Factory Beef Production
Access Farm Sanctuary Research Report, "The
Welfare Of Cattle In Beef Production" - Released
Since the 1980s a series of mergers and acquisitions has resulted
in concentrating over 80% of the 35 million beef cattle slaughtered
annually in the U.S. into the hands of four huge corporations.
Many beef cattle are born and live on the range, foraging
and fending for themselves for months or even years. They
are not adequately protected against inclement weather, and
they may die of dehydration or freeze to death. Injured, ill,
or otherwise ailing animals do not receive necessary veterinary
attention. One common malady afflicting beef cattle is called
"cancer eye." Left untreated, the cancer eats away
at the animal's eye and face, eventually producing a crater
in the side of the animal's head.
Accustomed to roaming unimpeded and unconstrained, range
cattle are frightened and confused when humans come to round
them up. Terrified animals are often injured, some so severely
that they become "downed" (unable to walk or even
stand). These downed animals commonly suffer for days without
receiving food, water or veterinary care, and many die of
neglect. Others are dragged, beaten, and pushed with tractors
on their way to slaughter.
Many cattle will experience additional transportation and
handling stress at stockyards and auctions, where they are
goaded through a series of walkways and holding pens and sold
to the highest bidder. From the auction, older cattle may
be taken directly to slaughter, or they may be taken to a
feedlot. Younger animals and breeding-age cows may go back
to the range.
Ranchers still identify cattle the same way they have since
pioneer days with hot iron brands. Needless to say,
this practice is extremely traumatic and painful, and the
animals bellow loudly as ranchers' brands are burned into
their skin. Beef cattle are also subjected to 'waddling,'
another type of identification marking. This painful procedure
entails cutting chunks out of the hide that hangs under the
animals' necks. Waddling marks are supposed to be large enough
so that ranchers can identify their cattle from a distance.
Most beef cattle spend the last few months of their lives
at feedlots, crowded by the thousands into dusty, manure-laden
holding pens. The air is thick with harmful bacteria and particulate
matter, and the animals are at a constant risk for respiratory
disease. Feedlot cattle are routinely implanted with growth-promoting
hormones, and they are fed unnaturally rich diets designed
to fatten them quickly and profitably. Because cattle are
biologically suited to eat a grass-based, high fiber diet,
their concentrated feedlot rations contribute to metabolic
Cattle may be transported several times during their lifetimes,
and they may travel hundreds or even thousands of miles during
a single trip. Long journeys are very stressful and contribute
to disease and even death. The Drover's Journal reports,
"Shipping fever costs livestock producers as much as
$1 billion a year."
Young cattle are commonly taken to areas with cheap grazing
land, to take advantage of this inexpensive feed source. Upon
reaching maturity, they are trucked to a feedlot to be fattened
and readied for slaughter. Eventually, all of them will end
up at the slaughterhouse.
A standard beef slaughterhouse kills 250 cattle every hour.
The high speed of the assembly line makes it increasingly
difficult to treat animals with any semblance of humaneness.
A Meat & Poultry article states, "Good handling
is extremely difficult if equipment is 'maxed out' all the
time. It is impossible to have a good attitude toward cattle
if employees have to constantly overexert themselves, and
thus transfer all that stress right down to the animals, just
to keep up with the line."
Prior to being hung up by their back legs and bled to death,
cattle are supposed to be rendered unconscious, as stipulated
by the federal Humane Slaughter Act. This 'stunning' is usually
done by a mechanical blow to the head. However, the procedure
is terribly imprecise, and inadequate stunning is inevitable.
As a result, conscious animals are often hung upside down,
kicking and struggling, while a slaughterhouse worker makes
another attempt to render them unconscious. Eventually, the
animals will be "stuck" in the throat with a knife,
and blood will gush from their bodies whether or not they
This is detailed in an April 2001 Washington Post
article, which describes typical slaughterplant conditions:
The cattle were supposed to be dead before they got to
Moreno. But too often they weren't.
They blink. They make noises, he said softly. The head
moves, the eyes are wide and looking around. Still Moreno
would cut. On bad days, he says, dozens of animals reached
his station clearly alive and conscious. Some would survive
as far as the tail cutter, the belly ripper, the hide puller.
They die, said Moreno, piece by piece...
"In plants all over the United States, this happens
on a daily basis," said Lester Friedlander, a veterinarian
and formerly chief government inspector at a Pennsylvania
hamburger plant. "I've seen it happen. And I've talked
to other veterinarians. They feel it's out of control."
The U.S. Department of Agriculture oversees the treatment
of animals in meat plants, but enforcement of the law varies
dramatically. While a few plants have been forced to halt
production for a few hours because of alleged animal cruelty,
such sanctions are rare.
Reaction to the Washington Post investigative piece
and others like it precipitated a Congressional resolution
reiterating the importance of the Humane Slaughter Act, but
to date, there is little if any indication that the situation
for animals in slaughterhouses has appreciably improved.