Time to Open Our Eyes and Demand Change

Posted by Joyce Tischler, ALDF's Founder and General Counsel on August 30, 2012

Close your eyes. Cover your ears. You don’t want to see what’s been in the news: recent undercover video taken over a two week period at the Central Valley Meat Company, a slaughterhouse in Hanford, California, which shows horrible abuse of dairy cows being slaughtered for food. Several hours of video were supplied to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) by our colleagues at Compassion Over Killing (COK).

After viewing the COK video, the USDA publicly stated that the videotape showed evidence of "egregious humane handling violations" and closed the facility for one week. USDA continues to investigate; however, it was unwilling to comment why its own inspectors–who had been at that facility during the two week period the undercover video was recorded–did not take action to correct obvious wrong-doing.

Is the abuse shown in the video against the law? Yes; it is. The federal Humane Methods of Livestock Slaughter Act of 1958, 7 USC Sec. 1901, states, "It is the policy of the United States that the slaughtering of livestock and the handling of livestock in connection with slaughter shall be carried out only by humane methods." Congress ordered the USDA to enforce the Humane Slaughter Act "by ensuring that humane methods in the slaughter of livestock… prevent needless suffering;"

The Act goes on to state that in order for the slaughter of cattle to be considered "humane," "all animals [must be] rendered insensible to pain by a single blow or gunshot or an electrical, chemical or other means that is rapid and effective, before being shackled, hoisted, thrown, cast, or cut;"

In other words, the cows who were at Central Valley Meat Company had to be rendered unconscious quickly (single blow or gunshot), before they were hoisted into the air and bled to death. Yet the COK video shows dairy cows who can barely walk being shocked or prodded to keep them moving to slaughter, or being shot in the head repeatedly. One cow, who has been shot in the head, but is still conscious, is lying on the ground and a facility worker has his boot on her muzzle, in order to suffocate her. Another cow, fully conscious, is hanging by one rear leg and struggling, in pain and terror, as she is sent down the line to have her neck slashed. The video shows dairy cows in agony, receiving treatment that is anything but humane.

Who is responsible for this; who can we blame? The slaughterhouse workers? Sure; that’s an easy out: they’ve run amok, totally ignoring the standards carefully set for them by management. Color me cynical, but I would bet that the workers were not doing anything out of the ordinary at that facility.

Do we blame the slaughterhouse management? That’s a good place to start. They claim to be surprised by what the video shows; I guess they were on vacation for the two weeks in which this happened. Never happened before? In fact, the American meat industry is continually pressuring the federal government for less regulation and faster "chain" speeds (the speed at which animals are stunned, killed and processed). The chain speed has more than doubled since the early 1970s. Less regulation and a faster chain speed means more pressure on the slaughterhouse workers to quickly move those animals through the kill line: stun them faster, kill them faster, process them faster, less care, more mistakes, more frustration… You get the picture.

But, what about you and me; do we bear any responsibility for what happens in slaughterhouses? Oh; for crying out loud, who wants to think about what goes on in a slaughterhouse?! As long as the meat and dairy are cheap, not us. Or, if we do think about meat production, we prefer to imagine that the cows are wheeled in on padded gurneys, with soft music playing in the background, as they are gently rocked to everlasting sleep. Or, maybe we envision those dairy cows prancing into the slaughterhouse, singing "take me; I’ve waited all my life to be a burger!" Wouldn’t that be grand? No muss; no fuss; no harm; no foul. No feelings of guilt, as we sip on our milkshakes. As Professor Amy Fitzgerald notes in her recent article, A Social History of the Slaughterhouse: From Inception to Contemporary Implications, "We seldom think about the slaughtering of non-humans animals…for meat, much less the space in which it takes place. This is no accident or simple oversight: it is intentional."

Let’s be honest. Nobody wants to think about what happens in slaughterhouses. The meat and dairy industries are enormous businesses and they continually show us images of happy animals, as they encourage us to eat more of their products. The last thing they want is for us to associate the torture of cows with that hamburger you will eat at In-N-Out Burger (which, by the way, conveniently severed ties with the Central Valley Meat Company after the video footage was released). The abuse of those defenseless animals at Central Valley is not an isolated incident. It’s part of the system. It happens because, as a society, we have a gentleman’s agreement to turn away, close our eyes; cover our ears.

Now, I hear you saying, "hey, Joyce; I’m not the one who committed those terrible acts in that slaughterhouse. How dare you suggest that I’m somehow responsible for that suffering?! After all, I’m a compassionate, hardworking person; shouldn’t I have the right to eat a burger and drink my latte without being preached at?

But, follow the dots here: if you purchase meat and dairy, you create the demand for those items and you share responsibility for how those cows were treated. Change is not going to come from industry; it’s up to the consumers. By remaining silent and forking over your hard earned cash for that burger, you unknowingly support everything happening in that video.

It’s time for a new way: open your eyes; uncover your ears; take responsibility. As a consumer, you can demand change. You can even choose to boycott those products. No excuses.


7 thoughts on “Time to Open Our Eyes and Demand Change

  1. Ian says:

    Thanks for this insightful commentary!

  2. Meechity says:

    Indeed, thank you very much, I’ve tweeted quite a few quotes.

    This cuts to the heart of the subject of consumer onus. It’s touchy to invite people to take due responsibility, but even harder to empower well-meaning consumers to embrace that their dollar is truly a silent vote.

    Please, don’t give up!

  3. Kari says:

    Wow, this was a wonderfully written article that I am going to share as much as I can. After seeing my first undercover video quite awhile ago I decided to become a vegan. My daughter also took the step and became a vegetarian. If more people would take a step even a little one like boycotting a specific brand etc… it would make a difference.

  4. Camille Carrigan says:

    I think all those involved are responsible including consumers but I would really like to see the USDA held responsible for not enforcing the law and regulations. That goes for puppymills as well. Has anyone ever entertained the idea of filing a lawsuit against the USDA for failure to uphold the law and therefore being complicit in these crimes of animal abuse? These industries are allowed to perpetuate animal abuse and torture on a massive scale and the USDA is well aware of what goes on. How long will we tolerate this??!!

  5. Julie Green says:

    I DON’T THINK IT’S RIGHT EVEN SLAUGHTERING THESE ANIMALS AT ALL!!! THEY NEED TO CLOSE DOWN ALL OF THEM, & GO BY GOD’S LAW, NOT MAN’S LAW!!! IT’S DEFINITELY NO HUMANE WAY ABOUT IT!!! GO WANTS US TO DIE OF NATURAL CAUSES, NOT ABUSE, CRUELTY, SLAUGHTERED, MURDER OR KILLED FOR NO REASON AT ALL!!! IT ALL IS SO WRONG IN THIS WORLD!!!

  6. Kishka says:

    Fantastically put. Succinct and angry enough without preaching. I LOVE it. Thank you thank you thank you.

  7. Absolutely vile. The very same reasoning and comments apply to many kill shelters and from the rate they kill are virtually slaughterhouses. Reports of abuse are coming into us daily. Yes it is the managements fault and responsibility and yes it is up to the public to demand reform. With cows we can stop creating demand by eating them and with shelter pets we can force the shelter to become No Kill open admission as have 200 other communities in the past couple of years saving over 90% of their intake. http://www.nokillnews.org