As incoming students arrived on campus Sept. 15, animal rights activist group Direct Action Everywhere protested for the shutdown of the on-campus J & G Lau Family Meat Processing Center (building 155).
“We want to make sure that all the new incoming students know that there is a slaughterhouse on campus and that they have the power to join us and speak up to shut it down,” local Direct Action Everywhere organizer Zoe Rosenberg said.
The protest is part of 15-year-old Rosenberg’s ongoing campaign against Cal Poly and the Meat Processing Center. In April, Rosenberg was arrested after she chained herself to the Meat Processing Center and demanded Cal Poly save a cow named “Justice” from slaughter and release the cow to live at her animal sanctuary.
On Sept. 15, Rosenberg returned to Cal Poly, holding up signs that read “#Where Is Justice” and “Shut down the Cal Poly Slaughterhouse.”
“I don’t want it to move, I just want it to shut down and for our county to be a role model for counties all over the country — and the world — that animal agriculture is a thing of the past,” Morro Bay resident and activist Jenny Jones said. “It’s not the future and it’s not necessary.”
However, some students in the Animal Science Department are required to take at least one Meat Science course. The meat processing center plays an integral role in the education of animal science students, but protesters are asking these students to become the “farmers of the future.”
“There’s no reason why we have to kill animals anymore for food. There’s no reason that students need to be taught how to kill these innocent beings,” Rosenberg said. “I would encourage students to reconsider their major.”
Protesters would like to see the Animal Science Department change its focus to caring for animals and veterinary science. Instead of learning meat processing, protesters want students to learn plant-based agriculture, such as the production of alternative and animal-free meat products.
With nine different concentrations for Animal Science, only a number of students focus on animal production.
The Animal Science Department’s response
The department sent an email to all incoming animal science students about the public demonstration, using it as a teaching moment.
“We really believe strongly that everyone has a right to voice their opinion and our students need to know that, too. This is an open campus and an open society where everyone should be respected for their opinions and their viewpoints,” animal science professor and department head Jaymie Noland said.
For Noland and Cal Poly’s Meat Processing Center Manager Jim Douglas, the recent protest was an opportunity to show students the importance of respecting other point of views.
“I’m really proud of the students that have been a part of this difficult time, they have handled it with such dignity and class,” Douglas said. “I get goosebumps just thinking about it, they have been fantastic.”
The Animal Science Department has been teaching students the science of breeding and caring for farm animals since Cal Poly’s first classes were taught in 1903. Since then, Cal Poly built the center in 1953 to be able to give students a more hands-on experience on how to safely handle livestock.
“Not only us as educators but the industry as a whole focuses a great percentage of time on the handling of animals. At one point, we were worried about pathogens in our food; today, we’ve come such a long way in controlling that now we focus a lot on animal handling,” Douglas said.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture hires veterinarians to oversee the handling of livestock at every meat processing facility. Cal Poly is one of the few universities that has an on-site inspector at the facility every day.
“When we handle the animals, they’re with us watching. They’re not watching us cut pork chops. When it comes to handling our livestock, it’s a big deal,” Douglas said.
The Animal Science Department has worked with experts to figure out how to build a safe and comfortable environment for the animals, especially when it comes to the butchering part of the process.
“The faster and quieter it is, the happier we are. We really try to make it the least amount of stress to the animal. It’s better for the animal, but also better for the quality of the meat,” Noland said.