Whether we are looking at how to humanely kill a turkey or a chicken, or taking a peek inside a self-described "humane" slaughter house, the topic of animal slaughter is always a controversial one. And that controversy is relevant even in the deep green corners of the ethical food movement.
Backyard Slaughter Trend Evokes a Backlash
The rise of backyard farming has been held up by many as a more sustainable, humane alternative to the industrial food system. And many backyard farms are including animals for meat and dairy production. Some of their vegetarian neighbors, however, are none too pleased about it. In the latest issue of VegNews, Ian Elwood of Neighbors Opposed to Backyard Slaughter lays out his opposition to backyard animal husbandry of all kinds:
In the past five years, the majority of cities that have deregulated animal husbandry in some way have done so because people want to have backyard chickens as “pets with benefits”—specifically, using the chickens for (urban) farm-fresh eggs. The practice of breeding, keeping, and killing other animals is an afterthought in many locations, without any real scrutiny of the larger impacts on animal welfare, human health, the environment, or city livability.
How Do We Regulate Treatment of Urban Animals?
Elwood, who ultimately argues that animal husbandry has no place in the city, does raise some valid points, including the question of how to regulate animal husbandry in an informal, urban environment. But just as we have laws against abuse of pets, it seems to me that similar, context-appropriate legislation could be drawn up to protect backyard farm animals from similar abuse. Likewise the question of botched slaughter comes up, and I again have some sympathy here. I am sure there have been plenty of incompetent newbie hipster farmers who could have done a better job of dispatching their hens or rabbits.
But those mistakes will most likely be learned from, unlike the embedded, inherent brutalities of the factory farming system where cruelty is not an accident, it's a characteristic of the system. But reading between the lines, Elwood's critique appears to come from a belief that animal husbandry is wrong in all of its forms. And that leaves little room for compromise.
The Rights of Neighbors
Of course the question of what should and should not be done in sight of your neighbors is always a complicated one, and I understand that a vegan household (and most likely most meat eating ones!) do not want to wake up and see blood and gore all over their neighbors' yard. But again, it seems that context appropriate legislation should be possible, regulating slaughter for indoor environments only. Perhaps efforts to encourage designated spots for neighborhood slaughter, with trained guides to oversee the process, might mitigate the issue?
In a world that doesn't look likely to give up eating meat any time soon, it would be a shame to throw the baby out with the bathwater over concerns about cruelty in an urban environment. Animals raised in small-scale farming situations where the farmer can know their needs, tend to them, and look them in the eye have a lot to be said for them. And minimizing the suffering of the animals we eat, and dispatching them quickly and efficiently, should be a top priority. Even the healthiest of organic, pasture raised cattle end up being transported to their place of slaughter. A backyard hen, on the other hand, will barely have time to realize when her time is up. And that's as it should be.
I would hope that backyard farmers and concerned neighbors can find common ground. Let's hope this is a start of a conversation, not a war.