Monday, February 18, 2008

Beef Recall for Cruelty Concerns

Humane Society of the United States President Wayne Pacelle, enemy of so many good things---dogs, cats, horses, hunting, eating meat, private ownership and the American way---maybe got this one right.

Due to complaints filed by HSUS about conditions in a California slaughterhouse, 143 million pounds of beef are being recalled from shelves across the country. The USDA calls the action a "Class 2" recall, meaning the risk to human health is considered low; in fact, according to agency inspectors the recall is primarily in response to inhumane treatment of sick or injured cattle filmed entering the processing facility. "Downed" animals, unable to stand or walk, were shown prodded aggressively and in cases forklifted into the slaughterhouse in violation of federal guidelines written to keep sick animals out of the US food supply.

As an animal owner, a hunter, and a happy eater of meat, I have no admiration for Wayne Pacelle's anti-goodness raison d'ĂȘtre. But in truth, I have no more admiration for the factory-style processing of animals that produces most of the meat we eat.

In terms of tactic, HSUS is on familiar ground in taking a stand against factory farms, using hidden cameras and targeting California, where state legislators are likely to be sympathetic to their cause. Probably they've already turned these graphic images into glossy trifold brochures and full page ads, sucking up more money into their vast war chest.

But I admit: Had some kooky group of free-range, slow-food militants produced this secret footage, I would probably be posting it here with an appreciative nod. I think it's important, after all, to know what we're eating; and I gather this kind of treatment of animals is not uncommon wherever volume and profit are the guiding principles of animal husbandry.

Where Wayne and I diverge is in the conclusion I draw from the facts of factory farming. It doesn't put me off my appetite for meat at all---too many millennia are under the bridge for that---it just reaffirms my support of traditional farming practices and scales of production, and most importantly, of hunting, cleaning, cooking and eating my own animal protein.

I am not entirely a consumer of sustainable and humanely-garnered foods, but I'm improving. The extent to which I haven't yet embarrasses me.

To borrow (even more) from Wendell Berry, eating is not just a physical act; it's also an ecological and philosophical, and probably a religious act. It has a moral component. As with all moral issues, graphic reminders of the consequences of our choices and actions are invaluable, whatever their source. Knowing the cost actually paid for the conveniently anonymous meat we buy: priceless.

15 comments:

Mark Churchill said...

One of my best friends could be described as "semi-vegetarian" for ethical reasons. She happily eats rabbits caught by her hawk, raises her own chickens, and buys grass-fed and pasture-killed buffalo from a rancher we both respect (Dan O'Brien, falconer, author, and proprietor of Wild Idea Bufalo). She'll also eat venison on occasion, if she knows the hunter. But that's pretty much it for meat.

I'm like Matt. I could do better, hope to someday do better, but fall far short of the mark set by people like Donna. Stories like this could push me to do better, if I can get past my distaste for the messenger (Pacelle).

Matt Mullenix said...

Mark I would call her a "conscious carnivore" rather than "semi-vegitarian." Clearly Donna eats meat, and given the sources you cite, probably eats as much as I do---But with more thought and effort than I give it.

Kudos to Donna!

Cat said...

Matt,
Great post. As a producer of both beef and lamb, I was really appalled at the video of the downer cows and the cruelty these animals experienced.

I'm a shepherd, heart and soul, and feel it is my duty to give each and every one of my animals a good life, from the time they enter to the time they depart. Downer animals would never make it off our ranch - we would "put them down" here, at their home in Wyoming.

My family eats our ranch-raised cattle and sheep, knowing it's been raised humanely here on clean sagebrush range, without hormones or other crap, and we drive them to the mom-and-pop processing facility 100 miles away when the time comes to butcher. Yes, we know our dinner by name.

Steve Bodio said...

We are almost to the point of all- intentional meat. Got half a grass- fed cow coming via Lee of the ranch, half a sheep from another friend in the county, and have a source for free- range chickens. We have elk, antelope, hare, rabbits, and some quail in the freezer-- oh, and a ham made from javelina. All delicious as well! And now one local market has taken to promoting free- range and organic products, too.

Matt Mullenix said...

