Animal Cruelty in Slaughterhouses


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In the United States alone, around 52.2 billion pounds of meat are consumed every year (Barclay). That amount means that every human being in the USA eats around 160 lbs of meat annually (Barclay). When the numbers reach such extravagant heights, the want to simply source the most product begins to undermine the process with which the product is sourced. Many industrial slaughterhouses do not source their meat in humane ways. The animals are raised on mass farms, fed unnatural chemicals, and slaughtered in droves (Morrow).

Ever since third grade when I first learned about the dying rainforests, I have been invested in environmental/animal rights. In fifth grade, one of my classmates read a book on Temple Grandin and her battles with the horrific conditions of farm animals in slaughterhouses. After hearing all the horror stories, I  became a vegetarian. Animal cruelty has been an issue as long as people have been interacting with other animals. Throughout the years activists have tried to solve the problem of inhumane treatment of farm animals, but the issue is far from solved. I chose this topic, because, in fact, it can be solved in a decade instead of over the course of a couple of generations.


Background: Chicago Slaughterhouses

Following the surge of slaughterhouses in Europe, the United States followed suit.  In 1865, Chicago held the world’s largest livestock market (Bramley). “When the World Columbian Exposition was held in Chicago in 1893, more visitors went to the stockyards than to any of the Exposition’s own attractions”(Brantz). The process of slaughtering and butchering an animal went from 10 hours of a skilled butcher and their assistant taking apart one cow to the large industrial scale abattoirs with up to 2,500 cows being taken apart in one day (Bramley).

Due to the new forms of slaughter arising, culture and thought around the role of meat animals in people’s lives as the methods of raising cattle became large scale changed. In the same way that assembly line construction detaches workers from artisanship, the large scale raising of cattle for slaughter — and then the industrial scale butchering process itself — detaches those who do it from the ethical aspects of animal husbandry and slaughter. From all the new techniques, safety and health concerns arose. Muckrakers like Upton Sinclair looked into the meat industry, and made terrifying discoveries. He wrote:“there would be meat stored in great piles in rooms; and the water from leaky roofs would drip over it, and thousands of rats would race about on it”(Sinclair). He wrote vividly about the conditions in Chicago’s slaughterhouses in The Jungle.  In 1906, closely following the publication of Sinclair’s novel, the Federal Meat Inspection Act was passed (Cassuto). It regulated food safety, and it “sought to alleviate public concerns by establishing procedures”(Cassuto). Unfortunately, because all the public attention was directed to the safety of the meat as food, animal safety became a secondary concern (The Economist).

Present Day

As of April 25, 2018 at 10:41 am, 16,813,364,400 animals have been slaughtered in the US in 2018 (Animal Clock). That number comes from 8.8 billion chickens, 232.3 million turkeys, 115.3 million pigs, 28.7 million cows, 27.7 million ducks, 2.2 million sheep, and a surplus of seafood (Animal Clock). 16.8 billion animals slaughtered in four and a half months. In the time taken to read this paragraph, the number has increased by 13,608 (Animal Clock).

In the past, the government has focused on the safety of food for human consumers, but the actual treatment of the animals became a secondary concern. Currently, animals live for 18-19 months before being slaughtered (Morrow). Before slaughtering an animal, they have to be stunned. In many industrial abattoirs today, the main methods for stunning use electric stunning techniques, a captive bolt pistol, or carbon dioxide (Animal Ethics). One of the main methods used for fowl is an electric water bath, from which a reported 44% of chickens emerge with broken bones due to muscle contractions (Animal Ethics). Many animals are slaughtered in fear after unsuccessful stunning techniques are administered upon them (Animal Ethics). Without a guarantee on stunning the animal, many animals then move into slaughter still conscious and aware of their dark surroundings (Animal Ethics).

Temple Grandin sitting in a muddy field with cows.

Temple Grandin

Temple Grandin’s slaughterhouse design. Click on photo to see a larger image


Following the surge of slaughterhouses in the US,  people realized that the regulations on the treatment of the animals were lacking. Associations like the Humane Farming Society were created, while activists like Temple Grandin began reforming the industry. Temple Grandin’s designs greatly changed the meat industry (The Economist). Her goal was for “properly performed slaughter [to be]  less cruel than a more natural death at the jaws of wolves” (The Economist). To create her designs, she crouched in muddy fields and has traveled through slaughterhouses to research the current designs (Bell). She then designed her own slaughterhouse.

Grandin became a frontrunner in the move for change, by creating a curved shoot and stockyard design for cattle slaughter (The Economist). Her designs focused on the natural behaviors of the cattle to ensure the highest level of comfort (The Economist). The animals walk in curved lines so that they cannot see too far beyond them while playing into the natural instinct to circle back to where they came from, and inside the kill box, there are lights so that the cows can see where they are going (Bell). Her designs also include a center-track restrainer (Bell). It lifts the animal by their stomach and it propels them forward while gently holding them steady (Bell). Before this invention, many animals were not restrained in any way, and when workers went to stun the animal, they were more likely to botch the stunning or get injured by the frightened animal (Animal-Ethics). Grandin’s designs allow the animals to feel safe during their slaughter and not endure unnecessary pain or trauma. After creating her slaughterhouse, the designs are used all over the country, and they continue to make the positive impact needed in this industry (Morrow).

