Problematic Aspects of Eating Animals and My Experience at a Slaughterhouse


Dr. Pineda Ochoa’s speech on May 2, 2015 in Angleton, Texas.

This transcript is an approximation of the audio in above video. To hear the audio, please play the video.

Today, to celebrate the fact that these beautiful animals that were destined to go to slaughter are going to live their lives peacefully at a sanctuary, I’m going talk about the impact eating animals has on our health and on the animals themselves.

Sometimes we’re just not aware of the profound implications and consequences of our food choices, and we do things like eating animals and animal products without really even thinking or considering what even works for our bodies or for our world.

Part I – Problematic Aspects of Eating Animals:

There are a lot of very intelligent and thoughtful and kind and compassionate, and otherwise educated people, who believe that eating animals and animal products is something that we must do in order to maintain our health and our vitality. When in reality, we have seen that the diet that provides the most optimum nutrition and health is a plant-based vegan diet, where we get all of our nutrients from plant-based foods, like vegetables, fruits, grains, legumes, nuts and seeds.

But people worry a lot about protein specifically. So, I wanted to talk today a little bit more about what protein is and about the implications specifically about eating animal protein. First, it’s important to know that protein is abundant both in plant foods as well as in animal foods. Protein is abundant is meat, fish, dairy and eggs, as well as in vegetables, grains, legumes, nuts and seeds, etc. Does anyone know what proteins are? Proteins are simply chains of organic compounds called amino acids, which are joined together by peptide bonds. Proteins are simply chains of amino acids. The term “essential amino acid” refers to nine amino acids that our bodies do not synthesize and we therefore need to get in food. But with few exceptions, like for example gelatin (which is actually an animal protein), most proteins found in both animals and plant foods are “complete protein,” meaning they contain the all the essential amino acids our bodies require. The fact that plants have protein is for some reason not always well known. But, just as an example, according to the USDA broccoli has more protein per calorie than beef. When comparing beef patties with raw broccoli, we’ll see that broccoli has about 15% more protein per calorie than beef.

When we eat protein, if we eat the beef patty or if we eat the broccoli, it’s not like the protein we eat goes straight to our muscles or straight to our enzymes (enzymes are made of proteins). What happens is we synthesize protein according to our needs. If we are going to synthesize muscle or if we are going to synthesize an enzyme, our body could not care less whether the given the amino acids that we’re using came from a plant or from an animal — because it’s the same thing, it’s identical. When we’re going to synthesize a protein, we have the protein recipe in our cells (in our DNA) and then we build our own protein. And for all of those functions, our body does not care if we got (the amino acids that we’re using) from a plant or from an animal.

However, having said that, eating protein from animals can be problematic for several reasons with regards to our health. One of the aspects of animal protein which is problematic for our health is the fact that it contains a higher amount of essential amino acids. Now, as I have said already, plants also have the essential amino acids, but the proportion and the concentration is less than that in animal protein. This increased concentration that we see in animal foods is a disadvantage and not an advantage from a medical perspective. It’s a disadvantage because our body responds to this amino acid overload that we get when we eat animals by fabricating more of hormone called IGF-1, which stands for insulin like growth factor one. And this hormone, as the name implies, stimulates cell proliferation both in healthy cells, or perhaps in not so healthy cells that we would have been better off if it was their turn to die. So, as you can imagine, having higher levels of a hormone constantly telling our cells to proliferate has been associated with many kinds of cancer, and with more malignant and aggressive kinds of cancer, because cancer is all about cell proliferation. Obviously, it’s not the only risk factor for cancer. However, it is one that is well understood — and it is significant — and it is easily avoidable. So, we should not ignore it.

Another aspect of animal protein that is problematic for our health is the fact that it is usually packaged with cholesterol. Now, our body synthesizes cholesterol for all of our bodily functions (for all of our cellular functions), and we do not need to get it from an external source. But we eat things like chicken and turkey thinking that because they are white meats or because they are so-called lean meats, or thinking that if we eat them baked or boiled in a soup or grilled that they are a low-fat meal. When, in reality, the animal flesh itself already has a very high content of cholesterol, which our body did not require and which ends up getting burrowed in the linings in our arteries and causing plaques of cholesterol, causing atherosclerosis or cardiovascular disease.

Actually, cardiovascular disease is the number one killer in this country, and studies show that it is ubiquitous since very early in our lives (on a Western diet).

One of many studies that have looked into this was actually a military study where they took 300 soldiers who had been killed in the battlefield, average age of 22, and they did autopsies of their bodies. And they found that these soldiers, that 77% of them, already had visible plaques of cholesterol in the arteries that supply the heart. These were active soldiers in military life; these were not couch potatoes. So, if I am a person who is eating a Western diet — filled with animals and filled with cholesterol — if I were die today, even if I am athletic and lean, and they did an autopsy of my body, they would likely find vessels sickened with atherosclerosis.

