Human-cattle encounters of caring and killing: investigating “humane” beef practices through the lens of animal geographies

Authors: Carley MacKay*, York University
Topics: Animal Geographies
Keywords: Animal geographies, cattle welfare, humane beef practices, human-cattle relations, spaces of beef production
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/3/2019
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:40 AM
Room: Washington 1, Marriott, Exhibition Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


As the intensification of beef production increases (Webb, 2013; Emel & Neo, 2015), the health and well-being of cattle, humans, and the environment are becoming severely compromised. Due in part to this intensification and anxiety, Canadian grass-fed beef producers are shifting their attention to cattle welfare and the production of “humane” beef. For some producers, this kind of production signifies a greater respect for the emotional and physical well-being of cattle. For others, humane beef production creates a healthier and more profitable beef commodity. As a multidimensional concept (Miele & Lever, 2013), cattle welfare encompasses many aspects of the lives and deaths of cattle such as birth, health, calf weaning, pain mitigation, transportation, and killing. Welfare’s multidimensionality is further complicated by its spatiality, given how the lives and deaths of cattle are impacted by different spaces and chains of production such as the farm, the transport truck, and the slaughterhouse. These complexities make it difficult to understand what “humane” beef practices look like. Through the lens of animal geographies, I discuss the significance of spaces and human-cattle relations, arguing that an analysis of these can shed light on what humane beef practices entail. Offering key insight here, animal geographies emphasize the spatial, political-economic, and ethical dimensions of animals’ lived experiences and human-animal encounters (Collard & Gillespie, 2015). I engage with animal geographies to explore how a critical understanding of humane beef practices can reveal how cattle, as individuals, matter in ways that exceed their status as “beef.”

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