Dispatches from the slaughterhouse

“When you kill them, you can’t eat them”

A former slaughterhouse workers tells the harrowing stories of the birds she had to kill.

The birds' eyes revealed their pain, she says

Image: Pixabay

For two years, Gisiele worked on the death line of a poultry farm in the northwest of Paraná state, in the south of Brazil. Her work consisted of slashing the throats of birds that were hanging upside down in a conveyor belt designed to ramp up the kill rate.

“The first time I saw that equipment I was shocked. I had never seen so many animals in one place to be killed – endless rows, the birds upside down, their eyes searching contact. It was very strange because we knew they were alive,”she tells.

The company where Gisiele worked killed thousands of birds per day. Realizing the number of lives decreased by the second and the number of deaths soared was heartbreaking.

She says it was not uncommon for birds to arrive at the bleeding area still thrashing about, resisting death.

“The chickens received electric shocks to reduce their resistance and muscular contraction. They said it reduced suffering but you could see they felt it. It seems their bodies were weakened and could not speak as well as their eyes could.”

After a few weeks, she realized that, in order to continue working at the slaughterhouse, she would have to stop paying attention to the birds, at least not directly, which she did until she became more experienced.

Even though she eventually got used to the killing, she says that after two months of work she stopped eating poultry.

“The smell started bothering me. No matter where I was, where there was chicken, it was the same smell, the smell of death. When you kill chicken all day, you cannot eat them.”

She remembers one day when she placed her finger near the head of a chicken and felt their intense breathing before the bird was bled.

“I think that happened on the second week,” recalls Gisiele. “I started shivering and couldn’t behead them because it was just like a person breathing. A colleague came up to me and said we cannot get used to the truth, but create one to do what we do for as long as we can.”

On another day, a chicken was still thrashing about after three minutes of bleeding. “They did it so energetically that they fell to the ground. They made this strange, pained noise. I could see their despair. They didn’t want to die.”

The bird stayed alive for a few more minutes and ended up discarded on the trash pile.

These days, Gisiele tells everyone that there is no proper stunning at the slaughterhouses. Stunning is designed to create an illusion that the animal no longer feels anything. But the fact is that they just don’t have the energy to react against the situation.

“We tend to think that the worse the suffering, the more we show it. But it’s not always like that. When someone is too weak, maybe their pain is worse but nobody will realize its true dimension.”

Gisiele resigned from the poultry plant four years ago. She worked there for two years. “I was unemployed at the time and you forced yourself to believe they are just things. I couldn’t really get used to them. Proof of that is that I could never eat chicken again, no matter where it comes from,” she explains.

One of the episodes that marked Gisiele was the one when some birds tried to escape as they were taken out boxes. One of the employees was fired because he refused to kill three birds that had been captured from the highway after they escaped.

“He felt sorry for them. He said had he not been fired, he would have resigned anyway. On that day, I resigned, too.”


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