Happy as a Pig With a Tail and a Ring-Free Nose

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This week The New York Times ran a story about how egg, dairy, and meat producers are trying to attract customers by claiming to treat their animals better than the average farmer. Although there's a subtext suggesting that government regulation is necessary to organize and rationalize this niche market, in which people pay a premium for the assurance that their pork chops used to be a reasonably happy pig, there's also evidence that private certification is preferable. The competing standards that the Times suggests are confusing are actually a strength of the market, letting consumers decide which organizations are reliable and which criteria are important.

I was also struck by the way the Times refers to all organizations concerned about animal welfare as "animal rights" groups. There's a big difference between a group like People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, which opposes all human use of animals, and a group like the American Humane Association, which certifies "free farmed" meat. The ultimate goal of animal rights supporters is to eliminate these farms, not to make them nicer places to live prior to slaughter.

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  1. The smug factor of folks who allege concern for the pre-slaughter welfare of animals while continuing to eat them is so off the scale! Either:
    A) Recognize that animals bread specifically for your dining pleasure would not have existed at all if not for your consumption.
    B) Hunt and fish for your own meat (presumably animals in the wild are quite happy until the bullet/hook hits them)
    C) Take a real principled approach and quit eating the products.

    To say that “free range (animal of your choice)” actually tastes better/different is both unlikely to be demonstrable and indicts them further as one whose only interest in the improved pre-slaughter lifestyle of said animal is to improve their own post-slaughter dining experience!

  2. Ig,

    “Recognize that animals bread specifically for your dining pleasure would not have existed at all if not for your consumption.”

    Couldn’t you could realize that, but at the same time, be willing to pay an extra dollar/lb. knowing that said animals, even if they were bred for your dining pleasure, did not suffer as much as other food animals?

    Personally, I’m not paying extra on my steaks to assuage my conscience. I just don’t work that way. But if someone chooses to do so, it’s not necessarily done out of smugness…and just because an animal was bred specifically for your food, and would not have existed had it not been for your demand, doesn’t mean that it doesn’t matter to some people how it’s treated.

  3. Plus there are health reasons to support this sort of farming. I am thinking primarily of cattle feed lots and E. Coli.
    mmm, e coli

  4. Maybe, Evan. But fact is it doesn’t really matter. The animals will be slaughtered enmasse in brutal ways that the average meat-eater (myself included) would lose their appetite over. If you want to pony up an extra buck a pound for organic or non-steroid tainted food product for the integrity of its content, I totally get it. But if you’re paying that buck more for the animal’s pre-slaughter lifestyle, then I’d like to offer you some pork for TWO dollars more a pound which comes from a pig who lived a wonderful life, was counselled extensively prior to its passing, recieved Jesus as its personal savior, and was memorialized by friends and family afterwards. Heck, For three bucks more I’ll send you a framed photo of said future pork chop frolicking in the mud. 😉

  5. If I were a pig farmer I’d put a big-screen, hi-def TV in the pen, feed them sushi and champagne, maybe even hire some hookers for them before I hung ’em up and slit their throats. I’d be a very popular fellow with the pigs. Until the throat-slitting thing, that is. But still…

  6. The ring is there to prevent the swine from rooting under the fence and liberating itself. It is unnecessary if the swine is kept in a cage with a rigid floor (that is, non-free-range). Ironic, no?

    Free-range animals do taste different, as diet affects the flavor and exercise toughens the meat. “Better” is a matter of opinion.

    As for method of slaughter, dead is dead, and I’d guess the intent is to get the beast dead as quick as possible, for a number of reasons.

  7. “The ultimate goal of animal rights supporters is to eliminate these farms, not to make them nicer places to live prior to slaughter.”

    That’s not true, Jacob. There are different conceptions of animal rights, just as there are different conceptions of economic rights. I personally believe that animals have a right not to be tortured, but that they lack the right to life (as we know it), or the right to self-determination (as we know it). That’s why I buy cruelty-free animal products, including meat.

    It may be true that the term “animal rights” leads you to think of the maximalist position of groups like PETA, but there’s nothing inherent in the term that requires such a conception.

