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Small Scale Compassion

Small Scale Compassion

My first-hand experience with slaughter has been on a small scale, as family and community members on St John use my uncle’s butchering skills within the legal limits of the VI Code and the abattoirs on St Thomas. Practices like stunning or controlled atmosphere killing are not common for on-farm slaughter in the VI. At home slaughter are mostly preformed by what is called ritual or religious slaughter or by free bullet.

In my observation, they are performed humanely with the animal’s wellbeing and calm in mind. Because of the small scale of these operations, the people involved tend to know the animals and are fully appreciative of what the animal is giving them. Reading Giedion historic description of the abattoirs in 1800s France, the phrase “bears witness to the care with which each individual animal was treated (Giedion 1948)” made me think of the slaughters I’ve observed. Additionally, the skill of butchering, while not used often, is still looked upon as artisanal in the VI

After reading Phillip’s first lecture this week, I understand that using that word “humane” in regards to animals is a slippery slope because it projects human experiences unto animals (Ackerman-Leist 2014). However to look at the criteria laid before us, the word humane is used quite often in regards to slaughter. In their guidelines for red meat slaughter, Animal Welfare Approved defines humane treatment as “raising animals with kindness, consideration, according to their needs and without cruelty” and makes a point to call slaughtering “harvesting animals with compassion” prior to describing their guidelines (Animal Welfare Approved 2013). The HFAC and GAP’s 5 Step rating system both require facilities to meet the American Meat Institute’s Animal Handling Guidelines which seem more focused the economic benefits of humane treatment of livestock. “Once livestock arrive at packing plants, proper handling procedures are not only important for the animal’s well-being, they can also mean the difference between profit and loss (American Meat Institute Foundation 2013).” While true, it doesn’t quite ring clear of principles like compassion and caring.

If I were to put St John’s home harvests up against these auditory systems, they would fail. Fair enough, as it is a whole other animal (we love puns, apparently!) at a much smaller scale but how do you integrate that compassion and gratitude, for each individual animal, into a larger system? I don’t know the answer but partly, I think, the consumer’s conscience choice to eat less meat altogether may effect change.

Ackerman-Leist, Philip. 2014. Video from our PAL: Animal Welfare, Animal Rights, and Humane. Accessed June 21, 2014.

Animal Welfare Approved. 2013. “Pig Standards.” Accessed June 22, 2014.

American Meat Institute Foundation. 2013. “Recommended Animal Handling Guidelines and Audit Guide: A Systematic Approach to Animal Welfare” Accessed July 21, 2014.

Giedion, Siegfried. 1948. Mechanization Takes Command: A Contribution to Anonymous History. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.

The point you made about eating less meat seems to be the crux of the problem. Because of the supply and demand system, big ag has adopted some unsavory practices to meet the consumer’s desires. Large scale chicken farms and slaughter houses wouldn’t exist if there weren’t consumers to purchase all the goods they produced. They would have no choice but to scale back their operations or see waste eat up their finances. Our culture wouldn’t support this shift though, there are too many invested parties with a lot to lose if as a nation we dramatically decreased our meat consumption. We would see all kinds of commercials enticing consumers to go back to their meat eating ways with commercial like “Beef, It’s What’s for dinner”, government institutions pushing meat consumption in their cafeterias, and I’m sure the farm bill would adjust to encourage individuals on SNAPS to purchase more meat.  “Meat and poultry industry’s economic ripple effect generates $864.2 billion annually to the U.S. economy”, shrinking these industries would cause a terrible financial ripple throughout the whole country even if it would have positive environmental impact (American Meat Institute 2014).

Reference –

American Meat Institute. United States Meat Industry at a Glance. Accessed June 23, 2014.

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