Slaughter Free Network is a campaign to end slaughter in the city that once promoted itself as the slaughter capital of the world.

The Chicago Union Stockyards has been memorialized in the historical record of our city as the hallmark of the industrial revolution. This resulted in a few families like Armour and Swift making immense fortunes on the backs of countless workers and animals subjected to horrific conditions, as depicted in Upton Sinclair’s famous novel The Jungle. We envision our campaign as the evolution of Sinclair’s legacy and its logical conclusion.

Our 13-point case shows how slaughterhouses are bad for everyone: communities, animals, workers and the planet.

  1. Killing them is killing us. Leading health authorities, including the WHO and CDC, are sounding the alarm that emerging zoonotic pandemics, beyond and far worse than COVID-19, pose an existential threat to our way of life and that exploiting and killing animals for food is the main culprit.
  2. The climate crisis compels us to rapidly transition to a plant-based food system. The U.S. population could cut it’s overall greenhouse gas emissions by two thirds and eliminate millions of deaths per year by transitioning to a plant-based food system, according to an Oxford study published in PNAS. Marginalized and lower income communities where slaughterhouses typically operate suffer the worst effects of the climate crisis.
  3. Animals are treated like trash, literally. We have seen live animals thrown into dumpsters. Their deaths are not quick and painless; instead they are subjected to long and drawn-out suffering for days leading up to their violent, terrifying end.
  4. Based on our own research, slaughterhouses commonly violate nuisance, sanitation, zoning, environmental and public health laws that, if properly enforced, would effectively shut them down.
  5. Local crime rates go up, especially violent crimes, wherever and whenever slaughterhouses open, according to professor of criminology Amy Fitzgerald who discovered a direct link between slaughterhouses and violent crime.
  6. Those who believe in human supremacy and dominion are more likely to also hold prejudicial views against other historically oppressed groups, including women and people of color.
  7. Workers suffer high rates of PTSD, substance abuse and domestic violence.
  8. US meat workers are three times more likely to suffer serious injury than the average American worker. Amputations, fractured fingers, second-degree burns and head trauma are among these serious injuries, according to data seen by the Guardian and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.
  9. Property values decline around slaughterhouses and selling and renting properties can become more difficult.
  10. Blood, feces and feathers are plastered all over the walls posing a serious public safety and health threat by exposing workers and communities to food-borne illness outbreaks and increased rodent infestation problems. Learn more about the conditions we have documented.
  11. If U.S. farmers took all the land currently devoted to raising animals and used it to grow plants instead, they could feed more than twice as many people as they do now. Hunger could be eliminated.
  12. We have no nutritional or biological need for animal products, according to the American Dietetic Association. In fact, an animal-based diet is associated with higher rates of heart disease and cancers, hiking healthcare costs even higher in a city where 256,000 residents cannot afford insurance.
  13. Residents and businesses in both large cities and small towns — and across all ethnic backgrounds — overwhelmingly oppose slaughterhouses for these and other reasons. In one survey, 49% of US adults support a ban on factory farming and 47% support a ban on slaughterhouses.

For society at large, the slaughter and consumption of animals desensitizes us to those victims to the point that we don’t even recognize them as victims. In other words, slaughterhouses cultivate our apathy — the source of our darker natures, while it blocks our empathy — the source of our better natures. As Leo Tolstoy famously wrote over one hundred years ago, “As long as there are slaughterhouses, there will be battlefields.”

Interested in helping us make history?

What is our strategy, in a nutshell?

Most people object to having slaughterhouses in their communities. With changing neighborhoods and residential development moving into areas where the business of slaughter once thrived, many city slaughterhouses have closed up shop or relocated elsewhere. A small number remain in the city limits. The decline of the slaughter industry was recently covered in a Chicago Tribune article.

The current system for regulating the existing slaughterhouses is broken, and we have identified violations that are going undetected that should effectively disqualify them from getting a license. Our strategy is to rally our communities, activists, local media and city officials to demand that existing laws be enforced which would effectively close slaughterhouses. We believe that our success here will inspire other towns and cities in the U.S. and around the world to launch similar efforts.

A Brief History of Animal Slaughter in Chicago

Historical accounts of the Industrial Revolution credit the Chicago Union Stockyards as the birth place of industrial agriculture. The Yards, as it was known, was the largest meatpacking and slaughtering complex in America for decades, starting in 1865. From the Civil War through the 1920s, more meat was processed in Chicago than in any other place in the world. The district was operated by a group of railroad companies that acquired over 450 acres of wetlands and turned it into a sprawling slaughter and meatpacking complex.

A typical postcard showing how Chicago promoted the Union Stockyards as a tourist destination. Credit: Curteich-Chicago “C.T. Art-Colortone.”
Aero Distributing Co., Chicago.

Souvenir postcards from the era show how proudly the city promoted its reputation as “hog butcher to the world.” Yet, even then, there were those who sought to expose the ugly truth of their enterprise. Like undercover investigators today, Upton Sinclair spent seven weeks working undercover in Chicago’s stockyards before writing his landmark novel, The Jungle, using material he had collected firsthand. His intent was to expose the nightmarish conditions of immigrant workers in this environment, but in the process, he also exposed the nightmarish conditions of the animals that were trapped inside. While The Jungle may have done little to stop the booming animal slaughter business, it did trigger President Theodore Roosevelt to enact a series of food safety laws shortly thereafter.

We leave you with a passage in which Sinclair describes with sensitivity the experience of the animals:

“… they were so innocent, they came so very trustingly; and they were so very human in their protests – -and so perfectly within their rights! They had done nothing to deserve it; and it was adding insult to injury,”… “swinging them up in this cold-blooded, impersonal way, without a pretence at apology, without the homage of a tear. Now and then a visitor wept, to be sure; but this slaughtering-machine ran on, visitors or no visitors. It was like some horrible crime committed in a dungeon, all unseen and unheeded, buried out of sight and of memory.”

— Upton Sinclair