Behind the scenes of the fight for the protection of animals and workers and the preservation of the environment - my experiences as a Tyson slaughterhouse hanger/killer turned activist. Exposing the evils of factory farming, by Virgil Butler. If you have arrived here looking for the Tyson stories, view the early archives. Some of them are now featured on the sidebar for easy searching.
Friday, October 31, 2003
More Frankenchickens to Come
I read an alarming article at UPC's site that
they sent me a notice about . Karen Davis
wrote it herself, and it is well-researched
and highly informative. It is entitled,
"Genetic Engineering and Cloning of
Domestic Fowl" and it seems to agree with
other article I have read recently with this
Let me give you a few quotes from the article
to give you an idea of what is so alarming to
me, just in case the idea of cloning animals and
genetically manipulating them for food production
seems like a good idea.
In 1994 , a researcher at an international
symposium on the artificial insemination of
poultry joked to his colleagues that his talk on
Beyond Freezing Semen should be titled "The
Night of the Living Dead." He was discussing his
creation of bird chimeras--birds with genes from
other species inserted into their embryos. Of birds
hatching in his laboratory with no outward sign of
the desired change, he said: "We simply throw
them away." (Robert Etches 2001)
The indifference to the animals who are being
used in genetic engineering experiments was
expressed by the researcher who told his
colleagues at a poultry science meeting in 1992,
"We are no longer selling broilers [i.e. baby
" meat-type" chickens], we are selling pieces.
A knowledge of how broilers of different strains
and sexes grow and become pieces is increasingly
AviGenics is a U.S. biotechnology company
established in 1996. Located in Athens, Georgia,
home of both the USDA Agricultural Research
Service's Southeast Poultry Research Laboratory
and The University of Georgia,...AviGenics is in
the business of creating and commercializing
recombinant biopharmaceuticals using transgenic
chickens as "oviduct bioreactors" and developing
lines of "meat" birds with economically favorable
"agronomic traits" through cloning and genetic
modification. The company's Windowing Technology,
now patented, allows researchers to put DNA into
chicken embryos through a hole or "window" in their
shells. AviGenics has announced its intention to
control proliferation of the company's proprietary
genetic lines, like its "FibrGroTM Advantage broiler
lines" which will be rented to poultry breeding
companies, four of which companies own 92
percent of the world's market (Aho, p. 36)
This would be a good time to point out one of
the things I noticed in the notes at the bottom
of the article with her extensive bibliography.
These four companies (groups of companies)
are Aviagen, which owns about 44 percent of
the global market; Cobb-Vantress, owned by
Tyson Foods, which owns 33 percent; Hubbard/ISA,
which owns about 10 percent; and Hybro, which
owns 5 percent of the world market share of broiler
chicken breeding stock (Aho, p. 36).
Hmmm. I'm not surprised. But wait, there's
more. Quite a bit more. They are being used
for all kinds of weird experiments that you never
would have thought of. Here's just a few:
To secrete human growth hormone to help
dwarfs grow taller. (Clark)
To produce growth-promoting antibodies in
egg yolks to be fed to farmed animals to
increase their growth rates by disrupting their
normal peptide and gut processes, thus, for
example, tricking animals who are already full
to continue eating. (Recombinant Proteins)
To produce soy isoflavons in eggs sold for
human consumption. For example, poultry
researchers at the University of Maryland and
the University of Arkansas are experimenting
with Japanese quails to see if soy isoflavons
can be transferred and accumulated in their eggs.
As fertile "egg-type" hens' eggs carrying "meat-
type" chicken cells in order to mass-produce
cloned "meat" (broiler) chickens, and thus do
away with the expensive maintenance of broiler
Wonderful, huh? There are so many concerns
about this technology that I'm not even going
to start, I'll just close this up with a couple of
last horrifying thoughts appropriate for the day:
Paul Thompson, of Purdue University, brought
up "the blind chicken problem." He said that
chickens blinded by "accident" have been
developed into a strain of blind laboratory chickens.
These chickens, he said, "don't mind being crowded
together so much as normal chickens do."
Therefore, he said, a suggestion has been made
that we "ought to shift over to all blind chickens
as a solution to our animal welfare problems
associated with crowding in the poultry industry."
Thompson called this a "philosophical conundrum,"
because while most people would think that
creating blind chickens for the poultry and egg
industry is "an absolutely horrendous thing to do,"
if it's "the welfare of the individual animal that
really matters here, how the animals are doing,
then it would be more humane to have these
Yeah, right. How humane. He should be
married to this woman:
...avian specialist Lesley J. Rogers says that an
ultimate aim of breeding programs for chickens
and other domestic animals is to obtain minds
"so blunted that they will passively accept
overcrowded housing conditions and having
virtually nothing to do but eat--and then to eat
standard and boring food delivered automatically."
Yep, sounds like the kind of folks Tyson would
cozy up with, huh?
I remembered another little "prank" that
was pulled down at the plant sometimes.
I say "down at the plant" because that
was where the effects were felt. However,
the action itself was taken by the catchers
when they were catching the chickens.
They would catch different animals that
were normally wild, but would be found in
the chicken house when they went to catch
the chickens. They would throw these wild
animals in the cages with the chickens so
that they would fall out on the belt at the
plant and freak out all the hangers. I have
to admit that this did work rather well. We
were quite freaked when that happened.
Some of the animals that were thrown in
with the birds were snakes and large rats
mostly, but occasionally I have seen a skunk
or a opossum, and a few rabbits once.
The rabbits come around to eat the spilled
chicken feed after the feed truck comes to
fill up the silos. It makes them grow abnormally
large until they get to where they can't hop
around properly. That makes them easy to
catch. This goes for the rats, too, especially
if they have been raised around it. They also
get abnormally large.
They catch these animals and put them in
cages with the chickens on the trucks. If it
is an animal like a skunk or a opossum, it
will just mangle the chickens in there. I guess
it just gets so scared that it just goes crazy
and goes wild and rips them to pieces, biting
their legs, wings, and heads off.
I even saw a opossum get brought in one time
that had its leg caught in the door. I guess it
had been trying to get back out when the cage
door was closed on it. The poor thing chewed
its own foot off trying to get loose. It also bit
the guy on the dump when he tried to get it
out of the cage. They ended up beating it to
death with a steel rod. They threw it in with
the DOAs, as they did any other animal that
came in like that.
I remember another time that there was a
skunk brought in. You could smell it outside
before he dumped the cage. I don't know why
he dumped it since you could smell it outside
before, but he dumped it. That skunk ran
down the belt as fast as it could and sprayed
the first hanger he saw in the face. The guy,
of course, immediately got sick and puked
everywhere. Then the skunk jumped up and
bit a chicken, holding on as it went down the line,
and the chicken carried him into the stunner.
You could her him thump around in the stunner
for a few seconds. Then he fell out on the floor,
flopped around for a minute or two, and died.
And, yes he was thrown in the DOA bin also.
I have heard of a few catchers getting bit while
trying to catch these animals. One guy was
dumb enough to try to catch a coon and it
damned near took his hand off. I had not a
bit of sympathy for him.
Normally when a cage was brought in and it
was discovered that there was what they called
a "foreign animal" in it, Richard would come back
there with an air rifle and shoot whatever it was
repeatedly in the head until he killed it. Sometimes
it would take 10-12 shots before something as
big as a skunk or opossum died, so he was also
known to bring back a .22 revolver to do the deed.
Most were discovered and killed before ever
getting out of the cage, but it did happen. It
was mostly the rats that got by unnoticed. It
wasn't uncommon to see 2-3 of those a week
to come in there. I think sometimes they might
even crawl in the cages as they were being
loaded because they were going after the
defenseless chickens in the cage and because
it was so prevalent that it seemed unlikely to
have been intentionally done by the catchers.
It also seemed to come in a cycle. It seemed to
be the same houses over and over that had the
rats in them. The point is that this was such a
common thing. Not the bigger animals, like
skunks or opossums, but the rats.
The dangerous thing about this is that they
were around the chickens, were killed by the
workers at whatever point they were discovered
in brutal ways, and dumped in the DOA bin.
Those of you who have read previous entries
know that this means that they are ground
up along with the dead chickens that can't
be sold for human consumption and turned
into feed for animals, mostly right back to the
next generation of chickens.
Of course, anyone can see the obvious danger
here. Who knows what kind of disease those
rats may be carrying?
