The New Gastronome
Tension-Adrenaline, Music-Stress Relief
Reducing Anxiety in Animals With a Melody
by Michele Bertero
by Michele Bertero
The capability to readily and physiologically prepare a body to react in front of a potential threat enhances the chances to escape faster, therefore, survive.
Usually, the ear receives the stimulus and it sends it to the brain. Once the brain is alerted, it increases adrenaline production which fastens the heart and breath rate, making more oxygen available to the muscles and increases the possibility to run fast. Imagine what an animal that’s in fear for its life might face as it tries to escape a potential predator.
If that animal can’t run fast enough or worst, feels trapped, the adrenaline that it produces in order to escape will remain inside its tissues. That means that stress has a chemical impact on animal physiology and the subsequent quality of the meat we eat, and for what it concerns our food system, there’s a lot of stress involved in it!
“It would be unreasonable to say that letting our livestock listen to Mozart would be enough to solve all animal welfare issues.”
Some of the methods used in our food and meat production systems can be cruel, and trying to change it would require a good amount of fortitude and creativity. Including music to that list can also be a very effective solution. Of course, these three things won’t solely be the answer to dealing with problems such as slaughtering, for example. It would be unreasonable to say that letting our livestock listen to Mozart would be enough to solve all animal welfare issues. But, it would be equally unreasonable to not take this possibility as an another tiny little improvement that could do its part, on a larger scale.
If we could find a connection and understand how these two elements interact, we could have a useful tool for enhancing animal welfare that will subsequently reflect on the quality of life–for both animals and humans. Not much scientific literature has been produced on the topic though, but digging into the internet, a couple of interesting articles come up.
Noise, Stress, and Quality of Meat
Let’s start with saying that it has been known for long that all kinds of stressors are detrimental for meat quality, both in the barnyard as well as the slaughterhouse. Temple Grandin pioneered the field, groundbreakingly foreseeing it in the early 80’s when she wrote a holy-grail of a research paper that shedded light on animal welfare–well before it was on everybody’s mouth.
In “The Effect of Stress on Livestock and Meat Quality Prior to and During Slaughter“, the topic was extensively analysed, showing how long term pre-treatments such as transports, cold exposures, together with excitement derived from pre-slaughtering meat, have a direct effect on pH, tenderness, and release in lactic acid, which eventually translates in lighter color and capability of retaining water; an overall decrease in quality to its broadest extent.
“Training them while playing music in the feedlot and reproducing those sounds before the slaughter transport might help in keeping the animal calm.”
Grandin already puts up the idea that music could help in increasing general animal welfare. She refers to confinement swines (p. 316) claiming that, because of their lack of movement possibilities, some training could help the animals in dealing with unexpected events during their lifespan. Training them while playing music in the feedlot and reproducing those sounds before the slaughter transport might help in keeping the animal calm.
Another interesting and more recent perspective comes from the Slovak Journal of Animal Science, 2014, where the topic gets examined in a more extensive way. The review article focuses more on the effects derived by noises during the breeding process rather than considering the meat quality after being slaughtered, but this article can still be useful to our purpose. Again, it’s suggested that taking care of the acoustic environment in which an animal lives does have an impact on the animal’s welfare.
Many simple, yet useful, things can be done starting from how much the materials used to build the breeding facility can absorb noise, to how the architecture is shaped, to how close to regular noise sources the barnyard is located. All of these factors can have an effect on how the animal will respond to stress in the long run. There is a certain range of getting used to environmental noise by the animal, of course, but overcoming a certain dB tolerance threshold could be dangerous and harmful.
Let’s say, for example, that a barnyard is built next to a busy highway. Because of the regular background noise, the animal won’t get bothered much by it, but if that road becomes busier and busier and airplanes start to fly over it, noise could then become a problem.
“Noise developed during transport was shown to increase the heart rates of free-ranging cattle, while cattle that’s used to the sounds of cars and trucks will readily graze along highways and seldom react.”
We can safely state that the unpredictable and unknown general threat that frightened animals was not the general background noise that produces the most high range of chemical alterations inside muscle tissues. It was the unexpected noise event or alarm that, in the vast majority of cases, frightens the animal with its subsequent escape mechanisms and physiological reactions.
Noise developed during transport was shown to increase the heart rates of free-ranging cattle, while cattle that’s used to the sounds of cars and trucks will readily graze along highways and seldom react. Therefore, with some regular training, animals will get used to transfers and won’t be bothered too much about being put into a situation they aren’t used to. From a gastronomical perspective, because at the end of the day we are dealing with food and the way it tastes, it would be interesting to understand how external noise sources would affect meat, possibly in quality and flavor terms.
Spiritual Beliefs and Slaughtering
An issue worth looking into is whether there was any traditional butchering practice that ever involved a chant or a prayer and how this is related to animal stress levels. The case that immediately comes to mind is the Halal and Kosher butchering tradition where, in both cases, a prayer is said before severing the animal’s throat.
Despite debating whether those practices are considered merciful towards the animal or not, we can say that the main cultural difference between slaughtering practices in comparison to western and middle eastern countries can be as such synthesized; assuming that you won’t eat an animal that hasn’t been proven to have been alive before, and possibly, during the act of slaughtering.
“A final prayer, quite often is said over the animal before its throat gets cut…”
The practice was one of the most efficient ancestral methods for getting rid of blood it could quickly deteriorate and spoil the meat inside of the animal. From a spiritual standpoint, it would mean that the animal was not considered “dead”, therefore “non-pure”, making it a potentially harmful source of nourishment, not only for the body, but also for the spirit.
A final prayer is, quite often, said over the animal before its throat gets cut, both in the Halal process (Bismillah Allahu Akbar: In the Name of Allah; Allah is the Greatest) as well as during the Kosher slaughtering, called “Shechita”, where the blessing is called “Basha”.
“…it might be interesting to wonder whether or not the animal is perceiving the prayer as a potential alert or not…
The fact that the act of killing comes with praying, this oxymoronic correlation, God and its creations, men and animals, brings a plausible mutual cathartic instance: the man purifies himself from the act of killing, and the animal gets purified by being touched by the spirit; a deeply primordial act, that might also lay as a sort of ante-litteram quality enhancer.
Purer meat, even in spiritual terms, of course, will taste better. Acoustics in this case unites, purifies, in a joint act, man and its food as one. From an acoustics perspective, it might be interesting to wonder whether or not the animal is perceiving the prayer as a potential alert or not; either forecasting or acknowledging what will occur soon after, or instead, all the other stressful factors which it undergoes prior to slaughtering, that are likely the main stressors of the entire act.
Further research is needed, and possibly this sempiternal human question will be answered in ways that, at present, haven’t yet been discovered or considered. Or, maybe, common sense will prevail and we will just try to keep things as least intrusive and harmful as possible.
As stated earlier, more research is needed on the topic, leaving the chance to discover that maybe putting headphones on our livestock, or simply taking care of the environmental conditions in which animals are treated, could be a tiny step to enhancing the quality of their lives, and therefore, the quality of meat that we consume.
Cover photo: ©2018 Daniel Fontenele