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Can slaughterhouses be humane?

A $5.25 all-beef hot dog at the Stang’s Hot Dogs and Sausages stand in the Corte Madera mall in Marin County, California, is labeled with enough buzzwords to satisfy the most discerning of foodies. “Contains no nitrates.” “Organic grass fed.” “Certified humane raised.” Its producer, Prather Ranch Meat Company, claims to be the most sustainably raised meat available, and Prather’s hot dog is the most popular item on Stang’s menu. “People pay extra for it,” says owner Jon Stanger. “The name Prather Ranch holds a lot of weight around here.”

The sprawling and lovely 34,000-acre ranch headquarters is located at the northernmost corner of California, near the Oregon border, with the volcanic Mount Shasta providing a scenic backdrop for the sometimes thousands of grazing cows. Prather’s web site describes the operation as “a unique closed-herd operation that raises its own hay, breeds its own cattle and does its own slaughter and processing.” The ranch was one of the first ranches to be certified organic for beef products and to gain Certified Humane Raised and Handled approval.

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