Beef: Part 2

Pollan also paints a slightly different picture of a cow’s life. He said that when calf is taken away from their mother, the mother bellows for days.

The cows are forced to live, to sleep, to eat in their own feces. There is manure as far as the eye can see and it only gets cleaned out every six months.

This guy also ended up buying a cow, so he could go through the whole process from the cow’s perspective, what he ate, what antibiotics he got, etc.  and the rancher’s perspective, what the costs and benefits of such a system are, etc.

He wasn’t allowed to watch his cow get slaughtered, but he claims that the process goes something like this:

“Then they will get on another truck and travel 100 miles to Liberal, Kansas, to a National Beef plant there. They will be put in a pen in a parking lot and wait their turn, and go up the ramp, and through a blue door. I was not allowed to go through the blue door. The kill floor is not something that journalists are allowed to see, even if you own the animal, I learned.

But I have reconstructed what happens on the other side of the blue door. What happens is that the animals go in single file. At a certain point, they pass over a bar, their legs on both sides, and the floor slowly drops away, and at that point they’re being carried along sort of on that bar, which is a conveyor belt, and they then pass through a station where there’s a man on the catwalk above. He’s holding an object that looks like a power nailing gun or something. It’s a pneumatic device called a stunner.

This essentially injects a metal bolt. It’s about the size and length of a thick pencil into its brain, right between the eyes, and that should render the animal brain dead.

At that point, chains will be attached to his rear legs. He will be lifted up by the chains. The chains are attached to an overhead trolley, and then he will be bled. Another person in another station will stick a long knife in and cut his aorta and bleed the animal. And then he will be completely dead.

And from there he goes through a series of stations to clean him and to remove his hide. One of the real problems is that the animals have spent their [lives] lying in their manure, are smeared and caked with the stuff, and they’re entering the food plant. And so many steps are taken to make sure that the manure doesn’t infect the meat, which can happen very easily.”

And that’s how he says it goes.

Bill Haw says, “As you progressively go down the chain … it becomes a less violent, a less bloody, a less difficult thing to watch, and really becomes kind of a miracle of efficiency as that live animal is reduced to a carcass and the carcass is reduced to parts that we’re very familiar with in eating. … The economies of scale, the mobilization of capital — all of those things that drive businesses are very much at work in the packing industry. …”

Well, in that case…

He said a bunch of other crap too, but we won’t go there. The link below will take you to a bunch of pretty interesting interviews including Pollan’s and Haw’s.

One other thing I think should be added to the slaughter debate is that a standard beef slaughterhouse kills 250 cattle every hour. The high speed of the assembly line makes it increasingly difficult to treat animals with any semblance of humaneness. A Meat & Poultry article states, “Good handling is extremely difficult if equipment is ‘maxed out’ all the time. It is impossible to have a good attitude toward cattle if employees have to constantly overexert themselves, and thus transfer all that stress right down to the animals, just to keep up with the line.”

This ‘stunning’ is usually done by a mechanical blow to the head as described by Pollan. The procedure is terribly imprecise, and inadequate stunning is inevitable. Conscious animals are often hung upside down, kicking and struggling, while a slaughterhouse worker makes another attempt to render them unconscious. Eventually, the animals will be “stuck” in the throat with a knife, and blood will gush from their bodies whether or not they are unconscious.

I’m not sure why Pollan didn’t talk about this during the interview. Maybe because he didn’t see it with his own eyes and he doesn’t know if it’s true. It may not be, but I’ve read about this in various source which doesn’t necessarily mean it’s true, but I have less reason to doubt. This article also has an account from a factory worker that claims the same. He’s written a book called The Omnivore Dilemma where he talks about the buying cow experience. Hopefully, sooner rather than later I’ll get to read it and I’ll give an update.

I try not to use PETA stuff, but I’m making an exception.

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