Is there such a thing as humane slaughter?

Beef carcass in packing plant.

Beef carcass in packing plant.

When teaching Beef Production at community college, I had the opportunity to take students to a commercial processing plant.  Whether they were from ranching families or had no livestock background, rarely had any of them witnessed the commercial processing system.

On the hour drive to the plant each semester, the dialogue would begin, one student at a time. “Ms. Gardella, I want to go on this tour, but I don’t want to go on the kill floor, I just can’t see that”.  My response was always the same, I’d tell them we would be touring the plant backwards, starting at the end of the line where the individual steaks, roasts, etc. were being boxed up and loaded on trucks.  When we got to the end of the tour at the stunning chute (“the kill floor”), they could make their mind up then.  Not one student ever chose not to view the stunning chute and observe the process when we finally got there.

The students’ reactions didn’t come as a surprise to me because I understood the reason behind them, i.e. fear of the unknown.  If you’ve never seen something, but have heard it described negatively, what choice do you have but to be apprehensive at best or repulsed at the extreme end.  Contemporary American society does not deal with a lot of the realities that make our world turn.  A century or so ago that wasn’t true.  Most people were personally acquainted with farming, ranching, and the slaughter process.  Whether it was the lopping off of a chicken’s head for Sunday dinner or processing a hog or beef, which would then be cured or packed in barrels with salt to preserve the meat for the winter, they understood where their food came from.

The class meeting after the packing plant tour always provided stimulating student participation.  They would share that they were surprised at their own reactions to viewing carcasses hanging in the cooler, seeing slabs of carcass being cut into wholesale cuts with saws, watching the skinning process and then, finally, observing the stunning process.  They weren’t repulsed, rather they found themselves fascinated by the efficiency, the sanitation, the inspection process, and, yes, the humane way the animals were killed.  We would discuss and compare the violent way animals in the wild often die, like a deer who has been run to the point of exhaustion, taken down by a group of lions and is often being eaten while it is still alive.  Is it conscious and aware?  We don’t know, but we do know the fate of domestic livestock processed in a licensed, certified plant is required by law to be much more humane.

If you have never observed a beef packing plant and would like to see what the students saw, Dr. Temple Grandin’s video will guide you on a tour.  Simply access    Your comments on this blog or other posts are most welcome.

By:  Gay Gardella, Prof. Animal Science.

Photo: Copyright: <a href=’’>debstheleo / 123RF Stock Photo</a>