  8. If I were Starkist I’d make a gazillion dollars just by stamping “Free range! Nature-made!” on every other can of tuna, jacking up the price 20%, and selling it to smucks who don’t know any better.

  9. Grummun,

    Dead is dead? Really? You wouldn’t be more horrified if someone you love burned to death than if they passed away at the same age in their sleep?

    Ig,

    A being’s rights are determined by its nature. Fish aren’t entitled to freedom of religion, because they don’t have any conception of religion. Being denied the opportunity to worship as their fishy little brains fit doesn’t deny them any of the experiences and choice necessary for them to exercise their wills as they see fit, or enjoy meaningful lives. Denying you that same right, on the other hand, does.

  10. Meat-eating, I predict, will be the main cognative-dissonance issue of our generation…

    We all know, deep down, that it’s wrong, but we like it so much we do it anyway and rationalize later. Myself included.

  11. “Recognize that animals bred specifically for your dining pleasure would not have existed at all if not for your consumption.”

    Isn’t that win-win? They get to have a life, I get to have meat.

  12. Is that the Real Dan-Troll? Or the fake Dan-Troll? Hmm…

    So, Dan, something that humans have done for most of their existence is going to be some huge issue to be decided by this piddly little generation of humans that is a minuscule percentage of the total number of humans that have lived?

    In fact, Dan, I know, deep down, that it’s NOT wrong. I happen to be an omnivore. Now, you can choose to do what you want, of course, and you can choose to call it wrong and rationalize it, or whatever. But to call eating animals universally “wrong” requires quite a leap from the meme of modern human beings. If that is indeed true, then so is killing a fly. Where do you draw the line, and why? When something has a brain of X size, it’s suddenly wrong to kill it?

    Christ, talking to you is a mind-bending experience, Dan-Troll—whether you’re the real Dan or not.

  13. Mmmm, Bacon, Yummy. Who cares about the damn pig. And don’t get me started on “Save the horsies from the butchers” crowd.

  14. Joe, The cruel truth of our world is that a beings rights ara pretty much determined by their ability to defend said rights. Philosophically I get your point, but the reality is closer to Iron Chefs comments…

    “I personally believe that animals have a right not to be tortured, but that they lack the right to life (as we know it), or the right to self-determination (as we know it)”

    Isn’t that playing the comfortable spot on both sides of the fence? They deserve the rights that make sense to us? Seems like we’ve been down that road with some of our fellow humans in the past…

    btw, You sure know a lot about the cognitve nature of fish…

    Dan T, I refuse to concede the “wrongness” of meat eating. Only the wrongness of playing at caring while continuing to consume.

    Again, I eat meat and fully accept the ramifications of that without the guilt that would inspire me to pay more for a sticker boasting a dubious and probably unverifiable content.

  15. Ig,

    The purpose of a society is to provide conditions better than those found in a state of nature.

    “Isn’t that playing the comfortable spot on both sides of the fence?” No, it’s a principled position I’ve come to and have sacrificed for. I get hungry when I walk by McDonald’s, too.

    “They deserve the rights that make sense to us?” No, they deserve the rights that make sense to them.

  16. “…a sticker boasting a dubious and probably unverifiable content.”

    Horse shit. It’s suddenly impossibe for an organization that monitors the practices of farms to accurately report that information?

    I must say, this unwarranted skepticism about the ability of the market to respond to consumers’ demand for information looks awfully convenient coming from you.

  17. joe,

    Dead is dead? Really? You wouldn’t be more horrified if someone you love burned to death than if they passed away at the same age in their sleep?

    I was responding specifically to “The animals will be slaughtered enmasse in brutal ways that the average meat-eater (myself included) would lose their appetite over.” Which is why I prefaced the phrase you quote with, “As for method of slaughter”. The point being that no matter how the animal is slaughtered, the goal is to kill it, skin it, pack it and, eventually, eat it. There is no rosy, cheery, died-in-its-sleep way to do that.

