NEWS2U Health & Wellness
Living Healthy in an Unhealthy World

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Gourmet Slaughter the Solution to Factory Farming?

By Martha Rosenberg

It seems like the more you know about how your meat became meat, the less you want to it eat.

This week Tyson foods, the nation's second largest poultry producer and major supplier to KFC, again made the hall of shame for undercover videos from its Georgia and Tennessee slaughterhouses depicting workers urinating in animal holding areas and a supervisor telling a worker that it was acceptable to rip the heads off live chickens.

Only five years ago Tyson was in the doghouse when Virgil Butler who worked as a live hanger on the kill floor at the Grannis, AK poultry slaughterhouse for five years documented similar activities, some of which Tyson had to confirm.

Undercover videos also implicated North Carolina turkey producer House of Raeford this fall revealing workers holding birds under truck wheels to be crushed and inserting their fingers into birds' cloacae or vaginal cavities to remove eggs and throw them at each other. Customer Denny's promptly dropped the supplier.

Nor does it help that fourteen pork slaughterhouse workers from Indiana and Minnesota developed a mysterious illness first believed to be chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy in December and January from working with air-compression systems that "blow brains out of pig heads during processing" according to the Star Tribune.

Which does more harm to the meat industry? The image of workers using compressed air hoses inserted into the pig's skull cavity to pulverize the brain matter and push it out the snout or the base of the skull? Or the fact that the workers who breathed the atomized "brain mist" were rushed to the Mayo Clinic and no diagnosis has been made even yet?

Bon appetit!

No wonder gourmet chefs like UK's Jamie Oliver want to take things into their own hands literally and figuratively. In January, four million viewers watched Oliver kill a chicken on TV to teach lessons about humane animal husbandry and slaughter."

A chicken is a living thing, an animal with a life cycle, and we shouldn't expect it should cost less than a pint of beer in a pub," he told the TV audience. "It only costs a bit more to give a chicken a natural life and a reasonably pleasant death."

Oliver also shoved birds into cramped "battery cages" to show viewers how they are normally raised, demonstrated how unwanted male chicks are suffocated on egg farms and showed a computer-altered video of himself as a baby growing at the grotesque rate of modern chickens.

Oliver's "gourmet slaughter" demonstration and lesson in factory farming had an immediate impact and UK super markets quickly sold out of free range eggs and chickens after the show.

His popularity ratings probably also went up.

But his stunt and those of other celebrity chefs raises new questions.

Are we squeamish compared to places like China where, "No one thinks anything of skinning frogs and rabbits while they're still alive," according to food writer Fuchsia Dunlop, "[because t]here isn't a sense there that you're killing an animal, it's simply that you are preparing an ingredient for the table"? Or are we just evolved considering our own past of public hangings, burnings at the stake and bear baiting?

Many eat meat because the animal is "already dead." But where do responsibilities lie when it isn't already dead but actually has the eater's hand print on it? Especially when the animals, like tame pigs, are marching toward slaughter only because "they trust you," as chef Tamara Murphy of Brasa in Seattle recounts about animals she raised.

There is also the question of why. Since most nutritionists say meat is unnecessary and only a rare few that it's good or even required for health, the animal is really only killed because it tastes good. Which is no more ethically advanced than the unvarnished I-Want-It-and-I-Can-Take-It of classic colonialism or extraction industries. And makes gourmet slaughter look less like honesty than... caprice and self indulgence.