Slaughterhouses in Mexico: an investigation into the heart of the meat industry.

Slaughterhouses in Mexico: an investigation into the heart of the meat industry

Aitor Garmendia
Translator: Liz Tyson
Mexico / 2015 - 2017

Over the course of a number of months, between the years 2015 and 20171 I gained access to 58 slaughterhouses, located ten different Mexican states. During this time, I documented the killing of cows, goats, chickens and horses, as well as the transport of these animals, from farm to slaughterhouse.

The following images are a sample of the procedures that take place during the industrial slaughter of animals, which are generally hidden by meat corporations. These pictures provide relevant information on the way in which animals are treated at farms and slaughterhouses.

This material, on the condition that it use be to continue to challenge the exploitation of animals, is available to any individual or organisation working in a not-for-profit capacity for their use, free of charge.2

The completion of this project has been made possible only thanks to the collaboration of various people who share the goal of exposing animal cruelty and who have supported me in its development and delivery.

SLAUGHTERHOUSE. WHAT THE MEAT INDUSTRY HIDES. // DOCUMENTARY FILM: Link to documentary web (with mages obtained from 58 slaughterhouses located in ten states of Mexico between the years 2015 and 2017.)


Thanks to images which have been obtained by activists who have infiltrated farms and slaughterhouses, members of the public have been able to see the truth behind the animal agriculture industry; a side of the industry kept deliberately behind closed doors. These types of investigations are damaging the image of the meat production companies, influencing the demand for their products, closing down businesses and threatening the economic future of those companies that continue to exploit animals.

The meat industry is well aware of the social impact generated by the publication of images and footage obtained by activists within their facilities, and for this reason they do all that they can to guard against infiltration. To access a farm or slaughterhouse with a camera, and in particular with a camera which is not hidden or “undercover” is not easy and so many activists carrying out this work are forced to use hidden cameras – either concealed on their own bodies as they enter and move around the farms or slaughterhouses, or static hidden cameras which are fixed in a position by activists where they will not be found by the farm or slaughterhouse workers.

In the United States, decades of investigations and campaigns brought by activists against the industry have resulted in the agriculture lobby influencing politicians in order to protect their financial interest in animal exploitation from criticism. A number of states have now made it illegal to film within farms and slaughterhouses.3

Slaughterhouses which permit entry to a photo journalist are exceptional cases and, in the rare case that this happens, it is usually forbidden for those photographers to capture the moment in which the animals are killed, that is to say: access to the kill floor is generally out of bounds. In addition, the industry profiles known individual activists and organisations to ensure that, for those connected with the movement to end animal exploitation, access to their facilities is prohibited or, at best, made as difficult as possible.

Mexico is one world’s largest producers of beef, chicken and pork meat.4 Despite this, until 2015, no large-scale, undercover of the countries slaughterhouses has ever been carried out.

At the end of 2015, after various failed attempts, I was able to enter two slaughterhouses in the Mexican state of Jalisco, and photograph their practices; from the arrival of the animals in the trucks to the moment of slaughter. This was the beginning of the investigation which has now extended to 58 Mexican slaughterhouses and which now encompasses a comprehensive account of what happens there behind closed doors. The project presented here represents that work, carried out over the course of several trips and several months.

It is important to underline that, although all of the material presented in this project has been collated in Mexico, the purpose of this project is not simply to demonstrate what happens in Mexican slaughterhouses specifically. While there are certain differences in the techniques employed, in the facilities themselves, in the existence of, enforcement of and compliance with any respective country’s laws – some stricter than others, some more lax than others – the fundamental practices and aims of any slaughterhouse, regardless of where it is in the world, is the same: kill as many animals as possible, as quickly as possible.

The cruelty and violence that exists in these places, the terror forced upon the animals in their final, miserable moments, is a common factor in all slaughterhouses and forms an intrinsic part of the industrial animal exploitation system and, as such, as is evidenced throughout the citations and references used throughout this project, this happens in every slaughterhouse in the world. Aside from the size of any individual slaughterhouse, the specific technique used to kill, or the legal framework within which the slaughterhouses operate in any particular country, these places represent one of the largest and most systematic form of violence against animals.

Map of Mexico with the locations where the 58 slaughterhouses that have been documented are situaded.

Map of Mexico with the 58 locations where the documented slaughterhouses are situaded.

In this slaughterhouse 300 pigs are killed every day approximately.

300 pigs are approximately killed in this slaugtherhouse every day. Oaxaca, 2017.

Legal framework and animal welfare assessment criteria

The images which form part of this report do not represent isolated incidents of animal cruelty but practices which are inherent in the contemporary killing process. It is possible that improving infrastructures, implementing new and different processes or the provision of training for workers may serve diminish some of the suffering. However, it is vital to understand that, with the best will in the world, these potential improvements are limited and would, in no way prevent animals from experiencing significant suffering.

