What's next for the meat processing and poultry industries? Sensitivity training?
Don't laugh. Gourmet stores across America are making extra money selling meat and eggs labeled "cage-free," "certified humane," and "free-range." And as the New York Times pointed out in a recent story about this trend, the latest feel-good label reads "animal compassionate." Presumably this means that while this is still a beef steak or a slab of bacon, the animal was slaughtered as quickly and painlessly as possible.
Chickens' welfare has been a profitable concern for some time. The "free-range" label indicates that birds were given a chance to stretch their legs each day -- away from barbarically crowded cages -- before they were killed for their meat or their eggs were harvested.
Some customers are willing to pay more -- twice as much sometimes -- for a package of pork chops or a dozen eggs that carry such labels. Even restaurants are starting to boast about the sensitivity shown to the animals whose meat is featured on the menu. A food consultant told the Times that such assurances make consumers feel better about devouring the lesser species.
So far there's no one, accepted industry definition of "certified humane" or "animal compassionate," though animal-rights groups DO appear to have agreed upon such standards. "Animal compassionate," for instance, means that cattle won't be poked by electric prods except in emergencies, sheep won't be castrated, and farmers will not dock the tails of pigs.
After years in which some farmers put their livestock on nutritious organic diets free from antibiotics and hormones, it was only a matter of time before sensitivity to animals' feelings became another way to make an extra buck.
For earlier essays in Ted Landphair's
Only in America series, click here