What about “humane” meat?

What about “humane” meat? What if an animal lived a good life and then was slaughtered? Those are some of the questions I get asked often. My simple answer is, there is no such thing as “humane” meat; it’s a euphemism, an oxymoron.

Humane is “marked by compassion, sympathy, or consideration for humans or animals”. How could it be humane to exploit and kill sentient beings, which is the case with all animals raised for food. Even if an animal was raised by farmers who supposedly cared for her, and she spent her entire time frolicking, enjoying the warm sun and eating in green pastures, and then betrayed and killed against her will, it would be inhumane.

Let’s not fool ourselves, rearing animals so we can cut their lives short in order to eat them is simply exploitation, not compassion. Treating animals as commodities is not marked by sympathy nor consideration. Animals are not objects, like us they have babies and social life, they can feel pain and fear. Forceful killing, which is how all animals are slaughtered for food, is brutal and violent (just watch a video if you have any doubts). I say “forceful killing” because the animals try to resist the imminent killing. After all no creature wants to die so he or she can be a steak or a nugget for you.

I believe that objectifying and exploiting sentient beings is unethical, and killing them is immoral. It’s totally unnecessary and carried out merely to please our appetite. Imagine a farmer raising a dog or a cat, fattening them up and then, at a very young age, sending then to slaughter; would you consider that humane? What’s the difference between that and doing the same with a cow, a pig, or a chicken?

Another distortion regarding “humane” certified meat is that it’s not regulated, standardized, or verified. According to Market Watch which explored the issue (since it’s not only an animal welfare issue but also a marketing one) ““Humanely raised” and “free range” — and all other “humane” claims, such as “animal friendly” or “raised in a stress free environment” — are loosely defined, so that practices only slightly better than conventional farming can count. “Pasture raised” has no regulated definition. Those claims, meanwhile, aren’t verified, since the USDA doesn’t visit farms to check them. Producers simply submit information about their practices for review.”

I worked as a Regulatory specialist in the most regulated industry, pharmaceutical and medical devices, and I know firsthand what is required for a company to comply with regulations. It’s not only the existence of regulations that dictates the company’s conduct, it’s also the firm hand of a governmental regulatory agency that ensures compliance through various means, including planned and unannounced inspections and legal enforcement. When there are no regulations, inspections or enforcement, and when standards are not required to be met, as is the case with “humane” meat, it’s not difficult to guess how any business or industry will operate – in the most cost saving manner. And it’s also a no brainer to realize who pays dearly for it, the animals, with their pain, blood and life.

For example, the American Humane Association certifies the raising of more than 1 billion animals as being “humane”, and one of their clients is Foster Farms. Mercy For Animals undercover video last June shows abuse and torture both in their raising facility and slaughterhouse, such as chickens being slammed into metal shackles and punched while still alive and other horrific torture. Another investigation documented the horrendous methods of killing sick and injured day-old birds at a turkey hatchery also operated by Foster Farms. If you bought their chicken or turkey, perhaps you felt good seeing the beautiful American Humane Certified seal, however, it is no more than a false and misleading piece of paper.

According to Consumer Reports “the American Humane Association program does not require certain standards that consumers are likely to expect from a welfare label, and producers can be certified without fulfilling 100% of the requirements”. Also “many of the requirements in the American Humane standards mirror the conventional industry’s practices, and livestock producers do not have to meet all of the requirements to be certified.”

Whole Foods’ “Humanely” raised pork supplier, Sweet Stem Farm’s website stated: “unwavering commitment to the humane treatment of our animals” and refer to their products as “happy meat.” However, PETA’s eyewitness testimony, pictures and video tell a different story. “The pigs observed by our eyewitness were never given the opportunity to touch the farm’s lush green grass. They spent almost all their time crammed into crowded sheds on concrete floors. Some of the pigs were allotted about 5 square feet of floor space each. The only time the pigs were ever outside was when they were trucked from one shed to another, put on a scale to be weighed, or sent to slaughter. Some pigs were kept in semi-darkness deep inside a barn.”

And, “PETA’s eyewitness saw obviously sick and injured pigs’ condition worsen for days or even weeks. If a veterinarian did provide these animals with care, the observer never saw it, despite more than two months of working full-time at the farm.”

Those examples are not anecdotal, there are more. And think about other suppliers which have not been discovered, after all, the USDA does not inspect them and how many Mercy For Animals or PETA undercover operations are there? And if this kind of abuse takes place at “humane” certified suppliers, you can imagine, and also see and read, what’s happening in factory farms (where over 99% of farm animals in the U.S. are raised).

