France: Scandal of the abattoirs

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The following article was written by our section in France as a response to cases of cruelty against animals exposed in French slaughter-houses. But the same horrors have also come to light in British abattoirs, for example in 2015 following the secret filming of what goes on behind closed doors at a slaughter-house in Butterton, Staffs[1]. As the article explains, cruelty to animals is inseparable from cruelty to human beings, and both are inseparable from the capitalist mode of production, where everything is subordinated to the drive for profit.

Poor dogs, they want to treat you like human beings” - Marx on the proposed tax on dogs in France, in Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right.

Just over a month ago some videos were put onto social media showing great cruelty going on within some French abattoirs. The association L214, Ethiques & Animaux distributed a video filmed on a hidden camera showing how animals in an abattoir close to Pau were being treated. This video was taken up on social media from March 29. The treatment inflicted on the animals, the atrocities and cruelties, committed sometimes directly by the employees, are indefensible. The employees butcher still-living animals, felling them sometimes with blows from a hook. Others push the animals by blows on the head from an electric prodder and you can even see a separated living lamb transfixed on two hooks in the absence of an operator. These are similar images to those which led to the closure of the abattoir of Ales in October 2015 and, following that, one at Vigan in February 2016.

Such a banalisation of barbaric practices doesn’t mean that they are a simple consequence of sadism or a lack of scruples among the staff. Submitting to infernal, mechanised time-keeping, pushed by profitability in a context of intense competition and staff reductions, these acts are driven by the need for speed, provoking unimaginable suffering in the animals, but also, in some ways, in the men who must kill them. The situation in fact demands the personnel to develop a very thick skin, a forced desensitisation. The bestiality of the staff is first and foremost that of the capitalist system, of its totalitarian power. The savage acts, the jokes and the laughter of the employees which sometimes accompany them, are as much defence mechanisms faced with daily tasks institutionalised and imposed by the bloody logic of capital.

Beyond the current practices of cruelty, we should understand that the trade-mark of this capitalist society is standardisation and the violent transformation of quality into quantity. What’s the aim of this? Profitability, the sacrifice of nature and man himself to this sole end. Everything which resists this quantification is eliminated, meticulously disqualified and excluded.

Competition gives rise to battery farming: removed from the outside world, animals are fattened and bloated by antibiotics[2]. The animals are systematically transformed in the meat factories into real monsters. The cattle in feed-lots (fattening areas) are not only pressed together in much reduced spaces but physically deformed to the point of showing muscular hypotrophy. Milk cows have a very reduced life-span because of their intensive treatment, even though overproduction pushes angry farmers to pour their unsold milk over the fields! The pollution from this intensive and massive form of farming is a major bane, the animals wallowing in their own waste, with all the risk of spreading diseases.

The same farming methods are used in the selection of ducks and geese for the production of foie gras. Terrible and often useless suffering is inflicted on these animals. First of all the males are selected because of their larger livers and the staff are required to throw the females into the crusher, with some dying slowly in agony. The forced-feeding itself “gives rise to lesions, inflammations (the gut, enteritus), infections (forms of thrush, bacterial infection)[3]. One could continue with similar scandalous cruelties, towards pigs for example or domestic animals. But it’s clear that the reality of this violence is in no way limited to acts upon animals. It is really the result of a totalitarian industrial uniformity through which the animals are reduced to commodities just like the producers, those who sell their labour-power.

The association mentioned above calls above all for  action via the application of article L 214 of the Rural Code which recognises animals as “sensate” beings[4] .

Even if we can understand it, the combat of this association is destined to fail or at least only obtain very ephemeral changes since it simply asks for “the application of the law”. Laws in reality are only fig leaves which aim to make us think that the indignant reactions of politicians and their media supporters could in any way modify such practices, which are fundamentally  linked to the very real logic of capitalism and profit. That’s why the L 214 association, which justly denounces numerous barbaric practices involving the killing of animals, participates in the mystification of bourgeois legality when it calls for “the elected of the nation” to “make the law apply”. It even invites “citizens” to put pressure on “political personalities”: “ wants to be at the service of the citizens. Resources given to them could help them question their elected politicians and candidates, as well as orient their vote during the electoral process”.

