The idea of killing over 1,000 pigs per hour is thoroughly disturbing—but the idea that a facility could kill as many animals per hour as possible is even worse. Currently, federal regulations state that a slaughter line can move at a killing rate of “only” 1,106 hogs an hour. But a pilot program, which the Trump administration wants to offer more factories, allows slaughterhouses to kill as many pigs per hour as they want.
Not only would this be terrible for animals; it would be dangerous for workers, who already work at unimaginable speeds and suffer some of the highest rates of injury and dismemberment of any profession. Speeding up slaughter lines would mean more accidents for workers and more animals killed haphazardly, in ways that cause them even more pain.
Despite these known dangers, the U.S. Department of Agriculture claims that the economically driven pilot program and its reduction in oversight and federal safety inspectors would somehow lead to better control of pathogens and safer conditions for workers. But armed with evidence, critics of the program say otherwise. According to Sergio Ruiz, a union steward who has worked for 25 years at a hog plant, if a factory runs at full capacity, employees have about 13 seconds to pull a tongue out of a pig’s head. He said faster speeds increase health risks and injuries among workers.
“For the USDA, this has never been about public health,” said Amanda Hitt, director of the Food Integrity Campaign at the Government Accountability Project, an advocacy group for whistleblowers. She told Bloomberg News, “This has been about enriching the very industries they are supposed to be regulating.”
A federal inspector at one of the plants told Bloomberg News that it’s now all about moving “as fast as you can, and that’s it.” Both the company that owns the plant and government officials have discouraged him from documenting any negative findings that might slow things down. He said, “It’s been crammed down our throats: Do not impede the right to do business.”
Unfortunately, this program is part of a larger attempt to deregulate slaughter line speeds—though luckily, one effort has been stopped. Last year the FDA denied a request by the chicken industry to remove limits on the number of animals killed. Hopefully, this program will also be defeated.
Of course, the best way to prevent this violence and death on such an enormous scale is to leave animals off our plates. Together, we can one day eliminate slaughter lines altogether.