The animal agriculture publication Poultry World recently released an article about the benefits of using virtual-reality technology to process slaughtered animals. Citing dangerous working conditions and sky-high turnover rates in poultry slaughter and processing plants, the article pitches the idea of having workers cut up animals from the “comfort” of their homes. This would essentially turn butchering animals into a kind of gruesome video game.
This horrifying technology may be closer than we think. The Agricultural Technology Research Program (ATRP) at Georgia Tech Research Institute has filed a provisional patent for its VR research. Working with Georgia Research Alliance, ATRP hopes to bring this technology to market. Gary McMurry, a principal research engineer at Georgia Tech Research Institute, stated:
There are lots of reasons that this technology could have a big impact on manufacturing, which is struggling with finding people to do jobs. With this job you could be sitting in West Virginia, put on a VR headset and work from the comfort of your own home.
Slaughtering and meat processing are dangerous and taxing jobs, both mentally and physically. While animals pay the ultimate price, industry workers are oppressed by the same system that values profit over everything else. Slaughterhouse workers have some of the highest rates of injury and dismemberment of any profession, making it one of the most dangerous jobs in the country.
Slaughterhouse workers also endure the psychological effects of killing. Working in slaughterhouses has been associated with increased rates of domestic violence, drug and alcohol abuse, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder. In the book Slaughterhouse: The Shocking Story of Greed, Neglect, and Inhumane Treatment Inside the U.S. Meat Industry, a former slaughterhouse employee states:
The worst thing, worse than the physical danger, is the emotional toll. If you work in the stick pit [where hogs are killed] for any period of time, you develop an attitude that lets you kill things but doesn’t let you care. You may look a hog in the eye that’s walking around in the blood pit with you and think, “God, that really isn’t a bad looking animal.” You may want to pet it. Pigs down on the kill floor have come up to nuzzle me like a puppy. Two minutes later I had to kill them. … I can’t care.
Given their dangerous and stressful working conditions, slaughter and processing plants have notoriously high employee turnover. In poultry processing, annual turnover rates have climbed to 100 percent.
In an effort to combat worker shortages, ATRP is combining VR technology with factory-based robotics. It is developing a system to virtually automate “cone loading,” placing chicken carcasses on cone-shaped rods for further processing by line workers. Previous attempts to fully automate poultry processing have failed because of the birds’ irregular shapes and malleable bodies, but ATRP hopes VR could help overcome certain challenges by providing a “bridge … between human operators and robotic devices.”
The problems of the meat industry are much too immense to be solved by helping workers butcher animals from the “comfort of home.” And it won’t make conditions any better for the billions of animals subjected to the violent act of slaughter.
Instead, the time and money given to this research would be better spent investing in a more compassionate plant-based food system. You can take a stand from the “comfort of home” by eating more plant-based foods! Download our FREE veg starter guide to learn how.