why there is no such thing as humane slaughter

Advocates of eating animal flesh often ask me, "Well, what if the animal is raised and slaughtered humanely?" Besides that fact that the notion of "humane slaughter" is at odds with the physiological reality of concussing, electrocuting, slashing open the veins of, and/or decapitating an animal, the idea that one can be "humane" while killing for profit is self-contradictory.

I stumbled across a perfect illustration of this today in an article about Joel Salatin, an advocate for local production of flesh foods who's gotten somewhat famous after being featured in Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma and in the documentaries Food, Inc. and Fresh:

“If we continue to look at these beautiful turkeys the way we do, just as a protoplasmic mass that can be put into any food product,” he says, “it won’t be long until we look at people, and especially people from other cultures, the same way.”

Walking away from the turkeys, a reporter and the film crew in tow, he says, almost casually, “This is the first time in human history where people can have no real connection, or relationship, with their natural ecology.”

It’s an observation that hits like a thunderbolt. The reason a trip to a real farm can be so jarring is that it challenges the way we are used to confronting our food, which typically involves walking past rows of brightly packaged jars and boxes— often featuring faces of cartoon characters— or hovering over displays of neatly packaged meats, without ever thinking about how they got there.

“It must be sad when it comes time to slaughter them,” says Boston-based film producer Paul Dewey, who was clearly moved by Salatin’s speech about his beautiful turkeys.

“Nooooo, that’s payday,” says Salatin. “Are you sad when you get a bonus?”

It is sad indeed if we look at sentient beings as "just as a protoplasmic mass that can be put into any food product". But it is no less sad if we look at them as a "payday"!

Salatin mentions the influence that how we think about animals has on how we think about people, but doesn't follow through. If killing turkeys isn't sad but "payday", what does this prepare us to do about exploiting humans when profit is involved?

Consider the words of Edgar Kupfer-Koberwitz, who became a vegetarian while imprisoned in Dachau: "I think that men will be killed and tortured as long as animals are killed and tortured. So long there will be wars too. Because killing must be trained and perfected on smaller objects, morally and technically."

It makes no difference to the turkeys whether their dead bodies are roasted whole or processed into paste, even less than it matters to me whether my corpse will be buried or cremated. Respect for the corpse is a very poor substitute for respect for the being. Both I and the turkeys would rather live out our natural lives -- nothing that fails to respect that, regardless of how we might be killed or what happens to the corpse afterward, is humane.

(Good site about the "humane myth" here.)

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A reformulation: humanely raised and *then* slaughtered

From what I understand of Salatin's philosophy, when he says “If we continue to look at these beautiful turkeys the way we do, just as a protoplasmic mass that can be put into any food product..." he means that a turkey needs to be raised in accordance with it's needs. My impression is that along with this, the thinking is that suffering for the turkey is minimized while it's alive. To what degree is this possible? Let's say for the sake of argument that this is actually possible so that we can move on to the issue of slaughtering.

"humane slaughter"? I'm not sure what that means for certain.
I suppose the "horribleness" of a slaughter could be mapped to a 2D space, where "intent to inflict suffering" by the slaughterer lays on one axis, and "capacity to suffer" by the victim is laid out on another axis. In one quadrant of the space would be a region of extreme suffering for the most sentient creatures, where the dread of knowledge of their eventual death is proceeded by what amounts to sadistic torture. At the diametrically opposed quadrant of the space, there is the instantaneous and painless death of something with vanishingly little awareness or capacity to suffer. The remaining two quadrants are interpolations of the above scenario, thereof...

Is this an acceptable description of the problem? If not, what is?

PS I put "horribleness" in quotes not to downplay the seriousness of the matter, but rather to designate it as the (x,y) coordinate in the space I attempt to describe, above.

the needs of a turkey

he means that a turkey needs to be raised in accordance with it's needs.

Primary of those needs, of course, is not to have its head lopped off. If we don't recognize that need, everything else is a cruel joke, meaningless.

Tom Swiss - proprietor, unreasonable.org

"Primary of those needs, of

"Primary of those needs, of course, is not to have its head lopped off. If we don't recognize that need, everything else is a cruel joke, meaningless."