The legislative framework which informs the legal protection of animal welfare has been designed to apply only to the extent that it does not negatively impact the productivity of the industry using the animals. In fact, in most cases, the industry’s needs are given precedence over the basic needs of the animals.

In addition, the existence of the law does not mean that the law itself will be properly implemented or enforced. I was able to confirm that, in many slaughterhouses, the law was broken on repeated occasions: I witnessed animals being struck with tubes and pieces of wood; much of the machinery which should be used to render the animals unconscious was not working and in other cases, was entirely absent. Some staff do not have the proper skills to use the equipment – something recognised by their employers on a regular basis but not addressed, and animals are sent straight from the lorry to the kill floor immediately on arrival, without being afforded the rest hours that are legally required.

Those who defend the principle of “humane slaughter” of animals in abattoirs often emphasise the need to “stun” the animals prior to killing them and place great weight on the method used to do this but, in doing so, ignore that animals inevitably suffer throughout the entire process - from being met with punches and kicks on arrival, to being given electric shocks, to the moment in which their throats are cut. There is not a slaughterhouse in the world were animals do not suffer.

The purpose of this investigation is not to renounce specific forms of stun or slaughter but, rather, the exploitation of the animals in and of itself. Notwithstanding this, it is important to note that a large part of the, already minimal, standards for animal welfare that are imposed upon slaughterhouses are simply not met. Not only this but that these failures are known to the authorities responsible but lead to no meaningful recourse and that, much of the time, legal standards relating to animal welfare are in fact designed to support the industry – whether that be serving to improve their image in the eyes of the public or serving to streamling and simplify processes – rather than seeking to provide meaningful protection to the animals themselves.

It is important to make clear that, in order to properly understand the critiques laid out in this investigation, current animal welfare laws are fundamentally incompatible with animal rights.

Previous module to the slaughter zone

Area immediately prior to the slaughter zone. Atizapan (State of Mexico), 2016.

Transport of animals and arrival at the slaughterhouse

Except for the small number of places whereby slaughter is carried out at the same place where animals are bred and kept prior to slaughter, all animals who survive the conditions imposed on them as part of the animal agriculture industry will be sent to slaughterhouses. In the Manual of Responsibilities in the Transport of Pigs, published by the Secretary of Agriculture, Farming, Rural Development, Fisheries and Food of Mexico (SAGARPA),5 it is recognised that the transport is a critical phase of the meat production process and that some animals do not survive their journey from the farm to the slaughterhouse. They may die of hunger, thirst or as a consequence of exposure to extreme changes in temperature – stress as a result of overheating or heat stroke – or suffociating from crushing due to overcrowding in the lorries. In addition, the Federal Animal Health Law of Mexico6 prohibits hitting the animals or treating them violently. Article 22 of the same states:

The Secretariat shall determine the criteria and requirements to be met with regard to animal health provisions for the management and transportation of live animals to ensure their welfare. [Practices] shall not entail abuse, fatigue, insecurity, unhygienic conditions, drink or food, long distances without rest periods.

In another manual published by SAGARPA, Loading Birds: Fasting and Catching Programmes, high mortality of animals during transport to the slaughterhouse is recognised as common.

It is important that the vehicle does not stop when the animals are on board and in carriers, as ventilation is extremely limited and may cause stress to the animals, including death.

It is known that, inside the vehicles that transport the birds, the thermal gradients change in relation to the number of birds transported, the layout and construction of the vehicle itself, the space for the transport crates and the time of year. This means that the already hugely stressful experience for the animals is increased on hotter days, with the result that mortality rates can reach 1% of all animals.

Around 16 million animals die each year in Mexico alone due to transport conditions.8 This, and the fact that both authorities and the industry itself simply accept these deaths as the norm, supports the idea that the lives of these animals hold no value in and of themselves.

During the transport of the animals to the slaughterhouses, as well as after their arrival, the animals have been kicked, hit with rods and poles, thrown on the floor and stamped on. The violence, included that which is completely unnecessary in terms of the production process is inherent in the industry and is normalised. Taking this into account, it becomes clear that the law will have little impact upon the lived experiences of the animals.

Transportation and reception of the animals at the slaughterhouses.

Animals are separated from their social environment, loaded into lorries, forced into overcrowded spaces with animals they don’t know and forced to stand in their own urine and excrement. During the journey, they are forced to remain standing during long periods surrounded by unfamiliar noises, being thrown around as the lorry breaks and manoeuvres the roads. With practically no ventilation, the animals are forced to breath toxic, contaminated air laden with ammonia from their own defecations, as well as the exhaust fumes of the lorry taking them to their death. Many of the animals are transported with clear signs of illness, with broken legs, ill or with serious injury – something which is expressly forbidden in the SAGARPA handbook—. 9 The animals must endure these conditions for up to 24 hours.

