About 100 million animals are killed for meat in the UK monthly – however extremely little is become aware of individuals doing the killing. Here, one previous abattoir worker describes her job, and the effect it had on her psychological health.
Kittens Caution: Some readers might find this story disturbing
When I was a child I imagined ending up being a veterinarian. I imagined myself having fun with naughty pups, calming down frightened kitties, and – as I was a countryside kid – performing check-ups on the regional farm animals if they felt under the weather.
It was a quite picturesque life that I thought up for myself – however it’s not quite how things worked out. Instead, I ended up working in a slaughterhouse.
I was there for six years and, far from spending my days making badly cows feel better, I was in charge of guaranteeing about 250 of them were killed every day.
Whether they consume meat or not, many people in the UK have actually never been inside an abattoir – and for good reason. They are dirty, unclean locations. There’s animal faeces on the flooring, you see and smell the guts, and the walls are covered in blood.
And the smell … It hits you like a wall when you initially go into, and then hangs thick in the air around you. The smell of passing away animals surrounds you like a vapour.
Why would anybody select to visit, let alone work in a place like this?
For me, it was due to the fact that I ‘d currently spent a number of decades working in the food market – in ready-meal factories and the like. So when I got an offer from an abattoir to be a quality control manager, working directly with the slaughtermen, it felt like a relatively harmless task move. I was in my 40 s at the time.
On my first day, they offered me a tour of the premises, explained how whatever worked and, most importantly, asked me specifically and repeatedly if I was OKAY. It was quite typical for individuals to faint during the tour, they explained, and the physical safety of visitors and new beginners was extremely crucial to them. I was OK, I believe. I felt ill, however I thought I ‘d get utilized to it.
Soon, however, I understood there was no point pretending that it was just another job. I make certain not all abattoirs are the very same however my own was a harsh, harmful place to work. There were countless occasions when, despite following all of the procedures for spectacular, slaughterers would get kicked by a huge, spasming cow as they raised it as much as the maker for slaughter. Likewise, cows being brought in would get terrified and panic, which was quite frightening for everybody too. You’ll understand if you have actually ever stood next to one that they are huge animals.
Personally, I didn’t suffer physical injuries, but the place impacted my mind.
As I invested day after day in that big, windowless box, my chest felt significantly heavy and a grey fog descended over me. At night, my mind would taunt me with problems, replaying a few of the horrors I ‘d experienced throughout the day.
One ability that you master while operating at an abattoir is disassociation. You discover to become numb to death and to suffering. Rather of considering cows as entire beings, you separate them into their salable, edible body parts. It doesn’t simply make the job easier – it’s necessary for survival.
There are things, though, that have the power to shatter the numbness. For me, it was the heads.
At the end of the massacre line there was a big skip, and it was filled with hundreds of cows’ heads. Every one of them had actually been flayed, with all of the salable flesh eliminated. But something was still attached – their eyeballs.
Whenever I walked past that skip, I could not help however seem like I had numerous pairs of eyes viewing me. Some of them were accusing, knowing that I ‘d took part in their deaths. Others appeared to be pleading, as if there were some way I might go back in time and conserve them. It was disgusting, frightening and heart-breaking, all at the same time. It made me feel guilty. The very first time I saw those heads, it took all of my strength not to vomit.
I know things like this bothered the other workers, too. I’ll always remember the day, after I ‘d been at the abattoir for a few months, when one of the lads cut into a newly eliminated cow to gut her – and out fell the foetus of a calf. She was pregnant. He right away started screaming and tossing his arms about.
I took him into a conference room to calm him down – and all he might state was, “It’s simply not right, it’s not right,” over and over once again. These were hard guys, and they hardly ever revealed any feeling. But I might see tears prickling his eyes.
Even even worse than pregnant cows, however, were the young calves we sometimes needed to kill.
Kittens A physically requiring role
On its site, the British Meat Processors Association (BMPA) states the UK meat industry has a few of the highest requirements of hygiene and well-being worldwide
Many of its members, it says, “are at the forefront of abattoir style with facilities designed to house the animals and assist them walk around the website with ease and without any discomfort, distress or suffering”.
Meat processing in the UK uses about 75,000 individuals of whom around 69%are from other European Union member states, the BMPA notes.
” The barrier to British people using up functions in meat processing is an aversion to work in what is perceived to be a difficult environment,” it says. “The majority of individuals, while they eat meat, find it challenging to operate in its production partly because of the obvious hostility to the slaughter procedure but also because it is a physically requiring role.”
