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Livestock Slaughter Animals

The slaughter of livestock animals is an essential part of the world today. There are many methods and tools that can be used on the livestock. Slaughtering is performed for many reasons, the most common would be for human consumption but there is religious slaughter that is also practiced in many parts of the world. There are many laws that are enforced to ensure that the slaughter of livestock is conducted correctly and humanely to guarantee the safety of the products that are used for human consumption.

The history of slaughter started as a way of survival, as humans began to become civilized they discovered that it was easier to contain the animals that they previously hunted and to put them on high protein diets to increase their weight. The more weight, the more useable product that came from the animal. Today slaughter is no longer just for survival, it is also used to control the livestock population. Although human consumption is still the primary reason, if animal slaughter did not exist their populations would increase dramatically and would become overpopulated causing inbreeding and risk of disease.

The common practice of slaughter starts with the initial killing of the animal, either by a firearm shot to the head or a stunning method which is also applied to the head. The animal is then hoisted up by its hind legs with meat hooks inserted into made slits between the bone and tendon just above the hocks. The processing of a cow starts with the expulsion of the insides. Certain edible parts can be kept such as the heart, liver and intestines which can be used as casings for sausage mixes. This starts with the cutting through the hide on the hind legs just below the meat hooks and continues down the cow so the insides can now be removed. Removal of the insides is easily done and virtually mess free if an empty barrel is pressed against the chest of the animal and the insides are then rolled into the barrel as you cut down the belly. After the animal is cleaned out it is then skinned, which is the removal of its hide. Next the head and legs are removed from the animal, this is usually done with a hacksaw or a reciprocating saw specially made for the butchering of animals. The carcass is then cut vertically into two halves and stored into a cooler. The purpose of the cooler is to prevent microorganism growth on the carcass so it will delay decomposition of the carcass.

After the carcass is fully chilled it is then brought out into the butchering end of the facility. The end of processing the animal starts with the halving the halves, so the full carcass has now been quartered. Specialty cuts are then made from here like your T-bone steak, chops, ribs, etc. All cuts of meat that are made go through a process called de-boning. It is a simple process where you make the specialty cuts, trim fat, and remove any bones and defaults in the meat. The extra meat, also called “scraps” are then put into a grinder and made into ground beef. From here it is basically the customer’s choice on what they desire from the animal and it is then wrapped and put into a storage freezer for the customer to pickup.

Ritual, or religious slaughter, is also practiced in many parts of the world and is still practiced today. These slaughter practices are sacred and have to be performed a certain way in order to be considered religious. This type of slaughter is usually performed with the sacrifice of an animal. The difference between regular slaughter houses and ritual slaughter is the way that it is performed. The sacrificial animal has to be terminated in a certain way, usually by bleeding out and some parts of the animal can not be consumed. The two most common types of ritual slaughter are Kosher slaughter and Halal. (J.M. Regenstein, 2003)

Kosher slaughter is the law of Kashrut, it is practiced by the Jewish religion but not every one in this religion follows the kosher practice because of the today’s society and the practice is thought to be an outdated ritual. This practice is based upon the act of faith and being obedient to God, many of the kosher laws are derived from the Old Testament in the Bible. In order for the food to be considered Kosher, only certain livestock animals can be used such as beef, sheep, goats, and deer with no flaws or diseases. The “law” of this is that only animals that chew their cud and have cloven hooves are considered to be kosher. (J.M. Regenstein, 2003)

The processes of the ritual slaughter is that as much blood as possible has to be drained from the animal, since in this religion it is forbidden to ingest the blood of the animal. The common practice of draining the blood of the animal is to cut the animals’ throat with an extremely sharp knife. The carcass is then hung so that the blood will drain out, after being hung, the carcass is washed and salted with “kosher salt” and cooked to well done.

Halal is another form of religious slaughter that is practiced by the Muslim religion. Halal means lawful or permitted and the opposite of halal is haram which means unlawful or prohibited. Many foods are referred to as being either halal or haram. The animal must be slaughtered with only the use of an extremely sharp knife. One of the major arguments about religious slaughter is that it is considered cruel to the animal and is not a humane act of slaughtered because of the restraint methods. Most slaughter plants restrain the live animal in an upright position before the initial killing of the animal, but there are also some religious slaughter plants that hang the live animal upside down and then do the killing. Hanging a live animal upside down has many negative affects such as the possibility of harm to the animal and also to the people performing the practice. (J.M. Regenstein, 2003)

Minnesota state law states the following as the humane way to terminate a livestock animal.

The law requires humane slaughter of livestock, defined as any method of slaughtering livestock which normally causes animals to be rendered insensible to pain by a single blow of a mechanical instrument or shot of a firearm or by chemical, or other means that are rapid and effective; or by methods of preparation necessary to Halal ritual slaughter, Jewish ritual slaughter and of slaughtering required by the ritual of the Islamic or Jewish faith. “Livestock” under this act is limited to cattle, horses, swine, sheep and goats. Any slaughterer who by act or failure to act violates section 31.591 is guilty of a misdemeanor and shall be punished accordingly. (Minnesota State Statute: 31.59-592)

There are many different methods of slaughtering that are practiced. The cheapest would be a firearm shot to head of the animal; the most used would be the stunning method, where there are multiple stunning tools and practices. There is also a captive bolt, electrical, gas and anoxic stunning methods that are used as well. The most controversial method of slaughter would be the stunning of an animal because if not done correctly can cause only nerve damage while the cow is still conscious and alive while being processed.