As a consequence of all this, the animals often arrive at the slaughterhouse exhausted and barely able to move. In these cases, electric shock poles are used on their hindquarters to force the, already terrified, animals to move. If the animal still does not move having been given electric shocks, a rope or chain is tied round them and they are stunned right there. As it can then take several minutes to move the unconscious animals to the kill floor, it is not unusual for them to regain consciousness during this time and go to their deaths fully awake and aware of what is happening to them.

In this slaughterhouse in Chiapas, the horses that arrived crippled and are unable to access the stunning box by themselves, are dragged by a chain around their necks.

In this slaughterhouse in Chiapas, some horses arrive crippled and are unable to access the stunning box by themselves. They are dragged by their necks with a chain. Arriaga (Chiapas), 2017.

On arrival at the slaughterhouse, this cow did not stand and was dragged with a rope to the bulldozer.

During the transportation, cows have to stand up for long periods of time, suffering through loud noises, sudden jams on the brakes and rattlings. Route from San Juan de los Lagos (Jalisco) to San Francisco de los Romo (Aguascalientes), 2017.

The lorries that transport the animals are not insulated against changes in temperature and many do not have roofs so there is no protection for the animals from either the sun or the rain. A study carried out in the State of Queretaro confirmed an increase in animal deaths during transport during the hottest months of the year.10

During the transport, cows stand during long periods of time, facing noises, brakings and rattlings.

During the transport, cows stand during long periods of time, facing noises, brakings and rattlings. Route from San Juan de los Lagos (Jalisco) to San Francisco de los Romo (Aguascalientes), 2017.

Truck for the transport of cows, bulls and calves

Truck for transport of cows, bulls and calves. San Juan de los Lagos (Jalisco), 2017.

At times when I have been following trucks —for periods of less than three hours— the animals have not been served in any way or satiated.

During the periods up to three hours that I followed trucks, most of the times, the animales were not fed or satiated. San Juan de los Lagos (Jalisco), 2017.

Upon arrival the animals are driven by blows or by electric shocks —as in the image— to the place where they will wait until their slaughter.

Upon arrival to the slaughterhouse the animals are driven by blows or electric shocks —as in the image— to the place where they will wait until their slaughter. Atizapan (State of Mexico), 2016.

In each box between ten and fourteen chickens are introduced and they move without any kind of care

Between ten and fourteen chickens are introduced in each box and then transported with any care. Toluca (State of Mexico), 2016.

The killing

In the slaughterhouses of Mexico, more than 1,600 million animals were killed during 2014.11Independent of size, of the quality of installations and equipment – which was extremely rudimentary in some of the slaughterhouses visited – or of the advances made in mechanisation of the process of killing, the violence perpetrated against animals in every single abattoir is extreme and brutal, without exception.

After being greeted with beatings, pushes and kicks, the animals are either taken to the “stables” to rest or, as often happens and in direct contravention of the law, they are taken directly to the kill floor.

According to the workers, some animals can intuit or anticipate their own deaths. Many of them resist – especially the cows and bulls, and in order to get them to enter the stunning cage, they are moved using electric cattle prods or by beating them forward with bars. In other instances, a rope is tied to their neck or horns and they are physically dragged into the cage to be stunned.

According to the Official Law of Mexico NOM-033-SAG/ZOO-2014, the animals must rest following the journey from the farm to the slaughterhouse in order to mitigate the stress that they have experienced during the journey. After this rest period, they should be passed to the stunning cage, where they should be made unconscious using one of the approved methods. Much of the time the rest period, which should offer the smallest form of respite, is not observed and the animals are moved straight from the lorry to the kill floor.

Recently arrived in slaughterhouse, this goat was dragged by a rope around his neck to a module where it was stuck without the previous stunning.

Just arrived in slaughterhouse, this goat was dragged by a rope around his neck to a module where it was slaughtered without being stunned. Huamantla (Tlaxcala), 2016.

A worker/operator beats a few pigs with a stick in order to keep them immobile and facilitate the task of the throat slitting.

A worker beats a few pigs with a stick in order to keep them immobile and facilitate the task of the throat slitting. Izucar de Matamoros (Puebla), 2017.

The cows are led through narrow passages from the stables to the stunning box

Cows led through narrow passages from the stables to the stunning box. Villacorzo (Chiapas), 2017.

A group of pigs is directed down the ramp to the slaughter area

Group of pigs directed down the ramp to the slaughter area. Ocoyoacac (State of Mexico), 2016.

Methods of stunning and immobilisation

The purpose of using stunning methods is to ensure that the animals lose consciousness immediately so that they do not suffer as they bleed out and die. Mexican law demands that these methods are utilised but the reality is very different. For various reasons – inter alia lack of equipment, breakdowns or simply in order to speed up the process – many animals are conscious when they are killed.

