Why It Is Ethical To Eat Meat

This entry is part 4 of 47 in the series Blog1

A hayride brought me to a greater realization that eating meat is an ethical thing to do and is good for animals in the long run.

Several years ago my wife heard about an elk feeding hayride near Cascade, Idaho. This sounded like a different thing to do so we reserved a spot.

As the hayride began, the guide explained that he was a small farmer who was concerned about the elk starving to death in the hard winter in mountainous Idaho. He started by feeding elk that came upon his land. He later expanded on this by offering hayrides and using the money from that and donations to go to the elk to feed more of them when food was so difficult for them to find in the winter.

My wife and I, along with a couple dozen others, then proceeded into the forest on the horse-powered haywagon. We soon arrived in a clearing where we were treated to a terrific view of about 30 elk of various ages standing in the snow. After absorbing the beauty of the gathered creatures I began to feel sorry for them.  There they were half starved and freezing – a situation they would have to endure for another three months.

As the guide distributed hay to them, which they eagerly consumed, it dawned on me how much better is the life of most of our domestic animals that we consume for food. I thought back to my high school days when I regularly visited a friend who used to milk cows as one of his chores. He and his dad gave the cows names.  He pointed to one that was named after a high school athlete.  I had to admit there was a resemblance. I went on to raise some chickens and pigs and understood how you can get attached to farm animals as they all have their distinct personalities. You want to make sure they are well fed and happy.

While the life of a farm animal is far from perfect, I would bet that those starving elk would give anything to have all the food they need and the shelter of a barn in the freezing winter. Nature is wonderful in what she has accomplished, but she sometimes needs a little help.  Animals in the wild often go through enormous suffering by freezing, starving, being burned alive in forest fires or torn apart by the claws of a predator.

Farm animals have it much better when cared for by responsible farmers. They live their lives in more comfort and peace than animals in the wild, with only one downside in the whole of their existence – that moment when they are killed for food. But since they have no anticipation of that event the quality of their lives is consistent, except for a final moment.

Now some may argue that many farm animals are abused, especially on large farms. Activists circulate videos that make it look like farmers gleefully torture the animals which are so ill and disfigured that eating them seems repulsive. Yes, it is true there is some abuse, especially where mass production for the cheapest price is the goal but the picture as a whole is distorted by the activists.

I live in Idaho, was once a foreman at a meat packing plant, and have known and visited many Idaho farmers and have never witnessed abuse even close to the activist’s films one sees on youtube.  In the plant in which I worked the cattle were killed almost instantly by a bullet-like projectile to the head. They suffered little or no pain.

Small farmers I have known throughout my life have taken good care of all their farm animals.  They depend on them for their livelihood and are usually concerned about their health and well-being.

Giant farms where the decision makers have little hands on interplay with the animals and are only concerned with the bottom line do most of the abuse that we witness today. Where abuse is found, pressure should indeed be applied to insure humane treatment of the animals.

The good thing is that consumers do not have to wait for better laws or reform but can take matters into their own hands by making sure the meat they buy is from animals well treated.

Most of the beef I personally buy is raised locally without hormones and grass fed by small farmers.  When I purchase eggs or chicken I always look for “cage free” or “free range” on the label.  I buy local eggs raised by small farmers whoever possible.  I don’t drink much milk but what I buy is organic.  In addition to being safer to drink the cows in organic farms are usually well cared for.

In other words, the money I spend on animal products doesn’t go toward anyone who is likely to abuse the animals or give them tightly caged and overcrowded existence.  It costs a little more money but it is money well spent. We get nutritious good tasting meat, milk and eggs and support a more humane existence for the animals in the process.

Some may say that they cannot afford quality meat products as they often cost twice as much in the stores, but there is a way around this.  Check Craig’s List for a local small farmer who wants to sell a beef, pig or lamb. If you buy a half beef (go in with a friend if necessary) you’ll get quality meat cheaper than you can buy the worst quality of mass-produced commingled beef in the market. Also check Craig’s list for eggs. There is a good chance you can find a local supply of free-range eggs for about half the store cost.

An increasing number of people are coming around to this more natural way of thinking.  Not only are whole food markets expanding but orthodox grocery stores are increasingly supplying more animal products derived from humane conditions.

So we have gone from a time when most animals were raised with care in small farms to where many were raised carelessly in large commercial farms and now swinging back toward pressuring all farmers to treat farm animals humanely having some empathy for their well being.

I believe the trend toward more humane treatment will continue to the point that in the next generation farm animals will be treated even better than they were by small farmers of old.

A lot of animal lovers seem to have the mistaken idea that animals in the wild live in this Eden-like paradise where they roam free and are happy and contented. On the contrary, they have many problems absent from well cared for farm animals.

(1) Death. The death of farm animals is usually very quick with only seconds of suffering.  On the other hand, animals in the wild are often eaten alive and torn limb from limb in an agonizing death in the process. Many others are burned alive in forest fires.

