Slaughterhouses, by some, are considered the bane of modern American cuisine. No matter how delicious the dish, if it has meat on it, life has been taken for it to be provided. Many people take it for granted or put it out of their minds so that they don’t have to confront the supply chain that led to it being on their table. There are several documentaries that have shown the gritty truth behind big businesses in the meat industry.
Animals are often housed in cramped areas, sometimes unable to stand up comfortably or even avoid being trampled by their own kind. One could almost referred to it as "storage" rather than housing. Things go from bad to worse as these mistreated animals head to slaughter — often to inhumane conditions and methods that border or cross the line into. Thousands of livestock are put to death uncompassionately, and sometimes butchering begins before the animal has even stopped breathing.
In addition to the ethical dilemma, we also have to consider the massive, negative impact that factory farms have on our environment. according to Farm Sanctuary, "Factory farms yield a relatively small amount of meat, dairy, and eggs for this input, and in return produce staggering quantities of waste and greenhouse gases, polluting our land, air, and water and contributing to climate change." Compound that with the amount of food waste in America alone (about 31% of our food supply) and you can see a clear problem.
Why does this happen?
One issue lies with the demand put on the workers. Factory farms have schedules and each is expected to churn out a certain amount of meat every day. From an objective perspective, these animals are just numbers on a spreadsheet that equates their profit. Someone that firmly believes in humane treatment of animals either would not work in these facilities or would try to make it so that the animals, even though they are being killed, are killed in the most humane way possible despite what their quota is.
Sadly, a lot comes down to time, demand, and profit.
What can be done?
This is a big question with complex answers. For starters, consuming less meat and choosing meat sourced humanely are two great options to let companies know that you, the consumer, care about where your food comes from. Meatless Mondays are an easy way to reduce your consumption substantially over the course of a year.Hold them accountable!
For companies, working to provide adequate space and living conditions that meet the needs of the animals more compassionately are important — as is feeding the animals a diet that they can easily digest (vs. one that that is chosen to help fatten them up). Also, employing people that have a healthy respect for the gift of life and are devoted to the preservation of an animal's dignity would be a start. It could have an effect on the industry, encouraging a more compassionate and wholesome process. This is difficult, if not impossible, to enforce in big corporations without drastic and sweeping change. As a result, people that do care have taken on the challenge of doing their own farming, and many have progressed to the point where they can provide humanely prepared meat to their local area.
Support them, and you’ll can be a big part of the solution.
How can you tell meat is raised humanely?
Some stores have special labels specifying the treatment of the animal, but don't be fooled by intentionally misleading labels! While "farm fresh" labels are plentiful, corporations have taken advantage of the definition; a factory farm where an animal might never see the light of day is still technically a "farm". And “free range” is not the same as “pasture raised” by a long shot, though the two sound awfully similar. You can find a definitive guide to produce labels here.
Obviously, you can't tell just by looking at the meat if the animal was raised and slaughtered humanely. Many activists in rural areas visit their local farm to get to know the farmers and see how things are done. Grass fed and pasture raised cows have a healthier and more varied diet.
Some go as far as to raise smaller animals like pigs and chickens in their homes, annexing nest boxes and hay pens for them to live comfortably in. There are also guidelines for humane slaughter to ensure minimal suffering for the animals. These practices are verified and approved by organizations like Certified Humane and the Certified Animal Partnership. Those organizations in turn provide specified labels that you can look to and trust.
We must also consider nutrition from the source.
When an animal is stressed, its body suffers and this effects its biology in ways that make it less nutritious – and even less palatable in a number of ways. Take deer for example. In the world of hunting, a shot that results in an instant kill is ideal. Not only is a more painless death, because of it being instant, it also prevents the animal from feeling fear and also from going into shock. By contrast, if a deer were to be shot in the gut or a leg, it would become stressed, flooding the deer with hormones. Blood starts to congeal; instincts kick in, pumping adrenaline and lactic acids through the body. When a deer dies in this state, the meat can be gamey, tough, or dry by the time it is to be cooked. This process usually takes place within an hour, from the time the shot is taken to the time that the animal dies.
Now imagine what kind of effect a lifetime of stress and poor treatment can have on the meat that an animal can provide from typical big name brands with feed lots and massive “barns” where chickens are kept in cages they cannot even turn around in. Meat from a chicken that has been pumped full of steroids and lived a life cramped among other birds getting trampled and smattered with fecal matter is significantly less nutritious than meat from a chicken that has been treated well and been fed with a varied and healthy diet and then humanely slaughtered.
If the cruel treatment and inhuman slaughter of animals bothers you to the point of changing your diet, there are a variety of diets available, such as vegetarian and vegan.
Even Paleo, which typically relies on the consumption of meet requires quality of source. Many people's consciences allow them to consume meat so long as the animals are well cared for and put to death in a swift and humane fashion. Either way, as consumes, we have to make a choice of what to eat, and be able to live with that decision. There is no one right answer, but choosing not to know is simply not an option that we should accept.