Municipal slaughterhouses are not always equipped with the necessary tools and those which do have them often experience breakdowns which may not be fixed for weeks at a time. This is, according to the managing staff of the abattoirs, due to the failure and lack of investment from the relevant authorities. In other slaughterhouses, staff choose to save time by omitting to use stun equipment and, instead beat the animals unconscious. The feeling that I got, speaking to dozens of managers and operatives is that stunning pre-slaughter is simply not seen as important. Everyone simply turns a blind eye.

Stunning with a captive bolt.

Stunning with a captive bolt. Zapopan (Jalisco), 2015.

Slaughterhouses lack the precision of industrial assembly lines which, paradoxically, were inspired by them. Animals, while treated like pieces of merchandise, are not inanimate objects. Many resist and fight for their lives. They move, they struggle, they attack, they try to escape from the kill floor and, indeed, from the slaughterhouse itself. In addition, the expertise of those people dealing with the animals is not always the same and some operatives have not received adequate training or are accustomed to immobilising the animals using a knife or a garrotte. These factors will clearly impact upon the application and precision of any stunning practice. Even when applied “correctly” none of these methods can completely prevent all animals suffering as their throats are slit.

Not all of the slaughterhouses have a stunning cage. In some instances, there is no designated space for stunning, the pigs might be stunned in a group and the cows immobilized by being tied by a rope either attached to their neck or their horns. Some operatives speed up the killing process by sending more than one animal into the stunning cage. And the animals do not go willingly. They are driven to the stunning area with shouts, poles and bars, kicks, punches and electric shocks. All of this expressly forbidden by the law NOM-033-SAG/ZOO-2014.

There are different tools or methods used to immobilise animals, dependent on the species. The following section will describe the various methods observed as part of this investigation, as well as the failures to comply with legislative demands associated with stunning.

A worker beats a few pigs with a stick in order to keep them immobile and facilitate the task of the throat slitting

A worker beats some pigs with a club in order to immobilize them and facilitate the slaughter by throat slitting.. Chiapas, 2017.

Blow to the head

In some slaughterhouses, cows and pigs are hit hard on their skull until they fall to the ground. On some occasions, as can be seen in the following video, animals can be brutally beaten. Recent investigations have demonstrated that this is a method used extensively across Mexico.14 In the smaller slaughterhouses, chickens are not always stunned prior to slaughter and are, instead, beaten with a wooden pole prior to being placed in the killing line. It is important to bear in mind that the stunning of animals facilitates the process of bleeding out and, much of the time, when it is used, it is not used to reduce suffering but to simply keep the animals still as they bleed out and thus speed up the process.

In some slaughterhouses, animals are beaten with clubs or axes before being slaughtered.

Electric stunning

In electric stunning, special pincers equipped with two electrodes located at their ends are placed on both sides of the animal's head and transmit an electric shock. If done correctly - something that does not always happen - an epileptic seizure is caused and, consequently, momentary loss of consciousness. This method is reversible, i.e.: even in cases where the process is carried out correctly, the animal regains consciousness in a short time. During the epileptic seizure caused by the discharge a pig will experience three phases: the tonic phase, when the animal collapses and stops breathing; the clinic phase, when the animal relaxes and begins to give involuntary kicks; the third phase, when the animal recovers and may begin to experience pain again.15

According to the law, bleeding of the animal must begin no more than 20 seconds after stunning; any later than that and the pig will enter the third phase and may regain consciousness. Regardless of this, in many slaughterhouses, the pigs are left hanging by one of their feet for a time much longer than is permitted legally.

During the killing and in the moments just before, some animals show signs of consciousness. They squeal and struggle, sometimes with such impetus that they free themselves from the chains holding their foot and they fall to the floor from a height of two or three metres. In these cases, they are either killed right there on the floor or taken back to begin the process again.

The law prohibits the application of electricity when the pigs are hanging; something which, in some slaughterhouses, is not followed.

The electrical stunning is reversible and many pigs regain their consciousness after a few seconds

Electrical stunning is reversible (temporary) and many pigs regain their consciousness after a few seconds. . Oaxaca, 2017.

An operator pulls the pig to the area where it is prepared to be lifted and transported to the place where they cut it

After receiving the electric shock the pigs are taken out of the stunning box, tied with a chain to one of their legs and moved to the killing area. Oaxaca, 2017.

The pigs enter pushed by electric shocks to the stunning box.

Pig in stunning box. Zapopan (Jalisco), 2015.

Mapa localizaciones mataderos México

When the pigs convulse as a consequence of the electric discharge, its handling becomes difficult and the operators usually step on them to facilitate the task. Zapopan (Jalisco), 2015.

