Humane Meat and the Arc of History


Humanity and Humane

The vast majority of people oppose cruelty to animals. A 2015 Gallup poll found that 96% of Americans want animals to be actively protected from abuse. 96%! 96% of Americans don’t agree on anything!

Almost no one eats meat because they actually want animals to suffer. And when they find out what actually happens at factory farms and in industrial slaughterhouses, most people are appalled. This concern for farm animals is laudable, and the revulsion at cruelty to animals is a sign of our basic decency, our fundamental humanity.

The desire to buy humane meat – meat that comes from small farmers or backyard butchers – is often driven by this revulsion to the meat industry’s brutality to chickens, pigs, cows, and turkeys. I have talked with many people who love animals and hate cruelty, and they tell me that they only buy humane meat from Whole Foods or local farmers. It is a popular theme in books, articles, and film (e.g., Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma, the film Food, Inc.).

Concerns

There are at least three areas where we should be concerned about the concept of humane meat.

The first is that most of us are very busy, and are not in a position to actually visit the farms and slaughter facilities that are raising and killing the animals who become meat. Because of this we must take the word of these farmers that the animals are being raised and slaughtered with kindness. However, without firsthand knowledge, we cannot be certain that this is in fact the case. We don’t know, for example, if the locally raised pigs might be locked in stalls in filthy barns, or the pasture-raised lamb is crawling with parasites. We saw this firsthand when we helped rescue of more than 170 animals suffering at the hands of a backyard butcher.

image002

The second concern is related: in our capitalist society, there will be suppliers looking to meet any demand – in this case, meat marketed as “humane.” However, those supplying the humane meat market are always driven to maximize profit, rather than treat animals kindly. It is extremely expensive to raise animals in a way that gives these individuals complete medical and nutritional care, as well as the open space and fresh air required for a truly humane existence.

image001

Finally, there is the basic principle upon which Farm Sanctuary was founded – that farm animals are someone, not something, just like the dogs and cats we all know and share our lives with. We would never dream of raising them and then killing them for our own use. As Farm Sanctuary’s President and Co-founder Gene Baur loves to say, “Farm animals are our friends, and we don’t eat our friends.”

Exposing the Truth

The author Michael Pollan has endeavored to examine these humane meat producers first hand. As an author researching this subject, Pollan has had the time and resources to investigate the various farms who claim to raise humane meat. The pinnacle of Pollan’s praise is Polyface Farm, where “animals can be animals,” living, according to Pollan, true to their nature.

So what is Polyface Farm truly like? Rabbits on the farm are kept in small wire cages. Chickens are also crowded into wire cages, confined without the ability to nest or the space to establish a pecking order. Year-round, pigs and cattle are shipped in open trucks to conventional slaughterhouses, regardless of the weather.

The chickens and turkeys have it worse. Seventy-two hours before their slaughter, birds are crated in crowded groups of eight. After three days without food, they are grabbed by the feet, up-ended in metal cones, and, without any stunning, have their throats slit.

This is the system Pollan proclaims praiseworthy and says we should ethically endorse and financially support.

Sadly, in some ways, Polyface actually is a praiseworthy system, compared to many other producers of “humane” meat. A steady string of undercover investigations has shown that the conditions on “family” farms are often shockingly cruel – in many cases almost as bad as those on factory farms.

An Individual or Meat?

In the end, Polyface’s view is the same as Tyson’s: these individual chickens and pigs are, ultimately, just meat to be sold for maximum profit. It is logically and emotionally impossible for there to be any real respect or kindness, any true, fundamental concern for the interests of these individuals, when these living, breathing animals exist only to be butchered, sold for a profit, and consumed. If we insist that we must eat actual animal flesh instead of a cruelty-free option, it is naïve, at best, to believe that any system will really take good care of the animals we pay them to slaughter.

It is understandable to want to believe in “humane” meat. But once we know the facts, we have to ask ourselves what kind of person we choose to be. Do we oppose cruelty or support slaughter? Do we make our own decisions or do we rationalize the system under the guise of humane meat?

Each of us has the freedom to decide the kind of person we want to be. It is easy, of course, to close our eyes to the reality of what goes on, and allow ourselves to be lied to by those who make money killing animals. Or we can choose to live with our eyes completely open to the realities and truths around us.

A Huffington Post article summarizes:

People like Albert Einstein and Leo Tolstoy argued that using our power to harm the weak and innocent – on an issue as essential to who we are as eating – is fundamental to all moral action. Tolstoy summed it up by saying, “Vegetarianism is the taproot of humanitarianism.” Einstein spoke of the human arrogance that considered ourselves apart and superior to other species, calling this justification for exploiting them “a kind of optical delusion of consciousness.” He pleaded that “our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion,” calling for “the evolution to a vegetarian diet.”

History has shown us, again and again, that one of the primary challenges of leading an ethical life is to transcend mindless acceptance of the current norms of society. Where a certain path is the easiest one, we should be very wary of assuming that it is also the best or most ethical path. As difficult as it can seem at times, we each can start to explore a truly compassionate lifestyle, where our basic decency and natural human revulsion at cruelty to animals guides us to truly humane choices.

