By Joey Ayoub
The following post is an eye-witness account of the horrors happening inside the Karantina Slaughterhouse. I have visited the slaughterhouse last Monday the 2nd of July with my Environmental and Public Health Class of the American University of Beirut. This post is accompanied with graphic images and a video which are placed at the bottom end for those who feel like they cannot handle it. This is only an eye-witness report. The data presented below come from either personal observations or from the authorities that were present at the time. The class and myself are preparing a report that will be presented to several ministries and newspapers accompanied with a petition that will be available for everyone to sign. I hope, we hope, that after finding out what exactly is going on in the Karantina Slaughterhouse, you would be motivated to sign the petition and spread the word. The report should be ready within the next 10 days.
It wouldn’t have been easy for me to believe that such a thing existed so close to my daily path to university. When one thinks of a slaughterhouse, one does know that cows and sheep are killed in the end. However, one doesn’t necessarily imagine a place where cows and sheep are freely tortured and die a slow and agonizing death.
But that’s what we saw. Not only was the place in such as state of filth that is beyond description, but the inhuman and inhumane conditions that both men and animals have to go through is beyond description as well. I was out of breath for a good deal of my stay there despite considering myself as being now used to difficult conditions. Most of my classmates were in total shock to say the least and some of us, including myself, were extremely angry at what was going on.
The place stands on the outskirts of Karantina, Beirut, not that far away from Down Town and was built in 1994. 18 years later, it is still called ‘the temporary slaughterhouse of Beirut’. It is surrounded by the Sukleen Facility, the Sukomi Composting Facility and a Cement Factory. All three facilities contribute to the pollution of the slaughterhouse itself.
We were welcomed by a kind man with an accent that I wasn’t quite used to. He shared with us some general information relating to the slaughterhouse. How responsibility for its maintenance lies within the hands of the ministry of agriculture and the municipality of Beirut; how they feel they, the workers, are underfunded and without proper supervision; how the slaughterhouse has around 40 workers who work from 8pm to 4am; how the number of cows and sheep slaughtered was reduced from about 3,000 a day before and during the civil war to between 50 and 100 cows and 200 and 500 sheep per day today. And so on.
Right after the weight of the horrid smell’s impact started affecting me, we saw two seemingly old cows that were too exhausted or sick to stand up. A group of four men took them in and we never saw them again. It was only later that we found out that most cows and bulls in the Karantina slaughterhouse are imported from Brazil and that they tend to be exhausted upon arrival. “Most are from Brazil”, one of the workers told us, “and sometimes we get cows and bulls from Sudan, Colombia, Germany, Netherlands or France”.
When we got closer to the enclosures where all the animals were kept, the first thing we saw were about 6 bulls in an approximately 10m x 10 m enclosure (my own estimation from memory) standing on a mixture of urine and feces. They were all close to each other, occupying about half the available space. I approached towards the enclosure and petted one of the big bulls – the white one in the picture above. Unlike the other 5 who were in a state of near-panic, 2 of which were repeatedly urinating, 2 constantly moving around the 6-strong herd and the last one remaining completely still, the big white one seemed relatively calm. He’s the one who approached me.
I tried to count the number of cows per enclosure and my quick approximation is the following: There were 6 in the one in front of me, 1 lone bull in another enclosure and 6, 3, 8, 3, 3, 6, 1, 12 bulls and/or cows respectively in the other enclosures. The number of sheep were about 15-20 per enclosure except one enclosure which looked like it was keeping around 40-50 sheep. They were all, without exception, filled with urine and feces.
The workers were very dirty and didn’t wear any health hazard protection whatsoever. No gloves, no masks. Some were wearing open sandals and shorts. They all had a knife or two in their dirty hands or dirty pockets – I cannot stress the word ‘dirty’ enough. These were the knives used to butcher the cows and sheep starting some 45 minutes later.
The workers were from all different ages. Some looked like they were in the forties while others looked like they were in their twenties. There were about 5-6 children there as well whom I suspect are related somehow to the workers themselves. I should add that the children had knives as well.
I was one of the firsts to enter the slaughterhouse itself. It had only two large rooms, one for the slaughter and skinning and one for the cutting of the parts. When I entered the slaughter room, the first thing I saw was pools of blood covering nearly all available space floor surrounding the cows that were still alive. The dead beheaded cows were just a few meters away from the terrified live ones that were kicking and moving frantically in desperate attempts to escape. That’s when I remembered the words of the man responsible: “They sometimes manage to escape. If any one of them escapes, run as fast as you can.”
None of them did escape that time but two almost did. A big white bull who might have been the one I petted some minutes earlier was running in the only two possible ways, forwards and then backwards. Two men were standing on either side of the path with some kind of rope in their hands. After numerous failures, they finally succeeded in tying the big white bull down. He kept on trying to escape as far as I could see with his repeated kicks that became slower as time passed. Two men were repeatedly hitting him with some kind of metal rod to weaken him, which they succeeded in doing. The other one is the one that was managed to be caught on video after his attempt to escape failed. This big brown bull acted similarly to the white one but it took a longer amount of time to tie him up.