Various studies have shown that a large number of animals remain conscious after the application of electric shock stunning. The University of Bristol revealed, after an investigation in 29 slaughterhouses in England, that 36% of pigs were incorrectly stunned, that 15.6% had to be re-stunned and 20.5% regained consciousness during the slaughter process.17 England is, supposedly, one of the countries with the most demanding animal welfare laws in the world. In a more recent study carried out in a Colombian slaughterhouse where the application of electric shock stunning to 1,341 pigs was observed, it was found to be effective in only 20.6% of the cases.18

Dr Hillman, Professor of Physiology and Director of the Unity Laboratory in Applied Neurobiology of the University of Surrey stated the following: :

Stunning is believed to be humane, because it is thought that the animals do not suffer pain or distress. This is almost certainly untrue, for the same reasons as have been indicated for the electric chair. (Animal Liberation, Singer P. 1975)19

Electrocution in cows and horses

For horses and cows, the only method of stunning permitted is via use of a captive bolt gun. Any other method is prohibited by Mexican law.20 Despite this, I recorded some slaughterhouses using electric shock administered using a pole. First the charge is applied to the animal’s head and then to other parts of the body using a pole charged using electric cables.

Electrocution of horses.

Electrocution of horses. Arriaga (Chiapas), 2017.

Electrified water stunning

This is the most commonly used procedure to stun chickens or other birds of similar size in slaughterhouses that have an automated processing line. On arrival at the slaughterhouse the chickens are unloaded from the trucks and hung upside down from their legs on hooks which are suspended from motorized rails which then move the chickens through the slaughter process.

Chickens intended for fattening have been genetically selected in such a way that many suffer severe disorders in their legs and can barely stand up.21 A skilled worker can hang more than 1,000 chickens per hour on the motorised rail.22 If this is not done correctly —which is often the case given the speed of some processing lines— they can suffer even more damage than they are already destined to experience. One study concluded that, after hanging, 3% of the chickens had broken bones;23 another study indicated that the hanging increases the chances of bone breakage by 44 %.24 In a manual published by the National Service of Health, Safety and Agro-Food Quality (Senasica) of Mexico it is assumed that 3 out of 100 chickens suffer broken wings as a result of this practice.

Hanging of chickens on the hooks of processing line in a semi-automated plant

Chickens are hanged on the hooks of a processing line in a semi-automated plant. Chapala (Jalisco), 2016.

When the production line stops, the chickens can spend many minutes suspended by their legs. This is in direct contravention of the law, which demands that waiting time cannot exceed one minute.

With the slaughter line in motion, the chickens are moved to a tank filled with electrified water where their heads are submerged for a few seconds. Some animals raise their heads and manage to pass the water tank without being stunned. For those whose heads are submerged, electricity runs through their bodies and often causes bleeding and bone fractures.26 If the inlet of the tank is wet they may suffer electric shocks just before submerging the head.

The complexity of multiple bird waterbath stunning is not conducive to maintaining good welfare. Effectiveness of the stun cannot be determined. The method, widely practiced because it is simple and cheap, cannot be controlled. You can’t control the amount of electrical current flowing through a bird. You can’t harmonize electrical resistance in broiler chickens. The waterbath has to be replaced. (Dr. Mohan Raj, USDA Seminar, December 16, 2004) 27

Under this system of immobilisation, the voltage is constant and equal for all animals. If the size and weight of the chickens varies, it is possible that some do not receive adequate shock to cause unconsciousness. Virgil Butler, ex operative from the meat production giant, Tyson Foods, turned animal rights activist, suggested that this method has far more to do with increasing production than preventing animal suffering. Speaking on the subject, he stated:

The stunner is strictly to facilitate line speed. Before they implemented the stunner down at that plant, the line ran 98 birds per minute, with two killers. After adding the stunner, it jumped the speed up to 120. Then, they added the killing machine, dropped one of the killers, and turned the speed up to 142. Now, of course, it runs 186 birds per minute. All it does is paralyze the muscles. It doesn't render them unconscious or make them insensible to pain. In Tyson's own words to the workers, «It makes the plant more efficient». 29

If the electrical stunning is not properly executed, either because the operative has applied the equipment incorrectly or because the electrical charge was insufficient, it is possible that the animals do not lose consciousness and enter into a state of shock known as The Nightmare State of Leduc.30 Whilst fully conscious, the animal cannot move nor emit any sound.

Immobilisation with captive bolt gun

Due to its low cost and easy execution, the captive bolt gun is the probably the most commonly-used method of immobilisation for cows, pigs, sheep, goats and horses.31

Actioned using a cartridge or compressed air to propel a projectile which, after entering the cranium, returns to its position in the gun, the gun causes brain damage. In order for it to be carried out effectively, the animal needs to be securely restrained in the stunning cage and the gun needs to be held steadily against the animal’s head at the point where the bolt will enter. This is not a simple task.

Due to its low cost and easy operation, captive bolt pistol is one of the most used tools

Due to its low cost and ease of operation, the captive bolt pistol is one of the most used tools. Tehuacan (Puebla), 2014.

