8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on 3 August 2011
Slaughterhouse is a devastating indictment of influence and power in the American meat industry, revealing the abject ethical bankruptcy of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the federal government organisation whose responsibility is to monitor and oversee all facets of American agriculture, including livestock. The book shows the USDA to be riddled with conflicts of interest and an active campaigner against the Humane Slaughter Act - which requires humane handling for all animals prior to being shackled, hoisted and bled at a slaughterhouse - and simply a tool in the pocket of the large meat producers. Its dereliction of duty has had disastrous results for consumers, meat processing industry workers, and unsurprisingly the animals, whose horrendous suffering is the result of an industry that is effectively out of control.
The book shows modern slaughterhouses to be cesspits of disease, which comes as a result of the USDA providing approximately six thousand federal meat inspectors to examine the insides and outsides of more than eight billion animals a year. The worst case of food poisoning until the publication of this book occurred in December 1998, when 35 million pounds of contaminated hot dogs and lunch meat manufactured by a Sara Lee plant in Michigan were recalled from 22 states, but not before 15 people had died, six women had miscarried and another 100 people had become seriously ill. That this occurs is of little surprise to the people who process meat:
"There were lots of rats, snakes, cockroaches and maggots in the plant," one worker said. "I saw maggots in boxes which contained bags that the chicken would be wrapped in." A worker at another plant described the chicken processed at the plant as "not safe to eat. Every day, I saw black chicken, green chicken, chicken that stank, and chicken with feces on it. Chicken like this is supposed to be thrown away, but instead it would be sent down the line to be processed." An employee at a third plant said, "The rotten meat is mixed with fresh meat and sold for baby food. We are asked to mix it with the fresh food, and this is the way it is sold. You can see the worms inside the meat."
Slaughterhouse makes plain the fact that meat producers have next to no regard for their employees, the majority of whom are migrant or itinerant workers earning subsistence wages. Licensed to kill morning, noon and night, severe psychological problems and serious physical injuries - many of which stem from having to kill at an amazingly rapid speed as the animals rush past at the rate of thousands an hour - are common amongst meat processors. Working largely undercover, Gail Eisnitz documents her meetings with dozens of them.
But any sympathy the reader might feel at the tales of working class plight pales into insignificance when compared to the abhorrence of the descriptions of the awful pain inflicted in a multitude of ways on animals by meat processing workers, who regard animals merely as raw material to be dismembered as quickly as possible.
"Any other types of violations?"
"Cattle dragged and choked, stuff like that. Knocking 'em four, five, ten times. Every now and then when they're stunned they come back to life, and they're up there agonizing. They're supposed to be restunned but sometimes they aren't and they'll go through the skinning process alive. I've found them alive clear over to the rump stand, (the plant area where the hide is cut off the hindquarters)."
"How long does it take an animal to get there?"
"They've been completely legged, he said. "Ten minutes maybe. And they run them through an electrical shock system, too."
"Maybe they weren't alive," I said. Could it just be muscle reaction?"
"When they're sucking in air and bellowing, their eyes bugging out? If people were to see this, they'd probably feel really bad about it. But in a packing house everybody gets so used to it that it doesn't mean anything."
Anyone who reads this book will be tempted to question the ethics of the various groups involved in the meat industry - from the growers to the slaughterers, from the butchers to the retailers, to the restaurants and cooks who dish it up. Their questioning might even extend to the vast majority of the human race, who willingly perpetrate the horror in blissful ignorance as to how it got there. Read Slaughterhouse, but prepare to be shocked.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on 4 August 1999
I must add my praise for Ms. Eisnitz's excellent book. It is exceptionally well-documented and researched. As an academic, it is a pleasure to read a book that combines journalistic zeal with painstaking research and attention to detail and yet remains thoroughly readable. Eisnitz's ability to remain dispassionate when confronted by such daily horrors is a tribute to her professionalism. The fact that she conducted a large proportion of her research whilst battling cancer is a tribute to her as a human being. This is a book that everybody should make time to read, for their own sake, even if they have no regard for animal suffering. A magnificent achievement.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 14 June 1998
In the midst of our high-tech, ostentatious, hedonistic lifestyle, among the dazzling monuments to history, art, religion, and commerce, are the 'black boxes' -- faceless compounds where society conducts its dirty business of abusing and killing innocent, feeling beings. Among these are biomedical research laboratories, factory farms, and slaughterhouses. These are our Dachaus, our Buchenwalds, our Birkenaus. Like the good German burgers, we have a fair idea of what goes on there, but we don't want any reality checks. We rationalize that the killing has to be done and that it's done humanely. We fear that the truth would offend our sensibilities and perhaps force us to do something. It may even change our life. Slaughterhouse by Gail Eisnitz of the Humane Farming Association is a gut-wrenching, chilling, yet carefully documented, expose of unspeakable torture and death in America's slaughterhouses. It explodes their popular image of efficient factories that turn dumb 'livestock' into sterile, cellophane-wrapped 'food' in the meat display case. The testimony of dozens of slaughterhouse