(2) Health care.  I looked out my back window a while back and saw a deer hobbling about.  He had a broken leg and was severely handicapped. After he took off back to the foothills I tried to imagine his fate.  I supposed that he wouldn’t live long in the wild with that handicap and would die a slow agonizing death.  On the other hand, if a farm animal is injured it doesn’t have to endure such suffering.  It either gets medical attention or mercifully and quickly put out of his misery.

(3) Hunger. Animals in the wild spend a good portion of their existence hungry and often face near starvation or freezing to death in the winter.  On the other hand, most farm animals in all types of farms are usually well fed and sheltered.

(4) Fear.  Animals in the wild live in constant fear of predators or starvation. Reasonably cared for farm animals do not fear humans or animal predators.

We take good care of cats, dogs, horses and some other animals because they make good pets and enhance love and companionship.  Because pets supply human needs other than food there is little concern for their survival.  They need not fear perishing in the wild for humans will always be available to care for them.

On the other hand, if we all became vegetarians tomorrow humans would immediately lose their incentive to care for animals that provide food. Cattle, for instance, offer very few benefits as pets and are a lot of work and expense to care for. If we didn’t get milk or meat from them all incentive to care for them would be gone and millions of these animals would immediately be on the path to starvation.  Within a couple years after humans switched to a vegetarian diet, cattle, pigs, sheep, goats and chickens would be on the road to extinction.

If all humanity went vegetarian tomorrow, billions of potential farm animals would have no opportunity for existence.  Is that what we want? No animal lover wants such a thing but at the same time many think everyone should be vegetarians which would lead to the danger of extinction which they do not want.

A fact of life must be faced which is this.  Creating a desirable end sometime requires us to get our hands dirty as we work toward it. The only way farm animals can thrive in the present as species is to be a food source for humans. If we were to no longer need them then we would no longer feed them or breed them and if the species survived at all it would be in zoos or special preserves.

The principle of survival through being needed was illustrated very well in a Sixty Minutes special by host Laura Logan on Jan 29, 2012 appropriately called, “Can hunting endangered animals save the species?”

This was a fascinating story and even though Laura was repulsed by the idea of hunting endangered animals she had to admit the numbers testified that hunters were saving numerous endangered species.

The problem has been that many exotic animal species in Africa, Asia and Europe have been on the verge of extinction – such as the scimitar horned oryx, the addax, the dama gazelle, the cape buffalo and others. A handful of benevolent people have attempted to save them but altruism was not motivation enough to get the job done.  It wasn’t until these animals were imported to ranches in the United States with about 10% of them being offered to hunters that the money became available to sustain and increase their numbers. 10% are sacrificed that the rest of the species may live and prosper. Actually much more than 10% of most species are killed naturally in the wild so this seems a good trade.

In Texas alone more than a quarter million exotic wildlife from Asia, Africa, Europe roam on ranches, more than any other place on earth.  Their escape from extinction and survival is owed to their value to hunters.

Even though statistics tell us that many exotic animals are being saved through these hunting ranches many animal rights people are not happy.

Priscilla Feral is president of Friends of Animals and has been doing everything in her power to shut down these hunting ranches. Her group only wants the exotic animals to live in their native lands and not in the United States at all, especially if a portion of them are made available to hunters.

Laura asks her: “You would rather they not exist at all?”

Feral: “Not in Texas, no.”

It sounds to me like she and her supporters would rather see the 125 exotic species being saved on hunting ranches in the United States go into extinction rather than be made available to hunters. If that isn’t cutting off your nose to spite your face, I don’t know what is.

Ms Feral’s idea of saving animals by altruism doesn’t go nearly as far as ranches getting up to $50,000 per animal from hunters. It turns out that hunters are willing to fork over much more money to preserve species than the animal rights people.

What appears to be a very workable program for these animals may be coming to an end thanks to people like Feral. Thanks to her influence the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is instituting bans on the hunting of some of the animals, with perhaps more to come. The rancher interviewed thinks the population of the banned animals could be reduced 50% in five years and may go extinct in a decade.

How could someone who claims to love animals and want what’s best for them support a move that could drive them to extinction in such a short period?

Strange indeed.

It is also very strange that many vegetarians who claim to not eat meat because they love animals want no one to eat meat.  Do they not realize that if they got their way that there would be no one to care for the millions of farm animals that supply us with food? They would all (but a few in zoos) be slaughtered or starve to death for who would take care of them?

Do we really want these beautiful animals to waste away and disappear?

Because we eat meat and meat products the world has a thriving population of farm animals that have an opportunity at life that would be missed if not for meat eaters. Let us hope that they will thrive in increasingly humane conditions as we move forward in our relationship with the animal kingdom and mother Earth.


Copyright 2012 by J J Dewey


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  1. If you wrote an article about life we’d all reach enihlgetnment.

  2. Richard Ruquist PhD says:

    Most of the meat we all eat comes from corporate animal farms, hardly the idyllic conditions you describe.

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