Another eye opening fact is that some of the inhumane standard procedures that are practiced in factory farms are the same as in “humane” farms. One example is debeaking, cutting the beaks of young chickens and turkeys with hot blades without anesthesia, or the painful castration of piglets. According to Texas Tech University “In the USA virtually all males are physically castrated at a young age (predominantly) with no anesthesia or analgesia (pain relief).” It is done to prevent the odor in pig meat, known as “boar taint”. You can find plenty of information and videos on how to castrate piglets, such as, the Pig Site Forum The Castration Process ( A Short HowTo ). Even if you paid a premium for “humanely” raised pigs, the bacon, ham and pork you ate, were cute innocent piglets whose testicles were removed painfully and violently.

I believe that wanting to feel good about ourselves is human nature. Denial is one way to handle the paradox of eating the flesh of tortured, dead creatures, and thinking we are moral and decent people who never victimized defenseless non-human animals. What people want to imagine regarding “humane” meat is rosy but it’s an illusion, the reality is ghastly, and you pay for the animals’ demise.

Next time you eat the flesh of an animal, “humane” certified or not, please imagine how she suffered with her brothers and sisters, and how he was brutally killed against his will. Then, you can choose between looking the other way and betraying your moral code, or aligning yourself with core values, such as fairness and non-violence, and making it the last needless death you have contributed to.

Further Reading

The Huffington Post American Humane Certified Is Out of Step on the Meaning of “Humane”
Los Angeles Times Undercover video sheds light on turkey slaughter
The Washington Times Another Whole Foods mess: Abuse alleged at pig farm linked to chain

Picture “See No Evil. Hear No Evil. Speak No Evil” (Willful Ignorance), courtesy of Dana Ellyn, danaellyn.com

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7 Responses

  1. Rita Anderson says:

    Once again, Zahava has proved to others that she has the common sense and compassion of a caring, intelligent woman. I completely agree with her that there is NO HUMANE MEAT. It would be like a man who claims he was good to his wife, but killed her in the end. She “might” have had a decent life, but in the end she was dead through no fault of her own. If you are still eating meat, I would ask you to look at that slice of an animal on your plate each day and imagine what his/her life should have been as compared to what it really was. Ask yourself if eating that flesh at the horrific cost of pain, suffering and loss of life to the animal is really worth it. You are kidding yourself if you say you only eat “humanely raised” animals! Please don’t turn your head and give the green light to those who choose to perpetrate this horror on other beings. The only way to fight the violence is to stop it where you can – at the grocery store and your plate!

  2. Deb Wood says:

    Very powerful. It’s amazing how much people don’t know, or choose not to know, about what constitutes “humane.” Today I informed two intelligent, good-hearted friends that wool comes from sheep who possibly underwent mulesing, and most definitely were then sent to slaughter. They had no idea. 🙁

  3. Mitzie Eien says:

    Isn’t it interesting how we use words to justify our behavior. A “good war”…can there be such a thing? Just look at the present election circus! The Chinese have a saying, “May you live in interesting times”. This is actually meant to be a curse. We are certainly living in interesting times these days.

  4. Graeme M says:

    “Humane” means to show kindness, compassion, benevolence and merecy. Hardly the way we might think about how animals are treated in the food industry.

    I guess describing livestock farming or slaughter as “humane” is a psychological ploy to absolve people from guilt. Pretend that the behaviour of raising and killing animals for food is humane and the average person hears “nice” or “caring”. So it’s OK to do that, because really, it’s just not that bad.

    Yet sentient conscious beings feel pain, don’t want to be hurt and don’t want to die. How we treat animals in their billions is in fact cruel, without compassion for their misery or suffering, callous and brutal.

    The very definition of “inhumane”.

    Go figure.

