Before It Was a Sausage
October 1, 2002

by Joe Sobran

     Every day in America, 355,000 pigs are slaughtered, 
notes Matthew Scully in his book DOMINION (St. Martin's 
Press). The numbers of pigs killed wouldn't, in itself, 
horrify me. The way they are raised, as Scully describes 
it, does.

     Space precludes a full discussion of this stunning 
book. I'll confine myself here to the fate of the lowly, 
despised, and unpitied pig.

     Scully doesn't believe in "animal rights." As his 
title suggests, he believes in man's "dominion" over 
beast, more or less as authorized in the book of Genesis 
(though he also says he isn't especially devout). But he 
also believes -- noblesse oblige -- that that human 
dominion should be humane. And it is now anything but.

     The old-fashioned farm is nearly extinct. Animals 
raised for food -- pigs being only one example -- are now 
bred in conditions beyond nightmare, thanks to modern 
methods of efficient production. Few of them ever see 
sunshine in their lives. They are conceived 
(artificially) and born, live and die, in "factory 
farms," in metal crates so cramped that their mothers 
barely have room to lie down, either to sleep or to give 

     The filth and odor, Scully says, are unbearable. 
Pigs aren't naturally filthy; under natural conditions, 
they leave their waste some distance from where they eat 
and sleep. But "factory farms" don't permit that. The 
pigs live and die in tiny spaces from which there is 
never a moment's escape. If they were given a tiny bit 
more space, the thinking goes, the mothers might 
accidentally crush their young. While they are 
deliberately fattened, their muscles atrophy, you see, 
and they become both obese and clumsy.

     They are subject to a regimen of chemicals, 
inadequate food, "vaccinations, ear notching, teeth 
cutting, tail docking, and, for the males, castration. 
All of this ... without the use of a local anesthetic." 
Castration is usually performed with a hot knife. Their 
tails must be docked -- with pliers -- "because premature 
weaning has left them constantly searching for something 
to chew or suck, and because their five or six months on 
earth will be spent in a crowd staring into the behinds 
of fellow captives, snapping at the tails in front of 
them, while the guys in back are doing the same to them." 
Incredibly, the purpose of docking is not to reduce their 
pain, but to increase it, so that the young pigs will try 
to avoid attack and fewer infections will result.

     When antibiotics are withdrawn, a week before 
slaughter, many of the pigs contract pneumonia. 
"Trembling and shaking, many lose control of their bowels 
and the floors must be constantly washed of excrement." 
Scully quotes two NEW YORK TIMES reports on what happens 

     "Squealing hogs funnel into an area where they are 
electrocuted, stabbed in the jugular, then tied, lifted, 
and carried on a winding journey through the plant. They 
are dunked in scalding water, their hair is removed, they 
are run through a fiery furnace (to burn off residual 
hair), then disemboweled and sliced by an army of young, 
often immigrant laborers."

     These workers, Scully notes, "wear earplugs to 
muffle the screaming." Most find the work demoralizing.

     Another scene:

     "Kill-floor work is hot, quick, and bloody. The hog 
is herded in from the stockyard, then stunned with an 
electric gun. It is lifted onto a conveyor belt, dazed 
but not dead, and passed to a waiting group of men who 
wear bloodstained smocks and blank faces. They slit the 
neck, shackle the hind legs, and watch the machine lift 
the carcass into the air, letting its life flow out in a 
purple gush, into a steaming collection trough."

     When 2,000 hogs per hour are thus processed by 
unskilled laborers, there are going to be mistakes. So 
the hogs that survive are "dropped alive into the 
scalding tank."

     Yet the producers -- you can't call them farmers -- 
of these wretched porcines insist, with straight faces, 
that the animals are well treated and live contented 
lives. On Scully's showing, this seems open to question. 
But what is certain is that the efficiency of these 
factory farms is such that traditional farms can't 
compete with them.

     So there is a little prehistory of your morning 
sausage. It's a little chunk of an animal, of sorts, that 
never knew anything but a cruelty and misery you can 
hardly imagine.

     I don't know what practical conclusions follow. I 
only know that Scully has given my conscience a blow in 
the solar plexus.


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