Animals as food

invitro-burger

It’s coming. The roll out date for mass public consumption of laboratory grown meat may be some time away, but lab-grown meat, also known as synthetic meat or in vitro meat, will be here soon enough. It’s a product whose time is long overdue. The current meat demand worldwide is growing. It is estimated that by the year 2050, meat production will be double what it is now. Already, much of the world’s arable land, as well as water resources, are consumed for food animal growth. Beef alone accounts for nearly 60% of the world’s agricultural land, and 22% of the global freshwater supply is used for meat production. Add in the devastating environmental effects of the mass growing and killing of land animals for food, and it is clear that this is not a sustainable path for the long (or even short or medium) term. Recent food safety issues, such as the discovery of antibiotic resistant bacteria and fecal bacteria in ground turkey and the public’s increasing awareness of the cruelty of this industry make the idea of sterile, non-death causing meat even more appealing.

Will it appeal to everyone? Of course not. For example, after (basically no) consideration, I know that I will not be a consumer of these products. I have not eaten meat in almost 30 years and have no desire to return to it, even if an animal didn’t die to produce it. For me, it is still an animal derived product. I put it in the same category as dairy, an animal derived product where the animal was not killed, but still required. For me, it does not fit with the vegan path I have chosen for my life. Plus, one of the many reasons I stopped eating meat is that I simply don’t like it – it grosses me out. I won’t even eat many of the tvp-based alternatives because they are too authentic in taste and texture. And for people who try and avoid food that is highly processed, it may not be an appealing option. But for much of the meat-eating world, people who like meat and want to continue eating it, this may be the best solution the world will see for a very long time. Does it still exploit animals? Yes, in that the starter material will be taken from an animal and it will still be cultured animal tissue. Does it conform to an abolitionist world view in which nonhuman animals are appreciated for their sentient nature and not viewed as a means to an end? Absolutely not. But will it save billions of land animals from being born, only to live in confinement, have painful procedures such as debeaking and castration (usually without the benefit of anesthesia), be pumped full of dangerous hormones and antibiotics, and die ghastly, tortured deaths? Yes, indeed it will. And who knows – it may even change a few minds about what it really means to eat the flesh of another. It’s not nirvana, but I’ll happily take it when it comes.

photo: Jon Sullivan via public-domain-photos.com

horse-slaughterserver.np

As if we need another reason. According to the Humane Society of the U.S., a number of animal welfare groups are filing legal paperwork in New Mexico to have horsemeat declared unfit for human consumption. The reason? Horses, unlike traditional “raised for food” animals, are often treated with drugs which are extremely dangerous to humans. In addition, horses are not followed throughout their lives as other “food animals” are, so their history is not usually known to the personnel in the slaughterhouses that kill them. This furthers the danger to food consumers, as the content of the meat they are buying is impossible to know. The petition, if granted, would result in horsemeat not being able to be sold unless the slaughterhouse can “unequivocally state” that the animals were not exposed to these dangerous substances.

Besides the gruesome and barbaric methods of horse slaughter, the companion/helper image that horses have enjoyed throughout the history of this country, the fact that more and more health organizations are recommending less, not more, meat consumption overall, and the abundance of protein sources (animal and non-animal based) already available in grocery stores all over this country, we now have ANOTHER reason why this is a really bad idea.

photo via U.S. BLM, Colorado Office

horse-portriat
There has been some attention given lately to the presence of horse meat in what was supposed to be beef in Ireland. What some may have missed, however, is that the U.S. is close to approving a horse slaughter plant right here in this country. It will be the first time since 2007 that horse slaughter has been allowed in the U.S. for human consumption. Besides the obvious concerns about the inherent cruelty of the slaughterhouse industry, the drugs often used in horses that could be deadly for humans, and the risk of native wild horse populations becoming increasingly targeted for roundup and death, another question has come to mind for me: Does our societal agreement to this permit signal a change in our willingness to kill any species that the slaughter industry wishes to foist upon us?

