BOOK REVIEW:Slaughterhouse: The Shocking Story of Greed, Neglect, And Inhumane Treatment Inside the U.S. Meat Industry

Slaughterhouse: The Shocking Story of Greed, Neglect, And Inhumane Treatment Inside the U.S. Meat Industry

If you read only one book about the meat industry, make it this one. Slaughterhouse is a book about the other reality behind our demand for cheap meat, and lots of it: horrifically abused animals, permanently disabled workers, and dangerously dirty product. While animals are a point of focus of this book, I wouldn’t call Slaughterhouse an animal rights or vegan work. Rather, it’s an overall study of the modern day meat-processing factory—but don’t be surprised if the animal rights and vegan arguments of others make more sense to you after closing the back cover. Even those who don’t feel a whit of conscience about the animals’ ordeals will be affected by the stories of children who suffer tremendously after being poisoned by pathogen-infected meat.

Much of Eisnitz’s work focuses on her investigations of alleged abuses of the federal Humane Slaughter Act. What she finds are not only violations, but cruelty so severe as to be not only inhumane, but inhuman. While intentional violations of the federal Meat Inspection Act carries heavy penalties, violations of the Humane Slaughter Act carry none at all. Eventually, the author concludes:

“Only when I’d seen the mockery meat inspection officials had made of their primary mandate—ensuring meat and poultry wholesomeness—did I really understand just how low a priority humane slaughter was.”

But what of the meat industry’s much-ballyhooed veterinarians and consultants? USDA inspector Dave Carney gives a more sobering view:

“[Vets are] reduced to paperwork. The physical location of the plants where the animals are stuck and bled is a very uninviting work environment, the vets hardly ever go there.”

Another inspector adds:

“Most [vets] are from foreign countries. They’ve never had a job as good as this one, and they don’t want to rock the boat.”

Most animal industries, indeed, like to boast that they have veterinarians on staff, playing on the public’s images of Dr. Doolittle and James Herriot. But really, as Carney points out, think about irony of vets who took a vow to work  save animal life working in a place whose whole reason for existence is to kill as many animals as possible. The main purpose of vets in a slaughterhouse is to glance carcasses for visible signs of disease, not to tend to living animals.

Another passage makes reference to a consultant with a “national reputation as a slaughter expert.” Although her visits to check up on animal handling practices were supposed to be unannounced, a slaughter plant worker confirmed they had two days advance notice to amp up the power on the stunners and get rid of metal pipes and other objects used to beat uncooperative animals. While the author does not name names here, it’s pretty easy to guess who this nationally-known slaughter expert is.

Of course, all of these sloppy slaughter practices take a human toll as well, as was documented later, and perhaps more famously, by Eric Schlosser in Fast Food Nation. The slaughterhouse employees’ accounts of slavish conditions will truly make you ponder if anything has improved since The Jungle. And as for the consumer who ultimately gets the meat, I leave you with this quote from Tom Devine, legal director of the Govt Accountability Project:

“Twenty years ago…it wasn’t a reckless, foolhardy act for a family to eat medium-rare hamburgers or steak for Sunday dinner. Something has drastically changed if the USDA is warning people that federally approved beef has to be cooked to a crisp in order to avoid food poisoning tragedies. So, what’s changed? Obviously, the meat’s a lot dirtier.”

(review originally appeared at goodreads.com)

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2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Jordon Germy
    Oct 24, 2011 @ 16:42:42

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  2. paint games
    Feb 08, 2012 @ 14:59:03

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