Humane Slaughter

This last week was filled with headlines about the recall of beef from Westland/Hallmark Meat Co. There were two things that stood out to me about the incident and the press coverage. First, most of the headlines concentrated on food safety concerns. "Downer" cows—those so sick or disabled that they can't walk on their feet—were being pushed with fork lifts into the dismemberment lines, and yet most news organizations concentrated only on the health concerns to people—our children may be eating beef from sick cattle, oh my! We certainly don't want to be eating bad meat, but the health risks are obviously small. Millions of pounds of this beef were already consumed with no ill effects. The scare was one more example of our inane ability to judge risks.

The real wrong in the story was the horrific treatment of the cattle. Yet while this got passing mention in some news stories, it wasn't front and center. It makes me wonder if the story would be as sticky if the same video was released by the humane society and the "downer" cows weren't going toward the butchering lines, but were being dragged and pushed by forklifts toward rendering trucks. Probably not, because that is what happens in slaughterhouses day in and day out. The cruelty in the video isn't extraordinary, only where the cows’ destination is.

The response to the story hasn't been to better humane standards in slaughterhouses. It has been to increase food safety inspections. This brings me to my second point. You cannot fix an absolutely broken industry through better inspections. There is no way to properly inspect hundreds of cows per hour. It’s gruesome work, and certainly not something a low paid government employee wants to do. So many inspectors spend most of their time in their office, making sure the paper work is in order. 

To fix the problem of food safety and create a humane slaughter system we need to change the scale and proximity of slaughter. What if instead of a few large-scale slaughterhouses centered in remote towns we had many small-scale slaughterhouses close to cities and the consumers who buy from them?

These slaughterhouses should have open door policies where customers and farmers were welcome to watch any part of the process at any time. Inspection would be primarily done by customers, but there would also be room for unannounced spot checks by the USDA or state health agencies. The slaughterhouse would be limited to the number of animals it could kill in a day, with an appropriate ratio of people working the kill floor to the animals being slaughtered. 

The possibility for this system already lies in the hundreds of custom slaughterhouses around the country. The only problem is that the meat that comes from many of these slaughterhouses comes with the label "Not For Sale” because it wasn’t USDA inspected (can that seal honestly mean anything given the recent news?). Okay, so don't sale it.  Create clubs and community farms where members share ownership of the animals and customers and farmers are equally owners of the animals all the way through the process.  Consumers would be slaughtering their own cows, not those of some alien feedlot.  Humane treatment of animals and food safety are only possible outside of the industrial system.

See more articles from A Farmer's Notebook


TrackBack URL for this entry:


Great article. I have a friend who is going to put some unused pasture to use by getting a couple of cows. He says you can have your cows slaughtered on-site with a truck that comes around to your farm. As people are becoming more aware (notice the 100-mile diet taking off, etc.) this sort of thing is really taking off.

Thank you for your article! I first saw the UTube video via Organic Consumers Bytes. I was moved to nausea watching it due to the pain and suffering of the cow,not the fact that it would enter the food chain. I actually couldn't believe what I was seeing! Who was driving that forklift? Where is his heart? I was happy that it hit mainstream news days later in hopes that meat eaters will put some consideration into the cruel and inhumane treatment of animals that end up on their plates. I had already forwarded the video to everyone in my address book. Peace & blessings, Annie (vegetarian since I was 8, and three vegetarian children...never eaten meat)

Finally some one is talking about the cruelty of our meat production system... As a chef I am astounded as to why it is we blame the end user for E. Coli, when of course it would be every where when we have these creatures wallowing up to their knees in their own waste? When we feed them foods they are not designed to eat, that make them sick with infections... the horrors are not just the torture we can see in the Humane Society film, but it runns through out the entire broken system. Additionally, it is no diferent for poultry, pigs, sheep, or any other "industrial" farming operation.

The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the
way its animals are treated.

- Mahatma Gandhi

How’s about instead of having smaller, more “humane” slaughterhouses, we just give up meat altogether? We don’t need it, its production does more harm to the environment than all the world’s vehicles, it’s dehumanizing to workers, and it’s cruel beyond imagining to the animals killed (see _Slaughterhouse_ by Eisnetz). I was raised on a small farm and participated in the killing of countless animals; it was gentle compared to what factory farmed animals go through, but now I know that it was completely unnecessary, both health-wise and culinary-wise.

Halal slaughter is the humane way… check it out

Halal Slaughter

Post a comment

Issue 25

Sign up for Plenty's Weekly Newsletter