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Killing for a living

The unspoken mental disorder effecting slaughter house workers

The slaughter house is the limbo between life and death within the commercial animal kingdom, the final destination of an animal before it is killed and shipped off in many different directions from packaged meats with a supermarket destination to pharmaceutical facilities and animal food manufacturers.


The meat industry is an extremely efficient one with animals in and out of big abattoir very quickly; there are approximately 150 Slaughter houses in the UK with thousands of workers, however recent reports have stated that a growing number of these workers are suffering from post traumatic stress disorder .

It may seem logical that people that are surrounded by death all day, every day would eventually succumb to the emotional turmoil and stress of having to kill for a living, seeing the live animals coming in knowing that the worker will personally be ending its life but not being about to care.


Slaughter house workers are increasingly reporting symptoms of PTSD including extreme anxiety, domestic violence, drug and alcohol abuse and social withdrawal. Nearly 10 percent of Americas Slaughter houses are in Texas, criminologists at the University of Windsor in Canada, reported in a study that there is a strong relationship between the location of a large slaughterhouse and high crime rates in American communities.

The nature of this article is not to pass judgement on meat eaters or of the industry as a whole but simply to draw attention to vast number of jobs and every day activities that so many of the working population are involved in that could be inducing mental health issues with no mention of support or emotional training. [1]

PTSD in the Slaughterhouse

There are approximately 1,100 federally inspected slaughterhouses in the United States, about 70 of which are in Texas. Most are in hinterlands such as Mineola, Muenster and Windthorst. The majority of these facilities slaughter and process animals, collectively employing thousands of workers who turn a constant stream of live creatures into an array of profitable by-products.

A farm animal entering the front door will reach the exit about 19 minutes later. It will do so not only as chops destined for domestic meat counters, but as pelts bound for Turkey, lungs sent to dog-treat manufacturers, bile for the pharmaceutical industry, caul fat (the lining of organs) for Native American communities and liver destined for Saudi Arabia (which, go figure, distributes cow liver globally). There’s no question that these operations are models of efficiency.

They’re also hidden sites of suffering. The emerging literature, including a study by the University of Windsor, on the psychological effects of slaughterhouse work on humans is startling. It’s often said that consumers are disconnected from the meat we eat. Rarely noted is the fact that the slaughterhouse is a site of unfathomable connectivity. The most intimate and bloodstained bond between humans and the animals we consume is forged between nearly voiceless slaughterhouse workers and the animals they’re employed to kill.

Slaughterhouse employees are not only exposed to a battery of physical dangers on the cut floor, but the psychological weight of their work erodes their well being. As one former abattoir employee attests in the book Slaughterhouse: The Shocking Story of Greed, Neglect, and Inhumane Treatment Inside the U.S. Meat Industry:

“The worst thing, worse than the physical danger, is the emotional toll. If you work in the stick pit [where hogs are killed] for any period of time—that let’s [sic] you kill things but doesn’t let you care. You may look a hog in the eye that’s walking around in the blood pit with you and think, ‘God, that really isn’t a bad looking animal.’ You may want to pet it. Pigs down on the kill floor have come up to nuzzle me like a puppy. Two minutes later I had to kill them. … I can’t care.”

It will come as no surprise that the consequences of such emotional dissonance include domestic violence, social withdrawal, drug and alcohol abuse, and severe anxiety. As slaughterhouse workers are increasingly being treated for post-traumatic stress disorder, researchers are finally starting to systematically explore the results of killing sentient animals for a living.

Amy Fitzgerald, a criminology professor at the University of Windsor in Canada, has found a strong correlation between the presence of a large slaughterhouse and high crime rates in U.S. communities. One might object that a slaughterhouse town’s disproportionate population of poor, working-class males might be the real cause, but Fitzgerald controlled for that possibility by comparing her data to counties with comparable populations employed in factory-like operations. In her study released in 2007, the abattoir stood out as the factor most likely to spike crime statistics. Slaughterhouse workers, in essence, were “desensitized,” and their behavior outside of work reflected it.

Humans eat meat—a lot of it. The average American consumes 212 pounds of meat a year. Naturally, in food-conscious places such as Austin, there will be a conspicuous percentage of consumers who buy animal products sourced from small farms and think themselves absolved from all this messiness. But the hard truth is otherwise.

Most “humanely” sourced animal products are slaughtered and processed in the same industrial slaughterhouses that provide animal products to fast-food joints. Farms that employ mobile slaughterhouse units—USDA-approved trucks that drive to the local farm and kill on site—are equally implicated. As one mobile slaughter worker noted, “It functions the same as any livestock facility, except it is much more condensed and put on wheels.”

Animal products these days are sold with a story: the animal was humanely raised, it was cage-free, it was free-ranged, it was pasture-fed, it’s hormone-free. Whatever. Excluded from these stories is the fact that an animal was killed. He or she was a sentient being who didn’t want to die. And the person who killed it—the person we almost never consider—has had to declare “I can’t care” to cope with the trauma of his job. This story, needless to say, won’t make it onto the label that’s designed to make us pay more and feel better about the animals we eat. [2]

You can read the entire report by Professor Amy Fitzgerald by clicking here!

The meat industry has more victims than the animals!

In his March/April 2011 VegNews  article, “Injustice for All,” Mark Hawthorne  writes about the men and women who work in the meat and farming industries. He illustrates the many horrors of working in a slaughterhouse, as well as the serious suffering and exploitation these workers, as well as field farm workers endure. Slaughterhouse employees are subject to the most dangerous factory conditions in the U.S. and the industry has an extraordinarily high turnover rate. These individuals face extremely high rates of serious physical injury, abuse, mental/psychological stress, and death. They too are victims of an abusive and exploitative, profit-driven industry.

Hawthorne’s article begins with a poultry slaughterhouse worker who must hang 35 fully-conscious birds per minute upside down and lock their feet into shackles for slaughter. The worker describes the soreness in his joints from the fast repetitive action, the pain of being bitten by the desperate animals, and the unavoidable chicken feces in his eyes, mouth, nose, ears, and elsewhere, (despite the protective clothing) as the frightened birds release their bowels.

As is reported of many slaughterhouses, nothing must slow the line. The man describes having worked at a Tyson plant where people had to urinate on equipment and defecate in their pants. In some cattle slaughterhouses, workers face the risk of being kicked or even crushed by a cow that is hanging by one leg and has not been properly stunned for the next worker to slit the cow’s jugular vein with a knife.

Unfortunately, as Gail Eisnitz reported in her book, Slaughterhouse, many of these workers turn to alcohol and other drugs to cope with their stress and often become violent with family members, friends, co-workers, and animals. Killing hundreds of animals per hour can indeed have a powerful impact on a person’s psychological and physical well-being. Imagine how it might impact you to have to do that job. [3]

I believe Hawthorne says it best at the end of the article:

“Indeed, shouldn’t ethical eating be based upon the premise that our bodies can be nourished without having to support physical or psychological abuse, child labor, life-threatening hazards, sexual harassment, human-rights violations, or the very commodification of workers as well as animals? Don’t all beings deserve to be safe? As consumers, we have the power to make a difference. We can demand that human and nonhuman animals alike are not exploited just to put food on our tables.” ~ Mark Hawthorne, VegNews March/April. 2011

Please click here to read the entire article 'Injustice for All'

by Mark Hawthorne

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