Tuesday, February 17, 2009

A cow's life

This splendid animal was living a very "natural" life indeed in the Guatuzos Wildlife Refuge.

An email from the Greener Choices program of the Consumers Union alerted me to a new US Department of Agriculture (USDA) voluntary labeling standard that allows producers to call their meat "naturally raised."

There's a big gap between what "naturally raised" means to the USDA and what it means to most of us. The government agency means no growth hormones, animal byproducts or antibiotics in the animal's feed. CU polled meat buyers and learned we agreed -- but many of us assumed it meant many additional conditions, including that the animal had been raised in a natural environment, was not cloned, and had access to the outdoors. Not so.

It isn't only consumers who don't like the new standard. The Animal Welfare Institute reported:

...many ranchers, farmers, and others testified in public meetings in 2006 and 2007 that the ability of animals to range freely, eat diets natural to their species, and engage in natural behaviors are essential aspects of a "naturally raised" claim.

The Center for Rural Affairs in Lyon, Nebraska added:

The standard ... will enable large-scale feedlots that don't use antibiotics or hormones to qualify for a USDA label that says their product is "naturally raised." We have seen some of the feedlots (have some right here in our home state) that would fit this category, and we have to say, there isn't anything natural about that.

Reading a bit on this led me to a fascinating article about Dr. Temple Grandin. Dr. Grandin was born autistic. She sees the world differently than most of us; for her, thoughts are a series of pictures. She has used the possibilities her different cognition offers to visualize how animals picture and react to their environments. Something like one third to one half of the slaughter facilities in the country use her designs. Isn't it a contradiction to use her understanding of animals to design the places where they are killed? She explains:

Her answer is as clear and logical as her thinking. Everything dies eventually, she says, but we humans owe the animals we eat a good life while they're here.

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