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September 2006
From 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. Even 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 we 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 colleen@compassionatecooks.com.


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