I am not someone who argues that eating pigs is ok but eating dogs is not. Eating pigs is NOT ok with me. Pigs are intelligent, sensitive creatures that surely suffer as much as dogs would during the brutal deaths inflicted upon them in slaughterhouses (some would say more due to purported higher intelligence than dogs). My concern is the effect such a change would have on our country’s psyche and its potential willingness to go even further down the road in terms of species diversity for food sources. After all, horses have enjoyed a status and relationship to humans that is unique and spans the history of this country. Whether it was in battle, helping to deliver mail, or as treasured companions, horses have been seen as valuable aids to humans over our history, and many still revere these magnificent animals. Concern for horses was one of the many things that inspired Henry Bergh to found the ASPCA almost 150 years ago. And now we may be on the verge of approving a permit to a slaughterhouse so that Americans have yet another kind of steak option on the menu. If this goes through and we get used to people eating horses, doesn’t it stand to reason that other species may be next? If Black Beauty is fair game for dinner, why not Spike the family dog? In other countries it is rather routine for dogs, cats, and other species we consider “for companionship only” to be slaughtered and eaten. How close will we become to that? Are we that desperate for another artery clogging, cruelty laden , environment destroying food source that we will walk backwards in time down this revolting and treacherous road?

photo by Karen Arnold via publicdomainpictures.net

kebab-on-skewers

Just a couple of the questions discussed in The Mindful Carnivore by Tovar Cerulli, a hunter–turned vegan–turned hunter again. Mr. Cerulli, after having been raised around hunting and fishing, decided in his early adulthood that he had had enough killing, and became a strict vegan. After some time he felt that consuming meat would benefit his health and began hunting again. His personal journey is interesting and raises some important issues and questions about the nature of our food and how we come by it. After all, we live in a drive-through, microwavable, shrink-wrapped society, and many of us, even those of us who are vegetarian or vegan, are fairly far removed from the production of the food that sustains us. We consume food items without knowing the amount of work (and sadly, suffering) required to produce it. The vast majority of meat-eaters would unlikely be willing to do the hands on killing necessary for that steak or barbequed chicken. Many of us are blissfully unaware of the enormous impact of our daily choices on the lives of animals, the water supply, the environment, and the global economy. I am a long-time vegetarian, and even though it was not one of the reasons compelling me to that choice years ago, my refusal to kill an animal in order to eat it certainly would deter me from consuming meat again, even if I wanted to (which I do not). There are many issues worth considering in any diet – animal suffering, environmental damage and pollution, health effects, cost, sustainability, and personal ethics. We may make different choices about what we eat, but all of us should make those choices after thoughtful deliberation and serious soul searching. By the way, this book was a gift to me from my brother, who is a food hunter, and while I could never hunt myself, I would prefer that those who wish to enjoy meat have the complete awareness of the creature they are about to consume as sustenance. At least hunters are willing to look their food in the eye first.

So—-what’s for dinner at your house?

photo by Petr Kratochvil via publicdomainpictures.net

A very sad story out of North Stonington, Connecticut. Two cows on a family farm were shot, the suspects being three youths known to law enforcement in the area. After being shot and left for dead, one of the poor creatures had a jaw so mangled that euthanasia was necessary. Charges, including animal cruelty charges, are being prepared and arrests are expected soon. The investigation is being handled by the Connecticut State Police.

While I am disgusted at the wanton cruelty inflicted by these individuals and encouraged by the inclusion of animal cruelty charges, I can’t help but wonder about the status of cows in general. Cows are considered farm animals, and farm animals, much like laboratory animals, are treated with different guidelines than our companion animals. In other words, if someone did to a neighborhood dog the kinds of things that happen in slaughterhouses all over the country, they would no doubt be charged with animal cruelty, possibly as a felony (and I am NOT suggesting they shouldn’t). So these cows, while on the farm, are protected, but once they are on the way to being killed (I believe the industry term is “processed”), they are under less protection. Of course even farmed animals are supposed to be killed by humane methods of slaughter, but one only needs to do a quick internet search to discover that significant numbers of animals are subjected to horrifying torture to their physical bodies while they often remain conscious. Some even survive parts of the slaughter process. So for me, this begs the following questions: What defines the cruelty? Is it the intent of the killer, or the outcome for the victim? Is it governed by the location of the one killed (e.g., slaughterhouse vs. farm vs. back yard)? And what about the above mentioned fact regarding the horrors that routinely occur in slaughterhouses? One could (quite easily, in my view) argue that since the meat production industry fails regularly to provide humane deaths, that the entire industry is inherently cruel. Why are killers of cows shot on the farm charged with animal cruelty while the industry that stuns, bleeds, skins, and dismembers billions of land animals each year in the United States is left to continue on its way unimpeded?