The Impact of Slaughterhouses on Workers

Calf Eye Slaughterhouse Workers PTSD

Slaughter HOUSES – I wonder how that expression was coined… The word “HOUSE”, should denote safety, protection and shelter, yet these houses are where lives meet a fearful and painful end.

Before animals get to these “HOUSES” – they will have endured a number of mutilations, from having their skin burned by branding; their horns burned or cut though; their tails cut off; their teeth clipped; their beaks lasered through; they will have been castrated; been artificially inseminated – which might sound innocuous but isn’t; their ears punched with holes and tags; they will be denied their most basic of needs; they will have endured unspeakable psychological and physical brutality.

Then they will have been ripped out of cages or swept up by machines like detritus, bullied into trucks; they will travel distances without food or water – with no regard for the heat or cold they are suffering from.

After all of this – at the end – when they should at least be conferred a swift death – they endure more horror. They hearsmell and see their fellows struggling against their human oppressors. They hear the bellows and the screaming. They witness their thrashing and resisting. The sliding on blood soaked floors. They are often punched and slammed around. In a frantic panic they dodge the electrified water and fight their oppressors who are trying to stun them; only to be left conscious and helpless for the teat that all too often, does not come easy or quickly.

Calf sucking ear of other calf holding pen
Pigs on transport truck

But they are not the only ones who are struggling.

We live in a society where most people could not kill an animal and call for a jail sentence for those who intentionally harm animals – yet we also sanction the suffering and deaths of billions of farmed animals every year. So how can we expect there will not be a massive psychological fall out from those people paid to do this dirty work?

Most slaughterhouse workers end up in this role because of geography, a lack of education or other employment in their area. They are left doing the job – taking the lives of sentient creatures -that no-one else wants or seems to think about…

“But when you’re standing there night after night, digging that knife…They’re fighting you, kicking at you, squealing, trying to bite you—doing whatever they can to try and get away from you… After a while you don’t give a s**t. You become emotionally dead.”

– Slaughterhouse worker Source

The psychological toll this has on the individual is devastating, yet often ignored. Slaughterhouse work has shown a positive correlation with post-traumatic stress disorder, increased crime rates, higher domestic abuse, and drug and alcohol abuse.

Associate professor, Nik Taylor, from the School of Social and Policy Studies at Flinders University, says slaughterhouse work is psychologically damaging and that “slaughterhouse workers have a very hard time in terms of their own circumstances and relationships”. Research demonstrates that this impacts a persons empathy towards other people and animals, which can in turn lead to increased rates of aggression. Alternatively, the more positive a person’s attitude to animals, the lower their aggression levels.

broiler truck

A study in the US found that “in 581 US counties from 1994 to 2002 the annual arrest and report average increases with presence of a slaughterhouse.” Whilst newer studies found that the presence of a slaughterhouse corresponded with a 166% increase in arrests for rape. Further, towns with abattoirs have higher rates of domestic violence and violent crimes including murder and rape, which is what prompted the Australian team to investigate the situation here.

Why? Because workers are desensitised to violence. 

Prof Fitzgerald said it wasn’t the nature of repetitive and dangerous work, but the act of slaughtering an animal that was to blame for the increase in violence. “The unique thing about (abattoirs) is that (workers are) not dealing with inanimate objects, but instead dealing with live animals coming in and then killing them, and processing what’s left of them,” she said.

Slaughterhouses occupy a contradictory position within society that other industrial processes do not. Formal regulations about requiring “humane” slaughter directly acknowledge that sentient animals who are being killed are worthy of protection – yet – those who are engaged in the work of the slaughterhouse also develop emotional constructions that allow them to actually carry this kind of work out – otherwise known as emotional dissonance.

It will come as no surprise that the consequences of such emotional dissonance include domestic violence, social withdrawal, drug and alcohol abuse, and severe anxiety. As slaughterhouse workers are increasingly being treated for post-traumatic stress disorder, researchers are finally understanding the results of what the systematic killing of sentient animals for a living does to people.

Sheep Holding Pen

“In all the round world of Utopia there is no meat. There used to be. But now we cannot stand the thought of slaughter-houses. And, in a population that is all educated, and at about the same level of physical refinement, it is practically impossible to find anyone who will hew a dead ox or pig. We never settled the hygienic question of meat-eating at all. This other aspect decided us. I can still remember, as a boy, the rejoicings over the closing of the last slaughter-house”
– HG Wells, from his “A Modern Utopia” written in 1905

There is no such thing as a humane slaughter. By completely removing animals and their by-products from your diet, you are creating a kinder society for both people and animals.