by Gail Eisnitz, chief investigator, Humane Farming Association
Timothy J. Walker, 73, died on September 10, 2018 in Naples, Florida, a little known hero for animals sent to slaughter.
After graduating from St. Mary’s High School in St. Louis, Walker at age 17 joined his two first cousins in the U.S. Navy.
Initially stationed on the helicopter carrier Thetis Bay, Walker in October 1963 was among the crew members who helped the U.S. Marine Corps to deliver medical aid and food supplies to thousands of victims of Hurricane Flora, which killed 7,193 people according to the official toll, mostly in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.
After the Thetis Bay was decommissioned and scrapped in 1964, Walker was transferred to another aircraft carrier, the Franklin D. Roosevelt, where his service included a 95-day combat mission off the coast of Vietnam in 1966-1967. Leaving the Navy in 1968, Walker went on to a variety of civil service positions.
Exposed gasoline fraud
As a Kansas City weights and measures inspector, Walker in the late 1980s found that gasoline stations had been selling “regular” gasoline as higher-priced “premium” fuel for as long as 30 years. Instead of keeping his mouth shut like everyone else, Walker blew the whistle.
A General Accounting Office investigation in 1990 confirmed the long-running fraud, and found that it had been going on in Michigan, Oregon, and Tennessee as well as Missouri. The GAO estimated that the cheating cost motorists as much as $150 million a year.
Later, as an energy auditor for Kansas City, Walker tried to get officials to do something about the poverty he saw in the course of duty. The city, claiming budget constraints, refused to act. Walker ended up buying storm windows for low-income families out of his own pocket, paying one elderly woman’s real estate taxes, and bringing Thanksgiving dinner to another.
USDA animal health tech
Eventually Walker moved from Missouri to Florida to take a job as an Animal Health Technician with the USDA Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service. He did so, he said, because he “wanted to help animals.”
Little did he know he would find himself collecting blood samples for brucellosis testing in the blood pit of that state’s biggest slaughterhouse. The cows that he tested were hanging upside down from the bleed rail. They were supposed to be dead.
But many of the cows were not properly stunned. They were shackled, hoisted, stuck, and had their heads skinned, all while they were fully conscious, kicking, and bellowing.
Did not take “no” for an answer
Walker complained to the USDA veterinarian in the plant, wrote letters to all of his supervisors, and when they refused to take action, contacted the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Members of Congress, and several animal protection organizations.
Walker’s fellow animal health technicians and slaughterhouse employees were afraid to speak out about the atrocities for fear they might lose their jobs.
It was my good fortune that one of Walker’s letters landed in my inbox. His letter, and his determination to expose slaughterhouse violations, launched a nationwide investigation that would involve interviews with slaughterhouse workers who spent a combined total of three million hours on the killing floor.
Informed book Slaughterhouse
The interviews and video documentation that resulted ultimately revealed that, in the name of increased production line speeds, animals in USDA-inspected slaughterhouses across the country were routinely being beaten, dragged, strangled, skinned, and scalded, all while fully conscious, often kicking and vocalizing.
The book that would result from Timothy Walker’s heroic disclosures, Slaughterhouse, and a front page story in The Washington Post which highlighted Walker’s battle, would prompt the first ever Congressional funding allocated specifically for enforcement of the federal Humane Methods of Slaughter Act. The law had been on the books for 42 years.
Fired for speaking out
Walker was fired from his job with USDA for speaking out in his effort to stop the violations; he was an unemployable pariah for two long years as we fought hard to get him protections under the federal Whistleblower Protection Act.
During that time, Walker testified before Congress about the atrocities he witnessed working in the blood pit at that Florida slaughterhouse. He eventually won his case under the Whistleblower Protection Act and USDA was forced to hire him back. He ultimately became a highly respected investigator at USDA.
Slaughterhouses are still horrible places. But the selfless actions of Timothy J. Walker certainly changed the trajectory of my life, as a cruelty investigator, and helped expose the American public, and indeed the world, to the terrible fate suffered by countless slaughter-bound animals each year.
