Saturday, March 10, 2007

Modern meat and moral decisions

In yesterday's mail, there was an animal supply catalog. We are on many mailing lists for these things, but I hadn't seen this one before, so I thought I'd give it a once-over before tossing it. Since we do almost all of our own veterinary work, we buy our medications from these catalogs, as well as simpler things like feed pans, collars, and mineral supplements. Seeing that it was a general livestock catalog, I checked the index for goat supplies and turned straight to the first page of that section. After a few minutes of perusing the supplies, I flipped to the page where the goat supplies ended and "implants" started.

Implants? I read the description of the first implants: "Recommended for increased rate of weight gain in suckling and pastured growing steers; improved feed efficiency and increased rate of weight gain in confined steers and heifers." It goes on to tell you exactly what hormones are included in each implant, how much, and how long it lasts. Most of the implants say almost exactly the same thing, but one went on to give us a little more information about exactly how it works:
...which stimulates the pituitary gland to produce increased amounts of somatotropin, the natural chemical substance in cattle that regulates and promotes body growth. Increases average daily gain for greater productivity and shorter time to market. Provides optimal dose for steers fed in confinement for slaughter.
My first response was disgust. Then the left side of my brain wondered why I didn't see this in more livestock supply catalogs. Most farmers -- even small family farms -- think they have to use "modern" practices to make as much money as possible. Of course, those implants do what they promise -- increase profits -- so farmers keep using them. That's why the small farmers also use the patented, genetically modified seeds. I just lo-o-ove the advertisements for modern agricultural products. They all start with, "You're losing profits if you don't use ..."

This catalog will be filed in the recycling bin with all those seed catalogs that require the buyer to sign an affidavit swearing to not save seeds grown this year for planting next year. Of course, those are patented seeds, which have been modified in who-knows-what manner. Modern agriculture frustrates me terribly. Although I have not eaten commercially-raised meat in 18 years, I do still buy flour and sugar, but I buy organic whenever it's available. Unfortunately, now that Big Ag knows how much money they can make in the organic market, they are bringing their unethical, cut-throat practices into the organic market, so one has to research the companies to know what kind of company you are supporting. I think I've blogged about Horizon Organics before, so I won't get into that again, but I quit buying their products when I learned they were bought out by the biggest dairy company in the U.S., which then stretched the organic standards to a disgusting limit to justify their inhumane treatment of cows.

You're probably wondering how a catalog made me this upset. Well, it didn't, not really. What really caused me to lose sleep last night and to hit the computer this morning was that we watched Fast Food Nation last night. That is the most disturbing movie I have ever seen, and it was disturbing on several level. What they show with the cows isn't nearly as bad as what happens to the humans. (Of course, someone with PETA would disagree with that point.) Illegal immigrants are brought in to work in the slaughterhouse for half of what an American would demand, and they have no recourse when they are abused and sexually harassed, because they do not legally exist. They stay because they make far more money than they would make in Mexico, but no one should have to choose between sexual exploitation and extreme poverty. Before I get too carried away, I'll direct you to the Boston Globe, which has an excellent review of the movie.

Between the catalog and the movie, I'm embarrassed to admit that I have non-organic butter in the refrigerator. I wish I had a cream separator so I could make my own butter from our goat milk. I wish I had the money to start a dairy, so that we could provide at least a little more humanely-produced dairy products for the world. Although there is a surplus of dairy products in the U.S., the demand for organic dairy outstrips the supply. People frequently ask if they can buy milk or cheese from us, and I always have to say no, because we are not a certified dairy.

Although the slaughterhouse scenes are disturbing, I know that not everyone in the world is going to become a vegetarian, so the alternative is a more humane system. We take our animals to a small processor the morning they are processed, so they have happy, carefree lives up until the very end. The processor doesn't do thousands of pigs a day. In fact, our pigs are usually the only ones there, so there isn't the intense need to keep the assembly line running at all costs. Can you feed an entire nation like this? Not at our current consumption level, and not if people insist on cheap over ethical. But there are people who want to eat meat, and they will buy humanely-raised meat if it's available. So, that's where we come in.

It seems like such a tiny contribution. It doesn't thrill me, but it makes me feel a little better. When people buy meat from us or from someone else who raised it humanely, they are buying that much less from Big Ag. Hopefully they're telling their friends about it and raising their consciousness, and maybe their friends will start to look for humanely raised meat. It seems like such a tiny contribution -- like pouring a bucket of water into the ocean -- but it's a start.


Michelle at Boulderneigh said...

Well, I'm one of those who chose to become a vegetarian, nearly 30 years ago now. Long live the legume-lovers! (And research shows they do, indeed. :-)

Laura said...

Hi Deborah, I share your frustration. Thanks for sharing this post - it's well-written and I do plan to pass it around to friends. My sibs and I have a contract to buy the currently-conventional family farm and are researching sustainable methods for when it's in our hands. My sis (who'll run it) is seriously looking into raising grass-fed organic beef. Good to hear from you, and carry on with your good work.



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