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.