Wednesday, October 10, 2018

So-Called Progress

A Facebook friend recently shared an article from Global Meat News reporting that Maple Leaf Foods' is investing in "world class" animal welfare technology.

I snarkily quipped, "So enlightened!"
They answered, "I want the production of animals for meat to end, but, in the meantime, I want animals to suffer less in the process."
I replied, "I think things like this slow progress because they lull public concern. To the degree they do, they cause many more animals to suffer in the long term."
To which they said, "What is the evidence for that position? People are becoming vegan/vegetarian/reducitarian at the same time incremental steps towards more humane animal slaughter are being taken, with more being debated."

I like being challenged; it makes me look more carefully at what I believe and why I believe it. In this case, the first thing that came to mind as I wondered about my reaction was the history of animal welfare in the labs. It is my studied opinion that vivisectors' and their institutions' claims of humane care are fraudulent and entirely self-serving. It appears to me that their claims of humane care are used only to deflect public concern. Their secrecy supports this notion. My twenty-plus years of observation make me doubt the claims made by those who say the harms they inflict and the deaths they cause are achieved humanely.

From its website, it seems that Maple Leaf Foods is genuinely trying to treat the animals it raises and kills more humanely. My friend, and probably many others, says that is a good thing.

This is what the company says:
Maple Leaf Foods has strong values that define our culture and have a direct relationship on how we treat the animals we raise or source.

As the largest value-added meat protein company in Canada, we must be a leader in animal care. Animal welfare is an integral part of our culture and business. Our commitment to animal care focuses on progress in all of these areas:
Minimize or eliminate the use of antibiotics in animal care
Transition sows from confining gestation crates to open housing
Build a world-class animal care program that will be the foundation of a strong animal careculture
We are committed to enhancing our animal wellness practices in a manner that advances the Five Freedoms – the most widely accepted global standard for responsible animal care.

It may seem matter-of-fact and obvious that any reduction in suffering is a good thing. But reality is often complex. As I wondered about my intuitive aversion to the use of humane care as a marketing tool, I thought about examples from history. I wondered whether there might be examples that supported my worry that soft-peddling harm might, in fact, cause greater harm.

The electric chair came to mind. Prior to its invention and adoption as the preferred method of execution, most people condemned to death were hanged. The electric chair was promoted as a more humane method of killing, and it probably is.

One sad and interesting thing I learned is that electrocution was primarily developed using dogs, though other animals were also used. See

In any case, it appears, at least in the short term, that the development of a more humane way to execute people led to an increase, a large increase, in the number of people executed. The chart below is from

Between 1850-1899, 58 people were electrocuted and 3,781 were hanged. Between 1900 and 1949, 3,564 people were electrocuted and 2,677 people were hanged. It looks to me, from this data, that the number of executions increased because there was a purportedly humane way to kill people.

This isn't definitive, but it reinforces my impression that telling people that some terrible thing we are doing to others is now being done humanely promotes or at least sustains those practices.

It appears to me that the embrace of "humane" practices is a result of suppliers worrying about the public's increasing embrace of the idea that animals have rights. So, while these changes are good in a sense, they should more accurately be seen as rear-guard ploys to maintain and sustain the livelihoods of those who depend on hurting and killing others.

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