The turkey's biological imperative is to reproduce and perpetuate its germ line as effectively as possible - for Salatin, this means animals are raised according to their biological needs.

You could argue that turkeys on Salatin's farm aren't being *stressed enoungh* according to their evolved adaptations, and are thus being done a disservice due to the obvious lack of opportunistic predators in a captive environment removing the less fit from the gene pool (ie before reproductive fitness is realized).

Beyond that, the risk of projecting meaning where perhaps there is none seems apparent.

biological needs

The turkey's biological imperative is to reproduce and perpetuate its germ line as effectively as possible - for Salatin, this means animals are raised according to their biological needs.

That's also your and my biological imperative. We come from a long line of ancestors that reproduced and perpetuated their germ line. As the joke goes, sex is hereditary -- if your parents didn't have it, odds are you won't either.

But if we treated human beings as if biological reproduction was their only need, and failed to recognize them as sentient beings, that would be a grave error. "All right, Mr. Jones, we see you've had a son and he's survived to grow up enough to fend for himself. Your needs have been met. Off with your head!"

To be trapped in ethical anthrocentrism and think that humans are the only beings with needs beyond reproduction, is also a grave error.

Tom Swiss - proprietor, unreasonable.org

Grave errors

"To be trapped in ethical anthrocentrism and think that humans are the only beings with needs beyond reproduction, is also a grave error."

Can you elaborate?

I don't mean to belabor semantics, but I see the issue of survival beyond reproduction to be a "want" rather than a "need", for humans. Indeed, we can predict and imagine our own deaths, which is part human suffering. Do turkeys experience the suffering of self-awareness? Do turkeys yearn for immortality? Though I could be wrong, I suspect they don't. I don't mean to present a false dilemma, either... pretty sure sentience, consciousness, whatever we should choose to call it, exists along a continuum; However, it seems safe to say that a turkey resides closer to the "dim" end of the spectrum than the African Grey parrot, the dolphin, a bonobo, or human. If not, replace "turkey" below with a dimmer creature of your choosing.

Without self-awareness, the turkey, like all creatures possesses an innate, immediate impulse to survive at all costs... that, we can all appreciate.

"All right, Mr. Jones, we see you've had a son and he's survived to grow up enough to fend for himself. Your needs have been met. Off with your head!"

Mr. Jones would likely react in terror and unimaginably painful dread if he were still in possession of his faculties: he would experience the horror of understanding that he would be killed, that he would cease to exist, and he could do nothing to change his fate.

But without self-awareness, without a neocortex, how much suffering can a turkey experience if it's otherwise well cared for up until the moment of beheading?
It could die in fear and pain of course, and unfortunately, there are plenty of cases where desensitized psychopaths do this sort of thing to animals destined for slaughter, but if the turkey can be killed without incurring suffering... well, then what? I'm sort of without a compass at this point, because I'm not certain what the grave error you refer to might be.

re: Grave errors

Indeed, we can predict and imagine our own deaths, which is part human suffering.

But not all humans can do this. Young children, or the severely mentally retarded or mentally ill, cannot predict and imagine their own deaths. Does this make it okay to kill them in order to advance our own interests, if it's done "humanely"? Note that I'm talking about killing to advance our own interests; euthanasia, killing that is in the victim's (projected) interest, is a whole 'nuther can of worms.

Do turkeys experience the suffering of self-awareness? Do turkeys yearn for immortality?

Yearn for immortality, no, but any member of a species with complex social behaviors has some form of self-awareness. Turkeys are more complex and more intelligent beings than most people recognize, as are chickens.

Of course we cannot know for sure how conscious or self-aware members of other species are. But then, we cannot know for sure how conscious or self-aware members of our own species are. (Perhaps I'm the only conscious being and all the rest of you are clever automatons, "dark" inside. Of course I don't really believe that, but I don't know for sure -- I can only guess, based on the behavior you exhibit.)