I also have a serious problem with anyone who
thinks it is fun to throw a wild animal into a
cage with the chickens. I wonder how much of
that activity was done to freak us out and how
much was done to watch the animal tear up the
chickens. I do know that some of the Hispanic
people down in Wickes that worked both as
catchers as well as at the plant used to put a
chicken in a pen with a pit bull to watch the dog
tear the chicken up. It was one of their favorite
"sports" down there, so I'm sure you can follow
There is such an inherent meanness that seems
to come out in most workers that stay in the
industry long enough. It will make you mean.
It made me mean, even though I resisted it.
A lot of people don't resist it.
A lot of the people who start out doing things
to animals end up doing things to people.
The following post is dedicated to "Rocky" -
a great rooster with an attitude.
Yesterday's post got to me to thinking about
the chickens we had when I was growing up.
I lived in the foothills of the Ozarks on a
family homestead where we all had our own
We had a couple of milk cows, some goats
for clearing brush and briers out of the cow
pasture, and a dozen speckled hens with a
big Rhode Island Red rooster we named,
"Rocky." He outlived every one of his hens.
Rocky was named this because of his tendency
toward picking on anything that got close to
"his" hens. They lived in the yard and had a
little house in the barn loft that they would
fly into at night. The hens also had their nest
boxes up there to protect them from the various
My uncle had a menagerie of hounds of all sizes
and shapes. He probably had about 15 of them
that he used for hunting. He lived right across
the field from the barn.
He had one old dog he called "Oscar." Oscar
had a thing about eggs. He liked eggs a lot. It
was so funny. It reminded me of that Foghorn
Leghorn cartoon. Oscar followed me to the
barn one afternoon. Normally I would have
seen him and sent him home, but I was kinda
late getting home and it was getting close to
dark. He followed me up into the chicken loft
up the ramp I put there so that I could get up.
I was down on all fours gathering eggs and the
next thing I knew Rocky hopped of his perch
onto my head and then onto the floor. Then,
he and the dog started going 'round and 'round
the room. I stood up with a basket full of eggs
in my hand and both of them went between
my legs. Well, the next thing I knew I was on
the floor with the basket turned upside down
over my head. I was about eight.
Rocky chased that dog across a 20-acre field
and up and under my uncle's porch before he
finally came back to his perch. Until the day
that dog died, he never went anywhere near
that barn! Rocky literally "ruled the roost."
I am telling this story to show the contrast
between my post yesterday and the way I
grew up thinking chickens ought to be raised.
Not to mention the contrast between the
way they behave in a factory farm setting as
opposed to the way they would behave in a
somewhat more natural setting where they
are allowed to be chickens.
It really shows a lack of humanity in the
callous way these birds are treated, not only
during their short miserable lives, but also
at their slaughter. Every time I hear someone
say that they are "just chickens" it just shows
their utter disregard for the suffering of a
fellow sentient being. Even when I ate meat
I cared about the way it was raised and killed,
as do the majority of people if you ask them.
The problem is that the industry has so far
managed to keep the general public somewhat
brainwashed as far as this is concerned. KFC's
defense against Pamela Anderson's latest
effort to get them to listen was met with an
extremely lame defense (and anyone that has
read even a portion of this blog knows is no
defense at all) that said that they bought
their chicken from reputable companies, like
Perdue, Tyson, and Pilgrim's Pride.
It seems to me that by admitting that they
buy from Tyson (which they at first denied)
they have now admitted that they support
the cruelty I have written about here.
What do you think? Should chickens be
raised more like Rocky and his hens or more
like "pre-processed product" in big warehouse-
like sheds in filth and disease? Let me know
what you think. Then let KFC know.
One of the things that was hardest for me
to accept was how little these chickens would
actually seem to know about the world around
them. Not because they were stupid, mind you,
but because they were so young and immature.
Because they are still babies at the slaughter
age of around 7-9 weeks. They may look full-
grown, but they are still just babies in terms
of how long they have been alive.
I became aware of this when I tried to rescue
7 of the broiler chickens from the plant and
was going to try to raise them loose in the
yard. I lived in the country, so I figured it
would be a nice home for them.
I had a big yard and no cats or dogs of my
own to bother them. They were to be the
start of a little rescue program I had devised
in my head. But, I found out real quick that
you couldn't just turn these birds loose out
in the yard.
One of them drowned herself in a rainstorm
because she stood out there and looked up
in the sky, not knowing what rain was. Her
mouth was open when she was looking up,
and she drowned. The rest of them just
wandered off in the woods and I never saw
them again. Something obviously got them.
At first, it didn't make any sense to me. I
had grown up with chickens and they lived
just fine. When I was growing up, we didn't
confine our chickens. They did have a little
house they went in at night, but there was
no fenced area for them. They survived just
fine, even with dogs and cats around.
After I thought about it awhile, I realized that,
even those these birds were the size of full-
grown ones, they were still babies. Worse,
they had never known a mother hen, and so
were never taught anything. I realized what
a sad mistake I had made after it was too late.
I also learned a valuable lesson about factory
farming. You know, these chickens spend a
very short, miserable life and never even know
a mother. That's got to be about the most
cruel thing you can do to any animal. I don't
even believe they know what they are. It's
like the whole callous automation of the
factory farming process robs them of what
makes them chickens, their "chicken-ness,"
if you will.
These birds didn't even scratch the ground
for food, practicing normal foraging behavior.
They probably would have starved had I not
thrown food out for them. I would liken them
to severely mentally disabled humans that did
not know the basic things to do that are
necessary for survival.
It's hard for me to believe that people can do
this sort of thing without believing that it is
wrong, at least morally. But there are people
who do just that every day and don't believe
they are wrong.
Now, I'm not saying that no one should rescue
these birds. I am all behind such things, but
they do need special care in a special place
where they can be safe. They preferably need
to be in a place where other chickens can teach
them how to be a chicken. They are smart
enough to learn, even if they have been done
this way. They can be successfully rehabilitated,
with a lot of love and patience. Karen over at
UPC has sure proved that with her wonderful work.
I also am not suggesting that their ignorance
of normal chicken behavior causes them to
suffer any less. Actually, I think it makes the
situation worse. The less you understand,
the more scary something is. That is pretty
much true of any living creature. To me,
mistreating them vs. a barnyard chicken is
like the difference between mistreating a little
kid vs. an adult. They are both equally
wrong and in both situations there is suffering.
It just seems worse when innocents suffer.
I have made a few references to the major
environmental problems created by this
extensive factory farming, especially that
of Tyson (since I am intimately familiar with
theirs). I have no reason to doubt that
there are similar situations in other locations
around this country - indeed the world.
I have been following a story lately through
some of my different sources I have that
gather news of interest to me in this fight.
I would like to bring your attention to a
local problem that is probably representative
of the bigger picture of what is happening
to this planet we call home.
Now, I have told you of local incidents, even
the one where the EPA stepped in and shut
Tyson down for a week as well as fining them,
even though that part was a pittance compared
to what they rake in every day.
I first noticed a story from the AP on Saturday,
October 18, 2003 entitled, "NW ARKANSAS
Focus : Enforce standards, attorney tells EPA"
that sheds light on a growing problem that
doesn't seem to be getting much better.
Check this out:
Almost a year ago, Oklahoma proposed a
phosphorus level of 0.037 parts per million
for scenic rivers, including the Illinois, and
presented it to federal authorities.
Arkansas regulators and the poultry industry
protested the plan for rivers that start in
Arkansas and flow into Oklahoma. Arkansas
Gov. Mike Huckabee said the limit was unattain-
able because of Northwest Arkansas' dense
development and it could harm the area's economy.
Among the disagreements between state officials
is how to precisely measure phosphorus in
waterways. Illinois River samples taken during
calm conditions will show much lower levels of
phosphorus than during a storm, when agricultural
phosphorus accumulated in the watershed is more
likely to make its way down to the river, said Dr.
Marc Nelson with the Arkansas Water Resources Ctr.
Oklahoma officials submitted the standard Nov. 1,
2002, and the 90-day period ended in February. As
of Thursday, there had been no action on the
standard, Shipley said.
Instead of approval or refusal, the EPA has tried
to act as a mediator for negotiations between the
states, said Ed Brocksmith, who has been active in
the Save The Illinois River campaign and the Oklahoma
Scenic Rivers Commission. "I'm not sure if that is the
role of EPA," Brocksmith said. "I think their job is to
get moving on this rule."
I agree. We can't just trash our neighbors water
and land and tell them that we're sorry, but we
can't help it. That is would just cost us too much
money to do anything about it, so tough. But,
that does appear to be the way the situation is
going to pan out, at least for now. Here's the
latest on this problem:
Regulators pose new water rules
BY DAVID HAMMER THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Posted on Saturday, October 25, 2003
Arkansas regulators say they hope new statewide
water quality standards proposed Friday will show
"a good-faith effort" to meet Oklahoma's demands
to reduce pollution in the Illinois River shared by
the two states.
