Tag Archives: meat

Pig or Puppy, the System Still Sucks

I was raised by wolves, or at least by a pack of consummate carnivores.  I find that not a lot of my friends want to talk to me about animal welfare because they think that, by objecting to how we treat our meat and research animals, I’ve become a brainwashed, tree-hugging hippie who’s trying to convert them to veganism.  They like eating their meat, and they get grumpy when they think someone is trying to take it away.

All right.  We all love bacon.  Pigs provide bacon.  You gotta kill pigs to get bacon.  Fine.

Now imagine that there are two ways to get bacon out of a pig (or a puppy).

The first way is an old, slow, traditional way: you raise the pig in a nice big space, let it exercise the muscles you’re going to eat, feed and water it properly, give it love, health care, and shelter, and kill it as humanely as possible.  You clean the carcass carefully, use as much of it as you can, and only keep and slaughter as many pigs as you can kindly handle.  Because you have a lot of time to work with individual animals and to make sure your facilities are clean, this produces clean, fresh bacon — and a lot more of it, off fatter, healthier pigs (or puppies).

The second way is the new, fast, modern way: you raise hundreds of thousands of pigs in small metal boxes in the dark.  You grow them so big, so fast, their legs break.  You fill them to the eyes with antibiotics so they don’t get sick.  You can’t process all the pigs yourself, so you hire (and abuse) minimum-wage workers to do the slaughtering in a partially automated process.  Processing 3,000 pigs an hour (one every two seconds), not all the pigs die before being dismembered.  Something like 20-30% are “legged”, gutted, and dissected alive.  Everything moves so fast there’s no time to clean properly, and carcasses (and everything else) are covered in feces, blood, and other materials.  There’s no time to inspect carcasses properly, either, and diseased animals are packaged up for sale.  When disease is inevitably discovered in your product, instead of slowing down the line, you wash the meat down in chlorine before you package it.

Either way, you end up eating bacon.  But the first way, you’re getting good meat, and the second way, you’re getting meat full of chemical washes, pus, E. coli, and sawdust.

Just for this moment, we’re gonna skip all the animal welfare issues, the worker welfare issues, the adorable little kids dying of E. coli poisoning, and the really cute part where the plants are run and “overseen” by the rich, fat-cat assholes in Washington that you hate, who are even now passing laws to make it easier for them to churn out tainted, sawdust-flavored crap and sell it everywhere.  Boiled down to the basic facts: the current system of food production, which supplies most grocery stores and restaurants, turns out horrible, diseased, scary meat which is doused in chemicals and potentially dangerous for you.

Your status as a carnivore is not in question.  The question is, which pig (or puppy) would you rather eat?

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Euphemisms

Making it even harder to figure out what exactly is actually going on, people keep using obfuscatory words to make sure nobody knows what they are talking about:

Research:

  • lab animal – “animal model”, or even just “model”, “organism”, “subject”
  • monkey, ape, chimp – “nonhuman primate”
  • cage – “housing system”
  • euthanize – “terminate”, “cull”, “cut from the study”  (They’re actually even trying to stop using “euthanize” now, because it’s such a “charged word”)

Meat Industry:

  • killing – “stunning”

(Note: this is just a list of ideas to which I intend to return later.  Additions are welcome.)

This.

Slaughterhouse by Gail EisnitzWhen I first started working in the laboratory animal industry, and got my first taste of the Machine, my immediate reaction was that I was hallucinating.  I could not possibly be seeing what I was seeing, I reasoned, and I immediately went researching.  Surely there was an explanation for the things I saw happening.  Surely I was wrong!

It disturbed me beyond measure to discover that not only was I not wrong, but that I was only getting a miniscule taste of what was really happening.  The more research I did, the more horrified I became, until I eventually had to put things down and walk away.  Every time I tried to write something about a I would do research on a and then learn about x, y, and z as well.  Then I would have to research them, and….

