Spare Me the Tears of Meat Farmers
Warning: This article contains descriptions of animal cruelty.
There’s been a lot of news lately about how many meat farmers, facing a “backlog” of animals who would otherwise be sent to slaughterhouses, have been “forced” to “depopulate” their herds due to many meatpacking plants having been closed due to the coronavirus.
This is all quite detached, mechanical language they use to describe the mass, torturous massacre of millions of sentient, feeling animals. The Guardian reports: “The pork industry has warned that more than 10 million pigs could be culled by September… (the) techniques used to cull pigs include gassing, shooting, anaesthetic overdose, or blunt force trauma”.
While the farms like to claim (as they do for business as usual) that their animals are being killed “humanely”, this is not the case, as methods like shooting, blunt force trauma and gassing can and frequently do cause the animal a lot of pain before they die. Other methods of killing pigs include shutting down ventilators in the barn so they suffocate to death.
The way the news however has been mostly presenting the situation, is with extreme sympathy for the meat farmers. The Washington Post for example, writes (without a shred of irony): “many hog farmers are being forced to do the unthinkable: kill their pigs and dispose of their bodies instead of having them processed for food” and that “the idea of killing the animals and the food they represent goes against every instinct”.
“Processed” for food? Pig processing is killing. Let’s not hide behind mechanistic language here. Meat mammals that are “processed” typically die in one of the following ways:
- Electrocution (stunning) before having their throats slit and being “bled out”. Many animals who are supposed to be knocked out do not lose consciousness and bleed out in horrible pain, before being boiled in a “scalding” tank.
- Kosher abattoirs (and sometimes halal abattoirs) bleed the animals to death while hanging upside down, often fully conscious. This takes up to 2 minutes for the animal to die.
- Being shot with a bolt through the head (which if performed correctly kills the animal in the quickest least painful way, but in up to 9% of cases is performed incorrectly so the animal is still conscious and suffers a slow painful death).
- Being suffocated in a gas chamber.
These are the standard ways that slaughterhouses kill animals. So for the Washington Post to allow a pig farmer to claim that “killing animals goes against every instinct”, is nothing but Big Meat propaganda. It’s part of the lie sold to consumers that allows meat eaters to dissociate the farming of the animal (which most people recognise as having a level of consciousness and to be able to feel pain), with the “processing” of the meat. And it is part of the lie that meat farmers tell themselves so that they can go about their job while considering themselves humane animal lovers.
Dissociation and compartmentalisation is essential to the meat industry’s continued functioning. Dissociation is when something is split from its component parts and seen as disconnected. In this example, the concept of “meat” and the concept of “living animal” is dissociated in the minds of most meat eaters. This is made easy by the euphemistic language used by the meat industry to describe methods of slaughter as “processing”, and by the ways in which meat is made to look as unlike the original animal it came from as possible.
Compartmentalisation is a psychological defense mechanism that people use to protect themselves from the uncomfortable feeling of cognitive dissonance, which occurs when someone acts against their values. In the case of meat eaters, most of whom are not cruel people, and who feel empathy for animals when they let themselves, compartmentalisation allows them to block out the uncomfortable knowledge that an animal died and suffered for their food, so they can enjoy their meal.
Because once someone realises how much pain and horror an animal experiences in the industrial farming industry (and no it’s not a “few bad apples” it’s the entire industry), unless they’re a psychopath who doesn’t feel a shred of empathy, most people will either have to reexamine their food choices or compartmentalise these uncomfortable feelings in order to continue life as normal.
So let’s return to the news coverage of meat farmers and the “emotional trauma” of killing animals.
This video is an excellent examination of this concept, and in fact inspired me to write this article.
CNN presented uncritically, a story of crying pig farmers tearfully talking about how “traumatic” it is for them to “have” to shoot “healthy pigs” due to slaughterhouses being closed. Earthling Ed asks — why is it traumatic for the pig farmers, but not traumatic for the slaughterhouse workers who would have killed the pig if demand for pork had been normal, or for that matter, for the pig, who would have been killed either way? So the pig farmer is traumatised, having to kill the animal that he raised to be killed by OTHER people? Doesn’t that indicate that the industrial meat industry only works due to deliberate dissociation between the farmers, slaughterers, butchers and consumers?
The hypocrisy of the farmer is encapsulated in the following quote:
“I don’t mind shooting them if they’re sick, you feel sorry for them, but to shoot a healthy pig…” *breaks down crying*
But Mr Farmer, that “healthy pig” was always going to be killed. Around about the same time in its life as you have killed it now. Except this time it’s you with the gun, you don’t get to send the pig away somewhere out of sight and mind, and have someone else do your dirty work. What you’re really crying about, is the fact that you’re not being PAID to kill that pig. It’s a lost sale. A “waste”. Not of life but of money. Just admit it and stop being a hypocrite. And if you can’t stomach killing the pig yourself, stop breeding pigs for slaughter.
And that goes to another point, because he talks about it being OK to kill a sick pig because “you feel sorry for them”. Implying it’s a merciful death like euthanasia at the vet for a dying dog. But it’s not.
Pigs get “sick” at pig farms because they are kept in stalls where they can’t turn around for months if not years on . They get “sick” because they are deprived of any enjoyment in life, their babies taken away, no intellectual or social stimulation. These are animals with the equivalent intelligence to dogs, chimpanzees or even toddler children. If someone did that to a dog they would be arrested. Pigs get “sick” because they are kept in cramped, hot, dirty conditions, where they go mad with boredom.
If you define “sick” the way you would for domestic animals or wild animals or for that matter humans, ALL pigs in meat farms are “sick” and suffering.
What this farmer means when he says “a sick pig” is “an unproductive, unprofitable pig”. Because he doesn’t want to take it to the vet and give it the conditions it needs to get better. Better to just kill it “because you feel sorry for it”. If you felt sorry for the pig at that stage Mr Farmer, why were YOU the one who not only “let” it get sick, but created the conditions that you know would lead to this level of suffering?
“Feeling sorry for the pig” is the excuse he tells himself so he can feel better about pulling the trigger. But if he really felt sorry for suffering animals he wouldn’t be in this profession. Compartmentalisation and dissociation is how he is able to do it and function.
But we don’t have to uncritically agree with this perspective ourselves. It’s a lie that he’s telling himself, and it’s a lie that most meat consumers tell themselves, that the animal they are eating didn’t have a consciousness, didn’t suffer, didn’t matter, they can divorce the steak on their plate with the living, feeling creature that died for it.
Spare me the tears of meat farmers.