Cradle to Grave: The Facts Behind “Humane” Eating
By Colleen Patrick-Goudreau
Colleen and Samson.
Samson was rescued from a school agriculture program that was
raising him for slaughter. Photo by David Goudreau
I have yet to meet a non-vegetarian who didn’t
care about the treatment of animals raised and killed for human consumption.
people who eat meat, aware on some level that the experience is unpleasant
for the animals, will tell you they object to unnecessary abuse and
cruelty. They declare that they buy only “humane” meat, “free-range” eggs
and “organic” milk, perceiving themselves as ethical consumers
and these products as the final frontier in the fight against animal
cruelty. Though we kill over 10 billion land animals every year to
please our palates, we never question the absurdity of this sacred
societal ritual. Instead, we absolve ourselves by making what we think
are guilt-free choices, failing to recognize the paradox of “humane
slaughter” and never really knowing what the whole experience
is for an animal from cradle (domestication) to grave (our bodies).
Though modern animal factories look nothing like what is idealized in children’s
books and advertisements, there are also many misconceptions about the practices
and principles of a “humane” operation. The unappetizing process
of turning live animals into isolated body parts and ground-up chunks of flesh
begins at birth and ends in youth, as the animals are babies when they are sent
to slaughter, whether they are raised conventionally or in operations that are
labeled “humane,” “sustainable,” “natural,” “free-range,” “cage-free,” “heritage-bred,” “grass-fed” or “organic.”
Whether it is a large or small enterprise, manipulating animals’ reproductive
systems for human gain is at the heart of the animal agriculture industry. The
keeping of male studs, the stimulation of the genitals, the collection of semen,
the castrating of males, and the insemination into the female are not exactly
on people’s minds when they sit down to dine. Many animals endure the stressful,
often painful, and humiliating process of artificial insemination. Dairy cows
are strapped into what the industry terms a “rape rack;” “natural
turkeys” have to be artificially inseminated because their breasts are
so large they’re unable to mate in the usual manner; and “free-range” egg
farms perpetuate unthinkable cruelty by buying their hens from egg hatcheries
that kill millions of day-old male chicks every year.
Dying to Live
Many who speak of “humane” meat are really referring to the conditions
under which animals are raised—not killed. And there’s a big difference.
When their bodies are fat enough for the dinner table, spent and overused from
producing eggs and milk, and no longer useful in the way they were meant to be,
as in the case of male studs on dairy farms, animals from both conventional and “humane” farms
are all transported (first to the feedlot in the case of “beef cattle”)
to the slaughterhouse. The transportation process is excruciating and often fatal.
The only law designed to “protect” animals in transport is weak,
forcing them to endure oppressive heat, bitter cold, stress, overcrowding, and
respiratory problems from ammonia-laden urine.
Regardless of how they’re raised, all animals killed for the refrigerated
aisles of the grocery store are sent to mechanized slaughterhouses where their
lives are brutally ended. By law, animals must be slaughtered at USDA-certified
facilities, where horrific acts of cruelty occur on a daily basis. Everyone from
federal meat inspectors to slaughterhouse workers have admitted to routinely
witnessing the strangling, beating, scalding, skinning, and butchering of live,
fully conscious animals.
When we tell ourselves we’re eating meat from “humanely raised animals,” we’re
leaving out a huge part of the equation. The slaughtering of an animal is a bloody
and violent act, and death does not come easy for those who want to live.
Born to Die
As much as we don’t want to believe we are the cause of someone else’s
suffering, our consumption of meat, dairy, eggs and other animal products perpetuates
the pointless violence and unnecessary cruelty that is inherent in the deliberate
breeding and killing of animals for human consumption. If we didn’t have
a problem with it, we wouldn’t have to make up so many excuses and justifications.
We dance around the truth, label our choices “humane,” and try to
find some kind of compromise so we can have our meat and eat it, too.
The fundamental problems we keep running into do not arise merely from how
raise animals but that we eat animals. Clearly we can survive—and in fact,
thrive—on a plant-based diet; we don’t need to kill animals to be
healthy, and in fact animal fat and protein are linked with many human diseases.
What does it say about us that when given the opportunity to prevent cruelty
and violence, we choose to turn away—because of tradition, culture, habit,
convenience or pleasure? We are not finding the answers we are looking for because
we are asking the wrong questions.
The movement toward “humanely raised food animals” simply assuages
our guilt more than it actually reduces animal suffering. If we truly want our
actions to reflect the compassion for animals we say we have, then the answer
is very simple. We can stop eating them. How can this possibly be considered
anything but a rational and merciful response to a violent and vacuous ritual?
Every animal born into this world for his or her flesh, eggs or milk—only
to be killed for human pleasure—has the same desire for maternal comfort
and protection, the same ability to feel pain, and the same impulse to live as
any living creature. There’s nothing humane about breeding animals only
to kill them, and there’s nothing humane about ending the life of a healthy
animal in his or her youth. In short, there is nothing humane about eating meat.
Colleen Patrick-Goudreau founded Compassionate Cooks (www.compassionatecooks.com)
to empower people to make informed food choices and to debunk myths about eating
vegan. Through cooking classes, podcasts, articles, and her first-of-its-kind
cooking DVD, she shares the joys and benefits of a plant-based diet. She can
be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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