At the “Green Week” in Berlin the Federal Minister of Food, Agriculture and Consumer Protection presented the initiative: “Minding animals – a new way to improve animal welfare”. This initiative is committed to improving the conditions in which animals are kept in conventional farming. The Ministry’s initiative competes directly with the “Initiative Tierwohl”, started in 2015 by the trade in cooperation with meat producers, with the same goal of improving the conditions in which animals are kept.
These animal welfare initiatives are directed at ambivalent meat eaters, and address the latent guilt complex consumers take on when they become aware of the ethical problems of mass consumption of cheap meat and the related livestock farming methods.
Today’s consumer is caught up in a guilty dilemma. Eating meat represents quality of life and enjoyment. As we know from depth psychological research, it has a pleasurable side: we are backsliding a little to a primitive stage, taking in the life force of the slaughtered animal. This psychological connection can be seen in passing in the old CA claim: “Meat is a slice of life”, or the archaic masculine settings in the beef-and-BBQ trend, for example in Tim Mälzer’s “Bullerei” restaurant.
Modern meat consumption is totally detached from any real knowledge of animals and animal farming. Anyone growing up in a village decades ago might still have noticed how animals were slaughtered. In those days, meat on the menu was still something special, associated with the Sunday roast. Today’s meat eaters have little or no contact with rearing and slaughtering animals. Meat is bought at the supermarket like any other product. Consumers suppress any image of a living animal – which in turn makes mass meat consumption psychologically possible.
If modern meat eaters wake up to the fact that real chickens were raised for the chicken wings or that the ground beef comes from the minced beef comes from brindled cows, they typically get terrible images of factory farming, “concentration camp barracks” (interview quote) and cruelty to animals (debeaking, chick shredding). These images are repeatedly reinforced by regular scandals in the media about livestock farming and meat.
The meat eater is caught in a cleft stick psychologically, between unthinking daily consumption of meat products bought and eaten in completely sanitized form, all associations with the animal removed, and largely suppressed guilt at the crime against the animal as a fellow creature, suffering hideously as the victim of factory farming conditions.
This inherent moral dilemma tears at the consumer, and is becoming harder and harder to ignore, as seen in the slight downtrend in the quantity of meat consumed. Even so, consumers are generally not consistent, and very few switch completely to expensive organic meat.
Food marketing has also been offering consumers products to ease their minds for a long time. The meat comes from family farms, the packaging is bursting with rustic motifs – farmyards, windmills, wicker baskets etc. The implication is that the animals might still be raised in conditions like those seen in children’s picture books about farming.
The animal welfare initiatives of the meat industry and the Ministry take a different approach: they show a realistic image of modern animal farming, without childish sugar coating. Within the framework of modern conventional livestock farming (which accounts for around 95% of sales) they show realistic scope for improvement, for example protecting piglets, species-appropriate activities for animals, and more space. Instead of lulling consumers with idyllic images, the animal welfare initiatives support realistic measures, such as reconstructing stalls.
Even so, it is unfortunate that the Ministry’s new measure “Minding animals – a new way to improve animal welfare” is competing directly with the “Initiative Tierwohl” already started by the trade and meat producers. For consumers, this: why are there two initiatives for the same thing? What exactly are the differences? Why didn’t the Ministry and the industry agree on a joint initiative? There is a risk that the laudable goal of actually improving animal welfare will be obstructed by competition between the initiatives.
The article is currently published in “Absatzwirtschaft”.
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