These days I’m a little calmer, and I can pick up books and do research again.  My most recent acquisition, Slaughterhouse, by Gail Eisnitz, is the closest thing I have so far seen to what happened to my brain when I saw the laboratory animal industry for the first time.  Due to the “shock value” cover and title, I’d been avoiding it, but it turns out to be a well-written, rational, well-researched volume which makes its statement simply and reasonably (well, as reasonably as it’s possible to be in this case).  It follows Gail, a journalist for an animal welfare group, from the moment a USDA inspector writes her saying “Something’s wrong here” to her struggle to get someone, anyone, to break the story, and through it you see, through her eyes, her unbelievable, terrible discoveries.  Every piece of awful information leads to two more pieces of awful information, and the higher she climbs in the bureaucracy, looking for the source of it all, the more distressing it becomes as she realizes that the people in charge know, and they don’t care.

This is a book you will read with your mouth open, drop at the end, and say, “No.”  No, this isn’t true.  This does not happen.  She’s a journalist; she’s being sensational.  She’s biased.  She’s just selling a story.  Speaking as someone who’s seen another facet of the Machine at work — the laboratory side — Eisnitz is not lying.  The things she is describing are real.  They are happening right now.

It’s such a relief, and it’s so scary, to know that someone else sees it too.  Through my research, I’ve actually amassed quite a collection of books over the past few years, and most of the books actually corroborate to varying degrees what I personally saw, but Slaughterhouse is the first to describe the entire eye-opening journey of discovery.

I strongly recommend it, although I would suggest not reading it while eating a hamburger.

I Wish to Register a Complaint

I miss meat.  As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, I believe in (compassionate) carnivory and I do not believe there is a moral failing in consuming an animal you have appropriately “paid” (with food, water, shelter, care and affection) for its contributions to your household.  I am happy to eat meat.  However, I prefer not to pay the companies who do not adequately compensate their animals — thus, I do not eat meat at restaurants, picnics, fast food joints, what have you, because they buy their meat from enormous, horrible factory farms.  This leaves me searching, often vainly, for meat which has been slaughtered humanely and raised kindly.  I don’t eat a lot of meat anymore.

It is possible, if one hunts diligently, to find small local farms where the animals see grass and daylight during their lives, have adequate vet care and space, and even (gasp) enjoy species-appropriate social groups.  (I am happy that, because of the prevailing change in attitudes, it is slowly becoming more possible to find these farms.)  I find that my best chance of locating non-factory-farmed meat is at the local, “community” grocery stores.  These stores appear to make at least a token effort to find these humane farms and carry their products.  In turn, I happily give these places my money.  I wish to encourage this behavior.

However, I still find that the meat selection in these stores can leave much to be desired, and the watchwords caveat emptor still apply.  Unless the meat says “free range” (and sometimes not even then), you’re likely looking at factory farmed meat.  Yes, even if there’s a picture of a smiling pig on the wrapper.  Yes, even if it says “organic” and “hormone-free” all over it.  Today, I was almost ambushed by some elk stew meat, ambiguously labeled “Broadleaf”.

In my experience, it is generally very difficult to factory-farm wild game.  I worked with bison for ten years; they are larger and smarter than domestic cattle, and do not tolerate herding, hitting, crowded conditions, or running through cattle chutes — all requirements for “economical”, assembly-line processing — well.  I was initially attracted to the elk meat for this reason.  Fortunately, I still made the wise choice to look up “Broadleaf”, which after much research turned out to likely be Broadleaf Game, based out of California.  Broadleaf sells bison, elk, alligator and boar, which are quite unlikely to be factory farmed due to husbandry issues similar to those mentioned above, but they also sell beef, chicken, various “poultry”, veal and “farm-raised” rabbit, which are very easy to factory farm.  They say things like “hormone-free” on their site, but only the lamb is (vaguely) intimated to be living on grass, and most species do not have any description of their living facilities.

Alas, this is another brand name I won’t be rewarding with my money.  To demonstrate that it is possible to raise and slaughter wild game (or any animal!) kindly, and to advertise it properly, here is the web page for Broken Arrow Ranch, in Texas, and a description of its “field harvesting” technique, which I believe is the most humane way I’ve ever seen to kill an animal, for meat or otherwise (provided the person behind the gun is an excellent shot).

Of course, checking out the web site is only a small part of thorough research on a brand.  Typing search terms like “Broken Arrow Ranch USDA” and “Broken Arrow Ranch humane” into Google would be a good followup, checking for news articles concerning their handling practices and articles on other sites describing the facility.  Sometimes you can find reviews from people who have actually visited the farm, or a Facebook page from the farm with photos.  Ideally, one would be able to visit each facility personally, but, well.  In this exciting old world we can only do our best.