Almost a year ago, Oklahoma declared the Illinois a
scenic river and decreed that the river must contain
less than 0.037 milligrams of phosphorus per liter
But the river starts in Northwest Arkansas, and
Oklahoma couldn't unilaterally impose that standard
on the neighboring state.
The federal Environmental Protection Agency is
mediating negotiations, which have sputtered,
although some of the growing cities of Northwest
Arkansas have committed to limit phosphorus in
sewage discharges to 1 milligram per liter.
The state commission's proposals Friday would
standardize permitted pollution levels in bodies
of water throughout the state, specify phosphorous
discharge levels in Northwest Arkansas and give
municipal sewer systems until 2012 to comply.
Marcus Devine, director of the Arkansas Department
of Environmental Quality, said the regulation changes
were "just another demonstration of meeting
Oklahoma's requests with good-faith efforts."
The proposed changes set a sliding scale for the
concentration of phosphorus in discharges into a
stream, depending on how many millions of gallons
of water flow through the stream each day:
Discharges into streams with 500,000 to 1 million
gallons of water a day must limit the phosphorous
concentration in the discharges to 5 milligrams per
liter of water. 1 million to 3 million gallons a day, 2
milligrams of phosphorus per liter in discharge. 3
million to 15 million gallons a day, 1 milligram of
phosphorus per liter. 15 million gallons a day or more,
discharge phosphorous limits determined case by case.
Then I guess they just negotiate how much they are
allowed to contaminate everything. I love the way
they say (probably with a straight face, no less)
that they are "meeting Oklahoma's requests with
good-faith efforts." Although, it is true in the
literal sense. They are meeting the requests
with compliance, but with efforts. Not the same
thing, is it? Especially when there is a such a
difference in the numbers: .037 to 5.0 in some
cases, but at least .037 to 1.0. That is not much
of an effort at meeting the request, now is it?
Of course, even when they do step over the line
and pollute the neighbors, it only costs them a
fraction of profits. The following article will
demonstrate it nicely:
Tyson Foods Inc will pay $7.5 million to settle
issues with the U.S. government and Missouri
related to the discharge of untreated wastewater
into the storm water discharge system in Sedalia, Mo.
The world's largest poultry and meat processor will
pay $5.5 million to the United States, $1 million to
the Missouri Natural Resources Protection Fund and
$1 million to the Pettis County School Fund as part
of its settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice,
the Environmental Protection Agency and the State
of Missouri. In addition, it will pay for a third-party
environmental audit of the Sedalia operations;
implement a new management system in Sedalia and
eight other facilities; set up a new corporate chief
environmental officer position at its headquarters in
Springdale, Ark.; and conduct corporate-wide
environmental compliance audits at all remaining
poultry operations by the end of 2003.
Tyson said it has already completed modifications
to its facilities and procedures in Sedalia to ensure
future compliance with environmental regulations.
It also said a third-party environmental assessment
has confirmed that the problem caused no significant
or long-term impact.
The company said the settlement would have no
material impact on its earnings.
Well, no. I guess not. After all Tyson Foods is
the world's largest processor and marketer of
chicken, beef and pork, and the second largest
food company in the Fortune 500. Tyson employs
about 120,000 workers in 300 facilities and offices
in 29 states and 22 countries.
Yesterday's post reminded me of something
I hadn't thought about in a while. Maybe my
subconscious was being kind and blocking the
memory of this horrific event. If that is so, it
must have changed its mind. Warning: This
post is quite graphic, even for me.
The whole thing started because maintenance
had left quite a few bent shackles on the line.
We had complained about the problem for a
couple of days, but no one did anything about
it. This is another one of those incidents that
could have been prevented so easily.
I had been noticing one of them getting slowly
worse. Once one of these shackles gets bent
or warped it will start catching on the machinery,
guards, and guides as it goes by, therefore
getting worse and worse. It finally went around
one time too many and ended up on the stunner.
The stunner stands up on an aluminum stand,
so it didn't take that much force to completely
pull it loose from its mounts. It dragged it into
the killing machine, snarling them together. The
killing machine is bolted into the concrete with 1"
bolts, so it didn't go anywhere. The line broke.
That is every line-worker's nightmare because that
line is heavy, especially when it is full of chickens.
The line piled up into the killing room into the
scalders and ran the killer out of the room. If you
can imagine 1/4 mile of steel chain piled up in the
floor with chickens still piled up in it, then you have
got something of what this looked like. This pile
was about 9' high and covered in pulverized
The motors that drove the line didn't get turned
off because everybody just ran. This is considered
about the equivalent in chicken plant disasters to a
coal mine starting to collapse. If that chain piles up
on you it will crush you. There were also about 5000
chickens on the line when this happened. A lot of
them were alive.
When something like this happens, it is like a train
wreck because it comes off, yet keeps coming and
piling up. All those live birds were nearly at the
bottom of it. It took them the whole shift to clean
that up. They had to take the chain apart. It was
just an entanglement of bent and broken shackles,
tangled chain, and crushed chickens.
I helped clean it up with a few others from back dock.
Let me tell you, it was horrible. Those chickens were
just pulverized. The bones, meat, and feathers were
ground up by the chain into the floor. We had to
sweep it up into a dustpan and then wash the floor
down. We put the mush in four 50-gallon plastic
barrels that were used for that type of purpose.
It was one of the goriest messes I ever had to deal
with. I started out with an apron on, but it didn't
last 5 minutes before it kept getting hung on the
pieces of metal. I had to just do this in my clothes
so I looked like an axe-murderer when I was done.
When I got home I used up a bar of soap and all
the hot water trying to get clean. It was even in
my hair. I had gooey chicken mush all over me.
That was definitely one night I was glad to see over.
I am sorry for not posting yesterday, but this
past week has been so busy for me. I have
been working on several projects that have
forced me to neglect the blog a bit. I will talk
more about what has been going on soon
after it is all put together. Now, back to
business with the blog.
I happened to be driving down past the plant
this week and could tell that they were broke
down, or at least having problems there. I
saw a load of chickens sitting there on the
truck in the parking lot that had been there
for hours. That got me to thinking about all
the different times we had breakdowns when
I worked there, and what kind of problems
arise from this happening, especially for the
chickens that are stuck wherever they are
when that line stops.
They are in limbo until it starts again. The only
way to get them off the trucks is to dump them
on the belt and run them through back dock.
That is the only way to get the trucks unloaded
because that is where the equipment is. The
birds stuck on the truck in the cages will sit out
in the parking lot on the truck in whatever
weather, however long that is. This could be
for hours or even days on rare occasions.
They throw lime on them if they sit out there
too long to keep them from stinking so bad.
(Of course, lime burns like hell and made our
noses bleed. Some workers even got chemical
burns in their respiratory system and one got
chemical pneumonia from lime poisoning.)
Most of the breakdowns happened during times
of extreme weather conditions because these
temperatures put more stress on the machinery.
Of course, this also means more stress on the
chickens. Some had heart attacks or heat stroke
and dehydration and died in the heat, some froze
to death in the cold.
This reminds me of one time that the chiller broke
down and it took about 13 1/2 hours to put a new
shaft in it because it had to be milled at a machine
shop and then put in there. Some of the birds sat
out on the truck from around 8:00 a.m. until we ran
them around midnight that night.
A lot of the chickens on the first six trucks we ran
were dead from dehydration, heat stress, and heart
attacks. The only reason they even dumped them
on the belt was because it was the only way to get
them out of the cages. The stench was so bad in
there that even hard-core hangers were sick to
their stomachs and throwing up. We just ran them
off the end of the belt and threw them down the
chute into the dumpster to be hauled over to off-
haul to be ground up for feed.
Of the approximately 36,000 chickens on those
trucks 1/2 to 3/4 of them died from heat-related
illness while on the trucks. That must have been
a terrible way to go. It was horrible.
However, inside the plant, the ones that were
already on the line when it quit were just stuck,
wherever they stopped. The ones in the stunner
drown in electrified salt water. The ones that are
in the scalder come out bones, with all the meat
cooked off of them. I shudder to think to how
that was for one that went in there alive. It
would have been cooked alive.
The ones that have been hung in the shackles,
but have not made it to the stunner just hang
there until they either die from the blood rushing
to their heads or in some sadistic way by a bored
hanger, for amusement to pass the time. I believe
I have already mentioned that breakdowns were
the most common time to see serious cruelty
through torturous "games." I wrote about that
recently. It still makes me sick.