Both were still alive for at least 40 minutes after having one of their legs tied and pulled up towards the ceiling. They had the whole weight of their own body on their necks and heads and kept on trying to escape as best they could: kicking and kicking some more. I left and went back in 4 times after my initial contact with the torturous slaughters that were occurring. It wasn’t only because I was horrified by what was going on but because I was hesitating about what to do. I was seriously considering for a moment to take one of the butchers’ knives and kill the two bulls myself and end their agony but soon gave up the idea. In retrospect, I regret not doing so.
I completely ignored the butchers that were in the other room ‘explaining’ to my fellow classmates how they took care of keeping the meat clean. I could clearly understand by the look on their faces that they didn’t believe a single word they were saying. The butchers were literally smoking using their left hand and cutting the carcasses open with their right one. They had blood and pieces of flesh on their shirts, pants and skin. After what can only be described as playing with the carcasses, they wiped their hands on their own clothes and simply went on. The slaughter is not Halal despite them saying so and them hiring a ‘cheikh’ who came and prayed at the end.
Before going back in the slaughter room for the third time, I noticed that below one of the carcasses was a cat licking the fresh kill that the butcher was just trying to portray as being perfectly clean – We saw about a dozen cats in total in and around the slaughterhouse.
‘Someone’ managed to film the capture of the brown bull and the subsequent hanging from one of his legs. He looks dead but he’s not. I went back in there for the last time just a few minutes before we left and he was still alive. I am an eye-witness to at least 40 minutes of his suffering. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the end. I know that the 40 minutes were only the beginning because he was one of the lasts in line. All cows and bulls are tied in the way you see in the video and dragged along a line towards the other end of the room where a butcher slaughters them manually one by one. Meanwhile, the other cows are brought in and often run into the hanged ones, increasing the pain and suffering of the hanged cows. The brown one suffered that twice from two different cows. Both ‘escaped’ and both fell on him.
I did not want to leave that place. The only two reasons I did leave are the fact that some of my classmates were really bothered and couldn’t handle it anymore and the fact that I just couldn’t handle hesitating between going back in and doing ‘something’ – whatever that something may be – and just keeping calm and continuing to take notes.
The workers had no control whatsoever over the situation. They were too dirty, too unorganized, too chaotic and there was barely the presence of an authority. I simply couldn’t help but think of a concentration camp where prisoners desperately try to escape while their executors chase them until the formers exhausted themselves and gave up the struggle. I do not know what sort of moral damage working in such a place would inflict upon these men but I do know that they do not deserve this. One man seemed to be convinced when he told me that the cows ‘only make you think that they’re suffering but it’s not true’.
I can still picture the scenes in my head and doubtless they’ll remain for as long as I still manage to care for living beings. What I witnessed was not unexpected. We were warned beforehand of the slaughterhouse’s failure to meet any health or ethical standard. But we cannot accept that such a place be with any failures whatsoever. You have to remember that not only is this slaughterhouse responsible for delivering fresh meat to citizens of Beirut and beyond but that animals are being literally terrorized, tortured and allowed to die in horrifying agony. It can simply not be hard let alone impossible to create a slaughterhouse – which was called ‘one of the worst Slaughterhouses in the world’ by an Australian NGO - that does not include torture as being the only feasible method.
We all know that in a country with a government, whose apathy towards its own citizens only reflects the failure of the sectarian system, animals would never be a priority. We don’t need to make them a priority. It is true that there are many human-related problems in this country but we shouldn’t use that reality as an excuse for immoral barbaric acts. Animals are simply innocent of anything we have decided to inflict upon one another (civil war and post-civil war chaos). They do not deserve anything less than basic kindness which is absolutely not impossible to do. It has nothing to do with the economy, nothing to do with ‘creating jobs’. All I’m talking about is the method of slaughtering which must be abolished if we ever wish to think of ourselves as a nation of conscious citizens with the slightest sense of morality.
PICTURES AND VIDEO
Below you’ll find the pictures we managed to take. I remind you that they are very graphic. They are followed by a description of the video and the video itself.
Notes on the Video (taken with a mobile phone)
From 0:00 to 0:25: You can see the pool of blood mixed both dead and live cows, bulls and sheep. Some are decapitated, some are skinned, some are alive and hanged, some are running and some are in their respective enclosures with other cows/bulls or sheep.
From 0:25 to 0:59: You can see the brown bull I mentioned in the post. One of his legs was just tied and there is a rope trying to pull it towards to ceiling. You see him struggling against it to finally lose and fall down.
At 0:42: You hear a man yelling. That’s how they scare the cows/bulls into going the other way when one of them is ‘escaping’. That’s what most of the noise you hear in the video was for.
1:28: Me starting to get pissed
1:40: The increase in noise you hear is simply one man pulling down the chain that is forcing another cow in the same position as the brown one and all the other ones.
I’ll upload a slightly longer video soon with a closer look at the brown bull.
Further Reading and Video:
UPDATE 11th of July, 2012
We uploaded a longer version with two new footage.
0:00 – 2:04: Original Short Version
2:04 – 3:02: Closer Look at the Brown Bull being hanged
3:02 – 3:14: Cats seen inside the slaughterhouse