  5. Neil says:

    This was very compelling, thank you Zahava! This is a very challenging subject, and I’m glad to see you take it on. However, while you and your commenters may be right that under no circumstances can the killing of an animal be considered “humane,” (a point I’m sure many people would agree with while even more would strongly disagree with), I think it’s also unquestionably true that forcing an animal to live an unpleasant life filled with pain before killing it, is worse than killing it after a comfortable, pain-free life. But even if so, how do we know what “humane” in-life treatment of food animals really means in the hands of corporate marketing departments? I think it would be in everyone’s best interests if you continue to highlight and pass on information regarding that issue. It may, in fact, be true that the only way to protect animals from suffering pre-slaughter, is to avoid having them slaughtered at all. But in the meantime there are a whole lot of people out there (sadly, myself included) who are just too wedded to meat to give it up entirely anytime soon. Thus, the more empirical evidence you can give us for the unreliability of the corporate “humane” crowd, the better — maybe you can finally push me back over the edge! And in that regard, I just sent you by private email a notice I received promoting an organization called “growandbehold.com”, which is described by the sender as follows: “They adhere to the strictest standards of kashrut, animal welfare, worker treatment, and sustainable agriculture. It is meat you can feel good about…” Do you or your readers know anything about them?

    • Thanks Neil for your thoughtful comment and questions. First I’d like to respond to your statement: “under no circumstances can the killing of an animal be considered “humane,” a point … even more would strongly disagree with”. Per any definition of the word “humane” such as: “having or showing compassion or benevolence” or “characterized by tenderness, compassion, and sympathy for people and animals, especially for the suffering or distressed”, killing animals (non-human or human) is not humane, it’s the opposite. Calling it humane is Orwellian. As someone once said: “To examine whether something is humane, first determine if you would want it done to you.”
      The fact that people won’t agree with this speaks volumes about the degree of obliviousness. Most people do not think nor want to think about the meaning of the word, and whether or not the flesh of a killed animal can be “humane”. For more on the meaning of humane in that regard I’d recommend reading the insightful Fascism and the Language of ‘Humane’ Meat by John Sanbonmatsu.
      I’d love to push you and others over the edge, but perhaps not only with empirical evidence but with what seems to me the most simple, logical, straightforward approach: the notion that exploitation, enslavement and violence towards innocent beings is unethical. Especially when the ones abused are the weakest, who cannot defend nor speak for themselves. Humans and animals, no difference.
      I do know that it’s not an easy idea for most people to accept because exploiting non-human animals daily is the cultural norm. But so was slavery, which was considered morally acceptable by the majority in some societies. The ones who fought slavery at the beginning were fringe, but now slavery is not only morally unacceptable but also illegal. When it’s the norm to enslave and exploit, people do it, and when they can abuse and profit, they will. Which takes me to the evidence you were asking for: even if we do not have undercover videos that show us what’s happening on every animal farm (“humane” or not), feedlot, animal truck, and slaughter house, we can be confident that it’s horrific. You can research and read about the industry, see pictures and videos. I’ve done it. It’s tragic.
      I suggest for everyone to watch at least one video of a slaughterhouse to see how animals are killed, and think , this is the horror and misery I eat. Here is one, without a drop of blood. Please watch it.
      Finally, I speak to people’s hearts and say, stop their misery, their lives are theirs, not ours to exploit; their bodies are not ours to torture and kill. There are so many excellent and healthier plant based food options. Raising and killing innocent creatures to appease our palate is not only morally wrong, it’s unnecessary, unsustainable and a major contributor to global warming and dead zones.
      Neil, I hope you find soon that you’re on your way to being over the edge…

  6. Rita Anderson says:

    With all due respect, Neil, I’d like to respond to your comments. To use your words, I do believe the “only way to protect animals from suffering” in any manner is definitely “to avoid having them slaughtered at all.” If it was a human, would it be acceptable if they had a good life, then were killed or murdered by another person, thereby ending their life in an unnatural and brutal manner? That would not be considered “humane.” We are, in fact, all animals, some human and some non-human, and we ALL experience physical and mental/emotional pain. Just because you or others feel “wedded” to eating animals doesn’t make it any easier on, or better for, the animal. By participating in slicing that animal up so he/she can end up on your plate, you are giving your consent to the suffering of others. Violence is violence, whether it is directed at a human animal or a non-human animal. We can never pretend to live peacefully if we agree to the heinous torture or killing of others, whoever they may be. There is no “meat you can feel good about.” That’s just an excuse to perpetuate killing and eating animals for greedy humans. As for “sustainable agriculture,” I would invite you to watch the documentary COWSPIRACY to learn just how UNsustainable animal agriculture is. I don’t pretend to have all of the answers, Neil, but I do know it is wrong to cause another living, sentient being to suffer and die when there are so many other wonderful, healthy foods out there. It’s good to question issues of all kinds, but the answer to this one is simply to cause no suffering to another.