The Troubling Path from Pig to Pork Chop

By ANDREW C. REVKIN (x-post from Dot Earth Blog)

In a Mother Jones post, Tom Philpott has aptly summarized the issues raised by a new Humane Society of the United States investigation and video report on the conditions in which pigs are propagated by two big Oklahoma pork suppliers:

The remarkable thing…is how banal it is. No illegal acts like “downer” animals being forced down the kill line with fork lifts, or getting their brains bashed in with a pickax. What we have here is the everyday reality of pigs’ lives on a factory farm, without regulations flouted or spectacular violence committed. It is abuse routinized and regimented, honed into a profitable business model. [Read the rest.]

The Humane Society findings focus on the practice of keeping pregnant sows for months in cages barely bigger than the animal. The group’s Web site notes that laws banning gestation crates have been passed in eight states – Ohio,ArizonaCaliforniaColoradoFloridaMaineMichigan, and Oregon – with bills pending in Delaware, Rhode IslandNew Hampshire, Connecticut,MassachusettsVermont, New Jersey and New York.

The group credits many retailers — including Burger KingWendy’s,Subway and Safeway – for moving away from producers that use gestation crates.

6:33 p.m. | Updated below | The Oklahoma Pork Council told the state’s KTOK radio station:

The Oklahoma Pork Council and Oklahoma’s pork producers take seriously our ethical responsibility for the proper care of pigs.  Responsible pork producers condemn the mistreatment of any animal.  We urge everyone to view the video carefully, however, because some of the practices shown can be taken out of context by those not familiar with livestock production.  An example is the use of gestation stalls as one of many sow-housing solutions that, overseen properly by animal care workers, can be beneficial to the animal’s health and safety.  Pork producers constantly seek new and better ways to care for their animals. We welcome the opportunity to discuss animal-care practices, but we object to organizations that look for isolated incidents in an attempt to undermine the work of caring livestock farmers.

I sought a reaction from Wal-Mart, which is partly supplied with pork bySeaboard Foods, one of the pork producers in the video, to see what its plans are. Dianna Gee, a spokeswoman, said that the company “takes allegations of animal mistreatment by our suppliers very seriously” and is investigating the reports. She added that “our expectation is that all suppliers “meet or exceed regulations and industry guidelines” (established by the American Meat Institute).

Even with the shift away from crates and other improved practices, as the fast-expanding global middle class moves up the protein chain, demand for meat relentlessly rises.

This is one reason I remain a fan of research aimed at producing “meat without slaughter.” (I also stick with my Dot Earth proposal that foie gras should be the first profitable example of cultivated meat given the super-proliferative nature of liver tissue and the ethical questions related to conventional production of this delicacy.)

11 Responses

  1. Meat is unnecessary to sustain human life, in fact it is more dangerous for our health than useful. The disgusting events of the “wing bowl” and “hot dog contest” show the unsatiable need by humans for meat which over the many thousands of years has been seen as available to the rich as a form of ultimate gluttony. The pigs and other farm animals are the victims but, for those that could care less about them, maybe their own health might be a consideration to stop this ever increasing “sexy” relationship with meat.

  2. Maria is correct, most humans do not need to consume animal products at all in this day and age (I’m leaving out the very very very few true hunter/gatherer tribes that remain left on this earth). And we most certainly do not need to consume factory farmed meat. So why do we *need* vat grown meat? Because our tastebuds and the market say so?

    Vat grown meat is ethically problematic, and doesn’t at all change the notion that we can do anything at all that we like to animals. It’s a little like saying that cartoon child porn helps children because no children suffered in the making of it.

    The point is, as long as we’re still eating meat from animals, even if it’s grown in a vat, we’re still treating animals as if they don’t matter, as if they are only parts to be divided and reassembled in whatever way we choose.

    Believe me I have wrestled with the pragmatic arguments too, and seen my share of animal suffering. I don’t say what I just said lightly at all. But, as Einstein said, “you can’t solve a problem with the same thinking that created the problem”. The way we treat animals on this earth is a huge problem. More commodification of animals and their parts is not the answer.

  3. I keep learning when you lay out your ethical struggles for all to read, Lorien.

    I wonder if those who objected to cannibalism back in the day would’ve favored vat-grown human flesh?

    Whether someone is trying to excuse hunting/shooting/trapping/fishing or backyard slaughter as “humane” alternatives to factory farms, the bottom line is still that self-justifying, “superior” humans will continue to believe that might makes right — until, one by one, they learn that the opposite is true: right makes might.

    Empathy and eating fellow beings NEVER go hand-in-hand.

  4. I certainly don’t want/need vat meat… But given that this is true: “Even with the shift away from crates and other improved practices, as the fast-expanding global middle class moves up the protein chain, demand for meat relentlessly rises.” it seems like the option of least harm. It would probably address issues of world hunger more rapidly as well.

