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INVESTIGATION: Animal rights activists capture first ever video of pigs inside slaughterhouse ‘gas chamber’

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The videos are the first to reveal what really happens inside a US pig slaughterhouse gas chamber: They capture the truth of a method of animal slaughter that already dominates in many countries.

ANDY GREENBERG: At 4 am one morning in October of last year, animal rights activist Raven Deerbrook sat on a bed in a cheap hotel in East Los Angeles, looking at a live video feed on her phone. She’d barely slept that night, waking every hour or two to check that the feed was transmitting from three pinhole infrared cameras she’d hidden in the Farmer John meatpacking plant 20 miles away. The facility, located in the LA suburb of Vernon, is owned by Smithfield Foods, the largest pork producer in the world. She waited, both anticipating and dreading what her cameras were about to reveal.

A day earlier, Deerbrook had snuck into the slaughterhouse with a fake uniform and badge and climbed 26 feet underground into a “stunning chamber”—essentially a three-story-deep elevator shaft designed to be filled with carbon dioxide. Here, pigs in cages are lowered into the shaft’s invisible swimming pool of suffocating, heavier-than-air CO2, where the animals asphyxiate over a matter of minutes before being dumped out of the chamber onto a conveyor belt, hung up, drained of blood, and butchered.

Deerbrook had hidden one camera pointed at that chamber from the plant’s wall. She’d mounted two more with microphones on the car-sized cages within. When she’d tried to descend further down the shaft’s ladder, a burning “air hunger” from residual CO2 in the chamber had forced her to climb out again, gasping for breath, unable to plant her remaining cameras.

Safely back in her hotel room across the city, Deerbrook hoped to record the slaughterhouse gas chamber, inside and out, for the first time in a US meat plant. In doing so, she aimed to disprove claims from the pork industry and the gas chamber manufacturer that this form of suffocation represents a humane—even “painless”—form of killing.

At 5:25 am, as the plant’s operations began for the morning, she saw the first half-dozen pigs herded into the chamber. Deerbrook’s first thoughts were a mix of excitement and practical anxieties: Were the camera angles right? Was the frame rate high enough?

Then the light in the video began to dim as the cage lowered into the carbon dioxide below. As Deerbrook watched, the pigs began to squeal and thrash violently around in the cage, struggling to escape and convulsing for nearly a minute before finally laying still. “Pigs are very human-like in their screaming. And I wasn’t expecting to see them suffer for so long,” she says. “I knew it was going to be bad. But I wasn’t really prepared for the screaming”…

Direct Action Everywhere, the group of animal rights activists Deerbrook belongs to, released the footage on a new website, StopGasChambers.org, after providing the videos to WIRED in advance. The recordings are the first to reveal what really happens inside a US pig slaughterhouse gas chamber: They capture the truth of a method of animal slaughter that already dominates the meat industry in many countries around the world and is quickly growing among large-scale American meatpacking plants…

The videos also show how repurposed surveillance technology is making it harder than ever for the meat industry to hide the details of its animal slaughter from the public: Direct Action Everywhere’s activists used tiny spy cameras smaller than a coin to capture the footage. The entire setup—including enough batteries for days of recording, an infrared LED, a microphone, and a radio chip for transmitting the video in real time—is smaller than a credit card.

Direct Action Everywhere, or DxE, says its latest videos contradict claims from the animal agriculture industry and the Iceland-based gas chamber manufacturer Marel—which sold the system used in the Farmer John meatpacking plant—that CO2 asphyxiation of pigs improves animal welfare and reduces suffering. A group of 10 veterinarians who have seen DxE’s recordings have also signed an open letter to the American Veterinary Medicine Association, published today, that argues based on the footage that the chambers likely violate US state and federal law governing animal slaughter…

Several veterinarians, animal agriculture experts, and an animal welfare law professor who watched DxE’s videos and others from research studies agree that the kind of reaction captured in the footage represents an inhumane and even illegal degree of pain.

“Those animals suffered terribly. They suffered horribly,” says Jim Reynolds, a vet and professor at Western University’s College of Veterinary Medicine who has served on the American Veterinary Medicine Association’s panel for euthanasia guidelines. “It was absolutely a violation of federal law. They were not stunned. It was inhumane.” Reynolds says he watched at least 10 of DxE’s clips from its investigation, and they left him disturbed for days. “I’ve actually seen a lot of horrible videos. This is the worst I’ve ever seen,” he says. SOURCE…

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