The object of the shot is leaving animals knocked out but it is not always achieved

Animals are shot to knock them out, but this does not always happen. Tehuacan (Puebla), 2014.

Many cows enter the space nervously and resist, struggle and move their heads and sometimes manage to escape from the cage. To be able to execute the shot with the precision required in these situations is not easy and, on occasion, I have seen animals shot over and over again.

If the pistols are not in a good state of repair, they often stick and this can mean that more than the 30 seconds between shots (the time limit is proscribed by the law) can pass.32 In the documentary which accompanies this investigation, one operative can be seen shooting the same cow repeatedly and without success. He states that he has used up all the cartridges available for the gun for that day

A study realised in a Mexican slaughterhouse previously demonstrated that, of 8,118 animals monitored as part of the study, only 51% of them were correctly immobilised.33Another study carried out in Europe which considered 585 bulls, 306 cows, 58 steers and 49 calves revealed that stunning had failed in 12.5% of instances and that the interval between the shot and the beheading was more than 100 seconds.34

This technique, even when applied in the correct manner, does not guarantee that the animals lose consciousness and many animals show signs of suffering after being shot. Some cows bellow desperately and fix their eyes on what is going on around them while they are hoisted up above a pool of blood and swung round to the killing floor.

Powered by a cartridge, the captive bolt pistol propels a steel tube that causes a brain trauma

Powered by a cartridge, the captive bolt pistol propels a steel tube that causes a brain trauma. Acatzingo (Puebla), 2017.

Immobilisation with a blade

In the slaughterhouses that do not have a captive bolt gun, or simply choose not to use one, a blade is used instead. The blade is inserted into the spinal column of the cows in order to immobilise them. It is not always successful on the first attempt and it is common for this to be repeated various times before the cows fall unconscious. In some municipal slaughterhouses, this technique continues to be used as standard.

When the pistol is unavailable and in order to facilitate the handling of cows, it is used a knife that stabs in the spinal cord.

When a pistol is unavailable, cows are stabbed in their spinal cord with a knife to ease the work of the operators. The animal is immobilized but still conscious. La Barca (Jalisco), 2016.

The moment of death

In theory, at the point of death, the animals should be unconscious. However, in each and every site I was able to observe and under each and every method of immobilisation observed, many animals arrive at the point of slaughter conscious. This may be because the immobilisation had been executed incorrectly, or because it is not always effective in any case —all the methods described above have a margin of error which impact a significant number of animals— it may also be because no attempt was made to immobilise the animals in the first instance.

In its manual entitled Animal Welfare for Operatives in Bovine Slaughterhouse and published by SAGARPA, it states:

In Mexico, there is no specific training programme for operatives carrying out animal slaughter and, as such it is common that they experience profound suffering.36
Pigs are driven to the slaughter zone in screams, beats and electric shocks

Pigs are driven to the slaughter zone screaming, being beaten and electrically shocked. Ocoyoacac (State of Mexico), 2016.

Death by bleeding out is the only killing method permitted under Mexican law and is the most commonly utilised method in slaughterhouses globally. It is carried out using a blade to cut the carotid artery and jugular vein or «the sinus of the cavas and the brachiocephalic trunk» in the case of pigs. The most sophisticated slaughter lines of chickens have an automatic knife that can kill thousands of chickens per hour.

In the slaughterhouses where stunning is not utilised for pigs, the animals are normally grouped together, sometimes in the stunning cage in a group which can contain up to a dozen individuals. The pigs are then stabbed in any way that he slaughterman can manage; in any part of the body he can reach. The pigs resist and struggle, which makes the task more difficult. Some are stabbed in the head and face and die convulsing, in agony, falling on top of one another.

In other slaughterhouses, the pigs are moved, while still conscious, via an aerial rail to the killing floor where they are then beaten and killed in a group. The slaughterman slits the throat of each animal, one by one, as they hang by their feet and bleed out. When the pigs have stopped squealing, or showing visual signs that they are still conscious, a lever is pulled and the pigs fall into a tank of scalding water. It is highly likely that at least some of the pigs enter the water still conscious.

Slaughter cones are used in slaughterhouses where the process line is unavailable.

Slaughter cones are used in slaughterhouses without a processing line. Oaxaca, 2017.

The form of killing in chicken slaughterhouses often varies dependent on the size of the installation. In Mexico, it is very common to find small, family-run slaughterhouses where all parts of the process are carried out manually. There, the chickens are introduced into metal cones which leave their heads hanging below the rim of the cone’s narrowest part. The slaughterman takes the head in one hand and, with the other slits the throat with a knife or thrusts the knife into the mouth. The chickens may then spend several minutes moving in agony, with their feet and wings moving, their heads jerking and their eyes wide open.

