of life. A 2015 Environmental Protection Agency report highlighted further concerns— water quality damage caused by the industry.
Animals bred for food expel roughly 130 times more excrement than humans and the open slurry pits in which the animal feces are discarded emit a cocktail of over 400 dangerous gasses and particulate matter, which can lead to decreased lung functionality and even cardiac arrest. There are currently over 150 known pathogens in manure that could impact human health. It seems bizarre then that sewage facilities are required for human waste but despite these health concerns, the same does not apply to animal waste.
A 2010 CDC report into the health of communities surrounding factory farms shows that while all community members are at risk from lowered air quality, children naturally breath 25-50% more oxygen, placing them in the highest risk category, and there’s consistent evidence to show that this increases the rates of asthma and bronchitis in children. 70% of farmers themselves have respiratory problems.
Land prices are cheaper in BIPOC rural communities because of systemic privilege in the US and thus house the most factory farms. As income in these areas is statistically lower, people in these communities have no option of moving away; they’re disproportionately affected by the adverse conditions created by this industry.
A 2018 UK report found that 4million children are too poor to be able to eat the recommended daily allowance of healthy food set by the government. Yet, the government is directly subsidising factory farms. That cost the UK taxpayer at least £70million in 2016/17 and is driving down the cost of meat and dairy, falsifying the true cost of meat and encouraging the growth of the very industries that we know harm children.
Farming subsidies happen all over the world but dairy subsidies in particular benefit only caucasions. At least 70% of the world is Lactose intolerant and historically only caucasions produce the Lactase enzyme that breaks down Lactose. Non-whites are disproportionately affected by lactose intolerance with 75% of African Americans being unable to digest dairy products effectively. China is the world's third largest dairy producer despite the fact that up to 90% of Asian adults cannot properly digest it. To this day, dairy is still advertised as a health product by global governments, but the science suggests otherwise.
Further afield the impact of factory farming intensifies and the damage the industry causes is likely affecting you directly. Animals raised for food currently take up 30% of the worlds entire land use, but that wasn’t always the case. Since 1970, a staggering 90% of Amazon deforestation has occured to make room for grazing livestock.
With only minimal waste management programs in place, pathogens, chemicals and excess minerals found in animal waste make their way into riverways and contaminate huge bodies of water.
In 2017 a ‘Deadzone’ the size of New Jersey was the largest ever recorded in the Gulf of Mexico. Nitrogen deposits caused by sewage from animal farms cause an explosion of algae growth and diminish oxygen in waters, killing almost everything in its path, hence the term Deadzone.
Nitrous Oxide is a gas 296 times more potent than Carbon Dioxide and occurs when animal waste mixes with fertilisers and evaporates. The sequential rain is acidic and depletes soil minerals and destroys forest ecosystems. In fact a 2017 WWF report found that 60% of global biodiversity loss is caused by animal agriculture.
The link between animal agriculture and its impact on Climate change is undisputed. It affects us all but it most acutely affects the poorest nations in the world who have typically contributed to climate change the least.
Westernised nations demand meat at such an extent that we rely on third world and emerging countries to grow animal feed for our livestock whilst at the same time 925 million people lack sufficient basic nutrition worldwide.
Globally, there are 884 million people without access to clean water - that's more people than in the US, Canada and the whole of Europe combined. Still, 11 thousand litres of fresh water is used per lb of beef produced.
Animal Agriculture as it exists today is impacting us all.
Every time we put animal products in our shopping trolly we are directly funding the exploitation of vulnerable humans, the exploitation of global communities, of animals, and our environment.
Ask yourself: are you a participant in exploitation?