Why I visited an abattoir

Posted on March 27th, 2013

I think some of you noticed on my social media outpourings recently that I visited an abattoir in Tamworth. I want to explain why. And how. And what I came away with. For it was a deeply emotional and BIG LIFE thing to do on a sodden Friday afternoon. I hope I can fairly reflect it all here.

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I’m a spokesperson for the beef and lamb industry’s Target100 program, charged with sharing information about sustainable beef and lamb consumption. And before we kick off:

This is a paid role. But my opinions in this blog are my own. And I should highlight that I approached the organisation myself – for information – in the first instance.

For those wondering, this is how I work when it comes to being paid for things.

This topic – meat eating and sustainability – matters massively to me. And I’ve been on a mission to get my head around the issues and the challenges that we all face – whether we eat meat or not.

So why go see an abattoir?

Because I want to make sure I really get what’s going on. If I’m going to rant on the topic, I have to see the full picture. This is where the world is at: we want transparency (because a troll or two will trip us up if we deliver anything but).

The Target100 crew asked if I’d like to see how the whole meat production picture works here in Australia. I said, “Right up I do”. And so we headed to Tamworth. To visit breeders (the Sprys farm), feedlots (where a lot of our supermarket meat comes from), the paddock-to-plate restaurant Graze (this place is worth a stop-off if you’re in the area…they grow, butcher and age their own meat and really know how to grill a rib eye steak), and the Teys Australia abattoir – or processing plant as they prefer to be called.
I can tell you, I’ve never seen anything like it.

Eat meat? Then you must explore.

If you eat meat, it’s unconscionable not to explore where it comes from.
Equally if you don’t eat meat. For a vegan diet also relies on meat. Where do you think the fertilizer comes from to feed your soy and grains?

As a relevant aside, my food philosophy is squarely about sustainability.

We can care about organic v local v grain-fed v pasture-fed v farmer’s market-selected v supermarket-bought. But really, the discussion we need to have is about sustainability – both of the planet and its food systems, and ourselves. Because the reality is there simply ain’t enough food – meat or otherwise – to feed us all. I’ve spoken to pasture-feeding farmers and grain-lot managers over the past few months and they all concede this is the big issue we need to get our forks around.

Which brings me to the crucial point: the sustainability buck starts and stops with us.

I’ll come back to this over and over. But, please, let’s continue…

As another relevant aside: I applaud vegans…

…for putting the big issues on the table so passionately and reminding many of us to think about the impact of our meat consumption.

But I invite vegans, too, to explore this topic and to get on top of the ethical, environmental and nutritional facts. Guardian columnist George Monbiot is one of my favourite writers. He’s a vegan and was forced to revise his position on the sustainability of meat eating after exploring the topic himself. He makes this damn fine point:

“By keeping out of the debate over how livestock should be kept, those of us who have advocated veganism have allowed the champions of cruel, destructive, famine-inducing meat farming to prevail. It’s time we got stuck in.”

So what’s my take-home from the abattoir visit?

I braced myself. As I donned the boots and overalls and mouth mask and ear muffs and hair net and helmet, I felt the terrified adrenalin rush to the gut and head you get when you’re about to do anything you know is going to push you to your humanly limits.

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The Teys Australia processing plant is the second biggest in Australia and processes, exclusively, meat for Woolworths supermarket. As an FYI: All Woolworths meat adheres to the Meat Standards Australia, a beef and sheep meat eating quality program that “provides an endorsement of quality for graded cuts of red meat indicating product has met quality standards for tenderness, juiciness and flavour”.

Nothing I saw during my visit horrified me or struck me as improper or unhygienic or inhumane. The animals, as they were led in, were calm. I can’t vouch for their happiness levels. But they’re not prodded or poked or rushed. It’s partly a commercial imperative, of course – stressed animals produce tough meat. They also arrive at night. Again, so they’re not standing around in heat, stressed.

But I was upset by what I saw.  What I saw was BIG. I won’t go into gruesome detail…I respect some people reading this might not be ready for it (although I do think we should all expose ourselves as much as we can to the reality of our meat consumption). For now, I’ll say this:

I saw the fullness of life on display. The tenacity of life. It quivered and bucked on the production line as the nerves held on longer than consciousness.

Confronted with death, life becomes bigger, don’t you reckon? It’s like how at a funeral overwhelming gratitude and awe and love of fellow humankind can take over. To say a funeral is “sad” simplifies what we’re capable of. To say killing animals is wrong dumbs down our engagement with reality.

I accept we are designed to eat meat. And that killing animals is part of our reality. I am at peace with the cycle of life. I like Michael Pollan’s thoughts on how we fit into the food chain:

“We automatically think of domestication as something we do to other species, but it makes just as much sense to think of it as something certain plants and animals have done to us, a clever evolutionary strategy for advancing their own interests.”

Chickens evolve to be cared for by us. They produce lovely eggs and succulent meat as incentives for farmers to spend a lot of human time, effort and money to care for them, day in day out. They put themselves up as prey. This is the symbiotic way life works…. goes Pollan’s argument.

I have also learned that a meat-inclusive, or omnivore’s, diet is the most ethical, environmentally sound and nutritionally efficient diet going around, when the right farming practices are used and, again, when we buy, cook and eat it responsibly.

Because the sustainability buck starts and stops with us.

You can catch up on just some of the arguments for this here. I’m continuing to explore these arguments and studies, however.

I don’t like killing, though. Which brings me to the Big Point from this visit. None of us like killing animals. So if we eat meat, the WORST thing we can do is not respect the life that’s lost, and the people who do the killing on our behalf.

To the latter: my heart went out to the abattoir workers who do 8 hour shifts in the cold, unable to talk or move from their stations, so that we can have loins in our laps. They worked efficiently, cutting and hacking and wrestling with the twitching beasts. Nothing is wasted. Every organ, bone, off-cut is divvied up and sent out to supermarkets, overseas (the offal) and to be made into fertilizer (the bones and offcuts).

And this is what got me most upset during the visit (seriously):

What, I thought, would these people think if they were to observe how much of their efforts are wasted by consumers at the end of the chain?

For the simple matter is this: 30-50 per cent of food purchased in Australia is thrown out by us.

The biggest contributors to food wastage? Us.

The sustainability buck starts and stops with us.

We over-order at restaurants and let waiters toss out the excess. We don’t reuse leftover meat in rissoles or ragus.

We eat sirloins and cutlets and other cuts that are juicy and fast to cook… without thinking about, and taking responsibility for, the rest of the animal. Where do we truly think it winds up? For every lamb fillet there is a mutton’s neck that should be eaten.

We unthinkingly buy up meat when it’s heavily discounted by the big supermarket chains as a way to lure us into their stores. Meat should never be treated so cheaply.

And we all need to know this.

During my visit to the various meat production places, I quizzed the farmers and plant managers on sustainability issues. I was super impressed with how alive they were to best practices. It’s what they learn in ag school, plus they have a vested interest in sustainability – it’s their future. Impediments to best practice, they told me, are generally dictated by – wait for it – us. By consumer demands.

We expect to eat the same consistency of meat all year round. We don’t accept that at certain times it’s going to be leaner due to drought, for instance. Which means meat must be grain-fed to make up the fat.

Nor do we accept that at certain times of year, some meat just isn’t available. Again, due to drought.

And we don’t accept that at certain times of year, some meat will be more expensive than at others. These extra costs have to be absorbed or made up for by the farmers in – sometimes – less than sustainable ways.

And so, in conclusion:

There is no right answer on this issue. I visited an abattoir to get real about sustainable meat consumption. And came away realizing I have the power to make the difference that needs to be made. I don’t have to wait for it to come from further up the food chain.

We all need to learn to cook meat differently. Lamb neck is great…when slow cooked. Learn to slow cook, people!

We need to order less – share a meat dish at a restaurant. The serves are always too big.

We must actively seek out better ways to make our meat go further, ways to use leftover meat. The information is out there… find it!

We need to say no to discounted meat. Don’t get sucked in by a supermarket chains offering $10 discounts off a leg of lamb!

If we’re flush with cash, we should be voting with our dollar and supporting the kind of meat production that sits well with us ethically. We should be buying at farmer’s markets and butchers where we can inquire about where the meat came from, how it was farmed.

Those who don’t have this option – those not so flush, or who live in areas where a chain supermarket is their only food outlet – need to apply the other practices above.

I know I’ve suddenly got bossy and fired up. But that’s why I visited an abattoir – so that I had license to!

