With a growing awareness of where their food is coming from, many consumers are being incited to buy humanely raised meat and other animal products. Since humanely raised meat is more expensive than conventional meat, some people quite reasonably ask why they would want to purchase the more expensive product. There are a number of reasons to choose humane over traditional animal products, ranging from ethics to environmentalism. Educating yourself about humanely raised meat will help you to make a more informed decision at the grocery store.
Before delving into the reasons to choose humanely raised meat, it helps to take a quick look at the two basic styles of animal raising which prevail in many industrialized nations. The first is “traditional” farming, which is sometimes better known as “factory farming.” In a factory farming situation, animals often endure brutal, cramped conditions, and they are treated like commodities rather than individuals. Often abusive situations such as those found in Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) are not only bad for the animals; they are bad for the environment. Cramped conditions breed serious disease, and CAFOs are often unable to cope with the volume of animal waste generated, which can lead to serious pollution problems.
On a humane farm, the approach to animal raising is different. Typically, though not always, the animals are raised in more spacious conditions, with a focus on preventative care for the animals and the environment. On some humane farms, animals rotate through fields with other animal species and plants, in the hopes of creating a more healthy farm environment. The animals are allowed to mature at their own rate, and they are handled gently throughout their lifetimes and the slaughter process. Some organizations offer meat certifications such as the Free Farmed certification to farms which practice humane farming techniques.
One of the most obvious reasons to choose humanely raised meat is, of course, ethical. Many people who eat meat would prefer to eat meat which has been raised in pleasant conditions, because animals are sentient living organisms. Some animals, such as pigs, have also demonstrated some self-awareness, which makes the thought of existing in the miserable conditions of a CAFO very distasteful.
Another reason often cited is the desire to purchase locally raised meat. For people who are interested in meeting their meat producers, humanely raised meat is a conduit to meeting farmers and seeing the conditions on a farm first hand. Locally raised food also tends to be generally better for the environment, since it involves less food miles. It also benefits local economies, by keeping spending local.
Some people also believe that humanely raised meat has a better flavor. This may be due to more balanced conditions, which include a wide and varied diet along with the ability to play and exercise. Factory farmed meat tends to have a dull, uniform flavor, since the animals are fed very unhealthy diets and prevented from living ordinary lives. While it may be cliché to say that consumers can “taste the freedom,” they can taste the impact that an animal's diet has on its flesh.
Finally, humanely raised meat is usually better for the environment. Since humanely raised meat tends to be brought up on small farms, there is a focus on caring for the environment which CAFOs do not have. Because a much smaller number of animals is handled, the farmer can process manure properly, keep the land in good condition, and take the time to rotate animals and crops for healthy soil. A CAFO, on the other hand, cannot afford these measures, because thousands of animals are cramped into a small space, generating thousands of tons of waste products. These waste products end up in the air, the soil, and the water, leading to serious environmental problems.