There are a variety of terms describing “new ways” of growing farmed animals for food: local, organic, free-range, humane, ethical.
These buzzwords describe what an ethical omnivore might look for when purchasing animal meat and dairy. Generally, these terms mean that farmed animals are fed an antibiotic- and hormone-free diet, and grown on non-factory farms committed to sustainable and more humane farming practices.
But can killing animals for their meat ever be ethical? What is the difference between animals grown on organic farms compared to factory farms?
Organic and Humane Labelling
It is important to note that the terms organic and humane are not interchangeable. Organic is an official food and product label that is regulated, while humane is neither an official label or regulated in any way. Animal protection laws across the world exclude farmed animals and they exist under a Code of Practice per state.
Organic certification does not cover animal protection or ethical treatment. ‘Certified organic’ cannot be considered an ethical or moral treatment of animals as they are still existing solely for exploitation and consumption by humans, and largely exist without rights. There are a number of humane certifications, but these are either government, third party or industry self-regulated certifications whose end goal is profit-driven; sentient animals are only commodities.
The demand for organic animal meat is driven by:
- Health Concerns: Animals grown in healthier environments and less stressful conditions is better for human consumption.
- Awareness: The growing public awareness of the abuse in factory farms worldwide and the lack of laws protecting these animals; increasing environmental impact.
- Compassion: Many people don’t want animals to suffer.
The Difference Between Factory Farmed and Organic
There are some very clear differences between animals who are grown in factory farms and animals whose treatment acquires organic labelling.
To obtain the official organic certification, animals:
- Receive no preventative antibiotics or growth hormones in their feed—contrasted with forced cannibalism of animal parts common in factory farming,
- Have regulated access to the outdoors and direct sunlight,
- Have cleaner housing facilitates disease prevention as they cannot be be feed preventative antibiotics, and
- Synthetic pesticides and fertilisers not used—crop rotation and other agricultural methods improve soil fertility, while on small farms, manure is used to naturally fertilise soil.
Although these farmed animals receive better food, areas to roam, no growth hormones and no antibiotics, they remain used and exploited for their bodies and byproducts—their welfare and lives subordinated to concerns for the consumer, the certification, and thus, the end selling price
Unfortunately, there are various things that still occur:
- Dehorning via a hot iron or knife without pain relief.
- Within egg production, all male chicks are still gassed or macerated (ground up alive in machines) on their first day of life as they have no value to breeders, and are not the correct breed to be grown as broiler chickens. Both of these killing methods are legal and approved by the RSPCA.
- All females have their reproductive systems violated annually for breeding and/or production of milk. Just like human beings, female animals must be pregnant to lactate.
- Newborn bobby calves are removed from their mothers so the milk can be sold instead. The mother grieves and suffers only to repeat the same process each year, and the calves are murdered for veal.
- Castration of males is still carried out without pain relief – an incision is made above each testicle, the testicle is pushed through the scrotal sac, the testicular cords are then broken and the wound is sprayed with an antiseptic.
Producing organic certified animal meat still requires similar amount of electricity, transport, storage, water and feed as factory farming, while also producing similar levels of waste, pollution and greenhouse gas emissions which contribute equally to climate change
The Slaughter Process of Organic Animals
One may make the misleading assumption that organic certification also covers the slaughtering process and that these animals receive more ‘humane’ treatment in some way. They are sorely mistaken.
While animal meat sold as certified organic in Australia must be processed at an abattoir which holds organic certification, the only difference at the abattoir is a possible rinse down of water depending on the certification. The treatment of animals leading up to slaughter is considered to be better in organic farming, the animals are still brutally killed in the same way and in the same slaughterhouses as animals from factory farms.
The general process is as follows:
- Tools such as electric prods or ‘flappers’ (cane with short strap of leather) are used to force animals off the trucks. Animals are known to freeze up in fear and do not go willingly.
- The animals are made to wait in holding pens and lots with no water after enduring long, standing drives. In Australia, animals are legally transported up to 24 hours without food or water. In the US, this climbs as high as 28 hours.
