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Last month, two slaughter plant workers died as a result of plant accidents. A Smithfield worker died at their Tar Heel, NC plant from a head injury that was sustained while trying to fix faulty equipment. Slightly north, an Allen Harim worker died in the Harbeson, DE plant after sustaining severe head trauma while attempting to change a battery on a piece of equipment. It’s a terrible tragedy that these workers lost their lives, and I can’t imagine the pain their families are going through.
As animal advocates, it’s our duty to spread our compassion beyond non-human animals. Some advocates have a tendency to demonize slaughter plant workers, but the truth is that they are your neighbor, your cousin, your childhood friend—they are you and me. Are there bad apples working in the industry? Of course. But the vast majority of animal agriculture workers are doing everything they can to survive, to put food on their table, and a roof over their kids’ heads. That’s the reality. Animal agriculture workers take these jobs because they need to. Then, the horrors that they face on a daily basis desensitize them. It happens to everyone—it happened to me. During my time undercover, I’ve worked on three different pig farms. The horrors you see in all of them are pretty much the same. What struck me the most–in addition to castration–was the artificial insemination. But, when I started working at my third pig farm, it didn’t shock me as much as it did when I started at the second, which in turn did not shock me nearly as much as it did at the first.
The workers are pushed to move as fast as possible to get the job done, and once they are desensitized, they will act in ways that they previously would not have. I firmly believe that the standard practices within animal agriculture create a warped mindset among the workers. When your job requires you to mutilate animals on a daily basis without pain relief — castration, for example — and it’s not only legal but also is the only accepted practice in the industry, it changes your thinking. When you spend every day slicing body parts off, all of a sudden punching doesn’t seem so bad.
I firmly believe that the standard practices within animal agriculture create a warped mindset among the workers. When your job requires you to mutilate animals on a daily basis without pain relief — castration, for example — and it’s not only legal but also is the only accepted practice in the industry, it changes your thinking.
The pressure to get the job done fast also impacts the worker’s health and safety. I have seen and experienced my fair share of animal agriculture injuries. One of the reasons these two deaths really resonate with me is because it very easily could have been me. I sustained multiple injuries throughout my time working undercover, one of which being a head injury while I was working on a pig farm in North Carolina, not too far from the Tar Heel plant.
I had finished my early morning duties, and it was time to feed the pigs. When it’s feeding time at a pig farm, the noise is deafening. The sows know they are about to be fed, and they raise and lower the front gate on their crate. Envision your dog barking and making crashing noises in your kitchen when you are about to feed them, and then multiply that by several thousand.
This was obviously quite distracting, and I would hurry to get them fed. I was trying to open the feeders for one of the rows of gestation crates, but the handle above my head was stuck. After being unable to release it, I decided to release another handle first. As I started to move the second handle, the movement made the first handle come loose, and it swung down full speed and hit me an inch above my eye. Any lower, and I would have been blinded. A slightly different place, I could have been killed. As it was, it knocked me backwards, lifting my feet off the ground. I got up, felt my head, and realized I was bleeding. I left a pretty decent trail of blood as I walked from that barn to the farm office. But, I did walk away.
The two workers who died, among many others, were not as fortunate. We should have compassion for all of the lives lost at a slaughter plant. The problems that lie within animal agriculture are not the workers. The problem is the industry. And the solution is within us all—by choosing to leave animals off our plates.
COK Director of Undercover Investigations