The cones are designed to make chickens stick out their heads in its lower part and thus facilitate the task of slitting and exsanguination

The cones are designed to make chickens stick out their heads in its lower part, making the throat slit and bleed easier. Izucar de Matamoros (Puebla), 2017.

The larger slaughterhouses —also known as «processing plants»— are often equipped with automated, or semi-automated, systems. In both cases, the killing line is made up of an aerial rail which moved chickens, suspended by their feet from hooks through the different phases of the process.

In the semi-automated slaughterhouses, the throat-cutting is carried out manually but is difficult to execute as the chickens are always moving and thus precise cuts are difficult. In these cases, bleeding out is slower and can cause the chickens additional suffering as a result.

In the fully automated lines, the throat cutting is carried out automatically, with capacity to kill up to 10,000 chickens per hour on lines that do not stop running at all throughout the day.

After cutting their throats, the chickens are then submerged in hot water in the scalding tanks, where the heat causes the birds’ feathers to loosen which makes it easy for them to be plucked during the next part of the process. Mexican law demands that 20 seconds must pass between the chicken has his or her throat cut and immersion in the water tank to ensure that no bird enters the water while still alive however, the study carried out by Gregory and Wotton on brain activity in the process of death concluded that there is a lapse of between 60 and 122 seconds required for an individual to become braindead, dependent on whether the cut has severed one carotid artery or bot..37

As such, due to the imprecision inherent in manual cutting, the margin of error in the automatic systems, the insufficient waiting times and in spite of the various guidelines and reports which exist with the ostensible intention of protecting animal welfare during slaughter, there will always be a percentage of chickens who are boiled alive in the scalding tanks.38

After a shot in their head, cows are hanged upside down and bled through a cut in their throat

After a shot to their head, cows are hanged upside down and bled through a cut in their throat. Some of them are still conscious when this happens. Zapopan (Jalisco), 2015.

In the case of cows, after being shot in the stunning cage, they are moved out down a small ramp. An object is often thrust into their eye – whether that be a piece of metal, a finger or whatever else the operative has to hand, to check that the animal is unconscious. One may think that this is in order to avoid suffering at the point that the animal’s throat is cut but, on the times when I queried the reason behind doing this, I was told that it was, in fact, to avoid injury to the workers. Any movement or kick from an animal that can weight up to 500kg is a major risk; and one that operatives are keen to avoid, particularly when they are carrying a very large, very sharp knife in their hand. After checking the cow is unconscious, they are hoisted by their feet to a chain and swung round on the aerial track to the killing floor.

In the case of horses, the same method is used as with cows whereby, after immobilisation, they are moved down a ramp, suspended by one of their legs, moved to the killing floor and have their throats slit.

Mexican slaughterhouses are generally set up to be able to kill pigs and cows and, in the places which do not specialise in killing goats, these animals are usually killed without any form of stunning. The goats have their throats cut and are simply left to die in agony, writhing around on the bloody floor.

Horse slaughtehouse

Horse slaughtehouse. Horse meat is also sold in stores and markets. Arriaga (Chiapas), 2017.

Everything I have outlined above brings us to the point of slaughter – the time which should mark the end of the animals’ long suffering. But the agony does not end there. Animals do not die instantly after having their throats cut. For cows, for example, after slaughter, they cut off their feet, disembowel them and remove their internal organs. In some slaughterhouses, the cows are alive when they are dismembered and disembowelled.

I was able to access some of the slaughterhouses as a result of winning the confidence of some employees; albeit without revealing my true identity or purpose and claiming that I would not publish the photos. Despite this, being allowed to access a slaughterhouse does not necessarily mean one will have the opportunity to document and photograph everything that one might consider relevant. In many of these places, the animals are treated as part of the system and with a level of violence which is illegal. The operatives are not ignorant of this and, many times, the process was stopped and I was asked to turn off my camera. Despite this, I was able, at times, to take advantage of the momentary absence of the operatives to be able to capture a small number of scenes covertly. These scenes are horrifying: cows kicking with their skulls cracked wide open, cows with their ears being cut off while they are clearly still conscious and in agony, cows being skinned while they are still breathing, pigs stabbed in the head and horses being hanged by a chain round their neck until they suffocate…

In some slaughterhouses cows are dismembered and flaid while being alive.

This happens all around the world

You may thing that in slaughterhouses in countries with access to more advanced technology or those which have stronger animal welfare laws, the type of horror outlined previously simply would not occur. But every time accounts from workers, undercover investigations by activists or reports from the industry itself come to light, it becomes clear that the blame does not lie in simple lack of access to the most advanced slaughter technology. It becomes clear that the types of atrocities outlined in this investigation happen everywhere in the world.

