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Livestock and humanity: Does stress affect the taste of meat

IDILLIC PICTURE OF FARMS, where different animals enjoy relative freedom (say, periodically graze in the wild), though it has not disappeared, but today it is found much less often than we would like. The modern scale and pace of meat production leaves her less and less space. Take, for example, population growth: if at the beginning of the 20th century the world population was only about one and a half billion, then by 1960 this figure had doubled, and by the end of the century reached six billion. Today, the UN Population Fund estimates that 7.6 billion people live in the world. Along with this figure, meat consumption also increased – from 70 million tons in the 60s to 330 million tons in 2017. The point, of course, is not only the increase in population, but also that over the past half century, meat production has fallen in price and more and more people perceive it not as an element of luxury, but as a completely ordinary part of the diet.

Meat prices and costs of its production are reduced primarily due to changes in the process itself: farmers tend to do more and faster to market the product, shortening the life cycle of the animal. For example, according to a study sponsored by the Association of Chicken Meat Producers, since 1925 the average time for which the chicken grows and gets on the counter has more than halved – from 112 to 48 days. Speeding up is not just about chickens. For example, in the United Kingdom, due to bovine spongiform encephalopathy or mad cow disease, the thirty-month rule was in force from 1996 to 2005 (it was finally canceled by 2013). According to him, it was impossible to sell cattle older than thirty months for meat (according to research, cattle up to four years old, even if it is infected, is not dangerous). It is logical that such limited conditions led to the fact that producers sought to quickly feed cattle and put them on sale – which does not go well with ideas about humanity.

Against the regular consumption of meat, one can also say how its production affects the environment: according to the UN, livestock production accounts for 14.5% of all carbon dioxide emissions into the environment for which a person is responsible. In addition, the industry requires enormous resources: 80% of the land allotted for agricultural purposes is pastures and land intended for growing livestock feed. Another study claims that agriculture requires more fresh water than any other human activity – and almost a third goes to livestock. It is logical that today more and more people refuse meat – completely or at least several times a week.

Five freedoms that producers must guarantee to animals: from hunger and thirst, from discomfort, from pain, injuries
and disease, from fear and suffering
and freedom to behave as usual

We primarily associate the meat industry with cruelty, and it is not surprising: a business built on the killing of animals, even for the sake of such a basic need as food, cannot be completely humane by definition. Does this mean that meat production will no longer be better in relation to slaughtered animals? Not really. For example, some farmers today switch to other methods of handling livestock and poultry, as opposed to the usual situation. How far this model can be reproduced on the scale of an entire industry remains a question – but it is logical that a slow approach gradually penetrates here. There are changes in the scale of the whole industry. For example, a little over twenty years ago, in 1998, the European Commission introduced a directive that protects cattle that are bred for a variety of purposes. It speaks of five freedoms that producers must guarantee to animals: freedom from hunger and thirst, from discomfort, from pain, injuries and illnesses, from fear and suffering, and freedom to behave as animals usually behave, without restrictions.

Temple Grandin, a humanization researcher for animals, notes that over the past two decades, livestock handling has changed dramatically for the better. “Stunning animals and handling them before slaughter has greatly improved,” she says. – I worked with McDonald’s in 1999 and 2000, and then everything was just awful – broken equipment for stunning, screaming and beating, poking with an electric scooter. Now everything is still imperfect, but much, much better than in those bad old days. ”

Many believe that the emotions that an animal experiences during slaughter “soak” and its meat, and then they are transmitted to us. This is not entirely true, but there is a background to this point of view: how humanely an animal is slaughtered can really affect the taste of the final product. This is a paradoxical but pragmatic explanation of the humanization of the industry: spoiled taste is important for sales.

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