  18. There is no rosy, cheery, died-in-its-sleep way to do that.

    But there are more resource-wasteful ways, and their costs, handed down to the conspicuous lefty consumer, become the measure by which he separates himself from his moral (i.e. economic) lessers.

  19. I once got told that pigs that are distressed when seperated from their family get a slight urine stench in their meat, and that slaughterhouses use valium to calm the pigs and avoid that rather disagreable flavor.

  20. We kill animals for consumption. It is brutal, but it is merciful compared to the way most animals die in the wild. Next time you get a chance to see any of the videos of leopards or lions in the wild, watch how long it takes their prey to die from the first strike. These clips are usually shortened considerably by the editors.

    BTW: Why is no one standing up for vegetable rights? Speak up for carrots torn from their nurturing soil, their greens removed then either eaten raw or cooked while their poor juices are still fresh. Oh, the carrotanity!

  21. Joe, what is unverifiable is the benefit to the animal of kind treatment prior to slaughter… The elephant in the room remains that in the end, we KILL them. Yes labeling can be verified, and is (as in organic) with some degree of accuracy. But the fact is that its really pretty hard to truly verify that “no dolphin were harmed catching this tuna” and in point of fact the tuna seem to get the short end of that stick. What if the tuna was the dolphins best playmate? Don’t the animals regularly kill and eat one another in rather grisly ways?

    “No, they deserve the rights that make sense to them.”

    Who decides what make sense to them? The “fish wisperer”?

    Sorry man, nothing personal. I just don’t have your insight into the cognitive abilities of the animal kingdom.

  22. That the trouble with them in the NYTs they spend so much time in their concreat canyons on NYC they have absolutly no idea where their food comes from and they try to connect those concern with farm animals with such radicals as PETA

  23. “But there are more resource-wasteful ways, and their costs, handed down to the conspicuous lefty consumer, become the measure by which he separates himself from his moral (i.e. economic) lessers.”

    Somebody sounds defensive. You can’t even admit the possibility that people want to cause animals less suffering?

    Arensen,

    “We kill animals for consumption. It is brutal, but it is merciful compared to the way most animals die in the wild.”

    Why don’t you google some industrial slaughterhouse videos? Sometimes the machine misses, and the animal is skinned conscious.

    Ig, “Joe, what is unverifiable is the benefit to the animal of kind treatment prior to slaughter…” That’s simply not true. Certifying agencies visit the farms where the animals are raised, check out the operations and the condition of the animals, and test the meat the for the presence of foreign substances. The way factory farms operate, it is literally impossible for the animals to survive to adulthood without heavy doses of antibiotics in their feed. Once again, you seem suspiciously eager to believe that these practices cannot work.

    “The elephant in the room remains that in the end, we KILL them.” I’ve explained the moral distinction between objecting to torture and objecting to humane slaughter three times already, and I don’t feel like going over it again.

    “I just don’t have your insight into the cognitive abilities of the animal kingdom.” Pretending not to understand that animals with less-developed neurological functions have lower levels of awareness is not an argument; it’s a dodge.

  24. OK Joe you got me… I’m just dodging the matter. I really have no clue what is going through the mind of a pig who’s never seen the outside of the farm where it will ultimately be killed. Does it know that there is a better world out there? Does it know that other pigs are treated better? I must dodge the issue as I cannot pretend to know.

    I am only suspicious of regulatory agency’s ability to “really know” because i’ve spent the last 20 years working in a factory where regulatory agencies “check” things. The fact is they can’t possibly get the full scope, they can usually get the tip of the berg.

    I’m not in disagreement regarding animal cruelty or suffering. My point from the beginning is that the market for kinder gentler meat/poultry/fish is driven by the guilty consience of those who consume the product. And the only true way to avoid being complicit in their suffering is to abstain.

    The “moral distinction” which you do not wish to repeat only benefits the party who is not going to be slaughtered and eaten.

