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“But there are farms in this country, and more of them all the time, where animals lead very happy lives, and have one bad day.” -Michael Pollan

Michael Pollan made that statement on the February 1, 2011 Oprah episode, “Oprah and 378 Staffers Go Vegan: The One-Week Challenge.”

Since the show aired, I haven’t stopped thinking about that phrase:  One bad day.

Getting slaughtered for no good reason certainly qualifies as a bad day.

But, does Michael Pollan really believe the fantasy that animals raised and “harvested” on small farms only have one bad day?

When a heifer or cow gives birth and her baby is taken away…does that count as a bad day?  When she gets her supernumerary teats removed or her udders “flamed” (to remove udder hair) does that count as a bad day?  When a cow gets painful mastitis or laminitis, does that add more days to the “bad” column?

For “beef” cattle…Is the day of castration a bad day?  Disbudding?  Branding?  For pigs…Is the day of tooth/tusk trimming, ear tagging, tail docking, and castration a bad day?  Just because it’s “routine husbandry practice” doesn’t mean that it’s not painful.

Now– and this might be difficult, but let’s try– let’s estimate the number of “bad days” for egg laying hens, for chickens raised for meat (i.e “broilers”) and for turkeys, all within the “Certified Humane Raised & Handled” label.  You can download the actual Standards documents here.

“Certified Humane” Eggs…

  • “The Animal Care Standards for Laying Hens do not require that hens have access to range.”  (2009 Standards Manual: Egg Laying Hens)
  • Minimum stocking density requirements:  1 square foot to 1 1/2 square feet per hen.  (E 16: Stocking Density).
  • Cannibalism is a common problem for “cage-free” housing (i.e. “one big cage” instead of separate battery cages).
  • Beak trimming/tipping is permitted preventatively in “flocks that are susceptible to outbreaks of cannibalism.” (H 6: Physical alterations)
  • Other problems:  significant feather loss and fowl mite infestation.

“Certified Humane” Chickens…

How many bad days are we up to?  Or– for birds– does all this simply add up to one bad life?  Humane?

Look…let’s stop pretending that animal agriculture– of the variety that Michael Pollan likes to promote (i.e. “happy meat”)– is a “one bad day” scenario.  One can only make such a statement out of ignorance.

BUT…Even if animals only endured one bad day, I still believe that’s one bad day too many.  Why kill if it’s unnecessary?  We don’t need to eat eggs, chickens and turkeys.  We don’t need to eat pigs and cows.  We don’t need to consume milk from cows and cheese from goats or sheep.

How would you like it if someone decided to kill you?  Is that okay?  After all, you “led a good life, and it’s just one bad day.”  

I don’t see how it can be justifiable to treat animals differently than we would like ourselves treated.  Animals value their lives just like we do.  No one wants to have bad days, and certainly not bad days that can be prevented.

[You can hear Michael Pollan’s statement with your own ears by listening to Episode 46 of the Coexisting With Nonhuman Animals podcastJ.W. provides excellent commentary on that Oprah show episode.  Michael Pollan’s statement is 1 hour, 2 minutes, 30 seconds into the podcast.]

An Essay on Consistency…

Sooner or later, people who abstain from consuming animal products will listen to friends, acquaintances, or family members declare, “I only buy humane meat,” or “I only buy free-range eggs,” or “I only buy organic milk.”  These are the actual words spoken.

“I only buy humane meat, etc” could be one person’s response to some horrific undercover video footage or another’s solution to factory farming.  The health-conscious say this in the context of minimizing exposure to rBGH, E-Coli O157:H7 or BSE.  Environmentalists might include the word “sustainable.”  Followers of Michael Pollan make this statement in support of the family farmer.

When I hear “I only buy humane meat, etc,” I also hear the following unspoken messages:  “Hey look, I’m doing something,” “I care about the animals, too,” and “I recognize there is a problem.”  I would like to respond to both the spoken words and the unspoken messages.

“I only buy humane meat.”  Really?  So when you go out to restaurants, what do you order?  What kind of pizza do you get?  On the road, do you occasionally opt for the convenience of a fast-food restaurant drive-through?  In the grocery store, what choices do you make when buying canned soups or frozen entrees?  Do you always check labels?

“I only buy free-range eggs.”  “I only buy organic milk.”  Ok.  When you go out for breakfast, what do you have?  Do you ever get a pastry at the coffee shop?  Do you ask your barista about the milk in your espresso?  How about an ice cream cone on a summer day?  What about the cheese in your sandwich, taco, or salad?  Grocery shelves are lined with baked, packaged, and processed foods containing egg and milk ingredients.  Is what you buy free-range and organic?  Are you that selective?

These are the types of questions that come to my mind when I hear someone say, “I only buy humane meat, etc.”  My first reaction is, “I’m not sure about that.”  Chances are, you don’t only buy humane meat, etc.  If you truly did, you would be reading labels, asking questions about ingredients, and eating like vegans do nearly all of the time because the vast majority of animal-derived foods do not proclaim to be “humane,” “free-range,” “organic,” ‘”sustainable,” or “grass-fed.”

“But,” you say, “I didn’t mean EVERYTHING I buy is humane/free-range/organic/etc.”  Exactly.  My point is that consistency is lost.  Being true to your own word is meaningless.  Whether you say you “only buy humane meat” because of the animal cruelty videos, the factory farms, your health, the environment, the family farmers or some other reason, please take a critical look at whether you are actually doing it.  If you say you do something, then do it consistently.

My second reaction when I hear “I only buy humane meat, etc” is, “So, what?”  What do labels like “humane,” “free-range,” “organic” (as applied to meat and milk), and “sustainable” really mean?  Do you know?  Do you want to know?  What do you think they mean?  What are you hoping they mean?  Why do you care?

The first answer to the question “What do the labels mean?” is “Not much.”  The second answer is, “It doesn’t matter.”  “Humane” doesn’t matter because unnecessary killing can’t be humane.  “Free-range” doesn’t matter because it’s still slavery.  “Organic milk” doesn’t matter because cow’s milk belongs to baby cows, not humans.  “Grass-fed” doesn’t matter because grass is what the cows would be eating if we would just leave them alone in the first place.

None of these labels matter to me.  Animals should not be the property of humans.  Animals are not things, they are sentient beings. Animals belong to themselves.  They deserve the basic right to live their own lives.  The problem is not “how” we use animals, the problem is “that” we use animals.

When you say “I only eat humane meat, etc,” is that really what you do?  Is that really what you want to do?  Or, are you actually just saying, “Hey look, I’m doing something,” or “I care about the animals, too,” or “I recognize there is a problem.”?  If you indeed want to do something, then act.  If you do care about the animals, then really care.  Go vegan.  If you do recognize there is a problem, then don’t deny it.  Learn more about it, take action, and be consistent.

In closing, being consistent does not make you “radical” or “extreme,” although people who abstain from consuming all animal products are often called these things.  Acting consistently on principle simply shows integrity.  Being consistent demonstrates conviction and the willingness to stand up for something that is important, no matter what.  Consistency in action is necessary for positive change.  Be consistent, yes.  But please leave the animals alone.

I only buy humane meat.  It is 100% plant-derived.  It is humane meat.

(Picture taken while mountain biking in Roslyn, WA, Sept 24, 2011)

"There are those who are appalled because I am so vocal about injustice, yet I am equally appalled by their silence." Lujene Clark

“Every time you purchase animal products you pay assassins to murder sentient beings for you.”

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"My purpose is not to offend you, it is to provoke you to think." Unknown


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