workers and USDA inspectors pulls the curtain on abominable hellholes, where the last minutes of innocent, feeling, intelligent horses, cows, calves, pigs, and chickens are turned into unspeakable terror and agony. And, yes, the book may well change your life. It starts when the animals are hauled long distances under extreme crowding and harsh temperatures. Here is an account from a worker assigned to unloading pigs: "In the winter, some hogs come in all froze to the sides of the trucks. They tie a chain around them and jerk them off the walls of the truck, leave a chunk of hide and flesh behind. They might have a little bit of life left in them, but workers just throw them on the piles of dead ones. They'll die sooner or later." Once at the slaughterhouse, some animals are too injured to walk and others simply refuse to go quietly to their deaths. This is how the workers deal with it: ! "The preferred method of handling a cripple is to beat him to death with a lead pipe before he gets into the chute... If you get a hog in a chute that's had the s**t prodded out of him, and has a heart attack or refuses to move, you take a meat hook and hook it into his bunghole (anus)...and a lot of times the meat hook rips out of the bunghole. I've seen thighs completely ripped open. I've also seen intestines come out." And here is what awaits the animals on the kill floor, according to the testimony of a horse slaughterhouse worker: "You move so fast you don't have time to wait till a horse bleeds out. You skin him as he bleeds. Sometimes a horse's nose is down in the blood, blowing bubbles, and he suffocates." Cows don't fare any better: "A lot of times the skinner finds a cow is still conscious when he slices the side of its head and it starts kicking wildly. If that happens, ... the skinner shoves a knife into the back of its head to cut the spinal cord." (This paralyzes the animal, but doesn't stop the pain of being skinned alive.) Here is an account of calf slaughter: "To get done with them faster, we'd put eight or nine of them in the knocking box at a time... You start shooting, the calves are jumping, they're all piling up on top of each other. You don't know which ones got shot and which didn't... They're hung anyway, and down the line they go, wriggling and yelling"(to be slaughtered while fully conscious). And another of pig slaughter: "If the hog is conscious, ... it takes a long time for him to bleed out. These hogs get up to the scalding tank, hit the water, and start kicking and screaming... There's a rotating arm that pushes them under. No chance for them to get out. I am not sure if they burn to death before they drown, but it takes them a couple of minutes to stop thrashing." The brutal work takes a major emotional toll on the workers: "I've taken out my job pressure and frustration on the animals, on my wife, ... and on myself, with heavy drinki! ng." Then it gets much worse: "... with an animal who pisses you off, you don't just kill it. You ... blow the windpipe, make it drown in its own blood, split its nose... I would cut its eye out... and this hog would just scream. One time I ... sliced off the end of a hog's nose. The hog went crazy, so I took a handful of salt brine and ground it into his nose. Now that hog really went nuts..." Safety is a major problem for workers who operate sharp instruments standing on a floor slippery with blood and gore, surrounded by conscious animals kicking for their lives, and pressed by a speeding slaughter line. Indeed, 36 percent incur serious injuries, making their work the most hazardous in America. Workers who are disabled and those who complain about working conditions are fired and frequently replaced by undocumented aliens. A few years ago, 25 workers were burned to death in a chicken slaughterhouse fire in Hamlet, NC, because management had locked the safety doors to prevent theft. Here is an eyewitness account: "The conditions are very dangerous, and workers aren't well trained for the machinery. One machine has a whirring blade that catches people in it. Workers lose fingers. One woman's breast got caught in it and was torn off. Another's shirt got caught and her face was dragged into it." Although Slaughterhouse focuses on animal cruelty and worker safety, it also addresses the issues of consumer health, including the failure of the federal inspection system. There is a poignant testimony from the mother of a child who ate a hamburger contaminated with E. coli: "After Brianne's second emergency surgery, surgeons left her open from her sternum to her pubic area to allow her swollen organs room to expand and prevent them from ripping her skin... Her heart ... bled from every pore. The toxins shut down Brianne's liver and pancreas. An insulin pump was started. Several times her skin turned black for weeks. She had a brain swell that the neurologists could not treat... They told ! us that Brianne was essentially brain-dead." Slaughterhouse has some problems. In maintaining the suspense of a storyline, the presentation suffers from some choppiness and redundancy. However, the book's major problem is not the author's presentation, but the publisher's cover design. The title and the headless carcasses on the dust jacket will effectively prevent the shocking testimony inside from reaching a vast audience. And that's a pity. Because the wretched animals whose agony the book documents so graphically deserve to have their story told. And because Slaughterhouse is the most powerful argument for meatless eating that I have ever read. Eisnitz' closing comment "Now you know, and you can help end these atrocities" should be fair warning. After nearly 25 years of work on farm animal issues, including leading slaughterhouse demonstrations, I was deeply affected. Reading Slaughterhouse has changed my life. I will spend the rest of this year making sure that this testimony gets out.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on 23 July 1999
This well-researched, well-written book is the most appalling expose I've ever read. Even if the author is biased (and how could she NOT be?), if half of what she reports is true, then we truly have a crisis on our hands. As a meat-eater and a parent, the information contained has convinced me that I need to either eat Kosher meats or stop eating meat all together!
