In our junior year of high school, we had to read Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma. One night, it was the end of the week, when I customarily crammed my English homework and tried to hold on to a dangling C. Likewise, I ended up simmering over the pages instead, affectionately typing up my assignment as if I was in for the Nobel, and losing the grade because the work was uncommentedly ‘great’, but turned in wayyy too late. Whatever, what counted at the end of the day were not the points, but the pigs. Yes, sweet little pigs on the literary petri dish. Pollan’s steely chapter about their psychological scarring in factory farms was, how do I say? Not easily forgotten. That following Saturday morning my mother had set out a ghoulishly pink pound of pork loin to thaw for lunch… my stomach took a triple axel, and I stopped eating for three days.
Since then, I’ve tried to source my meat from the best sources I can find, even if my college student’s budget doesn’t call for it. Then recently, during Thanksgiving dinner last week, my brother bought up a video that once again, churned my stomach and my heart.
Slaughterhouse worker: I'm not indifferent to that. The animal feels. I see that they arrive in tears. Because the animal smells the blood, [they] smell the fear. They know what's coming. This is why sometimes they stop, they don't want to go in. They refuse to go in the container (kill floor).
Interviewer: Just like people, they try to defend themselves.
Slaughterhouse worker: Yes, we just defend ourselves in different ways.
In all honesty, with all the research I did about the livestock industry, I'm still wringing my hands. You won't find any philosophy at the end to mute the reality of meat consumption.
The industry is considered an ecological disaster, like the rest of intensive industrialized agriculture. Over 20% of meat is wasted at the consumer level, and I question as to if it's necessary that 72 billion land animals be killed each year for food. Some rough math, that's more than 11 animals an year per person. Though I don't know how much of that number is small livestock, i.e. chickens, ducks - let's consider otherwise. A family of five can live on a single cow for an year. Already the current rate is superabundant. Anyhow, it's widely known that the aforementioned poultry is grossly overproduced and overconsumed.
Although slaughter can never be truly humane, I think it's the responsible thing to know the general methods of keeping, transport, and slaughter for each animal. A collectively aware consumership would keep a constant pressure on the meat industry, calling for continued research to improve husbandry. And thankfully, with today's kind of marketing that pushes for a close consumer-farmer connection, there's more demand for transparent advertising. You can take a first hand look for yourself at the short documentaries, image galleries, and farmer editorials that many ethical brands feature on their websites.
The RSPCA (Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruely to Animals) definition of humane slaughter is an animal being "either killed instantly or rendered insensible until death ensues, without pain, suffering or distress." According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, the methods are as follows:
- Captive bolt stunning is generally used for large animals, such as cattle. Here an explosive force is used to drive a bolt into the skull and knock the animal unconscious (many captive bolt stunners are also designed to drive through the skull into the brain and cause brain death).
- Electrical stunning is often used for pigs, as their skulls make captive bolt stunning difficult. It is also used for chickens, who are hung upside0down by their legs and then passed down a line, in which their heads are passed through an electrified tank of salt water which paralyses and possibly stuns them.
- Atmospheric stunning involves the use of high atmospheric CO2 concentrations to induce insensibility through asphyxiation. Once stunned, animals are then hoisted by a leg and bled out through a cut to the throat.
(Browning and Veit, NCBI 2020)
According to the same report, as well as the The Humane League, there are still concerns about the the effectiveness of rapid stunning.
It's 2023. Almost 2024. As Mac McClelland from The Modern Farmer says, "Whether or not farmers should torture animals, or keep them in disgusting and overcrowded and shit-filled conditions, or murder them slowly, are not even questions." Unfortunately, economic demand persists for products such as broiler chickens that "are bred for rapid growth, which leads to them developing significant painful leg problems in trying to support this weight [...] They are stocked in high density indoor barns, with poor air quality and unnatural light cycles, without any form of environmental enrichment"(NCBI). Going back to pork farming, likewise "farmed sows are often house in gestation crates with hard slatted floors, meant to protect the piglets, but which prevent the sow from turning around or lying down comfortably, and without any opportunities for mental stimulation" (NCBI).
As long as we feel uncalibrated about the process, it means that a solution exists and we need to keep going back to the drawing board. Animals need a natural environment, sunlight, quality food, the opportunities to play and socialize. We know these things. But why is ethical farming such a luxury? There are many ways in which slaughter practices can be improved - scientifically, economically, and legislatively (NCBI). Continuous research on statistics and methods of stunning should be priority. Concern for animal welfare should not play a secondary role.
If you can't give up meat, understand the value of the commodity and invest in the rights and lives of these creatures by purchasing from brands that vouch for animal welfare. If you need somewhere to start, check out ASPCA's Shop With Your Heart Grocery List. Fish 4x a week, some free-range chicken/dairy, and looking at local family ranched pork and beef as the rare, seasonal specialty sounds good to me.
As a young adult in this day an age, it's at the very least accountable to logically and morally understand the entire concept that goes into making our dinner. At the end of the night, it's clear from the slaughterhouse worker's account that these animals value life as much as we do.
Browning, Heather, and Walter Veit. “Is Humane Slaughter Possible?” Animals : An Open Access Journal from MDPI, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 5 May 2020, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7278393/.
McClelland, Mac. “This Is What Humane Slaughter Looks like. Is It Good Enough?” Modern Farmer, 2 Oct. 2018, modernfarmer.com/2013/04/this-is-what-humane-slaughter-looks-like-is-it-good-enough/.