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The Suffering of Slaughterhouse Workers

WARNING: The content of this post includes mentions of abuse and mental health disorders

"Most people, while they eat meat, find it difficult to work in its production partly because of the obvious aversion to the slaughter process but also because it is a physically demanding role."

British Meat Processors Association

There are roughly 97,000 people working in slaughterhouses across the UK. Working in a slaughterhouse is not something that many people grow up wanting to do, the pay isn't high enough to make it anybody's dream job. On top of this there are the stories of workers being injured, either by an animal or from the strain of the job; carpel tunnel syndrome, an injury caused by pressure on nerves in the wrist, is common amongst slaughterhouse workers. Workers can be kicked, bitten or crushed by panicking or stunned animals. Then there are the stories of how working in a slaughterhouse can affect a person's mind, destroying their mental health.

cut up teddy
Image by Sam Williams from Pixabay

Talking To Slaughterhouse Workers

It's not easy to find slaughterhouse workers that are willing to talk about their job, there is pressure on them to keep the realities of slaughterhouse work a secret. These are people that are paid to kill, not for any heroic reason, but because people like the taste of animal flesh. They know that no one wants to hear about how many pigs they stabbed or how long it took to wash all of the blood away. There's also the feeling of not wanting to take your work home with you. You take off your apron, wash yourself down and go back to normal life. Leaving the blood, guts and death behind, they develop cognitive dissonance, this is when people feel mental discomfort from holding two conflicting beliefs, values, or attitudes. In this case it's the idea that "I'm hurting animals, killing animals, that is bad, but I'm paid to do it and meat tastes nice so it's good". People try to find ways make their thoughts and attitudes consistent so this conflict causes unpleasant feelings of unease or discomfort as they try to balance two opposing ideas in their mind.

"Slaughterhouse workers have a higher prevalence rate of mental health issues, in particular depression and anxiety, in addition to violence-supportive attitudes. Furthermore, the workers employ a variety of both adaptive and maladaptive strategies to cope with the workplace environment and associated stressors."

The Psychological Impact of Slaughterhouse Employment: A Systematic Literature Review

The inconsistency between what people believe and how they behave can make them do things to minimise feelings of discomfort. People can become angry; refusing to talk about the issue causing the mental conflict, they can become defensive, insisting that what they do is right and necessary in some way. It can also lead to people switching off from what they are doing, creating a mental distance between what their is doing body and their mind. Thinking about taking the dog for a walk whilst trying a chicken's foot to a conveyer belt, going blank and thinking about nothing when cleaning a knife at the end of the working day. Some workers find it hard to do this, to separate themselves and they become abusive, to the animals that they work with, and sometimes the people in their life.

"Examples include using animals as a surface to extinguish cigarettes, decapitating animals and ridiculing their dismembered bodies, and inflicting abuse on animals as a form of game playing and entertainment."

The Psychological Impact of Slaughterhouse Employment: A Systematic Literature Review

Working in a slaughterhouse is not a comfortable job, it's is hard physically as well as mentally. Slaughterhouses are noisy, cold and humid, there's the noise of the animals, the screaming and crying, the noise of the equipment, saws, conveyers. They are kept cold and are damp with blood on the floor. Workers are at serious risk of harm everyday, there are, on average, two amputations of workers limbs or digits every week in the USA. Some would feel that this is fair, that after killing an untold number of animals, who did not want to die, it is only fair that the workers suffer too. But, these are people that need to work, they need to make money to feed themselves and their families. Also, these workers are doing the killing, but who are they doing the killing for? People that don't want to do the job themselves, but still want to enjoy what comes at the end of it. If people didn't buy meat there would be no slaughterhouse worker, there would be no slaughterhouse.

Serious Mental Illness

"The resulting symptomatology—such as substance abuse, anxiety, nightmares, and depression—is debilitating."

The Psychological Impact of Slaughterhouse Employment: A Systematic Literature Review

Slaughterhouse workers suffer a huge amount of mental strain, which they should really, it is not normal to be able to carry out such a job and not be affected by it. Depression is common among slaughterhouse workers, but there is also anxiety, anger, hostility, sleeplessness and nightmares. Slaughterhouse workers can suffer with low self-esteem and lack of purpose. It is hard to not dislike the workers of slaughterhouses, to feel empathy for them, they seem to feel no empathy for the animals that they kill. But there is a lot of mental work that has to go on to allow them to do the job, they can't think of the animals in the same way that they would think about the animals that they share their lives with, their own dog or cat, rabbit, parrot. They have to turn that off and go to work each day.

"The worst thing, worse than the physical danger, is the emotional toil... Pigs down on the kill floor have come up and nuzzled me like a puppy. Two minutes later I had to kill them - beat them to death with a pipe. I can't care."

Ed Van Winkle, Morrell Slaughterhouse Plant



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