New Internationalist

Animal abuse leads to human abuse

cow peering over hedgeThe appalling exploitation and brutalization of workers in the meat industry is well documented – from brutalization in the Global North to slavery in the Global South – but what is the best response? Should we boycott the industry, or just call for reforms? After all, the clothing industry exploits workers in the developing world, and the appropriate response seems to be to improve and regulate the industry, not call for its destruction.

Unfortunately, there is startling evidence that the vast majority of the modern meat industry is unreformable. More and more academic studies are showing that the animal abuse that is inherent in an industrialized meat industry will inevitably lead to human abuse.

What is the inherent nature of the modern meat industry? We might get a clue from Bill Haw, CEO of Kansas City’s National Farms, which operates one of the US’s largest feedlots, where thousands of animals are slaughtered everyday:

‘Animals come there to die, to be eviscerated, to be decapitated, to be de-hided – and all of those are violent, bloody and difficult things to watch. So your first and foremost impression of at least the initial stages of the packing house are a very violent, very dehumanizing sort of thing.

‘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… It’s essentially very dehumanizing work.’

I admire this man’s honesty, if not his business model. His words give a clue as to one possible explanation for the terrible treatment of slaughterhouse workers: perhaps the very nature of the industry is having an effect on the people who run it.

This theory is termed ‘the Sinclair Hypothesis’, and an academic study from 2010 appears to confirm it. The study shows that when slaughterhouses are introduced to communities as a source of employment, domestic abuse and child abuse increase. What is interesting about the study is that it shows the same effects are not observed when a different type of factory is introduced. Another recent study shows that slaughterhouse workers are more likely to suffer from somatization, anxiety, anger hostility and psychotism than other workers. Other studies have come to similar conclusions, but the subject attracts little interest.

At first I found these studies surprising, but the more I thought about it, the more obvious it became that witnessing the killing and dismemberment of hundreds of animals a day might affect people.

It is well-documented that people who torture animals for pleasure are more likely to turn out to be psychopaths who pose a threat to humans. There are also studies that show there is a link between the abuse of family pets and domestic violence. In other words, the kind of person who is willing to abuse an animal is more likely to abuse a human. And, as the studies linked to above show, if you force a human to desensitize themselves to the suffering of animals, they become desensitized to the suffering of humans.

What the industry has become is a sector where the employers abuse their workers, and the workers themselves are more likely to abuse their families. Then, of course, there is the appalling abuse of the animals: up until 1999, many of the slaughterhouses used by companies such as McDonald’s would begin the dismemberment of animals while the creatures were still conscious. It was only undercover footage and a media campaign that managed to decrease the frequency of this abuse. But unspeakably cruel animal abuse continues to be discovered by undercover investigations.

The levels of abuse and violence that saturate the meat industry are astounding. No matter how profit hungry an industry is, the dismembering of live, suffering animals is something you would expect decent human beings with a basic moral conscience to refrain from. But something about the meat industry changes the people who work in it. And this is why the majority of the industry is unreformable: if you institutionalize violence, a systematically ethical industry becomes impossible.

For the sake of the exploited workers, the abused children, the beaten wives, the slaves in the developing world and the tortured animals, we have to stop this industry.

Photo: Denis McLaughlin under a CC Licence

 Further reading:

Live export and factory farming

The No-Nonsense Guide to Animal Rights

Comments on Animal abuse leads to human abuse

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  1. #1 Derec Jones 30 Nov 12

    Totally agree - here's an article I wrote a few years ago on the same lines -

  2. #2 LB 01 Dec 12

    Not quite so unreformable perhaps! Mark Post at the University of Maastricht has been making some pretty palatable synthetic beef, using a single bovine muscle biopsy.

