Whether it is humane or not, killing is at the dark heart of the meat industry

Source @ The Age

By Andrew Cox, July 14, 2011

Footage from Indonesian abattoirs brought home our disconnect with what we eat.

THE federal government timed the resumption of the live cattle trade perfectly. Images that shocked Australians a month ago are now sufficiently remote as to be once more ignored. Time is a more effective anaesthetic than any stun gun. Fresh issues demand our attention. A new carbon tax threatens to raise the price of meat by several cents and grasping self-interest will always trump ethical hand-wringing. It’s safe to return to the butcher.

A few less steak dinners were eaten in the immediate aftermath of the Four Corners expose. Diners recoiled at the brutal reality of the Indonesian slaughterhouse. But that meat was not destined for the Australian table. Instead the market spent a week or two assaying the icy recesses of the vegetable crisper because it was inconveniently reminded of a fundamental truth: eating meat requires the killing of animals.

A good deal of effort is expended in brushing over this otherwise self-evident fact. A lot of footage hits the cutting room floor between shots of the avuncular farmer tipping back his worn Akubra in the supermarket ad and the aproned mother beckoning her telegenic family towards the Sunday roast. The livestock industry well understands that the market needs its cows shrink wrapped to plastic trays in supermarket fridges and called ”beef” before it is prepared to overlook the unsavoury realities of meat eating.
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A profound disconnect exists between what we eat and how it arrives on our tables. In the morning the kids visit the children’s farm and cuddle the cute piglet. Come dinnertime mum is rendering down some fat to make gravy while dad salts the pork skin in search of the perfect crackling. Presumably that night’s dinner remains palatable so long as it’s not their pig the family has to eat.

There is a decided hierarchy of species that informs what we allow ourselves to eat. We lean our shoulders into the hulking flanks of beached whales in tearful efforts to refloat them. Back at the motel we munch burgers and watch on blithely as a fish gasps in its death throes on the deck while the lifestyle show host throws another line over the side.

The meat industry has a signal message whenever it is reluctantly obliged to acknowledge that eating animals requires they die first. This is, of course, that in Australia we kill animals humanely. Surely there can be no more fortunate death than that that occurs at the hand of the most benign of upright apes. Never mind the silent millions killed by torture, genocide, rape and war who might have cause to question the moral certainty of human-induced death.

It’s not hard to see why some Asian cultures bristle at our hypocrisy. Many of them have a far more honest relationship with the food they eat. We fume with indignation at the sight of dogs in cages awaiting the slaughterman’s unforgiving knife. Meanwhile, the trussed and plucked remains of battery chickens dot menus everywhere. Again, the arbitrary hierarchy of species determines what can be killed, filleted and set before the salivating Western diner. Generally this is anything that can’t be pointed at through the bars of a zoo cage or have a collar attached to it and called Fido.

Graziers everywhere have been forthright in expressing their shock and surprise at the treatment of their stock in Indonesian abattoirs. The denizens of the land clearly care about their animals. But even such heartfelt concern only operates up to a point – usually when the last tail is poking through the slats of the semitrailer and the driver toots a farewell on his way out of the farm gate. Reconciling the notion of caring for a beast while profiting from its death is a juggling act that only the slickest of modern PR agencies are fit to handle. The records of farmers holding funerals for the herds that died of old age are surprisingly slim.

Inevitably we start talking money, and here the meat industry is perfectly bilingual. The profit motive always takes for justification the ”not one job must be lost” mantra. This manifesto infects Australian political discourse to the point where it is becoming unclear as to what moral limits there are on any undertaking, so long as someone can earn a wage in its commission. Clearly the world’s politicians need be very cautious before abolishing war, lest it leave any soldiers out of work.

And so the live cattle trade is back. Minister Joe Ludwig assures us that this time animal welfare will take precedence. While the state of being alive is generally considered a fundamental condition of welfare, the English language is nothing if not flexible. The knives will be sharper this time and the blood spatter patterns marginally less dramatic. Occasionally stun guns will presage textbook mercy killings, unimpeachable exemplars of the humanity that informs Australian meat production.

It may, however, be a while before another video camera is allowed through the front gate. Doubtless we will all eat a little easier for that fact.

Andrew Cox is is a freelance writer.

Read more: http://www.theage.com.au/opinion/society-and-culture/whether-it-is-humane-or-not-killing-is-at-the-dark-heart-of-the-meat-industry-20110713-1hdxx.html#ixzz1SAYfiC6p

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