Twice in less than a week, New York Times columnist Mark Bittman has addressed the inhumane treatment of animals raised for food and the impact it has on people. His Sunday op-ed focused on the guilt consumers might face eating chicken if they knew all the side effects of large-scale production, while his most recent piece draws attention to the toll on industry workers themselves – featuring an insider who was forever changed after working at an industrial beef slaughterhouse.
Timothy Pachirat, author of Every Twelve Seconds: Industrialized Slaughter and the Politics of Sight, worked at an Omaha, Nebraska slaughterhouse for five months "not as an animal rights activist but as a doctoral candidate in political science seeking to understand the normalization of violence," Bittman writes. The "every 12 seconds" reference is the frequency cattle are killed at the facility, although Pachirat explains that the cattle are called 'beef' even while they're alive.
"That not only protects people from acknowledging what they’re doing and that they’re doing it to sentient beings, it’s also accurate, a reflection of the process itself.”
No doubt consumers are distanced from the killing of animals that they end up eating, but so are the workers at the slaughterhouse. Only seven people out of 800 employees at the facility Pachirat worked at directly handled the live cattle, and only four were involved in the actual killing.
What makes “Every Twelve Seconds” different from (for example) a Mercy for Animals exposé is, says Pachirat, “that the day-in and day-out experience produces invisibility. Industrialized agriculture perpetuates concealment at every level of the process, and rather than focusing on the shocking examples we should be focusing on the system itself.”
The notion of transparency (or lack thereof) takes on a deeper meaning in regards to the ability of factory farm workers to confront the reality of what it is they do every day, or rather every 12 seconds. Can we have food integrity if the people producing our food are blinded from their own actions? Kudos to Pachirat for unveiling this hidden aspect of industrial agriculture, and kudos to Bittman for covering it.
In an interview last month on Heritage Radio Network, Pachirat details how the plant is structured to isolate the workers, in addition to the high level of intimidation against any union organization in Omaha slaughterhouses. He also mentions the attempt to shut out whistleblowers via Ag Gag legislation proposed in a number of states, including Nebraska – framing these concealment efforts in direct opposition to animal welfare guru Temple Grandin's ideal "glass wall slaughterhouse."
GAP's Food Integrity Campaign applauds Pachirat's contribution to the dialogue on today's food system, and looks forward to having Pachirat serve as a panelist in an upcoming FIC webinar on Ag Gag bills and their chilling effect on food industry whistleblowers.
Sarah Damian is New Media Associate for the Government Accountability Project, the nation's leading whistleblower protection and advocacy organization.