Do Hamburgers Cause Crime?

Most of us who eat meat regularly would still rather not kill an animal with our own hands. So we have, for generations, delegated that work to others.

Jennifer Dillard, at Georgetown Law, authored a new paper looking at what that delegation costs the workers of industrial slaughterhouses. She argues that prolonged work on a kill floor exposes workers to the risk of psychological damage, including post-traumatic stress disorder, and that they should be compensated under O.S.H.A. for any ill effects they suffer.

Giving slaughterhouse workers therapy might also reduce another cost associated with the meat-processing industry: increased crime.

Writing for the American Sociological Association, Amy Fitzgerald finds a spill-over effect from the violent work of the slaughterhouse into the surrounding community. According to her research, U.S. counties that have slaughterhouses consistently have higher rates of violent crime than demographically similar counties that don’t.

(Hat tip: Upton Sinclair)


"I don't believe "sociopathic individuals might be attracted to a job like this [slaughterhouse]" any more than pedophiles are attrached to the Catholic clergy - which is to say, there's no proof, or reason to believe, any correlation. "

Why is there no reason to believe there is a correlation?

If you're more comfortable killing animals for a living than someone else, you're probably more likely to take this job. It makes sense to me that people willing to kill for a living might be a bit more sociopathic than your average worker.

However, if whole communities are being compared in this study, and we assume that they have an approximately equal number of sociopaths, we should still be able to measure the net effect of the slaughterhouse. If the slaughterhouse attracts people from outside of the community, though, then the results would be skewed (if the job does in fact attract sociopaths).

As for the second half of your analogy -
If you were a sexual deviant in a culture that despised sexual deviance, perhaps your best option would be a career that allows you to completely supress your sexuality (internally and externally) while gaining respect from the community. It seems very likely to me that there is a correlation here.



In my opinion the answer is probably no, hamburgers do not cause crime.


I once visited a slaughterhouse in Solola, Guatemala, where I watched a man tie up a very large bull by the horns, pulled it's head unnaturally far back and while it lay on it's side, he stabbed this bull in it's chest with a large knife. Then to show off, this man cupped his hands in the 8 inch wide stream of blood which was shooting out about 5 feet, and drank the blood he had collected right from his hands.

It made me sick! However, neither he or his son (about 9 years old) seemed to be phased by this at all.

Now I'm not educated on the standards of US slaughterhouses, but my Father has worked for a few different poultry companies over the past 30 years, and I've been to processing plants, and can say that they maintain slaughter methods much more humane than those used in Guatemala. I've never been to a US cattle slaughterhouse, butI would feel safe assuming US slaughter methods are more humane than what I saw in Guatemala. The interesting thing about this experience with regard to this article is that despite the very unusual way this bull was slaughtered (which I feel safe to assume is typical in Guatemala, except for the part where the man drank the blood from his own hands) this town was remarkable safe.

Granted, this is just one experience, I do, however, wonder how much of these violent crimes were actually committed by slaughterhouse workers, and if there is something else that explains the crime.


Mark B.

While the correlation/causation relationship does not seem to be teased apart completely in the paper (though I have not read it), correlation is a necessary "antecedent" for causation.

On a similar note, within social psychological research exposure to violence causes more violent behavior. This is obviously not the entire story behind violent behavior, but it does provide a piece of the puzzle. Slaughterhouse employees' (especially those on the floor) are definitely exposed to more violence than most jobs. I am not familiar enough with the research to know if exposure to violence towards animals is enough to cause violence more generally I would suspect that this is the case. Violent children's cartoons do contribute to more violence behavior and children are not taking part in the violence (as opposed to those who work on the Slaughterhouse floor).

Why exposure to violence causes violent behavior is another story. This could be as simple as Brian's (from comment 23) anecdotal account of separating emotions from the kill, but again I am not familiar enough with the actual research to know conclusively.

I would be interested to know if the the slaughterhouse employees are the people committing the crimes or if is actually others in the neighborhood. On average how close does the average slaughterhouse worker live to the slaughterhouse? On a similar note do those who live in the proximal neighborhood know enough about the activities/violence of the slaughterhouse to be affected by it. I'm sure they know live cows go in and steak comes out, but that does not mean they see the slaughtering process in their mind's eye vividly enough to cause more violence.



Growing up in a rural community on a small family farm I shared the responsibility for getting vegetables, milk, and meat to the dinner table. It was an experience shared by most of my peers. The experience left me with a deeply held ethic.