Cat and Steve, your perspectives are sorely lacking in the debate---at least at it seems to bubble up most often between dueling factions of urbanites.

Both the AR people and the organic food people seem to have roots in the same regional and economic demographics. Working shepherds and rural hunters---who both know and care more about animals than either other group---ought to be the first people we ask for comment.

Fortunately you both do more than your share in contributing to the literature!

Moro Rogers said...

I would catch my own food if I wasn't too broke.^_^

Peculiar said...

We're enjoying the heck out of our healthy happy Delta County, Colorado pig. We've visited her compatriots on the hoof, about twelve miles away, and we eat eggs and milk from the same outfit. I don't find that looking her siblings and their babies in the eye dimishes my appetite. If anything, the personal connection increases my gratitude for the animal and makes the eating an acknowledgement of local relationships and interconnection, rather than an impersonal act of cold-blooded violence at a distance. Is some of the revulsion most everybody feels for factory farming due to its dystopian, impersonal, faceless and sanitized violence? The feeling that horrors are being perpetrated far away, and that we have no meaningful influence over how we are fed is much more distasteful than looking a pig in the eye after a greasy weekend breakfast.

On that note, I'll always remember the pig at the Polly Bemis Ranch on the Main Salmon; we used to stop on river trips and feed her leftover bacon, to the general merriment. No moral high ground for the pigs!

Matt Mullenix said...

Moro: It's cheaper than you might think! :-)

Peculiar: "dystopian, impersonal, faceless and sanitized violence" is one (very bad) thing. But the violence in the video seems even worse: it's frustrated and heartless. The degredation implicit in poking a sick cow in the eye or forklifting a cripple is made almost incomprehensible by its context. This is our food!

The industrial equation doesn't change, regardless the materials shoved in or the product rolled out. It's the attempt to objectify and standardize (as a "raw material") a living animal that reveals its perversity.

There are many right ways to kill animals and use them properly. The world's cultures have evolved hundreds of examples. But they all have in common (so far as I know) some respect for the life taken and some ackowlegement of that life's relationship to ours.

This doesn't have to have any special mystical quality. It's just plain, everyday observation. Hunting and raising animals successfully actually requires of us that we expect animals to think and behave somewhat as we would in their place. We would not have the same expectation of a lump of coal or a gallon of gasoline.

The industrial model apllies so poorly to animals (and plants and people!) because we are not simple, reducible materials and not suitable as fuels.

Peculiar said...

Very well put, Matt! I was struggling for words, which always ends up sounding like mysticism. Commodification, as you say, is not an abstract problem if you live around plants and animals; it's plain, everyday observation.

Moro Rogers said...

Matt- I'm sure it is...but I am really REALLY poor. (And I don't know how much time I can invest in learning gun safety, good marksmanship and the ins and outs of hunting laws in the state of California.)

Matt Mullenix said...

Moro there are plenty of options beside firearms. There's always falconry and coursing. :-)

But easier and cheaper still would be making friends in the hunting community (assuming there IS one where you are). Part of the hunting ethic is sharing game, and there is usually plenty to go around. I think in my neighborhood alone, no one would need to buy an ounce of meat again if they didn't want to.

You could possibly raise a couple chickens? You could certainly grow some potted tomatoes! The principle of self-sufficiency expressed in hunting applies equally to raising vegetables and livestock.

Whatever you choose to do, there are probably people near you who can and would be happy to help. The funny thing about self-sufficiency is how it tends to bring people together. :-)

Moro Rogers said...

I don't own a scrap land and most of my friends are sissy animators. But I guess I've run out of excuses. I could make some new friends.^^

Steve Bodio said...

Hmm- Rebecca?

Matt Mullenix said...

Steve, good idea. Nothing sissy about Rebecca! ;-)

Moro, if you haven't yet chatted with Rebecca, click on the Operation Desert Dove link in the blogroll and contact her through there. She would be a great contact the SoCal hunting scene.

margory said...

Everything you've all said - plus - I can't help myself: when the source is HSUS, I'm sorry, how long did they hold the video? (I heard they filmed for 4 months) -

This was reprehensible behaviour and should have been stopped the first time it was spotted. Not filmed and edited and fund-raised on.

That I think is the worst of the cruelty.
-margory