My daughter’s been a vegetarian since her early teens. Her reasons are ethical, based on her love of animals. So I was rather surprised that she could watch A Bloody Business, which exposes the brutal killing of cattle in Indonesian abattoirs.
This episode of Four Corners featured the live export of Australian cattle to Indonesia. Around 500,000 animals are transported each year from Northern Australia where they are fattened up only to have their throats cut while fully conscious. In March 2011 Lyn White, an investigator for the animal rights group, Animals Australia visited eleven Indonesian abattoirs and filmed the abuse of the cattle which included eye gouging, kicking, and tail twisting. Four Corners used both its own video, and footage obtained by White to broadcast what “the Australian meat industry does not want the public to see”.
Following A Bloody Business, the public condemned the live trade and called for it to be stopped immediately. I listened as talk- back callers said they would never eat meat again and heard scores of vegans offer meat- free recipes over the radio airwaves.
There is no doubt that the live export in animals must be stopped but the trade needs to be seen as part of the very strange way that food is grown and consumed in our modern world. These days few of us are farmers and most of us must depend on supermarkets and food grown thousands of miles away. Food – gathering today stands in stark contrast to that of our ancestors: Our predecessors’ meals included fresh fish caught in clean oceans and meat and dairy from flocks of cattle and sheep raised on pasture. The 20th century was a time of revolutionary change to the way food was produced, distributed and consumed. The rearing of animals underwent momentous change from small scale farming to intensive livestock rearing and huge feedlots along with the live animal trade.
Farmer Joel Salatin is a prominent opponent of our current industrialised food production and “the hero of the new local food movement”. Salatin has a small farm in Virginia,USA which feeds between 7,000 and 9,000 locals. He says that small mixed farming can feed the world and it “is the only system that really can feed the world”. Salatin believes that large-scale agricultural practices are no longer working and that the existence of new diseases such as campylobacter, E coli, listeria, salmonella, all unknown 30 years ago, is evidence that “the industrial paradigm is exceeding its efficiency.” It is unsustainable and incapable of contributing to healthy, happy animals or people.
While watching Four Corners last week I felt the shame of the meat eater that is shared by many including Michael Pollan, the author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma, a book about “the search for a perfect meal in a fast-food world”. Pollan claims that “eating meat has become problematic, at least for people who take the trouble to think about it”. We are very confused he says about whether we should be eating meat: As many people are turning to veganism the situation for factory animals is one of more, not less, suffering. Pollan says this “schizophrenia” can be explained by the absence of these farm animals in our lives today. We no longer witness the killing of the animals or the butcher at work; our meat comes in plastic packages-its source far from view.
People for the ethical treatment of animals or PETA believe that by ‘going vegan’ we can help stop the abuse of animals including the atrocities of the live export trade. The animal rights group argues that veganism is better for our health and that plant foods will protect us from cardiovascular diseases, such as heart attacks and strokes, diabetes and obesity. However, according to Dr Stephen Byrnes author of Myths of Vegetarianism, the above afflictions are diseases of the 20th century – humans have been eating meat for a long time. Research by anthropologist Dr Weston A. Price has documented the numbers of native peoples such as the Inuit, and the Masai who ate diets high in animal products but didn’t suffer from these diseases. Byrnes lists the likely causes of these maladies such as the hormones, antibiotics, nitrates and pesticides that are in commercially bred animal products. These can be avoided by consuming organic meats, eggs and dairy products that don’t contain these toxins.
Humanity evolved eating animal foods- our bodies are suited and accustomed to them. Therefore we will continue to require the nutrients that animal products provide for the time being. However we can change the way we treat the animals that provide us with these products that are vital for our health and well being.
Last week the Australian community expressed its anger at the abuse of cattle involved in the live animal trade. In response the trade is to cease for at least six months.
My nine-year old granddaughter is among those outraged by animal cruelty and no longer consumes meat. She may be part of the growing movement that according to Michael Pollan “is groping towards a higher plane of consciousness”: Where we are moving towards an understanding that meat- eating is barbaric. This can be seen as similar to how we came to see that slavery was abhorrent.
In the meantime and as we continue our evolution we can choose to source and eat ethically raised meat. Yes, it is expensive and the supermarkets are not likely to stock it unless large numbers of us call for it. If we continue to eat meat, and most of us will in the forseeable future, then we need to treat the animals that provide for us, with respect both in life and in death.