Please fire up below…and reply to other’s points and ideas…the debate needs to rage!


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  • Kylie

    You’re on an amazing journey Sarah, and it closely mirrors the one I’m on. It’s so inspiring for me to read what you learn. Keep it up.


  • http://www.changeonewoman.com Tarryne

    Fantastic article Sarah!

    I think one of the biggest issues both with food production and personal health is that people are completely disassociated from their food source. There is no respect for the life that is sacrificed in order to sustain us. No participation in the reality of survival.

    That disasociation allows us to override our instinctive need to keep things in balance and is the reason we allow cruelty, over farming, a lack of sustainability and a lack of caring for the quality of what we eat.

    Thank you. Very insightful.


    Sarah Wilson

    Sarah Wilson Reply:

    Well put Tarryne


  • Bridget

    Awesome. It’s always good to be reminded how much influence we have as consumers.

    Minimising food wastage hits home more for me when it’s framed (like you have here) as a respect thing – to the animals, the farmers, the abattoir workers, and everyone in the chain.


  • http://hailtothenihilist.wordpress.com Hail To The Nihilist

    I’ve never quite understood this idea of asking where the meat came from? What does one say in respond to the answer: “Oh I see. That sounds nice”? Moreover, what does one expect to receive as an answer?

    I believe to be inclined to ask the question suggests that the asker is overwhelmed by guilt and that the answer somehow subsides that guilt. I’m glad they are guilty in the first place–so they should be, they’re supporting a system that systematically exploits animals so they have something that they like the taste of on their plate–but question the effectiveness of the way in which they dampen it.


  • Colby

    I want to commend you on this post. I am the social media manager for a greenhouse and gardening supply company and your message about sustainability is EXACTLY the message our site has been discussing with our readers. I have been fully immersed in sustainable practices and the amount of knowledge on this topic is endless.

    It is amazing to me the number of people that blindly go into a market and buy whatever is cheapest and easiest. The facts don’t lie; eating locally and wisely leads to a healthier life. It’s in all aspects of our life that we need to think about sustainability. We are doing a detailed analysis at the moment on what our readers think about farm-to-table and local farming/growing and it’s been amazing to see what some people think of as healthy or “organic”. The biggest fear for me personally is that the sustainable movement will just become another fad. It’s great to see others have the same fears and are trying to make a difference!


    Sarah Wilson

    Sarah Wilson Reply:

    Colby, that’s great feedback


  • http://hugoandelsa.blogspot.com Michelle

    Such a great story Sarah, thank you so much for sharing. It’s a huge message and one I hope will sink in. Please continue to be bossy.

    I once had the humbling experience of being part of a home kill at a farm – I wrote about it here http://hugoandelsa.blogspot.com.au/2012/07/how-could-you-not.html


    Sarah Wilson

    Sarah Wilson Reply:

    Home kill… such evocative language…but unavoidable!


  • Becs

    Amen to all of that Sarah! I’m an agriculture graduate, and have worked in an abattoir as well as visited many other meat and plant production systems over my 5 year degree and subsequent working life. People need to stop vilifying the farmers, and start taking a long hard look at how their demands are shaping the supply chain. Producers right along that supply chain are ultimately dictated to by the person the buck stops with, and that is the consumer. My education has certainly afforded me with an appreciation for how our food is produced – but I still get surprised at how poorly people in general are educated about HOW our food is produced – educate the consumer, and you empower them to make educated choices!


    Hail To The Nihilist Reply:

    You’re not entirely correct, but almost there: “Producers right along that supply chain are ultimately dictated to by the person the buck stops with, and that is the consumer.” This implies that the supplier has no “pull” capacity. As we have seen in recent times, the buying power of Colesworth is so immense it has the ability to loss-lead its way to tremendous growth in demand. Sure, in many instances, especially with $1 milk, it has backfired. But, I am sure, regardless of what a few vocal Aussies are saying about the ethics of this, sales are up. Then we have the big advertising budgets and various clever marketing tactics. Sales for quail and black tomatoes are up: not due to some mysterious, causeless, consume-borne urge but because marketing has does its job (read: Masterchef et al.)


    Becs Reply:

    Ultimately the consumer, especially if aware of the way in which marketing is directed at them, still has a choice. The duopoly certainly has ‘pull’, but the consumer is the one who makes the choice to hand over the cash in response.


    Hail To The Nihilist Reply:

    You’re quite right, Bec. The consumer does have a choice. What I am saying is that choice is coloured by external influences—values, philosophies, social pressures, cultural pressures, financial pressures, marketing and guns-to-our-head. Some of us are inclined to question the externalities. Some of us are not. Some of us are plain gullible.

    Sarah Wilson

    Sarah Wilson Reply:

    Great points – both of you. I think we’re saying the same thing…


  • Jules

    Firstly Sarah, good on you for doing this and having the guts (unfortunate choice of word, I know) to deal with our food reality.

    I found this really interesting as I live a largely vegetarian life (sometimes farming friends give me farm-killed meat) because I consider the way we kill animals is barbaric and I want no part of it. It doesn’t matter how free-range the animals are, or how lovingly they are raised on the farm – as soon as they are loaded on to stock trucks for the trip to the abbatoir that all counts for nothing in my view. That long, hot, noisy and agonisingly uncomfortable trip must be terrifying for the animals, and although you say that you did not see animals being prodded or hit there has been a lot of evidence from undercover abbatoir workers that suggests this may not be the norm. I really can’t imagine a foreman imploring his workers not to upset the cows or their meat will be tough!

    The way we raise and kill pigs particularly distresses me. Pigs are highly intelligent animals with strong mothering, social, and behavioural instincts and the horror of a life lived in confinement and finished with a trip to the abbatoir is dreadful to contemplate. Although, unlike you, I am not able to speak from experience I imagine that a pig slaughterhouse must be a truly hideous place.

    All that said, I am not against eating meat – I like meat but to my mind the only humane way to kill animals is to pretty much shoot them where they stand, or at least for them to be killed on the farm where they were raised. And yes I do fully realise that this is logistically impossible and stupidly idealistic, which is why I don’t buy meat.


    Jane Reply:

    As Sarah said, its in the name of meat quality (this profitability) to have animals not stressed, as well as animal welfare. The margin in beef is very small, and with cheaper protein sources like chicken as competition they have to work extra hard to have a consistently high quality product every single time. The MSA program Safeway has now utilized ensures eating quality is always good. If the animals were all so stressed the meat would be tough – its a science.
    As for pigs, i know that some pork processors kill their pigs with carbon dioxide. They get put into a lift, the lift gets filled with the gas and they literally go to sleep. This all goes back to a calm animal produces a higher quality product. Stressed animals = low profitability = nonviable business. Farmers do care, if they didn’t their businesses wouldn’t survive.

    A great article Sarah! Agriculture is not very good at fighting back with a loud voice when we get called barbaric abusers of the land and animals. We are feeding the world, its a big job and we should be thanked for it rather than belittled and abused. There are dodgy operators in EVERY industry, but as a whole we are doing a bloody good job and improving the way we do things every day. We just aren’t very good at saying it loud, we’re too busy working. So thank you for being a voice!


    Jane Reply:

    Also, last year the RSPCA did a study of the welfare of sows, the report found that grouped sows were exposed to bullying, fighting and injuries, which caused them to be stressed. The sows in confinement for a lot happier with no fighting or injuries. Wonder why we didn’t see that report advertised.


    Sara Reply:

    Jane, were the ‘fighting’ sows grouped how they would be in nature? Were they in a true free range environment or a pig farm that grouped together larger numbers then there should be in a confined space? I’m just not sure there’s not enough information here to make a judgement. There are free ranges pig farms so it obviously works somewhere so I can’t help but think the ‘grouped’ sows were not in a true free range environment, just in a group pen. I just don’t think this is good evidence for isolating and caging social animals. It’s evidence for looking into better free range practices.

    Julie Reply:

    Otway Pork practices RSPCA approved farming. You can go to their website and watch a video of how the pigs live. It is the only pork I would buy.

    Jules Reply:

    Hi Jane – I know farmers do care, and I certainly don’t set out to belittle or abuse anyone. I do everything I can to support farmers with every choice I make at the supermarket or farmers market, and as I have direct links with many of our local producers I believe I am aware of the effort that goes into supplying us consumers with the food we take so much for granted.