The Humane Farming Society (HFA)

With all the issues arising from improper treatment and botched stunning attempts, different groups arose to face the problems head on. They investigate and reform slaughterhouses in ways that the meat industries will not. The Humane Farming Society is one such organization. (HFA). They send their own members undercover to witness and broadcast the horrors that happen behind closed doors. Their most recent investigation led to the United States Senate donating $1 million to the United States Department of Agriculture to enforce the Humane Slaughter Act (HFA). Passed in 1978, it requires the humane handling of all food animals, excluding birds, slaughtered in USDA approved slaughterhouses (USDA). The HFA also runs an emergency care and refuge for abused animals (HFA). Their Suwanna Ranch is a seven square mile home to victims of animal cruelty (HFA).


Solution: Sustainable Farming

Anya Fernald at one of her famous “meat camps”, where she teaches adults new and exciting ways to prepare meat.

As Temple Grandin’s designs have become more widespread, new forms of slaughterhouses are emerging. There are sustainable slaughterhouses starting up, like Belcampo. Anya Fernald, known as the First Lady of Livestock and owner of Belcampo, created the California based sustainable animal farm (Morrow). She owns 18,000 acres of land in Northern California along with the entire chain of  humane slaughterhouses, butcher shops, restaurants, and e-commerce operations to ensure that there is no abuse of the animals during any part of the transaction (Morrow). Sustainable farming is a method of farming that produces the least amount of waste possible (Fernald). The soil is cultivated and has a rotating crop system to ensure the rich soil does not lose its nutrients, the farm recycles as much of their water as they can, and the farm utilizes a whole animal butchery technique to ensure that the majority of every animal is used and eaten (Fernald). Their animals live for 24-30 months (,nearly double the average in industrial farms), and are raised outside with a wide buffet of plants growing around them (Morrow).

Slaughterhouses similar to Belcampo poses as a plausible solution to animal cruelty in slaughterhouses. They raise their animals on open farms, and safely butcher them within certified humane Temple Grandin abattoirs. Yet while Belcampo and other sustainable farms make a very positive impact, they still make up a tiny minority of the meat market. Without further change, animal cruelty in slaughterhouses will continue and is currently far from solved. 

How You Can Help

Supported by the fast paced consumer economy, industrial slaughterhouses have been created to keep up with demand. They prioritize sending adequate meat to consumers without focusing on animal safety. A big step is simply thinking about what you are buying. Buy meat that comes from a sustainable slaughterhouse. If you do not know where it came from, look up the company and its history. “Free range” and “all natural” does not necessarily indicate a humane farm. Packaging is deceiving until you learn how to read it.

Meat from Belcampo and other sustainable farms may not be the cheapest option, but the extra dollars are worth it for the animals. Consider buying live chickens for eggs instead of buying them from the store, and above all, only buy as much meat as you will eat.




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Works Cited:


Barclay, Eliza. “A Nation Of Meat Eaters: See How It All Adds Up.” NPR, NPR, 27 June 2012,

Bell, Ryan. “Temple Grandin, Killing Them Softly at Slaughterhouses for 30 Years.” The Plate, 19 Aug. 2015,

Bramley, Anne. “How Chicago’s Slaughterhouse Spectacles Paved The Way For Big Meat.” NPR, NPR, 3 Dec. 2015,

Brantz, Dorothee. “Recollecting the Slaughterhouse.” CABINET // Recollecting the Slaughterhouse, 2001,

Cassuto, David N. “Meat Animals, Humane Standards and Other Legal Fictions.”, ProQuest, June 2014,

“FSIS.” Federal Meat Inspection Act, USDA,

“HFA’s Campaign to Stop Abuse.” HFA’s Campaign to Stop Slaughterhouse Abuse, 2016,

“Humane Methods of Slaughter Act.” United States Department of Agriculture, USDA, 2018,

“A Jungle No More.” The Economist, The Economist Newspaper, 10 Oct. 2015,

Morrow, Sara. “Meet Anya Fernald, the First Lady of Livestock.” Modern Farmer, 27 Apr. 2016,

“The Slaughter of Animals Used for Food.” Animal Ethics, 2018,

United States, Congress, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. “Plants Approved to Receive Slaughter Animals.” USDA APHIS, 15 Apr. 2018.

“2018 U.S. Animal Kill Clock.” Animal Clock, 25 Apr. 2018,


“A Jungle No More.” The Economist, The Economist Newspaper, 10 Oct. 2015,

Barclay, Eliza. “A Nation Of Meat Eaters: See How It All Adds Up.” NPR, NPR, 27 June 2012,

Bramley, Anne. “How Chicago’s Slaughterhouse Spectacles Paved The Way For Big Meat.” NPR, NPR, 3 Dec. 2015,

“Farm Animals.”, Belcampo,

“Half Circle Crowd Pen: With Straight Staging Area for Cattle in Feedlots or Slaughter Plants. It Can Be Used with or without the Sort Gate at the Chute (Race) Entrance.”,

Morrow, Sara. “Meet Anya Fernald, the First Lady of Livestock.” Modern Farmer, 27 Apr. 2016,


Share this project
  1. April 28, 2018 by Tarika.Pather

    Hey, I liked the research that you have done on this project. I think, however, that we need to re-think what ‘ethical slaughter’ really is. I think that more research into alternative eating, meat substitutes and vegetarianism can really show the impact that we could have on these animals lives. We do not need meat, as simple as that, and eating these products really damages the environment.

    • April 28, 2018 by Hannah Anderson

      Thanks for the feedback! Many people will not consider being a vegan or vegetarian, so I decided not to focus on that as a possible solution. As part of the food chain, we are designed to eat meat, eventhough we can choose not to.

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