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goodfoodgood is a web portal which provides information about food and ingredients to people around the world. We take the dinner conversation online to share knowledge and inspire others to care about what they eat.

Happy Animals Inc.

Take an exit on a motorway further from any bigger city in Europe, and immediately, you will find yourselves passing by the emerald fields sprinkled with black, brown, pied and brindle cows, leisurely masticating grass, somewhere on the horizon little wooden farms and sheds are shimmering in the raindrops. This almost idyllic image is so eye and consciousness pleasing that it is this idea that creeps in to our minds: Yes, this is it, grazing cows near the humble-sized family farms is the way.

a free range ox in the stall

We arrived at a small farm owned by butcher Michael Wagner who was handed down the business from his father and grandfather near the small town of Itzehoe in Germany, to see what it means to raise the animals. Although his farm does not hold a prestigious, yet very binding title of an organic farm, a dozen cows and oxen are allowed to roam freely on a nearby meadow, they are what they call in the EU free range. One could say that it is far better than the conventional industrialized way: stalls used for mass production are rarely so spacious; and such care, together with a free range opportunity is something that the animals raised for mass production can only dream about. But they both have one feature in common: they are both raised to be slaughtered for human consumption. Which is exactly what was proven later when we headed to a slaughterhouse.

A small family-run slaughterhouse in Itzehoe observed its stunning 175th anniversary last year and slaughters approx. 20 animals (mostly cows, oxen, bulls and pigs) a day. Niko von Holdt, an owner and continuator of the 4-generation family business compares their approach and the approach of the industry: “The problem is the whole system, people want to buy cheap products, and the factories manufacture cheap products – by holding costs at rock-bottom levels. Cheap labourers, low levels of animal welfare and mass production set the price per killed animal to as low as 25 cents, which allows the meat in supermarkets to cost around 1.50 or 2 euro. In this view, quantity is more important than quality. But, good meat costs money.”

“Yeah, yeah, good meat”, I was saying to myself, sitting in the office of the slaughterhouse while in the adjacent rooms, a pig slaughter was being conducted and observed. The office was swarmed with positive images of personified animals, merrily smiling and gambolling, so as to signify that the stay in the slaughterhouse is making them happy.

While the others are occupied with making “wursts” (sausages) I keep on sitting in the waiting room, and, I start chatting to the owner and staff. I got to know about the peculiarities of the business, I got shown around, I saw a cold storing room with hanging bodies, the slaughtering room with all the hooks, saws and a holding pen where animals get stunned, an outside fenced enclosure with a quite obviously bent fence (from all the kicking) until we reach the two oxen waiting outside which were brought there to be slaughtered the next day. As I learned from the younger slaughterer and butcher in one, they are not stressed out, they just have fear (which, to me, is the same), as they don’t know what is going to happen. And stressed out meat is not as good.

But again, my primary concern was: Is there, in fact, good meat? And, I speak in the category of ethics, not taste. A young slaughterer kills 6,000 animals a year, which is exactly 4 times less than the daily rate of the nearby meat factory in Bramstedt. The posters and stickers of happy animals in the factory are for sure equally reassuring, but we can’t say what case makes the distance from truth greater. Honestly, I don’t think any of the animals are happy to be annihilated.

Sure, 6,000 a year is certainly better than 24,000 a day. But I can’t say whether this is it, particularly when there is such a striking difference in looking at the pictures of animals that want to be slaughtered and in the eyes of the oxen that most certainly don’t.

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