Vegetarians International Voice for Animals

10 Going for the Kill

GOING  for the KILL

How do you explain to an alien that humans happily eat meat from animals but refuse to think about how they’re killed because it upsets them? Most people have never set foot in a slaughterhouse and refuse to listen when you try to tell them what they’re like. But they still talk about humane slaughter as though it were a fact. How much business would a restaurant do if, when someone ordered lamb chops, they were given a sharp knife and a little lamb and told to cut its throat?

Slaughter is a business and animals are nothing more than units of production – the quicker they're killed, the higher the earnings and so it becomes a production line just like a car factory.

UK Slaughterhouses
I have seen slaughter, I have filmed it and I have been utterly sickened by it but truth, we’re told, never hurt anyone. So here it is!

Stunned
Slaughter is a business and animals are nothing more than units of production – the quicker they're killed, the higher the earnings and so it becomes a production line just like a car factory.

Pigs, sheep and cattle arrive in lorries and are unloaded into pens called a ‘lairage’ while chickens are left in their crates.

Most animals are killed by having their throats cut but are first supposed to be stunned – made unconscious – to save them from pain. The drive for speed often results in the rules being bent but it is the methods themselves which make a nonsense of this supposedly humanitarian concern. Different stunning methods are used for different animals.

Electric tongs are used on pigs, most sheep and some calves.

An electrified water bath is used almost exclusively for poultry.

Gas stunning is used on some pigs and poultry.

The captive bolt is used on cattle, most calves and some sheep.

Electric Tongs
The animals are taken from the lairage to the stunning point either individually or in groups where they are stunned one by one in front of each other.

The low-voltage tongs look a bit like garden shears with a round bit on the end of each blade. These are the terminals which the slaughterman clamps on to the animal's head, supposedly in front of its ears, and triggers an electric shock which is meant to render it unconscious. A chain is then placed around a hind leg and the creature is hoisted into the air on to the moving production line where its throat is cut (‘sticking’), allowing it to bleed to death (‘bleeding out’).

Well, that's the theory but stunning often lasts for only a couple of seconds and the animals frequently regain consciousness before or soon after their throats are cut. The longer the gap between stunning and sticking, the more likely this is to happen. Viva! has discovered that in some pig abattoirs, this wait can be as long as 45 seconds – far too long. We estimate that as a result, at least 11 per cent of all pigs regain consciousness before they die from loss of blood (25).

I have witnessed it in one of the smallest and supposedly best-run abattoirs in the UK. On the day I was there, several pigs of the 27 I saw slaughtered regained consciousness. One was so horribly distressed, hanging from a chain by one leg feeling her life blood draining away, that she twisted and threw herself around with incredible force until she freed herself from her shackles. Sadly there was no escape, she simply fell into the blood pit below. Eventually, a laughing slaughterman hooked her up again. It is certain that sheep suffer similarly and again we have filmed it.  

Productivity has a bearing as slaughtermen are usually paid on the basis of how many animals they kill in a pooled system – they all share the same bonus. This ensures that if anyone tried to stop the production line over animal welfare concerns, the other slaughtermen would object forcibly. As a consequence, no one does.

Electric tongs need to be placed in exactly the right position on the animal’s head and held there for at least seven seconds. Again we have filmed bad positioning and no stun lasting as long as seven seconds. Although many animals do regain consciousness, frequently they don't show it because one effect of electric shock can be to induce paralysis for up to 30 seconds.

The European Union Veterinary Committee says:

"Under commercial conditions, a considerable proportion of animals are either inadequately stunned or require a second stun. This is mainly because of poor electrode placements, bad electrical contacts and long stun-to-stick intervals" (26).

Captive Bolt Pistol
This little device is like a pistol but when the trigger is pulled and the cartridge explodes, instead of firing a bullet it shoots out a metal bolt. The bolt can only travel 9cm as it's still attached to the pistol. Cattle to be killed are driven single file into a roofless metal box one at a time, the pistol is placed against their forehead and the bolt fired into their brain. Done properly the animal will immediately lose consciousness but often it isn't done properly. A bad or hurried aim, a sudden movement from the animal and the bolt can miss, resulting in agony and requiring a second attempt. A European Commission report on captive bolt stunning identified a failure rate as high as 10 per cent, which means that up to 230,000 cattle experience the agony of not being stunned correctly(27).

Again the method of killing is to haul the animal up by a back leg and cut its throat. 

The reason that animals are first stunned rather than being killed immediately is to allow their heart to continue beating for a short time in order to pump out their own blood. Bacteria in the blood does cause the meat to deteriorate but it's now known that the same amount of blood is lost whether the heart is beating or not.