The thing is that breakdowns are relatively
common. They rarely go more than 2 months
without a moderate breakdown, causing only a
few minutes to a few hours downtime. On average
there are about 3 or 4 major breakdowns a year
that involve the line being shut down for more
than one shift.
These major breakdowns are the ones that involve
the worst suffering of the chickens because they
don't stop the catchers unless they expect to
be down for more than 8 hours. That is standard
policy and practice. That is a long time to sit in a
cage on a truck in the hot sun all packed in, with no
water, or to sit out in the freezing weather, maybe
even in the sleet or freezing rain. I have seen that
happen for hours on end.
I used to live very close to the plant, so even when
I wasn't working, I often saw chickens sitting out
on the trucks in the parking lot waiting for their
turn to be hung. I have seen them sit there from
2:p.m. until we ran them that night at around 9:00.
This was in temperatures over 100 degrees in the
Yeah, I know there was not a whole lot of new
information in this post, but I have been thinking
about that since I saw it the other day. It's a sad
thought to think that it goes on all the time, even
as you are reading this right now. I mean, think
about it. Right now, somewhere (probably a LOT
of somewheres) there is a chicken (cow, pig, etc.)
that is being tortured in some way, dying in agony,
while you are reading this.
It gets to me sometimes. How endless and cruel
it is. Not to mention how unnecessary.
I read an article in the New York Times
called "Wild Thing" by Charles Siebert
He made some good points in this article.
He discussed the recent instances in the
news of captive wild animal attacks and/or
escapes. I agreed with much of what he said
regarding the cases of Montecore, Little Joe,
and the tiger and alligator found in a in
apartment in New York. He said:
...Coincidences, surely, and yet not all that
surprising when you consider the current state
of our so-called compact with the wild...
...wildlife experts estimate, for example, that
there may now be twice the number of tigers,
as many as 10,000, in various modes of captivity...
We are, in fact, so far along in loading the world's
last wide-ranging predators into the figurative and
wildly aimless ark of human progress that we can
almost view the events of recent weeks as part of
some collective creaturely revolt, a la Alfred
Hitchcock's "The Birds." It's as if the animals
themselves are subliminally sensing and trying to
flee -- in the way they do the earliest tremblings of
earthquakes -- both their complete displacement
from their realm and their distorted replacement
within ours. They seem naturally discomfited by the
vast disconnect in our thinking about them, which
can readily dismiss such things as the centuries of
begrudging but mutually propitious interludes that
were required to render a wolf a dog; or that can
transform 400-pound tigers into apartment dwellers
or apparently cute cuddle toys twirling atop glass balls.
...Montecore's and Little Joe's and Ming's fates, their
current incarceration and probation, exiled from their
respective stages, utterly guiltless, bewildered and
And he uses a very appropriate quote that speaks
volumes about society:
"'We can judge the heart of man,"' wrote Immanuel
Kant, "'by his treatment of animals."'
I was talking yesterday with a fellow activist
that really put it well. He said that the biggest
fight, and the thing that bothered him the most,
was the arrogance of the attitude that
people have that everything on this Earth,
especially animals, was put here expressly for
our exploitation and use.
I've got another quote that I like enough to use
for a signature because I think it really sums it up.
The worst sin toward our fellow creatures is not
to hate them, but to be indifferent to them:
that's the essence of inhumanity. ----George Bernard Shaw
I read a great article this morning in USA Today's
Money Section. It was called, "Whole Foods
Pledges to be More Humane."
Here is an example of what we can accomplish
if we, as consumers, speak up and tell these
companies what we want. This is wonderful
news, and I fervently hope that many other
companies will follow suit. Here are the high-
lights of the article (emphasis mine):
Whole Foods Market on Tuesday will announce
plans to become the first major grocery chain
to adopt humane animal treatment standards.
The move follows nearly two years of intense
pressure from two animal rights groups...
It also comes at a time when consumer interest
in animal rights issues has ramped up nationally.
An overwhelming 96% of Americans say animals
deserve "some" protection from harm and
exploitation, according to a recent Gallup poll. The natural foods retailer, known for its organic
offerings, will allow an independent third party to
be named to audit its changes.
But John Mackey, CEO of the grocery chain,
insists the move wasn't motivated by a desire to
be politically correct — nor was it the result of
"Whole Foods does not respond to coercion,"
he says of the 147-store chain with sales of $3.2
billion last year. "We re-examined (activists')
claims and decided they were basically right."
It may cause meat prices to increase slightly,
he says, but Whole Foods will clearly communicate
to customers why.
Mackey himself recently shifted from being a
conventional vegetarian to a vegan who abstains
from all foods with animal byproducts. "I came
across an argument I could not refuse: Eating
animals causes pain and suffering to the animals."
"It's pretty horrible what's going on with animals
in America," he says. "Hopefully, this will put
pressure on others to change their ways."
At least one consultant thinks Mackey is onto
something here. "Animal welfare has gotten on
everyone's radar screen," says John Lister, a brand
consultant. "Whole Foods will now be seen as doing
the right thing."
It sure is a whole lot better. This is a great victory
for PETA and VivaUSA. They have worked really
hard for these changes, as have so many other
people. The word is getting out to the public now
about how bad these conditions really are for these
animals, and decent people are horrified and
From the investigations showing what happens
to ducks to make foie gras and the poor sheep
stranded on the ship from Australia, people are
really starting to realize how much cruelty has
been allowed to go on by the industry unchecked.
It seems to me that if 96% of the public believes
that the animals should have some sort of
protection from inhumane treatment, that more
of the industry would respond to that and follow
the lead of Whole Foods. I think a wave of
change is coming. It will be interesting to see
who jumps on it and when.
I read about Pamela Anderson now jumping
into the battle between PETA and KFC. KFC's
response was that they did care about humane
conditions and welfare of the chickens. They
went on to defend this stance by saying that
they bought their chickens from reputable
suppliers like Perdue, Tyson, and Pilgrim's
Pride, just like many grocery stores.
Well, that is about the biggest admission that
they do in fact support cruelty, considering what
I have written here on this site. Either they don't
consider these acts to be cruel or they have
missed the information this blog conveys.
I know they are aware of what I said in my state-
ment, but maybe they haven't read the rest of
the material. Perhaps I should send them a link....
There has been a recent fight going on for
Congressional support of an appropriations
bill to crack down on illegal cockfighting and
dogfighting. The industry and the breeders
of these animals are trying to say that they
fall under the category of "agriculture," which
I (and many others) find ridiculous.
The breeders that live in states where it is
illegal say that they do it for a hobby, but most
of them sell to people who fight these animals
where it is still legal. They even openly admit it,
but say it is a hobby. I saw a good quote by
Karen Davis of UPC where she said that the
cockfighters and breeders of fighting roosters
that have been protesting to Congress were
"like drug dealers calling Congress and
saying 'don't enforce the law against us!'"
This controversy got me to thinking about a
guy I worked with down at the plant named
Jeff. He lived in Arkansas and raised fighting
roosters and hauled them to Oklahoma to
fight them. There were regular fights over
there, even having a season that lasted most
of the summer. It was legal over there a
couple of years ago. I don't think it is now,
but I'm not sure. I think it is only legal in only
two states, LA and NM(?). Anyway.....
He was always bragging about his roosters and
strapping those knives to them. I saw some
pictures that he took of some of the fights
and the aftermath. He always got a picture of
the defeated rooster when his bird won. He
called it his "rooster's kill."
He had one picture of his most favored rooster
that he was particularly proud of that showed
him holding his rooster with the knives still on
its feet. Its legs and feet were all covered in
blood. On one of its knives there was still the
opponent's eyeball skewered on the tip.
This is the very type of person is who this law
is aimed at. This is not "agriculture" and should
not be a "hobby." It surely should not be
protected when there is so much criminal activity
within the "sport." He was also involved in the
drug scene, and even shot his roosters up with
speed every time he fought them. He said that
was why his won most of the time.
There is also an underground cockfighting ring
around here that meets down around Wickes.
It is mostly Hispanic, and is almost as lucrative
for the people that stage the fights as it is for the
legal ones. Sometimes it is even a double-feature
involving dogfighting, too. Jeff was involved in
He eventually began to make enough money off
his breeding operation to quit the plant, but I
got to know him for the time he worked there.
What I did get to know I didn't like much.
Needless to say, he wasn't the most compassionate
individual when it came to animals. He was one of
the worst abusers of the chickens down at the plant.
He hated the chickens down that we ran. He said
that they just didn't have any fight in them.