    Unfortunately once animals have left the farm and are in the hands of stock transport agents and abbatoir workers, the farmer has very little control over the treatment given to his/her stock – the recent uproar over live cattle exports to Indonesia illustrates this. The poor farmers were unaware, and as horrified as anyone at what was being done to their animals, but the situation was out of their hands.

    It seems a lot of the issues I referred to creep in as the size of the production unit increases, and this ties back in to Sarah’s original theme of sustainability. Unless they fill a very specialist and lucrative niche in the market, the days of the small family farm are gone. It’s farming as agribusiness now and as the size of the farm and stock numbers increase, so the direct input of the farmer into their welfare decreases. I don’t say this to demonise farmers in any way, but rather to make the point that an economic unit these days has to be huge to survive, often owned by large companies, and this in turn dictates the level of hands-on brings management possible. I believe this is because we as consumers want everything for nothing and baulk at paying a realistic price for our food, thus margins are pared down to the bone and smaller farms are simply not sustainable. In his book “The End of Food” Paul Roberts states that “in 1900 the average American family spent half it’s household income on food; by 1980, that share had dropped to less than 15%” and I would suggest that those figures would be roughly similar here.


    Sarah Wilson

    Sarah Wilson Reply:

    Jules – agree, we want everything for nothing. I think we pay too little for food (given so few baulk at paying stupid amounts for handbags and shoes and nail polish).

    Kate Reply:

    I am with you 100% Jules. I have been a vegetarian for 20 years now and for me the biggest issue is the slaughter, although I do have concerns about certain farming practises as well.

    However, my husband and two young children do eat meat so I do think alot about what the best options are. I try my best to buy free-range or organic meat for them, but Ive been starting to question even these options- as these animals are sent to the same abattoirs and go through the same process of transport and slaughter as any others.

    While Im willing to consider that the sort of horrific cruelty and abuse that was uncovered recently with Inghams turkeys is a rare occurrence- how can we know? Secret filming in abattoirs by ‘activists’ isnt widespread either. I know the Greens have proposed a Bill to have CCTV cameras in every Australian abattoir and this is something I think should be supported as much as possible- its the only way to discourage abuse like seen with the Inghams turkeys (and many other examples). I will still be uncomfortable with the slaughter and will remain vegetarian, but it would make me slightly more comfortable with purchasing meat for my other family members.


    Sabrina Reply:

    I don’t eat meat anymore because of the same reasons. Ideally having CCTV cameras in abattoirs and ending live exports altogether would be the best option in ending abuse.

    I’ve recently also stopped eating eggs as well because of how the male chicks are treated as a ‘waste’ product. I would love to live in a world were people treated all animals that are raised for our consumption with the respect they deserve before they end up on our plate.


  • http://makebeautifulstore@gmail.com sanja

    In reply to Tarryne
    I believe our attitude towards everything in our lives, our decisions on what we eat, how we live, how we interact with others and our environment (in our homes and in the wider world) reflects the level of respect we show. Respect for ourselves, respect for others, respect and appreciation for what we have, what we give and what we receive .
    A lack of respect is negative on everyone and everything around you.
    Perhaps, ultimately, that is what is ‘wrong’ in the world, why so much seems dark and hopeless, why the ‘younger generation’ seem so negative. They appear to have little respect for anyone or anything, not even themselves. This is perpetuated by media… Is there a market for a happy newspaper or a happy tv station?


  • Gemma

    I’m vegan for a number of reasons, partially to do with health (this just works better for my many digestion issues), and partially because I can’t afford to do the things you mentioned above, so I simply abstain.

    I love that you have given such a thought-out opinion on the topic – it is one that I respect more than the over-zealous vegans tend to do & I do agree with your opinions (in theory; it’s not for me, but it is great for most people).


    Fiona Reply:

    Beautiful Gemma. Your open mind and humility is so well expressed in your clear-like-water and light (like air?!) language. Such a nice surprise to see you. xo


  • http://www.thespaces-between.com natalie

    So many take home messages for me! Particularly the waste issue of certain cuts, the workers, and just being more aware and present about the lifecycle of the animal to our plates! A great post. Thanks nat x


  • http://www.africanaussie.blogspot.com Africanaussie

    If you buy meat that is marked down – aren’t you stopping it being thrown away once it becomes out of date? I notice our woolies begins to mark the legs of lamb at 10.00 off once they are nearing their use by date.


    Meg Reply:

    Yes, I had a similar thought Africanaussie.

    I try to avoid the ‘Prices are down and staying down!” Product markdowns, but For those marked down for quick sale, I feel like I’m rescuing them from the bin.


    Sarah Wilson

    Sarah Wilson Reply:

    Marked down with a sticker for the reasons you’re talking about are totally legit – I often buy my meat that way! But I’m referring to the way the supermarkets do specific promos “$10 off leg of lamb” to get you in store. It’s not nearing its used-by date…it’s a promo.


  • http://www.cumquatsandquinces.blogspot.com Amber

    Great post! It makes me mad that the majority of consumers buy without any thought to where their food has come from and the impacts of its production and distribution. Not good enough!
    As the world population explodes, as farmland is lost to housing and lifestyle blocks, as extreme weather events increase in frequency due to global warming, and the price of fuel & fertiliser continues to increase, is does seem pretty obvious that there WILL be a global food crisis – and it WILL impact us here in Australia.
    But HOW do we get people to care and change their eating and buying habits before the crisis hits?


  • Amanda

    I have always wanted to visit an abattoir to be able to see if the gruesome pictures posted on social media reflects what is actually going on.

    In your instance, it all sounds kind of normal. But these pictures and videos of animals being beaten, dragged by the neck and cut up alive surely cannot be manufactured visuals; it has to be happening somewhere.

    It proves difficult to know what abattoirs our meat is coming from; the one you visited or the ones conducting what happens in the awful videos?

    I have a huge issue buying and therefore supporting the meat industry if animals are not raised or killed ethically and additionally pumped full of bleach and hormones.

    It is important for me to source such from local farmers and if I cannot find it, I don’t buy it.


  • Josie

    Hi Sarah

    Interesting insights. My only comment – re: “I accept we are designed to eat meat”
    According to Christina Warinner, an expert on ancient diets, “humans have no known anatomical, physiological, or genetic adaptations to meat consumption.” Check out this TedX Talk (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BMOjVYgYaG8) in which she debunks the paleo diet.

    Dr. Christina Warinner has excavated around the world, from the Maya jungles of Belize to the Himalayan mountains of Nepal, and she is pioneering the biomolecular investigation of archaeological dental calculus (tartar) to study long-term trends in human health and diet. She is a 2012 TED Fellow, and her work has been featured in Wired UK, the Observer, CNN.com, Der Freitag, and Sveriges TV. She obtained her Ph.D. from Harvard University in 2010, specializing in ancient DNA analysis and paleodietary reconstruction.


    mw Reply:

    Checked out the talk .. interesting !
    Nice little tie in with the anecdote about sugar cane consumption.


    katy Reply:

    Thanks for the link, it’s a very interesting talk. Pretty much debunks all the foundations of the “paleo diet”. As an expert she must all the paleo diet hype pretty frustrating


    Rebecca Reply:

    Thanks for that link Josie, really interesting and makes so much sense, I have never been a fan of the paleo fad!


    Mia Reply:

    And here is a debunking of your debunking! Read everything, THEN make up your mind I reckon.



  • Jess

    Thanks Josie for this TedX link. It’s a real myth buster from a very smart lady! our Paleo ancestors were not walking around with bags of beef jerky like Nora does, and sometimes they might have gone for days without eating. I’ve also found the following site useful in busting myths about sugar, http://www.facebook.com/nutritionbynature


    Kay Reply:

    I find this whole debate amazing.

    Another clinically-trained nutritionist who is “sifting through the myths and misunderstandings” and recommends including fructose in the diet but states that “POLYUNSATURATED SEED OILS ARE 100% TOXIC, there’s no two ways about it. Sadly, the Nutritionists and Dieticians who say otherwise (and vehemently defended canola oil on television) will be caught with their pants down when the world catches on”

    No wonder people are confused lol!