Delicious and Powerful

Delightfully, it’s now also delicious to eat a cruelty-free diet.

maccheeseThis isn’t news to long-time vegetarians, but I still regularly meet individuals who want to make compassionate choices, but have no idea what they would eat. Naturally, they just picture their current diet minus meat, and imagine that an ethical life equals a life of deprivation.

Luckily, this is no longer the case! There is abundance – indeed, an overwhelming bounty – of amazing, familiar, and mouth-watering options out there. For example, exploring just one website – V-lish.com – gives tips for switching, lists loads of amazing recipes, and provides help for when you are eating out or traveling!

DeliciousEats_BigBenLentilBurger_SarahKramer-copyIn addition to being healthy and delicious, making our lives a part of something larger – opposing cruelty in our choices and acting from our true humanity – enriches our existence and allows for real meaning and lasting happiness.

mlkMartin Luther King Jr noted that the arc of history is long, but bends towards justice. Every day, at every meal, we can each help bend the arc! Choosing to follow a fully compassionate diet makes an incredibly powerful public ethical statement – not just about the suffering of animals, but about our fundamental humanity, the basic content of our character.

 

-Matt Ball
activist@farmsanctuary.org

“The single most important thing…”

1) What challenges does your association face with the food industry?

In our economy, farm animals are inherently viewed as units of production. Given the competition to sell the least expensive product or else go out of business, there is no room for respect or compassion. Animals are ultimately seen as meat, rather than the intelligent, thoughtful, sensitive individuals they are. Cruelty and suffering are built into the meat industry.

2) What steps do you believe are necessary to change the way that animals are treated?
At this time, it is important to outlaw the worst abuses the meat industry uses: battery cages, veal crates, and gestation and farrowing crates.


All talk of welfare and reform aside, as long as farm animals are viewed as meat or producers of products, they will not be treated well. Profiting from the death of an animal obviates truly caring for that individual. Ultimately, each chicken, turkey, pig, and cow needs to be seen as someone, not something.

3) Why do you believe animals are entitled to rights and humane treatment other than laws?

Anyone who can think and has the ability to suffer and feel happiness is an individual, not an object or a tool. They deserve respect for their own individual life. In our society, respect for individuals is codified by “rights.”

4) Why should animal abuse in the food industry be a concern to consumers?

Almost everyone opposes cruelty to animals! Earlier in 2015, Gallup did a poll and found that 96% of Americans actively want animals protected from harm. 96%!

If we are buying meat, eggs, and dairy from factory farms, we are paying for and consuming cruelty. Ultimately, in this capitalist society, we are culpable for the consequences of our choices.

5) How would a change in the industry benefit the economy?

An industry based on cruelty is wrong, regardless of the economic impacts. No one would ask if ending slavery would have benefits to the economy – slavery was wrong, and good people stood on the right side of history and opposed it.

6) What are the most common questions of skepticism that you receive regarding animal rights and how do you justify yourself against these qualms?

It isn’t a question of justifying myself. I understand that it is easy to feel the need to justify yourself when you are different from the majority. But really, none of this is about me or other advocates. Also, it really isn’t about “animal rights,” either. It is about having our actions match our ethics, and being on the right side of history.

7) Was there a specific moment that lead you to advocate for animal rights?

Like many individuals, I changed my views and my habits slowly over time, as I came to learn more and to realize I could act differently. The most important point, however, was the fact that my roommate, first year of college, was a vegetarian. That set everything in motion.

8) For what reasons do you believe that the food industry is able to justify the harsh treatment of animals in their production of “cheap meat”?

I don’t know that anyone justifies anything, really. As long as the public demands cheap meat, there will be supply. The more people who make ethical decisions, the fewer animals will suffer. We’ve already seen this in the veal industry. There is no doubt in my mind that it will eventually happen to the rest of the meat industry – it is just too cruel and immoral to survive.

9) Do you believe that the only certain way to end animal abuse in the food industry is for the entire population to become vegetarian/vegan?

Ultimately, yes. But there are two important additional considerations:

A. Not eating animal flesh doesn’t mean deprivation, a life of boring salads and weird, tasteless foods. There are absolutely amazing options out there that even hard-core carnivores love. See, for instance, http://v-lish.com/new-favorites/

B. Everyone can take steps that will help lessen the number of animals suffering. Every time you choose a cruelty-free option, you are helping change the world.

10) Do you believe that more humane methods of producing animals can ever completely change the food industry?

No. When an individual exists to be sold as meat, they will be treated as meat.

11) Any last thoughts on the way that the public can change the way that animals are treated in the food industry?

By far, the single most important thing everyone can do is stop eating factory-farmed chickens. Veterinarian professor John Webster rightfully noted that industrial chicken production is, “in both magnitude and severity, the single most severe, systematic example of man’s inhumanity to another sentient animal.” No matter what else you do or believe, boycotting factory farmed chicken is the most important, powerful step you can take.

-Matt

Welfare reform and vegan advocacy: the facts

By Nick Cooney

August 21, 2012

This week, a video blog post takes a data-based look at the impacts of farm animal welfare reforms. The powerpoint is excerpted from a plenary presentation given at the Animal Rights 2012 national conference.

