Awareness: The Humane Answer to ‘Humane’ Meat

January 20th, 2017

Photo by Amanda Hirsch /  Flickr

Photo by Amanda Hirsch / Flickr

As the world becomes increasingly aware of the treatment of non-human animals in factory farms and slaughterhouses, the popularized myth of ‘humane’ meat has skyrocketed. Ask any self-proclaimed ‘ethical’ meat eater or proud farm-to-table chef about the meat they consume and they’ll be happy to tell you that they know exactly where their meat comes from. The notion that being able to vocalize what farm your meat is raised on, who slaughtered it, and what method was used to kill the animal is a perplexing and bizarre one. Why do consumers believe that this level of ‘awareness’ demonstrates an increased level of concern for these animals, a heightened sense of their suffering, or a deeper connection with these animals? The myth of humane meat is nothing but a cleverly constructed marketing ploy, by agribusiness and small farms alike, to keep consumers from feeling too emotional about the animal products they are consuming. This marketing scheme is specifically designed to make consumers feel better about eating meat, and to keep us buying their ‘happy cows’, their ‘happy pigs’ and their ‘happy chickens’. In reality, there is no ‘humane’ way to raise and slaughter an animal, no matter how cleverly it is marketed.

Farm to Table sign

Photo by Hatoriz Kwansiripat / Flickr

One of the key factors that drives most consumers to purchase ‘humane meat’ is the horrific treatment that agricultural animals are subject to in factory farms; however, very few of these conditions actually differ on ‘humane’ farms. The outbreak of viral undercover videos in recent years has drawn outcry from consumers as they, perhaps for the first time, bear witness to the extreme abuse these animals experience on a daily basis. Procedures such as debeaking, castration, tail docking, teeth clipping, and dehorning are all standard measures used to reduce the amount of damage agricultural animals can inflict on themselves and other animals around them.

However, Nancy M. Williams argues that many consumers are undoubtedly ignorant to the fact that these “amputation and mutilations (e.g., debeaking, castration, and tail docking) without anesthesia are all legally permitted under ‘humane’ label regulations.” Similarly, ‘humane’ farms use the same methods to dispose of unproductive and unwanted animals as factory farms use. Male chicks, for example, Williams points out are “worthless to the industry” as “they do not lay eggs and their flesh is an unwanted commodity.” Additionally, “It is permissible under the ‘humane’ label to throw thousands of [male chicks] in large dumpsters where they will eventually suffocate under the weight of other chicks. Electrocution, gassing, or being ground up alive (also referred to as ‘instantaneous euthanasia’) are other permissible methods” used to discard unwanted chicks. In the dairy industry, calves are stripped from their mothers when they are only days, and sometimes merely hours, old. The mothers are immediately returned to the milk producing facility in order to extract the milk she is now producing for her newborn calf. The destiny of her calf differs depending on its gender. If the calf is a male, he will be put into a small crate to prevent muscles from developing and by the time he is six months old, he will have been slaughtered for veal production. If the calf is female, she will be raped when she is of child rearing age and placed into the milk production assembly—just like her mother. Williams contends, “No matter how this situation is handled the separation causes obvious stress and noticeable suffering for both mother and calf. Like many other mammals, mother cows form strong maternal bonds with their offspring. One study found that this bond was formed in as little as five minutes.”

In reality, the experiences had by animals raised on ‘humane’ farms and animals raised on factory farms differ in only a couple ways. While ‘humane’ farms follow many of the procedures used on factory farms to keep the business running quickly and productively, the only noticeable difference is in regards to over-crowding and time animals spend outdoors. Williams claims that ‘humane’ farms focus on “severe crowding and insufficient time outdoors,” two issues that come as a direct response to consumer outcry and two issues that are easily marketable. The notions of ‘free-run’, ‘free-range’ and ‘pasture-fed’ produce are three of the main labels farmer’s now use to promote their ‘humane’ practices. And while it cannot be argued that the removal of battery cages and the reduction of overcrowding is a positive step, it is important to realize that this causes a very minor reduction in the animal’s total suffering. If a murderer captured you, mutilated you, tortured you, killed your newborn baby, and then kept you captive in a bigger house before he killed you, would the size of your house make you feel better about your situation? Probably not.

Inside of an old slaughterhouse

Photo by Creati / Dreamstime

If you are still privy to the illusion that ‘humane’ farms produce less suffering than factory farms, perhaps we should examine the animals’ next step towards the slaughterhouse: transportation. After all, if an animal is raised on a ‘humane’ farm or a factory farm, at the end of the day they still end up on the same transport truck, headed to the same slaughterhouse, destined for the same fate. In the United States, there is a law that “states that animals may not be confined for more than twenty-eight consecutive hours without being given a rest, food and water.” This may sound like a positive law that protects farm animals, but “phrased in the positive, [this] means that animals can be confined in small cages stacked on trucks, trains, or other transport without food and water for up to twenty-eight hours without respite.” Due to the extreme suffering during transport, it is understandable why, as David N. Cassuto notes, “in many cases, animals arriving at the slaughterhouse cannot walk. The rigors of the industrial food process and the subsequent transport to slaughter leave them sick, injured, or both”. So much for ‘humane’ meat.

Perhaps the biggest myth humane farms try to sell their consumers is that they genuinely care about their animals. Setting aside the ethical dilemma of eating meat, as well as the ethical dilemma of killing a living being, there is a very strong argument that recognizes the betrayal experienced by farm animals as the most barbaric practice of all. Anyone who has a pet or has formed a bond with another animal knows that most animals explicitly trust that you will not hurt them, you will provide for them, and you will be kind to them. Even after suffering from abuse, many animals will unconditionally trust their owner. When a farmer sends an animal to slaughter, mutilates its body, and steals away its baby he violates this trust. Williams argues that “the greater the degree of dependence, the greater the degree of trust, and the greater the bond of trust, the greater the magnitude of betrayal to the animal.” As humans, we generally consider loyalty and honesty to be paramount character traits, the makings of a good person. If someone is deceptive or dishonest, we generally consider them to be someone we wouldn’t associate with. Why then, would you buy meat from someone who has repeatedly deceived animals throughout the duration of their short lives? Why would you support this behavior when it comes to your food, when you wouldn’t support it in any other aspect of your life?

Anyone who thinks ‘humane’ meat is a kinder alternative to the typical concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO) has undoubtedly fallen for the popularized myth the agricultural industry has worked so hard to sell to millions of consumers. This myth plays on consumer emotions, as the very title promises that the animal has been subjected to ‘humane’ treatment throughout its abnormally short and miserable life. At this point, I have to question whether the marketers of ‘humane meat’ are indeed evil geniuses or if society is so uncomfortable with the thought of eating animal flesh that we happily adopt any new scheme to make us feel more at ease with the situation. In reality, it only takes a few moments and a few quick internet searches to realize that there is nothing humane about humane meat. These animals are raped, mutilated, tortured, killed, dissected, and consumed by humans. How then, could it ever be possible to make this inhumane process humane? Quite simply, it is not.

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