The Frontal Cortex

Cheap Meat

First, a warning: the video below is very disturbing. It’s footage of cows being prepared for slaughter at Hallmark Meat Processing. This video, which was surreptitiously shot by the Humane Society, led to the largest ever recall of beef – 134 million pounds – although most of the recalled meat has already been eaten. (A big percentage of the beef went to the school lunch program.) The NY Times today had a good editorial on the whole affair.

I like to eat meat, too. I’m not a vegetarian. (Although I am getting increasingly vigilant about only eating humanely raised meat.) The reality, though, is that our cruel factory farming practices won’t stop unless people begin to associate a 99 cent fast-food hamburger with the image of a sick cow being poked by a forklift so that it will walk into the slaughterhouse. Cheap meat is morally expensive.


  1. #1 R N B
    February 21, 2008

    The text refers to California law. Are there states that are very different to this?

    A solution seems to be more government regulation, paid for by taxes, how does the libertarian element of America react to that?

  2. #2 Rachael
    February 21, 2008

    Big beef is too powerful; the size of the industry (or its political influence) needs to be reduced. The only way we will see real change in the slaughterhouses of America:

    1) Stop subsidizing corn so that we stop feeding it to cattle (who weren’t designed to eat corn anyway)
    2) Start subsidizing the distribution costs for small farms (which would encourage local business growth anyway)
    3) Remove industry barriers for small slaughterhouses (USDA won’t regulate them unless they’re big)

    But the real change that needs to happen?
    4) Transparency in slaughtering processes

    Even going to extreme effort to locate the source of everything I eat, I am astonished at how difficult the task can be: nobody wants to talk about how a chicken is killed or whether it had room to stretch its wings, even if I want to pay extra to hear about it.

    Suppliers would like us to see all meat as equivalent, shrink-wrapped nutrition. If Americans had any concept of what their cattle, chickens and pigs go through prior to being eaten, I truly believe most (though not all) people would reduce consumption / pay more for humane meat. The cruelties imposed on these downer cows are just one example of a bigger problem: America’s meat supply is sick, unhappy, and not healthy or ethical for us to eat, precisely because there is no market pressure driving things in the other direction. Transparency, if it could be achieved, would give these companies some incentive to self-regulate

  3. #3 skyotter
    February 21, 2008

    i think it’s key to note that by “recalled”, USDA means “thrown out”

    so i feel worst for the fully-ambulatory (eg, non-downer) cows that were slaughtered humanely and properly … only to go into a landfill

    what a waste. there were no reported problems with ANY of the beef that’s currently being thrown out

  4. #4 Hank Roberts
    February 21, 2008

    > no reported problems

    You know the incubation rate for prion diseases?

    If not you should look it up.

    The reported problem is that the cows couldn’t stand up, let alone walk.

    Lordy, these are the people for whom we’re trying to save the planet. I wonder sometimes.

    The video says it’s from a dairy cow slaughterhouse. Did you see that?

    These aren’t cattle raised for beef.

    These are the cows whose milk is in your refrigerator.

    These cows probably gave milk up through the day they could no longer stand up in the milking machine.

    Then — out of the dairy and onto the truck.

    Now they’re cheap burgers for your kids’ school lunches.

    Folks, it’s time to talk to the _dairies_ where these cows are coming from.

  5. #5 Rachael
    February 21, 2008

    Skyotter, although I don’t like to waste food any more than the next person, I am astonished that this is the issue you care about. Consider for a moment how many resources we waste every day just by being American. Some beef is the tip of the iceberg, and not only is this recall preventing further introduction of potentially BSE (or other disease) tainted meat from entering the food supply, it sends a strong message to the general public (and other cattle operations) about what will and will not be tolerated. If “wasted resources” are your concern, you shouldn’t be eating corn-fed beef in the first place, since per calorie it is one of the most ecologically expensive foods you can consume. As far as “slaughtered humanely and properly”, I would encourage you to do a little research. “Humane” has many definitions, some having to do with things other than whether a cow is capable of walking.

    Hank, I just wanted to comment, you have a very good point that we consider dairies too…

  6. #6 Hank Roberts
    February 21, 2008

    Cattle raised for meat are slaughtered young.

    The cows in this video are old ladies,
    sent to the dairy cow slaughterhouse.

    This is a whole different business than “beef.”

    These are not corn-fed steers.

    These are milk cows. Dairy cows.

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