Food Friday: Navigating an ethical minefield

One of the challenges that faces those who choose to consume meat these days is knowing where it came from and how it is produced.  Even the best of intentions can be thwarted.  Of course, that’s not to say that vegetarians aren’t in the same position – how can we know anything these days about the cows that produce our dairy or about the chickens that lay our eggs?

A week ago, there was a low-key furore in the Sydney Morning Herald about a Sydney abattoir whose workers were found to be responsible for absolutely horrific acts of animal cruelty (there’s a video on the link, which I confess I haven’t watched – I’m the kind of person who laments the horses in war films when all the humans are dying…).  The abattoir had been inspected by the NSW Food Authority four times in 2011 and nothing of this kind was picked up until one of the abattoir workers took hidden-camera footage and sent it to the media.  While it’s a valid question, I’m not planning to write about  how the heck this could have happened.  What I want to discuss is how we, as consumers, can possibly make an informed decision when we are told all is right in our clean and tidy little “First World” nation – and it’s not.

Last year, there was a massive uproar about the live export of cattle to Indonesia and the endemic animal cruelty that went on in their meat processing plants.  The outcry went on for weeks, with cattle export  suspended, massive Federal Government investigations and reminders ad nauseum that we can produce meat Halal meat, just like the Indonesians, so why not do it here in our nice, shiny-happy animal facilities and ship it over as steaks instead of steers?  This time, animal cruelty was a news article for a day and I honestly doubt we’ll ever see the result of the NSW Food Authority’s investigation – or it will be a tiny piece, hidden away in the Environment pages.

The fact that so many people have faith that our abattoirs are run humanely makes this all the more concerning and is all the more reason for this to stay in the news.  We need to know how animals are killed just as much as we need to know how they lived.  So many people, with the best of intentions, buy organically farmed and free-range meat – but it’s no guarantee that the transition from happy pig to bacon rasher hasn’t taken place in an horrific environment like the Hawkesbury Valley Meat Processors.  Similarly, there is no guarantee that your free range chicken hasn’t been bought up alongside its caged counterparts.  Lilydale chicken, one of the most prominent “free-range” producers found in Australian supermarkets, also produces factory-farmed meat (Ethical Shopper Guide 2011).

I am not sure what the solution is, for those who try to make ethical meat choices.  Certainly, there’s a role for the NSW government to play in ensuring that there is transparency in meat production practices – but when they can miss this sort of horror four times in a year, I don’t hold out much hope.


2 thoughts on “Food Friday: Navigating an ethical minefield

  1. If you “lament the horses in war films while all the humans are dying”, don’t watch the clip! Quite disturbing.

    You get the impression that very large corporations (whether meat, energy or otherwise) seem so important to governments that the latter tend to excuse poor behaviour by the former. If that is the case, better regulations coupled with better separation of governments and corporations would be good places to start. Tax payer-fund elections might help.

    Thanks for the post – very interesting subject.

  2. I don’t eat meat often, but I do assume that what I am eating has suffered; it is not the first such video I have seen, and I would say that the meat industry is rife with malpractice.

    While I am concerned for the welfare of the animals, I am also extremely concerned about the people who are the perpetrators. I think they must be disturbed to begin with, to practice animal cruelty on such a casual basis and not see anything wrong with it. And no, they can’t hide behind ‘just doing their job’ because they have training and should know about the relevant practices and legislation. Those people are just mentally f*&@ed, and should never be allowed to work in the industry.

    I have to say, it’s after seeing footage like this that I more seriously consider my desire to have my own small property where I can raise my own meat, and employ a mobile slaughterman whose practices I can personally observe for humane practice.

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