Column #197

This is one of the hottest of hot buttons for all consumers. If I were to take a poll, I’d bet that over 90% of all American food buyers would agree that livestock raised for food are not treated nor slaughtered humanly.

When the universal assumption is that nearly all livestock are abused, how does one go about answering the many loaded questions regarding humane treatment and slaughter? I’m asked about it all the time and it’s just like being asked, “Have you stopped beating your wife?”

This humane slaughter issue is why Terrence O’Keefe, editor of Egg Industry and content director at WATT Global Media, was so disappointed with “The Onion” when it published an article titled: “Tyson Holds Contest To Let Fans Submit New Ideas For Torturing Chicken To Death.”

Sure, “The Onion” is satire much like “Mad Magazine.” But satire can actually reenforce myths because the public may believe the satire is only a slight exaggeration, or a bizarre extension, of the truth. That’s why for those of us in agriculture this particular example isn’t one bit funny.I’d like to summarize some of O’Keefe’s comments which he published in response. He has extensive experience in the poultry industry and many years ago he actually worked in a poultry slaughter plant for six years, several of which he was in charge of the slaughter.

He said “People outside the poultry industry might not believe that individuals who work on the slaughter end of the plant really care about how the animals are treated, but I can assure you they do. Why am I so sure? It is very easy for an experienced person to walk down the evisceration line or even look at carcasses on the deboning or cutup lines and spot carcass damage that may be present and assess its likely cause. Damage that might have been the result of over or under stunning the birds or resulted from the live hangers or catching crew not following proper handling procedures.

“Simply put, it is immoral to mistreat the birds and it is also just bad business. Critics of the poultry industry may not believe that individuals working for poultry companies are concerned about the welfare of the birds in their care, but they certainly can’t believe that industry professionals are stupid. Humane handling and slaughter of the birds increases pack-out yield. You can’t sell broken wings or bruised parts and birds that die before being hung on the slaughter line go in the rendering truck.

“I realize that some poultry industry critics will always think it is immoral to kill an animal so it can be consumed as food. My beliefs on the relative value of animal and human life come from the Bible. I have gotten used to critics of the poultry industry thinking I and others who have worked in slaughter operations are immoral, but really, do they think we are stupid too?”

People can go to animal shelters and get pets for free. Of course most buy their pets whether they are birds, dogs, cats, horses, reptiles, fish, rabbits, etc. Most pet owners have good intentions. But there are those who lose interest when their pets mature. Some don’t even know how to care for them from the get go and/or they let their children abuse them. For many reasons neglected pets are a far greater problem than neglected livestock being raised for food. That’s why animal shelters for pets are commonplace (where each year about 3.7 million are put to “sleep”) but rarely will livestock that are being raised for food end up in an animal shelter.

Raising and processing livestock for food demands healthy, calm animals. The moment a calf is born it’s worth about $150 to $225. It takes nine months of keeping the cow happy, fed, and alive to produce a calf. Therefore a dead calf is a major financial loss. And the ranch land supporting the cow is a major investment which usually has a mortgage.

At the other end of the value spectrum, each baby chicken costs money too and the chicken farmers buy them by the tens of thousands. After hatching the chicks are quickly moved to a very expensive, climate-controlled infrastructure that has ongoing costs and very often a mortgage. The chicks start eating expensive feed immediately. They must be kept warm and protected. Every chick that dies means the investment in the chick up to that point and its potential for gain is lost forever.

When mature animals (cattle, sheep, pigs, chickens, etc.) are shipped to market, if they are not healthy on arrival they are condemned. If they are damaged in the slaughter process, the carcasses are deeply discounted at best or condemned at worst. This is the biggest financial loss the owner can incur because every dime invested and the profit on that animal is totally lost at its most valuable moment.

Someone owns the livestock that are in the food pipeline for every second of the animals’ lives. Every death is a total loss. Improper handling and processing reduces the value of the end product. Nobody wants that to happen no matter how big or small they are. Unfortunately the general public just doesn’t understand that the entire meat industry is fanatically against abuse. And who has the most to lose? You guessed it. It’s the biggest companies with the biggest investments. They actually push for stricter regulations and they have the money to build the best facilities forcing the little plants to keep up or quit the business. And the largest plants can afford to hire the best consultants such as Temple Grandin. Yep, Tyson knows her well. Real well.

People who raise animals for food do it for two reasons. First of all, they love the animals. Being with the animals and raising them 365 days a year is their lifestyle, often their profession, and it’s their connection to a tightknit social network. Secondly, they do it with a goal of making some money or at least for generating some income to cover most of their costs. This is why I’d say that all of the farmers, ranchers, and meat processors believe they provide better care of their livestock than the average person does for their pets.

But that’s another story.

To your health.

Ted Slanker

Ted Slanker has been reporting on the fundamentals of nutritional research in publications, television and radio appearances, and at conferences since 1999. He condenses complex studies into the basics required for health and well-being. His eBook, The Real Diet of Man, is available online.

Don’t miss these links for additional reading:

The ‘Onion’ Poultry Slaughter Satire Is Not Funny by Terrence O’Keefe at WATT Global Media

Tyson Holds Contest To Let Fans Submit New Ideas For Torturing Chicken To Death from The Onion

Loaded Question from Wikipedia

Mad Magazine

Dr. Temple Grandin’s Website

Animal Shelter from Wikipedia

Animal Shelter Euthanasia