Meatworkers prone to violence, expert says

Meatworks from Shutterstock

Meatworkers are more inclined to commit acts of violence, new research by Flinders University animal studies expert Dr Nik Taylor has found.

The study, involving researchers from Central Queensland University, examined the link between attitudes towards animals and propensity for human-directed aggression among two primary industry cohorts, farmers and meatworkers.

Of the 67 participants surveyed, meatworkers had a significantly higher propensity for physical aggression, anger and hostility than farmers, with those from the meat processing cohort tending to display more negative attitudes to animals.

Interestingly, farmers were found to have significantly lower levels of propensity for aggression than the general community while slaughterhouse workers scored higher than the community benchmark.

Attitudes to animal welfare among the meatworker group largely depended on the type of work participants were engaged in, with those working in the boning room having lower average scores than those working on the kill floor.

Other variables including income, education and pet ownership had no significant effect on the two groups’ propensity for violence or attitudes towards animals, however 76 per cent of farmers reported having a pet compared with only 54 per cent of meatworkers.

Dr Taylor said another noteworthy finding was that women, regardless of employment as farmers or meatworkers, scored six per cent lower than men in their attitudes towards animal welfare.

“It was assumed women would be more pro-animal but this wasn’t the case,” Dr Taylor said.

“Equally unexpected, female meatworkers were found to have higher propensities for aggression, particularly verbal and physical aggression, than male meatworkers and all the farmers,” she said.

“Most of the current literature on the impact of meatwork employment focuses solely on the male experience but our findings show women are just as vulnerable to the physical and emotional effects of the job so this is an area in desperate need of further investigation.”

Dr Taylor said the meatworker group also displayed more “utilitarian attitudes” towards animal welfare, and due to their occupations, viewed animals as commodities.

“One respondent said they agreed with the statement that breeding animals for their skins was a legitimate use of the animal ‘provided there was no waste of the rest of the animal’, which is a clear indication of this utilitarian view,” she said.

In addition, Dr Taylor said propensity for aggression scores among meatworkers were similar to some reported by incarcerated populations, suggesting the constant exposure to violence within meat processing plants could cause psychological damage and lead to higher propensities for aggression.

“Further research with this population is urgently needed to ascertain the potential damaging psychological effects of being employed in the industry, not only for the individual and the community they live in but for the animals they come into contact with.

“As this is an area of interest to both policymakers and the public, more research is needed to unmask the multiple issues associated with animal processing.”

The study has just been published in the leading international journal Society and Animals.

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9 thoughts on “Meatworkers prone to violence, expert says

  1. Many meatworkers are migrants from refugee backgrounds – because of the trauma they have suffered, often their empathy for animals, and other people is low. And a farmer must be good at his job – pro-animal, breeding healthy, happy, well-cared for livestock that Coles and Woolworths want to showcase on their shelves. Farmers do not mistreat their livestock, healthy livestock equate to dollars in the bank!

  2. Healthy animals? Like how healthy dairy cows are when they go through the trauma of being forcibly separated from their calves, or calves chained to veal pens and made anaemic by their diet so we can have lighter coloured meat, or pigs in tiny pens and chickens stacked one upon another in cages only slightly bigger than they are? I don’t think psychological torture and abuse of animals rates very highly for a chunk of flesh hermetically sealed from its production practises while it sits on your local supermarket shelf. I bet you can’t even find out which farm one of those pieces of animals even come from.

    Somehow I get the feeling you have a bucolic ideal about animal farming which in no way comes in contact with the realities of modern mainstream animal farming practises, Anne.

  3. Thanks for continuing this important area of research Dr Taylor. Have you done studies, or are you aware of any, into the % of secondary school students that actually aspire to a career in the slaughter or meat processing industry? Also, in what way, if any, does our primary and secondary school curriculum include honest and fully transparent discussion of this topic?

  4. Whilst I am sure ‘some’ farmers do not mistreat their animals, making such a sweeping statement which cannot be substantiated which suggest all farmers care is widely off the mark.

    If all farmers were to ‘care’ then we would not see live animal exports, unfit animals at saleyards or in transports, animals in cages etc..

    The point made in the article about women being more prone to both physical and mental abuse of animals in my view shows they feel a need to match the macho image portrayed by slaughterhouse workers thus exhibit worse behaviors.

  5. Why would anyone be surprised with the results of the study?

    The job which is to routinely take the lives of others cannot be conducive to caring about the suffering, fear, anxiety, abuses endured etc of those they are about to slaughter, because if they did care…they wouldnt do it.

  6. The disturbing inconvenient truth is that most people wouldn’t want to spend one minute in a slaughterhouse, let alone work in one, and yet many of these people happily consume the bloody end product, supposedly in blissful ignorance. The main reason I’m vegetarian is because I could no longer stomach the brutal truth or my own hypocrisy.

    To Anne – you cannot seriously expect anyone to believe that evidence of a “happy life” is clearly displayed in the packages of antibiotic laden highly processed animal flesh, dairy, eggs etc. on supermarket shelves. Perhaps if each package of ham shoulder, leg of lamb, and chicken breast included a label with 2 photos – 1 of the actual animal in the sow stall/field/broiler shed, and another of it being slaughtered?

  7. Before I was accepted into Flinders University I was a meat worker for eight years, despite having successfully completed high school. How this came about is complex, but I do not believe my time in this profession left any psychological scars regarding my attitude towards animals. What I did experience was a sense of isolation from my work colleagues, in that I never made any close friendships in my time there and never indulged in the social activities that were encouraged by my co-workers. Maybe my higher level of education played a part in this sense of isolation, or why I never felt any need to aspire to the macho image sometimes on display. Who knows?

  8. These are stupid groups to compare.

    To be a farmer is often to be a buisness owner.

    To work in a meatworks is to be a factory worker, you work on a line.
    It is a crap job.

    Whether you work in the boning room, or solely working with boxes it is a job that is not fun, it does not pay very well.

    So really your are comparing groups that are very different from a social economic context.

    If you want to prove meatworks make people jerkbags to animals (which I gather is the authors desire) why dont you compare people who work in a meatworks to people who work in another factory that is comparable in terms of social economics.

  9. Hello All,
    Thanks for these thoughtful replies. You all raise interesting ideas and questions. I agree that farmers are financially motivated but think there’s more going on there as well. I also agree that we romanticise farming and that some of its practices are hard to defend. I don’t think we have any honest and open discussions about where animal based food comes from and how it ends up on our plate and think it is much needed. I think the idea of talking to those aspiring to work in the meat production industry, in whatever capacity, is an interesting one, and i don’t know of any research in this area Sharon – it’s a massively under-researched area. Our aim is to continue this work although, but I am sure won’t come as a shock to you, getting access to the industry is difficult. Its ‘behind closed doors’ nature makes research tough. I also take Kevin’s point too and we aren’t aiming to claim that all MWs will be psychologically scarred – instead, we are pointing out that the potential for it exists within the industry for reasons that are not in existence in other professions. While our journalists at Flinders did a great job with the story, it’s always the case that any media release can’t include all of the issues we raised in the paper and hopefully you will be pleased to hear we discussed many of your points,
    thanks,
    Nik

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