I write this post with a heavy heart, fellow dumplings.
There is an increase of “cluster” cases of coronavirus among slaughterhouse workers. Governors here in the Midwest are fighting to keep facilities running in spite of the hundreds of employees who have been infected with COVID-19. According to officials, these factories feed the country and therefore must continue their operations.
But what does that actually look like?
Instead of shutting down, some slaughterhouses have actually increased the speed of slaughter. Conventional slaughter is done quickly anyways, but new waivers from the federal government now allow for a drastic increase. Some slaughterhouses are now killing 175 animals per minute. That is about 3 animals a second.
But in other cases, slaughterhouse closures have not led to animal lives being saved. Breeders and farmers are themselves killing animals off themselves to make room for the next batch of animals. This week, 2 million chickens were killed but not eaten in Maryland and Delaware, due to lack of employees at slaughterhouses and processing plants—a euphemism for turning live animals into meat.
Other farmers are aborting thousands of piglets in the womb. (Forced pregnancy followed by forced abortion is a violation of women’s rights on the most atrocious level.) On April 27, Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds sent a letter to the Trump administration asking for help in killing of animals and disposing of their carcasses, stating that “There are 700,000 pigs across the nation that cannot be processed each week and must be humanely euthanized.” (If being gassed to death after living your entire life in an enclosure so small you can’t turn around can ever be called “humane.”)
There is no question that whether the animals are discarded or processed for human consumption, the current situation poses both ethical and health risks. Carcasses must be inspected for fecal matter (which can lead to salmonella) or other signs of disease. Because slaughterhouses have increased production speed at a time when they are short on employees, these inspections are being sped through, if performed at all. In other words, these regulation rollbacks are going to compromise food safety.
Personally, I find it frustrating that the conversation surrounding keeping slaughterhouses open is so human-centric—but I do not find it surprising. Many folks eat meat with every meal, so any hindrance to the meat supply would likely be disruptive to the our current norm. Similarly, many slaughterhouse workers are economically oppressed. These cluster cases of the coronavirus are appearing when many government officials are already under heavy pressure to reopen their economies.
So, what can we do?
Unfortunately, we are pretty helpless in terms of being able to save individual animals’ lives. As usual, the federal government powerfully protects and supports agribusinesses.
But this is an opportunity to start a conversation. The consumption of animals during the pandemic poses huge health risks: even omnivores who are not driven by compassion should see the self-interested reason to avoid meat. Spread the word. You never know who will see the truth and get motivated to become vegan.
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Photo: Subtle Cinematics via Unsplash