I have seen him grab one and beat it against the
belt until there was nothing left but the stump of
its leg. He would also grind them into the floor
with his boots. I have seen him hang them by
their feet, then grab their wings and rip their
bodies apart, too. He would grab one off the floor
when it jumped off the belt and got around his
feet and throw it, saying, "Look! I'm gonna help
it fly!" This was accompanied by a throw against
the wall as hard as he could.
You could tell that he did these things out of
pleasure because he enjoyed them. I saw him
pull one of their heads off and stand there and
giggle while it flopped around on the floor in its
death throes, slinging blood all over the place.
He was one sick individual, and I was glad to see
This is the kind of guy this will crack down on,
as interstate transportation of these birds is
illegal. It is bad enough that we still have areas
that allow this barbaric behavior, but those
states that have banned the practice have done
so because the majority of the people find it
These people should not continue to benefit
from this type of activity. I think this is one
area we can just about all agree on.
Talking about the bomb stuff and terrorists
yesterday got me thinking about how easy it
would be for a terrorist to mess with the food
supply. I have read about the fact that there
is some worry about just that, but the industry
is trying to tell the government that they have
everything under control and that they have
enough security. Either that or they tell them
that it is too expensive to implement without
the government's help, which of course means
more subsidies=tax dollars from American
taxpayers. Now, as an individual that does
not eat meat, I believe it is unfair for me to
have to prop up the factory farming industry,
which I disagree with so completely for so
many reasons. This is not how I want my tax dollars spent. The industry should have
to make sure that what they sell to consumers
is safe. If they cannot guarantee that it is, then
they should pay to make it so. But they should
not expect people like myself to pay for it. If it
means raising the price of meat, so be it. Let
the people who consume it pay for it. Don't
take food out of my family's mouth to pay for it
because I have made personal choices to not be
a part of the problem anymore. (But I digress.
Back to the point I am trying to get across.)
Now, I don't know how it is in other parts of
the country at other plants, but I can tell you
how safe the food coming out of the Tyson
plant in Grannis is. It has the most lax
security of any chicken plant I have ever seen.
It doesn't even have a fence around it keeping
anyone out, much less any type of security
guard. Part of the south parking lot is taken
up by a piece of private property and a public
street. A street also cuts the west end of the
Tyson property almost in half. Anybody that
wanted to could just walk in off the street and
nobody would ever know.
When I worked down there I organized a
group to monitor this problem myself, but
once I left this fell apart. I found out the other
day when I ran into an ex-co-worker that just
about everyone left back dock down there after
I did . He had also left a while back. Several
people just quit, saying that conditions were
worse down there after I left and they couldn't
stand it anymore.
There is also the problem of the large number
of illegals that Tyson knowingly hires. To an
uneducated eye, an Arab and a Mexican would
look similar enough not to cause suspicion.
All they would have to learn to do is to speak
Spanish. It is quite obvious to me that they
have the patience and motivation to take the
time to do that. They could then go to any
Tyson plant in this state that I have worked
at because all of these plants hire illegals.
Many of these plants produce finished
products. When it goes out of the plant all
the customer has to do is heat it up. Waldron
is a good example of that. From my other
posts it should be obvious that it would be
easy to sneak a bio-agent in there on the line.
This scenario also assumes that the only
people that would be motivated to do some-
thing like this are foreign terrorists. What
about all these disgruntled workers I wrote
about yesterday? Do you think if they had the
expertise that they would refrain from doing
something like this to hurt Tyson's image and
make them lose a lot of money? Are you willing
to bet your life on that? What about the life
of your child?
This scenario also assumes that the bug would
be introduced in the plant. The chicken houses
themselves have no security either. Some of
them around here are so open you can see
inside of them as you drive down the highway.
No fences, no guards, not even a locked door
in many cases. Anyone could walk in at any
time and release a bio-agent that would spread
from the chickens to humans, thus poisoning
the food supply for who knows how many people.
Cooking and freezing doesn't kill everything,
not even all the natural bacteria. If it did,
thousands of people wouldn't get sick, some
fatally, every year. Salmonella, E. coli, listeria,
etc. are already making antibiotic-resistant
strains by themselves. This alone could be a
ticking bio-weapon in itself. The terrorists and
disgruntled employees would never have to lift
Mother Nature herself could unleash an
epidemic before much longer if they don't
quit using so many antibiotics to keep these
animals alive in the filthy conditions that
would normally kill them even more than they
do now. There are so many things wrong with
this industry and so many ways that society
is setting itself up for real disaster by allowing
it to continue with its current business practices.
What worries me even more is that I read an
article yesterday that says the EPA is not going
to regulate the sludge coming out of these
places because the threat is so low. That
means there will be an increasing amount of
this stuff spread all over the land and in the
water and air. Mostly they were addressing the
dioxin problem, but what about these so-called
"super-germs"? If we keep allowing the industry
to regulate itself, how long before airborne
super-germs emerge from the stew of sludge
these places create?
The current administration is removing the few
safeguards that we have to watch over our
health and environmental safety. It is time
to reverse that trend. The industry has
proved that it cannot be trusted. It has
certainly been proven time and again that they
value profits over anything else, even people.
That should be obvious to all who have read
even a small portion of what I have had to say
over the past month and a half.
I am not going to judge those who continue
to indulge in meat in their diet. I do, however
believe that those people should be informed
of the risks that are ever-increasing with the
practice. The animals being raised and sold
today are not like the ones that were raised
on family farms. If we do not get a handle
on this problem it will continue to grow.
If you read the article I wrote about at the end
of yesterday's post, then you have already
seen the great care and concern that Tyson
shows for its workers.
I remember several years ago when I still
worked at Tyson there was a fire at one of
their plants. I think there was something
like 15 workers died. There have been
quite a few occasions of deaths associated
with the company, even the industry as a
whole. There was actually even an investiga-
tion of the problem.
I can say that it was the same situation
down there in Grannis. We also had more
than one bomb threat at the plant when I
worked there. It was right after 9/11, and
it wasn't some terrorist that you could spot
at a glance around here. It was just a guy
about 30 years old with an Internet connection
that Tyson had done wrong one time too many.
He wasn't just making an idle threat, either. He
was intending to go through with it. A bomb
was found. The plant was never evacuated, but
the USDA left, just like in the situation in that
article. We were never even told about it until
it was mostly over.
It wasn't him that called in the threat. It was
his wife. He said later at his trial that the reason
that he let her call the plant first was so that the
workers could get out. He said it wasn't the
workers he was mad at - it was the company
itself, and he didn't want any of his fellow workers
to be hurt.
His warning would have been in vain because we
were standing there on the line. They told us
that clean-up had us held up. It wasn't until
after the local sheriff's department found the
actual bomb and made the plant manager evacuate
us that we were told anything or removed from
The deputy on the scene said that the only thing
that saved us was that the guy didn't connect his
timer, his power supply, and explosive charge
properly. The timer was set to go off 35 minutes
before it was found. It would have probably
killed a bunch of people, destroyed about half the
plant, and made a hell of a fire. It was made out
of 4 sticks of stolen dynamite he had strapped
to a butane tank that was 3/4 full and the size
of a semi trailer.
I have heard of similar things at other plants -
things like employees trying to set the plants
on fire. I have also known of people sugaring
the gas tanks of company trucks. There was
a rash of bombs and bomb threats after 9/11,
though. It seemed like everybody that had a
grudge wanted to build a bomb or call in a threat.
The biggest problem with this is, if Tyson had
so many plants have this happen after 9/11,
and if they had actually found bombs in some
instances, why wasn't their first course of
action to evacuate the employees?
Especially if Tyson's memo to that plant said:
the company cared about the workers' safety.
"We want to assure all of our team members that
we are taking every precaution to ensure your
From my time in the military, I know that there
are certain procedures for situations such as
this that should be followed. The first thing you
do is to evacuate the area. You never take it for
granted that the guy is bluffing - never. You
evacuate the building and call in the proper
One of these days someone is going to blow
one of these plants up. So far it has been
mostly bluffs, but there has also been just
plain luck because of the person's incompetence
at bomb-making. But there are people who
work at these plants who do know how to
build bombs. There are a lot of veterans like
myself that live around this area. Had it been
me that made the bomb, or somebody like me
(of which there are quite a few), the outcome
would have been much different. (No, I am not
threatening to do such a thing. I have no desire
to do this. I'm just saying that some people
like me have the know-how.)
Although there really is no dependable security
to ensure safety of the food supply or the
plant itself, I don't think that it will be terrorists
that will finally manage to blow up one of these
places or do something to the meat. It will be
some employee they have screwed over one time
The way the company treats people fosters an
attitude against them. I am sure if you have
been reading very much of this site you have
come to that conclusion by now yourself.