Now, the only source of cholesterol in the world is animals and animal products. I’m not saying , because of that, we should go out and have some french fries and stuff ourselves with oils — I’m not saying that at all. Because if we do that, that also can cause inflammation in our arteries and then we’re also going to end up probably synthesizing more cholesterol, which is not going to be good for us at all. But, the only source of cholesterol in the form of cholesterol in the world, is in animal products. And, that’s a very problematic aspect of animal protein when it comes to our health.

Another aspect of animal protein that is problematic for our health is the fact that it has a higher proportion of sulfur-containing amino acids. Now our body metabolizes these amino acids and produces sulfuric acid, and a diet high in animal protein results in us having higher amounts of acidity and acidosis in our body. Our body compensates for this acidity through several mechanisms. One of them is excreting hydrogen ions through our kidneys. But another mechanism that our body utilizes is it leaches calcium from our bones, and it utilizes that calcium to buffer the acid that we produced from metabolizing the protein in our diet. If it’s something that we’re eating for one week or one month, it’s obviously not going to have much effect on our bones. But if it’s a diet that we’re following for several years, it can definitely weaken bone.

And we have seen that the people and the cultures in the studies that have the highest amount of animal protein in their diet have had increased incidence of many kinds of fractures. And this association hold trues for protein in the liquid form of milk, because milk is liquified animal protein. And we have seen that the people who drink the highest amount of milk has been associated with an increased risk of fractures including hip fractures, which is really sad. It’s really a shame that many of us at some point thought that calcium is something that is obtained exclusively from dairy products, and for that specific reason we need to consume it. When, in reality, calcium is a mineral that is obtained in a wide array of plant-based foods, like leafy greens and many kinds of beans and seeds, without all the negative associations that are associated with dairy.

To start off, milk is a condensation of all of the problems that a cow was exposed to — all of the antibiotics, all of the hormones, even the pesticides in her food. But even if the milk was completely pure and organic, milk itself has been associated with a wide array of an increased risk of many pathologies, from oncologic pathologies like prostate cancer and many hormone related cancers, to immune related pathologies like multiple sclerosis and type 1 diabetes.

To me the fact that dairy products, that milk has all of these negative associations comes as no surprise because, in reality, when you think about it, animals produce milk specifically for their calves to grow them as quickly and as efficiently as possible. And they are all different amongst themselves, in the level of protein, carbohydrates, fat, minerals, vitamins, hormones — they are all different amongst themselves and they are all different than humans’ milk. The milk of a cow, of a pig, of a porcupine, of a rat — they are all different amongst themselves and they are all different than our milk. And we have no business drinking the milk of a different species, or eating the processed product of a milk of a different species.

And, lastly, to conclude the health section, I want to point something out about fish. I want to point out, first of all, fishes are animals too. They are animals — they are not swimming vegetables with eyes. They are animals. And, as such, they are animal protein, and they have same associations and complications that I have already discussed, including the fact about cholesterol (because many fish derive a lot of their calories from saturated fat and cholesterol). But fish are additionally frequently contaminated, for example, with mercury, which can cross the placenta barrier and cause neurologic problems in unborn babies. So, as you can see, eating animals and animal products are a very poor choice when it comes to our health.

Part II – My Visit to a Slaughterhouse:

But I want to switch gears a little bit here and talk about the animals. See, no matter how devastating the effects of eating animals and animal products are on our health, and no matter how devastating the effect of raising livestock for our consumption is on the environment (which is extremely devastating), but considering all of that, in my opinion, the creatures who suffer our food choices the worst are actually, obviously, the animals themselves. And, on this occasion, I would like to share with you an experience — a terrible experience — that I had about two years ago when visiting a slaughterhouse.

I was trying to compile all of the health, environmental and ethical implications of eating animal products as a resource, and I was working on that and told a friend of mine, who had a contact of his who was a general manager at a slaughterhouse. And I asked him if it would be possible for me to go there and do some filming, and take a little bit of footage And, to my surprise, the answer was yes with several conditions (I can’t disclose the location, or the name, or things like that). But I was allowed to go there, to this facility (and film). Fortunately, for you people, I was told I wouldn’t have a projector here, so you don’t have to see any of the horrible things that I saw and that I filmed. But I want to share with you just some of the things that stood out to me.

Speaking specifically about the moment of slaughter, I found that not surprisingly these animals — when they were supposed to be killed before being dismembered and slaughtered — these animals were fighting for their lives. They were jerking around like crazy; they were moving violently. And so when they were supposed to be killed prior to being dismembered and slaughtered, they were frequently merely injured or weakened, and they went through the slaughter process completely awake and alert and feeling everything. Even if they hit the central nervous system, as a physician, I know that is not a guaranty for an instant death, or even a death at all from that particular lesion.

