With the large-scale Spanish project Tras Los Muros, an undercover activist – anonymous for security reasons – advocates the abolition of the exploitation of animals in every sector. The horrors of the meat industry are also discussed and the images are indispensable. The project therefore calls for reflection on the impact of our meat consumption and animal suffering in our society.
For three years, the creator of the project Tras Los Muros observed the entire slaughtering process in more than eighty slaughterhouses in both Mexico and Spain. The images captured by the activist do not testify to isolated cases, but to a systematic exploitation regime specific to the industry. According to the witness, abuse is rife in the slaughterhouses. « Moreover, that same industry enjoys the unconditional support of most public institutions almost everywhere. »
The power of the visual
« In whatever political organization, creed or culture, animals are victims of boundless violence and oppression in every society, » says the Tras Los Muros website. According to the activist, exploitation is hidden under the ideological umbrella of speciesism, also known as discrimination based on species, in which man systematically places himself above non-human animals.
Many people are part of this problem, but that is why they can also be the solution. It is among other things for our, in many cases still daily, portion of meat that animals suffer this suffering. Not only through meat consumption, but also through the purchase of leather and many other activities that people consider normal, necessary, or part of the culture, the industry continues to run at full speed. According to the activist, raising awareness is the first step in recognizing the structural suffering that comes with it. “To create that awareness and eventually stop the injustice, it must be visible and recognized. That is why the viewer at Tras Los Muros can form a substantiated picture of the confronting world behind the walls with the help of quality images such as photos and short reports. ”
A powerful industry
The impact of such images is so great that animal activists are constantly charged. In the United States, industry laws have already emerged, such as AG-GAG laws, that make it even more difficult to capture images in slaughterhouses. Activists who try to do so are then stamped as criminal or eco-terrorist. The laws also jeopardize freedom of expression, the right to information, animal welfare and food safety. « Industry has the power, and anyone who doubts it will become a threat to their economic interests. »
In addition to industry participation in legislative procedures, some scandals point towards deliberate manipulation of public opinion and institutions. Indeed, in 2016, the Spanish press was able to access and publish certain documents, which showed that four major meat groups (Interporc, Provacuno, Asici e Interovic) had some kind of plan in place to manipulate public opinion regarding the WHO report , in which cancer has been linked to meat consumption. Part of the so-called plan was an « evangelization strategy » that would counterbalance the « negative information » from the WHO report.
An explanation for the power of the meat sector and its influence on the government could lie in the gigantic sums of money that come with it. With a turnover of EUR 24 billion, the Spanish meat sector is the fourth largest industrial sector in the country. Meat is the largest export product in Flanders, with a turnover of almost three billion euros in 2018.
The horrors behind the walls
More than sixty billion animals are slaughtered worldwide each year. That number is so high that it is impossible to check the slaughter procedures in every slaughterhouse. “Modern slaughterhouses are factories where crowded trucks with hundreds or thousands of animals are sent. Some factories process up to 10,000 chickens per hour or 10,000 pigs per day, ”testifies the activist in the Spanish slaughterhouses study.
Although a complete overview seems impossible, the maker of Tras Los Muros was able to paint a well-considered picture of the situation. “There is growing public concern about the treatment of animals on farms and slaughterhouses, and although meat companies are therefore trying to convince consumers that their animals are protected by some law and lead a romantic life on a vast meadow that is not the case. The animal welfare laws are only applied as long as production figures are not affected. ”
Immersed in feces to the slaughterhouse, no anesthesia left and alive in the incinerator
In the investigation Inside the slaughterhouse: undercover investigation in spanish slaughterhouses, part of Tras Los Muros, the undercover activist details some steps of the slaughter process he observed in 16 Spanish slaughterhouses between 2016 and 2018.
