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October 27, 2011

5 minutes read

Farm and Red Moon

Thanks to the growth of small, husbandry-based farms, an increasing number of farmed animals live better lives. But few of these same animals know a better death. Improving local slaughter is “the hard part,” which is why Farm Forward is providing support for a forthcoming documentary, Farm and Red Moon (formerly titled Abattoir Rising), directed by Audrey Kali, Ph.D. “The lack of slaughter facilities is the least-known, least-talked about challenge to a truly humane meat supply,” notes Kali.

On highest welfare, husbandry-based farms, the most stressful and painful part of animals’ lives is their journey to the slaughterhouse and subsequent slaughter. As Farm and Red Moon shows, the lack of local slaughter facilities forces local farmers to transport animals to distant industrial slaughterhouses that have little interest in animal welfare. In addition to the random, deliberate acts of cruelty consistently documented at such slaughterhouses,1 many facilities routinely deny animals access to food, water, rest, or veterinary care while they wait, sometimes for days.2 Even slaughterhouse workers who struggle to be humane often do so amidst inadequate equipment and with improper training.3 Stunning procedures regularly fail to render animals fully unconscious—a problem that in turn leads to the skinning, scalding, and dismembering of fully conscious animals.4 The Humane Slaughter Association explains, “When a captive-bolt enters the skull it causes massive damage and swelling around the wound; the swelling will absorb most of the impact of a second shot and this will mean the shock wave is not as effectively transmitted to the brain.”5

Typical meat labels like “natural,” “free roaming,” and “pastured” have no implications for slaughter. And while “small” and “local” can imply “better” and “more humane,” Kali points out that in the case of abattoirs, small can also mean not enough money for the right equipment6 or not enough personnel to efficiently kill the animals safely.7 Some animal welfare certifications can help. The Animal Welfare Approved certification has the highest comprehensive transport and slaughter standards. Beef and pork with a Certified Humane certification or purchased at Whole Foods Market, which has their own transport and slaughter auditing protocols, will usually be from animals that were slaughtered in better-than-average conditions. Unfortunately, this a small percentage of the meat supply.

According to Kali, four factors contribute to the systemic compromises in the well-being of animals during slaughter:

  1. A lack of USDA regional infrastructure: An entire infrastructure of slaughter, processing, storage, and packing facilities is required to produce sellable meat.
  2. The increase of USDA regulations: The USDA needs to revise their regulations to control for differences between large and small facilities.
  3. Complicated state and local laws for slaughter: Small slaughterhouses do not share the same problems of disease and contamination with larger facilities, yet often face the same regulation.
  4. A lack of training for slaughterers who have the will to respect the animals.

Beyond these pragmatic suggestions on how to improve the present situation, Kali’s documentary seeks to deepen our awareness of the unique individuality of each of the animals we choose to eat. “Every time people take a bite of a hamburger or chicken nuggets, I want them to understand that was a living animal,” explains Kali. Through Farm and Red Moon, Kali wants to “empower consumers with responsibility and knowledge that has been denied them since the consolidations prompted by industrial agriculture.” Kali echoes the words of the prominent animal advocate Gretchen Wyler: “We must not refuse with our eyes what they must endure with their bodies.”

Kali also challenges her audience to understand that slaughtering animals does not necessarily confer insensitivity to their suffering. While at the slaughter training facilities at the State University of New York College of Agriculture and Technology at Cobleskill.8 Kali was able to film the entire slaughter process—from stunning to dismemberment.

She also witnessed relationships form between animals and the workers. Though industrial slaughter often treats animals as mere objects, Kali’s experiences at Cobleskill make clear that recognizing animals as living individuals with personalities and capacity to suffer is essential to humane slaughter. To demonstrate this, Kali told us two stories:

Sonic the beef steer was raised by a caring family who really cherished his personality. They drove him to the slaughterhouse themselves and cried as they pulled away. His relationship with them made him totally at ease as he was touched and encouraged along by Kali and the respectful workers at the slaughterhouse. And after he was stunned, he didn’t feel a thing.


Number 70, on the other hand, like most of the 94 million cattle killed in the U.S. each year,9 was dropped off at the facility without a name, and his lack of contact with humans was evident as he stumbled around the facility, wide-eyed and terrified, not letting anyone near him. As acclaimed humane slaughter researcher and advocate Dr. Temple Grandin emphasizes, when an animal’s stress levels are high, their bodies release adrenaline and other chemicals designed to increase alertness, speed, and strength. These would make all the difference in a circumstance where extra alertness might help you escape with your life. But in the slaughter facilities, this stress makes animals resistant to the effects of stunning. Though number 70 was carefully stunned, he woke up in time to feel the knives.

