The secret history of your favourite hamburger

Multiple undercover investigations over the years show horrific animal cruelty, neglect and abuse at slaughter plants.

An estimated 55bn animals are slaughtered for consumption worldwide and in the US alone, over 10bn animals, mostly chicken and turkey are are killed for food [EPA]

Thanks to the brave and compassionate souls who go undercover into slaughterhouses with hidden cameras, the truth about horrific cruelty to animals is no longer being hidden from the public eye.  

The latest video, released by Compassion Over Killing (COK) on August 21, shows cows being routinely suffocated, electrically shocked and sprayed with hot water by workers at the Central Valley Meat Company (CVM), a slaughterhouse in Hanford, California. The horrific footage also shows workers standing on cows’ mouths and nostrils after shooting them multiple times. 

Tens of thousands of dairy cows that are no longer economically viable as milk producers for the dairy industry end up at CVM. The video documents the final hours of pain and suffering they face before they are slaughtered and their bodies are dismembered for the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National School Lunch Programme and the popular In-N-Out Burger, a California-based hamburger chain. If you’ve eaten a burger at In-N-Out recently, you may have eaten the flesh of one these cows.  

The footage was captured by a whistleblower who worked at CVM, a federally inspected facility, for two weeks. As soon as it was released, In-N-Out severed ties with the slaughterhouse and the USDA shut it down. That’s how bad the footage was. 

Because undercover videos showing the most horrific animal cruelty you can imagine are released on a regular basis and receive widespread media coverage, the meat, dairy and egg industries are feverishly working to keep you in the dark by prosecuting the whistleblowers, not the factory farm owners. Those who oppose animal cruelty know what they’re trying to hide. 

Short life of hell in factory farms

An estimated 55bn animals are slaughtered for consumption worldwide. In the United States alone, over 10bn animals, mostly chicken and turkey, are killed for food after they live a short life of hell in factory farms. Confined so tight, they can barely move, the majority of farmed animals are mutilated without painkillers. 

“… because the meat, dairy and egg industries are so powerful, not a single federal law provides protection to animals on factory farms.”

According to The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), chickens and turkeys are shackled upside down, paralysed by electrified water and dragged over mechanical throat-cutting blades, all while conscious. Millions of birds miss the blades and drown in tanks of scalding water. 

The USDA exempts birds from its enforcement of the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, which requires that farm animals be insensible to pain before they’re shackled and killed. Most people are appalled to learn that because the meat, dairy and egg industries are so powerful, not a single federal law provides protection to animals on factory farms.  

It’s one thing to read about this horror; seeing it is another experience altogether. When Mercy for Animals (MFA) released its 12-minute Farm to Fridge video in February 2011, it immediately went viral. The video reveals what goes on behind the closed doors of the US’ largest industrial farms, hatcheries and slaughter plants. This is the rarely seen journey that animals make from the farm to your fridge. 

Since its release, the video has been viewed over 16 million times. According to surveys conducted by the Farm Animal Rights Movement, over 80 percent of the people who watch the video say it prompted them to change their diet. Since 2007, meat consumption in the US has dropped by 12 per cent. 

Images of cows, pigs and birds being brutally tortured are powerful and the slaughter industry knows it. That’s why they’re working to pass Ag-Gag bills across the country. They don’t want you to know the truth. 

In March, with the help of agricultural lobbyists, including the Iowa Cattlemen’s Association and the Iowa Dairy Association, Iowa became the first state in the country to make it an offense to capture undercover video exposing animal abuse. 

Last year, an undercover MFA investigation revealed rampant pig abuse at Iowa Select Farms, one of the country’s largest pork producers. Between April and June 2011, an MFA investigator documented mother sows confined to metal crates barely larger than their own bodies, making it impossible to turn around or lie down comfortably; workers ripping out the testicles of conscious piglets without the use of painkillers; conscious piglets having their tails painfully sliced into and yanked off with dull clippers; and management training workers to throw piglets across the room, comparing it to a “roller coaster ride”. 

If Iowa’s new law had been on the books last year, the whistleblowers who got that footage would have been prosecuted. Similar bills have been introduced in Florida, New York, Minnesota, Utah, Indiana and Nebraska. If a similar law were in place in California, customers at In-N-Out Burger would still be eating cows from the CVM. 

Multiple undercover investigations

Will Potter, author of Green is the New Red: An Insider’s Account of a Social Movement Under Siege, recently reported that the nearly identical bills and their supporters have ties to the American Legislative Exchange Council, a corporate funded organisation that writes and works to pass legislation at the state levels. Potter reports that The Animal and Ecological Terrorism Act, one of ALEC’s model bills, classifies non-violent civil disobedience by animal rights activists as terrorism.  

“Videos don’t lie or take sides. They provide an irrefutably clear account of the suffering, exploitation and abuse that animals face in the hands of dairy, meat and egg industries.”

– Nathan Runkle, MFA president 

These laws set an extremely dangerous precedent to keep animal abuse hidden. We’re not talking about a few cases of abuses. It’s rampant. MFA, HSUS, COK and other animal rights groups have conducted multiple undercover investigations over the years showing horrific animal cruelty, neglect and abuse. Their work must continue and be protected. 

On June 7, 2010, Quality Egg of New England, one of the largest egg producers in the country, pleaded guilty to 10 counts of cruelty to animals and agreed to pay over $130,000 in fines. An undercover MFA investigation conducted in 2008 and 2009 shows workers and managers killing birds by grabbing their necks and swinging them around in circles; birds suffering from broken bones and bloody open wounds; and rotting carcasses in cages with hens laying eggs for human consumption. Similar findings have been documented at egg farms across the country, proving that abuse is the standard, not the exception. 

In 2008, the USDA shut down operations at the Chino, California-based Hallmark Meat Packing Co., another supplier of the school lunch programme, after HSUS released video showing widespread violence against dairy cows that were too sick or injured to walk. This video shows workers kicking cows, ramming them with forklift blades and jabbing them in the eyes. 

Hallmark did the slaughtering, while the Westland Meat Co. processed the carcasses. Westland was named a USDA “supplier of the year” in 2004-2005 and delivered beef to schools in 36 states. Thanks to the undercover video, which resulted in a recall of 143 million pounds of beef, the largest in US history, Hallmark and Westland are no longer in the business of slaughtering animals.   

“That investigation never would have happened with these laws on the books,” says Erica Meier, executive director of COK. “Industry’s reaction is to try to get bills introduced to prevent the video from being exposed, not to change the way the animals are treated.” 

“Undercover videos are the most powerful tool animal protection advocates have in exposing these inherent cruelties,” adds MFA president Nathan Runkle. “Videos don’t lie or take sides. They provide an irrefutably clear account of the suffering, exploitation and abuse that animals face in the hands of dairy, meat and egg industries.” 

Rose Aguilar is the host of Your Call, a daily call-in radio show on KALW in San Francisco.

Follow her on Twitter: @roseaguilar