The Ethics of Meat Eating by Helen Lobato

My daughter’s been a vegetarian since her early teens. Her reasons are ethical, based on her love of animals. So I was rather surprised that she could watch A Bloody Business, which exposes the brutal killing of cattle in Indonesian abattoirs.

This episode of Four Corners featured the live export of Australian cattle to Indonesia. Around 500,000 animals are transported each year from Northern Australia where they are fattened up only to have their throats cut while fully conscious. In March 2011 Lyn White, an investigator for the animal rights group, Animals Australia visited eleven Indonesian abattoirs and filmed the abuse of the cattle which included eye gouging, kicking, and tail twisting. Four Corners used both its own video, and footage obtained by White to broadcast what “the Australian meat industry does not want the public to see”.

Following A Bloody Business, the public condemned the live trade and called for it to be stopped immediately. I listened as talk- back callers said they would never eat meat again and heard scores of vegans offer meat- free recipes over the radio airwaves.

There is no doubt that the live export in animals must be stopped but the trade needs to be seen as part of the very strange way that food is grown and consumed in our modern world. These days few of us are farmers and most of us must depend on supermarkets and food grown thousands of miles away. Food – gathering today stands in stark contrast to that of our ancestors: Our predecessors’ meals included fresh fish caught in clean oceans and meat and dairy from flocks of cattle and sheep raised on pasture. The 20th century was a time of revolutionary change to the way food was produced, distributed and consumed. The rearing of animals underwent momentous change from small scale farming to intensive livestock rearing and huge feedlots along with the live animal trade.

Farmer Joel Salatin is a prominent opponent of our current industrialised food production and “the hero of the new local food movement”. Salatin has a small farm in Virginia,USA which feeds between 7,000 and 9,000 locals. He says that small mixed farming can feed the world and it “is the only system that really can feed the world”. Salatin believes that large-scale agricultural practices are no longer working and that the existence of new diseases such as campylobacter, E coli, listeria, salmonella, all unknown 30 years ago, is evidence that “the industrial paradigm is exceeding its efficiency.” It is unsustainable and incapable of contributing to healthy, happy animals or people.