Recent concerns about captive bolt stunning in livestock is the spread of BSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy), also know as, mad cow disease. A possible risk in using this method is that when the animal is stunned that the brain matter is forced through the jugular vein and passes through the lungs and enters the edible carcass. This poses a threat that if the animal being slaughtered had the BSE prion, an infective protein agent, in their brain and this is passed into the carcass and then later sold for human consumption. (Anil, M.H., 2001)

Variant Creutzfeldt – Jakob Disease (BSE in humans) is another concern when discussing methods of stunning in slaughter. This disease is caused by the consumption of contaminated central nervous system tissue that had been passed through the body of the animal into the edible parts of the carcass. (Paul Brown, 2001)

The most recent topic of interest in the livestock industry today is the Bovine Tuberculosis (TB) and the effect it will have on, not only the cattle farms, but the slaughter houses themselves. The slaughter plants will now have to increase their sanitation practices to prevent the disease from spreading from carcass to carcass if an infected animal were to be brought in to be processed. With limited funding for the TB infected herds, most farmers are just taking their animals in and butchering them because they either can’t sell them because their infected or can’t afford to have their entire herd tested. This brings up another issue of an overload of animals to be slaughtered and the fact that if they are bringing in cattle that are infected or have the recessive gene that it would be spread to other carcasses.

Millions of pounds of red meat are already being commercial produced, which means how much red meat is currently being produced and sold. So, if every farmer were to bring his cattle to slaughter because they can’t afford to TB test their herd, the amount of red meat production would increase dramatically and could cause an overload of product. This also causes concern for the consumers who are afraid to purchase the byproducts because of their fear of contracting the diseases that are now the primary concerns in the livestock industry.

This graph shows the trend of red meat production of the past two years and the beginning of the 2008 year. As you can readily see that the numbers are already significantly higher than the past two. The slaughter of livestock used to be a way to support the high demand of meat products and to eliminate overpopulation, but with the changing of cultures, it has become a hassle. There are so many health issues and not enough inspectors to oversee all the types of slaughter plants; that diseases are slipping through into products that are later sold to consumers. There are several types of slaughter plants and not all of them are equally inspected either; this could be one of the many problems with the control of disease of the end products.

There are generally four types of slaughter plants; FI, TA, NFI, and custom exempt plants. Federally inspected (FI) plants transport meat interstate and they have to employ federal inspectors to comply with USDA standards. Talmedge-Aiken (TA) plants are under the USDA responsibility for inspection. Although considered federally inspected, the inspections are carried out by state employees. Non-federally Inspected (NFI) plants sell and transport only intrastate. There are individual state standards where state inspectors have to comply with and mobile slaughtering units are considered farm slaughter and are excluded from this. Custom-Exempt plants do not sell meat but operate on a custom basis. The animals and meat products are not inspected but the facilities are, and have to meet health standards. Custom-Exempt plants are considered NFI plants and head kill is included in NFI totals. (Agricultural Statistics Board NASS, USDA, 2006, PP 21/23)

Every slaughter plant has sanitation requirements and procedures that they have to follow in order to keep their business running. The requirements are met and periodically checked by inspectors, either federally inspected or state inspected. These inspections are made to ensure the quality and safety of the meat that is being sent out from these plants. To ensure this quality of production, humane slaughter of the animal is required also.

What is considered humane? This is a rising question to many inspectors and slaughterers, and this question is still unanswered to many of them. What is thought to be humane may in fact not be humane to the animal, and since we cannot feel its pain we can’t determine whether the methods used are painless or not. And this is why slaughter laws have come into effect.

The first law of humane slaughter was voluntary and came into effect in 1958. The law required that the livestock to be rendered insensible to pain. This was achieved by a blow, gunshot, or electrical or chemical means; it was to be rapid and effective before shackling, hoisting, casting, or gutting. (animal law statutes, citation 7 USC 1901-1907, 2008)

The law that is currently enforced by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is known as the Humane Slaughter Act. This act became effective in 1978 and instead of being voluntary this law is mandatory for all slaughter houses. The only exception to the statutory requirement of rendering the animal insensible to pain; is ritual slaughter, which still needs to be approved in order to be carried out.

The Humane Slaughter act of 1978 concludes that the use of humane methods on livestock for slaughter results in a safer environment and better working conditions for persons engaging in the slaughtering practices. This also improves benefits for producers, processors, and consumers that tend to accelerate a constant flow of livestock and byproducts across state and country borders. If the humane slaughter of livestock continues, the end products and consumer satisfaction will remain steady and will bring comfort to those who anticipate disease spreading because of unlawful slaughtering practices. (Animal law statutes, citation 7 USC 1901-1907, 2008)

The slaughter of livestock is not only a high demand of today’s population, but it is also a necessity. It is beneficial to the human race, economy, and is becoming a world renounce trade. With the world today, slaughter has evolved from a way of survival to becoming versatile and plays an important role in the economy. The slaughter of livestock is an essential part of the human lifestyle and will continue to deliver and progress with the ever changing future of the world.

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