  25. I don’t see what’s so complicated or controversial about this. Some people don’t want to financially support what they have concluded is unnecessary suffering. Overcrowding, harsh treatment, boredom, denial of social interaction, etc. What happens in nature is irrelevant to how each person decides to spend their money. The fact that wolves sometimes starve in the wild doesn’t make it irrational for me to help spay and neuter dogs. The fact that suffering exists in nature doesn’t make it foolish for me to deny my support of additional suffering in Tyson factories or Unilever labs. And to equate a life of relative comfort that is terminated by humane slaughter with an agonizing existence in an overcrowded factory farm is just flip (as is equating carrots and chickens/pigs/cows–take a biology course). It is not even necessarily a moral claim. In my case, it’s simply a matter of what I want to support economically. I don’t want to “demand” suffering. Fortunately, the market is providing good alternatives.

  26. Joe

    “Why don’t you google some industrial slaughterhouse videos? Sometimes the machine misses, and the animal is skinned conscious.”

    Yes. And sometimes predators start eating before the prey is dead. There was a clip a few weeks back of a wildebeest taken by crocodiles that took an hour to die. For real horror, you can read the detailed accounts of the men who went into the water off the Indianapolis in 1945; some of the shark victims took days to die.

    Further, you can look at disease and starvation, which are the other common ways for animals to die in the wild. Mother Nature is a nasty bitch.

    I’m not saying that abattoirs are pretty and nice. On average, though, the deaths in a slaughterhouse are far quicker than in the wild.

  27. I don’t eat pork, but I get free range, organic beef from a “local” (60 miles away) farm. As for ensuring that the beef is indeed free range and organic, no agency needed: Anyone who wants to is free to visit the farm and see for themselves the conditions the beef live in.

    The pigs and chickens look to be in damn fine shape, too. As for the put-down, the rancher likes for the beef to only have one bad day in it’s life, and in fact is going to purchase a machine so that he can put the beef down in the pasture to avoid that long walk back to the barn. His ideal is to have them only have one bad moment.

  28. “the rancher likes for the beef to only have one bad day in it’s life”

    Since it is mostly steers that are raised for slaughter – bulls are almost never raised for meat and heifers are more likely to be kept for breeding – the animal probably had more than one “bad day” in its life.

  29. Ig-

    “Joe, what is unverifiable is the benefit to the animal of kind treatment prior to slaughter… The elephant in the room remains that in the end, we KILL them.”

    I feel better about eating the animals I kill, but it hasn’t stopped me from eating store bought animal stuff. When I do buy those things at the store I prefer to buy from producers that treat their animals less cruelly. The fact that the animals are dead and were raised to that end doesn’t negate how they were treated when they were alive. Why? Because I say so. I have an empathy for animals similar to that I have for people. The same thing that compels me to be kind and helpful to the needy folks around me also compels me to treat animals with a certain amount of compassion. I understand it is somewhat arbitrary, but that is the nature of morals and ethics. The fact that you don’t share the same compulsion says something about who you are. Mostly that, say we were colleagues or coworkers, you would be the guy who was absent from my weenie roast and cocktail hour.

  30. BTW: Why is no one standing up for vegetable rights? Speak up for carrots torn from their nurturing soil, their greens removed then either eaten raw or cooked while their poor juices are still fresh. Oh, the carrotanity!

    My buddy has recently started culinary school. He had to learn about all the different kinds of vegetarians. I knew of vegans, but fruititarians? I had thought of the concept, but I didn’t know they really existed. They will eat only plants that can be consumed without killing the plant. Some of them are even stricter than that, actually eating only fruit. There is a website for the Fruititarian Universal Network or F.U.N. for short.

    And, Ig,

    I don’t eat pork (haven’t you seen Babe? “that’ll do, pig”), but I want one of these pigs you are selling. Do you take checks?

  31. Nuts! I screwed up the link.
    Go here:
    http://hem.fyristorg.com/fruitarian/index.html

  32. highnumber:

    I once worked for a paint contractor who ate only fruit. He swore that fruit provided all nutritional requirements, but looked like an unhealthy version of the scarecrow from The Wizard of Oz.

  33. Arensen,

    “Mother Nature is a nasty bitch.”

    That doesn’t mean I have to be.

