At 4 AM one October morning, animal rights activist Raven Deerbrook was holed up in a cheap East Los Angeles hotel room, staring intently at her phone screen. She had hardly slept the night before, continually waking to ensure that the live video feed from three pinhole infrared cameras was still transmitting from the Farmer John meatpacking plant 20 miles away. Owned by Smithfield Foods, the largest pork producer in the world, the facility was located in the LA suburb of Vernon.
Deerbrook was both eager and apprehensive about what her cameras were about to capture. The day before, she had infiltrated the slaughterhouse disguised as a worker and climbed 26 feet into the “stunning chamber” – a three-story deep elevator shaft filled with carbon dioxide, where pigs in cages are suffocated and then butchered. She managed to plant one camera pointed at the chamber and two more with microphones on the cages. However, she was forced to leave before she could plant the remaining cameras, as she couldn’t breathe due to residual CO2 in the chamber.
From her hotel room across the city, Deerbrook was hoping to document the slaughterhouse gas chamber for the first time in a US meat plant, to prove that the claims of the pork industry and the gas chamber manufacturer that this form of killing was humane and “painless” were false.
At 5:25 am, as the plant’s operations began, she watched as the first group of pigs was herded into the chamber. Deerbrook was filled with excitement and nervousness, as she worried about the camera angles and frame rate. As the cage descended into the CO2, the light in the video dimmed and the pigs began to squeal and thrash in terror, struggling to escape. To her shock and horror, the pigs convulsed for nearly a minute before finally becoming still.
Overwhelmed by the sight, Deerbrook sat frozen, staring at the phone screen in her pajamas. The images and sounds she recorded that morning would haunt her nightmares for months to come. The only solace was the fact that she was able to download the footage, and that it would be documented.
Today, Direct Action Everywhere (DxE), the group of animal rights activists that Deerbrook belonged to, released the footage on a new website, StopGasChambers.org, after providing it to WIRED. The recordings are the first to reveal the true horrors of what happens inside a US pig slaughterhouse gas chamber, and expose the lies of the animal agriculture industry and the gas chamber manufacturer, Marel. The footage was captured using tiny spy cameras smaller than a coin, which were part of a compact setup that included batteries, an infrared LED, a microphone, and a radio chip for real-time transmission.
The videos also show that repurposed surveillance technology is making it increasingly difficult for the meat industry to hide its practices from the public. Ten veterinarians who have seen the footage have signed an open letter to the American Veterinary Medicine Association, claiming that the CO2 stunning chambers likely violate US state and federal animal slaughter laws.
CO2 stunning chambers are becoming increasingly widespread in slaughterhouses around the world, especially in Europe and Australia, due to their efficiency and claims of improved animal welfare. Marel states that its gas chambers can stun as many as 1,600 pigs an hour and that the stress-free experience for animals results in better meat quality compared to older methods such as electrocution. However, DxE’s videos contradict these claims and shed light on the brutal reality of animal slaughter in the meat industry.