It all starts with the transport to the slaughterhouse, which would be one of the most difficult and traumatic moments for the animals. “The trucks that drive to the slaughterhouse are crammed with animals that are immersed in their own urine and feces. Due to the hellish and long way to the slaughterhouse, the animals are sometimes injured, exhausted or in serious health condition upon arrival. Others just can’t take it and die on the way. ”
Guiding animals to the slaughter room is no easy task either. “The transport and their time in small pens for the slaughter is a dramatic change of scenario for them. Several animals have just been cut from their mother and some of them even have the umbilical cord hanging from them. They are afraid and refuse to move forward. A vet from one of the Spanish slaughterhouses testified the following: “Some rams do not advance to the slaughter room. They can smell the blood of the animal slaughtered for them. They are afraid of the unknown, after their life on a farm you suddenly bring them here. ”
Then, before the slaughter, anesthesia is done. According to the law, this must be done as soon as possible and be effective, so that the animals immediately lose consciousness and do not have to suffer. “Very often this is not the case. I visited two lamb slaughterhouses, where there was absolutely no anesthesia. In a third slaughterhouse, I was denied access to this particular part, and in another, the worker admitted that he stunned the animals simply because a camera was present. The anesthetic is not always effective either. If not properly done, the animals remain conscious and enter a shock state called Leduc’s nightmare. They are then paralyzed and cannot make a sound, but are fully conscious. ”
When pigs are slaughtered, after cutting the throat, the animals are taken to the scalding trays and the incinerator where their hair is removed. According to the legislation, the animal must be dead before it is immersed in the water of the breeding boxes or burned. The creator of Tras Los Muros emphasizes: « Absence of life in the animal must have been observed. »
However, many slaughterhouse workers ignore this rule. The Incarlopsa slaughterhouse – a Cuenca company that supplies Mercadona with meat products – was convicted of putting live pigs into the fire tanks for three years. In early 2017, an undercover activist also demonstrated in the largest pig slaughterhouse in Belgium (Tielt) that animals were already submerged alive in the water of the tanks.
Finally, some slaughterhouses also use a torch to scorch the pigs’ hooves and detach them from their paws. This practice should only be performed if the pig is already dead. The activist saw the opposite happen in several places: “I once saw how, to save time, a worker burned a pig while the animal was still breathing. The flames came up to his face. He was burned alive. «
Charlotte Lambrecht, photography student at Elisava University in Barcelona, based her school project on emotions on Tras Los Muros. “I wanted to photograph animals romantically in Spanish landscapes to show that they are equal to humans, but then I realized that they are mainly in Spanish slaughterhouses. We buy our meat in plastic packaging in the supermarket and then see it in pieces on our plate. Many people have no idea which process precedes this. I want to make people aware of the suffering these animals suffer and how it completely destroys our connection with nature. People have to realize that that artificially packaged piece of meat comes from somewhere, and has a story in itself. ”
“The debate about animal welfare is always about two, supposedly only, options: » just « animal suffering versus inhuman suffering. It makes us forget that there is also another option: its complete elimination. ” – Tras Los Muros
The complete abolition of animal suffering in the livestock industry is only possible by switching to a plant-based diet. In addition to the animal suffering that becomes clear from the project and has been shown several times in studies, there are many other reasons to completely ban meat from our diet. One of these is the escalating climate crisis.
The livestock industry is responsible for 15 percent of all greenhouse gases worldwide. An article by The New Yorker stated that eating two kilograms of beef is equivalent to a flight from New York to London. In addition, the global livestock herd and the grain it consumes occupy 83 percent of the world’s agricultural land, but produce only 18 percent of its food calories. The meat industry does aim to be efficient, but the latter sounds like the opposite. The amount of water used for our meat production is also enormous. About one hamburger equals six to seven minutes of daily showering for a month.
According to Marco Springmann (University of Oxford), animal products are responsible for the majority of the climate impact of our food. « Reducing that impact will be necessary if we want to have a chance to stay under a warming of 2 degrees Celsius. »
Is change possible?
The switch to a vegetarian, or even completely vegetable, diet is increasingly being made by many. However, there is still no unanimous consensus that this switch should be made. Both public institutions and public figures such as politicians still promote meat and other animal products.
A recent article by The Guardian outlines 18 reasons for moving away from animal food products and moving towards a vegan diet. Yet it is not self-evident for many people, because they are not properly informed. Nothing can change until everyone has accurate, complete and well-founded information about the meat industry and the disadvantages associated with it. The government should invest in information about public health, awareness and the implementation of a policy that promotes a healthy diet with less or no meat and makes it affordable. Production will only decrease if the demand for meat products falls. Only if humans change their diet can the powerful industry of the meat sector perhaps switch to the production of vegetable alternatives that are not harmful to animals and the earth.
More information and images about the activist’s work can be found on and the project of Charlotte Lambrecht at
Featured image taken from De Wereld Morgen, photo: Aitor Garmendia
– By Evi Van Thienen, first published by De Wereld Morgen
For technical reasons we have refrained from copying more illustrations from the original piece. The featured one is about the least gruesome, but the gruesome wasn’t the main consideration.