United States: Ramon Moreno, an operative who worked for more than 20 years in a processing plant in the States and whose job was to cut the throats of steers, spoke to the Washington Post about his experience. He told the newspaper that animals were still alive while they were being butchered.39

The US Department of Agriculture published a report in 2013 which revealed that around 825,000 chickens and 18,000 had been boiled alive in the scalding tanks in a year.40 However, another report suggested that «in the US plants without proper supervision, the number of birds which enter the tanks while still alive can reach 3%».41 In the United states, almost 9,000 million chickens are killed each year .42

Belgium: at the begining of 2017, an activist infiltrated a slaughterhouse with an undercover camera and documented pigs being thrown live into the scalding tanks in the largest processing plant for pigs in Belgium.43

United Kingdom: in 2016, an investigation published in the UK documented over 4,000 infractions of animal welfare laws. The investigation found, among other things, cases of chickens being boiled alive in water and animals who died during transport to the slaughterhouse because of exposure to extreme temperatures.44

Australia: Josh Agland worked for three years in an Australian slaughterhouse. He recounted the disembowelling and dismembering of a steer when he was still alive. He reported the incident to his superiors but they ignored his concerned and denied that it had happened. This incident and others which he witnessed horrified him to the extent that he chose to become whistle-blower and go public with what he had seen.45

Corpses of pigs prepared to be transported to the local markets

Pig corpses ready to be transported to the local markets. Cuernavaca (Morelos), 2016.

There is no such thing as a humane slaughterhouse

The meat industry designs and delivers costly publicity campaigns in order to present an idyllic view of the lives that the animals under their care experience, intentionally hiding what really happens in their centres of exploitation and killing. At the same time, the industry works hard to gain the support of public authorities, who support the industry in promoting the “health benefits” of the products derived from so much suffering and exploitation.

These two visions: that animals live happy lives and that animal products are good for our health, are simply false.

It is entirely false that the consumption of animal products is necessary for humans. Indeed, a rigorous study and its resulting report by the United States Academy of Diet and Nutrition —one of the most prestigious institutions of its kind in the world— stated that strict vegetarian diets «if well planned, are appropriate during all vital life cycles, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood and adolescence, as well as for athletes». As such, if there is no need for us to consume dairy, meat, eggs or their derivatives in order to live a healthy life, to continue to demand these products cannot possibly be considered to be a «necessity» but, instead, a mark of complicity with a criminal industry.

The meat industry exploits, abuses and massacres more than 60,000 animals each year globally while hiding, very deliberately, what goes on behind closed doors. This investigation, just like many other studies, investigations and reports released previously, provides irrefutable evidence of the atrocities that are committed against animals in these places. In the slaughterhouse, they do not just take the animals’ lives, but they subject them to genuine torture.

Cow slaughterhouse.

Scenes like this one are common in every slaughterhouse. Izucar de Matamoros (Puebla), 2017.

Shielded by claims that animals are protected under the law —despite no guarantees that the law will be followed—, euphemisms such as«humane slaughter», and the form in which the meat industry markets its final products as «free range», «cage free», etc, are ways in which the industry protects itself and creates a rose-tinted image to project to the public.

But the industry has no interest in treating animals with dignity and respect because this is, quite literally, the antithesis of the meat industry. They know what goes on in their facilities and they do all they can to prevent it from coming to light. Despite this, and being well-aware of increasing societal concerns surrounding the treatment of animals, they work to clean their image, adding insult to the animals’ injury, and claim that he animals are treated with kindness and respect.

It is a theme which runs through the meat industry: in their published manuals and their official documentation, it is expressly stated that it is prohibited to treat animals violently when violence is the fundamental basis of the entire process of production of animal products.

«Humane slaughter» is a myth which was created and promoted to calm the consciences of consumers and maximise profit for the industry. In slaughterhouses, we find the highest level of violence and abuse committed against terrestrial animals. It is not just that these animals are killed with blatant disregard for their own fundamental interests in life, but because it is impossible for “animal welfare” laws to be implemented and respected in a world where the demand for animal products is ever increasing. These laws can, at their very best, mitigate some of their suffering while never protecting them from death and suffering.


  1. Some of the photographs, that can be found here, belong to a report done in Tehuacán in October of 2014.
  2. Conditions of the use of the images (photographs and videos) in the following link.
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  4. - Mexico is the sixth largest beef producer in the world, the ninth largest chicken producer in the world and the 17th largest pork producer in the world (FAO 2013)

    Related articles:
    - Sixth largest beef producer. Found in the note. International beef sales, second largest agricultural export from Mexico. (2015) SAGARPA, Mexico.
    - Fifth largest producer of chicken meat in the world. Found in this article. Mexico as consolidated as a chicken meat and egg producer. (2016) Aristegui News.
    - In the top ten largest pork producers in the world. Found in this article. Mexico is one of the principle producers of pork. (2016) NTR critical journalism.
    - Seventh largest meat producer in the world. Found in the note. International beef sales, second largest agricultural export from Mexico. (2015) SAGARPA, Mexico.
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