  • louise

    Hmm a tricky topic. I am inclined towards scepticism and have to point out – is there a possible ility that the abbatoir workers knew a visitor was coming and were all instructed to be on their best behaviour? I also agree with previous statements that one abbatoir isn’t necessarily representative of others, and that no matter the care taken to raise animals humanely, they can still get killed inhumanely. Not to mention what we all already know- lead being what they are in Australia, labels such as ‘free range’ can often mean nothing of the sort (for example, free range chickens who are brought up for most of their life locked in a shed until two weeks before they are killed, at which point a tiny door is opened in the shed which they are too scared of to use anyway…)
    Having said all that – I have found it close to impossible to maintain iron levels on a meat free diet (and yep, I eat loads of leafy green, legumes, spirulina etc…)


  • Carrie

    As consumers, we need to help look after our farms and farmers. What I mean is, we as a consumer need to help keep Australia growing our own food. Doesn’t matter if someone is a vegan or meat eater, our food comes from the land. Everyone has to eat, crops and stock need to be grown. Country communities should be growing veggies and fruit for there local area but government policies don’t help our farmers. There is so much we can do to help employment and our own health. Please support the farmers who grow stock, fruit and veggies. One farm was sold to oversea investors and the water is being sold back to the Australian people for $43,000,000. Why? Because the government doesn’t care about selling us out.


  • Pearce

    Interesting article.

    I’m curious though – did any of you consider that the abattoir workers were most likely under strict instructions to ‘behave’ considering a (paid) journalist was coming in to review their operations?

    I appreciate farmers care, you care, we all care blah blah but really, are we to believe that abattoir workers CARE about how the animals – that they are about to slaughter – are treated? Please. Grow up people.

    Go back to the abattoir, unpaid and in disguise and then tell us what you see.


    Markland Reply:

    Wow – way to slander a whole profession in one comment. Have you ever been to an abbatoir?


    florian Reply:

    Pearce is absolutely right. I have been once and no, nobody cares. It’s just another stupid cow to kill. Sad but true.


    VE Reply:

    Yep I also went to an abbatoir and I stopped eating meat for 6 years.

    M Reply:

    I have never been to one and I wish I could be open-minded and have faith that the industry is as cruelty-free as possible, but unfortunately the undercover videos that make it into the mainstream media and articles like this http://www.news.com.au/national-news/slaughterhouse-workers-are-more-likely-to-be-violent-study-shows/story-fncynjr2-1226560029984 do influence my thoughts and dietary choices. But I also have friends on farms, so I’ve heard about the slaughter process from their point of view as well.

    But I do think you’re right, Sarah, that people need to appreciate how the food gets to the plate, for example I think a lot of people would have no idea how chickens are slaughtered at a processing plant.

  • Markland

    People are dissociated with their food source and tend to waste it without thinking about it – there’s plenty more in the supermarket. But I think the real message is ‘just don’t waste – anything!’ Have respect and be grateful for everything we have and don’t waste it. Massive amounts of resources are poured into producing, storing and transporting everything we take for granted in a modern world. Reusing is better than recycling, and not using is better again. The water in the tap, the food on the table, and material items are all precious – we need to change our attitudes to believe that.
    I grew up on a farm where resources were precious (eg the water supply was all on farm, not from the scheme) and my father grew up in WW2. Everything he did was frugle. Its amazing how much we have become massive consumers since then – but articles like this are great – maybe it will help attitudes to swing full circle.


  • Dan

    I’m married to a livestock agent who’s job it is to arrange the sale of the animal to the processor, who are the owners of the animal as it passes through the abattoir, arrange the transport from the farm to the sale yards where they change hands and are then transported to the abattoir, and can 100% vouch for the fact that the animals welfare is paramount at every stage of the process.

    In over 20 years hubby says that he has only ever seen one instance of an animal being mistreated, and that was by a livestock cartage truck driver. He complained, and the bloke was sacked. This is a highly regulated industry, from the top down, and I urge people to see for themselves, as Sarah has done, before making judgement based on ill informed ideas.

    Head out to the bush, attend a sale, meet the growers, agents and transport guys. They are normal, decent human beings with a job to do like everyone else, and they take their responsibilities seriously, as are the processors. We grow cattle as well, they are well nourished, well watered, have happy lives and then go to market. The meat you are buying is ethically produced. Promise!


  • Lee

    This is a great article, and certainly provides a lot of food for thought (no pun intended!). I will certainly be sharing it.

    I work in the animal health industry, and therefore have a lot of dealings with regulators, growers, processors etc. I would say that a lot of the people who have commented on here on here reflect my experience – that is, that the vast majority of producers are very careful, educated and professional about what they do – if nothing else, it makes financial sense.

    With regards to the behaviour of the workers at abbatoirs – not only does a stressed animal produce tougher/lower-grade meat, but a frightened animal can also be a dangerous animal – several hundred kilos of out of control steer can be very confronting. So, it is in their best interests for all to remain calm. In addition, a lot of the larger growers have their own processing plants close by, so that the trip from hoof to hook is quite short.

    I am not saying that this is what you see 100% of the time – the recent footage from the Inghams turkey facility is a case in point.

    I also like the point that you made about sustainability and waste – this is something that I have thought about for quite a long time. If we want to eat meat, we need to have respect for the animal that provided it for us – and this means, I believe, not allowing any of this precious commodity to go to waste – something that I have been guilty of!


  • Jillian

    Thank you Sarah. This is a great article and timely too!
    It’s relevant to point outthat this year’s World Environment Day theme is ” Think Eat Save” ( http://www.unep.org/wed/theme/) focusing on sustainable food consumption.

    While we have a huge choice of food available for us to pick and choose from, the amount that we waste is appalling, all the while 1 in 7 people in the world go to bed hungry.

    Sustainable food consumption is something that we need to address for both ethical and environmental reasons.


  • http://www.1rubyroad.com Kylie

    My family of 6 personally eats fructose-additive free and local and organic (where possible)
    Particularly our meats. Organic, free range is more expensive…so we eat less of it which is great too! It does bother me that people don’t care what they are putting into their mouths, on their backs, all over their skin and what they are sleeping on and under. We have become such a consumer driven society, hell bent on MORE MORE MORE! Stopping to think where our food, clothing, personal care items, housing materials etc comes from, how it was produced and by whom is the only way of the future…if we are to have one!
    My husband ironically works for a LARGE company that sells to consumers. They are forever changing, due to what consumers are asking for. If you stop buying these items…they WILL change their product to suit consumer demands! It’s proven!
    Once uppon a time there was NO organic available mainstream…no recycled toilet paper etc…
    Look what we are creating by demanding these changes and putting our vote forward with our hard earned $$$! Money talkes!

    For us we’ll continue living lightly..growing our own, sewing our own, supporting our local farmers and artisans. It just feels right 😀


  • http://ilikeiwishiheart.com Heidi

    This post has brought up many things. Mostly my own uncomfortableness with being a meat eater but not being tough enough to bear witness to the killing of the animals I eat. We participated in Meat Free Week last week as a family and we discovered one daughter is vegetarian and one is not. My husband and I have found it difficult to eat meat since and enjoyed our meat free weak immensely. Not sure of our next step but I applaud your bravery Sarah!


  • http://omnomally.com Ally @ Om Nom Ally

    Thank you for such a thought out discussion on the ethics of sustainable meat consumption. I agree with many of your thoughts and findings, but I don’t think I would be emotionally strong enough to visit an processing facility to see it first hand.
    I agree with the premise of eating less meat, and not being sucked in to supermarket bargaining tools. There are so many ways to use ‘the whole animal’ and I think it’s important to consider how we would have traditionally done so with the less-used parts of the animal that get discarded today.
    I loved this article and have shared to facebook as I think this is an important point of discussion for meat eaters, vegetarians and vegans alike.


  • Margotdeepa Slater

    What a wonderful way to educate and share different views. Sites like this assist in creating tolerance and hearing another’s story. We are our ancestors however how they lived and survived was very different. There was an appreciation, reverence and respect for the life they were taking, nothing was ever wasted and they cared for and looked after their environment because they knew their survival depended on it.

    Animals are NOT grown like wheat. They are NOT things and that is where humans have become separated from the process of life. It is easy to cull, be cruel or be indifferent to anything we have become separated from. This creates a them and us attitude and a safe distance for disconnection. We are all part of a great symbiotic process, where each is reliant on the other. Any interruption to that process over time will gradually diminish the connection until everything becomes a thing to be used and abused.

    Whilst humans may have made it to the top of the predatory ladder, they have lost much of themselves along the way. Having lived on a farm with animals who were part of that process of life. We killed our own animals for meat. Many people in ‘the burbs’ simply have no idea about the way their food is produced or where it comes from and nor do they care, providing its there at their fingertips at the end of the day, how they want it and when they want it. When you care for and about and kill animals for food there is a relationship which is formed. That doesn’t happen when a supermarket takes over the process and fills in the gaps.

