The Moral Debate: Humane Meat

Linnea Heid

Of all the ways animals suffer from cruelty, one that is at the forefront of the animal rights movement today is the concept of meat eating. Members of the vegan/vegetarian community would argue that meat eating is cruel and immoral, especially when we have a variety of other options. Others argue that the consumption of animal meat is a practice dating back to the very beginnings of time, and that meat eating is a natural process. This controversy has become more complex in today’s cultural climate, because the meat industry is such a big part of the economy. The debate is no longer simply about the moral ramifications of eating meat, but instead about the conditions in which we manufacture it, and the quantities that are consumed. Thus, the focus of the animal rights movement has shifted towards the concept of humane meat, and whether any form of mass produced meat can be humane at all. 

A commonly used term to describe the meat industry is “factory farm”. This is a term referring to all industrial facilities in which large numbers of animals are kept in intensive confinement. Another term for these facilities is “concentrated/confined animal feeding operations”, or CAFOs. These “factory farms” are often overcrowded and unsanitary, with a heavy reliance on antibiotics to try and relieve symptoms of the unhealthy conditions. This not only negatively impacts the animals, but also the products they yield and, by extension, the consumer. Not only are factory farms unclean and poorly organized, but workers are often underpaid, poorly trained, and work in less than optimal environments, leading to abuse toward the animals. 

These conditions are, more often than not, a result of high demand, and this demand leads to overbreeding, overcrowding and mistreatment. The state of factory farms today is not only a result of poor management, but a symptom of a larger problem. Animal rights activists argue that the very concept of industrialized meat breeds abuse. 

These concerns led to the birth of the concept of “humane meat”. Humane meat is a blanket term for any meat (or dairy product) that has come from animals raised in a “cage free” or “free range” environment. Often, humane meat products also claim to avoid the use of antibiotics. The humane meat movement is an effort by the meat industry to offer a more compassionate alternative to factory-made processed meats. The label “humane” allows the consumer to feel better about their choice to eat meat, and feel assured that their meat had a good life before it made its way to their plate. However, despite their certifications, many humane farms still engage in the same brutal practices. This mistreatment, for the most part, is consistent throughout the meat industry, regardless of claims made by humane certified companies. Many animal rights advocates believe that, no matter how much we regulate conditions for farms, the practice of slaughtering animals for food will always breed cruelty and abuse. 

This being said, as consumers, it is important that we continue to push for stricter regulations and higher quality conditions for animals. Despite the nature of factory farms as a concept, we can do our best to change the industry for the better and continue to advocate for animals. Meat eating has been a part of our culture as humans for thousands of years, and likely will continue to be in the future, but no matter our personal choices to consume meat or not, we can do our part to advocate for more ethical practices in the meat industry, and seek out only the best possibly raised animals if we do choose to eat animal products. There are many ways to be an advocate. Here are a few to consider: 
-Support legislation to break up factory farm monopolies; this is a recent example
-Spread information and awareness on social media platforms 
-Donate to organizations that are committed to improving factory conditions; here are a few options – ASPCA, Compassion in World Farming, Farm Sanctuary 

Sources: ASPCA, Mercy For Animals, NHES, Stanford Daily