Michael Eades talks about the implications of humans eating animals with regards to:
- The symbiotic relationship created therein (i.e. there are more cows because humans like eating them – similar to trees and paper)
- Relativistic comparisons between the humane harvesting of animals via slaughterhouses and the normal way millions of animals die every day in the wild — i.e. natural causes like a hawk tearing the lung of a crow and the crow dying of asphyxiation or lions causing an elephant to suffocate, etc.
- Cortisol’s (stress hormone) meat-ruining impact incentivizing slaughterhouses to be humane, not stressing out the animals.
It’s a thought-provoking, well-written piece. The book referenced is one I should probably add to my wish list.
Here’s a snippet:
When animals (ourselves included) are stressed, they release cortisol, a hormone that looms large in the fight or flight response. This cortisol can be measured and used as an indicator of stress. Cattle are minimally tamed animals. They are by nature skittish. They don’t take well to being handled and, in fact, don’t really like to have people around. Dr. Grandin has taken cortisol samples from animals just standing around the farm with people within view and discovered that they have a slightly elevated cortisol levels. When she tests animals in properly designed slaughterhouses right as they reach the final station, she finds that they have similar cortisol levels as animals standing in the barnyard with humans present. In other words, a little stress, but not a lot.
I can pretty much assure anyone that these animals meet their deaths in today’s slaughterhouses with orders of magnitude less stress than they would were they living in the wild and being preyed upon by large carnivores. In fact, had they been living in the wild, they wouldn’t exist today. They would have been relegated to the long list of animals that have become extinct.
Let’s consider cattle. Cows are large, fairly placid, relatively slow, and exceptionally stupid. They are also uncommonly good to eat. All these facts taken together make it clear why cattle are still with us. (It also reminds me of a great and very true statement I heard once but can’t remember where: ‘If you want to preserve the American bald eagle, all you’ve got to do is make ‘em good to eat, and before long, you’ll be overrun with them.’) And not just a few specimens in zoos, but by the millions roaming pastures the world over. Cattle, unlike other wild animals, allowed themselves to be domesticated. Humans complied and domesticated them. A covenant arose between humans and cattle in which we provided for them and they for us. We kept them safe and allowed them to breed and survive as a species; they provided us with meat in return. It’s been a great bargain for all sides. Although any individual steer trudging off to slaughter may not see it this way, the covenant has been a godsend for the breed, which has grown and prospered. There is a wonderful book titled The Covenant of the Wild detailing this animal-man symbiotic relationship that should be on everyone’s bookshelf, especially anyone’s who doesn’t feel right about eating meat or who is being relentlessly hounded by vegetarian friends or family. Although it’s never pleasant to think of animals being put to death so that we can eat them, it is reassuring to know that it is done as stresslessly as possible. If done right, with almost no stress at all. If, however, the PETA folks had their way, these animals would be turned away from the slaughterhouse doors and sent to live out their days peacefully on lush pastures somewhere.
If this vegan fantasy came to pass, what would happen to these cattle? Would their deaths be more or less stressful than at the hands of their human handlers? You probably know the answer, but let’s take a look. And, remember, not for the squeamish.