Meet the Butcher—and Former Vegetarian—Who Now Specializes in Humane Slaughter | TakePart

By Sarah McColl, published March 18 2015

If you want a burger made from what the USDA considers humanely slaughtered beef, you don’t have to look far. Any Big Mac from McDonald’s will do. Surprised?

Like the vague catch-all term “natural,” humane slaughter evokes more idyllic, blue-sky principles than it usually deserves. Although its enforcement has historically been hit or miss, the Humane Slaughter Act has been on the books since 1958 to prevent the “needless suffering” of animals and requires that cattle, pork, and other livestock be “rendered insensible to pain” before death. (Chickens and turkeys are not covered under the law.) Unsurprisingly, plenty of players in the food chain aren’t satisfied with the USDA’s concept of humane—even if the Temple Grandin–designed Animal Welfare Audit has become the industry standard.

But just as some farmers have pushed beyond the USDA standards for organic agriculture, others are taking the idea of humane slaughter well past the letter of the law. You can see some of those efforts in practice in the short film “Slow Slaughter,” first runner-up at the Real Food Media Awards, which shows the killing floor and cutting room of The Royal Butcher, an organic processing–certified small business based in Braintree, Vermont, that processes beef, pork, sheep, and goats for family farms.

In the film (which contains graphic images), employee Mary Lake spoke of experiencing a kill for the first time, saying, “A lot of guys at work were like, ‘How did it feel? It’ll get easier.’ But I don’t know if I want it to get easier. Do I really want killing to be something I can do really easily?”

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