I want you all to remember — there was a Democratic congresswoman who I think lives in this area (because her husband is an astronaut for NASA) — Gabrielle Giffords. She was giving a talk in early 2011, I think in Arizona. Somebody shot her in the head. She had a bullet go through her skull and through her brain, and it exited the other side of her head — it went completely through her head. Now she, fortunately, did not have an instant death at all. Actually, she was treated here in the Houston Medical Center, and she recovered wonderfully. And she can talk. And she moves. And, if you would see her today, you would never even know that she had a bullet go through her head.

But back to the slaughterhouse — the point I was making — so, many of these animals, because they are nervous and because the workers are in a hurry, they’re not even hit in a strategic location (and even if they did, that’s not a guaranty for an instant death). Speaking first about the cows, what I saw is that many of them had the bolt go, not even in the head, but lower down towards the neck. So, it would injure a part of their nervous system and they would be weakened and would fall to the floor. But they were not dead at all, or even close to being unconscious. They were alive. They were still moving their legs. They were still moving with their neck. They were looking around in horror; their eyes were this big. And they knew exactly what was going on.

After they would fall to floor, a worker would come up and put a shackle on a hind leg of a cow. And then a machine would lift the cow slowly, so the cow was suspended by her hind leg. And then the worker would get on a platform to be on the same level of the cow, and he would get close to the cow (with the cow’s other legs kicking trying to free herself), and first he would cut off the legs of the cow from the knee down (the three legs except for the one where the cow was hanging from). And the three legs fell to the ground. And then he would lift the tail of the cow and, from the very tip of the tail, he made a vertical incision in the skin. And then he pulled the skin of the cow down, all the way down, so that the cow’s own skin was hanging to the sides, on both side of her head. So, the cow couldn’t even see anything any more, because all she had to see was her skin on both sides and then her legs on the floor. And the the worker came down on the platform and made an incision in the neck of the cow, and blood came gushing out. Then the cow started to choke on her own blood, because every time she would breath she would breath her own blood. So eventually, from the cow choking on her own blood and being exsanguinated, she finally died a very slow and agonizing death.

So, as you can see, the horrors that these animals go through are nothing like anything we can even imagine. And that doesn’t even include what they go through prior to the moment of slaughter — being branded with hot metals, being dehorned, maybe sustaining fractures in transportation, having their calves taken from them. I still remember to this day the pleading eyes on the cows’ faces, and they still haunt me.

One in particular I want to share with you before moving on. I went to this facility two days. The first day, I went to the holding areas, not to the actual slaughterhouse. The first day, they just took me to where they would put the animals from the farms, to keep them for about a week or so, before it was their turn to be slaughtered. So, when we went to the holdings areas, first of all, I saw that somehow all of these animals knew exactly what was going on to some level. Because the moment we would start walking there and talking (the moment they heard humans talking), the cows would start backing up (even tripping on each other) just to get as far away from the humans as they could. And I don’t think that’s normal. So, I think on some level, they knew something very bad was going to happen to them — that’s my impression.

After we finished visiting the facility, there was one cow held individually. This was a white, beautiful cow. And she looked so nervous, that I asked the person who was showing me around if we could stay. So, we stayed a little bit, and I pet the cow and I talked to her, and she finally calmed down after about 15 minutes. She had looked in total terror; she was very afraid, and this was in this holding area.

And then they drove me back to the hotel, and the next day they picked me up around 3:00 or 4:00 AM, and we went to the slaughterhouse and I saw the things that I already told you about. But, then it came the turn of this white cow to get slaughtered. And what made it so much worse was this white cow, instead of fighting like the other cows — because the other cows would even get on their hind legs (I didn’t even know cows could do that — like horses) and they were kicking and screaming, and just a horrible, horrible scene. But this white cow, instead of resisting, she just came up straight to the place where she had to position herself so they would kill her. And she just came straight to me, and she was straightening her neck as much as she could to get as close to me as she could. And while the workers were pushing her around, instead of pushing-back, she was just pleading and begging for me to help her. She wasn’t even blinking. She was just staring at me. But of course there was nothing that I could do; there was absolutely nothing that I could do, except film her. And so it was a very, very difficult experience, and that’s one of the things that motivate me to educate people on these matters.

That was cows, but I also saw the slaughtering of pigs, so I want to talk briefly about that. First of all, it is acceptable for the pig industry to castrate the hogs, and pull out their teeth, and to cut their tails (as if it was made out of carton or paper), without any anesthetics. And then it’s acceptable to have them in spaces confined so small they cannot even turn around. Imagine if you were, for a large part of your life, in something like a coffin where you couldn’t even turn around, and the day when you are finally allowed to leave the coffin is the day when you are going to get slaughtered. And what I saw at this facility is that the pigs were very, very unmotivated (obviously) to walk to the slaughterhouse.

