Like a lot of Australians I spent much of today fixated on the goings-on in Canberra, as the Labor Party seemed once more to be on the verge of self destructing. But there was another important story on the Australian inter-webs today, one that has largely been drowned out by no-confidence votes and leadership spills. And that is the apparent “torture” of Turkeys by workers at an Australian abattoir.

The story was broken last night when ABC’s Lateline broadcast footage collected by Animal Liberation ACT, an animal advocacy group. The video shows assembly line workers (allegedly shot over two weeks in an abattoir run by Ingham’s – one of Australia’s largest poultry companies) bashing and kicking Turkeys as they are shackling them to a conveyor system (I have embedded the full Animal Liberation video below). But as this is a relatively recent revelation, and not all videos found on the internet or produced by activists/anonymous sources should be taken at face value, let’s avoid the specifics of this case for now. Let’s just concentrate on the idea of abattoir workers torturing animals.

By now there is no way anyone can dispute that animal abuse in abattoirs is widespread if not common. There have been plenty of videos released just in Australia, just in the last year alone. Just off the top of my head I can remember seeing videos of still-alive cows being lifted by cranes with ropes attached to their necks, cows and pigs having their leg muscles slashed and then ‘dancing’ around the yard, cows and pigs being poked in the eyes and anus with prods and electric move-alongs, animals of all shapes and sizes being killed in full view of other animals, and still-alive animals being hacked at by untrained workers or workers with blunt tools (and the list can go on, and on, and on, and on, and on etc.). So the question is, why is animal cruelty, and especially unnecessary and demeaning acts of animal cruelty, so prevalent in this industry?

To answer that we must imagine what it must be like to stand there for hours on end killing animals. Imagine what it must be like spending your entire day grabbing Turkeys out of boxes and clipping them onto an assembly line, knowing full well where that assembly line is taking them and what is waiting for them at the end. Unlike the people at the supermarket, the workers have to look them in the eyes and hear their cries of pain and fear, they have to see the blood. I cannot imagine doing that. And if I were forced to do such a job the only way I could possibly get through it is to disassociate the animal from life, fear, pain, and other ‘human’ feelings. I would have to turn that animal into an object. It would no longer be a living thing in my eyes, it would be product. That is the only way I could imagine being able to cope with such a situation, with such a job. And that is precisely what many of these workers must be doing. They have objectified the animal. And when you have objectified an animal, is it any wonder that such cruelty is the result?

The fact that animal cruelty is so pervasive – that it seems to occur regardless of laws, culture, geography, workplace regulations, or religion – leads me to believe that this is not something that can be removed from this profession. I am not saying that my tactic of disassociating animals with feelings is the only coping mechanism, but objectification of animals is undoubtedly quite widespread. Objectification explains how ordinary, non violent human beings could come into work and beat the brains out of a helpless Turkey. Remember, it isn’t just these people in the video who are committing animal cruelty, this is quite widespread. It must be the result of the type of work they are in. Some are now suggesting that abattoirs install more cameras to stop such behaviour. But I doubt putting in more cameras is going to solve the problem. It does not address the reason this behaviour is done in the first place. The only way to solve the problem is to either remove the animals or the humans from the scenario altogether.