Slaughterhouse 5 (no, not really)

My first post on CAW.

Let’s get to the nitty-gritty. Let’s talk slaughter.

Yesterday in Fresno, the Central Valley Meat Company slaughterhouse was shut down by the feds after the authorities received an undercover video that revealed cruel and unusual treatment of the cattle. I won’t link the video (sorry, I love cows, and it hurt my feelings) but anyone who knows how to use Yahoo or Google will know how to find it.

So, let’s talk slaughter. The slaughterhouse did something wrong—it abused its animals. Against the law—shut down. So far so good. On the other hand, one must be cautious when receiving undercover footage. The material can be misleading or edited for the purpose of whatever group produced the video, and really, all that has been done before. But I’m not here to discuss whether I think the video is legitimate or not. It looks real and upsetting, but I will leave that for the authorities to decide.

What intrigued me was the way in which the story was presented—a rare media peek, if you will, into the world of food animal production. CNN’s Kat Kinsman explained that this is not how slaughter is normally done, and that this was cruel and unusual. What is a normal slaughter? “Peaceful,” Kinsman said. “A captive bolt gun is used on their brain, preventing them from feeling anything. After that, they are bled out.” A captive bolt gun is simply a gun with a pin instead of a bullet, that bursts out with great force, but does not leave the gun. The animal becomes insensate to pain and can bleed out without said pain.

Well, that’s interesting. I went through high school, some college and—heck—generally life hearing that food animals were killed with a shotgun (for the record, legal but just not done at a slaughterhouse). Or that they were beheaded. And that the adrenaline rush from the fear and pain made the meat practically toxic.

Thank you, Kat Kinsman, for telling it like it is.

Although… she did miss a few things that I find  personally fascinating. Like, that is illegal to sell a sick animal to a slaughterhouse. A sick animal causes concern for tainted food. And, when an animal is bruised, the bruised meat must be cut from the carcass and discarded. Great incentive for treating your animals well. And the chutes that lead cattle to the slaughterhouse floor are designed to comfort the cattle—they are led, single file, down a curvy road, that mimics their natural pattern of moving. Happy cattle are just easy to work with. And by the end of it, meat from an unstressed cattle tastes better.

That’s because there is natural sugar (glycogen) in the muscles of cattle (and humans) that is used up when in fear or excitement. When it’s used up, the muscle becomes tough. When it remains, the sugar turns to a lactic acid and makes the meat tender. The difference is actually visible, so you can go to the store and see which cuts came from a calm animal and which cuts came from a stressed animal. Check the last link in this entry to see the difference between “pale soft exudative” meat (bad), normal meat (g00d) and “dark firm dry” meat (bad).

What is some good advice for looking at undercover animal welfare videos?

  1. Is the video old? If the video is old, it cannot be weighed against modern slaughter practices. Organizations like PETA and HSUS have no qualms with showing you footage that is decades old to get a rise.
  2. What are you looking at, exactly? Things can happen in a video that seem horrific to the average consumer, but when explained by a veterinarian or some other professional, it becomes understandable. For example, it is not uncommon for a slaughtered or brain dead animal to twitch its muscles in violent ways that make it seem like it’s in pain. I have personally seen a sheep with its head removed from its body still twitching its tongue and moving its jaw, and I have known another that has gone to the slaughterhouse to pick up a beef heart, and went home with the heart pounding in the ice chest. What you must do is look at the head, for expressiveness. If you’re around food animals a lot, you know the difference.
  3. Is the video edited?
  4. Weigh the video against statements made by those in the industry, veterinarians and the concerned public and make your own judgement from there. In my experience, those in the industry are just as horrified as everyone else when something goes wrong.

And, when you do see legitimate animal cruelty videos, as awful as they are, remember this: one video of a parent beating their child does not mean all parents are abusive. One video of a pet owner beating their pet does not mean all pet owners are abusive. One video of a slaughterman/rancher/dairyman abusing their animal does not speak for all people in food animal agriculture.

Now, if you’re a vegetarian because you’re worried about animals in pain, I can assure you that there are ways around it. Know your farmer. Know your slaughtermen. They can be very nice people—really—who take their job very seriously.

On the other hand, you might love animals and think all of this is creepy. You’re taking living, thinking cattle, and you’re making them happy and secure as you lead them to death. Valid point. I’m just a person with an undying love of animals, and understanding of vegetarianism and a craving for meat. If animals are going to die to feed the country, then this is how I want them to die.

If you would like to know more, the following are helpful links:

http://grandin.com/

http://www.animallaw.info/statutes/stuscafood_ag_19501_19503.htm

http://scholarship.law.duke.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1412&context=lcp

http://www.fao.org/docrep/003/X6909E/x6909e04.htm

Post Script—”cows” are female cattle. “Bulls” are male cattle and “steers” are castrated male cattle. Don’t call all cattle cows, especially in front of farmers—you’ll only look silly.

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