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October 2006
Sanctuary Perspectives on “Humane” Animal Products


People who work with rescued farmed animals at sanctuaries have a unique perspective when it comes to talking about “humane” conditions of animals exploited for food. Satya asked a handful of sanctuary founders to share their views on the growing association of animal rights groups with welfare reform and how they respond when people ask them about “humane” meat and “cage-free” eggs.

Cayce Mell and Jason Tracy, OohMahNee Farm Animal Sanctuary


Cayce Mell and Jason Tracy.
Photo courtesy of OohMahNee Farm

As founders of a farm animal sanctuary, what are your thoughts about the increasing association of animal groups with the meat industry, for example, endorsing Whole Foods and working on its Animal Compassion standards, or advocating switching to cage-free eggs, etc.? 
CM: I keep hoping it is all some mastermind genius scheme to infiltrate the enemy camp and then in one fell swoop eradicate animal exploitation. But I think it’s very clear this is just one more case of well intended people and organizations being duped into corporate prostitution by the industry.

I think it’s safe to say that every compassionate person would like to know animals suffer less but no one would want them to suffer longer…the goal is abolition not incremental change. The “Animal Compassionate standards” initiative will create profit for the industry. No one should profit from the animal rights movement except the animals.

JT: Having spent the last ten years of my life with animals rescued from both “factory” and “family” farming situations, it is really hard to accept the hypocritical approach to “humane, free-range meat.” I think the efforts to create a product that will alleviate the general public from the ethical decision to consume animal products is counter-productive and, most importantly, it is not fair to the animals. In theory, the whole movement of “humane, free-range” could increase meat consumption. The people who think about vegetarianism for ethical reasons but haven’t made that leap yet will believe they no longer have to question their ethics. If there is a product that is approved by some of the largest “animal” organizations in the world, they most likely will make that decision. They can eat the stamped, approved humane meat and feel good that they are making a difference. Although theoretical, probability weighs in its favor. Also, I feel that no matter what type of guidelines you put on paper and no matter how “approved” or “free-range” meat can be, animals are still going to suffer without vet care, they are still going to live in deplorable conditions, and they are going to continue to have their lives stolen. For Darla, Carla, Celeste, Aggie, etc...all of whom we rescued from the “ideal” conditions at family farms, ethically I cannot support it.

How do you respond when people ask about “cage-free” eggs or “humanely raised” meat? 
CM: Over the past ten years, Jason and I have been to numerous factory and family farms, many that boasted “cage-free” conditions. Actually the “cage-free” facilities were by far the most horrific to me, but I think we too were very naïve in our perception of what “cage-free” truly represents. The animals at “cage-free” farms are just as crowded, filthy, sick, injured, miserable, neglected and exploited as the animals at all other factory farms—sometimes even more.

When people say they are going to buy meat from Whole Foods or free-range animal byproducts, we would always inform them that in the end, all the animals die the same. Anyone who sets foot on the kill floor of any slaughterhouse will tell you it is the most horrific death one can imagine. Buying “free-range” or “cage-free” is still supporting slaughter and that is not something we have ever been willing to advocate and never will.

This is a very interesting turn of events since one of the most wonderful aspects of the animal rights movement has always been its diversity. I think much of the success of the movement has been the result of different organizations applying different types of pressure to the opposition, but with the same goal of ending animal exploitation—ending it. What really disturbed me about the statements made by some proponents of the “Animal Compassionate standards” is at no point did they state these measures are going to achieve that goal of ending the exploitation and slaughter. I think what they promote as being a “step in the right direction” could very well be the stumble before the fall.

JT: This was the number one question we got when running the sanctuary, and we still get it today when we talk to people. Whenever I discuss the topic of “humane meat” and Whole Foods with people, I just say that no matter how they were treated or how much space they had, they all had their lives stolen from them. I also ask people to think about questions like, What do you think happens to sick animals on organic farms, being that they cannot receive any medication? I personally cleaned the pus-filled wound extending down the back of a turkey’s neck, a turkey who was rescued from a free-range farm and this wasn’t an isolated case. The other rescued turkeys had broken legs, wings, and the conditions were horrible even though they had more room than most free-range farms. I saw a lot of suffering despite their cageless free-range life. At even a small family owned operation with a few thousand turkeys, they could not provide basic health care. From experience, most people really thought about these issues and admitted they never thought about the situation of “free-range” in such a way. Most people are really affected by animals suffering and instead of taking that one open opportunity to educate them on the lives of animals in the food industry and use it as an opportunity to say selling humane meat from animals that were treated and killed with kindness, is a crime.

Cayce Mell and Jason Tracy are founders of the recently closed OohMahNee Farm Animal Sanctuary in Pennsylvania.


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