As a society, we generally don’t think about the human toll of animal agriculture. The impacts on animals and the environment are often the point of focus – however, there is a significant human impact as well, for the workers who directly inflict harm of animals, as well as on the community at large.

In Australia, it is estimated that there are around 50,000 slaughterhouse workers across 300 sites. Due to the emphasis on speed and efficiency in most, if not all slaughterhouses, the health and well-being of workers often becomes compromised in order to maximize profits. 

For example, faster line speeds means that animals are killed more rapidly, increasing “product” and profit. However, faster line speeds also increase the risk of errors, accidents, injuries, and contamination with pathogens such as E.Coli. These concerns exacerbate worker stress.

In slaughterhouses, workers are routinely exposed to harmful airborne particulate matter such as dried excrement, feathers, fur, skin cells, feed, fungi, and dry soil, as well as chemicals such as ammonia and hydrogen sulfide that emanate from animal urine and faeces. This increases the risk of workers experiencing respiratory illness, chronic pain, and cardiovascular disease.

The line method of animal slaughter, where workers each perform a single task to kill and dismember each animal, is also associated with specific hazards. Repetitive tasks place workers at risk of stress injuries and chronic pain.

With high worker turnover on slaughterhouses kill lines, new and unskilled workers may receive training that is limited to a specific task. This lowers training costs and, by extension, lowers wages since workers can be easily replaced and quickly trained. 

New migrants are particularly vulnerable to exploitation, due to language barriers, difficulty getting their qualifications recognized in Australia, lack of financial support, and the difficulty obtaining work in their area of speciality. New migrants who are keen to work often hear about job opportunities through their community groups, members of which may themselves be employed in slaughterhouses and are able to to translate essential information when multilingual support is not available. However, as a result, workers are often left unaware of their workplace rights, leaving them vulnerable to exploitation.

Perhaps one of the most significant impacts of slaughterhouse work is the increased risk of mental illness, including post-traumatic stress disorder, addiction, and substance abuse. In medical circles, as well as the community at large, it is generally accepted that taking pleasure in inflicting death on a helpless individual is a significant psychological red flag. The observation of slaughterhouse workers gleefully harming and killing animals (via hidden camera footage) may indicate that psychological damage has already taken place, since the same behaviour in any other context would be viewed as abhorrent and even criminal. 

The term “Perpetration-Induced Traumatic Stress” (PITS) has been used to describe the symptoms of trauma experienced by those participating in inflicting trauma, harm, or death. Initially described in relation to solders and police officers, it has also come to be associated with slaughterhouse workers. The behavioural manifestation of PITS is similar to those of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and include depression, anxiety, substance abuse, panic, paranoia, and feelings of disintegration, disassociation, and amnesia.

Impacts on their communities

There has been a great deal of research on the impact of slaughterhouses on communities in which they have been established. In general, these studies show an increased crime rate as well overloaded existing infrastructure like health care, housing, and social services. 

While it may be argued that increased crime is simply due to the population explosion once a slaughterhouse is established in a community, the work of Professor Amy Fitzgerald has shown that this is not the case. In her 2009 research examining crime rate data in relation to slaughterhouses and other industries, like metalworkers. Slaughterhouses were found to have a unique impact on crime rates, particularly violence crime and sexual offenses, and these effects were not attributable to demographic factors, migration and immigration, unemployment, and social disorganization.

References

https://foodethics.univie.ac.at/fileadmin/user_upload/inst_ethik_wiss_dialog/Fitzgerald__A._2010._A_Social_History_of_the_Slaughterhouse.pdf

McNair 2002: perpetration induced stress in slaughterhouse workers. 

Dillard, J. (2008) A Slaughterhouse Nightmare: Psychological Harm Suffered by Slaughterhouse Employees and the Possibility of Redress through Legal Reform. Georgetown. Journal on Poverty Law & Policy, 15, 391

https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Jennifer_Dillard2/publication/228141419_A_Slaughterhouse_Nightmare_Psychological_Harm_Suffered_by_Slaughterhouse_Employees_and_the_Possibility_of_Redress_through_Legal_Reform/links/56f5ad8208ae81582bf21699.pdf

McNair, R. (2002). Perpetration-Induced Traumatic Stress: The psychological consequences of killing. Greenwood Publishing Group.

Fitzgerald,A. 

https://fewd.univie.ac.at/fileadmin/user_upload/inst_ethik_wiss_dialog/Fitzgerald__A._2009_Slaughterhouses_..158.full.pdf

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