How does one regulate a U.S. industry that kills 300 chickens per second and some 10 billion animals per year and still keep the prices of meat cheap? By not regulating it. Instead, let the meat industry largely regulate itself. Cut back on the number of USDA inspectors. Speed up the kill lines. Ignore calls to reform the archaic Humane Methods of Slaughter Act of 1958 (which used purposely vague language to allow for loopholes). Pass ag gag laws that punish whistleblowers. And, force inspectors who report flagrant and repeated violations of humane handling and slaughter to shut up or quit. This is how the USDA and other key U.S. regulatory agencies protect and indemnify a multi-million dollar meat industry that profits on the suffering of animals.
A recent federal audit found that meat inspectors unevenly enforce humane-slaughter rules — or don’t enforce them at all. That’s because their bosses won’t support them, said two different whistle-blowing meat inspectors to the The Kansas City Star. One of these inspectors is Jim Schrier, a veteran federal food safety inspector who faces retaliation after blowing the whistle on violations of humane handling regulations at a USDA-regulated Tyson Foods plant in Iowa.
According to Food Integrity Campaign (FIC) Director Amanda Hitt, “USDA’s retaliation against Mr. Schrier is in direct violation of the federal whistleblower law, and mirrors the experiences of other meat industry whistleblowers we’ve worked with at GAP. It is evident that internal government mechanisms for reporting abuse simply do not work. Iowa’s Ag Gag law, which criminalizes undercover videotaping, is a terrible idea.”
The USDA’s inspection program has been implicated in past cover ups and corruption scandals. In response to pressure, it has repeatedly attempted to reform itself. It’s just not working. Even if you could reform this mess, there is no such thing as humane slaughter. Yes, I believe, at minimum, that existing laws should be enforced to prevent animals who are destined for slaughter to be rendered unconscious before their throats are slashed, shot in the head with a bolt gun or hacked a part with a chainsaw. I believe we should do everything in our power to reduce suffering.
However, simply campaigning for better enforcement of existing humane slaughter laws does not address the core problem: animals exploited as commodities will never be treated humanely or fairly under the best circumstances. Even if existing laws were enforced, society would just go back to deluding itself that raising and killing animals can be done “humanely.”
Let’s instead urge people to face the fact that, while the current regulatory system may provide some modest protection for 5% of animals (poultry are excluded and represent roughly 95% of animals slaughtered), and limited mainly to methods of slaughter, “animal welfare” exists within the narrow, economic constraints of profit. Profit turns animals into commodities. Perhaps you can “reform,” but you can’t humanize an industry built on mass extermination. The only power greater than this monstrous system is us. We can destroy it through a peaceful revolution. We can vote them out of business with our forks by keeping animals we have no biological need to eat off of our plates.