Unethically sourced food
Infringement of basic animal rights in the meat industry
We live in a society in which people are beginning to become more cognizant of the food they put in their bodies.
Whether it’s checking the caloric intake of a jelly-filled donut, or ensuring their coffee beans are ethically sourced, society is starting to care.
And while this rising awareness is intrinsically positive, we as a society, myself included, choose to turn a blind eye towards one of the most inhumane sources of food: the meat industry.
As the country’s cattle producing capital, the meat industry is essential to our economy, with Alberta Beef stating a total net asset of $13,248,395 for the 2016 fiscal year, according to the Alberta Beef Producers 2016 annual report.
This source of revenue is gravely needed in our current economic state. However, that doesn’t mean the industry is wholly ethical.
It’s important to note that the farming of animals across the globe, not just here in Alberta, suffers from an ethical standpoint.
“Although the different provinces have very different economic goals in terms of the way non-human animals are used [as a] commodity, non-humans who are used in these industries have very flimsy legal rights across the boards,” said Meneka Thirukkumaran, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Calgary working in critical animal studies.
“Many of those federal laws that seek to protect non-human animals don’t really apply to animals that are used in food production,” said Thirukkumaran.
“And when they do discuss the treatment of these animals, they tend to focus on protecting profits. So, they look at it from the standpoint of the consumer and the seller, rather than from the animal’s perspective.”
Something needs to give.
Unfortunately, it is because of us blind-eyed consumers that atrocities occur in farms and slaughterhouses across the continent. It doesn’t happen because we’re oblivious, it happens because we choose to be oblivious.
When you choose to eat a burger, you’re aware that, perhaps only a few days ago, your meal was alive.
“The term livestock, along with other euphemisms like beef or pork, those words operate linguistically to distance us from what happens in the meat, dairy and egg industry,” said Thirukkumaran.
“We have to distance ourselves from the living, breathing, mooing animal in order to feel comfortable eating that animal, so we say steak instead of cow flesh, for instance. Because cow flesh signifies what it is that we’re literally consuming and it doesn’t feel comfortable for us.”
People often use the term carnivore or omnivore, but those are biological tendencies. Humans who live in a society where they have to eat animals to survive are considered carnivores or omnivores. However, the term for someone who chooses to eat meat, such as those of us who live in Calgary, myself included, are, in fact, following a belief system known as carnism. Carnists choose to eat meat, not because they must in order to survive, but because they consider it socially appropriate.
“Carnism is a violent ideology. It literally depends on death. It’s easier to avoid naming it, and that justifies our participation in the system.
“We’re so distanced from meat, we don’t even think about it as an animal.”
It’s this combination of a linguistic and geographical disconnect that allows us to avoid understanding what happens in the meat industry.
Currently, transportation of animals for food production is an urgent matter.
According to a study by Reynold Bergen of the Beef Cattle Research Council in 2011, the temperature for animals in transit in Alberta ranges from -42 to 45 degrees Celsius.
“Right now in Canada, animals that are destined for consumption can go up to 57 hours, legally, without food, water or rest. If that [were] a cat or dog, that would be very upsetting for most people,” said Thirukkumaran.
And while transportation is an issue surrounding the ill-treatment of animals for food production in Canada, it’s but one of many.
For example, the use of electric prods is still a common practice in Canadian farms and slaughterhouses.
“[Electric prods] are tools that are allowed to be used but not to the point to where they bruise the meat, and that’s because bruised or darker cuts of meat are generally not profitable.
“But, regardless of how intense the pain is, the animal is still scared and stressed.”
Blaire Arcand, an on-again-off-again vegan since 2014, made the decision to cut meat out of her diet because of what she learned about the meat industry.
“I remember how awful I felt that one species was treated as better, while one was just a source of food,” said Arcand. “I didn’t understand why.”
And, while she occasionally takes breaks from veganism due to the inaccessibility of vegan meal options while she’s working on-site in northern Saskatchewan, Arcand has never looked back on her decision to remove meat from her diet.
“Throughout my life, I’ve realized that I’ve always wanted kindness for all creatures,” said Arcand.
While it’s unrealistic to expect the public as a whole to take the drastic steps Arcand took, consumers should place a larger value on animal welfare.
“I would say most consumers should focus on plant foods, because plant foods are the least problematic from an ethical standpoint,” said Thirukkumaran.
“There are human rights violations that go along with many plant foods, especially tomatoes and bananas and things like that, but when you think about meat, you have all of those problems, then, in addition, you have the problem of another being that’s caught up in the same system.”
The sad reality is that without a societal backlash, these archaic policies will remain untouched as they have for ages.
“We’ve generally been conditioned through the media and our families and schools and people in authoritative positions to view cows, pigs and chickens as objects. They’re often framed as stupid or hierarchically lower beings. They’re dirty, they’re savage, they don’t warrant our care or our protection. I think conditioning makes us less motivated to question existing laws and policies.”
However, only by questioning these existing policies can we, as a society, give rise to change.