Society can be judged by the
level of care it provides for children – and whether it provides safe and
enabling environments and prepares them adequately for adult life.
Through educational programs,
children learn values such as compassion and empathy.
However, as some scholars
have pointed out, controversial educational programs such as animal dissection
do not facilitate empathy and instead endorse the view that violence toward
animals is acceptable and that mental health consequences for students are
What then are the implications of an educational curriculum
that trains adolescents to become butchers?
Meat industry criticism
The meat industry has gradually
received more and more criticism from experts, media, and the general public.
It is a key contributor to climate change and environmental degradation,
human disease, workforce injury and animal mistreatment.
However, there is
generally less consideration for the mental health effects associated with
working in the meat industry. In particular, there is little to no attention to
adolescents who are trained to slaughter animals.
Vocational training programs for
butchers are part of many national educational systems throughout Europe –
including Germany, Denmark, Slovenia, The Netherlands, Czech Republic, among
After completing primary education at
around 16 years old, children can continue with professional
education. Those who enrol in vocational training and education for butchers
are trained to slaughter different species of animals.
They learn about meat
processing, preparation of meat products, packaging, and retail. Slaughter
training consists of stunning animals with a stun gun, use of electricity and
gas, slaughtering, bleeding out, skinning and dismembering animals with
different tools such as meat cleavers and power saws.
Mental health consequences
Psychology and sociology studies reveal
the harmful mental health consequences of working in slaughterhouses.
slaughterhouse workers exhibit desensitization to violence, mental health
issues, addictions, and aggressive and criminal behaviour. Criminology studies
have found a significant connection between
slaughterhouse location, slaughterhouse employment, and violent crime rates.
high rates of injury, it is considered one of the most dangerous jobs in the
world. Nevertheless, it is the trauma associated with the intentional mass
killing of healthy living beings that makes this profession unlike any other.
According to Ed Van Winkle, a 'hogsticker' at Morrell slaughterhouse plant in Iowa: "The worst thing, worse than the
physical danger, is the emotional toll...Pigs down
on the kill floor have come
up and nuzzled me like a puppy. Two minutes later I had
to kill them - beat them to
death with a pipe. I can’t care.”
As military experts point out,
people exhibit resistance to killing and this behaviour requires systematic training. Emotional
process of killing people or animals is found to be the same, the difference is
only in its intensity.
Impact of age
If the explicit violent content
of this vocational training is not problematic enough by itself, we need to
consider the context of students’ age and brain development during the time the training is undertaken.
Young people with developing minds may be particularly
susceptible to the emotional effects of killing animals and witnessing their
As neuroscientific studies point out, the brain undergoes
significant structural and organizational changes throughout adolescence, and
these changes often continue into early adulthood.
Experts stress that subject
matter and experiences significantly affect brain development.
are shaping young brains when the slaughterhouse is the learning environment,
when slaughtering is trained behaviour, and when the emotional impact of violent
perpetration is ignored?
It is hard to understand
how education and child development experts consider
this educational program appropriate and beneficial for teenage development
when there is evidence that even adult slaughterhouse workers have problems dealing with the
nature of this work.
How can desensitization to violence, inhibition of
empathy, moral disengagement from their own actions, emotional numbness, long-term
negative mental health issues such as depression and addictions be overlooked when
certifying educational programs?
"And then it gets to a point where you’re at a
daydream stage. Where you can think
about everything else and still do your job. You become emotionally dead.”
Vocational training for
butchers reveals how relativized violence is in our society. When children are
violent to animals and hurt them in their homes and communities, their behaviour
is considered unacceptable and unhealthy and a sign of potential
On the other hand, when children are trained by adults to
perform explicitly violent activities such as slaughtering, society endorses
this behaviour, while ignoring negative implications. By admitting to the damaging
mental health consequences of butcher training and the job in general, society
would consequently acknowledge the unfathomable cruelty that is inherently
connected to the present model of the meat industry and the urgently needed
Until this happens the meat industry is given precedence over child and society welfare.
We have a neurological
predisposition to be both empathic and violent. But because both behaviours
share a part of same brain circuits, we cannot experience them at the same time.
The characteristics that we nurture and stimulate will become strengthened and
Currently, within society, violence is normalized and
relativized, so it is evident which of the two human potentials is being
cultivated. How can we as human race start making a shift towards cultivating
the other predisposition – empathy –
that evolution has equipped us with?
How can we prompt a shift in
society in which empathy is normalized for all beings?
-Masa Blaznik's forthcoming paper Training Young Killers: How Butcher Education Might be Damaging Young People will be published in the Journal of Animal Ethics.
*Eisnitz, G. A. (2006). Slaughterhouse: The Shocking Story of Greed, Neglect, and Inhumane Treatment Inside the U.S. Meat Industry. Amherst, N.Y: Prometheus Books.