 

Sources

Data Point 1: Welfare reforms reduce suffering and provide immediate good for animals

Note:  the following white papers review the current research and cite dozens of peer-reviewed studies on the welfare of animals in different housing systems.

Shields, S., & Duncan, I. (n.d.). An HSUS report: A comparison of the welfare of hens in battery cages and alternative systems. Retrieved from http://www.humanesociety.org/assets/pdfs/farm/hsus-a-comparison-of-the-welfare-of-hens-in-battery-cages-and-alternative-systems.pdf

The Humane Society of the United States. (2012, July). An HSUS report: Welfare issues with gestation crates for pregnant sows. Retrieved from http://www.humanesociety.org/assets/pdfs/farm/HSUS-Report-on-Gestation-Crates-for-Pregnant-Sows.pdf

The Humane Society of the United States. (n.d.). An HSUS report: The welfare of intensively confined animals in battery cages, gestation crates, and veal crates. Retrieved from http://www.humanesociety.org/assets/pdfs/farm/hsus-the-welfare-of-intensively-confined-animals.pdf

 

Data Point 2: The animal ag industry spends millions to oppose welfare reforms, because reforms are bad for the industry

Sethu, H. (2012, July 12). Look who is talking about animal welfare! [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://countinganimals.com/look-who-is-talking-animal-welfare/

Smith, R. (2011, December 28). Groups urge Congress to reject HSUS-UEP deal. Feedstuffs. Retrieved from http://fdsmagissues.feedstuffs.com/fds/PastIssues/FDS8401/fds04_8401.pdf

 

Data Point 3: Welfare reforms are followed by a reduction in consumption of the affected animal products

(2012, March 12). Egg prices set to rise after EU battery cage hen ban. BBC News. Retrieved from http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-17336478

(2012, March 13). Food price hike threatens egg sandwich. The Telegraph. Retrieved from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/foodanddrink/9140925/Food-price-hike-threatens-egg-sandwich.html

Cooney, N. (2012). European egg consumption and battery cage bans. Retrieved from http://ccc.farmsanctuary.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/European-Egg-Consumption-and-Battery-Cage-Bans.xls

Note: clicking the above link downloads the Microsoft Excel document to your computer; it does not open it in a new browser window.

Doward, J. (2012, August 11). Price of bacon set to soar as producers are hit by new EU animal welfare laws. The Observer. Retrieved from http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2012/aug/12/price-of-bacon-to-soar

Sumner, D. A., et al. (2011, January). Economic and market issues on the sustainability of egg production in the United States: Analysis of alternative production systems. Poultry Science 90(1): 241-250. doi: 10.3382/ps.2010-00822. Retrieved from http://www.poultryscience.org/docs/PS_822.pdf 

Note: while not mentioned in the video, the above study concludes that banning cages for egg-laying hens in the U.S. would reduce the number of hens raised (anywhere) for U.S. egg consumption by about 3%, meaning 8 million less hens would be raised and killed for egg consumption.

Data Point 4: Media coverage of animal welfare issues causes people to eat less meat

Tonsor, G., & N. Olynk. (2010, September). U.S. Meat Demand:  The influence of animal welfare media coverage. Retrieved from http://www.agmanager.info/livestock/marketing/animalwelfare/MF2951.pdf

Tonsor, G., & Olynk, N. (2011). Impacts of Animal Well-Being and Welfare Media on Meat Demand. Journal of Agricultural Economics, 62: 59–72. doi: 10.1111/j.1477-9552.2010.00266.x.

 

Data Point 5: Welfare reforms go hand in hand with decreased meat consumption

Note:  for the first graph in this section, a law that bans both gestation crates and veal crates is represented as two practices being banned.

Meyer, S., & Steiner, L. (2011, December 20). Daily Livestock Report. Volume 9, No. 243. Retrieved from http://www.dailylivestockreport.com/documents/dlr 12-20-2011.pdf

Pichler, R., & Blackwell, G. (2007, February). How Many Veggies…? Retrieved from http://www.euroveg.eu/lang/dk/info/howmany.php

Sethu, H. (2012, July 12). Look who is talking about animal welfare! [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://countinganimals.com/look-who-is-talking-animal-welfare/

The Humane Society of the United States. (2012, July 23). Timeline of Major Farm Animal Protection Advancements. Retrieved from http://www.humanesociety.org/issues/confinement_farm/timelines/timeline_farm_animal_protection.html

Vegetarianism by country. (n.d.). Retrieved August 21, 2012 from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vegetarianism_by_country

 

Data Point 6: People who make a small change become more likely to make a large change

Burger, J. “The Foot-In-The-Door Compliance Procedure: A Multiple-Process Analysis and Review.” Personality and Social Psychology Review 3.4 (1999): 303–325.

Cooney, N. (2011). Foot In The Door. In Change Of Heart: What Psychology Can Teach Us About Spreading Social Change (Chapter 5). Retrieved from http://changeofheartbook.com/e_foot.htm

 

Want to receive blog updates twice a month? Join the Compassionate Communities Campaign to get them delivered straight to your inbox.