- The animals are moved into ‘races’ which have solid walls and lead directly into the stunning restraint facilities.
- ‘V’ shaped conveyors separate an animals legs up the middle and physically moves them into the ‘knocking box’ where their heads are held in place in preparation for being stunned. At this point, the animals are fearful and panicked.
- The most common method for animals such as cows, calves, sheep, goats and horses is to percussively stun them. A penetrating captive bolt pistol uses a 3 inch bolt which is shot through the skull. It can take several attempts to knock an animal out, and abattoir workers do not always confirm this or have the time to check due to demanding production line speeds. The production line also does not just stop, it continually moves ahead. If an animal is not successfully rendered unconscious, they remain semi-conscious and are able to process fear and pain. They then go through all of this:
- Immediately after, the animal is moved along and their throat is slit by a worker.
- A worker known as a Belly Ripper, cuts the skin down the center of the animal’s abdomen to spill the animal’s intestines.
- A worker known as a Tail Ripper, cuts open the animal’s rectum.
- The First Legger skins the animal’s back leg and then cuts off the animal’s foot.
- The First Butter skins from the animal from breast to the belly, and a little bit on the back.
- Both feet are then cut off the animal, and the Second Legger sticks a hook into the joint (where the First Legger cut off the animal’s foot) and the animal is hung upside down from the trolley hook.
- Within Australia, pigs are gassed with CO2, which is a cheap but aversive gas. If set at 20%, pigs generally don’t detect it, but the Australian meat industry standard is set between 80-100%—this causes extreme distress and pigs thrash in terror. Once the pigs are unconscious, their bodies are dismembered as listed above.
- Chickens and poultry are electrically stunned, and their throats are slit by a motorised blade. Due to thrashing while hanging upside down, the birds can often miss both processes, and are dropped into boiling water alive, which is used to remove feathers—approximately 1 million chickens in the US die this way every year.
All of the animals approaching slaughter see their recently murdered brothers and sisters in front of them. Animals have far more heightened senses than humans—their fear pheromones stream into the air, combined with blood drenching the floor. Abattoir workers and investigators have spoken of the never-ending cries and screams as thousands of animals are killed one after the other.
The term animal husbandry describes the management and care of farm animals by humans for profit. In other words, the exploitation of a species that is most advantageous to humans. If animal husbandry is essentially concerned with human profit, then one might see the stance of an ethical omnivore as a refocus on the treatment of sentient animal beings.
This stance might appear to involve a refusal of self-serving individualism, extending compassion and concern for the lived experiences of farmed animals, in the same way that compassion is provided for companion animals such as dogs and cats.
However, some “ethical omnivores” may be concerned only with consequences for their personal health, and would have little interest in improving treatment of farmed animals. These people cannot claim to be compassionate or ethical towards animals. An ethical omnivore may nevertheless display some compassion for animals and wish for farmed animals to experience better lives.
One of the greatest moral contradictions belying the apparent compassion of the “ethical omnivore” is their continued collusion in abattoir practices of animal slaughter. The compassion an “ethical omnivore” has for the suffering of animals nevertheless deems humane slaughter an acceptable practice. To reiterate: humane is not a regulated status, and slaughter practices are identical regardless of organic labelling.
The apparently ethical stance of the ethical omnivore involves a failure of the conscience.
Humans have demonstrated an extraordinary capacity for cultural innovation and counter-intuitive policies, to live according to moral and ethical frameworks. How can a person who claims to be ethical accept the hypocrisy of “humane” slaughter for profit?
Humane is characterised by tenderness, compassion and sympathy for the suffering of animals, while slaughter is killing in a violent or brutal manner. This is by definition an oxymoron.
I have often heard the word “humane” used in relation to meat, dairy, eggs, and other products like cosmetics. I have always found this curious, because my understanding is that humane means to act with kindness, tenderness, and mercy. I can tell you as a former animal farmer that while it may be true that you can treat a farm animal kindly and show tenderness toward them, mercy is a different matter.
– Harold Brown, a former “beef farmer” and founder of FarmKind.
Got ethics? Take your compassion to the next level and prove it. Go Vegan.