Sausages and a Turning Point

While observing how sausage is made, filmmakers discover new understandings

Perhaps the ultimate metamorphosis is for an animal to go from being a living being to being a sausage. Nothing about a sausage looks like flesh or bone. But Eric Shelley tells us that “we can’t stop thinking about the fact that this was once a living being four days ago.” A pig. A pig that is now sausage. Perhaps we started this film thinking that the meat industry necessarily disconnected from the animal origins; however, today we learned that this is far from the reality. All of the students we spoke with were sincerely cognizant of the fact that the contents of the sausages were once living animals and that these animals are now part of human nourishment. The makers of meat, whether local and small or commercial and large (truly a false binary), all share a common understanding of the transition of animal to dinner plate.  It’s the consumers that need to embark on a similar journey to this transparency of what is entailed in making meat protein available for human nutrition. Moral arguments of vegetarianism and veganism aside, we reflect on the people and institutions that consider the animal in the plastic-wrapped package, and for that animal to deserve a painless death. Local, small-scale, regional, industrial, commercial, and any other terms that create false segmentations in the meat industry, create a fog over what we need to explore: What is it that we can do to alleviate the suffering of animals when they are harvested for meat?  That being said, seeing how sausage was made at the SUNY Cobleskill Meat Lab was quite the experience!

One thing about sausage is that it enables us to use parts of the animal that otherwise wouldn’t be desirable as prime meat cuts.  We hadn’t expected to think of sausage as respectful in terms of the animal it came from, but it really is!  Using every last bit is commendable. And although it was hard for us to wrap our minds around the fact that pig parts were being stuffed into pig intestines (for the casing), there is something noble about confronting that fact head on.

The pig intestines are pre-ordered from a company in Pennsylvania that places them in red plastic devices to make them easier to work with. We were quite amazed to feel the tissue of these intestines, which is remarkably strong and resilient.  It made us think of our own bodies and how wonderfully they are made!

It was quite fascinating to see the sausage coming out of this device tightly packed in the casing (intestine).  Even more remarkable was that we were all able to talk about the pigs that were harvested for this sausage. These students who were grinding this meat and making this sausage, all participated in the slaughter of the pigs. There was no disconnect at all.

Looking more closely, you can see the tightly packed meat and the strength of the intestinal casing.

Another highlight of our day was to show a work sample of Abattoir Rising to Eric Shelley and the Meat Lab students.

Being able to hear their comments, questions, and concerns enables more understanding through collaboration. We were honored to be there with them to hear their thoughts.


Teaching Humane Harvesting at SUNY Cobleskill

Eric Shelley teaches about harvesting goats and electrical pig stunning

David and I visited Eric Shelley at the SUNY Cobleskill Meat Lab again today and learned more about humane slaughter. He spent a lot of time explaining to his students how to determine if a stun has been done correctly and if an animal has lost consciousness.

We had never seen the slaughter of goats before and hadn’t even considered that this process is quite common in the United States. Of course one can’t just go to the supermarket and readily purchase a package of goat meat.  But since goat cheese and goat milk have become so popular, it makes sense that unusable male goats and older female dairy goats would ultimately be processed for meat. Eric showed us the goats in the holding pen that were waiting to be slaughtered.

Since the kill box at SUNY Cobleskill is designed for larger animals (cattle and hogs), the goats were stunned outside of the box. Eric straddled them so they would be secure while a student proceeded with the captive bolt gun to stun them prior to being bled out. It’s amazing how quickly everything happens.

After working on this film for almost two years, we had never seen electrical stunning. Today at the Meat Lab they needed to stun a pig electrically because the customer wanted to roast the pig whole with the head still attached.

Stunning with a captive bolt gun would, of course, damage the head. Electrical stunning is very effective with pigs, as we understand, and Eric did a fine job rendering this pig insensible to pain.

When we had seen pigs processed before at the Meat Lab, the hides were removed. But since this pig was to be roasted with the hide still on, it was essential to remove the hair on the skin.  This entailed putting the pig into a scald tank to loosen the hairs.  We were impressed with how Eric and his students were respectful and gentle with the pig, even though it was no longer alive.

After the scald and manually scraping the hair off of the skin, Eric applied a torch to remove all remaining small hairs.

Every step of the harvesting process, from the time the animal comes off of the truck until the time the animal (now a carcass) is placed in the cooler, takes an extraordinary amount of knowledge, understanding, skill, and patience.  Programs like this one at SUNY Cobleskill are essential for training people who want to work in any facet of this industry.

Presentation at the University of Oslo

Audrey Kali speaks at the Rhetoric of Human-Animal Relations Workshop

Last week I was invited to give a presentation about my research on humane slaughter at The Rhetoric of Human-Animal Relations Workshop at the University of Oslo, May 29th – 30th 2012.

The workshop, organized by Kristian Bjørkdahl, was sponsored by the University Centre for Development and the Environment and featured speakers from around the world (India, Australia, Wales, Germany, Finland, the United Kingdom, the United States and Norway).

The focus of the workshop was to ask the following questions:  “How do we use rhetoric to form, understand, explain, discuss, ponder, justify, challenge, and criticize human-animal practices? How do we rhetorically create, uphold, and challenge the norms that are supposed to guide our behavior towards nonhumans? How do visual and verbal rhetorics shape human-animal relations in theory as well as in practice? Finally, how does interacting with animals inspire development of other rhetorics (olfactory, tactile, performative, etc.)?”  You can visit the workshop website and view the program:

Workshop: The Rhetoric of Human-Animal Relations

My presentation addressed the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act in the United States and how the guidelines for determining correct stunning are difficult for workers on the kill floor to interpret.

I first investigated reports from veterinary research about how animals experience pain and lapse into unconsciousness. I then looked at how the USDA and the American Meat Institute strive to provide adequate training for plant employees based on that research.

One of my main points was that determining sense (pain) and insensibility (unconsciousness) are extremely complex and that more adequate training is needed for both USDA inspectors and slaughterhouse workers responsible for stunning the animals prior to their being bled-out. This complexity is one of the reasons why the Government Accountability Office and the Animal Welfare Institue continue to find humane slaughter noncompliances on processing plant kill floors.

I was very impressed by one of the key-note speakers, Dr. Mara Miele, a Senior Research Fellow at Cardiff University in Wales. She has recently worked on an EU funded project, Welfare Quality, which strives to improve animal welfare in the food quality chain.

You can read more about Dr. Miele’s work on her website: Dr. Mara Miele: Cardiff University