Once you take the "chicken plant attitude"
I discussed earlier, add the nature of the job
itself, and throw in the ill treatment of the
workers, you create a recipe for rage and
hatred great enough to do violence.
For Tyson not to take a threat like that
seriously is the height of stupidity. They
know how they have treated people in the
past and that they have made enemies. The
fact is that those workers were as replaceable
as the chickens were in Tyson's view.
I have heard too many times a supervisor
tell me and others that if we didn't like
something, there were plenty of Mexicans
down at the border waiting to take our
place. Therefore, we were expendable and
they made sure we knew it.
It should be quite clear to all who have read
this whole site that there are definitely some
major problems down in that plant (at least there,
if not industry-wide) that need to be addressed
immediately. Many people still try to lie to
themselves, disbelieving what they read here
as so outrageous that it couldn't be so. I
hear them say that there is no way they could
make money by doing business this way.
I don't know how more plain to be than those
people are just wrong. As much as we would
all like to wish this away, we cannot. It is not
that simple. If it was, the workers would have
done so long time ago.
I mentioned the other day about the stolen
shower knobs. There was a bad problem
with theft down there. There was nothing
that was really safe if you didn't have your
eyes on it.
Most of it was minor stuff. Someone would
take your food, cigarettes, money, even once
a leather bomber jacket. We had a break room
to leave our stuff in. You can't exactly take
anything you want to keep in the hanging cage
with all the nasty stuff, so we had to leave our
personal stuff in the break room unattended.
Some people lost jewelry. Two guys I knew of
lost their wedding rings. I don't know how many
lost their watches.
Sometimes the victims of such thefts would
retaliate. I, along with two other guys who had
been also regularly victimized for about two weeks,
all got together and cooked up a pan of Ex-Lax
brownies. I figure each brownie had a box of it
cooked into it. That night when we came out to
1st break, all of our brownies were gone. We had
a giggling fit. We knew what was about to happen.
We knew we were about to catch our thief.
About 30 minutes after we got back from break, we
were standing there hanging. One of the hangers,
a Mexican who had been there about 3 weeks,
grabbed his butt with both hands and ran for the
door. It was a futile effort. He didn't make it.
We laughed uproariously. Even over the sound of
the plant he could hear us. He left a trail all the way
out the door and never came back. Ha ha ha!
To the best of my knowledge, there was never any
more food-stealing on back dock when I worked
We had another guy on back dock that needed some
tires and couldn't afford them on what he made. He
told me he figured Tyson owed them to him since he
wore his out driving back and forth to work, and he
was going to get them.
So, about 2:30 a.m. on our 2nd break, he went
across to the truck shop and, in full view of everybody
and in bright streetlights, took two tires off the back
of a Tyson pickup and changed them with his old worn-
out ones. I can still see him rolling those tires across
the parking lot, waving to the cop as he drove by on
the highway. He got clean away with it.
But, what was weird were the strange thefts of things
most people would never think of, like the shower
knobs and water faucet handles. Dozens of these
kept repeatedly being stolen. They finally put push-
pedals to operate the sinks so that you could turn
the water on since they couldn't keep faucet handles
I remember I was sitting and drinking a Coke with a
girl that did all the ordering in the maintenance shop.
She said that in the year of 1998 Tyson spent $3700
on water faucet handles just at Grannis. The question
I am wondering is, why? Why water faucet handles?
What are they doing with all of them?
Another funny thing that happened along this line
down there was that they put a great big steel frame
and a great big master padlock on the toilet paper
dispensers. People were stealing toilet paper by the
roll faster than they could put it out in the dispensers.
Everybody got a big laugh out of that.
Tyson finally started cracking down on the problem
in '99. They fired one girl for having 10 rolls of paper
towels in her locker. They caught another guy carrying
two 40 lb. boxes of chicken out of the freezer. They
even caught one guy carrying a live chicken out of the
They busted a whole ring of people at the Nashville,
AR plant that were ordering truck parts one at a time
until they could build a truck and sell it. They were
building 2 a year like that and had been doing so for
about 4 years. They had a whole network going over
there. Some of the people were working at Grannis,
too. They started the investigation at Grannis, which
led to the ring there.
They were ordering truck parts that didn't fit on
anything Grannis plant was running and all of these
suspect parts were being reshipped over to Nashville.
The guys over at Nashville would order the rest of the
parts for the truck. Then they would take all the parts
to a shop that was owned by a member of the group
that didn't work for Tyson, but had a shop and tools.
After working on weekends, they would work together
to build 2 brand-new Mack trucks a year. They would
then sell them out of state.
The funny thing was that this whole investigation
started over the employee stealing the paper towels.
There were so many people stealing things down there
because they couldn't afford to make ends meet on
what they were making.
These are other examples of the the effects of having
the "me first" attitude I discussed yesterday. There
are many aspects to this type of thinking and the
way such thinking manifests in the daily life of such
an individual. It is a contagious social disease. It
only takes one person like that in a group of people
to make the others have to change to handle the
threat and suspicion. Before long, a sense of acute
injustice and callousness sets in and you feel like
no one is innocent. They are all out for themselves
and they don't care, so why should you?
And, of course, like I have said before, this type of
thinking is reinforced by Tyson with the inherent
uncaring brutal nature of the work as well as the
nurtured rivalry between workers to keep them
If you want to see just how much Tyson cares
about its employees, read this article I found
this morning. Seems there was a bomb threat
at one of their plants. The USDA inspectors left
the lines for 2 hours along with the managers,
while they forced the workers to stay.
"workers in part of the plant handling raw and
fully cooked foods continued working and didn't
know anything was happening...Another worker
said she went outside the plant when she heard
of the threat, but a supervisor told her to return
What does Tyson have to say about all this????
The Tyson memo said the company cared about
the workers' safety.
"We want to assure all of our team members that
we are taking every precaution to ensure your
safety," the employee memo said.
One of the most frequent things I hear from
people is the inability to understand how I was
able to keep doing this job for so long. It is
amazing what you can do when you have no
choice in the matter, or at least believe that
You develop certain defense mechanisms to
cope with what you have to endure. You keep
frequently reminding yourself that you can do
it and it will be over in a few more hours. You
convince yourself you can handle anything for
8 hours. After all, I had been in Special Ops,
I could handle anything. At the time I thought
I was handling it just fine.
What I did was to essentially become a different
person when I had to go to work down there.
I call it my "chicken plant attitude." It was basically
pretty simple. I was going to do whatever I had
to do to get me through the night. Whatever I
had to do to get through the night was okay. It
was justified as being necessary to survive. I
figured anything I did within the confines of that
plant was justified by the fact that I had to be
there because I had to have a job and I had to
pay my bills.
It is hard to explain the "chicken plant attitude"
to someone who has not been in such circum-
stances. I first learned to do it in combat when I
had to kill somebody. You pretty much just
turn your emotions off because you can't afford
to feel bad about what you are doing. Otherwise,
you won't do a very good job of it. I imagined
myself a part of the machinery of the place.
The problem is keeping it separate from the part
of you that knows you do care about things. It
gets kinda hard to separate the two after awhile.
I got to the point that I was carrying that attitude
home with me. I started realizing that I was
becoming the kind of person that didn't care about
anyone but themselves because that is how you
have to be down there.
The best way to describe it is to say that any feeling
of kindness or compassion is a weakness. Because
if you feel any compassion for what you are killing
then you also have to feel bad about yourself because
of what you are doing. So, in order to keep from
hating yourself, you have to convince yourself that
kindness and compassion are a weakness and are,
therefore, not acceptable. The one thing that has
to be foremost in your mind is, "I will take care of me
because no one else is going to do it."
And the people and the environment will reinforce
that belief continuously. Each person down there
has to adopt the same type of attitude to some
extent or another in order to function. That makes
for many situations, sometimes violent ones, between
workers exhibiting inexcusable behavior that they
believe is justified by their own need to get by.
I believe that a lot of the cruelty that was exhibited
was probably at least partly caused by the stress
level that trying to be two people creates. On the
one hand, you have got to go home and be a loving
husband, wife, father, mother, etc. and care about
the people and animals in your home. On the other
hand you have to go to work and be this cruel, cold-
blooded, heartless person doing a brutal job around
other cold-blooded people that care no more about
you than they do those chickens.
Oh, they may appear to, but you know in your mind,
that they have to be as cold-blooded as you are or
they couldn't do the job, either. It doesn't make for
trusting friendships or marriages, or any other type
of relationship. It is hard to trust other people when
you know that they also harbor the same ability to
shut off all caring to be able to do what they need
to do to get by. Am I making more sense now?
