Watching the slaughter

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GUILFORD (AP) – Maine slaughterhouses would have to modify their practices under a proposed law that would prevent animals from being slaughtered within sight of other animals.

When livestock are now slaughtered in Maine, up to a dozen or more animals may be crowded into a chute, or narrow passageway, used for killing. The animals can often hear, smell or see the slaughter of those before them.

The proposed bill before the Legislature’s Committee on Agriculture, Forestry and Conservation would prohibit the slaughtering of livestock or presence of dead livestock within sight of other livestock animals in commercial and custom slaughterhouses effective Jan. 1, 2009. The bill, LD 57, would also allow for grants to processors to modify their facilities.

Rep. Donald Soctomah of the Passamaquoddy Tribe, who is one of the sponsors, said the way slaughterhouses now operate “just doesn’t seem like the right thing to do.” His heritage requires that animals that are killed for food be treated with respect.

“The way the tribe looks at it, whenever we must harvest an animal, an animal that has given its body to help us survive, we must give it the utmost respect and treat it humanely,” he said.

Maine now has 11 federally or state-inspected slaughterhouses and dozens of unregulated custom facilities. In many of those plants, animals are herded from holding pens into chutes where the killing takes place.

Tom Gilbert, owner of Herring Brothers Meats in Guilford, said the bill would force him to change how he processes sheep and goats, and require an expensive renovation at his plant.

When Herring Brothers slaughters cows and pigs, they are handled one at a time and a door between the killing chute and the holding pen shields the animals from one another.

“But usually we put eight to 10 lambs and goats into the chute together,” he said. “They tend to follow each other and it makes it easier.” Changing the system would mean more work, but Gilbert already has several customers that require single-animal slaughtering.

The biggest problem, Gilbert said, is that there’s nothing to block the animal’s view between the kill chute and the processing pit, where slaughtered animals are being dressed.

“I would have to come up with some sort of door or movable partition,” he said. “This could be expensive.”

Gilbert questioned whether all slaughterhouses would even follow such a rule because there aren’t any inspectors for custom slaughterhouses.

The proposal to offer state grants for modifications is “just more state money wasted,” he said. “I’m afraid (some operators) will hang a door, say it was expensive and pocket the rest of the money.”

No hearing date has been scheduled for the bill.

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