This letter is to those of you who, after being presented with the idea about possibly being vegan, respond with “I eat only ‘humane/free-range/organic/sustainable’ meat/eggs/dairy.” I’m glad to see that you are concerned about animals enough to have changed the way you eat. After being presented with the incontrovertible evidence of the cruelty behind factory farms you recognized there is a problem and you’ve decided to act and change your behaviors with regard to the products you buy. Most people say that they care about animals, but the hardest step is for people to recognize and acknowledge how their own behaviors contribute to animal suffering and to be motivated enough to align their actions with their avowed principles. It’s great that you’ve been motivated enough to address those concerns in your own life.
Since you say that those are the only animal products you consume, I can therefore assume that you are diligent and consistent with your choice. I assume when you’re traveling, you don’t opt for the convenience of fast-food. When you go to restaurants or anyplace else that offers food prepared for you, I am sure you are asking questions about their ingredients. When you get coffee, I am sure you are asking the barista where the milk comes from, or about the eggs in the pastries. Doubtless you bring your own food to cookout events and parties. When you go grocery shopping, I’m sure you’re thoroughly reading the labels and are avoiding all the baked, frozen, canned, packaged, processed and prepared foods that do not have “free-range” and “organic” animal products listed — which end up being the vast majority of the products on the shelves.
You probably have realized that by asking as many questions as you are, by reading as many labels as you are, and avoiding as many foods that are available, you are eating in a manner similar to a vegan, since the vast majority of the food products offered that are animal-derived or contain animal products do not proclaim to be “humane,” “free-range,” “grass-fed,” etc.
With an effort to act consistently on your principles, and with such a concern about how animals are treated, I can assume you have taken a look at what those labels really mean.
Doubtless you have investigated the labeling standards set by various certification programs (such as Humane Farm Animal Care , whose “Certified Humane Raised and Handled” labeling standards are lauded to be the “Gold Standard” of such programs), and have noticed exceptions and loopholes (such as HFAC’s Standards for Chickens “Section G: Free-Range: The Animal Care Standards for Chickens Used in Broiler Production do not require that chickens have access to range.” Or that federal requirements for “free-range” allows that chickens are merely not kept in individual cages, but are otherwise kept in the same crowded and unsanitary intensive housing situations as “battery-cage” chickens) and noticed little assurance that such labels are backed up by credible outside monitoring (for instance, HFAC requires an inspection only once a year and is heavily reliant on forms and reports that the farmers fill out with no assurance that the farmers are not providing inaccurate, incomplete, or misleading information).
I’m sure you’ve seen that the labeling standards state guidelines for what suffering is actually “acceptable” because animals are bred to grow extremely fast, and produce milk or eggs at a much more intensive level than nature intended, and thus are susceptible to genetic and health problems such as lameness, leg deformities, skeletal disorders, diseases, infections, inflammations, heart failure, and much more.
And surely you’ve noticed that there are guidelines for “acceptable” conditions that arises from the unnatural confinement of large numbers of animals (such as what is considered “acceptable” levels of concentrated ammonia in the air, and admissions such as “In cage-free housing systems of laying hens, there is a risk of outbreaks of cannibalism… In flocks that are susceptible to outbreaks of cannibalism, the beaks of hens may be trimmed at 10 days of age or younger as a preventive measure,” from HFAC Standards for Egg Laying Hens).
And you probably have seen or heard news about how the USDA’s Process Verified Program came under fire by the Animal Welfare Institute (AWI) for misleading the public by improperly labeling meat as “humanely raised.” You likely saw how the AWI investigative report stated that this meat comes from animals on factory farms who suffer the same standard meat industry practices as other farmed animals, which include, but aren’t limited to, the use of battery cages and gestation crates, and searing off the beaks of baby birds, dehorning, and castration, all without painkillers.
With such a concern about the welfare of animals, I’m sure you’ve noticed that even on the smallest family-run farm that sells to local consumers (a precious few, as most “family” farms nowadays are contracted out to big-name agricultural companies), what are considered standard agricultural practices would bring about criminal charges, let alone be considered humane, if they were done to a dog or cat.
You likely have realized that “free-range,” “cage-free,” and “organic” eggs are laid by chickens from hatcheries that kill 50% of all chicks hatched, as male chicks are considered economically useless. You already noticed that even the chickens being provided for the “backyard” movement come from the same hatcheries.
You already know that livestock auctions often serve as the way stations between farms and slaughterhouses for millions of cows, pigs, chickens, goats, sheep and other animals who are raised, bought and sold for slaughter, and that many of the “humanely raised” animals end up here. And you already know that workers at these auctions are gratuitously unconcerned about these animals and regularly abuse them. You likely saw CNN’s report on how an undercover investigation at a livestock auction confirmed that workers throw, beat, stomp on and kick animals (including the “humanely-raised” ones) in the face and body; that they grab, drag, and throw animals by their heads, necks, ears, horns, tails, and legs; that they crowd animals into small pens, forcing animals to stand on and even trample each other; and that they kick, push, and drag sick, injured, and dying animals into transport trucks to be sold and slaughtered for human consumption.
And you already know that the vast majority of the animals raised on “family,” “sustainable,” “grass-fed,” and “free-range” farms are tightly crammed into transport trucks which sometimes travel for hundreds of miles, without food or water, exposed to the extremes of weather – and are occasionally killed in accidents along the way – destined for the very same slaughterhouses that factory farm animals go to. You already know that given the speed at which slaughterhouse workers are forced to work, many of these “humanely raised” animals are not effectively killed and are often still partially or fully conscious when the process of skinning, gutting, and dismembering begins.
And you’ve realized that even on the small “free-range” farms where they do their own slaughter, the so-called “humane” method of slitting throats mean animals slowly suffocate on their own blood and writhe around in pain until they die. You have likely realized that it is a redefinition of what it means to be “humane” when it can be used to describe the raising of animals, no matter how gentle the hand, for an abbreviated life met by a violent death.
So then you likely know that such labels are essentially meaningless and are merely a way to cover up inhumane practices with a “feel-good” veneer to placate consumer guilt and encourage them to buy such labeled products. You may have noticed that even according to former animal farmers, “there is no such thing as humane animal products,” and “what a mistake it is to believe there is anything called “humane” slaughter. Animals have families and feelings, and to think that kindness before killing them is an answer is totally wrong.”
And in accordance with your level of consistency and willingness to stand up for your principles, I’m sure you’ve given up purchasing other products that use animals, such as leather and wool, as those industries don’t even bother pretending that the animals raised for those products are in accordance to “humane” labeling standards. And you’ve given up supporting other companies and organizations that use animals, such as circuses, who regularly violate the meager animal welfare laws currently in place.
After such thorough examination that you’ve undertaken to examine the issues surrounding the use of animals as commodities, it likely has lead you to the realization that the truly humane approach is to not confine, use, and kill animals for human purpose. You may then already realize that your principles and convictions, and your willingness to act consistently on them, aligns that of being vegan. Welcome.