“Yes Please” and “No Thanks” to Animal Welfare Labels

Some people want to know more about how their food is produced.

On the other hand, some people really really don’t want to know more about how their food is produced.

By William Neuman, writing for the NYT: New Way to Help Chickens Cross to Other Side

Shoppers in the supermarket today can buy chicken free of nearly everything but adjectives. It comes free-range, cage-free, antibiotic-free, raised on vegetarian feed, organic, even air-chilled.

Coming soon: stress-free?

Two premium chicken producers, Bell & Evans in Pennsylvania and Mary’s Chickens in California, are preparing to switch to a system of killing their birds that they consider more humane. The new system uses carbon dioxide gas to gently render the birds unconscious before they are hung by their feet to have their throats slit, sparing them the potential suffering associated with conventional slaughter methods.

This seems like a positive trend. You don’t have to be a vegan or a radical animal rights advocate to think that methods of slaughter that reduce suffering are a good thing. But, as the NYT story points out, the change brings a bit of a marketing dilemma. To label, or not to label?

Generally, companies that do something good want to brag about it. But sometimes even bragging about something genuinely good requires raising a topic people would rather not think about:

“Most of the time, people don’t want to think about how the animal was killed,” said David Pitman, whose family owns Mary’s Chickens.

As far as I can think, that bit of disagreement makes this particular labelling issue unique. There are obviously other cases in which some people want a particular bit of labelling, and others don’t. But most often, those who don’t are pretty passive about it. “Not wanting” labelling (of, e.g., GM foods) typically means “not caring.” But in the chicken-stunning case, some people will really hate the idea of seeing labels — and that means any labels even mentioning the topic. In fact, even people who would, upon seeing the “Humanely Slaughtered”, be more likely to make a purchase, may not want to see those labels. Under those circumstances, what should producers do? If (as some people think) you have a right to know, does that right trump other considerations, including your desire not to?

About Chris MacDonald

I'm a philosopher who teaches at Ryerson University's Ted Rogers School of Management in Toronto, Canada. Most of my scholarly research is on business ethics and healthcare ethics.
This entry was posted in agriculture, animal welfare, labeling, meat, values. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to “Yes Please” and “No Thanks” to Animal Welfare Labels

  1. MariEve says:

    Quand on est carnivore, qu’on mange de la viande, on sait pertinemment que la chaire dans laquelle on mord était un animal vivant qui a été tué pour nous nourrir. Est-ce qu’une étiquette spécifiant comment l’animal est mort serait dissuasif, j’en doute. En tant que carnivore, si vous saviez que l’animal a souffert, cela vous arrêterait-il de consommer sa viande? Quel est le but de cette étiquette. De nous informer, de nous dissuader de manger de la viande? Est-ce qu’il y a une façon plus éthique (ou humaine) qu’une autre de tuer pour manger? Tuer c’est tuer. Que la méthode soit douce ou cruelle.
    Une chose est presque certaine, il y aura toujours des carnivores, à temps plein ou partiel, alors ce qui me préoccupe davantage ce sont les conditions d’élevage de l’animal de sa gestation jusqu’à sa mort. Mais est-ce que cela nécessite une étiquette. Je préfère aller directement à la source, chez l’éleveur, voir de mes yeux vus, faire un choix et assumer, en toute connaissance de cause, d’être ou ne pas être carnivore.

  2. MariEve:

    Je suppose que le but de cette étiquette c’est de donner la choix — la choix d’acheter le produit moins cruelle. Oui, il ya des façon plus humaines de tuer. En tuant, par example, ce n’est past necessaire de causer de la douleur.
    Il n’ya pas beaucoup des gens qui ont l’opportunité d’acheter directement de la source.

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