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Deconstructing the Myth

This article demonstrates the rapid progression of the humane myth phenomenon, and raises troubling questions about the long-term consequences of some animal advocacy organizations, including sanctuaries, involving themselves in the development and promotion of alternative "humane" animal products.

In reading this article, ask yourself, who are being presented as the brave nonconformists confronting the dishonesty and abuse of the animal-using industries? Who are being presented as the ones who understand the animals, the people struggling to give them a good life? Who are being presented as the "rescuers"?

Not animal sanctuary founders. Not animal rights activists. Not vegans. No, in this article, the "humane" farmers are the champions for the animals, the ones exposing industry abuse, and doing the right thing.

The author of this article, a former vegetarian himself, admits to being disoriented by the fact that this new style of farm so closely resembles the Disney-esque image of Old MacDonald's farm. The scenery is charming, the animals look healthy and relaxed, even "pampered." And they have names. Indeed, if you are not paying close attention, you could be lulled into thinking you are reading a story about animal sanctuaries.

In fact, three times in this article, reference is made to the resemblance between these farms and "rescue operations." The author even goes so far as to describe a farmer's practice of buying calves at auction, to raise and then kill, as the calves being "rescued from a system that is in dire need of an overhaul." In this way, these animals who will soon enough be forced to die the same as all the others die, with a knife to the throat, are deemed "lucky."

Is this co-mingling of the identity of animal sanctuaries and "humane farms" a mere coincidence? Or is it part of an ever expanding trend, a natural consequence of some animal advocacy groups purposely co-mingling their language and identity with the "progressive" side of the animal-using industries? By endorsing "humane"animal products, by inviting "humane" farmers to speak at animal advocacy conferences, and by proclaiming that products such as rose veal are "revolutionary," by publishing lists of restaurants that serve the "right" kind of animal products, have animal groups themselves created such a level of confusion that the general public can no longer distinguish animal advocates from animal users?

What does it mean when there is a growing trend of news stories about vegetarians going back to eating meat, or vegans becoming butchers, or, in the case of this article, former animal rights activists getting involved in the business of using and killing animals?

The author pointedly notes how each Thanksgiving, people drive over 100 miles to one of these farms so they can visit with the animals, walk around and take in the fresh country air, and before leaving, pay an exorbitant fee for the carcass of a dead turkey to accompany them on the drive home. For all but the last step, doesn't this bear a troubling resemblance to a typical visit to a farm animal sanctuary?

Public relations experts understand that identity is priceless. Fierce lawsuits are regularly waged to protect brands and trademarks. An established identity has the greatest value of all -- value that can be traded or sold outright. Is it fair to say that some animal advocacy organizations have traded away the identity of the animal advocacy movement, gaining mainstream credibility, members, and donation dollars in exchange for giving the animal-using industry a license to appropriate the imagery, language, and arguments that once defined animal rights?

When people who methodically kill animals for profit year after year can speak with such romance about "giving the animals what they want," and looking into their eyes which are "right out of Disney" -- when they do this and no animal organizations step forward to challenge them, does this not demonstrate the crippling effects of conflict of interest?

How can some animal groups involve themselves with the animal-using industries and at the same time, hope to have any credibility when they claim that the use and killing of animals is wrong?

"One needs to be slow to form convictions, but once formed they must be defended against the heaviest odds."



Photo by Catherine Ledner

Guess Who's Coming As Dinner?

Is the blurring of the identity of animal sanctuaries and "humane farms" a natural consequence of animal advocacy groups purposely co-mingling their language with that of the "progressive" side of the animal-using industries?

Source: GOOD MAGAZINE by Peter Rubin   Feb 2008  
Click here for direct link to source

It's not enough anymore to glance at the "antibiotic-free" sticker and dig in. People want to know that their dinner roamed free in a shady pasture, slept on a pillowy bed of hay, lived a happy life, and died a noble death. And then they want to eat.


