I think there should be a clear line -- either it's wrong for someone to eat animals or not, and whether the raising and slaughtering are done “humanely” or horribly shouldn't matter. Maybe I’ve missed something in my investigation that you could point out to me.
Your observation is perfectly valid, and it's understandable that the mixed messages you've encountered are confusing. There is rightfully a great deal of focus by animal rights organizations and many vegan groups on the horrendous conditions of today's factory farms. Although on the surface it may seem that their philosophies and perspectives are at odds -- that is, if farm animals were treated more humanely, slaughtering them would be acceptable or at least more tolerable -- there are legitimate reasons for these positions and approaches.
It's important to point out, above all, that the term "humane slaughter" is an oxymoron. There is no solicitous way to kill any sentient being. All animals -- human and nonhuman -- value their lives and desire to live. And all animals -- human and nonhuman -- will struggle and fight against their executioners. This is a basic, inherent instinct of every conscious individual.
As much as vegans and animal activists welcome the day when the consumption and exploitation of animals are abolished, the reality is that such a change isn't going to happen overnight. Most of us would be thrilled just to witness steps in that direction during our lifetimes, and, fortunately, through the efforts of committed and courageous advocates, we have. However, in order to totally eradicate the slaughter of animals for food, the vast majority of the world's human population would need to become vegan. The likelihood of that happening anytime soon, though, is slim. Therefore, the role of animal activists and vegans is twofold. First, we must work toward reforming current animal-based food production practices through direct action and legislative changes. Second, and perhaps more importantly, we must educate the public at large about animal sentience. Through a growing realization, people’s attitudes will eventually soften, their understanding will deepen, their awareness will expand, and their compassion will broaden so that one day abolition will become the only reasonable choice. But until the prevailing belief is one that values, respects, and appreciates all forms of life, revisionist approaches are still necessary. Although far from ideal, these strategies at least help mitigate, in small measure, some of the horrors that farm animals currently endure.
For vegans and animal activists, the issue at hand is not one of priorities. The objective of all sincere animal advocates is abolition, preferably sooner rather than later. To succeed, however, this goal must be tempered by realism and what is truly attainable at this particular moment in the evolution of animal rights and justice. Perseverance, revisionism, and legislation through education will bring lasting change based on personal, ethical, and social transformation, rather than temporary political upheaval through force or coercion. Such an approach is not based on hypocrisy; rather, it is founded on practical wisdom that will survive the ages and inspire a revolution of the hearts and minds of modern cultures. Once that happens, eating meat and consuming other animal products will become untenable, and all forms of animal farming and slaughter, “humane” or otherwise, will be eliminated.