posted Fall 2007
Ethical Treatment of Livestock
Humans since coming to existence, be it mystically or otherwise, have had to share the planet with animals. In the earliest humans existence animals were a food source. These people were hunter gatherers. They would hunt and gather food. Soon people would stop their migratory habits in favor of easier more consistent lives in one area. This meant the creation of farms and ranches. Animals would have a crucial part to play in both. They would be used as workers, producers, and/or food. Today animals are used to produce various types of food, ranging from vegetables to the very meat off their bones. Slaughterhouses, ranches, and farms exist mostly outside the urban world, far away from most people’s lives. This impersonal attitude can lead to cruelty and the mistreatment of animals.
First let’s rule out one instance mentioned before. While animals where used as workhorses, literally, tractors have all but replaced them. The issue with animals as food still remains however.
The problem with this is impersonality. This happens because of many small things. Today animals are cared for by machines. For example once eggs are fertilized they are taken to a facility where they are incubated, hatched, vaccinated, and finally sold. The first human contact only happens once they must be sorted. The absence of humans means that no one will become attached to any animal.
Secondly the sheer amount animals cause a problem in itself. Once again it contributes to impersonality towards animals. When people see baby chicks their reaction is typically that it’s cute. But when it’s one of thousands then it blends in, it becomes nothing more than part of a number or statistic.
Finally animals can’t speak. When a human is mistreated they scream, beg, and cry. Since animals lack the ability to portray in a human fashion pain or sadness it’s easy to just assume that they don’t really feel anything. From my own personal experience it seems that it was once common knowledge that fish felt no pain, and therefore fishing was harmless. To this day catch and release is still considered a, if not humane, then at least acceptable way to fish.
Without any personal interaction with the animals it is understandable how one could see them as a resource to be harvested rather than a living creature capable of feeling abuse both physical and mental. This may be intentional as opposed to an after effect.
The most publicly recognized offender to animals is Kentucky Fried Chicken. It was clear in the video that there were still many problems with the treatment of animals.
As with many problems I believe that education is the answer. Let’s face it. Most of these animals are going to be killed. However, there is a difference between cruelty and slaughter. It’s how they are handled before and up to the point where they are slaughtered that counts.
The video of KFC’s mistreatment of chickens was shocking to many people. Some issues were hard and expensive to fix. For example they are cramming tens of thousands of chickens into small sheds. To fix this they need to expand their facilities. It seemed that the workers were mistreating animals because they were rushing. It would seem to me that companies need to acknowledge that the workers need to concentrate on the treatment of the animals and then the speed at which they complete their task.
Some problems can’t be solved so simply. It’s not a matter of right or wrong, but rather a question of which is the lesser of the two evils. “Debeaking” is the process of partially cutting off the beak of a young hen. Without Debeaking the hens would peck at each other. While Debeaking is proven painful and can cause self starvation it is less widespread then the injury caused by fighting (UPC Fact Sheet).
The only true end all solution is to stop using animals as food. Obviously this isn’t really a realistic goal. Really the only thing we can do as individuals is try to force companies into making animals as comfortable as possible.
We as people must take action as well. Like I said before most of these facilities are, not so far as hidden, but kept away from people. If the problem doesn’t directly affect people’s lives they are unlikely to do anything outside of feeling bad for a few moments.
Truly all solutions fall to those in charge of slaughterhouses. While we must push for ethical treatment of animals they must be the ones to implement it. They must take steps towards improving the treatment of animals. Avoiding unnecessary suffering, and generally continuing to understand what we can do to improve their lives and following through with implementing anything they find.
We must protect the weak by continuing to force slaughterhouses to take responsibility for doing what they can to improve the treatment of animals; by minimizing pain and suffering, and maximizing comfort and safety.
What not to do!
The United Poultry Concerns “The UPC Fact Sheet.” http://www.upc-online.org/merchandise/debeak_factsheet.html