Stamp Isnt Worth the Carcass Its Printed On
By Gail A. Eisnitz
Officials representing all 7,000 U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)
meat inspectors recently announced at a press conference that, due to
faster production speeds and industry deregulation, animals in American
slaughterhouses are routinely beaten, skinned, dismembered, and scalded
while fully conscious. The Humane Farming Association (HFA) and meat
inspectors then provided a mountain of evidenceincluding worker
affidavits and videotapesto the USDA and petitioned the Department
to institute immediate reforms.
Due to meat industry consolidation, individual workers in high-speed
plants now kill as many as 1,100 large animals an hourone animal
every three seconds. One plant I visited kills 144,000 hogs a week.
Because a minute of downtime costs packers hundreds of dollars, workers,
to protect their jobs, often brutalize animals to keep the production
The Humane Slaughter Act (HSA) requires that farm animals (except poultry)
be humanely handled and rendered unconscious prior to being butchered.
USDA meat inspectors who examine meat for signs of disease and contamination
are also responsible for enforcing the HSA and for stopping the production
line when they observe humane violations.
But theres a hitch. In todays high-speed slaughterhouses,
meat inspectors have virtually no access to the areas of the plants
where animals are handled and slaughtered. Inspectors are stationed
far down the production line where they examine body parts and carcasses
long after the animals have been killed.
As noted, the meat inspectors, along with HFA and the nations
leading animal welfare and consumer groups, petitioned the USDA to enforce
the Humane Slaughter Act. The petitions request was simple: USDA
should station inspectors in those areas of the plants where they can
actually observe animals being handled and slaughtered.
Two weeks after HFA and others filed their petition, and a week after
HFA ran a full-page ad in The New York Times exposing atrocities, the
Burger King Corporation unleashed its vast PR machine, shifting into
aggressive spin control. In a press release, Burger King declared USDAs
enforcement of the Humane Slaughter Act unacceptable and
then announced that it too was filing a petition. The fast food giants
petition was a smorgasbord of essentially meaningless demands designed
to supersede the inspectors and HFAs petition.
Burger King also announced that it had established an animal well-being
advisory council to examine slaughter and production practices.
Even the meat industrys own newspaper, Feedstuffs, found the effort
transparent: The council is heavily dominated by Burger King officials
with little or no experience in livestock and poultry production, and
sources said many of the guidelines miss science and/or
speak to practices that are no longer used by the industry or are being
Burger King then stated that, as McDonalds and Wendys have
recently done, it intended to institute a self-inspection program to
audit slaughterhouses that supply raw materials to the company.
Meat industry self-inspections, conducted on average once, perhaps twice,
a year, do nothing more than stamp the Good Slaughterhousekeeping seal
of approval on operations that supply the nations fast food chains.
These pseudo-inspections are intended to lull American consumers into
a false sense of security about how their burgers and bacon are produced
while simultaneously providing fast food restaurant chains with significant
opportunities for favorable media.
Meat packers are notorious for staging inspections. With announced audits,
workers are warned days in advance, line speeds are reduced, and illegal
activities are temporarily curtailed. During unscheduled visits, industry
auditors are required to announce their presence at the plants
guard shack before they enter the operation. Supervisors then use radios,
code words, and whistle signals to alert employees to incoming visitors.
In any case, by the time the surprise visitors have signed
in, met with plant officials, donned hard hats, white smocks, and rubber
boots, a good half hour has elapsed.
HFA recently obtained massive evidence documenting that, for years,
IBP, Inc., a major fast food supplier, had been skinning and dismembering
conscious cattle. Nearly two dozen plant workers signed affidavits stating
that they were being required to skin and chop the legs off of many
thousands of live, conscious animals. Video footage shot at the plant
depicted fully conscious cattle cut open and dangling from the bleed
rail. Law enforcement authorities concluded that criminal activity had
Auditors for McDonalds visited IBP during the height of the abuses.
Despite the atrocities taking place, they gave the plant a passing grade.
The meat industry and USDA then used audit results from this and other
plants to inform the media that there has been a dramatic improvement
in US slaughter practices.
All of this is academic, however, because the law requires thousands
of USDA inspectors stationed inside slaughterhouses, not meat industry
auditors, to enforce humane standards.
Shocked and outraged by the inspectors and HFAs revelations,
Congress urged the USDA to upgrade humane slaughter enforcement. In
addition, Senator Robert Byrd, chairman of the Senate Appropriations
Committee, made an unprecedented speech on the Senate floor condemning
the USDA, and then injected $1 million into the Departments budget
for upgraded enforcement.
Sadly, the USDA did not use the $1 million appropriation to station
inspectors where they can observe animals being dragged, skinned, and
scalded alive. Instead, it hired 17 new veterinarians who will be stationed
in USDA field offices where they will have no direct oversight over
slaughter practices. Moreover, the USDA has revealed that these individuals
will spend the overwhelming majority of their time conducting duties
unrelated to humane slaughtercontrary to the purpose of the added
Anyone who believes claims by the USDA and fast food restaurant chains
that slaughterhouse atrocities have been dramatically reduced by meat
industry auditing programs should consider the source.
Gail A. Eisnitz is author of Slaughterhouse: The Shocking
Story of Greed, Neglect, and Inhumane Treatment in the U.S. Meat Industry
(Prometheus Books, 1997) and is Chief Investigator for the Humane Farming
Association (HFA). For further information on how you can help stop
slaughterhouse abuses, please contact HFA at www.hfa.org.