Notes From the Field - "We Cut Those Parts Off"
Sometimes you hear about things happening to animals that you just can't believe. As investigators, we have a lot of those moments but they're more along the lines of "I can't believe I'm seeing this". These entries will share some of those experiences with you—moments where we had to shake our heads in dismay, fumble around frantically to press the record button or ask a number of follow up questions to figure out if what we were seeing and hearing was really as it seemed. Sadly, it always was.
I'll start the collection with an experience I had in the early days of my investigations that came to represent the prevailing attitude about farmed animals held by farmers, auction workers, drivers and shockingly, even veterinarians.
"We Cut Those Parts Off" - Storm Lake, Iowa
On a bitterly cold afternoon in late January, a colleague and I picked up and trailed a densely loaded turkey truck just outside of Des Moines, Iowa. We followed the truck for 4 hours to its destination–Sara Lee Foods in Storm Lake, Iowa. The truck was uncovered, exposing the turkeys to the frigid temperatures and icy winds. Many of the birds were in very poor shape with what appeared to be broken legs, ripped off digits and signs of frostbite on their heads and toes. A few turkeys appeared dead and some were crammed into a broken container. There was a large amount of blood on the ceiling of one of the cages. Many of the birds had badly soiled, feces-caked keels indicating that they had been too sick or injured to walk for some time before being loaded.
Once the trailer arrived at the plant the sun had gone down, lowering the temperature even further. Still, the turkeys were left on the truck un-tarped and unprotected for yet another 2 hours in the freezing cold.
It was like we were speaking different languages.
Deeply concerned with the state of the birds and the lack of protection afforded them, we asked to speak with the facility manager. Two men from the slaughterhouse came out and spoke to us. When we expressed our concern with the birds being exposed to the cold and developing frostbite on their heads, legs and feet the men responded: “We cut those parts off, ma'am”. Each time we reiterated our concern, they responded with the same: "We cut those part off ". They truly couldn't comprehend why we were concerned about the turkeys. When we finally tried to clarify that our concern was for the welfare of these birds while they were alive and that they were suffering terribly, the men re-stated their position, then clarified a little themselves, saying: “By the time the USDA inspector gets to them, those parts are already cut off”.
To these men, the fact that the turkeys were alive and suffering meant absolutely nothing. It was like we were speaking different languages. They simply couldn't see the birds as anything but not-yet-dead meat. Their only concern was being written up by the USDA, and that wasn't even a real worry because, as they said, those parts were cut off by then (ie. the evidence of the turkeys' suffering was no longer immediately visible).
This view of animals as not-yet-dead but not really alive or sentient came to be repeated over and over again, regardless of the country we were working in or who we were speaking with. This is the attitude that is inculcated into those working in the animal agriculture industry. Whether it is a necessary psychological protection that allows them to continue working in an industry that routinely tortures and kills animals or whether it's deliberately induced through indoctrination, it makes little difference to the animals forced to suffer under it.