Does humane meat exist?
The truth is, over 99% of farmed animals in the United States come from factory farms, so to begin we must examine where the majority of our meat comes from. The Farm Animal Welfare Council outlines the five basic freedoms of animal welfare as follows:
- Freedom from thirst and hunger
- Freedom from discomfort
- Freedom from pain, injury, and disease
- Freedom to express normal behavior
- Freedom from fear and distress
So using these guidelines, let’s evaluate the lives of 99% of our farm animals.
- Freedom from thirst and hunger. Let’s use pigs as an example. There is a term called “pre-slaughter feed withdrawal,” meaning the pigs are not given food or water prior to slaughter. This includes the time it takes to load the animals, transport them, unload them, and the time they spend at the packing plant before slaughter (according to a government pork safety and quality guide). The exact time varies of course, especially based on the distance from the factory farm to the slaughterhouse, which can be as much as a two-day drive. Imagine being deprived of food and water for 12 hours or 24 hours, or even 48 hours. Now imagine being on a crowded truck, it’s hot, you have no space to yourself, you’re standing in your own feces, and overall in an incredibly stressful environment. This is what it’s like for pigs on their way to slaughter, clearly these animals are not free from thirst and hunger.
- There is plenty of information and footage to prove that farm animals do not have freedom from discomfort. Whether it’s pigs confined in crates too small to turn around, dairy cows that commonly develop painful mastitis, chickens unable to stand because their legs can’t support their unnatural body weight, or a newborn calf that is torn away from its mother and thrown in a veal crate. Calling this discomfort is a massive understatement.
- Freedom from pain, injury, and disease go hand in hand with freedom from discomfort, which we already know these animals do not have. Disease, like the mastitis I mentioned, is such a major issue that the industry started using antibiotics in the animals’ feed. Injury is common and often not an accident, workers will clip off chickens’ beaks, which are said to be more sensitive than the human fingertip, without any pain relief in order to prevent pecking, a behavior caused by stress. These are only small examples of how farm animals suffer.
- Freedom to express normal behavior. It is not normal behavior for a newborn calf to be separated from his mother. Instead of nursing, he is fed a milk substitute that is low in iron and causes anemia as to produce the desirable pale veal flesh. It is not normal for these animals to never experience clean air and sunshine. It is not normal behavior for a pregnant pig to be so confined that she can’t even turn around. No mother should have to experience pregnancy in such a state.
- I believe it is very obvious now that these animals are not free from fear and distress. We know that they are sentient beings and that they experience emotion, yet we let this torture persist.
Clearly, by these standards we cannot qualify 99% of our meat as humane. So what about the other 1%? There is an organization called Certified Humane that claims its animals are raised and slaughtered humanely. I have to admit though, I am skeptical of this label. I think the question we need to be asking is not does humane meat exist, but rather how can unnecessary harm be humane? I am living proof that humans can live happy and healthy lives free of animal products, and while I appreciate a meat eater’s interest in finding more ethical sources, it hardly seems fitting to call any type of exploitation and slaughter humane. Imagine if the earth was invaded by some kind of more intelligent alien life, would we be okay with them controlling and killing us for their benefit? Of course not. Just because we have the power to use these animals doesn’t mean we should.
Keep an eye out for a future post examining the labels used on animal products more specifically, and let me know what you guys think about calling meat humane.