What justifies the cost? Well, for one thing, they can walk around (and kibitz) freely. They eat organic feed grown locally by a nearby farmer, not institutional meal that contains the bone and feathers of other dead turkeys. At night, they sleep on ever-refreshed hay, the lower layers of which compost to create warm sleeping berths even in the dead of winter. Oh, and they can mate. Turkey fun fact: Factory-farmed turkeys in the United States have been bred to have so much breast meat that they can't reproduce without artificial insemination. The process, to read the accounts of those who have worked "AI" at turkey farms, is Hobbesianly nasty, brutish, and short. But when Alward and Turc left Wall Street jobs four years ago to buy an abandoned farm, they did it because they wanted to raise little old ladies, not top-heavy butterballs. And on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving--the busiest traffic day of the year--seven people drove up from Brooklyn to buy Veritas Farms turkeys, then turned right around and drove the 100 miles home.


The thing is, we're not talking about something merely "organic," and its attendant connotations of happy animals. As the organic-foods industry has exploded in recent years, some producers have resorted to streamlining methods that puncture the bucolic fantasy--organic dairy company Horizon, for example, had more than $300 million in sales last year, and is notorious for maintaining farms with thousands of cows that are confined to dry lots. More than organic, the small-farm movement is humane. It's animals are free-range, grass-fed, patiently raised; artisanal meats, resurrected from nearly extinct breeds. It can be expensive. And at farmer's markets, health-food stores, and restaurants everywhere, we're making the choice to spend a little more to eat--and feel--a lot better.

The instinct, perhaps, is to call these animals "pampered,"


And that, more than anything, is the divide;the small farmers who are determining the future of meat in this country recognize the need to preserve the animal's way of life. Thus, farms like Veritas, which go to great lengths to give their animals the life they were born for. At times, the farms can seem like rescue operations.

What do the animals want to do the most? What are their natural desires, and can I fulfill [their desires] and grow them for food at the same time?

Paul Alward grew up working on a variety of farms in eastern Massachusetts, and as a child was so disturbed by the veal industry that he stopped eating veal at age 10. Dairy farmers have no use for male calves, so they auction off 3-day-olds--for $3 to $6 dollars a head--to veal facilities that crate and force-feed the calves until slaughtering time. Today, he goes to auction every year and brings home five or 10 calves; he and Turco bottle-feed them twice a day, then raise them on grass for two years or more, until they're old enough to be sold to beef farmers. They're not heritage breeds, like the 35 Devon and Scottish Highland cows at Veritas; they're just regular Jerseys and Holsteines lucky enough to be rescued from a system that is in dire need of an overhaul.

Turco walks me through an open barn that is essentially a rec center for laying hens (Veritas only raises meat poultry seasonally), into a sheltered side area with open stalls for the calves, who wander in intermittently from outside. One walks over to us. "Hi, Bandi," Turco says. "This is Bandar, like Bandar bin Sultan"--the former Saudi ambassador to the United States. "Just look at him. Very princely." Bandi nuzzles her sleeve in response. "Those eyes," she murmurs. "It's like something out of Disney, right?"


And surprisingly, Alward and Turco claim that a full 10 percent of their clientele are converted vegetarians and vegans who figure that eating clean meat does more to change the factory-farming industry than eating imported tofu with a carbon footprint of who knows what. "They'll say, 'I haven't eaten meat since 1968,'" Alward says with a laugh. "I'm like, 'I hope it lives up to your expectations.'"

People are clearly attuned by now to the concepts of antibiotic-free meat, of organic feed, of the ecological benefits of eating locally grown products. But perhaps more than anything, it's the humane treatment and slaughter of the animals that brings people to these small producers. "My customers ask me all the time how the animals are handled," says Glos. "I don't see the point of treating an animal really well its whole life, only to be abusive at the end. Those are some of the most important moments of their life, and it should be as calm and humane and quick and as skillful as possible."