The Shocking Story of Greed, Neglect, and Inhumane
Treatment Inside the U.S. Meat Industry
by Gail A. Eisnitz
Prometheus Books (distributed by the Humane Farming Association, POB 3577, San Rafael, CA 94912), 1997. 310 pages, paperback, $15.95.
Reviewed by Henry Spira (1927-1998), founder of Animal Rights International, including the Coalition for Nonviolent Food:
Gail Eisnitz offers a nightmare view of the meat industry. Her ten-year investigation of meat packers, the industry’s euphemism for slaughterhouses, depicts a world in which cattle are skinned alive and pigs are boiled to death in giant scalding vats. When fully conscious cows dangle by one hindleg from a steel shackle, workers snip off their front legs to prevent them from kicking.
Eisnitz was already an experienced investigator when she received a tip from a former slaughterhouse worker about conditions in a Florida slaughter plant. Scarcely able to believe what she heard, she began to travel around the U.S., at great personal sacrifice, investigating slaughter plants and interviewing scores of workers who shared accounts of the most horrific animal abuse.
According to Eisnitz, who became chief investigator for the Humane Farming Association midway through her research, the trouble begins in the parking lot. Workers describe how “downers,” or animals too weak, injured or sick, to move on their own, are dragged and beaten, sometimes to death.
There are accounts of animals arriving in subfreezing conditions who are frozen to the metal bars of the trucks, and of workers using crowbars to pry frozen animals off the truck’s metal rails, leaving a chunk of hide behind.
Many of those who can move on their own are shocked with electric prods or beaten mercilessly if they balk at entering the killing line. Here, the first step is the stunner.
Cattle are stunned with an air-driven bolt gun applied to the forehead, while pigs are rendered unconscious with an electrical device.
Eisnitz reports that the line speeds are so fast that some conscious animals pass without being stunned. The result of inadequate stunning and accelerated line speeds is the same: conscious animals continue down the disassembly line, because, writes Eisnitz, nothing stops the line. Time is money.
What follows, conscious or unconscious, is “sticking” (piercing the throat to induce bleeding), skinning, and removing legs. In the case of pigs, they are stuck, bled and dragged through a tank of scalding water to remove their bristles. Conscious pigs have been boiled to death or drowned.
Victims of the system
There is more. The book addresses the tremendous physical and psychological danger to workers. The workers emerge as victims of the system. Eisnitz also deals with the growing epidemic of contaminated meat, suggesting that the industry has the same callous disregard for humans as for animals.
Slaughterhouse is not a survey of slaughter practices across the country, but rather an expose of abuses that Eisnitz observed or that were reported to her. Thus it is not clear from Slaughterhouse how prevalent the abuses reported are. But Slaughterhouse offers convincing arguments for better supervision of slaughterhouses and stronger enforcement of the Humane Slaughter Act. It also reminds us that the slaughter industry should not police itself.
“Could create a new generation of vegetarians”
Eisnitz’s expose is so powerful that we can almost see the bellowing cows and helpless squealing pigs. And we can’t help but visualize the children whose lives were cut short because they took a bite out of a tainted hamburger. It has been said that if most meat eaters walked through a slaughterhouse, they would quickly become vegetarians.
Eisnitz’s book is the only tour most readers will ever need. With wide exposure, it could create a new generation of vegetarians.
Humane Farming Association investigator and Slaughterhouse author Gail Eisnitz in 2004 received the Albert Schweitzer Medal, presented by the Animal Welfare Institute for outstanding achievement in animal welfare.
While best known for Slaughterhouse, Eisnitz in 1994-1995 had a significant role in exposing illegal veal industry use of the synthetic steroid clenbuterol, leading to the criminal convictions of several prominent U.S. veal producers.
In April 2000 Eisnitz obtained videotape documenting extensive but unprosecuted alleged violations of the Humane Slaughter Act at the IBP meatpacking plant in Wallula, Washington.
Beginning in 1998, Eisnitz also helped Sioux opponents of factory pig farming to fight plans by Sun Prairie Inc. to establish pig barns on the Rosebud Sioux Reservation in South Dakota. The first Sun Prairie pig barn on the Rosebud reservation opened in 1999, but a series of lawsuits, including several wins for opponents in appellate courts, kept the project from scaling up to the 24-barn complex now in operation until 2008.