Before It Was a Sausage
October 1, 2002
Every day in America, 355,000 pigs are
slaughtered, notes Matthew Scully in his book Dominion (St.
Martins Press). The numbers of pigs killed wouldnt, in
itself, horrify me. The way they are raised, as Scully describes it, does.
Space precludes a full
discussion of this stunning book. Ill confine myself here to the fate
of the lowly, despised, and unpitied pig.
believe in animal rights. As his title suggests, he believes
in mans dominion over beast, more or less as
authorized in the book of Genesis (though he also says he isnt
especially devout). But he also believes noblesse oblige
that that human dominion should be humane. And it is now anything but.
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 birth.
The filth and odor,
Scully says, are unbearable. Pigs arent naturally filthy; under
natural conditions, they leave their waste some distance from where they
eat and sleep. But factory farms dont permit that.
The pigs live and die in tiny spaces from which there is never a
moments 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withdrawn, a week before slaughter, many of the pigs contract pneumonia.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 next:
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
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
Yet the producers
you cant call them farmers of these wretched
porcines insist, with straight faces, that the animals are well treated and
live contented lives. On Scullys showing, this seems open to
question. But what is certain is that the efficiency of these factory farms
is such that traditional farms cant compete with them.
So there is a little
prehistory of your morning sausage. Its a little chunk of an animal,
of sorts, that never knew anything but a cruelty and misery you can hardly
I dont know
what practical conclusions follow. I only know that Scully has given my
conscience a blow in the solar plexus.