Ethical animal slaughter
Recently I had a very interesting, but somewhat confronting, conversation with my daughter’s 17 year old boyfriend about cattle slaughter supplying budget beef to a major supermarket chain. You see he recently began working at a contract abattoir and on his second day came home distressed and physically ill because of what he witnessed.
Beef isn’t born wrapped in plastic!
Most people don’t really think about the chain of events that occurs prior to the beef (or any meat) product ending up on the supermarket shelf, neatly wrapped in shiny cling wrap, sitting on a hygienic Styrofoam platter. The product is carefully engineered by the supermarket to look nothing like the beast it once was, no images of a happy cow on these packages, because the marketing world simply doesn’t want us thinking too much about where that meat came from, because that might lead to consumers asking too many questions!
The influence of pricing
As consumers, many of us look for the words “On Special” or “Budget Cuts” as the only driver behind the purchase we are about to make. Don’t get me wrong, I get that! Paying in excess of $20/kg for some cuts of beef is outrageous, especially in the context of being a cattle producer who only gets around $2-4/kg for the animal after slaughter. In the business we call this the ‘dressed weight’ of the animal and constitutes the weight after the head, hide and internal organs are removed. But as a consumer the prices of beef can be far higher than this, think of products that are labelled ‘MSA Graded’, ‘Grass Fed’ etc. These prices are always higher because this price implies the quality of the meat is better. But, do you as an individual consumer understand WHY?
Do you know what you are buying?
What most people don’t really understand about MSA beef is that this grading is not simply a reflection of genetics, feed type during the life of the animal, age of the beast and sex of the animal. A large part of the reason why some beef passes MSA grading and some doesn’t is down to how that animal was raised during its lifetime and how it was treated right up to the point of slaughter.
Here’s an example; we have identical twin calves born on to a property. Both have the same genetic makeup, both would be fed the exact same diet during their life, both will be slaughtered on the same day. The only difference between them is that one is treated quietly using ethical management and husbandry techniques as is stipulated under MSA accreditation guidelines for producers. This includes minimal use of dogs for mustering, minimal use of electronic prodding devices, no beating of the animal and the application of techniques that use behaviour to work in our favour when handling the animal.
The other twin would be raised using traditional approaches to animal management. This often means the animal is handled extremely roughly, using electronic cattle prods, biting dogs, being beaten and forced to do what the producer wants among other methods. These two different methods would carry through to the slaughter house.
What is ethical animal husbandry?
The result?? Well the first twin would likely pass the MSA test because it had been raised in a gentle, low stress environment. The second twin however would fail, because the high levels of stress hormones it has produced during a lifetime of rough treatment, ages the animal prematurely and makes the meat tough. It also creates bruising in the meat especially if the beating takes place at the abattoir.
The end result is the second twin would end up being sold as budget cuts and therefore cheaper than its MSA graded twin. Complicating this, is that because of the effects of sex hormones, female cattle are naturally tougher and less likely to grade to MSA standards than their male counterparts. So if you are a heifer or cow, you are likely destined for the budget meat market and this often means that you are treated differently to steers prior to slaughter.
Thinking deeply about our food
This brings me back to the beginning of my story. My daughter’s boyfriend found himself working within an abattoir where the quality of the meat was not a priority. The reality of this means that the treatment of the animal is not important. What is prioritised is the rate of production; the quicker the job is done, the more animals are slaughtered and therefore the quicker a contract can be filled. It is common knowledge within the meat production industry that only certain kinds of people can stomach the job. Killing animals for a living cannot be easy and is known to ‘harden’ individuals and they become immune to animal suffering. Unfortunately a common side effect of this kind of work, is that the animals are beaten, prodded, terrified and terrorised prior to their deaths.
So coming to the point of my story, the next time you buy budget or cheap meat in the supermarket or store, Think about how that animal may have been treated before its death. Think about the many producers (like Jingeri) and abattoirs that prioritise the ethical treatment of the animals in their care. These are the producers and processors who are seeking out accreditation such as MSA. Think about what the supermarkets are not telling you about how they source their product, because hormone free does not necessarily mean that the animal had a good life and was not treated cruelly. When you Think about all of this, ask yourself this question:
‘Do I really want to buy this, just because it is cheap?’