If you have a strong stomach-or maybe just a blind eye-Uncle Sam wants you. According to the Partnership for Public Service, in a report released last month, the federal government will hire 193,000 new workers over the next two years. Many of these “mission critical” jobs will be at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), which plans to hire nearly 1,000 new food inspectors and veterinarians by 2009.
Uncle Sam, save your money. Why hire more food inspectors when those already on the payroll do not do their jobs?
Every day in slaughterhouses across the country, cows have their limbs hacked off while they are still alive. Carcasses contaminated with feces and vomit are sent down the line and stamped with the USDA seal of approval. In many cases, government inspectors stand by and do nothing, pressured by supervisors to look the other way.
In July, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) released findings from our undercover investigation at a kosher slaughterhouse in Nebraska owned by Sholom Rubashkin. Our investigator documented that cows remained conscious for as long as two minutes after their throats were cut. Workers ripped into conscious cows’ throats with a metal hook to make the bleeding process go faster. A government inspector was present but took no action.
PETA’s 2004 investigation at the Rubashkin-owned AgriProcessors slaughterhouse in Iowa revealed similar atrocities. Workers were caught on videotape shocking cows in the face with electric prods, ripping out their windpipes while they were still conscious and dumping the animals onto the floor as they struggled in terror.
Following PETA’s investigation, a USDA report found that government inspectors had accepted gifts of meat from AgriProcessors and kept quiet as animals were illegally mutilated.
Similar scenes are repeated in slaughterhouses-kosher or not-all over the country. Improperly stunned hogs kick and scream as they are drowned in tanks of scalding-hot water, used to soften their skin. Cows struggle as the skin is ripped from their bodies. Chickens, which make up more than 98 percent of the animals killed for food in the U.S., are not even protected by humane slaughter laws-they have their throats slit while they are still conscious and are scalded to death in tanks of hot water by the millions.
Former USDA veterinarian Lester Friedlander says slaughterhouse abuse “happens on a daily basis. I have seen it happen. And I have talked to other veterinarians. They feel it’s out of control.”
In the 1970s, slaughterhouse workers typically killed 70 chickens a minute. Today, they kill more than 180. Increased production speeds, a lack of support from supervisors and policies that have taken inspectors off the killing floor and put them in offices, where they spend their days filling out paperwork, make it nearly impossible to stop cruelty.
When violations are observed, inspectors may be hesitant to report them. In one case in Florida, an animal health technician was fired for reporting abuses to the Humane Society after his supervisors failed to act.
“I complained to everyone,” the technician told The Washington Post. “I said, ‘Lookit, they’re skinning live cows in there.’ Always it was the same answer: ‘We know it’s true. But there’s nothing we can do about it.'”
They could stop production, but that costs money: Meatpackers lose hundreds or even thousands of dollars for every idle minute. In May 2002, food inspectors in Kansas were warned about the consequences of halting production, even to inspect carcasses for feces. “YOU are accountable” for lost production, they were told in a memo.
When inspectors are punished for trying to prevent contaminated meat from ending up in supermarkets, it is little wonder they cannot ensure that animals die with dignity in slaughterhouses. Hiring more inspectors just to be paper-pushers will not change this. Instead, it is up to consumers. If you do not want to support the suffering in the slaughterhouse, then stop paying for it. Leave the broken bodies of animals off your plate and go vegetarian.