    Humans in their quest to survive and achieve and have more, have lost their ability to understand the naturalness of the symbiotic process of life. And; sadly in doing so, have lost a part of themselves and the process of life and death.


  • Sahara

    Perhaps we need to reconnect with our forefathers who learnt to savour and cook every part of an animal properly? Myself included.
    My grandparents had a farm where we mustered and slaughtered our own meat and I never respected that they were farming sustainably. I mean tongue was a delicacy and my Dad’s favourite.
    I simply thought it was disgusting and intriguing, and my job to say a little prayer for each cow that passed. But like the masses I still enjoyed my steak.
    Thanks Sarah. Hands down, your best writing. Passionate and very well considered.
    Now I might just go get some cooking tips from my Nan.


  • http://posiepatchworkblog.blogspot.com.au posie blogs Jennie McClelland

    This is fantastic, really well written, empathetic & covered lots of angles. I too visit abattoirs, it’s an incredible process & absolutely impressive how every hoof & intestine is used (sheep intestines off to China to make sausages!!) Abattoirs are clean, stream lined & my children have watched sheep go up the ramp to be stunned, it’s not horrible, it’s how we get our lamb roast, they appreciate & understand it.
    I do get alarmed at 30-50% waste, it’s crazy & outrageous. We rarely eat out & as a family of 6, barely fill one garbage bag with waste (& barely a bin of recycling) as we make almost everything from scratch, fresh scraps go to the animals (chickens, rabbits, ducks & a German Shepherd) & we live in suburbia!! I am obsessed with Tupperware keeping things fresh, buy only what we need, grow as many herbs/ salad/ vegetables as we can ourselves, not just for budget but i know how they were created – organically, it’s just all part of my job as a housewife & keeps me at home as it’s almost like generating an income. I doubt we have 5% of waste, certainly no leftovers with teenagers in the house!! But it was always that way, from breastfeeding to making our own pasta, we care deeply about the hands on approach to our food.
    Fabulous article, i’ve forwarded it to my abattoir managing friends, who no doubt, appreciate a ‘celebrity’ taking the time to consider all sides & agree sensibly that abattoirs (or yes, meat processing plants) exist, we need them & they care about the animals, deeply. Love Posie


  • http://posiepatchworkblog.blogspot.com.au posie blogs Jennie McClelland

    PS Jamie Oliver is always promoting ‘cheaper’ cuts of meat, so we’re not just going for prime cuts, but those less popular, so they are not wasted. You do the same in IQS, it’s very thorough & impressive. It’s ‘cheap’ to eat well.


  • Jules

    Hi Sarah, thank you so much for doing this and sharing this. As someone who agrees with you, that we are designed to eat meat, however finds the reality of killing an animal hard to deal with I am so impressed by your courage to go and find out for yourself and witness things that you knew would be difficult. I also agree wholeheartedly with a lot of the sentiment expressed above, that we have grown so divorced from where our food comes from, we no longer have any respect for the processes, both natural and human that brought it to our plate and in doing so, show complete disregard by wasting so much. I must admit my current, less than favourable, economic circumstances makes me so careful about the food I buy. I still try to buy organic, locally produced, etc but I plan carefully and don’t let anything go to waste, especially meat. I also find it interesting that this is a bit of a developed country issue – I doubt many people in the developing world would question much of this at all. It does make me feel a little silly at times, when there are so many cultures out there that either hunt or raise and kill their own meat, no-one does it for them, it part of their normalcy. I often think our hunter-gatherer forebears would think that we are pretty wimpy and peculiar lot!


  • http://www.alldayheels.com.au Sara

    Sarah, I’m so glad to read this from you. I had mistakenly believed you were suggesting people eat more meat. So glad I was wrong. Great post.

    I do believe we are designed to eat meat, just not a hell of a lot of it. I at the moment trying to eat 3 portions of red meat a week for an injury that my Chinese doctor says needs red meat to heal. I actually do not enjoy it but do so for health’s sake (though am about ot look at that Ted Talk so maybe I’ll change my mind!). It’s just 100grams for each portion. Ie 300 grams a week. That’s pretty much one large steak and that’s it for the week. That is plenty for me and my health. Usually I would eat far less and never any pig products.

    I hate buying from supermarkets and I will go out of my way to find meat farmed ethically and happily pay for (and I’m not ‘flush’, I just east less – it’s not that expensive to do!) Same goes for dairy. I’d much rather pay more for an ethically farmed animal product and I figure that helps everyone – from the animal to the farmer to the consumer. Let’s face it, there are VERY few of us who are actually starving. Most of us could very easily cut back on our food intake with no adverse effects to our health (and in fact it would probably benefit most of us) so I’ve never understood the ‘it’s too expensive’ argument.

    I have to say I sort of agree with Hail to the Nihilist and definitely Julie so am ethically torn by my decision to eat meat. To say that eating meat is fine because we’re supposed to just doesn’t sit right with me. In ‘nature’ male animals ‘rape’ the females, they fight to the death over mates and territory (OK, that does sound scarily familiar!). We’re more than our instincts and we have a responsibility to be more. Just because as animals we are supposed to do it doesn’t necessarily mean we should. An ethical dilemma I struggle with! I also wonder do animals feel guilty after a kill that they eat? Does the lion feel sorrow for the elk it is eating? Once this injury is healed (or perhaps before if I find it’ll work) I may go full vego with limited dairy (Barambah is wonderful!) and eggs from farms I know .

    Anyway, I digress. Sarah, I love that the point of this is eat responsibly as we cannot sustain our consumption as it is now, including for animal welfare (high demand = less humane farming to meet it).

    In line with this debate, what’s your take on the ‘wastage’ from the dairy and egg industry? Ie the bobby calves and male chicks who are discarded or treated with the bare minimum of care (not to mention the distress the mothers go through) in line with lax laws as they have no profitability in those industries? This is one area I’m trying to learn more about. As an example I buy a brand of free range eggs where I have been in touch with the farmer. But they only buy female hens so they have no idea about the breeding side of things. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this as I think it’s an extension of what you’re saying here. Ie what can we ethically sustain in consumption of animal (or any) products.


    Hail To The Nihilist Reply:

    I think the “use” question is more important and should come before the “treatment” question. However, it doesn’t seem the be the case. We’re fixated on how to _treat_ animals rather than whether they should be subject to treatment at all. This question shouldn’t seem too extreme, but for some it seems to be for it brings into question something that impacts on most of our lives in a significant way.

    You’re very right to say that just because something is doesn’t mean it ought to be. It relates to the Is-Ought Problem articulated by philosopher, David Hume, in the 16th Century. Many argue that one can not derive an “ought” from an “is” for there is too significant a difference between descriptive and normative statements. Hence, morality is largely normative, i.e. moral norms are just that, normative by nature; there is no natural law that governs them.

    I wrote on my blog, Hail To The Nihilist, recently, “Because an animal is sentient means that it should experience the least amount of suffering that is practicable. It’s okay to kill the animal provided it lives a good, stress-free life. This view is flawed. The way in which animals are treated, regardless of our best intentions, would be considered torture if a human were involved.” I believe that one must compellingly argue for the significant moral difference between humans and animals in order to prove my position wrong. If it cannot be done, speciesism is the only explanation. This is a theory structurally similar to racism and sexism.


  • DJ

    30 years ago I saw a movie made by Animal Liberation that featured extremely graphic footage shot from inside abattoirs. I have not eaten meat since. My partner left the same movie and pretty much headed straight to McDonalds for a burger. It seems to me that we all have different tolerance levels for witnessing the slaughter of animals for food but we should all know the reality of how that meat gets onto our plate. And I also love the idea of having CCTV cameras installed at all abattoirs just to make sure that the suffering of animals is kept to an absolute minimum.


    Hail To The Nihilist Reply:

    Some call it moral schizophrenia or ambiguity.


  • Monique Kelso

    Well put Sarah….agree, agree, agree!!!!


