I watched this new Humane Society video on CNN.com today of downer cattle being shocked, kicked, dragged, and otherwise abused by the people running a livestock auction in New Mexico. According to Daren Williams of the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, "The [beef] industry is committed to producing safe, high quality, wholesome beef for our dinner tables, for our school lunch tables." If that sounds like a reasonable quote to you, I'm sorry to inform you that you are living in fairyland. If that sounds like a reasonable quote to you, I implore you to read Fast Food Nation. Fast Food Nation can be read for free online at this link.
I believe a more accurate re-write of Daren Williams' quote would be something like this: "The [beef] industry is committed to producing profitable beef for our dinner tables, for our school lunch tables, no matter the cost to the environment, public health, or standards of treatment of the animals involved."
While I am convinced that there are a select group of people in the National Cattlemen's Beef Association who are concerned with producing a high quality product, let's get real. The bottom line is what drives the American economy and if speeding up the rate of slaughter or including downer cattle in the slaughter means more profits for the big beef companies, it's going to happen. To believe otherwise is childish and naïve.
So, what can we, as consumers, do to affect the beef industry's bottom line? Don't eat meat at fast food joints. Don't buy beef from a grocery store. You can start there. Eat meat less often and when you do, substitute bison meat (which even Wal-Mart sells now). Bison have somehow remained separate from the disgusting conditions that plague the beef industry. Plus it's healthier than grain-finished beef without tasting much different. Or, buy beef from small, local ranches or from local meat lockers who know where their beef comes from. You could also buy grass-fed beef. That's what we do. And we've been eating vegetarian for the majority of our meals each week. You can also ask the managers of the restaurants where you eat about the origins of their meat. If restaurants (even chains) know that consumers care about the where their food comes from, the buyers for the restaurants are more likely to care, too. Making these changes is not difficult, but if enough of us do it, the beef industry will understand that they must change their practices in order to make money. No ban on downer cattle, voluntary or mandated by our slow, clunky, bureaucratic government, is going to cause change the way that consumers can.