El Salvador’s Slaughterhouses


Six years ago, the municipal slaughterhouse in La Union, in the southeastern region of El Salvador, was ordered to be closed by the Ministry of Health because it did not meet the health standards outlined by the ministry. Yet still it continues to operate. If you are picturing an image from Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle, of horrific assembly line style production practices, wipe that image from your mind. Instead picture this: one by one cows are pushed and prodded, forced in any way (including contorting their tails) to get them into a large cement building, where they are tied to a cement post. The rope is tied around their heads, and they are tied as close to the post as possible so they cannot move their heads. Next, they are stabbed in the back of the head (into the brain) so they become immobilized, and then they are untied and generally they collapse to the ground in fits of spasms and convulsions. The rope is usually re-tied to the bottom of the post to help control the dying spasms of the cow. While thrashing, their throats are slit. The brain-stabbing is to paralyze them, the throat-slitting is to actually kill them. Often, a worker will stand on the cow to help the blood rush out of the gash in the neck. The blood cover the floor and flows into a drain in the center of the large cement slaughterhouse. More often than not, this drain flows untreated into the environment (into the nearest stream or river). The floor may or may not be made of cement; it’s possible it’s just dirt.

After being killed and bled out, the cow carcasses are left to “rest” over night, during which time flies and other insects have free access to the raw meat. The hides are cut free and the meat is then butchered into large sections, which is how it is sold into the local markets. Local health officials lack the means to properly enforce their closure, which is why slaughterhouses such as the one in La Union continue to operate, despite the deplorable conditions. However, even if the slaughterhouse were meeting the proper standards, that would not actually change much. The blood would have to be treated before leaving, and workers would be required to wear shirts, boots, gloves, and masks while slaughtering, but nothing would change for these poor cows. So this is the reality of meat slaughtering and butchering in El Salvador. In the large supermarkets, such as Super Selectos and Dispensa de Don Juan, most of that meat comes from Nicaragua, where the slaughterhouses are more modern. But the majority of the Salvadoran population do not buy their meat there, they buy the meat at local markets, which purchase their meat from those types of slaughterhouses. Exact numbers are difficult to find, since many slaughterhouses are operating without authority to do so, and data collection is often lacking here as it is. Suffice it to say, I moved here not being a regular meat-eater (my last meat was a delicious burger from Seneca Breeze Organic Dairy in upstate NY two years ago), and with this knowledge, it makes my decision to avoid meat even easier. However, I will keep searching for humanely raised and slaughtered local meat in this country and provide an update when I encounter such a thing.

*Most information was taken from El Diario del Hoy, 31 de marzo 2011, the remainder was from personal accounts from my students, who visited a local slaughterhouse.

*Photos taken from the video of the aforementioned students, who must remain anonymous.


3 Comments Add yours

  1. holly says:

    nice article, colleen. could you link to the original Diario De Hoy article please?

    1. I can’t link directly to the article, but if you click on the following link, it’ll bring you to the ePaper version, and on the top right, click on the left-most button (Ediciones Anteriores) for the 31st March edition. It’s page 50.

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