Andrew from Good Honest Dollar had an excellent question. He asked whether cows, chickens, sheep and some of the other animals that we eat are usually treated and killed in a humane manner. It's a thoughtful question I wish more people would ask.
The meat industry will say yes, of course, all animals are treated and killed humanely. Here is my opinion. (It's a deceptively simple question that could spawn a monster-long response. But I’ll try to keep my answer as short as possible.)
In my opinion, the crux of the question touches on what is “humane.” Different people have different interpretations of that word depending on a number of factors. For some people, it is inhumane to eat meat in any situation, no matter how well the animal is treated prior to and during slaughter. For other people, “humane” means it is okay to eat the animal as long as the following conditions are met:
1. The animal is well-treated during its life in terms of having space to roam, living free of fear and abuse, and being well-fed in clean conditions. In other words, the proverbial happy farm animal.
2. The eventual kill is quick, clean, and painless.
In my opinion, and I am a vegetarian, the second definition of humane is the MINIMAL that we should expect. However, the factory farm system we have in any country does not lend itself to either of the two criteria. There is an abundance of information on the web about undercover investigations, livestock conditions, slaughter procedures, etc. There are many gruesome pictures too. And if you ever drive around an egg farm, hog farm, slaughterhouse, feeding lot, etc., you can probably get a lot of first-hand information too. The first step is to gather that information and then make the decision as to what your own personal definition and expectations are of the word"humane."
Here are my main issues (again, there is a ton of information out there. I highly recommend Farm Sanctuary's issue page...short and to the point.)
1. There are probably no happy animals in factory farming (ie. big corporate agribusiness.) It’s not cost-effective. Animals are raw materials to process for product. You cram as many as you can into the holding pens and keep your maintenance costs as low as possible in order to increase profit. High care standards eat into that profit. They are no good to you alive. You are not processing their wellbeing, but their carcasses for meat.
2. Factory farms are unlikely to be properly and regularly inspected by the USDA. Livestock don’t contribute to campaigns, but agribusiness does. So who’s to say that even the minimum standards of care are being implemented on a daily basis?
3. Factory animals are voiceless victims. Undercover investigative pieces have shown that some unhinged workers take out their frustrations on the farm animals. These are low-paying, menial, unpleasant, stressful jobs that are likely to bring out the worst in people. There have been several high-profile cases of severe abuse that only require a search on the web (examples include turkeys being used as punching bags while alive and paint being sprayed into hogs’ eyes for “fun.")
4. Factory farming is not conducive to quick, clean, and painless kills. This is mass production. Shove them in, shove them out. There are horror stories of animals not completely dead before they are being processed. One of my closest friends worked as an accountant for IBP (formerly Iowa Beef Producers, now Tyson’s) and, he won’t speak of it, but there were some bad things that happened there. In fact, I wish these animals' deaths were quick, clean and painless. It would make up for the miserable lives they are likely to have led prior to those deaths.
(As a side note, it’s important to remember that there were terrible abuses during and after the industrial revolution committed against human workers. They were simply factors of production at that time too. It’s the nature of the beast of mass production. It's not conducive to humane anything.)