  • Myles

    Hi Sarah
    WOW, what a wonderful and thought provking topic for you to latch onto, I appalude your guts (sorry), to research this particular issue and give a SARAH type, tell it as it is, thoughtful and logical conclusion. I have grown up around the consumption of meat for all my 58 years and having come from a farm to now live in rural NSW, I have valued the access I have to meat in all its availability. We have a local butcher in our town of 800 people and he supplies to local supermarket, which you have guessed isn’t part of the current duopoly of supermarkets. I look for lables when i do shop at the Duoply for meat that bears an MLA (Meat and Livestock Australia) endorsement to guide my purchases and that my bit for sustainable production, otherwise the local butchers do it just fine. On the other hand you mention waste and that is my other issue as I manage the landfills around the area. The trend as you might known is the removal of organics from the waste stream that is impacting on the speed our landfill are filling (no pun intended), and contributing to our not so favourite carbon tax via landfill gas production. That issue will be ongoing and will require the willpower of all to find a sustainable solution. By the way a tip for waste reduction in the kitcken is the NSW love food hate waste website for those that may need a starting point.
    Thanks Sarah :-)


  • Sim R-J

    Very insightful and thought provoking article Sarah – and interesting discussion. I am keen to learn more. Can you recommend any further reading on this? Particularly in regards to living more sustainably as an inner-city dwelling family? Thanks. x


  • Elizabeth

    Good on you Sarah for doing what is unquestioningly difficult. I’m originally a country girl who bought and sold cattle from when I was 11 to save for my horse. 16 odd years in the city didn’t make me forget my past, and now, married to a country copper in far north Qld, I’m back to homesteading again. I think the hardest thing will be trying to get consumers to vote with their dollar. I know people that call themselves ‘foodies’ (I hate that term) – yet buy battery chicken and cage eggs because it’s cheaper.
    I also find a lot (not all, but quite a few) vegetarians and vegans can get very stroppy on the topic of meat. Yet, will wear and use leather and as you mentioned above, eat foods which are fertilized with blood and bone. I’ve even seen a blog where a vegan has the imaginative idea of putting a fence down the middle of Africa, and having the herbivores on one side and carnivores on the other. He was convinced that faced with a lack of prey – the carnivores would start to eat grass and no animal need die! Not to mention the havoc that the herbivores would have on the landscape, and the natural selection process being prevented. Too many wrongs in that argument – I could go on forever how stupid this blog was, but there were quite a number of others that agreed with his argument because they had seen their cat or dog eat grass … anyway …
    Ending the life of an animal you intend to eat is never an easy process. I cried when my husband dispatched our rooster. And he wasn’t a nice rooster. But it is a necessary part of life and is more respectful and sustainable to grow and care for your food, dispatch it kindly and eat or use everything.
    Again, well done on being brave enough to go through with it – you’ll never look at your rib-eye the same way again … and I bet you totally clean your plate! :)


    Hail To The Nihilist Reply:

    No doubt there are some pretty stupid arguments being dispensed by vegans, Elizabeth. But please don’t think we are all like that.

    No doubt there are dilemmas at play when it comes to growing enough plants to feed humans, the use of fertilizers and pesticides, and the ambiguity amongst one’s morals. However, the former two points in particular, whilst having baring on the broader debate, really need to be considered more deeply in separation. These facts, whilst true, do not justify eating meat. Something else must.


  • Sophie

    Just curious, and sorry that this is quite off topic, but regarding the sustainable eating – I decided not to activate my nuts because I felt that having the oven on for a large part of the day was unsustainable. Even if at a low setting (and I don’t know how much or how little energy would be used) I still think it is energy that won’t be used if I just eat my nuts as they are. Any opinions on this?


    Elizabeth Reply:

    Sophie – have you looked at making a solar oven? You can make them with a box, there is heaps of you-tube vids and info on it. My husband had a crack, and now is trying his hand at a solar water distiller! I totally agree with you about the use of the oven, even on low temperatures, also, it heats up the house and I don’t know where you are, but where we are it’s hot! Have a crack at the solar oven, you can also do slow-cooking in them as well. :)


    Sophie Reply:

    Thanks Elizabeth, as soon as the NBN is available in my area and I can then use Youtube, I’ll look into it.


  • Belinda

    Thankyou Sarah, I admire you for having the courage and determination to go through with this. I know that if I saw the insides of a meat works then I would no longer eat meat. (I have not eaten chicken since I brought home my hens!). We eat organic meat only twice a week from a very helpful and friendly butcher in Brisbane. As we are only a 1 income household we have the cheaper cuts of meat, and fully use our leftovers. Last year when visiting a friends family for a bbq dinner, I was shocked to see the wastage of half-eaten chops and steak tossed into the bin – and this family eats meat every evening.
    If you haven’t already read it, have a look for a book called “The ethics of what we eat” (Peter Singer & Jim Mason). Hard core stuff.


  • Hayley Wilson

    After just spending 10 days at one cattle station in the NT and arriving at another for a three week visit, the processes and systems for meat to arrive on my dinner plate have become a key interest for me. Although I didn’t witness it, a ‘kill’ was done at the last station we visited and the cook (a qualified butcher) made loads of mince and sausages once the better cuts were removed. This is the meat that the people who live and work on the station eat for their meals. The cook/ex-butcher told me that before she worked there, they used to do nearly two kills a month (because the previous cook didn’t have the same butchering skills) but since then they only need to kill about one.

    I hear what you say Sarah, in regards to the hard work the slaughterers do at the abattoir. The cook was absolutely exhausted after she’d done all the butchering. You’re spot on there in asking meat-eaters to show their gratitude for both the animal and the labour sacrifice made in order for us to receive energy and nutrition from this food source.


  • Jobby51

    Thank you Sarah, what a wonderfully balanced article. We are farmers that produce lamb, among other things.

    I have been concerned of late with the fury of some non-meat eaters directed towards farmers, stock transporters and meat processors. Farmers in particular are a very quiet bunch when it comes to defending what we do – we love our animals, they are our life, and we are often too busy looking after them to address the ill-informed critics who make us out to be heartless animal abusers.

    Before you make a decision on what you eat please do your best to inform yourselves of all sides of the arguments. Speak to the people who produce your food, there are some great forums out there now to do so.


    Elizabeth Reply:

    Kudos to you Jobby51. Keep up the good work. Make no mistake, there are plenty of people that appreciate what you do.


  • Judith

    Wow, I am really impressed that you went to an abbatoir, I dont think I could do it, an I am not a vegetarian. I am studying my Masters Of Dietetics and I find the disparity between the west and wasteful nations and those that have no food. Reading about the huge refugee camps in Ethiopia and the like and here we have plenty of meat and so much waste.

    I think people who work in abbatoirs have amazing jobs and obviously the right outlook on life to just “get on with their job”

    Honestly Kudo’s to you for going to such lengths to provide insight to your readers and I like the angle you took from your visit, and your commentary didn’t become an animal rights piece, but looked at the whole visit from a holistic view, where the meat goes and how it is all used. A fascinating read and I wonder how much tie you sat in front of the computer thinking about where your writing was to go with this confronting visit.


  • Cazza

    My understanding from farmers I talked to is that male bobby calves are sold to producers who fatten them up (grass fed the mob I know off ) and sold. The male chickens were raised for meat. ( only here say )


    Sara Reply:

    Thanks Cazza. That makes sense.
    My concern is what happens between their birth and the ‘fattening up’ stage for the bobby calves. I also think it’s important for vegetarians to understand that the dairy industry involves the slaughter of animals as well. Many don’t realise this and would probably make different choices if they knew. I choose dairy from Barambah Organics – awesome produce and, according to their website:
    “No Barambah calves are sent to the abbatoir.”
    “The calf is not separated from its mother until it is truly on its way and fit and healthy.”

    www. barambahorganics.com.au

    Pretty sure sarah is a fan of their products and I’m not affiliated with them so hope this little plug is OK!


    Hail To The Nihilist Reply:

    “I also think it’s important for vegetarians to understand that the dairy industry involves the slaughter of animals as well.” Too right, hence the issue with welfarism. The welfarist agenda is gaining sufficient momentum to blind people to the facts of the dairy and egg industries. As I state in a previous comment, the use question needs to be answered before the treatment question. It shouldn’t be “How should we treat animals which we use as a means to an end?” it should be “Should we treat animals as a means to an end?”


    Sara Reply:

    I hear you. I really do. And I hugely admire not only your beliefs but obviously the execution of them as well. I may be getting there slowly. In the meantime I’m trying to make better choices (as I hate the idea that ‘if you can’t do everything don’t bother doing anything’). But I promise I am listening.

    Hail To The Nihilist Reply:

    I appreciate that, Sara. In the past I have been very, umm, passionate in my contribution to the discourse. However, I am glad you have what I consider to be the “right” end-goal in your view. I am passionately against welfarism on the basis that (1) is sells a false premise and (2) it dissolves the guilt and sets out to at most regulate use–it doesn’t strive for a vegan world.


