The Slaughter

Stewart Sinclair in The Morning News:

SheepA sheep that is born and bred at a major US slaughterhouse has a much different experience. After a life in a small pen, she is one day led into a large room with four or five other sheep and a worker wielding what looks like a pair of oversized Walkman headphones, only they’re connected to a high-voltage cable descending from the ceiling. The worker then positions the pads on the sheep’s temples, subjecting her to electronarcosis, a shock that according to the Humane Slaughter Association instigates “a gran mal epileptic fit, during which the brain is stimulated, the body exhibits tonic/clonic activity, and the result is complete loss of consciousness.” The sheep collapses and stops breathing. Her front legs extend rigidly while her hind legs contract, pulling them inward like child’s pose in yoga. Then her body relaxes, her legs involuntarily kick, her body shakes in spasmodic fits, eyes dipping in their sockets as if she were experiencing a spiritual awakening. She might urinate or defecate, but there is still no pain. Then the worker straps her hind legs to a line that raises her through an entrance in the ceiling leading to the killing floor, where another worker “sticks” her, slicing her throat with a sharp knife until she bleeds. In a kind and considerate world, this happens within 15 seconds of electronarcosis, and the sheep doesn’t feel a thing. But this isn’t always the case.

The typical slaughterhouse worker is a Latino who nets $12.50 an hour and quits within a year, leaving employers little incentive to invest any time or money into training, which makes operator error—to say nothing of outright disregard and cruelty—a frequent occurrence. If the pads are misplaced on the sheep’s temples, she might not be fully unconscious. And even if they are placed correctly, the operator might take too long to attach her to the conveyor belt, and the poor sheep begins to recover, to breathe rhythmically and regain awareness of her surroundings—and to be able to respond to painful stimuli—just as the worker’s knife sticks her in the throat, leaving her wide-eyed, panicked, writhing, and struggling to breathe for up to a minute as the conveyor belt transports her soon-to-be carcass down the line.

More here.