The information in Slaughterhouse should be made widely public, and there needs to be reform before more people die. She did a remarkable job covering all applicable areas of meat-packing: the inhumane treatment of animals, the dangers posed to the employees of the packing industry, the unsanitary...FILTHY...conditions, as well as the political mess surrounding the meat industry. Well done!
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 17 January 1998
This powerful, gut-wrenching, horrifying indictment of the U.S. meat industry will hopefully do at the end of the 20th century what Upton Sinclair's THE JUNGLE did at the beginning--serve as a wake-up call to the nation to take a closer look at the food it eats. Eisnitz's gripping, horrifying page-turner of a book is based on her tenacious investigation that includes extensive interviews with current and former slaughterhouse workers and disgusted USDA inspectors. She tells a story of unbelievable cruelty and corruption that begins with her investigation of a single meatpacking plant in Florida where somebody informs her about animals bled, skinned, and dismembered alive (a common industry practice, as the book demonstrates). As her investigation proceeds and more people come forward to testify, she traces the ever-widening circles of cruelty, corruption, and contempt for animals, workers, and the public that extend to the highest levels of government. Very readable (with lots of dialogue) and truly unforgettable.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 22 July 1998
This is a well written unemotional account of conditions and atrocities happening at several, if not all, slaughterhouses. Since USDA seems unable to conduct surprise inspections, one must assume that USDA is in cahoots with the meat industry, surprise surprise. The filthy conditions and working environment in the chicken slaughterhouse is unbelievable, but the information came from so many different sources I DO believe it. I was not a meat eater before reading this book, now I have earmarked pages to show to carnivorous friends when they come to my house. The filthy conditions alone are enough to turn anybody off eating meat, but add to that the incredible cruelty to the animals, specially those described at the hog slaughterhouse, makes one believe the workers at the plants have absolutely no feelings at all. This is so shameful and slaughterhouses should be investigated by somebody other than the USDA.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 13 May 1998
When my mother asked me why I was reading a book about a slaughterhouse investigation, I told her that I wanted to know what animals in the meat industry are going through so that it would inspire me to act. I remember a co-worker telling me that the typical method for slaughtering cows was to slit their throats, and I wondered even then how they could be spared from pain.
After reading Gail's book, I am more than shocked by the sheer brutality inflicted on these animals. I know that her focus was animal welfare at the beginning of the investigation, and it continues to be her focus even though to get the public's attention, she had to shift to the "people" issue of meat contamination.
I go over and over these scenarios in my mind each day. How can we cheer a movie like "Babe," and then read about how factory pigs are frozen to truck walls and pulled off by workers only to leave a good chunk of the pig's skin, flesh, and internal organs on the wall, pigs suffocating in pools of other pigs' blood, a steer whose front legs are blow-torched off because in a fit of panic he got stuck in some slats and couldn't get out. As a society, we don't want to hear these stories. We have a hard enough time hearing about children dying because they were left in cars with no windows open.
The most shocking statement to me was the USDA inspectors' union leader who said that those in the meat industry think of the animals as "products they are dimsantling." There is absolutely no regard on the part of corporate officers, and worse, VETERINARIANS, for the pain these animals experience. Chilling cannot begin to describe this book. I continue to have dreams about it.