First, I understand and accept the process that brings food to the table.

Second, I saw enough to leave me with a strong respect for life and a strong aversion to both cruelty and to unnecessary loss of life.

The research should go a little deeper.


I think professions like this don't get any esteem, this is one of the biggest point of workers doing it to don't be happy. The other reason could be that work like this can't be done in 8 hours a day for five days, it needs more breaks, more recovering time. Our society isn't able to give nor esteem to them nor time to do their job in a human way. I'm working on the theme of esteem in our society since years:


Yet one more good reason to be a vegetarian.


For a couple of years I hunted deer to understand what it was like to kill an animal for food. Each time it got harder to pull the trigger, and so each time I had to separate my emotions from what my body was doing.

Those who hunt a lot, over many years, describe the process as "going on auto-pilot", and understand that they've mentally blocked out the death of that animal.

I have no doubts that, for some people, desensitizing themselves to killing animals for food also leads to a loss of compassion for human beings.


Or just not buy meat at all, Rob. It is completely unnecessary to still eat meat in a civilized country like the US in this day and age. If anything you'd be doing the world a huge favor by not eating meat anymore.


Another reason to buy your meat from the farmer.


Michael Pollan talks about this in "The Omnivore's Dilemma." He works on a farm and slaughters chickens for the first time, analyzing it every step of the way. When he later remarks to the farmer that he wouldn't want to do it every day, the farmer says, "Nobody should" and talked about how priests in the Bible even then drew lots or rotated the job of slaughter. "Slaughter is dehumanizing work if you do it every day."


I would have thought that those chicken processing plants are pretty traumatic. Stuffing the newly hatched male (non-egg producing) chicks in to sacks so that they suffocate would certainly ruin my day.


Coincidently, I posted the other day in the 'reading material suggestion' blog about a book called "Gig."
In it, a Slaughterhouse HR director talks about the extremely difficult working conditions for killing floor workers. She talks about worker turnover being astronomically high, due to such mentally scarring activities. It's my understanding that the slaughterhouse has now become, along with farmhand work, the type of jobs casual American citizens are no longer willing to work, and are thus normally filled with immigrant labor, also often illegal. I in no way intend to say that this might be some sort of correlation, but simply to add an anecdote to corroborate Prof. Dillar's work.

It seems that they would have a tough time, however, receiving OSHA assistance when the employment door seems to be a large rotating one, with lots of un- and under-documented workers on staff. Especially considering it's not in the bosses economic interests to assist with counseling and PSTD work for workers who wont be under their employ a week after being hired.



I've really got to question the correlation to causation jump as well. Does this mean that funeral directors and doctors working in high mortality ERs are also sociopaths/criminals in weighting? I doubt it.

Also, does this imply that butchering Kobe beef or organic, grass fed, or free range animals is somehow more humane? I suspect that the butchers are just more well compansated.

All that said, the cattle gun used by Anton Chigurh/Javier Bardem in No Country For Old Men did give me the creeps.


I think it's important to view the criminally abusive acts of slaughterhouse workers in this context. Unless you have the benefit (in this case) of sociopathic, you can either deepen your hatred or deepen your guilt (and eventually quit).


"U.S. counties that have slaughterhouses consistently have higher rates of violent crime than demographically similar counties that don't."

Is it not possible that slaughterhouses, which are quite large, are located in lower-income areas? Would this account for the higher rate of crime surrounding slaughterhouses, and not the fact that slaughtering of animals is taking place in the neighborhood?


Only if you're the hamburglar. (Insert Drum roll)

In all seriousness, I did think of how a doctor over time builds up an incredible tolerance to seeing blood and guts. Obviously this is not as glamorous a job, but why wouldn't someone working at a slaughterhouse eventually build the same sort of tolerance to what most people would not have the stomach for?


david (#3)-

"Is it not possible that slaughterhouses, which are quite large, are located in lower-income areas?"

That's what "demographically similar areas" controls for.


Asking OSHA to get involved in mental issues is asking for Big Brother.
Don't go down that path.
Not that it'll ever happen. OSHA couldn't even come up with a feasable ergonomics plan.


I never thought of it like that, but I guess it could be true. I wonder how indepth her research was. I wouldn't want to have that job, however I imagine there are some people out there that could handle it, without any side affects.

If they need the therapy and the compensation then I say give it to them. If this is a serious issue that has been over looked then it needs to be fixed.

The baked blogger