Back to the Meat Recall

There's a comment from a reader regarding my previous post about the meat recall. He says my attitude is callous.

Perhaps I wasn't clear enough in my original post. I'm not advocating cruelty to animals. My first point was that there's nothing unusual about what happened at that meatpacking plant (which is apparently now closed).

My second point was that IF Americans want animals treated more humanely, they're going to have to adopt new methods of meat processing.

Right now, meatpacking houses are factory operations that prize efficiency and speed. If packinghouse employees are told to slow down, wait for the animals, move lame animals out of the way carefully rather than with forklifts-- well, that kind of humane operation is going to move more slowly than an inhumane one.

Packers won't be able to process as many animals in a day as they do using forklifts. The company won't make as much profit, in part because its labor costs will rise, and the owners will compensate for that by raising prices.

Think of a widget factory: one factory makes the widgets by hand. Workers carve each one, using hand lathes and planes, and plenty of human labor. The factory turns out one hundred widgets a day. The supply is relatively small, and consumers pay high prices for those "natural" hand-crafted widgets.

Now consider a second widget factory. The owners have mechanized the entire operation, eliminating all hand craftsmanship. The widgets are made entirely by machine, rather than by humans. The factory cranks out thousands of widgets a day, and the price of one widget is half the price of the widgets made by hand.

The analogy holds true at meatpacking plants: treat each animal with respect and dignity, and workers will turn out fewer carcasses in a day. The packinghouse owners will have to pay the workers more money per carcass. That price will be passed on to consumers.

Is that good or bad? Depends on what you value. If you don't like seeing images of lame cows being tossed around by forklifts, then you'd better be prepared to pay more for your meat.

If what you value, however, is hamburger that only costs two dollars a pound, then you have to accept that you live in a society where packinghouses use "inhumane' and "callous" practices.

Bottom line: Americans want something for nothing. They want "pure" meat and happy cows, but they don't want to pay the higher price necessary to make that happen.

We can't have it both ways.