99% of the Time, the System Sucks

I am not a vegetarian, but, 99% of the time, I will not eat meat.

I was raised a confirmed carnivore, and, having worked with animals for many years, I appreciate the food chain as well as anyone else, including the human position on (or near) its top.  I double majored in biology and animal behavior.  I understand that we are all protein in different packages, and that protein moves around the system most efficiently via predation.

The people who taught me that animals are intelligent, living things with their own needs and personalities also taught me that everyone in the household — including the animals — works for their living.  While I took out the trash and cleaned the house, the dog defended it and provided ambiance; the cat caught the mice in the kitchen; the horse carted me around on its back in return for food and care.  Cows, pigs, sheep, and chickens (should) likewise enjoy a peaceful life being cared for, fed, sheltered, and watered before turning in their service, feeding the rest of the household.

Thus I feel that there is no moral imperative not to eat meat.  We are all (and this includes humans) required to work for our place in the world.  If I feed, water, and shelter a cow, and provide her with medical care — if I treat her like any other member of my family — I should be able to ask her for her milk, and, at time of need, provide her with a humane death, and eat her.  She will feed my family (and others!) for a month, properly apportioned.  If I stopped working and paying the bills, I would soon not have a house to live in, or any food to eat.  In the wild, animals work to obtain their own food, water, and shelter.  Why should a cow not have to work for her living?

My issue arises when the life of a captive animal moves from “work” to “slavery” — when the animal is no longer paid for its efforts.  This happens somewhere along the continuum from “small family farm” to “enormous animal factory”.  A farmer handling 20 head of cattle can call each one by name, tell you her birthday and her social rank in the herd, her likes and dislikes, and her medical history.  A farmer with 200 head of cattle has little time to spend with each individual.  A corporation with 200,000 cattle uses a computer to tag and electronically track its bovine “assets”, which become managed by electronic gates and subsystems and by several tiers of employees.

Today, an unimaginable number of animals are “processed” each day.  Large corporations, each encompassing dozens of farms, each farm managing hundreds of thousands of animals, provide most of our meat.  The entropy of such a system is enormous, and even if it began with the animals fed, watered, sheltered, and vetted, soon the edges will wear and corners will be cut.  Animals cannot be paid for their work — they can barely be counted.  When one “unit” “breaks down”, it is simply discarded — there are millions of others to take its place.  There is no time, when herding 10,000 cows a day through the milker, to be patient with a nervous cow, to notice impending mastitis, to separate a single animal to treat a small wound.  The process cannot be stopped.  In such a system, a dead animal is simply one who has reached the end of the assembly line early.  It can still be used: if not for human food, then for pet food, fertilizer, cosmetics.

The animals receive the bare minimum of care necessary to maintain them in an “alive” state, because they are (marginally) more useful alive and certainly easier to transport.  No time can be devoted to anything more than the minimum.  In the rush, things get delayed, ignored, forgotten.  Employees get overwhelmed and frustrated, and take out their anger on the animals.  Procedures are performed en masse, and if individuals cannot cope, they are culled.  The budget is tight, and animals cannot form a union and strike for better pay.

The methods of an animal’s eventual death under such a system — the “humane slaughter” which is such an unbelievable oxymoron it makes my eyes water — is a topic for another post, or perhaps a hundred posts.  It suffices to say that it isn’t, in any sense, the quick death free of pain and fear that all living things should receive.  Nothing about the factory farming system works — especially not for the animals.

Most of our commercially available meat today comes from these titanic animal factories.  While I love eating meat, and do not have any personal problem with eating another animal, I have all sorts of personal issues with the treatment of animals in such factories, and I will not eat animals which came from such places.  This leaves me out of luck at restaurants, most public venues, and other people’s homes — basically anywhere that does not get its meat from a small, family farm which still has a low enough number of animals that they can afford to handle them humanely.  These still exist, fortunately, and are becoming more popular, so now, with careful planning and researching, I am able to locate occasional meat-based products that do not involve the Great Machine.  And thus I am not a vegetarian; but in 99% of cases, I will not eat meat.