The Ultimate Betrayal: Is There Happy Meat?Posted by Jennifer Molidor, ALDF Staff Writer on May 29, 2014
This week, the Animal Legal Defense Fund’s Animal Book Club is considering the question of “happy meat” or humane farming. Can the concept of humane slaughter be implemented realistically, or does the label merely make us feel better about the consumption of sentient beings? What does the law say, and how do animal protection laws, food safety laws, and trends in consumption reflect the contradictions in these concepts? These are issues considered in a recent book by Hope and Cogen Bohanec called The Ultimate Betrayal: Is There Happy Meat?
As consumers grow more conscious of the animal cruelty and the environmental degradation caused by industrial agriculture—known as factory farming—they pay more attention to labeling. For example, the Animal Legal Defense Fund has petitioned the USDA to regulate labels on meat and poultry containing antibiotics. That legal petition is bolstered by a petition signed by more than 100,000 people and counting, asking the USDA to require labels on meat derived from animals given antibiotics. Most antibiotics sold in this country are fed to farmed animals (rather than humans) who are not even sick. Antibiotics are given to animals preventatively—prior to the outbreak of illnesses derived from living in unimaginably close quarters on factory farms. This overuse of antibiotics is helping to breed resistance in bacteria, or “superbugs,” who are immune to antibiotics. This is potentially the number one health threat in the U.S. And consumers who want to avoid meat produced with antibiotics have no reliable way to identify such products without proper labels.
Conscious consumers often turn to alternatives like small and/or local farms, yet remain vulnerable to vague and loosely regulated labels like “organic” and “cage-free,” even though state law and regulatory agencies do not define these terms (or enforce the laws) very clearly. As the authors of The Ultimate Betrayal write, cage-free can mean “a large, windowless warehouse where tens of thousands of birds are confined inside on the floor… with just about one square foot of floor space per bird….” Furthermore, many cage-free warehouses are on the same factory farms as the controversial battery-cage operations. Truth-in-advertising is critical in order to ensure consumers are not deceived, and ALDF recently settled a lawsuit on this very issue with a Bay Area egg producer. We resolved a similar issue with the largest producer of force-fed “foie gras” (the diseased livers of young ducks and geese) in the nation, when they marketed themselves as “humane” producers.
Consumers do care about these issues. Californians passed “Prop 2,” which banned (as other states have) the use of “gestation crates” that prevent pregnant pigs from standing, turning around, or moving comfortably. Studies have shown that consumers are willing to pay a premium for animal products they perceive to have been produced “humanely.” Yet with anti-cruelty laws that are hard to enforce, and conditions at factory farms or even small farms that are difficult for the severely understaffed federal agencies like the USDA and FDA to regulate, how do we determine what is “humane” about consuming animal products? From warehouses and sheds to the hooks at the slaughterhouse, from environmental concerns to animal cruelty… just how humane can animal agriculture be? The authors conclude their study by writing “we are now convinced that the state of alternative agriculture is actually worse than we thought when we started this project. We found time and again that the conditions for the animals are only marginally improved by alternative farming methods and inherent cruelties abound.” For more information about alternative practices and the problem with “humane” meat, read The Ultimate Betrayal.
Authors Hope and Cogen Bohanec, two local activists residing in ALDF’s own backyard of Sonoma County, California, have long dedicated their lives to animal advocacy and environmental protection. Hope Bohanec is Projects Manager for United Poultry Concerns. The Ultimate Betrayal is now available in soft cover and e-book on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.