When we see the way that capitalism treats human beings, workers in “production units” or migrants fleeing from the atrocities of war or the horrors of hunger, it’s hard to see why the question of animal farming should be any different. The deceitful reality of “public liberties”, of “equality between men” drawn up in the “Rights of Man” 200 years ago shows that “animal rights” can only turn out to be an empty shell.

The light thrown on these practices linked to the inhumanity of the production of commodities, the exposure of cruelty to the point of sadism in the killing of animals, while it arouses indignation, has no other end than to mystify the “citizen”, to restrict thought to the terrain of a capitalist order that is the very basis of these horrors. The system has established its hypocritical rules (the laws) which are adapted to the economic logic of productivity and the generalised commercial war. In several sites of the production of animal meat where barbaric acts have been committed on the animals, the meat produced has been given labels denoting quality (Red Label and IGP) and, in several cases, been declared clean and healthy. Which should mean, in principle, that a maximum amount of care and respect has been given. The director of an abbatoir gave a very limpid explanation for these cruelties when he described the working deadlines: “We had to kill 15,000 lambs in a fortnight for Easter. If we worked slower they wouldn’t commit these types of acts”[5]      

In fact the more that barbarism develops within this society, the more any argument will be used or rules applied in order to mask the causes of it and continue the selling of products for the most profit. For that the market has come up with new “labels” which aim to get the consumer to buy a product with a “mark” which claims a so-called “ethical” or “superior quality”. But these labels don’t give any protection from the advancing decadence of the capitalist system. As an expert consultant on food security said, we have in front of us images “revealing the standard functioning of abbatoirs in France (in which) negligence and ill-treatment occur daily.”[6]     

In fact they take no more care in slaughtering animals than they do in cutting down wood or picking out the best stones. And it’s the same thing for human beings robotised by the social relations and who are only labour power to be exploited, “things”, more exactly commodities, that one buys and one sells on the labour market.

Capital doesn’t care at all about human beings or animals. Its implacable organisation does not include the satisfaction of human needs. It responds only to the law of profit and the market. It is claimed that the mad destructiveness of capitalist growth is a price worth paying for feeding humanity. That’s false. The reality is that industry produces in a blind manner with an almost unique objective: to sell at any price. Nourishment is just a simple consequence which the system doesn’t care about.  As it happens it can be more pertinent to talk about food production as a form of poisoning (see our article on junk food on  This also explains why this totalitarian logic can also allow for the fact “every five seconds a child under ten dies of hunger. On a planet full of riches... In its present state, in fact, world agriculture could feed 12 billion human beings with no problem – twice the present population. There’s no fatality in this respect. A child that dies of hunger is a child that has been murdered.”[7]    

Look at how the governments of the European countries have just been haggling with the government of Turkey over the acceptance or rejection of new migrants who are treated as cattle, herded and corralled without any thought or respect for their dignity. The capitalist state treats human beings as it treats animals and vice-versa.

Of course the bourgeoisie doesn’t directly carry out the horrible practices that it wants implemented and quite often it takes care to keep its distance. For the most part it doesn’t get its own hands dirty! It leaves that for the mass of the exploited. Little consequence is given to the humans or animals, these “sensate beings” that capital despises and grinds down. All this Rosa Luxemburg recognised and denounced a hundred years ago, affirming at the same time her great moral sense as witnessed by one of her letters from prison. She felt herself close to a suffering animal who was being violently beaten by a soldier because it couldn’t move its load. And she was able to connect this ferocity to the barbaric acts committed between human beings in times of war: “I had a vision of all the splendour of war...”[8]


Paco, 22 April, 2016



[1] See also

[2] This also favours the growth of resistant bacteria and equally reduces the effectiveness of medicines for humans.

[3] “Ducklings ground and mutilated in order to produce foie gras” (Le Monde, December 21, 2015).

[4] “All animals being sensate beings must be kept by their owner in conditions compatible with the biological imperatives of the species”. (Article L 214-1 of the Rural Code).

[5] “An abattoir in the Basque country closed after the discovery of acts of cruelty” (Le Monde, March 29, 2016)

[6] “Acts of cruelty in an abattoir in Gard certified as organic” (Le Monde, February 23, 2016).

[7]  Massive destruction – The geopolitics of hunger, 2011, Jean Ziegler (Special Reporter to the UN for the entitlement to food between 2000 and 2008).

[8] Letters from Prison, p 56-58, cited in Peter Nettle, Rosa Luxemburg,OUP 1969, p 412