Beef’s Biggest PR Problem
Prior to last week’s beef tour, I believed (and am not alone in this belief) that Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) were EVIL. I had seen pictures of tens of thousands (maybe even millions…mainly joking) of cows stuffed into a tiny yard far too small to let them move. Then I went on the beef tour and went to a CAFO. Now, I am rethinking this position, but I still understand why I was so ready to believe that CAFOs are so bad. Beef, like all meat producers, have a PR problem because their ultimate end is death.
I know that sounds unfair, but read on.
A Few Disclaimers
Before I go on, I want to set the stage properly.
1. Yes, Missouri Beef did sponsor me to go on the beef tour. However, my previous posts in regards to nearly losing my breakfast at the meat processing plant should let you know it wasn’t all sunshine and lollipops.
2. I want to a CAFO in Pratt, KS. From going to a CAFO, I was able to compare that operation to some of the pictures of other CAFOs I’d seen. I now believe those pictures to be misleading.
3. I, like the beef industry itself, believe that there have historically been horrible treatment of the animals to their detriment. We also both believe that there are cases where this continues, but that these are not rampant and are not condoned by the industry.
This post, then, is an examination of why I, and by extension others, are so willing to believe that the animal industry were villians.
Pets Are Family
But, let’s start with some statistics.
According to Doctor Dan Thomson from Kansas State (you know this has to be an important topic for me to quote a K-Stater and apologies to him if I am off 1-2% on his numbers):
- 50% of people in the United States live alone
- This plays into the fact that 85% of pet owners consider their pets their children
- 84% would risk their lives to save their pets from bodily harm
Now, Dr. Thomson goes on to wonder what’s up with the 1% who wouldn’t risk their lives to save their children, but that’s the topic of another post.
Still, the big takeaway is that people are valuing their pets as humans and through purely anecdotal evidence, once you do that for your household pets, you start doing that for animals.
The End Product
Which leads me back to my thesis.
Right about the middle of the beef cycle, the cow has to die. Even if the animal died of old age, it would still have to die. All of the work before the cow dies is to ensure that it is as big, flavorful, and as high in quality as possible without sacrificing meat quality and all of the work afterwards is about handing the dead cow’s remains so they get to the table with as little fuss as possible.
But, still, the cow has to die, which means the beef industry is in the business of death and since 85% of people look at pets as people…it’s no great leap to start looking at the beef industry as essentially selling soylent green.
Fear the Slippery Slope
And I don’t think that’s fair. I’m all for treating animals with dignity not because it leads to a better steak, but because I think as a race, humans are just better than sinking to hurting animals because they can.
But as the beef industry goes on, it’s that slippery slope–that association of killing cows to killing people– that they have to worry about.
And frankly, I am not going to ask people to stop thinking of pets, cows, birds, chickens or even snakes (I hate snakes) as people. That’s their right. However, I do think that we should stop vilifying people who treat their animals well just because those animals end up at a slaughterhouse. It doesn’t do anyone any good to sling mud. Period.
The Call to Action
So, the call to action here is to find a meat producer and talk to them. Ask them about how they treat their animals and see the sincerity when they say they want no harm to come to them. Even if the reason they feel that way has nothing to do with the reasons you might like. Oh, and if you find that meat producer isn’t following industry regulations for proper beef treatment, tell the local beef council and the USDA (here are a list of USDA regulations.)
Also, stay informed about livestock raising practices. As long as they preserve the dignity of the animal, it’s probably okay.
But also stay informed to see if generally accepted animal practices change. If research comes out tomorrow that shows the best thing to do for steak quality is to tie a baby cow up by its hooves and beat it with barbed wire, we need to say in once voice that’s not okay. We’ll take lesser quality meat to eliminate that type of suffering.
Oh, and if you are reading this and you’re veg*n, thank you for sticking with me. I know this isn’t a condemnation of meat across the board, but I hope that it at least makes you consider the possibility that not all meat producers are villians.
And whether you sit down to a steak dinner today or not, enjoy!