  3. #3 Núria Querol MD 11 Dec 12

    Paper presented at the American Society of Criminology conference : Cruelty to Animals and Antisocial Personality Disorder: Criminological and Forensic Correlations

  4. #4 Tei 13 Dec 12

    Here's a story about a nurse who was

    Nurse Michael Garritson was charged with animal cruelty, but a judge in that case let him keep his RN license so he could ’make a living’ . He sure went on to make a living, and was eventually caught on tape secretly abusing an autistic non verbal man in his care. Garritson is seen gouging the autistic man in the eye repeatedly over several shifts. Also caught pulling his hair and slamming him to ground and neglecting his needs repeatedly. This is an excellent illustration of someone who has no regard for animal welfare nor the rights of the humans in his care. What's even more disturbing in this case is Michael Garritson's wife, Linda Garritson was caught on camera a few years ago neglecting two disabled children in her care and lost her LVN license. The Garritson family wears several masks of sanity, one being they claim to follow Jesus Christ and are radical conservatives who preach about ’uncorrupted biblical truths’ and the ’moral majority’ as they live a continual lie and secretly live in immorality while accusing others of living immoral lives. Truly a case study in sociopathic families.

  5. #5 Alex 17 Dec 12

    Be careful how blibd one is in your passion for animal rights for those behind industrial ag are rigging that, too. What they intend for animals is patterned after their take over of seeds. The upside is that IF people know, this is something to enrage the world. In the US, they've just announced the import of raw pork from Brazil, and raw pork is a means of introducing FMD.

  6. #6 Leslie R 31 Dec 12

    Convicted animal abuser, Michael Garritson, is now about to stand trial for the abuse of an autistic patient in his care.
    Of interest is what he said during his past animal abuse trial:
    When ask about the dogs with difficulty walking. Michael Garritson said he had a Tri with his tongue out, the first I ever had with a rye mouth and they are predisposed to other problems. One litter he had was born normal but developed problems at 2 months with hydrocephalus. It had an unusual gait, eye ulceration and was very aggressive. He said, “I find it cruel not to let a dog live, we let inferior humans live,”

    Look closely at what Mr. G says. He believes some humans are “inferior”, as if he is a superior human being. This probably explains why he didn’t care about his two son’s, John and Richard Garritson, the day they were bitten by pitbulls. The fact is, Mr. Garritson chose to go to work that day, instead of being with his injured boys. Garritson has looked at his two boys as “inferior humans” ever since, as seen in the way he talked about them not being able to run very well now, as if that is all that matters to Mr. Garritson. What his kids can do for to make him feel superior. They, like his dogs, his patients, are mere objects and tools to be used and abused by Mr. Garritson.

    Mr. Garritson should've never been allowed to work with humans after being convicted of animal cruelty. It's also interesting that he's caught on tape eye poking his autistic patient, when you see back in his animal cruelty case, a lot of his dogs had eye ulcerations.

  7. #7 Adam Steinberg 01 Jan 13

    Excellent article! As we teach violence to our children by serving them these tortured carcasses, they will only evolve into more tortured souls. As we treat one, we treat all. This article should be sent to all domestic shelters across the country ( and beyond ). It does present the dilemma how to eradicate this heinous industry? As a vegan ( by grace, NOT effort- thanks to my esteemed teachers ), I realize it easier for folks to continue their disassociation, rather than change and stop supporting this.

  8. #9 Brenda Kordes 22 May 14

    Hi, I am at a dead end, it seems no one has done any research on domestic violence and substance abuse related to animal abuse in processing plants. I am, and I know there is evidence in early childhood and adolescent’s when animal cruelty is linked to adult violence and serial crimes. My research is what happens when animal cruelty begins at work? Does the violence eventually escalate into other forms of abuse or take a toll on the person in general. I have seen Food Inc., Earthlings and about 40 more documentaries, so I am trying to get behind the scenes. Another dead end is everyone who is hired now in the plants has to sign a confidentiality form and the laws around agriculture is very strict. Any ideas would be greatly appreciated

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About the author

Chris Grezo a New Internationalist contributor

Chris Grezo is an opinionated screenplay writer and columnist who believes progressive politics and global justice are inherently linked. He believes there are ethical reasons to adopt a vegan or vegetarian diet, along with environmental and economic reasons. In his spare time Chris is active in the animal rights movement, and supports Iranian exiles in their fight for a democratic and liberal Iran.

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