I don't mean to present a false dilemma, either... pretty sure sentience, consciousness, whatever we should choose to call it, exists along a continuum; However, it seems safe to say that a turkey resides closer to the "dim" end of the spectrum than the African Grey parrot, the dolphin, a bonobo, or human.

Sure, there's a continuum, and (on average) turkeys are at the dimmer end than humans. So what? There's a continuum within each species; if the Dalai Lama or Shakespeare or whoever you think is a really wise person, is more "conscious" than the rest of us, does that grant them some right to snuff us for his or her benefit? Do we have the right to slaughter children whose "light" hasn't come all the way on yet, or the mentally handicapped who are "dimmer" than us? I trust you agree that we do not!

It's only where you get down to the level that there's no "light" of consciousness at all, that we can consider an organism as solely an object and not a subject -- to extend the original metaphor, as a "payday" existing solely for our benefit, and not as an "employee" with interests of his/her/its own.

Where's that line? Again, without telepathy we can't be completely sure. But based on behavior and neurological complexity, I'd certainly have to include all the vertebrates on the "lit" side, as well as octopus and squid. Clams and oysters, probably not -- they're basically a muscle and a digestive system, not a lot of neurological or behavioral complexity. Singer says "somewhere between a shrimp and an oyster seems as good a place to draw the line as any, and better than most" [_Animal Liberation_, the 1975 Avon/Discus edition, p. 179], and I'd more or less agree with that; but having no need, no justification other than my own pleasure (if I took pleasure in eating them, which I never did), to disturb the clams and oysters, I figure I might as well be generous and let them be.

Mr. Jones would likely react in terror and unimaginably painful dread if he were still in possession of his faculties: he would experience the horror of understanding that he would be killed, that he would cease to exist, and he could do nothing to change his fate.

So would it be acceptable then if he were not in possession of his faculties, if he were humanely killed while he was sleeping? Would it be okay if he shot by a skilled sniper without warning? No fear, no pain, just walking down the street and bam! Clean headshot and Mr. Jones ceases to be.

but if the turkey can be killed without incurring suffering... well, then what? I'm sort of without a compass at this point, because I'm not certain what the grave error you refer to might be.

Take your question and substitute a human. "If Mr. Jones can be killed without incurring suffering... well, then what?" If your answer is different for Mr. Jones than for Tom Turkey, and you do not have an ethically relevant characteristic to appeal to in order to justify the difference, that is the grave error of ethical anthrocentrism.

Such a characteristic must apply to all humans (assuming you extend ethical consideration to all humans), so "ability to predict and imagine our own deaths" is out, as are contractualistic considerations. It must not apply to non-human animals that you are not willing to protect, so the ability to suffer, to feel pain, or to experience emotion are out. It should -- since we are in the fantasy land of gedankenexperment -- apply to hypothetical alien life-forms we would recognize as sentient and want to protect. And it must be ethically relevant -- "is or is not a biped" is no more relevant to an organism's ethical status than is "has light or dark skin".

(We also must realize that the idea that "the turkey can be killed without incurring suffering", in any sort of large-scale agriculture (including "small" farms), is sheerest fantasy.)

Tom Swiss - proprietor, unreasonable.org

WAR

"I think that men will be killed and tortured as long as animals are killed and tortured. So long there will be wars too. Because killing must be trained and perfected on smaller objects, morally and technically."

EXCUSE ME!?!

That is EXCEEDINGLY NAIVE!

Even if you were to stop the raising and slaughter of animals by humans, there would STILL BE WAR! War within the human kingdom and war within the natural animal kingdom.

WAR/CONFLICT/STRUGGLE is a keystone of LIFE. And if we one day explore the cosmos it quite possibly may prove to be the ONLY consistent component in ALL life within the universe.

Please sir, do pick up a book sometime. Or if you are too illiterate at the very least flip on the Discover y/HISTORY/Science channels for a gander of the ACTUAL principals of life and the natural and human worlds.

Conflict is mandatory, war is optional

You conflate war with conflict and struggle. Conflict and struggle are probably to some degree inevitable; war is a human invention, an action taken by human-created organizations.

And of course you miss the point, that our cruelties to animals prepare people to take part in the cruelties of war.

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