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The Meat Paradox and Factory Farming

SNA (Tokyo) — The “meat paradox” is when people love eating meat but don’t like the thought of killing of animals. On a daily basis, the industrial livestock production industry manages this dissonant experience by keeping a low public profile, filling the shelves of local markets with meat, but keeping the eyes of the Japanese public sheltered from the realities of how those products arrived there.

Consumers are deliberately separated from the realities of animal slaughter, reducing their ability to feel anything about the sources of their meat products and obscuring the connection between the idea of meat and the animals which provide it.

The Shokuniku Market branch of the Tokyo Metropolitan Central Wholesale Market, near Shinagawa Station, seems to have been designed with the meat paradox in mind. The facility blends in seamlessly with the surrounding buildings, giving little sense that it has anything to do with livestock.

However, occupying four city blocks, the 94,000 square meter facility is a complete pork and beef processing plant. With capacity for hundreds of heads of cattle per day. As the largest slaughterhouse in Japan, the meat section processes a choice cut of Japan’s more than one million annual cattle slaughters.

Cows enter the facility on one side and within the course of a few hours are processed, cooked, packed, and shipped to markets.

Japan’s knack for cleanliness and efficiency are on display at the meat processing plant. The odors of the animals are almost undetectable, and the hum of the city drowns out the sounds of the animals.

It’s difficult to comprehend the scale of what’s taking place when it comes to the industrial livestock industry. The cows and pigs at this one urban location represent only a tiny fraction of the estimated 56 billion farmed animals killed every year by humans around the world.

The global environmental costs of animal slaughter on this scale are grave, especially with regard to grain and feed production for cattle. According to the National Academy of Sciences, beef cows require five times the land, irrigation, and fertilizer than pigs and more than 28 times that of dairy cows.

Brazil is one country that has seen environmental devastation thanks to cattle ranching. Some studies estimate as much as 70% of the Brazilian rainforests have been destroyed to make way for cattle ranching, which is only one of the ways in which industrial farming contributes to global warming.

Another feature of modern factory farming has to do with the efficient breeding, nourishing and slaughtering of animals. The ability to do this is a great advantage from a productivity standpoint and is also a feature that poses a host of health and ethical problems.

In recent decades, H1N1 and mad cow disease have emerged from factory farms. Workers can be exposed to these animal-borne diseases and others like tuberculosis. Travelers going abroad are now routinely asked if they have visited farms as part of quarantine efforts.

There are also questions about the ethical treatment of animals and concern for human and animal welfare regarding the use of antibiotics and hormones. Though practices vary from location to location, Japan currently has very few regulations in place to protect animals from cruel practices. Pigs undergo castration without anesthesia, and may have their teeth removed and tails docked. Animals are force-fed, chicken starved to increase egg production and their beaks cut off.

The meat industry ultimately relies on the meat paradox. When consumers fail to face the facts, it’s easy keep the public ignorant about the true costs of the industrial livestock production industry, in terms of its economic, environmental, and moral dimensions.

Andy Cline is a contributing writer to the Shingetsu News Agency.

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