    Hail To The Nihilist Reply:

    p.s. I am sure I came from a similar position to you and, indeed, incrementally changed my mind and behaviours.

    Sara Reply:

    Well, in this discussion I think you’ve been passionate but not aggressive and I know I need to learn more so I’m more than happy to listen.

    I’ve heard before that being ‘welfare driven’ absolves us of guilt so we won’t bother to go any further. That may be true for some but I actually feel the opposite. I feel the more you consider the welfare of an animal (regardless of how imperfect that may be) the more you consider them as having a right to life and and move even further into what it really means to eat/ use animals. For me anyway. It doesn’t absolve me of guilt, it makes me think more and I believe it is the lack of thought – the ‘blocking out altogether’ – that results in lack of guilt/care.

    Funnily enough it seems you’re the same. You incrementally changed your behaviours. I do think it’s a baby step process for many, myself included and each step makes the next one easier. 6 years ago I would never have considered veganism but having now eliminated pig products, most meat and milk and switching to ‘humane’ dairy where possible I’m much, much closer to that ideal and finding the idea easier to stomach. I’m not perfect but doesn’t mean I shouldn’t try :)

    Hail To The Nihilist Reply:

    You’ve made great progress, Sara. Well done. Keep on reading. :)


  • Tiff


    Highly recommended sustainable/ethical butcher in Sydney.

    When we decided as a family to buy our meat from them, i emailed one of the owners (Laura) with concerns i wasn’t going to be able to afford much but could she suggest any cheaper cuts for a family budget. She emailed a comprehensive list of all the (less popular) cuts that taste just as good when cooked right, the ways to cook them, suggested recipes, tips, etc.

    They are passionate about this subject and provide a great service.


  • http://www.blumenthalphotography.com.au Megan

    Brilliant article Sarah!

    I grew up on a hobby farm on the far north coast(not too far from Byron) with “hippy” parents, whose passion for sustainability was inspiring to say the least!

    Now living in the Eastern suburbs of Sydney, I am still trying to maintain the standards that my parents set for me as a child.

    Thankfully due to the current “trendiness” of eating organic and grass-fed, we now have choices that were never available to the average person when I first moved to Sydney 14 years ago. I truly believe as people become more conscious of what they are putting into their bodies, they will start to question and become more and more aware of where the food is coming from and the impact it has on the environment.

    Luckily we have an amazing butcher in our local suburb who both ethically and environmentally meets the standards you are trying to set in your article. However the big price tag that goes along with this sometimes makes my eyes water. It’s never stopped me from buying the meat though, and I do agree it makes you a lot more aware of waste and how to avoid it because of the price tag.

    Sarah you have sparked an idea for me! This butcher offers whole animals for sale, far too much meat for a family of our size and nowhere to store it. However if this was shared amongst 4-6 families it should provide enough meat for a couple of months and encourage people to experiment and use all types of meat cuts with of course a huge saving in $$$.

    I am not sure if this is the right platform to post this…but if anyone lives in the Eastern Suburbs of Sydney and is interested in sharing a cow???


  • http://inspiredmood.wordpress.com Kate

    I have no words!
    Our society is so disconnected and it can be very confronting when you realize there are certain things you hadnt thought of in going about doing what you thought was the ‘right’ thing, making the ‘right’ choice…
    Thank you for continually sharing such valuable and thought-provoking information.


  • Stacey

    Thank you Sarah for having the courage to do this. I doubt that I could. Like many others I would like to see the conditions that pigs, chickens and farmed fish (yes they are living feeling animals too) are raised and ‘processed’ under. I’m a vegetarian for ethical reasons but I haven’t given up dairy… yet! I was watching a cooking program where the hosts were in a village in China – and one tiny little chicken was killed to feed a whole village. Meat was seen as a side dish to accompany veges and not the other way around. Thanks to Tiff for providing the link to featherandbone and to Josie for the tedtalk link. I’m also looking into keeping our own backyard chooks for eggs. Sarah I love your blog and I love your readers’ comments – you have the most passionate and informed readership.


  • http://www.soulfulspoon.com Heather Williams

    Sarah, I was almost to tears when I read this. Thanks for a great article. I hope you know your blog is just the best thing ever:) You are so inspiring on so many levels. IQS was such a great book, and I follow the same principles you do, except due to reasons that are in this article specifically, I eat a mostly vegan diet. Sometimes eggs, but rarely. Not eating sugar or carbs poses a challenge being vegan to get enough calories, but I find that no issue with coconut oil and a few healthy fats. This article reminded me of the heart of why I went vegan. Life is so precious and I generally get so upset seeing how our country treats food, and more importantly, animals. I work in a main-stream supermarket and hate it, but more than that, I hate to see how cheap meat is treated. I hate to see how much gets thrown away at night at the back dumpster and I hate seeing over 2,000 turkeys come in each week during the holidays. It breaks my heart to no end. Inhumane animal death has become a mainstream part of our culture and holiday traditions, and it has to stop. While I don’t believe being a vegan is for everyone, my heart always gravitates back to it for this reason. I’m still working on being more aware of where my food ( even vegetables) comes from. I’m not perfect, but do try to buy local when I can. I never buy meat but I always tell others to buy from certified humane and if possible, local, sources. I think we all have a huge role in each others’ lives, including the lives of animals. Thank you again for this post. It was incredibly poignant and remarkable.


  • Annalise

    That’s a real cute photo of you with the cows. But perhaps share photos with your readers of how those beautiful black creatures standing behind you in the photo come to be from standing there, to your dinner plate. What did you think of that process? Enjoy watching animals being slaughtered? Then show us! Images too disturbing? Then perhaps you shouldn’t partake in such a disturbing practice. All or nothing, girl.


    Jess Reply:

    I haven’t eaten a cow in 30yrs, I also haven’t eaten a pig or chicken in over 10yrs, the way animals are slaughtered is hideous. If you can’t kill it yourself then don’t eat it. that’s why I only eat fish, as I can catch a fish and kill it even though this too is disturbing to me. I suppose it is easier for people to turn a blind eye, go to sleep and just buy their meat on a nice tray from a supermarket. Would meat eaters take their children to see what goes on in these death camps? No it would traumatise them for life. Actually, maybe schools should be organising excursions to abattoirs, children instinctivly love animals, remember when the movie Babe came out and bacon sales went down, that’s the power of children for you!


  • Lisa

    Great article on a contentious topic! If you are in Brisbane and are a meat eater go to Allsop & England at Coorparoo for your organic meat! Top notch!!


  • Rachael

    Sarah, the photo’s of you smiling happily behind innocent creatures due to be slaughter is disturbing and abhorrent.
    however you want to package it, the mass murder of sentient beings is awful and cruel, and unconscious. You would be calm in resignation also, if you were being led to your own inevitable death, death you can smell, and those animals you talk of are aware and perceptive.
    It is even more implausible that you admit to your own profit from an organisation such as the one you are supporting.
    Your justifications are appalling….. Taking a baby away from it’s mother is never ok and an abattoir is a hell on earth for any animal entering it.
    You can stop eating sugar peacefully and with a clear conscious. Unsubscribe!


    MickTweak Reply:

    Sarah, you just jumped the shark, big time. What a hideous image, standing in front of poor animals about to be slaughtered to satiate your egotistical flesh eating. Get a grip girlfriend, you used to make a lot of sense.


  • sajjad

    Hi, I accidentally entered Iranian Vblagtvn I am I do not know the English language well now that I use Google translate if you want a bunch of comments from leave to go to my email


  • Nicole

    I dont usually comment on blog posts, but I feel as a very well informed consumer who leads a vegan lifestyle that we are not ‘designed to eat meat’ I don’t like that remark. It is also statistically shown over and over that the meat industry is the number contributor to greenhouse gases and climate change. Also, visiting one single abattoir once and they knew you were coming and going to write about it well of course its not going to be that bad and even if that particular abattoir adheres to certain rules and regulations there is still so many more abattoirs/piggeries/chicken farms etc etc that I guarantee will not be a walk in the park like this particular place.

    I know my comment will anger some people but please note I do not push my beliefs onto anyone, if you eat meat, you eat meat if you dont well you dont thats your choice but at least know where your meat/dairy/eggs are coming from – eat with a well informed mouthful.


    Elizabeth Reply:

    Bravo Nicole.