It was the desire of almost all chicken plant hands
to get a job that was as they said, "off the line."
These jobs were few. One didn't come open very
often. The ones that did were competed for very
heavily. Needless to say, it took a "me first"
attitude to get one. It was said that some of the
female workers actually screwed their way into it
and I believe it. People would do just about anything
to get off that line into an easier, less nasty, job.
That created enough rivalry between workers to
keep any real camaraderie between workers. Your
best friend was only your best friend as long as he
was not competing for the same job. You never
felt like you could trust anyone. The gossip would
fly around. They would stab you in the back quick.
I have already discussed some of the problems this
brought into my personal life away from the plant
in earlier posts. The lowering of self-esteem, the
meanness and anger, the guilt. I would get mad at
myself for what I did for a living. It made me feel
like I was a bad person to be able to think and act
in such an uncaring manner, especially toward people
I did genuinely care about.
I lived two lives for so long that I started to forget
which one of them was the real me. I kinda got lost
in there somewhere.
Once I got with my wife and she started showing me
that there were indeed things about me to love then
I started to find my true self again. I have talked a
but before (and so has she) about my road back to
Of course, it did make it harder for me to be able to
continue to work at that horrible place. I started to
have a harder and harder time going in every night.
But, it is hard to be two people. One of those will
inevitably cross over into the other's world.
I am so glad I don't have to do that anymore. It
is wonderful to be back in the land of the, (well, I
hate to say "normal" - I'll never be that! Ha ha),
shall we say, regular people. It will all be worth it,
though, if I can use my experiences to bring about
some much-needed change to the industry.
One night the killing machine broke down about
halfway through the shift. The shaft that the
blade is mounted on got cut in half when the
bearing froze up because it wasn't greased properly.
When the shaft broke the blade flew off and hit the
floor hard enough to dig into the concrete 1/8"
deep. If that blade would have hit my feet it would
have cut them off. It missed me by about 8"-10".
Luckily I was standing just to the side of it instead
of right in front of it.
You see, from time to time, the killer has to clear
pieces of chickens (what they call "debris") from the
machine. This builds up when one has its wing or leg
or something go through there, leaving pieces. An
example would be in the case of a one-legger going
through, the leg would get cut off at the hock so that
the foot would be caught in the guide bars, which trap
the chickens' heads for the blade on the machine to cut
their throats. With the foot in their, their heads won't
go in there and they slide over the top of the machine.
This would make the killer have to kill the whole line, so
you have to do something about it as soon as you see
it happen. Therefore, it was just luck that I was not
standing there when the blade flew with that much force.
Anyway, after this happened, maintenance decided that
the machine would be down for the rest of the night
because the shaft had to be milled by a machinist. It
would take at least 2-3 hours after the machine shops
opened the next day. They didn't have a spare shaft.
So, Richard decided to run anyway and just put two
killers in the killing room to catch all the chickens by
hand. We had to stand shoulder to shoulder and
alternate chickens, killing every other one. It didn't
work very well. It didn't take more than 10 minutes
until both of us were blood-soaked.
There is no telling how many chickens we didn't catch
that went through the scalder alive. We had to do this
for about 3 hours, so there were at least hundreds, if
not thousands that we missed that night. I know I
counted 100 in the first hour that I missed before I
stopped counting them. After that I got tired and was
missing them at a higher rate for the next 2 hours.
And who knows how many I slit, but were not killed
properly before going in. That would have been
most of them, especially after my knife got dull.
That didn't take more than 35-40 minutes. When I
started getting tired my knife nicked my chain mail
glove on my other hand. We had a term for your
blade getting dull. It was referred to as your blade
dying. At least we had the gloves. We didn't used to
have them and I have many scars on my wrsts and
hands from the years without them.
They did slow the line down a little bit, to 160 birds
per minute, but that is still each of us trying to slit
the throats of 80 birds per minute for 3 hours solid.
As you might well imagine, this is impossible and I hate
to admit, we did a sloppy job. It was just too fast to
do a proper job and do it quick and clean.
The guy on my right got behind and accidentally cut
a hole in my plastic apron. That made the blood come
through and get all over me. My pants were soaked.
Blood actually puddled in my boots. I took them and
poured them out when I was through. There was
probably about a quart of blood in each boot.
Another aspect of the problem was that the blood
normally goes into the blood trough straight from where
the birds have their throats slit by the blade. This night,
of course, that didn't happen with us having to catch
them as we could by hand. Blood was literally everywhere.
The ceiling of the killing room is 15' tall, and there was
blood on it.
We also couldn't do as precise a job, so many times we
cut into their spine, which makes them flop really bad
and sling blood everywhere. I have seen them flop
hard enough when they do that to sling their head off
and hit you with it.
When I left that room I left a trail of blood 2' wide on
the way to the washroom. Back then they had a shower.
Not anymore because someone stole the knobs if you
can believe that. But that's another story. I won't even
go there now.
Hmmm. That gives me an idea for a future post.
Anyway, by the time I got home my hand was swollen
up so bad that I couldn't light a cigarette. It stayed
that way all day and the next night. I wasn't worth a
damn at work the next night. That was one of the
worst nights I ever spent down there.
It took me a half a bottle of Visine to get all the blood
out of my eyes. When blood gets in your eyes it kind
of sticks there and is really hard to wash out. If it clots
up on your eyeball it can get infected and it hurts really
bad. It burns when you get blood in your eyes, I guess
because it is so salty.
It tastes kinda nasty, too. Nothing in the world smells
like it. Not that much of it. It's just got its own terrible
odor. That's the only way I can say it. You would have
to be drenched in that many gallons of it to understand
how bad it is. It is sickening.
But, of course we know the motto at Tyson - Production
will go on, regardless. How glad I am to be out of there.
The winter of 1999 we had a bad snow, at least
for around here. About 13" fell down around the
plant. I went out and measured it in my front yard.
There were drifts about 3' deep in places. This was
the worst I can remember in my years in this state.
I counted 60 chicken houses that had collapsed under
the weight. I am sure there were more, but I know of
that many because I had volunteered to round up the
survivors. There were 20 of us volunteers from the
plant to go catch whatever birds had survived. We
helped clean up some of the houses at the last.
Catching the chickens was quite a job, running
around in the snow. Coyotes and other animals had
gotten some of them, we figured. We found hundreds
that were nothing but feathers. They were easy
pickings for predators, never having been outside before.
It was really a busted effort to try to catch them. Every
place we went there were fewer and fewer. The first few
houses we got some, but they finally called us off when
they realized we just weren't going to save very many.
We got 3 trucks (of 5500 birds each) off the first farm
and 2 off the second, after that we couldn't get a whole
truckload from the others. We had started out the day
after it happened. After they had been out overnight,
though, there just wasn't hardly anything left.
There were three of us that volunteered to clean up
the houses a couple of days later to see what could
be salvaged. We intended to haul the copper and stuff
off to the salvage yard to fund the effort. We also
thought we could use some of the tin at home for
sheds, barns, and such. We realized we had made a
mistake we we started driving up to the house. You
could start to smell it almost 1/4 mile away.
When we actually drove up and got out we could hear
the green flies just a-humming. They live inside the
chicken houses year-round. Many will survive the
winter in there with the chickens. Half the house was
still standing, but the other was flattened. That was
the end where the chickens were. When we went up
to start moving some stuff around we kept finding dead
chickens under everything all stuck to it all. The smell
was god-awful. We finally gave up and left. They
eventually bulldozed the place. They did that t most
of the others, too. Of most of the rest of the houses,
not even half was left. The whole things were flattened.
Each house holds from 20,000-40,000 chickens. This
was considered a pretty big disaster. Hundreds of
thousands of chickens died in that snow storm in those
60 houses. We saved but a fraction. Those were in
pretty bad shape. The plant only ran 3-4 days a week
after that for about three months before we got back
up to 40-hour weeks again.
This is not the only event like this to happen. I'm not
sure what could be done much differently, rather than
building the houses stronger, as long as we as a society
continue to mass-produce animals for their flesh. It
sounds bad enough when you read something like this.
It is quite another thing when you are standing there
looking at it, smelling it. It hits home then. It's real.
Down at Tyson the inspectors do a quick spot
inspection at different times during the night.
They walk in and look at a certain part of the
back dock area and check things out. However,
about once a week they do an open inspection
before we start hanging chickens.
On these open inspections they look a little harder
because they have more time to do it in. They would
check every piece of equipment we had. They would
only look for anything that might contaminate
the chickens, nothing else. They were looking for
rust, metal shavings, hydraulic oil, etc. that might
get on the chickens, thus contaminating them.
