Blogging About Critters Since 2007

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Are Farm Animals Usually Killed in a Humane Manner?

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.)


Rose said...

As if a "humane killing" apologizes for taking a, if murderers killed their victims "humanely" would it be less of a crime?

Man is a hypocritical animal...very disappointing.

Bea Elliott said...

Very interesting points. I'd also like to chime in with something to ponder: Of what benefit is it to those who butcher animals to do the deed "humanely"?. There's absolutely nothing that the slaughter industry achieves in insuring the animal has "a quick and painless death", except of course that his body can be disassembled quicker and without harm to employees.

Even with this profit motive however, the meat industry has been documented to have failed miserably in following "humane slaughter law". Gail Eisnitz, in her book Slaughterhouse interviews packinghouse employees who recall animals regaining consciousness on the "bleed rail". I can't imagine the terror these animals must feel, as well as the obvious physical suffering.

Washington Post also has an article: "They Die Piece by Piece"... and the title says it all.

And a final mention... Humane "law" only applies to the killing pigs, cows and other large mammals. The rabbits, chickens, turkeys, etc. have absolutely no "protection" in the way they meet their brutal deaths.

I suppose in the end it just boils down to one truth: There is no "right" way to do a "wrong" thing.

Andrew said...

Hi Ana,

I am awfully sorry, I must have skipped over this discussion, even though it represented an answer to a question which I specifically asked.

Thank you for your thorough response to my question. Whilst I can certainly understand and respect the opinions of those who believe that any form of action which involves the killing of animals is inhumane, I personally tend to lean toward the latter version of the concept of 'humane' with regards to the treatment of animals.

That said, based on what you have said, it does not sound as though the treatment of animals within the agribusiness sector is particularly good no matter which concept of the term 'humane' one chooses to adopt.

Vana said...

Over 15 years ago I was a red meat eater but then I started to remember the sounds of a pig that was being killed, it was a horror then I decided to stop eating it, I do not miss meat and I think is better do not eat meat because I know I am not helping the killing of animals and this is more important.
I would like to add that is "horrible" the conditions that the animals live in some farms, people should see that this situation is NOT ok, would be so nice if people try to let the farmers know that they do not agree with the way they treat the animals before they are killed in a painful way. Can "not" be good to eat animals meat that were living in such "bad" conditions, if individuals do not care about animals they should at least to think about what they are eating and how it lived before get killed.
Please,please people, wake up!

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