This is an extremely common argument; often accompanied by anecdotes of “that farmer down the road who loves their cattle and would never hurt them.” However, despite the fact that almost everyone makes this claim, factory farming account for 67 percent of poultry meat production, 50 percent of egg production, and 42 percent of pork production. In the US, 99% of all meat is factory farmed. Statistically then, it seems clear that most people are eating factory farmed animal products, but very few are admitting it.
Due to the secretive nature of slaughterhouses it should first be noted that it is extremely difficult for farmers to know how their animals are killed once they are sent to slaughter, never mind consumers themselves. The terms “free range”, “organic” and “happy” refer to treatment while alive, but they have absolutely no impact on the way an animal is slaughtered. Buying local does not mean that the animal was slaughtered locally, the majority of farmers do not have licence to do so or it would not be efficient to do so and so must rely on the very same slaughterhouses that factory farmers do. Actually visiting any of these slaughterhouses requires at least some deception, the vast majority will not allow a consumer to visit just to verify the welfare of the animals they consume. Even before you could approach a slaughterhouse, you would have to figure out which one your meat came from, since sellers have absolutely no legal obligation to reveal that information. Even the inspectors who are legally allowed to visit, do so with prior warning and their main role is to inspect for hygiene and disease, not for animal welfare. The speed of slaughter at any commercial slaughterhouse is such that mis-stunning and mis-handling is commonplace, leading to animals sometimes being alive and conscious while being sent for skinning and rendering. There is simply no way to guarantee that this has not been the case with any meat unless you slaughter the animal yourself.
Even if we are generous and assume that everyone making this claim knows exactly where their animal products come from, they really do all get their meat from that uncle or nice farmer that lives down the road, and never from a supermarket. Even if we accept that these people never visit large restaurant chains, none of them order pizza out without finding out where it is from and their ethics prevent them from even considering stepping foot into a McDonald’s. Even if every person making this claim knows where all of their meat comes from, checks every restaurant ahead to make sure the meat is “humane,” can trace all of their animal products from farm to slaughterhouse to plate and have personally seen how these animals are treated, this still not in any way excuse the consumption of animal products.
This is because the term humane slaughter is a contradiction in terms and a clear example of an oxymoron in common use. Humane is defined as being characterised by tenderness, compassion, and sympathy for people and animals, especially for the suffering or distressed, and acting in a manner that causes the least harm to people or animals. Therefore, for any given action to count as humane it must cause the least harm possible to people or animals. It is not up to the person holding this position to defend the idea that slaughtering a healthy animal who is often barely an adult is the least harm possible. Given the fact that the vast majority of us do not require animal products to be healthy, the other option is to not slaughter an animal at all. Therefore, the person arguing this position is left to defend the premise that shooting an animal in the skull or slitting their throat is less harmful and more sympathetic than allowing them to live, which is blatantly absurd.
There is an assumption being made here, namely, that it is harmful to cause an animal pain but it but it is not harmful to kill them. The idea is that pain is the only form of harm that exists is an extremely narrow definition of the word, one which would not be entertained in any other context. Even the most “humanely” raised animal is taken from their family, will still be slaughtered long before their natural life expectancy and will have their most fundamental preferences and desires utterly ignored in favour of the preferences of a “superior” species to eat their flesh and what comes out of their bodies, simply because they like the way it tastes. This is very clearly harmful to the animal concerned, under any reasonable definition of the word. Under the requirements of a common understanding for what it means for an action to be humane, the terms humane and slaughter are mutually exclusive.