They do not check for broken pieces of machinery,
just for contaminants, especially chemical ones
like grease and hydraulic fluid. That is the job of
the supervisor. They only handle food safety.
One night in the spring of '98 (I think) when an
inspector came in and did an open inspection, he
noticed we had some pigeons roosting on a support
beam under the dump shed right outside the
hanging cage. This beam supported the roof that
covered the dump and the truck being unloaded.
The forklift operator and the dump operator were
protected by this roof as they unloaded the chickens.
These pigeons defecated on the chickens below them
while the inspector was there.
He decided that this constituted cross-contamination
between domestic and wild birds, thereby creating
a potential hazard to humans. The inspector said
that the pigeons had to go and that the belt that
the chickens were on had to be washed. The
unfortunate chickens that were contaminated by
the pigeon droppings we were forced to kill by
wringing their necks. We had to kill about 300
of them this way and throw them in the dumpster.
Richard (the night shift superintendent at the time,
now asst. plant manager) went to his truck and
got a pellet rifle. He came in and shot them all,
letting them fall and bleed on the belt. He told us
to hurry up and dump some more chickens on the
belt before the inspector came back to see it, without
washing it off. He knew that if it was full of chickens,
the inspector would not go up and move the chickens
to look under them. He would just take Richard's
word for it that the belt had been cleaned before
The pigeons were also tossed in the same dumpster
as the chickens we were forced to kill. Now, if you
remember, all the chickens in this dumpster of
(normally) DOAs go to the augur to be ground up
for animal feed. Therefore, the possibility of the
pigeons spreading whatever they call that disease
that can spread between the species to the next
generation of chickens still existed. The pigeons
were ground up with the chickens, about 20 of
them on this occasion.
Now, this has happened more than once. It is
not an uncommon thing to happen each spring.
However, usually there are only one or two of them
as opposed to 20. They get way up high in the
roof girders away from the chickens so they don't
pose much of a problem.
After this incident, though, Richard started always
shooting the pigeons up there and throwing them
in the dumpster (or more often having one of us do
it) to keep the inspector from seeing something
like that happen again. He didn't want us to have
another late start or to have to stop the line
because of such an incident. However, by shooting
the pigeons and having them fall down into the
area and bleed all over the place and the chickens,
he was probably causing more contamination
than if they had been left alone. His only concern
was for production, not contamination or safety.
One of the inspectors recommended wrapping the
girders with screen to keep them from coming
back. They wouldn't have a place to sit and would
go somewhere else. However, Richard didn't take
this advice. He decided the easiest way to deal
with the problem was to just shoot them.
This is just one more example of how Tyson is
able to pull the wool over the inspectors' eyes
and get away with illegal and unsafe business
practices. These poor people are so overworked
and understaffed for the amount of stuff they
have to look at that it is quite easy to get things
past them. When the plant is in operation, all
but one of them are permanently stuck on front
line. That leaves that one inspector to cover
back dock, the killing room, the feather room,
debone, packing line, and the freezer. All by
himself. No human being can be in two places
at one time, let alone six. There is no way
humanly possible for him to catch all the problems
that go on.
For one thing, every supervisor, upper management,
and all the utilitiy workers have walkie talkies and know
exactly where that inspector is at any given time.
Most of the time they even know where he is going
next. If they want to deceive him, it is not very
hard to do. Unfortunately, it happens all the time.
It is an extremely rare occurrence for someone to
actually get caught by an inspector doing something
wrong. For every one time they get caught, they
probably got away with it at least 25 or 30 times.
Of course, it only takes one such contaminated bird
to make someone's kid sick somewhere. Thousands
of people very year fall ill from tainted meat, some of
Inspectors operate a lot by trust in the employees
nd the company to do the right thing. When they
find a contaminated bird, they will put it to the side
in the belief that it will be taken care of. Rarely is
there a followup to make sure it was. They are so
busy they have moved in to more birds, pulling out
the ones that need more attention.
This is why I find it somewhat amusing when people
use the argument of the inspectors to try to say
that there is no way a company can get away with
the kind of behavior I have told of here.
If we really want to control the slaughterhouses,
we need to increase the inspections and install
cameras to record what is going on. That is really
the only way to ensure that the type of incidents I
have talked about don't continue. It is not in the
interest of the industry to do this, so they won't
unless someone forces them to.
It is in our interest, however. Very much so. We
should hold the industry responsible for its actions
by making sure it conforms to ethical practices that
are in everyone's best interest, us and the animals.
I mentioned yesterday that there was quite
a bit of drug use down at the plant. Today
I thought I would go into that a little more
because of the seriousness of the problem
and the other problems that stem from it.
I would say at least 1 out of every 4 workers
down there used some sort of substance,
usually a stimulant of some type. Everybody on back dock did use a stimulant at work.
About half of us preferred ephedrine because
it was legal. There were some who used meth
exclusively, though. Some did both.
We did it to be able to keep up the pace. You
almost have to take them to do that job. It's
just so fast paced and impossible. Right before
I stopped working there, I quit using these
stimulants and started having trouble doing the
work. I was having trouble keeping up and lasting
all night. It got harder to go in each night, too.
But, there was an ugly side to it as well, of course.
I don't know about everybody, but I tend to get
more aggressive after I have been using a
stimulant regularly for awhile. It sure made some
of those guys I worked with a lot more aggressive.
I think that the use of stimulants contributed
greatly to the amount of abuse that went on down
there, When people are spun out on speed they
are just downright mean.
Almost every one of the instances I cited in my
sworn statement that started all were perpetrated
by people under the influence of crystal meth.As far
as I know, Aron was the only one who was not on
meth when he did what I described in my statement.
This also contributed to fights among the workers.
My use of stimulants contributed to 3 different
fights when I was down there.
It also led to the sheriff being down there on a
regular basis. Someone was always getting caught
selling dope in the parking lot.
Of course, to go along with the stimulants, we also
had to do something else to come down to unwind,
relax, and sleep when we got off work. Therefore
there was quite a bit of drinking and pot smoking
going on, too.
Now that I look back on it, the drugs went a long
way toward isolating our small group of people
from outside people even more. People involved
in a drug culture tend to gravitate toward others
who are doing the same thing. In our case, that
plus the combined understanding of the problems
on the job made for even more of this isolation.
It also caused lots of problems for me at home,
which tended to come to work with me every night.
I'm sure I am not the only one that had that
problem. I can remember quite a few times that
someone came to work with an attitude, saying,
"Boy, I've had a bad day. Those chickens are in
for it tonight." This, of course, had several
versions, ranging from "I had a fight with my wife"
to "I just got out of jail." Regardless of the cause,
the meanness would be unleashed on the birds or
even other workers.
This way of life also had a physical toll on me, too.
I got ulcers from taking so many of those pills, my
blood pressure was through the roof, I was sick
to my stomach a lot, I couldn't sleep much, and
was just always tired. I was also mean and hateful
to most everyone, even my wife.
Tyson likes to say that they have a drug-free work
place. The only time you get a drug test is when
you go down there to get hired or if you have an
on-the-job accident that requires medical assistance
so they can try to get out of paying it. Tyson does
not have a drug-free workplace. If they did, they
wouldn't get any work done and they know it.
Instead of using the drug-free policy to keep the
plant clean, they use it to threaten employees into
doing illegal things for the company, to quiet dissent
against safety problems and bad conditions, or to just
get rid of those they want to get rid of. They know
everyone is using drugs because it is the only way to
keep up that kind of pace night after night in that
kind of environment.
It's kind of like the company's huge use of illegals.
They know that a normal person, living a normal
life, will never put up with the way they treat people
or the working conditions. That type of person
would surely not keep their mouth shut about all
the illegal safety violations or cruel torture. Most
people wouldn't want to do this job even without
those problems. It is a nasty job and there is no
way to make it a comfortable one. Normal people
either wouldn't last or, more likely (as I have seen
far too many times), would be sucked into the
sad lifestyle of the rest. Once that happens you
are all but doomed and stuck.
You see why I say it was a relief to be gone from
that place? This is why I am not mad at them for
firing me. It was the best thing for me to get out
of there. I had been wanting out for some time.
No, I am not in this fight against them and their
way of doing business out of revenge. I am in it
because I am trying to right a wrong. I am doing
what I believe to be the right thing to do. I was a
part of that twisted mess, living in that cesspool
of an existence, participating in that brutality for
far too long. No more.
That chapter of my life is over. However, I will
never forget what happened and is still happening
even as your read this. And I will not be silent
about it anymore. I will continue to tell people the
truth about what goes on behind those doors, no
matter how much they try to hide and deny it.