I was looking for some rays of hope in the book, and what I realized was that the people I see eating beef, pork, and chicken do not want these animals to experience this kind of pain. They just don't know about it. It's up to those of us who are brave enough to face the reality to educate them. This book will! be a hard sell for anyone, just as it was for Gail. However, it was a book that simply had to be written. I applaud Gail for having the compassion and foritude to do it. She deserves so much.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 9 July 1999
Put simply, you'll never look at meat the same way after reading this disturbing, though superb, book. With impeccable reseach and excellent, insightful writing, Ms.Eisnitz lays bare the unthinkable cruelty, greed and corruption behind one of the strongest and most influential of political voices - the American meat industry. Think your Congressman or your local farmers are going to share this kind of information with you? Think again.
Cheers to Gail Eisnitz for having the courage to take on and expose this "Goliath!"
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 1 November 1998
Upton Sinclair, William Grieder, Ida Tarbell move over, your work has not been in vain. Gail Eisnitz steps up to the plate and dares to challenge, confront and expose an American icon--the meat and dairy industry. Though 20 million Americans are full-time vegetarians, millions more, because of poverty, culture, ignorance or misplaced loyalty to American values, consume meat and dairy products which are not just deleterious to their death, but which go to support a behind the closed doors industry which exploits workers and engages in cruelty to animals the likes of which even a seasoned veteran of vegeaterian campaigns would be hard to overlook without feeling sick to the stomach and outraged all at the same time.
Ms. Eisnitz has engaged in a one-woman campaign to expose the killing of animals for profit and to alert the American people to the true nature of what resides on their dinner tables and how it got there.
The premise of the work weaves a common thread. No matter where the author visited--John Morrell , Perdue, Smithfield, no matter to whom she spoke, the answer was always the same. Animals are not killed before they are exposed to the horrors of factory farming and the USDA, the federal agency charged with the welfare of animals, is not enforcing the Humane Slaughter Act and fires USDA inspectors and vets who do!!
As one worker reported, "The worse thing, worse than the physical danger, is the emotional toll. If you work in that stick pit for any period of time, you develop an attitude that lets you kill things, but doesn't let you care."
Anecdotal, insolated incidents, alarmist, biased. These are descriptive terms that the government, if they respond at all, would use to describe the author's work. Yet, the reality, the documentation, the vivid and horrific tales of workers describing injuries to themselves, their fellow workers and the cruelty to the workers cannot be ignored or marginalized.
How is the story of "Slaughterhouse" regareded by the corporate media? The author minces no words in outlining the reactions of the usual suspects to her tale of worker injury, animal cruelty and government corruption, indifference and the tissue of lies that passes for truth. "60 minutes," "Prime Time Live," and "20/20" all dutifully ignored her story deeming it too graphic to show the American people.
What of the effect of such practices on the American people? Filfth, rats, roaches, grease, oil, mutilation are all a part of the world of the Slaughterhouse, having changed little since the days of Upton Sinclair's "The Jungle." Eisnitz, having stripped her story of the trials and tribulations of one family, lays bares the naked truth of life inside the closed doors of an American institution--the slaughterhouse. It is a tough read, a gut-wrenching, stomach-churning, nausea causing, necessary, compelling and important book not be ignored or easily set aside. Like the Auschwitzs and Dachaus of the Nazi era, these American concentration camps dot the rural countryside providing employment for the poorest of the poor upon, as Mark Twain once wrote, the wealthy step to power. Ignore this book at your peril, when you read it take it to heart for it is the truth.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 19 June 1998
I've just read _Slaughterhouse_, by Gail Eisnitz (Prometheus Books, December 1997). It's the story of the author's investigation and collection of overwhelming evidence of the egregious abuse of animals without any regard for the Humane Slaughter Act, utter contempt for the safety and well being of workers, and outrageous disregard for the Federal Meat Inspection Act and public health.
It is the story of how the US government is shirking it's responsibility to ensure that meat and other animal products are not diseased or contaminated, but is placing that responsibility in the hands of consumers. The government now teaches consumers how to cook their meat in order to kill the germs even though it's obvious that cooking cannot solve the problem, since infected meat will contaminate your hands, kitchen surfaces, and anything else either you or it touches.
It exhaustively documents the routine skinning, scalding, and butchering of live, fully conscious and sentient animals.
Equally disturbing is the author's story of the refusal of the major television network news magazines to let the masses know about what is actually happening in the slaughterhouses of America. Using excuses such as 'too disgusting' or 'too graphic', which loose all credibility in light of the daily torrent of graphic and disgusting television violence with which we are all too familiar, TV news executives are responsible for obstructing the dissemination of the information which must reach the masses if we are to have any chance of developing the political will which is necessary to put and end to these atrocities and outrages. The national news media, with their skewed priorities based on arbitrary and unjustifiable taste preferences, apparently won't consider the consequences of their decisions.
I strongly urge you to read this book, which was written because of the news media's negligence.