At the height of the BSE and bovine tuberculosis crises in the 1990 s, whole herds of animals had to be slaughtered. I worked at the slaughterhouse after 2010, so well after the BSE crisis, however if an animal checked favorable for TB or BSE they would still bring the whole herd in to be culled – bulls, heifers and calves. I remember one day in specific, when I ‘d been there for about a year or so, when we needed to slaughter five calves at the same time.
We tried to keep them within the rails of the pens, however they were so little and bony that they could easily avoid out and trot around, slightly shaky on their recently born legs. They sniffed us, like puppies, since they were young and curious. A few of the boys and I rubbed them, and they nursed our fingers.
When the time pertained to kill them, it was tough, both mentally and physically. Slaughterhouses are developed for butchering really large animals, so the stun boxes are generally practically the right size to hold a cow that weighs about a tonne. When we put the first calf in, it only came about a quarter of a method up package, if that. We put all five calves in simultaneously. Then we killed them.
Afterwards, taking a look at the dead animals on the ground, the slaughterers were noticeably distressed.
I rarely saw them so susceptible. Feelings in the abattoir tended to be repressed. No one talked about their sensations; there was a frustrating sense that you weren’t enabled to reveal weak point. Plus, there were a lot of workers who would not have had the ability to discuss their sensations to the rest of us even if they ‘d wished to. Numerous were migrant employees, predominantly from Eastern Europe, whose English wasn’t excellent enough for them to look for assistance if they were struggling.
A great deal of the men I was working with were likewise moonlighting elsewhere – they ‘d complete their 10 or 11 hours at the abattoir prior to going on to another task – and exhaustion often took its toll. Some established alcohol problems, often coming into work smelling strongly of drink. Others became addicted to energy beverages, and more than one had a cardiac arrest. These drinks were then removed from the abattoir vending makers, but people would still bring them in from house and consume them privately in their automobiles.
Abattoir work has been connected to numerous mental health issue – one scientist uses the term “Perpetrator-Induced Traumatic Syndrome” to refer to signs of PTSD suffered by slaughterhouse employees. I personally experienced anxiety, a condition worsened by the long hours, the unrelenting work, and being surrounded by death. After a while, I began feeling self-destructive.
It’s uncertain whether slaughterhouse work triggers these issues, or whether the job brings in people with pre-existing conditions. However in either case, it’s an incredibly isolating task, and it’s hard to seek help. When I ‘d inform people what I provided for work, I ‘d either be met with absolute revulsion, or a curious, jokey fascination. Either method, I could never open to individuals about the effect it was having on me. Rather I in some cases joked in addition to them, telling gory tales about skinning a cow or handling its innards. However mostly I simply kept peaceful.
A couple of years into my time at the abattoir, a colleague began making flippant comments about “not being here in 6 months”. Everybody would laugh it off. He was a bit of a joker, so people assumed he was taking the mick, saying he ‘d have a new job or something. But it made me feel really uneasy. I took him into a side room and asked him what he indicated, and he broke down. He confessed that he was afflicted by suicidal ideas, that he didn’t seem like he might cope any more, which he needed assistance – however he asked me not to tell our managers.
I was able to help him get treatment from his GP – and in assisting him, I understood I needed to assist myself too. I felt like the dreadful things I was seeing had actually clouded my thinking, and I remained in a full-blown state of depression. It felt like a big action, but I required to leave there.
After I left my job at the abattoir, things began looking brighter. I changed tack totally and started dealing with mental health charities, encouraging people to open about their feelings and look for expert aid – even if they do not think they require it, or seem like they do not deserve it.
A few months after leaving, I heard from among my previous associates. He told me that a man who had actually dealt with us, whose task was to flay the carcasses, had killed himself.
Often I remember my days at the slaughterhouse. I consider my previous coworkers working relentlessly, as though they were treading water in a large ocean, with dry land completely out of sight. I remember my associates who didn’t make it through.
And at night, when I close my eyes and attempt to sleep, I still in some cases see hundreds of sets of eyeballs gazing back at me.
As told to Ashitha Nagesh
Illustrations by Katie Horwich
Kittens You may also be interested in:
Twenty million chickens are killed every week to feed customers in the UK. However how do they get to our plates? Chicken enthusiast Hezron Springer gets some uncommon access as he follows the journey from farm to deep fat fryer.
Subscribe to the newsletter news
We hate SPAM and promise to keep your email address safe