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The Vegetarian World Forum

No. 1 Vol. 2 - THE VEGETARIAN - SPRING 1948 pp.8-19:

by Sandra Chase

I BEGIN this account of a recent visit to one of Auckland's largest slaughter houses by a statement of my conviction that this experience is very valuable to workers for animal welfare. Without it the vital facts are only known theoretically. The public are kept in ignorance of the horrifying happenings which hour by hour occur within the relative privacy of slaughter houses. I myself, for example, was not aware before my visit to a slaughter house that since the outbreak of World War II the humane killer has been largely abolished in the slaughter houses of New Zealand. The necessary ammunition has apparently not been available.

In justice, I must, however, make it clear that as far as I was concerned no attempt was made by anyone to whom I spoke at the slaughter house, whether Inspector or Secretary, to defend the system or prevent a full inspection. Indeed, I know that certain officials have proved ready to institute such pain-reducing reforms as are readily practicable. One example of this is the practice of stunning oxen-but not sheep or pigs before slaughter.

I also wish to make it clear that the slaughter-men cannot truthfully be portrayed as brutal or sadistic characters. Some of them are Church members, good husbands and fathers. In fact, some of them are members of humane societies. One of them came up to our party and expressed strongly his disagreement with the method known as kosher killing which on another visit I was watching his method can only be described as the apex of savagery, and as I write is evoking strong protests both in Australia and New Zealand.

Of course, everyone may see, nay, must have both seen and heard, the cruelly overcrowded truckloads of sheep and cattle standing at railway sidings, thirsty in the boiling sun of summer and drenched and cold in the winter rains, waiting for transport to the slaughter houses. But if, in addition, the men and women of the world would go at least once and watch for themselves the whole ghastly process of killing as I have just done, I feel sure that sheer kindness of heart would cause them to be outraged at the inhuman cruelty at present practised in the handling and killing of animals for food. Direct experience is indeed necessary; for normally our imagination does not permit us to visualise that bridge of horror - the process of slaughtering - which links the free, live animal in the pasture with the carcase that hangs in the butcher's shop. To most of us meat is just tasty food and not part of the corpse of a recently killed animal.

Let me tell you, in as restrained a manner as possible, about the ordeal to which I voluntarily submitted myself when, as Chief Brother of the Theosophical Order of Service in New Zealand, in company with humanitarians from other humane societies I visited one of Auckland's biggest and best-run slaughter houses. I know that to the last hour of my life this experience will be for me, in Francis Thompson's words, "a nightmare time which still doth haunt me."

OF a truth, it seemed that we four entered into hell. The stench as of death and decay assails the nostrils as one draws near. This effluvium clung like a thick, chill, suffocating fog which extended far beyond the outskirts of the shambles - an appropriate name for the slaughter house.

 As representatives of humanitarian societies, we were shown every phase of the process of butchering by one who has long associated himself with this aspect of animal suffering, a gentleman who has already succeeded in introducing certain valuable reforms.

We entered, as I have said, an animal hell. A picture, red and white, is for ever stamped upon my mind. The sight of the red and white glistening bodies of newly slaughtered and newly skinned animals and the red river under our feet which was the precious life blood of the innocent, defenceless creatures whose crying filled the room and tore at one's heart, is imprinted indelibly upon my memory. I say "precious" life-blood deliberately: for who is to say that the blood of these animals, as also their happiness and well-being, is not just as precious to the Creator of all life and form as is the blood of human beings?

As I watched the horror before me, I sensed an atmosphere of shamefulness in the whole horrible procedure. The men at work on the newly killed animals were not talking, and whether they realised it consciously or not, they seemed to me to emanate an outwardly hidden shame in their infernal occupation. I saw with shock and regret one quite young lad of about eighteen working close up to the killing pens.

When one of the great bullocks crashed, supposedly stunned, at any rate dazed, through the iron trap-door on to the killing floor, to be dealt with by the men in a way which I will presently explain, an Inspector who was talking to us turned to me and said: "He's as dead now as he'll ever be." That remark showed that he was putting forward some sort of defence and trying to explain away to himself or to me the obvious cruelty of the whole ghastly business.

So much for my general impressions of the abattoir and the thoughts evoked by my visit.

On the right-hand side of the great killing shed from where we were watching, the sheep were being killed. Each slaughterman had behind him a pen of sheep to kill. This has a falling door that shuts the temporarily unwanted sheep in the pen until more are needed for butchering. When the killer is ready for more the door goes up, and, without stunning, he bends back the head of the animal and with his knife cuts the throat right across. He does this to about two or three at a time and allows the sheep to fall kicking on to the floor. Sometimes, before this kicking stops, the work of skinning and disembowelling begins. I felt as if I were having a terrible nightmare, that I was watching some black ceremonial of witchcraft or blood-rites belonging to the ancient primitive savages, rather than a supposedly civilised occupation of modern man. I found myself questioning the right of any Government or nation to allow its citizens to take part all day and every day in such a brutal trade. Have we, I thought, as a civilised race, any right to accept such service from our fellow-men?

