Why Don’t We Ship Meat Animals Comfortably?

Cages of living cats smuggled from China are loaded off a truck in Hanoi on January 27, 2015. Photo credit: Kien Thuc

Cages of living cats smuggled from China are loaded off a truck in Hanoi on January 27, 2015. Photo credit: Kien Thuc

On January 27, 2015, Police in Hanoi seized a truck carrying more than three tons of live cats, shipped from China to restaurants in Vietnam.  For those of you counting, that’s approximately 600-700 cats, at 8-10 pounds apiece.  In one truck.

The trade in dog meat pops up on my dash from time to time, along with photos of similarly crammed cages, but the concept of cat meat has generally appeared primarily in “humorous” references to Asian restaurants in America.  I am not surprised, but am saddened, to find the issue is quite real.

Deciding if there is some fundamental difference (hint: there isn’t) between the animals we keep as pets and the ones we keep as food is a long and hairy road.  Walking along it for a little ways: I think it is interesting (terrifying) that I usually see pet animals transported humanely if not luxuriously, but I never see meat animals shipped in reasonably-sized containers.  A million years ago I noticed an article which casually mentioned that a truck transporting sheep had fallen over, and 400 sheep were lost.  It occurred to me to wonder how crammed into the truck the animals were, if the truck was carrying 400 of them, and ended up figuring the sheep each had slightly less than three square feet in which to stand (provided they were standing at all).

There’s just something about how, once we have taken the mental step which allows us to think, “This animal is to be used for human consumption,” we lose all concept of “We should respect this animal as a living being in need of food, water, shelter, and personal space.”  Maybe it’s only for a “short time”, from the farm to the slaughterhouse; maybe “they don’t mind”, because you either cannot read, or deliberately misread, their behavior; but we never seem to ship food animals in comfortable crates.

Pet animals go in style; United Airlines, for example, requires that “each kennel should contain no more than one adult dog or cat, or no more than two puppies or kittens younger than size months, of comparable size, and under 20 pounds (9kg) each”, and “The kennel must be large enough for your pet to freely sit and stand with its head erect, turn around and lie down in a normal position.”  Delta requires that “[t]he kennel must provide enough room for your pet to stand and sit erect — without the head touching the top of the container — and to turn around and lie down in a natural position.”  Here is how meat dogs travel.  (Terrible, awful, graphic photo, accompanying terrible, awful, graphic article.)

Here’s how show chickens travel; here’s how meat chickens travel (from a page advertising this poultry/rabbit transport cage, which allows you to load “10-12 of live chicken” in a space 91.5cm x 51cm x 30.5cm, or about 36″ x 20″ x 12″ high).  (As an aside, here’s a frankly horrifying notice about how hatcheries use unwanted male chicks as packing material for female chicks.)

Show cattle; meat cattleShow pigs; meat pigsShow horses; meat horses.  (Please note that I tried to look for “neutral” photos here instead of “shocking”, we-don’t-normally-do-things-that-way photos.)

What switch flips in our brains that makes us make that shift?  How can we stop it flipping?  How can we unflip it?

2 responses to “Why Don’t We Ship Meat Animals Comfortably?

  1. Not only “meat animals” are put in containers too small/crammed for them, “pet animals” (i.e. bunnies, cats, dogs, small fish and baby turtles) too. Not quite like in the images, and no more than two (iirc), but still.

    I just read your entry on Cracked, and while you state at the end of the article that you have no answers, I’d still like to ask about your views on the alternatives for animals as test subjects.

    Thank you.

    • The surprisingly well reasoned writing team of Jean Swingle Greek and C. Ray Greek have already answered this question in detail in their excellent book, What Will We Do If We Don’t Experiment on Animals? The Greeks are scientists and researchers and make scientific, and well-reasoned, arguments. The short answer is: the technology does not exist, today, to immediately swap all research over to non-animal methods (growing tissues in petri dishes, etc), and I understand that just instantly dropping all animals from our research programs would set things back years; but our non-animal options are dramatically increasing daily, and just because we have always used animal subjects does not mean we should continue to use them.

      If we cannot immediately switch to solely non-animal options, I’d love to at least see researchers looking primarily at non-animal options first, bringing in animals only as a last resort. Today, there is a lot of “well, we’ll use mice because the other 300 researchers in the field also use mice, and we want our research to be consistent with that research” — which is a good theory, but, if the mice are producing irrelevant or misleading results, now all we have is 301 researchers using mice.

      I also understand that there are researchers out there who are actually doing research on animals, as in, looking at how dogs respond to human direction and how salmon find their natal streams, etc. It would be hard to learn about animals entirely in a field environment (we’d have a hell of a time getting into everyone’s houses to study their dogs, etc.). However, I’d love to minimize laboratory experimentation and change the emphasis to field research. It took us how many years? of laboratory experimentation on mice to learn that their preferred ambient temperature is 10 degrees F warmer than we’d been keeping them. We learn a lot more about the animals in their natural environment than we do in a steel box.

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