Over 10 million non-human land animals are killed every year for meat, eggs, and dairy in the United States. It can be easy to place the blame for these deaths on the slaughterhouse workers as they are the ones who directly kill these animals for food consumption. What often goes unacknowledged, however, are the drastic mental health effects these slaughterhouse workers face through their dangerous profession, and its links to behavior outside of the slaughterhouse.
The majority of slaughterhouse workers are people of color, who come from predominantly low-income communities. An estimated 38% of these slaughterhouse workers were born outside of the U.S., and an unknown percentage of those are undocumented immigrants. These marginalized people have less power to speak out against inhumane practices in slaughterhouses and factory farms because of their societal status.
Slaughterhouse workers are already at great risk of dangerous pollutants and injuries. For example, in 2015, Tyson meat packing plants reported an average of one amputation per month for workers in their facilities throughout that year. Workers are also exposed to air pollutants such as particulate matter carrying mold, animal dander, and pathogens. Additionally, workers in the meat industry frequently suffer from mental illnesses, which are ignored.
According to the American Psychological Association, slaughterhouse workers can experience a form of PTSD called Perpetration-Induced Traumatic Stress (PITS). Those who suffer from PITS are the “causal participant,” meaning that they are the reason for the trauma of another being, rather than being the victim of trauma themselves. The symptoms of PITS are similar to symptoms of PTSD in the sense that they both experience substance abuse issues, anxiety, depression, and the dissociation from reality. Slaughterhouse workers experience PITS, as their job results in the killing of 25 million farm animals daily in the U.S..
The mental effects and toll taken on these workers can be tied to violence outside of the slaughterhouse. A study published in 2009, by researchers Amy J. Fitzgerald, Linda Kalof, and Thomas Dietz outlines and analyzes the connections between slaughterhouses and increased crime rates. This particular study compared the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report and the US Census to see how crime rates changed as different industries came into different counties in the U.S. during the years of 1994-2002. They compared how crime rates differed around slaughterhouses and other industries. Their study found that slaughterhouse employment led to an increase of overall crime, yet more particularly violent and sexual crimes. According to the study, “The findings indicate that slaughterhouse employment increases total arrest rates, arrests for violent crimes, arrests for rape, and arrests for other sex offenses in comparision with other industries.”
In an article written for the Yale Global Health Review by Michael Lebwohl, there are personal quotes from slaughterhouse workers cited from the book Slaughterhouse: The Shocking Story of Greed, Neglect, and Inhumane Treatment Inside the U.S. Meat Industry by Gail A. Eisnitz. These personal accounts highlight the effect of PITS on U.S. slaughterhouse workers, and how the active killing of animals daily, can result in violence outside the slaughterhouse. Lebwohl highlighted one of these accounts from a worker: “So a lot of guys at Morrell [a major slaughterhouse] just drink and drug their problems away. Some of them end up abusing their spouses because they can’t get rid of their feelings.”
The devastating mental health effects on slaughterhouse workers are real and pervasive. Not only does this line of work affect the workers themselves, but it affects surrounding communities and the violence they may face. With more research and quantitative evidence about this topic, and the effects of slaughterhouses on workers and their communities, there can be policy initiatives and increased awareness around how violence in slaughterhouses translates to violence outside of the work-day.
Marina Fox is a first-term FFAC intern studying Journalism at Loyola Marymount University.