WE watched the killing of the sheep for some time until all the details had been noted and then our friend drew our attention to that truly awful corner on the left-hand side where the beef-men were at work. Feeble are my words to describe the horror that entered my soul and gripped my heart as I witnessed the process of dealing with those great big powerful animals as they were dropped from the stunning pen outside through an iron trap-door after stunning by the man called the "knocker."  I watched beast after beast fall out, still kicking, on to the red-stained, stone, killing-floor. Soon, we shall be going up to see this knocker at work, but first we are to view the work at this second stage after the supposed stunning has been accomplished.

When the loud crying of the, as yet, invisible animal ceased, there was the noise of its heavy body falling. The iron trap-door went up. Out crashed the animal and, with limbs spasmodically twitching, rolled to the feet of the waiting men. Then the spinal cord is severed at the back of the neck and one man quickly pushes a rod into the brain, through the incision so made. This is done to addle the brain. The hind legs of the animal are then attached to chains and it is swung clear of the floor. Then the great throat is cut longitudinally, the jugular vein is severed, the red torrent of its life blood makes crimson the ground at the men's feet - then, with knives and saws, the process of butchering is carried out.

As we then moved towards the place where the knocker was at work on cattle, the last stage of our heart-rending journey through the slaughter house was entered upon. The creatures in the pen clearly knew what was about to happen, for they milled about and struggled to get back the way they had come.

One beast put his big black nose through a hole in the ramp and breathed for the last time the free air outside.

Up we went, sick at heart at what we had already seen, dreading this last and greatest ordeal. We came to the top where the two knockers were stunning the cattle. The sight of this part of the process was very nearly more than I could bear. However, I had given my promise that I would make no expression of indignation or any exclamation of horror whatsoever, and so, by a great effort, I remained silent.

The animals were driven up the ramp beneath us. As they entered the stunning-pen, they balked and tried to back out. Then the knocker from above pokes them with a long piece of wood until they jump forward into position. The knockers are armed with big, long, double headed hammers. They stand astride and above the head of the animal on the raised platform of the stunning-pen. The knocker then waits for the animal to put up its head. He then brings the hammer down with all his force as near to the centre of the forehead as possible. The animal bellows loudly with pain, and lowers its head. Again the knocker waits an appreciable time for the hurt head to rise, and again he brings down the hammer. Although the beast is bellowing with pain all the time, each time the hammer falls the poor creature cries more loudly with agony and lowers it wounded head to the ground. This process is called stunning and is supposed to be merciful.

The bullock behind me was thus stunned and dropped through the iron trap-door in three such blows, but the knocker immediately before me was, I was told, a new man, and it took six or more of those cruel hammer blows to drop the poor thing to the floor of the pen. Actually, I lost count after the sixth blow. Twice, I do know, he hit the great beast on the temples, missing the middle of the forehead. I thought that the animal would never drop, never cease its pitiful crying. It took all my courage to watch this to the finish. At long last there was a thud, and it went down to the waiting beef-men on the killing floor below.

 THE tragedy of the situation is that a great deal of this indescribable suffering before and during the slaughter is quite unnecessary. If one of the several effective humane killing devices were used, instant stunning would be caused and suffering be reduced to a minimum. If meat-eating and, therefore, slaughtering must go on, and apparently they must, then, surely, the inevitable handling and killing should be as humane as possible. A nation-wide campaign is called for to bring about the re-introduction of the humane killer in New Zealand. Happily, this has already begun. Surely this is a cause which every humanitarian can support.

I have come to the end of my story. I repeat my conviction stated at the beginning, that the reformer's zeal and influence in bringing about reform are immeasurably enhanced if, despite the natural shrinking from the ordeal, he or she looks courageously upon the suffering he or she is trying to alleviate. One needs to look upon the evil thing in order to feel and so to understand the pain. Then one can speak and write about the experiences of those who suffer from first-hand knowledge and so with conviction. From such a one others take fire and become crusaders in their turn. The measure of one's capacity to feel with and recollect the suffering creature is the measure of one's resultant power to bring about reform. When one sacrifices one's own peace of mind and heart, dares to look upon man's inhumanity to man, to child and to animal, then there comes an invisible power which is both a solace and an aid. Men may misunderstand the reformer's zeal, may pour out ridicule and scorn, but this matters naught. Such public dishonour becomes a cross of valour.

I close with an appeal for the full support of all humanitarian societies, the members of which have long been and are hard at work for the removal of these inhuman cruelties. Join them, donate to their funds and participate actively in their work. Then these evils will be swept away and we men and women on earth deserve the appellation human which must surely in its real meaning signify humane.


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