Slaughterhouses are as bad as people say

An interview with the slaughterhouse intern

We recently published an interview with a former slaughterhouse employee who had found the courage to tell us about her everyday work at the slaughterhouse. In a second interview, veterinarian Gabi F. (name changed), who also got an insight into two slaughterhouses as part of her studies, confirmed that the grievances she reported are not isolated cases.

First of all, can you tell us which stations you went through in the slaughterhouses and how big the slaughter capacity there was in each case?
For the training as part of the veterinary studies, I was there from the delivery of the animals to the end of the cutting process.

Cattle / calves, pigs and sheep were slaughtered in one farm, around 300-400 animals a day. The other slaughterhouse had a larger capacity - here I only had a glimpse of the cattle slaughter, around 70 animals per hour.

What was your impression of the animals' health?
The condition of the animals upon delivery was very different. Basically, the animals were very insecure and even fearful. The noise in the slaughterhouse from the saws and engines, the smell of blood, the many strange conspecifics - that doesn't exactly have a calming effect on the animals. Every day there were lame animals, clearly chronically ill and animals that could not walk or would not walk out of fear.

Were the animals cared for during longer waiting times?
There were water troughs in the smaller slaughterhouse. Lame animals, however, were tied up separately. They didn't have a chance to drink. I didn't see any potions in the other slaughterhouse. There was no feed in either of the slaughterhouses.

What happened to injured animals that, for example, could no longer walk properly?
This was handled differently in the two slaughterhouses. The severely paralyzed animals were tied up in a slaughterhouse and shot separately at the end of the day. Animals that could still move around were not separated from the other animals. In the larger slaughterhouse, all animals were driven equally into the drive. There I saw that a cattle collapsed in the corridor and the other animals were driven over the lying animal with electric batons and wooden clubs. The lying animal was trampled to death. The staff were not impressed. When I asked whether the cow could not be pulled out of the corridor, I got the answer: "No time!"

How did the workers treat the animals? Have you observed any violations of animal welfare regulations?
Dealing with the animals was different. There were a few workers who mostly dealt calmly with the animals and many who had the electric driving aid and a wooden club permanently in use to drive the animals. When an animal collapsed or refused to move on, everyone got rude. Then there was also time pressure.

In a slaughterhouse it was possible to shoot an animal directly on the transporter with a mobile nail gun. However, this was only used in absolutely exceptional cases.

Did you find out whether violations of animal welfare regulations have been reported to the competent authority?
Nothing was ever reported. But how can you even notice a violation if you can't see the animals alive? The official veterinarians were never present when the delivery was made and a live examination did not take place. That was the rule - and if you don't see anything, you can't report anything.

If you ask the vets there about it, they react accordingly sensitively. You are treated as if you had pronounced a mortal sin. "We all know farmers, they are good people," I was replied indignantly. I reported a gross violation of the Animal Welfare Act to our seminar leader at the university. I was approached very harshly, whatever it would occur to me to want to dirty my colleagues. After all, they all have to feed their families with their jobs.

Can you say what controls have been carried out on the farms for the welfare and protection of animals from particularly severe pain, suffering, harm and severe fear?
During the entire time I spent in both slaughterhouses, no controls were carried out. When I asked the slaughterhouse veterinarian about this, he said: “We don't need any controls. We know our farmers! «. When I pointed out to him that that same morning a cow with two cleft, festering claws and an obviously injured leg was being delivered and slaughtered, he said, “Oh, she! Yes, she went into the slaughter voluntarily anyway, we didn't have to do anything «and laughed embarrassed.

Did you get bad anesthesia often?
During the slaughter of cattle, there were repeated movements such as kicking the legs after the cattle had received the bolt shot and were hung up by one of the hind legs. It cannot be ruled out that the animals were conscious, even if some veterinarians like to claim that the animals are no longer aware of anything.

In the case of pigs, this is incomprehensible to anyone. Nobody has any insight into the gondolas with which they are immersed in the CO2 gas. It is certainly also intended that one does not have to watch the fight between pigs and chickens, which are also often stunned with CO2. At least that's what I thought until recently. But then a vet colleague told me about large slaughterhouses for chickens, in which they drive through a CO2 tunnel and you can watch through a viewing window as the animals gasp in panic until they fall over at some point.

Was it checked whether the animals were stunned correctly and, if so, how? What happened to animals that were not properly anesthetized?
That was not checked. That would not have been possible at the speed of the slaughter.

What physical and psychological stress have you been exposed to? How did you feel at work?
It was clear to me from the start that whatever I found there, I would not be able to change the situation. I had hoped that the animals would at least have a short and painless death. Unfortunately, this hope has often not been fulfilled. I kept trying to talk to those responsible - but unfortunately without success. I was either smiled at or received an aggressive response.

Standing in the delivery area and noticing how often the animals were being carelessly and brutally treated made me angry. When I tried to talk to the responsible slaughterhouse employee about how to deal roughly with the animals, he just smiled at me and said: "You can go into the barn and pet pigs."

If you are on the assembly line, where you can no longer hear anything from living animals and have to cut and assess organs in a short time, then you are quickly distracted and too busy to think about what is going on around you. Only the numerous pathologically altered organs remind us that these animals did not have a good life. Even with the meat inspection, everything is very factual. You can immerse yourself in regulations and tasks and easily ignore the suffering that lies behind them. Only when a broken bone appeared in the halves of the animal from time to time did I quickly realize that this animal must have been in great pain. But it seemed to me that the people who have been working there for a long time no longer notice it at all. When I asked them about it once, they just soberly confirmed the broken bone.

Have you spoken to employees about their work?
For those I talked to, the job was a stopgap solution due to a lack of money. Many still had a second job. In addition, some came from abroad with whom I couldn't even speak. It was a mystery to me how they could take instructions. They weren't in a bad mood, but they looked jaded. If you are struggling with financial survival yourself, then you probably no longer have the strength to concern yourself with the survival of others.

But there were also meat inspectors who had a heart for animals. A few of them were farmers whose farms were no longer profitable. Therefore, they also worked in the slaughterhouse. One told me about his suckler cow husbandry. "It's inhuman," he said to me during a pause, "to separate a mother from her child."

Still, I had the feeling that for these people it was simply unthinkable that a life without meat was possible. Accordingly, they saw the slaughterhouse as a necessary evil. I thought if I told them that we no longer need animal husbandry, I would pull the rug out from under their feet and take away from them what they knew from childhood and have never learned otherwise. Because indirectly you tell them that they are no longer needed. Perhaps each of us would react aggressively - or at least completely blankly.

Thank you for the interview!

With our petition »Stop tortured slaughter« we asked Federal Minister Schmidt to work for an end to the intolerable conditions at German slaughterhouses. Read the statement from the Ministry of Agriculture here.