With fierce moral honesty Kali tackles the complex ethical issues that surround producing meat from cows, pigs, turkeys, chickens and other animals. Engaging all positions—from farmers to slaughterhouse workers to animal activists—Kali shows that no matter where you stand on the issue of eating animals, the absence of local slaughterhouses makes life and death a lot harder for millions of animals. More importantly, she illuminates the way forward: “If we refuse to pay for or eat animals unless we know the circumstances of their slaughter, we will create a demand for local slaughterhouses and they will be built.”

Farm Forward is working to support Kali’s efforts. You can support this project by visiting her website, and also consider contributing to her Kickstarter campaign until Nov 18, 2015.



Department of Animal Science, Colorado State University, “2008 Restaurant Animal Welfare and Humane Slaughter Audits in Federally Inspected Beef and Pork Slaughter Plants in the U.S. and Canada,” (accessed August 12, 2011). One survey by Temple Grandin reported deliberate acts of cruelty at 32 percent of the slaughterhouses she visited in announced audits. In her reviews and audits in 2005 and 2008, she documents deliberate acts of cruel treatment at 26 percent of chicken slaughterhouses and 25 percent of cattle facilities.


Dena Jones, Crimes without Consequences: The Enforcement of Humane Slaughter Laws in the United States, Animal Welfare Institute, (March 2008), 2, 40. After reviewing 432 Noncompliance Records filed by slaughterhouse inspectors from the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service, AWI found that 24.5 percent of the plants visited failed to provide water for animals being held. Other common violations included holding-pens in serious disrepair or with insufficient space for animals to lie down, withholding food from waiting animals, and inattention to slippery surfaces that induced frequent falling (often leading to “downed animals”).


Temple Grandin, “Animal Welfare in Slaughter Plants,” Presented at the 29th Annual Conference of The American Association of Bovine Practitioners,1996. Since the early 90’s Grandin has documented poor worker training and bad stunning equipment in countless slaughterhouses during both announced and unannounced welfare audits.


It is not uncommon for an animal to suffer one or two failed stuns before being rendered unconscious (U.S. GAO, “Humane Methods of Slaughter Act: Actions Are Needed to Strengthen Enforcement,” Report to Congressional Requesters GAO-10-203, February 2010).


Humane Slaughter Association, 1998. Captive Bolt Stunning of Livestock, 2nd Edition. In the case of a failed electrical stun, an animal may be paralyzed without losing sensibility (Temple Grandin, Recommended Animal Handling Guidelines & Audit Guide 2010 Edition, American Meat Institute Foundation). Unconscious animals whose necks are not cut quickly enough may regain their senses at any point during the process, including after being hung on the bleed rail (USDA FSIS FSRE, “Humane Handling of Livestock/GCP in Poultry,” February 2, 2009). According to a slaughter training video funded by the McDonald’s Corporation and the American Meat Institute Foundation, it is acceptable to mis-stun 1 in 20 cattle. The film claimed, “Excellent stunning is achieved when 99 percent or more of the animals are rendered insensible with one shot. An acceptable level is rendering more than 95 percent of the cattle in one shot. If more than 5 percent of the cattle don’t reach insensibility after one shot, your plant should re-evaluate its stunning process and possibly mandate training be provided to the stunning operator” (“Good Animal Handling for Beef Processors,” McDonalds and American Meat Institute Foundation). In 1998, Temple Grandin visited 11 cattle slaughterhouses and found that only 4 were able to render 95 percent of cattle insensible with a single shot from a captive-bolt stunner (Temple Grandin, “Objective Scoring of Animal Handling and Stunning Practices At Slaughter Plants,” The Meat Hygienist, June 1998).


For electric stunning, one has to calibrate a fairly exact amount of electricity. Bolt stunning requires firing a very clean, sharp bolt with a very precise amount of pressure. To consistently stun in one shot takes tremendous training, concentration, and ceaseless attentiveness to the machines. The most noticeable equipment failures often come as a result of stunning mismanagement or malfunction.


It is not only animal welfare that is compromised at large slaughterhouses. Slaughterhouse workers have the highest injury rate of any job—27 percent—and receive low pay to kill up to 2,050 cattle per shift (Jonathan Safran Foer, Eating Animals [New York: Little, Brown & Company, 2009] 231).


For more information on the State University of New York College of Agriculture and Technology program, please visit their website or contact Linda Serdy.


“USDA Overview of United States Cattle Industry,” US Department of Agriculture. December 17, 2010, (accessed July 26, 2011). According to this record, 93.7 million cows and calves were slaughtered in 2009.