eating meat

In WA, it’s legal to kill animals for meat, providing you own the animal, and no part of the carcass (including waste, bones and offal) leaves your property. And assuming that your local council hasn’t restricted slaughter of animals in your area via local by-laws, of course – many do.


You can’t legally sell the meat, though. You can eat it, or feed it to friends, family, or employees, but not to paying guests (i.e. restaurant or bed & breakfast guests). If you want to sell meat (raw or cooked), the animal providing it must be killed in a registered abattoir.


That’s relatively straightforward for goats, sheep, alpacas, cattle, and other medium to large sized critters. There are a few abattoirs in WA which will take animals this size and slaughter them for you in small numbers. Birds and small animals (rabbits, for example) are harder – until recently the only poultry abattoirs in WA were the ones owned by vertically integrated large corporations such as Inghams. There are now 2 small, private abattoirs which I know of in WA, both on farms which also raise and sell free range meat birds (Southampton Homestead, and Wagin Duck & Game), although I don’t know if either of them would accept birds from other producers.


I was reading about these two new farms, and a few links down the rabbit hole I read a post about commercial Ross breed broiler (meat) chickens. None of the information in it is new, but it disgusts me all the same. These poor birds have been bred to grow so fast that they are not expected to be kept past 8 weeks of age – because they die or cripple themselves if you do keep them alive that long. The birds are hybrids, with specific pure genetic lines bred for the maternal and paternal bird for the hybrids, because the Ross birds themselves can’t survive long enough to breed or even begin to lay. Their leg bones can’t keep up with the obscene muscle development, and their hearts give out because of the pressure they’re under. That’s what you buy when you buy supermarket chicken.


I sympathise with the farmers who are trying to make a living producing meat animals. It’s hard. The amount that an animal eats and the length of time it lives before being slaughtered for meat are costs to the farmer, and the price they get for the end product is ridiculously low. As a culture, we expect our food to be so cheap that it’s virtually impossible for a farmer to make any money producing it (don’t forget the multiple points between farm and plate where the price is marked up). A gentleman I spoke to a couple’ve years ago said that at best he was looking at $1 profit per lamb sold, if it was a good year and not too many of them died of natural causes (disease, exposure, intestinal worms, predators, …).


But at the same time, the lengths we go to to produce this cheap and easily available meat are awful, and ethically unacceptable. It’s simply wrong that a bird should be deliberately bred and hatched that will be crippled after 9 weeks growth. It’s wrong that supermarkets gain a monopoly on food distribution and then refuse to pay farmers a fair amount for their animals (or other agricultural products for that matter – this is a big issue for fruit, vegetable and rain farmers as well). It’s wrong that people are so squeamish about the fact that we eat dead animals that they refuse to think about the welfare of those animals before they die.


Is it wrong, then, to eat meat at all? Do we add to the problem by adding to the demand, which is supplied by these practices?


I believe that what you tame you are responsible for forever – and that we are therefore responsible for our companion species which we have tamed and modified for our use and convenience. They can no longer live without us, and if we stop needing them (which is to say, if we stop eating them in most cases) they will probably become extinct. That would be wrong, too.


So my own, personal answer is that eating meat isn’t wrong, unless the practices which produced that meat were themselves unethical.


We raise our own chickens, for eggs and meat, and we kill them ourselves when their time is up. They live a good life full of sunshine and dirt baths and plentiful grain and fruit and kitchen scraps, and when they die it is painless and as stress-free as I can make it. We use a nitrogen controlled atmosphere slaughter mechanism, so the birds just go to sleep without ever knowing the difference. We keep heritage varieties, which in its own small way contributes to maintaining the genetic diversity of the species by keeping those breeds from going extinct. We do what we can.


We still eat meat. We don’t (yet) produce all of our own meat, although I have plans along those lines. When we buy, we try to buy products with known provenance (where the thing comes from and how it was produced) from butchers rather than buying from supermarkets. Even then, though.. I don’t feel right about eating chickens which have been bred to be deformed by 2 months old. I may not be able to buy commercial chicken any more, even from butchers. I may have to step up the meat production plans.


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