And so there was a door that connected to a hallway where the pigs would come from the holding areas. And, what I saw, is that the pigs would start walking towards there, and then they would stop and lift their head. And I could see their snout or their nose moving around (they were just standing around smelling). And I guess they smelled the blood and the fear and they realized that they wanted nothing to do with it, so they turned around. But at the other end of the hallway a worker was there to motivate them to go into the slaughterhouse. He would grab two rails and lift his two feet and kick the them, and then also hit them with a metal rod so hard that, eventually, the pigs were so afraid of the person at the other end of the hallway that they were motivated enough to walk to their own deaths. Once the pigs were in the area, they would close the metal door behind them. And, they stunned them in front of each other (one-by-one) and they also hanged them by the back leg, and cut their throat. This is all done very quickly and kind of in a hurry, and many of them were still alive when they do through the final process where they dunk them in scalding hot water to remove their hair and soften their skin — and that is the point where they finally die.

I didn’t witness the slaughtering of chickens, but I’m going to talk lastly just briefly about that, because it’s important we cover it — chickens are arguably the most abused animal because everyone eats large quantities of chicken.

First of all, in nature, hens sometimes start communicating with the chicks before they even hatch. But nowadays, what happens is the fertilized eggs get put in an incubator, and when they hatch they are separated in males and females. Now, the males chicks are considered worthless to the industry because they don’t lay eggs, and they cannot be grown as quickly when given hormones as females are. So, the male chicks are disposed of when they are born. They put them by the thousands on conveyors, and when it comes to an end they get deposited sometimes into grinding machines and they are ground-up alive — and that is a legal and standard practice. They also put them sometimes in big plastic bags, and when the plastic bag is full, then they tie a knot to the plastic bag. And, then at some point in the future, the chicks eventually die. I don’t when, but it’s probably a slow and agonizing death as well.

And now the females chicks — who are not ground up alive and who are not put in a plastic bag to die slowly — in my opinion have it actually worse than the male chicks, because they have a lifetime of suffering. First of all, they cut their beaks with a hot metal (blade), because they are in such crowded conditions they go crazy and start pecking at each other. Just like if they put twenty humans in an elevator for a large amount of their lifetime, I’m sure there would be problems (even if they put the twenty smartest of humans in those conditions). They also grow them so quickly and so unnaturally, that many of them have health problems including joint problems. And sometimes they die of thirst close to the water source just because they are unable to lift their bodies up and walk to the water. So, it’s very, very terrible conditions in their lifetime.

And, when it’s time for them to finally go to slaughter, they put them in crowded conditions in cages and boxes, and they transport them with no water or food. Sometimes in extreme heat or cold, and sometimes these conditions are so bad, they die on their way to slaughter. But if they don’t, when they get to the slaughterhouse, they hang them by their two legs and they go through some circulating metal blades, like going through a blender. So, it’s not necessarily going to produce a quick and instant death, but it’s surely going to produce a lot of tissue damage, and tissue lashing and bleeding. So, again, with the chickens — many of them are still alive when they go through the final stage where they also get dunked in scalding hot water to remove their feathers.

So, as you can see, we are creating a hell like condition for these animals. For these animals, this world that we’re living in is Hell on Earth. And the problem is we have absolutely no way of justifying this. We have absolutely no justification.

Now I am a physician, and I practice currently in the correctional system. I see patients both at a correctional facility and also at a forensic parole office. And I know this about the legal system. I know that if the woman here with the black shirt, for whatever reason, does not like the man over there with the black shirt, and she decides that she wants to kill him, and buys a gun and she kills him. Then, according to our legal system, she will be guilty of murder. But if she does not want to do her dirty work herself, for whatever reason, and she decides to pay some money to the man who is beside her so that he does the dirty work. And he goes and kills the man in the black shirt. Well, the woman here in the black shirt, even if she did not commit the crime herself, according to our legal system, she will still be guilty of murder.

When it comes to animals, don’t get fooled by the normalcy in our society or the fact that everybody is consuming them. Don’t be fooled by the ubiquitousness, because they seem to be absolutely in all of the foods and everywhere you go. Because notwithstanding the obvious psychological difference — if I am ordering a chicken salad, or some some ribs, or a peperoni pizza, or an egg omelet, or some ice cream, or a hot dog and a hamburger — then I am paying somebody to do my dirty work and I am just as morally responsible, and I have the same amount of blood on my hands, as the person who is grinding the chicks, or putting the knot on the plastic bag, or skinning the cow and cutting her legs, or dunking the pig and the hen in scalding hot water.

So, we really, really need to stop all of this animal and animal product consumption nonsense once and for all. And, if you are not doing so already, I invite you to leave animals and animal products completely off of your plates forever — for your own health, for your own survival, for the the environment, and of course for the animals themselves.

And with that, I want to thank you all very much for your time and attention.