Pig slaughter: Do pigs suffer when slaughtered?
Image: Tras Los Muros
Pork products can be found lining the refrigerated units of grocery stores and filling sandwiches and restaurant meals around the world. Yet a detailed look at how those meats were produced, and how a once living, breathing animal made it onto a restaurant menu, reveals an alarming series of events filled with suffering and terror.
At every step of their lives, from birth all the way to their slaughter, pigs suffer both mentally and physically. Despite their intelligence, during their lives they are rarely offered anything to occupy their minds, their barren confinement often driving them to become aggressive or engage in repetitive behaviors. When they have reached the proper weight to be sent to the slaughterhouse, they endure suffering at every step of the way from transport to processing. As they are transported to slaughter, pigs are likely to experience a day or two of harsh temperatures, severe dehydration and hunger, deliberate electrocution, pain, and stress. Despite the process of slaughter being so horrific, the demand for pig bodies in the form of pork products remains high.
How to slaughter a pig
The industrial slaughter that creates pork products entails unbelievable suffering for more than 1.5 billion pigs globally every year. Most face this fate after being denied the space and mental stimulation that they need to live fulfilled lives.
Let’s consider a typical pig: pig 819, who we will call Archie. When he is born on a typical factory farm one of his first experiences is searing pain associated with neutering, tail docking, and teeth clipping. Over the next several months of his life, he fights for everything he needs to stay alive even though his life is one spent standing in the urine and feces of his litter as they mature into young pigs. One morning at about 22 weeks of age he is loaded onto a large truck crammed full of other pigs.
1. Cruel transport
The truck Archie finds himself on is filled with strange pigs that he’s never met before. Because it is three levels tall, these pigs are both above and below him. All of them let out terrified cries as the floor begins to shift below them and the world begins to move outside. In the first few hours he calms himself down, but as time continues to pass with no end in sight he gets progressively thirstier and hungrier. Still the truck rolls on. As the distance traveled continues to grow Archie begins to lose weight. Finally, after almost a full day of travel without access to food and water, the truck rolls to a stop. Though Archie has lost about 12 percent of his body weight he survived the journey, something he is grateful for and that the pig next to him cannot say.
Archie is unloaded from the truck and ushered down a long chute surrounded by the terrified cries of his family and friends, and hundreds of other pigs that he doesn’t know. The fear in the air is palpable as he joins his voice with those around him, his hunger and thirst forgotten for the moment. In front of him, the walls narrow and a single line is formed. The pig in front of him falls and is pushed out of the way by a machine and he is thrust forward into the place where they previously stood. Archie screams as a figure wearing all white places a cold, metal gun against his head. His world is filled with pain as the stun gun shoots 240 volts of electricity through his head. Even with the suffering he has endured, Archie is one of the lucky ones, as his stunning worked, rendering him unconscious to what follows. Some of his friends and family will not be so lucky and instead will experience more of the slaughter process while conscious.
Following stunning, Archie is hung by his legs and emptied of blood by piercing his heart, a process called exsanguination. Even if the stun was successful and stops the heart, once the organ is pierced and the process of emptying the body of blood begins it will commonly restart pumping until it finally gives out from a lack of energy.
4. Hang the body
Archie’s body continues to hang until the flow of blood slows down and virtually stops. Once his body has been emptied of blood, it is lowered into water to be scalded. His body must be emptied of blood quickly to avoid the growth of any bacteria that could contaminate his carcass.
To be scalded, Archie’s bloodless body is lowered into water that has been heated to about 60 degrees Celsius. This process burns all the hair so that it is easy to scrape off of his remains in preparation for butchering.
Butchering is the final step in reducing Archie, a once living, breathing, feeling being, into nothing more than bacon and pork chops. Before his flesh can be carved into pieces his bladder and sex organs must be removed to avoid contaminating the meat of the being that relied on them. He will then be hung once more and his body will be split down the middle so that it is easier to process.
How long do pigs live before slaughter?
Pigs bred, born, and raised in captivity are slaughtered after only 20 to 24 weeks or roughly six months of life. At this age they are transported to the slaughterhouse to be killed with hundreds or even thousands of other pigs.
Prior to being slaughtered, pigs spend their lives in high-density pens with only one square meter of space for each 100-kilogram pig. The pens typically have slatted floors that allow urine and feces to empty into troughs beneath. They also tend to lack mental stimulation appropriate for an animal as highly intelligent as pigs. This lack of mentally stimulating distraction can cause pigs to chew on each other's tails. To prevent this from happening it is common practice to dock the tails of pigs at the same time they are neutered, often without pain management or sedation.
Do pigs suffer when slaughtered?
The process of slaughtering a pig causes profound suffering for the animal both mentally and physically. During transport, pigs frequently experience exhaustion, heat stress, cold stress, prolonged dehydration, and starvation. If, due to their thrashing or a lack of employee training, the stunning fails to work correctly then they are likely to experience the pain of having their heart pierced and being bled out alive.
Do pigs cry when slaughtered?
The sound of pigs screaming can be heard echoing throughout the walls of slaughterhouses and even factory farms. Their cries are loud and piercing: clear signs of distress.
How to slaughter a pig humanely
Slaughtering a pig humanely is not possible. The unnecessary harm inherent in taking another’s life for our own personal gain already preempts the possibility of a humane slaughter. But even leaving this to one side, the pain and fear experienced by each individual pig at every stage of the process from birth all the way up to slaughter make the possibility of a humane slaughter not only impractical but impossible.
Thankfully there are organizations, including Sinergia Animal, fighting to reduce the suffering that pigs endure during their lives as part of an industrial farming system. Together with our supporters and coalition, we have successfully pushed for international and national corporations — including McDonald’s, JBS, and Aurora — to stop the use of gestation crates in their supply chains.
Though eliminating gestation crates allows mother pigs the freedom to move around more, interact with their young, and express more of their natural behaviors, the final outcome for each of the millions of pigs born into industrial farming remains the pain associated with slaughter. The best way to ensure we are not contributing to the suffering inherent in our farming systems is to simply not eat animals. Choosing to consume delicious plant-based foods instead of animal-derived products such as bacon and pork chops not only reduces the suffering of animals, but is just as delicious and has been shown to be more healthy in many ways than a traditional diet.