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The Psychological Toll Of Working In A Slaughterhouse

Many of us have a pretty strong connection with animals, we have dogs, cats, horses, guinea pigs and many other cuddly friends that we call our pets. But imagine for a second that a pig came up to you and rubbed his head on you the same way your kitty would, and then you had to kill it?

Those who work in slaughterhouses often view animals the same way we view our pets, but then they have to kill them – sometimes, thousands a day. The psychological toll this can have on a person is gravely underestimated, and the turn over rate for those who work in factory farms are the highest out of any other industry. Working in a slaughterhouse has been linked to a variety of disorders including post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and the lesser known mental illness called perpetration induced traumatic stress (PITS).

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As the demand for meat goes up, so does the number of animals employees have to kill on a daily basis. It is very easy for us to block out of our minds because those of us who eat meat do not have to make the connection from the live animal, to the slaughter, to the skinning, to the cutting, and to the packaging. It’s easy to leave out the middle man and have a disconnect from the actual life of the animal. A good question might be, if you had to kill the animal yourself and raise it in the same way it was raised in a slaughterhouse for the sole purpose of being killed, would you?

Who Actually Wants To Work On A Factory Farm?

This industry is not the most popular, and finding employees for factory farms isn’t necessarily easy, they are often illegal immigrants who are paid a very low wage. A consultant psychiatrist at the Nightingale Mental Health Hospital in London, Dr. Chi-Chi Obuaya told Metro.co.uk, that “We tend to think of PTSD as arising from a specific traumatic incident, usually among people who have had something inflicted upon them, As perpetrates of the violence, however, slaughterhouse workers experience something quite different.”

“We normally think about PTSD and trauma responses where someone has either been the victim, or they’ve witnessed something,” he explained. “So someone who’s been subjected to torture, somebody whose life has been threatened or has been in an area of conflict, and it’s arising in that situation. Another group would be people who’ve witnessed very traumatic things.”

“Clearly, this sort of [slaughterhouse] work is pretty brutal, and therefore there are two ways of looking at it,” he said. “We normally think about PTSD in relation to very discrete episodes of trauma. So there will be an event which has occurred on a particular day, and there’s the onset of symptoms following that, such as nightmares and flashbacks, which arise in the weeks and months following a trauma. So that’s how we tend to diagnose [PTSD] using our diagnostic manuals.”

“One of the things that is less well understood – and this is where this group, slaughterhouse workers, falls into – is repetitive trauma, and how that’s conceptualized. The understanding in psychiatric literature is still fairly limited, because we tend to model it around very discrete episodes.”

“So I would look at other groups for comparison – so someone who’s been entrapped and held captive against their will, may or may not be subjected to specific incidents of a life-threatening nature, but over a period of time there’s that repetitive trauma. I don’t want to use the word ‘low-grade’ – it’s not quite as dramatic, but it’s very pervasive. This kind of work falls into that category.”

What Previous Slaughterhouse Workers Have To Say

Ed Van Winkle was an employee of Morrell slaughterhouse in Sioux City, Iowa, and he was quoted saying the following at the Tyson Foods Annual Shareholder meeting in 2006,

“The worst thing, worse than the physical danger [of on-the-job accidents] is the emotional toll,” Winkle said. “Pigs down on the kill floor have come up and nuzzled me like a puppy. Two minutes later I had to kill them – beat them to death with a pipe. I can’t care.”

Another man named Virgil Butler worked in a Tyson poultry plant for 5 years, and after leaving he became an anti-slaughter activist and decided to set up a sanctuary for rescued animals with his partner. Here’s what he had to say,

“The sheer amount of killing and blood can really get to you after a while,” he wrote on his blog The Cyberactivist in 2003. “Especially if you can’t just shut down all emotion and turn into a robot zombie of death. You feel like part of a big death machine. [You’re] pretty much treated that way as well. “

“Sometimes weird thoughts will enter your head. It’s just you and the dying chickens. The surreal feelings grow into such a horror of the barbaric nature of your behaviour. You are murdering helpless birds by the thousands (75,000 to 90,000 a night). You are a killer.”

So, Why Is This Important?

When we consume meat, especially meat coming from factory farms, it tends to fall into the out of sight and out of mind category. Essentially, many of us are ignorant to what really goes on inside factory farms, and how these animals are not really living a healthy life or treated in a humane way. It clearly goes against our own human nature, and causes those who work in slaughterhouses psychological stress. We are raising and slaughtering animals at an extremely high rate to meet the demand, but in reality none of this is really necessary, and at the same time it’s destroying our planet.
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This isn’t about going vegan, but if everyone made the decision to eat less meat, then raising and slaughtering animals in this way would not have to happen and as a result, they could live their lives freely on farms. Really, there is no humane way to kill another animal, it is a sentient being that is just as deserving of a life as your dog, cat, horse – or you.

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