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April 30, 2013

Inside the Slaughterhouse: My Interview with Timothy Pachirat - Part 2

Yesterday, The HSUS applauded the announcement from the Retail Council of Canada that all eight of the largest Canadian supermarket chains – Wal-Mart Canada, Costco Canada, Metro, Loblaw, Safeway Canada, Federated Co-operatives, Sobeys and Co-op Atlantic – will move away from gestation crate confinement of pigs in their supply systems over the next nine years. It’s yet another remarkable seismic shift in the debate over extreme confinement of pigs, and it’s more evidence of the inevitability of global change within the pork industry.

Every Twelve Seconds: Industrialized Slaughter and the Politics of Sight

Trade associations for industrial pork producers don’t much like the cascade of similar announcements they’ve heard from The HSUS and from major food retailers over the last year or so. Frustrated by this sudden progress, they are trying to throw up roadblocks wherever they can, and for the past year, their tactic of choice has been to try to halt our cruelty investigations by pushing for anti-whistleblower or “ag-gag” bills in several states. There are a half dozen states with such laws on the books, and they most certainly threaten our ability to investigate cruelty at factory farms and slaughter plants.

Yesterday, I posted the first half of my interview with New School political science professor Timothy Pachirat, whose recent book, “Every Twelve Seconds: Industrialized Slaughter and the Politics of Sight,” could not be more timely. Pachirat got a job at a slaughter plant in Nebraska, and worked there for six months. He’s got plenty of insights in his book about what’s at work in industrialized slaughter plants and what’s beneath the surface, psychologically and sociologically.

Here’s the second half of the interview:

Wayne Pacelle: It was not long into your time as a worker at the plant that you were promoted to the role of quality inspector in the plant. What did you learn as a result of your time in that role?

Timothy Pachirat: I learned how great the distance is between regulatory rules and reality. I also learned how the imperative of turning a profit trumps every other consideration on the kill floor. Importantly, my promotion also allowed me to roam the slaughterhouse at will, a freedom of movement that allowed me to map, in great detail, the spatial and labor divisions of the kill floor.

WP: Early in the last century, Upton Sinclair sought the same kind of deep immersion in a slaughtering plant, and the result was “The Jungle,” which spawned reforms in the federal government’s oversight of the American food supply. Your work is not strongly prescriptive, but are there some reforms you would like to see in the near future?

TP: The best hope for change, I think, lies in bringing together the animal, labor, and food safety movements into a broader coalition. These groups have different end-goals that at times put them in tension with one another, but all can agree that industrialized slaughter as it is currently practiced is in need of deep, radical change. Rather than prescribe what changes are needed from a removed point of view, I would like to start by bringing these groups into conversation and seeing what emerges.

WP: You’ve argued that the sight and visibility of repugnant practices may not in and of itself be enough to inspire reform. What else is needed?

TP: I think increased sight and visibility are necessary, but not sufficient for the kinds of deep changes that are needed. We also need to create spaces for meaningful interactions and relationships between consumers and farm animals and between consumers and immigrant workers that are not just about the revelation of existing horrific practices but that also point to what might be possible, in a positive, constructive sense.

WP: The timing of your book is extraordinary, in light of the current effort to enact ag-gag laws throughout the nation. Are you surprised by the spate of ag-gag laws?

TP: Not at all. They point to the deep fear on the part of the industrialized animal industry about what might happen if the everyday violence against animals and workers were made public. It is a reactive move that underscores how important concealment is to the continued operation of industrialized animal agriculture. It is also a highly dangerous move that works against animal welfare, worker rights, food safety, and, ultimately, the quality of democratic deliberation in the United States.

WP: The USDA team attempted to recruit you as a whistleblower at one point. What is your assessment of the USDA’s role in oversight of animal slaughter?

TP: Individual USDA inspectors often act courageously under conditions of extreme intimidation to document individual instances of animal abuse and food safety violations. But as a regulatory agency, the USDA is deeply flawed. It is tasked with regulating the very industry it is also charged with promoting, creating perverse incentives at a structural level against enacting and enforcing the kinds of oversight that is truly needed.

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