    It is projected that by 2050 95 billion animals will be raised/slaughtered for food… That sure is a lot of additional suffering (and environmental devastation) to ignore while we cast out the baby steps that might avoid it.

    Ideally I’d give my life here and now if I thought it could put an end to these ravages… But pragmatically speaking, food and resources will be pivotal in the future survival of man… Vat meat appears to be an option that might prevent our destruction.

    And CQ – You mentioned cannibalism… Yes, vat meat will even enable us to eat our selves, our parents or our children without their deaths… An ugly thought isn’t it? But uglier still, is the thought of murdered animals being eaten by others.

    But vat meat might even be able to supplement the diets of nonhumans held in captivity (for valid reasons or not) – That would also lessen the impact of innocent life being taken as “food”.

    In this hopeful, wonderful transition of a herding culture to one that thrives on plants there would still be in excess of 300 million “domestic” cats that are obligatory carnivores… Even if we were to get these numbers down to a manageable range – I don’t know what we’d feed them in that transition? And the big cats, wolves, crocks and alligators that are not able to exist in the wild… What are they to eat? I suppose we could feed them carrion – But the logistics of getting that protein to them would be extreme.

    I realize that it’s vulgar to see any being’s body as a “resource” – I despise the idea – Sincerely I do… But in my mind if “stealing” the tissue from one cow, one pig, one goat, one chicken would prevent the stealing of 95 (endless) billions of lives – Begrudgingly I’d say that would be my preference.

    It’s a numbers game for now… The political, economic and cultural factors that support meat eating are deeply entrenched. If we are successful, perhaps in a few centuries the disgusting practice will end. Is the utility and profit motive going to be restructured any time soon? It’s going to take a revolution of technology and the hearts, minds of 10 billion humans to make it so. I’m for anything that helps that process become a reality. I’d be the first to volunteer my tissue to save lives – Where do I sign up?

  5. Provoked, good points, and ones I’m still struggling with. But, from an ethical POV, if eating vat grown human flesh makes one cringe AND if one supports an animal rights position that argues that animals are worthy of moral consideration, why would vat grown flesh from animals NOT make one cringe?

    From a practical POV the arguments are, of course, more compelling: Humans’ bloated population numbers and insatiable desire for meat — which we cannot ever hope to reverse.

    Still, because vat grown meat is not yet a reality, and may take a long time to become so, my vote is to keep arguing for an end to animal exploitation in any form. That also includes breeding domestic animals (including cats and dogs as well as “meat” animals), for our use.

  6. Hi Lorien… Yes, I totally agree that all flesh eating is repugnant – obtained from humans or non. My take is not only from an AR POV but the physical grossness of consuming something dead. But the world isn’t taking that position en masse. Of course I advocate for folks to stop munching on other animals… And I urge them to not breed and not buy bred animals. It’s a long haul to any significant change.

    And while vat meat may be in the very distant future – I’m not so certain that I could ever say to a young cow now or then: “Sorry, we could have investigated something that would have spared your life… We could have created a science that would have given (stubborn, reluctant, uncooperative) people other options… Sorry that those people never did catch on to this plant based diet I was urging them towards… You loose. So does your daughter and her sons”.

    I think people who are so inclined as to adopt new thinking for the sake of justice would take up veganism no matter. Vat meat might take care of the muddlers… And the obligator carnivores too.

    My message hasn’t and won’t change – I still believe a plant based diet is the only ethical course. But I’m looking at odds and hedging bets… for the sake of worst case scenarios.

  7. Provoked, I understand your POV, and yeah, the massive suffering caused by the meat industry definitely is a point in vat meat’s favor. I’m still struggling with that.

    But look, I’m not grossed out by meat. I was a major meat eater for most of my life, even though I worked in animal rescue. I come from a hunting/rodeo family. I am *still* not grossed out by meat, even though I would not eat it. That’s why I think that if *I* can change, anyone can.

    Hey I have an idea, why don’t we genetically alter humans for empathy? 😉

  8. I also think that in a perfect world, obligate carnivores should be allowed to hunt, as their nature intends. However, I realize that domesticated ones (cats in particular), as long as they are still bred in massive quantities as “pets”, can’t get their meat from hunting. We’ve effectively messed with that particular balance.

  9. Hi Lorien… You suggested we genetically alter humans for empathy. Considering we’re trying to manipulate “food animals” so they don’t suffer, so that people can continue to kill/eat them, without the nasty negatives guilt bring on — I’d say altering humans to have a conscience is a great idea!

  10. I’ve often mused…

    How many people went out for stir-fry pork, or a bacon cheeseburger, after watching that movie, “Babe”?

  11. […] Our thanks to Animal Blawg, where this post was originally published on February 3, 2012 (and cross-posted at the New York […]

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