All This Talk Of “Humane Meat”
Few animal protection issues are as volatile and divisive as the concept of “humane meat.” Slaughtering animals for food will never be entirely humane, but I think that animal advocates must be prepared to accept small victories on the long-term path to widespread abstention from animal products and/or adoption of alternatives like in vitro meat. The choice for advocates is not a simple either/or, but how to strategically position the different alternatives over time.
I have worked for more than a decade to promote farm animal protection and vegetarianism, and it pains me that some advocates allow this issue to divide them so starkly. Faunalytics is lucky to work with people residing at many different points on the “rights-welfare spectrum,” and from our vantage point some seemingly opposed advocates and their positions are more alike than they might think. I believe this is good news and it gives me hope that we can reach common ground. However, there is still some distance to go to bridge the gap between those who hold strongly differing attitudes toward “humane meat.”
Let me be direct: I do not believe that one can breed, raise, and slaughter sentient animals in an entirely “humane” manner. It is simply impossible to completely eliminate suffering from the farming process. Moreover, because eating meat is unnecessary for most humans to survive and live healthily, it is inherently inhumane for “food animals” to experience any animal suffering. The long-term goal for farm animal advocacy, therefore, must be to end the use of animals for human food. Some advocates should probably avoid saying this outright, for valid strategic reasons, but the rest of us should hold firm on this point.
However, there are obviously meaningful differences among farm animal “production systems,” and I believe those certified as “humane” are at least marginally better than conventional factory farms. Products like those offered through humane certification programs are no doubt more humane than products from conventionally-raised and -slaughtered animals, even if they are not humane enough. But I believe these kinds of products are an improvement that reduce the suffering of individual farm animals. Perhaps even more importantly, these programs are an important interim step to persuading people that farm animals are worthy of consideration.
Barring a major technological breakthrough like commercialization of in vitro meat, however, persuading people to eschew animal flesh is going to take a very long time. Vegetarian/vegan outreach will continue to be important, but farm animal advocates must also seek to marginalize conventional farming practices, and the oft-maligned “happy meat” is one method of doing so. Raising and slaughtering animals in better-than-average-but-still-not-ideal conditions can help shift mainstream perception to recognize both the sentience and suffering of farm animals.
Eventually, I am confident that this will translate into more ethical vegetarians and vegans, assuming that advocates are able to capitalize on the renewed awareness of farm animals. So for me the question isn’t whether we choose to advocate for total farm animal liberation or for larger cages. Rather, the question is when should we utilize those different arguments for the greatest impact for farm animals, and who should be our messengers? Also, to what extent does the growing popularity of “humane meat” standards help or hinder the long-term goal of ending farm animal slaughter?
I believe these are questions we can answer, although it will take a bit of research and collaboration among the many intelligent voices on both sides of the “humane meat” debate.