Can We Trust Producers of “Humane Meat”?
Animals: Tradition - Philosophy - Religion Article from


Stephen Kaufman, M.D., Christian Vegetarian Association (CVA)

Can We Trust Producers of “Humane Meat”?
As Erik Marcus discusses in The Ultimate Vegan Guide, animal products are commodities. Milk from one farm, for example, is essentially the same as milk from any other farm. The same goes for eggs and the various kinds of flesh. Therefore, buyers tend to focus on price, which often results in small profit margins and strong incentives to do whatever competitors might be doing to reduce costs. Individual farmers need not be cruel or even callous; market forces drive many agricultural practices. Those who try to implement less abusive but more costly husbandry standards will tend to lose in the competitive marketplace.
Some producers, trying to appeal to consumers who object to cruel animal husbandry practices, claim that their facilities are “humane.” There are several different certifying bodies, some more legitimate than others, whose “humane” label can result in premium prices and significant profits for producers. However, there are reasons to distrust those who claim to use “humane” methods.
Often, “humane” labels are given to producers who self-report that they employ less abusive systems, and there is little or no oversight. “Humane” standards themselves tend to be modest improvements over the status quo that do not significantly reduce the degree of animal abuse. For example, “free range” chicken sheds typically include a small opening at one end of a large shed, which leads to a small, enclosed, outside space. Relatively few chickens find, let alone use, the open space that distinguishes “free range” from standard enclosures.
Also, we should not expect respectful or compassionate attitudes towards farmed animals among those producers who regard animals as property whose purpose is to generate income. Just as slave owners were typically callous and cruel, those who see farmed animals as means to financial ends are disinclined to care much for the welfare of individual animals. There are many pig farmers who claim to “love” their pigs, but if asked why they don’t use a local anesthetic before performing excruciating castrations, they will typically respond that it is too costly. The actual cost is nominal, a cost which anyone who cared about the pigs’ welfare in the least would gladly bear.
It is practically impossible to obtain animal products which have not involved exploitation and some degree of abuse. Even if egg-laying hens were treated well, there is no use for the male chicks, who are nearly universally killed. The only way to get a cow to lactate is to impregnate her, and there is similarly no use for the male offspring. It is very costly to raise animals for flesh but refrain from eating them until they have lived a full life and die (or are euthanized) in their old age. Wild-caught fish aren’t brutalized during their lifetimes, but surely they suffer when suffocating out of water.
For those who insist on consuming animal products, the only way to be sure that the animals are treated as advertised is to visit the farms and inspect the facilities first-hand. However, this approach doesn’t work when eating out. Next week, I’ll discuss the social challenges of trying to be a “happy meat” consumer.
For an excellent commentary that addresses these issues, I recommend “How ‘Conscientious Carnivores’ Ignore Meat’s True Origins”

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