Fifteen people, armed with signs like “Meat is murder for animals AND workers” and “We are all animals, Go Vegan,” silently gathered outside of the west entrance to JBS on Thursday to protest what they call the plant’s “inhumane treatment” of both employees and animals.
“It’s to send a message that this JBS slaughterhouse should be shut down now, and then shut down for good, until they can transition to making humane and more environmentally friendly vegan meats,” said Jeremy Beckham, the executive director for Utah Animal Rights Coalition. “No one ever caught a virus from a soybean or broccoli; it’s really spillover from other animals that infects humans. And so it just seems like a win-win situation for the animals and for humans to shift away from animal agriculture and towards vegan and plant-based animal agriculture.”
Organized in partnership between People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and UARC, Beckham said the peaceful protest is in solidarity with workers at JBS, as animal agriculture and slaughterhouses create “horrifically unsanitary working conditions and unsafe working conditions.”
“And that’s why some people who come from some of our most marginalized communities, like refugees and undocumented immigrants, are the ones that you find in this JBS slaughterhouse — and, really, slaughterhouses all around the country — because they’re the only ones who are in a desperate enough situation where they will be willing to risk their lives for their livelihood,” he said. “Many of us have positions of privilege where we don’t have to make that tradeoff.”
For others, the protest also served as a way to memorialize PETA supporter Regan Russell, who was killed by a livestock transfer truck in Canada while participating in a Pig Vigil outside a slaughterhouse.
“I have friends who go to a lot of the vigils, and I wanted to pay tribute to her with other groups, around the country and around the world, doing that in these next couple weeks here, for one thing,” said protester Amy Meyers. “But for another thing, I’ve been really concerned about the workers here. I’ve been reading about the COVID outbreaks here and the fact that workers themselves have been protesting. It takes so much courage and strength to protest your own employer, and the fact that people have been moved to do that tells me the urgency of the problem here.”
But several JBS employees, such as Leticia Moreno, who works in processing on the kill floor, said “they try to be the most humane they can.”
“We’ve been eating meat forever, ever since very, very many years ago,” she said. “So to me, it’s part of life. You know, I understand, and I feel sorry for the cows. I’ll even watch them, and I see when they’re over there killing them, but I’ve seen others that are really worse.”
Moreno said her son showed her a video he’d seen online of a cow being butchered while it was alive and other videos of animal cruelty, so she understands the protesters’ concerns, but her experience at JBS has been different. It hasn’t changed her family’s eating habits. And though work was stressful a few weeks ago when news of the hundreds of workers infected with COVID-19 broke and staff at the plant was kept at a minimum, she felt JBS tried to do what was best for employees.
On April 12 — almost two months before the outbreak at the Hyrum plant became public knowledge — PETA sent a letter to the head of JBS and said the organization would be willing to “chip in to defray the cost of retraining your employees” in transition to producing only vegan meats and called meat processing facilities “a breeding ground for deadly diseases.”