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Aside from the occasional foray into spearfishing, I’ve only ever killed my own dinner a handful of times. Like the vast majority of you, I’m mostly content to purchase my butchered fare at a restaurant or a supermarket.
It only makes sense in modern America, where the system is built in such a way that it’s easy to sit back and let someone else do the dirty work — so much so, in fact, that I’d argue our food supply is designed to cajole the consumer into forgetting that the slab of meat on that plate comes from a real animal, let alone that it had to be slaughtered before arriving there.
For my part, I actively try not to be lulled into complacency on the subject. The fact that I've had to slaughter and dress some of my own backyard chickens has helped me out on that score, but thinking about an animal on the chopping block is a psychologically hard thing to sustain.
That's why many of us hedge, either by eating less meat or by selecting pricey bits of meat that are “humanely raised.” And this approach works — mostly, anyway — to help us feel that we are trying to make a difference.
Don’t get me wrong. When we buy meats labeled humanely raised, American Humane Certified by the American Humane Association or Certified Humane by Humane Farm Animal Care, we’re undoubtedly improving the lives of the animals we eat. We’re voting with our dollars, and that counts for a lot.
Unfortunately, that’s not all that matters. Sometimes, how animals are slaughtered is just as important — if not more so in some cases — than how they’re raised.
I believe even the above programs’ excellent standards don’t address some of the most serious issues involved with animal slaughter. Namely that the process is tremendously stressful because of the need to transport animals to a slaughter facility, and because it's sometimes performed without rendering the animal unconscious first.
I understand that we can’t expect the meat industry to change overnight. I’ve also read through the highly thoughtful, science-based standards on transport, written by Temple Grandin, and see where she’s addressed the issue impeccably, covering everything from trailer design to loading practices. All of this helps. A lot.
Nonetheless, I try to shop for meats that come from farms that slaughter on the premises — and I’ll continue to do so. Meanwhile, I’ll look forward to a time when humane certification standards disallow transport.
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