  34. Okay we’re beating a dead horse…er, uh… Oh nevermind.

    Kevin Parker you speak to the truth of the matter. Its your choice and you make it for personal reasons. The reality of the matter not withstanding. Free market consience, I can’t argue that.

    Joe, we’re not all that far apart in viewpoint really. I love animals and don’t wish to support cruelty either. It would be nice if all farming were less of an industry, but we’d all eat less for more $$$ and … well maybe that wouldn’t be so bad either given the national obesity stats.
    I just don’t have the check book to pony up for specialty foods and I am by nature cynical.
    Yeah, I buy food from WalMart. Maybe if highnumber will send me a big fat check for my pig… LOL

    pigwiggle, would those be free range weenies?

  35. Buckshot,

    Owsley “Bear” Stanley is famous for, among other things, his diet of strictly meat, eggs, and cheese. Wouldn’t you love to see him kick the paint contractor’s ass? I’ve got nothing against the fruititarians, but, you know, it would be funny for some reason.
    On the other hand, who do you think would live longer? I still think I’d put my money on Stanley. That fruit diet just can’t give you enough of anything other than fiber.

  36. Ig,

    Properly-raised meat is only more expensive if the producers are allowed to pass their externalities off onto other people. There are now over 200 dead zones in the oceans, one of which is smack-dab in the middle of what used to be the Gulf of Mexico’s prime fishing grounds. Virtually all of these are the result of animal waster from factory farms and chemical fertilizer runoff from industrial agriculture (most of the grain grown in this country going to feed animals in factory farms).

  37. Properly-raised meat is only more expensive if the producers are allowed to pass their externalities off onto other people…

    What? Assuming your definition of “properly-raised meat” is that the animals are not raised on a so-called factory farm, farmers don’t raise livestock the way that they currently do because it is a more efficient use of resources, but rather because they are trying to screw over the rest of us? I mean, I hate farmers just as much as the next guy, but are you saying they are actually evil assholes out to destroy the commercial fishing industry?

  38. Highnumber, dont be ridiculous. Factory farmers have figured out that they can dispose of their waste for free, so they do it. Never mind that the waste imposes huge costs on the rest of us.

  39. jb,

    Excuse the ridiculous questions. The statements I was questioning, honest to everything holy, made absolutely no sense to me as written. To make that point, rather than straightforwardly asking for a clarification, I got all oblique and s**t.

  40. If animals weren’t meant to be eaten, why are they made of meat?

  41. Seems like some of you need to see the work of this woman…

    http://www.grandin.com/

    “Smith and Grandin (1998) believe proper handling of meat animals can improve productivity, quality and profitability; so, it is just good business to do it right. Appropriate handling weakens arguments by animal rightists/welfarists that those in the production and packing sectors do not have a caring attitude about the animals in their charge (Smith and Grandin, 1998). Grandin and Smith (1999) believe that: (a) The most important factor determining whether a production/packing enterprise has good or bad animal welfare practices is the attitude of management personnel. (b) The companies that have good animal welfare practices have a top manager who “cares” about animal welfare; as upper-management personnel change, animal welfare practices can improve or decline, depending largely upon the attitude of the new people. (c) The best facilities and the latest technology make handling livestock easier but unless the owner or manager is convinced that proper handling practices are economically rewarding, it is unlikely that the employees will routinely follow appropriate practices and procedures. (d) The manager that is most effective in maintaining high animal welfare standards is involved enough in the day-to-day operations to know and care, but not so involved that he/she becomes numb and desensitized (Grandin, 2000c).”

  42. Joel Salatin has an interesting perspective on all of this at http://www.polyfacefarms.com. He doesn’t sentimentalize livestock, but he is convinced that the best farming preserves a balance in the lives of the plants, animals, AND farmers — said balance including something comfortably akin to “free range” conditions for the livestock. Although, to some, this may initially sound like hippy-dippy BS, Salatin actually approaches his work as would an engineer, taking a lot of measurements and making a lot of observations, and then doing the tough analysis to understand what the “optimum carrying capacity” for an acre of land is, given the (functional!) interplay of species being farmed or ranched on it during a particular period of time.

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