    My opinion is my opinion and I often don’t share it as I don’t feel I have enough facts, but my reality is….. If someone can go to an abattoir, see souls being killed, then skinned, then chopped up and pulled apart and then continue to eat them? I’d be concerned about their mental state.
    Sorry Sarah but that doesn’t sit right with me. It’s fucked up


  • Lisa

    Elizabeth, go use your ill-educated gutter mouth somewhere else, it doesn’t belong with intellectual conversation. Maybe you could learn how to re-phrase your opinion from Nicole’s example, why stoop to scummy language.


    Jess Reply:

    Lisa, I think it is you who needs to re examine their language. Your response to Elizabeth is hardly gracious nor is it necessary. Yes, Elizabeth used colourful langage, but she is obviously passionate about the discussion. I agree with her, it’s disturbing to witness such violence against animals, and then be able to eat them with a clear conscience. The mental state she is referring to is called denial, and most people have become shut down and emotionally numb to partake in voilence against animals. Remember to tune into 60 Minutes tonight at 7.30pm for a story on factory farming and abuse against chickens.


    Lex Reply:

    Hi Jess,

    I watched the 60 minute program but felt it was missing some marks. Not only are the chickens bred to grow so rapidly that their bones cannot support their weight (even the free-range birds featured looked strained and out of proportion), but they are also handled roughly when going to slaughter. Workers often grab several at a time by the legs, cramming them into tiny cages. Some are stepped on or intentionally harmed, and others have their bones shattered while being packed into crates.

    From what I have seen from undercover footage, slaughter house workers are often cruel and violent, and take pleasure in torturing innocent animals. Yes, there are a handful of farms and slaughterhouses that treat their animals with respect, and maybe the one Sarah visited was one of these, but the fact remains that the large majority couldn’t care less. It is about efficiency and profitability, and meeting the growing demands of the consumer. That is why we have factory farms.

    For anyone wanting more information on the mistreatment of chickens and birds I recommend watching this Lateline story concerning the mistreatment of Turkeys at an Ingham abattoir http://www.abc.net.au/lateline/content/2013/s3722144.htm
    Those wanting a deeper understanding of global animal welfare issues, sustainability etc… I recommend the film “Earthlings” by Nation Earth, and the book Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer (This book and film are the reason I am a vegetarian/ aspiring vegan)


  • K

    This article is interesting. It’s called ‘Ethics and Meat Eating’ and is written by Michael at Mountain Creek farm, a farm which produces beef, pork and lamb.

    He is a former vegetarian who appreciates that meat is a water and energy intensive product that requires a much larger land area than grains and vegetables, believes we should all eat less meat and promotes eating nose-to-tail.



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  • http://www.naomiirvin.com.au naomi

    Sarah thanks for this insight. It comes at perfect timing for me. I am currently in the throws of considering vegetarianism (I have 3 meat free days a week). The main reason I am considering a vegetarian path is because I am disappointed with the way “we” (as in western human race) have come to expect our food. As you say we don’t allow for seasonal difference in our foods. I am also disappointed that our mass demand for it has resulted in mass production of it. And personally, I want to pull the brakes on that a little bit. I do however have to admit to meat-snobbery and do like my cuts of meat to be the finest. You would stand aghast at how much “yucky bits” I chop of chicken breast before I cook. I don’t even like chicken thigh. So rather than be fussy and wasteful, your article has further convinced me that vegetariansism is possibly for me. I appluad you for looking into the issue in great depth and sharing with us, so that we can be more informed.


  • http://www.wordsbyaimee.com Aimee

    Hi Sarah,

    I wanted to commend you on points raised in this post.

    I grew up the granddaughter of a farmer and the daughter of a butcher and was always taught that you do not waste meat. I went on to work at Fletcher’s International while I was studying at university which is one of the largest sheep abbatoirs in Australia, mainly in the cold boning room but I’ve spent hours packing kidneys into boxes and I would be aghast if they were then just thrown out by the receiver.

    On finishing university I then flipped sides and handled PR for a large chicken and turkey brand, even taking food media on tours of turkey farms and turkey abbatoirs in order to promote Turkey meat to consumers.

    While I do believe meat is an integral part of our diets I do not believe it is essential to eat meat every day and when you do make the choice to eat meat it’s so important to take a sustainable approach and ensure you do not waste!


  • Wendy

    Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall did a great series where he took 6 people from London that pretty much only ate fast food burgers or frozen meals to his farm. They fed and cared for the animals and then he took them to watch the same animals being processed. Very interesting to see how they each handled it but they all left the show with a much greater appreciation of food and where it comes from.

    I think that main courses in restaurants are ridiculous in size. I try to order 2-3 entrees instead to ensure I don’t leave any behind. Yes it can be a bit more expensive but then I just eat out a little less often. I am learning to say no to banquets!


  • Lu

    I have visited my friends farm up past scone. She is trying to get her beef herd up and running, while still working 4 days a week as its hard to earn enough money from beef. She has lovely grass fed cows. But due to demand may have to send some to be grain fattened in feed lots, and is not too happy about it.

    I try and buy grass fed beef, ethically raised. A few places that i have found that are good in Sydney are… Feather and bone (marrickville), Urban food Market (marrickville), Grub (Valcluse) They all deliver too and talk directly to the farmers so you know what you get. I would rather pay more for good quality, plus grass fed meat has more omega 3!

    Thanks for this great article.


  • V

    Anna Krien also visited an abattoir (an Indonesian one where our Australian livestock is exported) and has composed her reflections in one of the most thought provoking, most intelligent essays on this topic (and the broader topic of our relationship with animals) that I’ve read in recent years: http://www.themonthly.com.au/us-and-them-importance-animals-anna-krien-4738 I highly recommend reading the essay in full. Also in discussion at the Wheeler Centre: http://wheelercentre.com/videos/video/quarterly-essay-us-and-them-anna-krien/


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  • http://picklebums.com katepickle

    So glad I followed a link on twitter… because I am SO with you on this.

    We copped some flack a few years back because we let our kids (then aged 7 and 3) watch and help as we processed some of our home grown chickens (roosters) and then cooked them.

    I ummed and ahhed about it for a long time but I feel really strongly that if, given the opportunity as we have been, we can not face the processing of our meat, then we shouldn’t be eating it. Likewise I want my children to know what eating meat means… it means an animal died, simple as that.

    I love that you suggested pracitcal things everyone can do. We are not flush with cash, we can’t always source or afford organic or ehtical food, but we can do everything we can to make sure we eat the meat we do have ethically and educate our children for what I hope may be a better future.


  • Allen

    I really like this blog, and most of your others also. I think you have done a great service for Target100 here.

    We run a farming property in the New England and have recently been looking at becoming more self sustainable in the business and moving to a farm direct to local consumer model. It is with great surprise though, the difficulty in finding an abattoir (meat processor) that will take and process our animals. All the local ones are contracted to the big outfits like Coles and Woolies including the one you visited for this piece.

    I was advised my closest option was Cowra or Wagga Wagga. I think I might be able to get the job done in Stanthorpe…. anyway it seems the large outfits have effectively blocked out a lot of smaller production and created some large barriers to entry.

    Talk about food miles, by the time we sent our , free range, humainly raised animals by truck some 1200km round trip to be processed besides not having any profit left we are really only adding to the environmental and sustainable problem. I feel it is a catch 22, damned if you do, damned if you don’t….

    Anyway maybe you, target 100 or one of your readers know somewhere closer or another channel. – We do sheep , not cattle.

    Cheers and Thanks


    Elizabeth Reply:

    You’re awesome Allen. Keep looking for what you want. How small an operation are you? Would it be possible to get one of the mobile services out to you. Granted, it won’t have the same production value, but the animals wouldn’t be traveling. Obviously not sustainable if you are doing thousands at a time though lol!


    Allen Reply:

    Cheers Elizabeth,
    We are not a huge operation, but we need to process about 30 animals a month.
    We often have the home kill butcher come out to service our personal needs, however meat that is to be consumed off farm (whether it is sold or given away) must be processed through an accredited abattoir and be properly stamped. Otherwise it would be by far the best option.


  • Allen

    Cheers Elizabeth,
    We are not a huge operation, but we need to process about 30 animals a month.
    We often have the home kill butcher come out to service our personal needs, however meat that is to be consumed off farm (whether it is sold or given away) must be processed through an accredited abattoir and be properly stamped. Otherwise it would be by far the best option.


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  • Janine Plimbley

    But the pigs are far from calm. There are youtube videos showing them panicking and screaming. And how safe is this meat anyway? Carbon monoxide is a killer afterall.