I’ll never forget the day that I found out the hamburger I was eating came from an animal. An animal that used to be alive. I was relatively young when I made this discovery. Like many realities that aren’t the prettiest to hear, I wasn’t exactly the greatest recipient. I remember proclaiming that I wouldn’t eat meat any more. That I felt bad for the animals. My dad was raised on a ranch and later on drove livestock for transport all over the United States. He kindly informed me that this was just how it was. I never stopped eating meat, it was an empty threat (I love bacon way too much.)
But I always carried this sense of guilt around with me until high school, because I didn’t want any animal that I was consuming to have to suffer in it’s final moments. I’m not the only one, in fact most Americans statistically will enjoy meat as long as they know it is processed humanely. Today we’re going to discuss the question “Is eating meat humane?”
I know there are labels in the store that may identify meat as humane. That’s what makes everything so confusing for most who have never stepped foot on a farm before. I even visited a grocery store in the Denver area once that had labels identifying varying levels of humaneness on a scale of 1 through 5. These labels took into account housing decisions, whether antibiotics were used and a whole host of other items. Typically the more labels a piece of meat has on it the higher the price is probably going to climb per pound.
I only wish I was more familiar with what market price was for the cuts of meat that we looked at. In all honesty if I had no knowledge of what happened on farms and ranches, I would’ve played into the fear tactic and paid a premium. Because I have a big heart, and I want the meat I enjoy to come from animals who are well cared for.
Is Eating Meat Humane? Are other Animal Products?
If you’re worried about the meat you’re consuming coming from an animal who is treated well, you don’t have to stress anymore. Practically every segment of common animals utilized in American agriculture has a certification standard. These are voluntary standards but most farms and ranches choose to become certified. Farms and ranches tend to already be meeting them.
It makes it easier for farmers and ranchers to market their products because consumers can feel confident in their purchase much farther down the line. This extends well beyond meat as it includes eggs, milk, cheese, etc. These programs rely on science based standards and recommendations. The programs not only guarantee that operations comply, they typically also have a third party audit system as an extra layer of verification.
Farmers ROI (Return On Investment)
For anyone who is still reading this and thinks that farm animals in the United States are not treated well, I would like to share something with you. Animals are incredibly sensitive, and their production level is highly dependent upon stress.
Something as simple as having new people during milking in a dairy parlor or having more flies than normal present around dairy cattle can diminish milk production. If sheep are exposed to a stressful event whether that be poor weather or poor nutrition their wool may form a break. This devalues the product. If an animal is stressed in any way this can impact their ability to conceive offspring.
Even if farmers and ranchers were just motivated monetarily, not providing adequate care and a low stress environment simply does not pay as there is no ROI. The margins for profit can be incredibly slim as they are dependent up on the market.
In addition to this I would like to point out that while farms may be getting bigger – they are still family owned. You’re looking at 97% of farms in the United States being owned by a family just like yours. They are human beings. While most of the media would have you believe that animals are raised in bad conditions by some sort of robot this is not the case. If you’re on a farm, you must love animals. Because really, its very hard physical work. The hours are long. It’s not easy. But when you enjoy what you do and enjoy providing the best for animals, its all worth it – especially when it helps provide for your family. All of this has a measured impact on the question is eating meat humane.
Farm Animals Final Moments
So that we’ve discussed the question is eating meat humane and frankly whether animal product in the United States are produced in a humane way. Now the question remains, but what about slaughter?
Arriving at the Abattoir
Fast forward to college. I’ve decided to become an Agricultural Communications student at New Mexico State University. I was able to compete in the College Aggies Online Program through Animal Agriculture Alliance, which gave me a whole wealth of knowledge regarding modern agriculture. Since I was one of the scholarship recipients, I got to go into a cornish game hen processing facility. Once we arrived we donned appropriate gear to ensure food safety.
We stood in the chilled main room of the processing facility. Conveyor belts flitted around us with various cuts of meat and expert precision. The plant employees were placed strategically doing a myriad of processes to eventually get the meat ready for packaging. Our tour guide, the plant manager I believe, invited us to see the actual euthanasia. He informed everyone on the tour that we did not have to witness it. I was anxious.
Entering the Room
My throat tightened as my body tensed before I walked into the room. I had never seen any animal’s life taken aside from the common baby gazelle versus leopard type of situation. It was all very anti climactic. This smaller room was different. It was warm, it was very dimly lit and most of all, it was quiet. We had left the dull hum of all of the activity with the belts behind us past the door. The cornish game hens were actually very quiet too. The reason that it was so dark, quite and warm was to provide the least stressful environment for these animals in their final moments.
The plant employees gingerly picked them up by their feet and placed them upside down on a belt. Almost instantly after they passed through a brief water bath. This served as a conductor for the electricity that served to stun them. As soon as the current passes through, they are rendered senseless. A plant employee then would utilize exsanguination. This allows all the blood to leave the body and for the animal to pass. Once it is verified that they are lifeless then they are very respectfully processed to what you see and know in the packages that line the shelves. Is eating meat humane? I would say yes. I’ve seen processing with my own eyes in commercial and smaller settings.
Processing In Meats Class
After being in a meats class I have also been a part of processing pigs, sheep and cattle. While there are various ways that are validated to render an animal senseless (from electricity, captive bolt, etc.) they are all mandated by law. In 1958 the first Humane Methods of Slaughter Act was passed. An updated version that current known as the Humane Slaughter Act was passed in 1978 which makes it illegal to slaughter inhumanely.
Commitment to Improvement
Moreover, there is also an emphasis on ensuring that livestock are comfortable and well cared for beforehand which is a pivotal aspect of the question is eating meat humane. A wonderful woman named Temple Grandin has been instrumental in this process. As she was born with autism she experiences many things the way that animals may. She has helped revolutionize how we can do better as an industry, and we are still striving for improvement constantly.
If you are interested more in how all farm animals are ensured to spend their final moments with dignity and what processes are followed these videos from the American Meat Institute are a great resource. I have linked to one that focuses on cattle processing, but there are also some featuring turkey and pork plants.
I don’t know everything about meat, hopefully we’ve answered the question is eating meat humane for you today. Want to learn about What’s Really In Your Hot Dog , Antibiotics In Meat or Nitrates in Meat? We’ve got you covered! Do you have any questions I can answer for you that I didn’t address?
Thanks for reading!