Electrified Water Bath
Poultry represent the ultimate in efficiency. They enter the packing stations as tiny living creatures and leave as wrapped, fresh or frozen table birds or in pies and other meat products. It requires extraordinary organisation with lorries piled high with crates full of birds arriving at set times throughout the day.

Chickens and turkeys have their legs placed in metal shackles and are hung upside down on a moving conveyor. Many chickens will already have broken bones.  For turkeys it is particularly painful because of their weight and diseased joints – but no exceptions are made, even for hugely-overweight male breeding birds, who can top 27kg (about 60lbs), as much as an eight year old child.

The conveyer belt carries them over a bath filled with electrified water, which is supposed to kill them by inducing cardiac arrest. One by one, their heads are dragged through it – unless, of course, they raise them and arrive at the human throat cutter fully conscious. Ducks and geese are particularly vulnerable to this failure.

The wings of some birds hang lower than their heads and enter the bath, giving them a painful electric shock. Scientists estimate that with turkeys this affects about six per cent – about two million turkeys in all.

Even when birds’ heads do enter the water, the current may not be strong enough to kill but simply render them unconscious for a short time, but the RSPCA maintains that “many birds are improperly stunned and recover consciousness before slaughter”(28). 

Larger packing stations often use mechanical throat cutters and for smaller birds it can mean that the blade misses their throat and cuts their head while for larger birds it can mean a cut on the breast.

If these failures aren't noticed it can result in fully conscious birds being dipped into the scalding tank where they are effectively scalded to death(29). This is a procedure which loosens the feathers and is another stop on the relentless production line. See Viva!’s Sentenced to Deathreport and film at www.viva.org.uk

Ritual Slaughter
(For a fully referenced report on religious slaughter, see Going for the Kill, Viva! Report on the Religious (Ritual) Slaughter of Animals.)

As part of their religious faith, both British Jews and Muslims have special dispensation from the usual rules of slaughter. Animals killed to provide their kosher or halal meat are sent to the knife fully conscious. It can be a slow, laborious and horribly painful process for a stressed and terrified creature. 

For Jewish shechita slaughter, cattle are placed in an upright pen one at a time so that their head sticks out at the end. A plate is raised from the floor to support the underside of the body and the head is raised by a chin lift, which extends the animal's neck so that it can be cut more easily.

After the throat has been cut, a side gate is raised and a hind leg is shackled, the chin lift and belly plate are released and the animal is pulled out of the pen by a hoist and moved to an overhead rail.

It is claimed that animals are killed instantly with a single cut across the neck. Sadly, the reality is different as the following description of Viva! footage of shechita killing shows:

'The cow's neck is extended by the chin lift and the animal's nostrils flare, his eyes stare and he is salivating. The slaughterer cuts the cow's throat by sawing the knife  backwards and forwards across it 13 times. The cow violently jerks away from the knife as far as it can and its facial reaction shows pain and great aversion. The cow does not collapse for many seconds after the cut and the filming ends before it does.'

A huge problem with religious slaughter is that millions of animals bleed slowly. Scientists studying slaughter state: "It is well recognised that unstunned calves which bleed poorly can take a long time to die" (30).  It can take more than five minutes for the animals to stop trying to stand normally.

Professor Donald Broom, specialist in farm animal behaviour, University of Cambridge, says:

"Animals are not stunned during the Jewish shechita or the Muslim halal ritual slaughter procedures. There is a period of consciousness after the throat is cut which may last for 30 seconds to several minutes during which the animal must be in great pain and distress. As the heart still beats after stunning and blood drains from the animal just as effectively whether or not the animal is stunned there is no logical reason why stunning should not be carried out before the throat is cut." (31)  

For Muslim halal slaughter, sheep and goats are placed on their backs in a metal cradle or simply hoisted up by a back leg before having their throat slit. Again we have filmed the barbarity of this religious demand and watched animals struggling for up to a minute after being cut.

Poultry are held head downwards while their throats are cut. 

Hardly surprisingly, many Muslims and Jews have turned against ritual slaughter and eat previously stunned meat or, much more effective, they have become vegetarian.   

Our visitor to Earth, being a creature of higher intellect and great perception, is obviously already a vegan. He/she believes that societies become advanced by acting on the truth and finds it impossible to understand why so many earthlings, despite knowing the truth and being revolted by it, refuse to change their diet and continue to bury their heads in the sand.

There's an old saying – if you can't beat them join them. In this case, the only way to beat them is not to join them. Join Viva! instead. It's always here on Earth to help you every step of the way.

As part of their religious faith, both British Jews and Muslims have special dispensation from the usual rules of slaughter. Animals killed to provide their kosher or halal meat are sent to the knife fully conscious. It can be a slow, laborious and horribly painful process for a stressed and terrified creature.