Humanely or sustainably raised meat has entered the mainstream. Consumers -- already buying local food, free-range eggs, and organic produce at sometimes higher cost -- are willing to pay a premium for the knowledge that their steak didn't suffer on the way to becoming dinner. The problem has been that it's hard to know from looking at a label whether the meat you're buying had a good life when it was a pig or chicken or cow -- but that's starting to change, as humane certification and labeling becomes increasingly common.
One particularly impressive example is a Herndon, Virginia-based company called Humane Farm Animal Care, which has developed a set of "animal care standards" as part of its humane certification program; the set of criteria includes allowing animals to engage in their natural behaviors; raising animals with sufficient space and shelter; and making sure they have plenty of water and a healthy and appropriate diet without added antibiotics or hormones. Humane Farm's criteria overlap with several other humane certification programs, including the US Department of Agriculture's organic program. But they are more stringent overall, applying several standards that are not required by the USDA or other certification systems. For example, to get Humane Farm certification, a farm cannot use "tie stalls" to confine dairy cows; shine light on birds continuously to make them grow faster; or apply nose rings to pigs to keep them from rooting in the ground, all of which are allowed under the organics program. So far, about 60 farms have been certified by the company.
Another facet of raising meat humanely raised is humane slaughtering, right on the farm where the animals were raised. This may sound like a no-brainer but it's actually quite uncommon under the current US ranching system. Since the late 1990s, the USDA has imposed standards on meatpacking facilities that have driven many smaller packing companies out of business and increased the scale of larger facilities, which now usually require ranchers to supply a minimum number of cattle for slaughter. As a result, most ranchers now sell their cattle at livestock auctions. The cows are then driven long distances to massive feedlots to be fattened up for sale. This system wastes resources and, many ranchers say, produces substandard meat: a stressed cow is a tough cow thanks to the presence of adrenalin and other stress hormones in its flesh.
So insted of bringing cows to the slaughter, why not find a way to bring the (humane) slaugher back to the farm? As Seattle Magazine reported earlier this year, Washington State is home to the nation’s very first Mobile Slaughter Unit, a portable slaughter facility in a large trailer that can be hauled right onto the farm.
This system doesn't just benefit consumers who want to know that their meat was raised and slaughtered humanely and with minimal impact; it helps small farmers, who might not be able to meet the quota for slaughter at an off-site meatpacking facility. Indeed, farmers quoted in the Seattle Magazine article say the mobile facility has helped them double or even quadruple production while still selling most or all of their meat locally, directly to consumers, in local groceries, and at farmers markets.
I grew up in Washington state and when I was young, my family raised pigs. We were by no means a business, but we did raise enough to support a few families for the year. The reason I bring this up is that I have very distinct memories of the slaughtering of our pigs right on our property. So in a sense this was actually a mobile slaughter unit, everything was done right there on our land.
I've never thought about this being a more "humane" method, but I guess it does make a bit of sense. I must admit though that my siblings and I were often found huddled together in the house crying as we listened to the sound of the shots that took our pigs' lives. Still we had no problem later eating the meat and actually bringing the slaughter in our presence (my parents never made us actually watch) made me much more aware of the process of where our food came from.
Ironically I am now a vegetarian, not because of my upbringing, but because I can't afford to buy quality meat on my college student budget! (among numerous other environmental reasons)
I think this is a good step, though ultimately USDA certifications will have broader application. The USDA has (for a good reason) always tended to regulate what it considers health risks to humans before considering the care of animals and the environment. Not to ignore their work to prevent cattle disease, etc.
Hopefully programs like this will lead to the availability of different types of USDA certification for quality of animal care and slaughter as well as other requirements for disclosure about the origin of food to the consumer.
"Organic" is not as clear to most people as unregulated terms like "free range" and having official designations for things like that would also be beneficial since we generally don't know who raises our food.
I am glad to hear that this initiative gives some humane quality live to the animals raised for meat, I just quite don't still get, these animals at the end have to go through the pain of slaughter to satisfy our appetites, we are still using them to our advantage, as mere objects or possessions, why don't we better try to develop even more humane ways to eat without having to kill an animal, why don't we make more emphasis and invest more resources in developing new meat alternatives or improving the existing ones, or the lab produced meat (on top of the large variety we already have)and advertise them so that people know they exist.
I am a high school teacher, when I talk about the meat substitutes available in the market, most of my students didn't know such thing existed, then they start trying them and tell me they don't taste really bad and some decided to start using them as meat substitute. So if we educate people and let them know the alternatives we have, many would start using them, and then we would really have real humane meat alternative.
I think killing animals to eat is a primitive act and not until we stop that practice we would be able to evolve to a new stage of humaneness.