“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated” -- Gandhi

I first learned of the connection between abusing animals and abusing people, when I worked for a cat rescue organization. I read many studies about this link in behavior and how children who expressed violence toward family pets and other animals, later translated into violent crimes in their adult lives. In my current position, I read studies that reveal adults who work in violent jobs, such as slaughterhouses, tend to take those attitudes home with them and commit domestic violence against their loved ones. Some individuals are perhaps predisposed to having violent tendencies (those who suffer from certain mental illnesses), but others, I believe and studies are proving more and more, are created. And one of the largest creators perpetuators of violence is animal agribusiness.

Everyday the meat, dairy, and egg industries perpetuate violence. Raising animals at the current rate of around 10 billion land animals every year, requires employees to ignore that the animals they are handling are living, breathing individuals; instead they are forced to desensitize themselves to their suffering and to see each individual as a product. The golden rule in meatpacking plants is “The Chain Will Not Stop.” Time is money and in animal agribusiness, the more animals who are killed equals the larger the payouts.

Slaughtering animals is not only a bloody and violent industry, it is also exploitative, hazardous and unsanitary. Employees receive little to no training, in high-speed, high-stress environments. The meatpacking industry holds the highest rate for nonfatal on-the-job injuries. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the agriculture industry saw an increase in injuries from 2010 to 2011, driven by an increase in cases in both the crop production and animal production (primarily dairy cattle and milk production) industries. In 2005, the Human Rights Watch released a report citing the deplorable conditions of the meat industry, saying workers “…contend with conditions, vulnerabilities, and abuses which violate human rights.” The report also said employees “suffer severe, life-threatening and sometimes life-ending injuries that are predictable and preventable.”

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) under the directive of the U.S. Department of Labor confirms that the meatpacking industry is the most dangerous industry in the country. Their Safety and Health Guide for the Meatpacking Industry, (which appears not to have been updated/revised since 1988), lists potential job hazards as: knife cuts (examples include blindness and disfigurement), falls (from wet/slippery surfaces due to animal fat, blood, leaking pipes and poor drainage), back injuries (from carrying carcasses up to 300 pounds), cumulative trauma disorders or repetitive motion injuries (i.e. tendonitis, carpel tunnel syndrome), toxic substances (exposed to ammonia, carbon dioxide and monoxide and the thermal degradation products of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) food-wrap film), and infectious diseases (brucellosis, erysipeloid, leptospirosis, dermatophytoses and warts).

As Chris Grezo illustrates in his latest blog post entitled, “Animal Abuse Leads to Human Abuse,” “What the industry has become is a sector where the employers abuse their workers, and the workers themselves are more likely to abuse their families.” The psychological and physical toll on workers in animal agribusiness can be devastating. The meat, dairy, and egg industries are a breeding ground for suffering and violence – not only for the animals enslaved there, but also for the employees and their families who are a part of this cruel system. Therefore, adopting a plant-based diet not only saves the lives of animals but also human lives. For more information on the human aspects of animal agriculture and how adopting a vegan lifestyle can alleviate human atrocities, please LiveVegan.org.

It is not uncommon to encounter someone who assumes that vegans only care about animals and not about people. Although many vegans (and probably some non-vegans) might prefer the company of a dog or perhaps a cow, chicken, or goat to a not-as-easy-going human being, vegans definitely care about people. After all, vegans ARE people! The fact is that adopting a vegan lifestyle WILL help people all over the planet, as well as help the planet. Vegans strive for a world in which all animals (humans included) live free lives as respected, inherently-worthy beings. The truth is that the meat industry has more victims than the animals and is negatively impacting human beings around the world. What you eat can make a difference.

Slaughterhouse photo from All-Creatures.org

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.

Chicken Slaughter. Photo by Farm Sanctuary

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.

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

In addition to the labor issues highlighted in Hawthorne’s article, there are many other examples of how what we eat impacts other humans:

HUNGER: Millions of people (many very young children) world-wide could be spared from hunger-related suffering and death by simply using food to directly feed humans versus funneling foods through animals. It’s a very simple equation. When one compares the resources needed to create one pound of meat to how many people you could feed with those same resources, it is difficult for even the most math-impaired person to see that this is not a great return on investment.

ENVIRONMENT: Between using up precious resources and creating massive amounts of waste and pollution, animal agribusiness is not kind to our planet. We are destroying rainforests (oxygen) to make room for more cattle to graze. We are literally vacuuming up the ocean’s sea life and also polluting it with vast amounts of waste from factory farms. And people living near factory farms experience polluted air & water, and also suffer from increased rates of asthma, other respiratory illnesses, and other serious health conditions.

VIOLENCE: Slaughterhouse workers who turn to substance abuse and violence as a result of the stress and psychological trauma experienced on the job are only a part of the picture in terms of the connection between eating meat and violence. Eating meat and exploiting animals contributes to an overall desensitization experienced by humankind as we turn away from what we know is true and compartmentalize our empathy for other beings. Many also believe that by consuming the animal, we are also taking the energy of that animal into our beings, specifically their suffering, pain, and fear. Check out The World Peace Diet by Will Tuttle or Melanie Joy’s Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows for more on how contributing to the suffering and death of billions of animals is impacting our species as a whole.

HEALTH: Given the vast amount of data regarding how a plant-based diet can help to improve one’s health, lower the risk of many diseases, and even reverse disease, promoting veganism is clearly a kind act toward other humans.

RESEARCH/TESTING ON ANIMALS: As is noted on the National Anti-Vivisection Society’s Web site, animals are not predictive for human response. Studying one species in order to understand the drug or disease response of a different species is an archaic and scientifically invalid idea. Animal testing is a business. Research means money. How many human lives could be improved if testing were more conducted more appropriately?

In his article, Hawthorne features César Chávez, labor & civil rights activist, farm worker, and staunch vegetarian who wrote in 1990, “Kindness and compassion toward all living things is a mark of a civilized society.” Chávez also said, “Only when we have become nonviolent toward all life will we have learned to live well ourselves.”

And as Mark Hawthorne says in one simple sentence, “Don’t all beings deserve to be safe?”

~ Cindi Saadi for the FARM Blog

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