D'Artagnan, a Newark, New Jersey-based company that is one of the pioneers of humanely raised meats, sends its pigs to a facility in Illinois that uses a low-stress system based on sequestering pre-slaughter pigs in a set of slowly revolving doors. "This is the first time ever I saw pigs being killed and not shrieking, because they didn't realize it," says Ariane Daguin, a co-founder and the president of D'Artagnan. "There is no reason you should be brutal to animals when you don't have to. It will bring bruises; it will bring adrenaline and bad hormones in the muscles." Stress can hasten the release of epinephrine and norepinephrine into the animal's bloodstream, which can result in a buildup of lactic acid, causing the meat to acidify too quickly after slaughter. It can result in meat that is pale and exudative.


To hear Ariane Daguin tell it, though, my return to the fold was preordained. "That's why they are here on Earth," she says in a French accent that betrays her native Gascony. "If you believe there is a God, and you taste a very good meat, there is no way that this animal was made with that taste so that it could live without us tasting it." When she and her partner George Faison founded the company in 1985 (she has since bought out his share), it was to bring foie gras production to the United States, but they immediately branched into game and free-range chicken. "The only thing I knew from my region of France," she says, "was that to have something tasty on the plate, you need to raise the animals really well, with natural food, with plenty of space, with fresh air, with pure water." (D'Artagnan raises ducks for foie gras, a process whose humaneness is marred by two weeks of force-feeding, which put her at the center of a brouhaha in 2005 concerning the banning of foie gras in New York City.)

For those small farms who choose to keep their cows totally grass-fed, it's as much an issue of zoological authenticity as taste. Glos speaks of "a natural lifestyle." "It's a funny way to put it," she allows, "but it's about making sure that they can perform the activities that they would naturally want to perform. What drives a pig is they want to root. That's a pig's favorite thing in the world. What drives a cow is to graze, so they should always be on grass. What drives a chicken is to scratch and peck, so they should be able to do that. So when I'm setting up housing, that's the question: What do they want to do the most? What are their natural desires, and can I fulfill [their desires] and grow them for food at the same time?"


It can sound oxymoronic: raising animals with such care, only to dispatch them after a determined amount of time. And in Glos's case, it's doubly so. She was a vegan and PETA activist in her younger days, and didn't actually eat meat until she began farming it herself. "I made profound leaps in understanding," she writes on the farm's website, "when I stayed up all night to help a tired sow deliver piglets in to the world...and when I killed my first chicken, by my hand, for my food." To slaughter animals that you raised yourself, to send Bandi to a beef farmer, involves some serious self-evaluation and preparation. "You're on the floor," Stephanie Turco says of the days their rescued veal calves leave the farm. "It puts you in a very different place."

As we continue to walk around Veritas, Turco disappears momentarily into the barn. When she reappears, she places two warm objects in my hand: eggs. As if on cue, a rooster standing near us crows. As she describes the sight of a cow lying under a shade tree with three chickens on its back, eating flies, her earlier comment about Disney echoes in my head. When I was child, this was my impression of where animals came from: peacefully coexisting, calm, clean. Somewhere along the way, as I grew older, I dismissed that idea as a fantasy, as a...Disney ideal, I suppose. So to see it now, exactly as a child would describe it, is jarring. I mention as much to Turco.

"That's not an accident," she says. "Why is it that we see photographs of all kinds of other things, but we never ever see how animals are raised? They don't want you to see. I'm not a crazy conspiracy theorist, but they really don't want you to see it. Nobody could eat it if they saw."

She's absolutely right. But after visiting Veritas, the opposite also holds true. That night, my wife and I eat an early dinner at the same restaurant where I'd taken a bite of her steak the year before. This time, I order one of my own. It's a locally grown flat iron. It's neither pale nor exudative. It's slightly gamey, my wife says, but it tastes clean to me. I've seen its life. I respect its death. And I feel okay.

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