Why you should care

Meat is murder.

California has just begun enforcing a law that egg-laying hens be given more breathing room. But you might want to hold the applause. This measure — subject to federal lawsuits and blamed for rising egg prices — guarantees each chicken 1 square foot to move in. Yep, a whopping square foot!

Humane? Hardly.

It’s just the latest perversion brought to you by the so-called humane meat industry, which would coddle cows before their slaughter and roast a goose even as it denies us foie gras. Humane meat, as a concept, specializes in the splitting of hairs and soothing of consciences: It assuages our guilt but doesn’t fundamentally change the animal’s predicament. Whether you kill a hog “compassionately” or slaughter it in front of its babies, meat is killing. And the hog would likely not choose that for itself. In other words, there may be more than one way to skin a cat, but however you do it, the cat will die. “The notion of ‘humane’ meat is an oxymoron,” argues Jimmy Pierce from The Vegan Society.

To be sure, it’s nice that we care. The American Humane Association says almost 95 percent of consumers are “very concerned” about the welfare of farm animals. “I don’t think animals have a concept of death, so what matters is that they can lead a happy life,” argues Bernard E. Rollin, professor of philosophy and animal sciences at Colorado State University. Animals are certainly happier when they can move inside their cages or not have their testicles removed.

Yet when it comes to the machinery of death, it’s always tinkering: Hens might enjoy slightly roomier cages, but their male infants — those cute little yellow balls of chick — are often crushed alive. Milk cows are torn from their newborns for the benefit of cereal bowls nationwide. And even if we saved those male chicks, or let cows cavort with the calves, we’d still kill ’em all at the end. Pat-on-the-back labels like “humane” save us from the guilt. And they are great for business. Just look at players like Whole Foods, market capitalization nearly $20 billion.

It’d be great if we could find a way for cows, pigs and chicks to volunteer their lives for human consumption. But even if time and money were no object, that is impossible. Caging and killing are intrinsically violent acts, and if we are not going to stop, we should at least acknowledge the truth — even if it’s a hard one to swallow.

Whether you’re down with the argument or have a beef with it, we’d like to hear your opinion.

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