Friday, 14 December 2012

The Dark Side of Animal "Gifts"

It’s the Christmas season, a giving time of year.

Now, imagine a single mother in the third world with two small children, both of whom are starving. Naturally, you want to help. Many people generously give during Christmas to organizations likeHeifer International, an organization that claims to work against world hunger, by donating animals to families in developing countries.
Heifer International’s catalog portrays beautiful children holding cute animals in seemingly humane circumstances. The idea is to help feed the poor and hungry by providing them with an animal that will provide milk and meat. What the marketing brochure for Heifer International does not show, are the animals being transported, their living and slaughter conditions, or the erosion, pollution, and water use caused by the introduction of the animals and their offspring.
By definition, animals raised for food are exploited in a variety of ways. A large percentage of the families receiving animals from Heifer International are struggling to provide for themselves and cannot ensure adequate living conditions, nutrition, and medical care for animals they have been given. The animals shipped to developing countries are often subject to water and food shortages; cruel procedures without pain killers; lack of veterinary care resulting in extended suffering when illness or injury occur; and brutal conditions in slaughter.
Photo: Joanne McArthur

To make matters worse, animal agriculture causes much more harm to the environment than plant-based agriculture.

The fragile land in many of the regions where Heifer International is sending the animals cannot support animal agriculture. Although they say they encourage cut and carry feeding of the animals to avoid erosion, the reality is often quite different.
While it may seem humane and sustainable to provide just one or two dairy cows here or there, the long term consequences are: an increased dependence on animal agriculture for survival, causing a less sustainable environment, and more animal suffering in the world.  Also, it cannot be overlooked that 35 percent of all grain production in the world is fed to livestock, not humans.

There is an alternative.

While adopting a plant-based diet can have a positive global effect, there are other international organizations working to end hunger, and the causes of hunger, without exploiting animals.
We cannot deny the existence of hunger in our world. It’s a reality that challenges us, and stirs our deepest compassion.  Our own lives can be our greatest vehicles for change in the world. This Christmas, work to end world hunger; eat plants instead of animals.
John Merryfield

Tuesday, 20 November 2012


Olive loves the cranberries, while Rhonda seems to prefer the pumpkin pie and mashed potatoes.

Rhonda and Olive are two of the dozens of rescued turkeys at Farm Sanctuary that have been saved, instead of served, on Thanksgiving day.
Many people travel to farm animal sanctuaries, like Farm Sanctuary in Orland, California or Animal Place in Grass Valley, California, this time of year, to “turn the tables” and celebrate Thanksgiving by feeding turkeys instead of eating them. Rather than being on the table, the turkeys get a place at the table and feast on traditional Thanksgiving foods such as stuffing, squash, cornbread, mashed potatoes, cranberries and pumpkin pie.
No other holiday is as focused on the killing and consumption of an animal like Thanksgiving. With a dead bird as the center piece of the family table, thanks is given for our health, life and the love of our family and friends.
Forty five million turkeys are killed for Thanksgiving dinner. During their lives, these birds are packed into filthy, unventilated warehouses with just a square foot of space per bird. They suffer burning in their eyes, de-beaking, de-toeing and extreme breathing difficulties, while many die premature death from heart attacks due to their genetically oversized weight. Even so called “organic” or “free range” turkeys endure brutal conditions in transport and slaughter.
The heart warming celebrations for the turkeys at farm animal sanctuaries have become a part of many families Thanksgiving traditions. First time visitors are taken aback by both the animals personality and their individuality.

One thing is clear, whether human or turkey, all of us seek pleasure and avoid pain.

Despite obvious differences among species, human and non-human animals are more alike than different in ways that matter. We love and nurture our children, we form friendships, we seek pleasure in our encounters and we lead rich emotional lives.
Some people within the sanctuary community have taken to calling this holiday Thanksliving.

For how can we be grateful for what we have if we kill an animal in the process of giving thanks?

Thanksliving implies that, only by respecting the lives of others, can we truly express the gratitude for the blessings in our own lives. Whether we call it Thanksgiving or Thanksliving, farm animal sanctuaries help us realize that, at our essence, we are all the same, including animals, and that giving thanks for your own life shouldn’t come at the expense of another’s.

Saturday, 7 July 2012

What's your number?

What's your number?  How many animals did you kill today?  The average person is responsible for approximately 6 animal deaths everyday.  These animals include birds, dolphin, rabbit, cows, deer, bear, whale, sheep, dogs, cats, lobster, pigs, turtles, ducks, shark, fish of every imaginable variety, this list could go on ad infinitum.  Throughout human history we've consumed just about everything, with hardly a glance at the effects on us, the environment, or animals. 

How can one person be responsible for 6 animal deaths everyday?  This is due to the fact that when a person eats a chicken, or an egg from an egg laying hen, an unwanted male chick is disposed of by being ground up alive, just after birth.  Or, when a person eats a shrimp taco, or mahi mahi, 8-9 other ocean beings are destroyed in the by-catch process.  Much of the sea life now caught is being fed to farm animals as food; in turn people are eating farm animals and the destructive, unsustainable practices continue.  Not to mention the intense confinement and crowded conditions animals endure on factory farms for their brief, tortured lives.  So much of the behind the scenes destruction and harm to animals is kept from our view.

We have relentlessly and assiduously practiced the ability to disconnect the reality of the flesh, cheese or egg on our plate from the reality of the misery of what a living, feeling being endured to provide it.  We have become masters at reducing these feeling beings to mere objects, serving our taste and comfort.  Practiced since infancy, our daily rituals of eating have made us skilled at justifying and denying this art of objectifying others.  This is an enormous tragedy and we have hardly allowed ourselves to become aware of it.

Fortunately this is changing, as a growing number of people are becoming more conscious of the world around them, more people are choosing to eat fewer animals, opting instead for healthier, more sustainable alternatives.

As director of Vegan 1 Day, an international challenge for everyone to adopt a vegan diet for at least one day out of the year, I've been very encouraged by the growing trend toward more compassion for animals and more sustainable environmental practices.  Earlier this year, California banned the Shark fin trade as well as the selling of Foie Gras, which is one of the cruelest practices within the animal agriculture industry.  This year, there are twice as many people who consider themselves vegan, than last year.

Change is difficult.  Ask any drug addict in recovery how they stay clean, they say, "one day at a time".  I understand how habituated we've become to eating animals.  The walls of defense in people are strong, even when the desire for change is present.  This is why we are working to encourage people to adopt a vegan diet for even just one day.  If everyone adopted a vegan diet for just one day, 30,000,000 million animal lives would be saved (globally) and 100,000,000 billion gallons of water would be saved (globally).

That's worth it.  Animals are worth it, so is our planet.... so are we.  Go vegan 1 day - August 31st.  

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Every Meal Matters

If everyone went vegan just for one day, the U.S. would save:
  • 100 billion gallons of water, enough to supply all the homes in New England for almost 4 months;
  • 1.5 billion pounds of crops otherwise fed to livestock, enough to feed the state of New Mexico for more than a year;
  • 70 million gallons of gas — enough to fuel all the cars of Canada and Mexico combined with plenty to spare;
  • 3 million acres of land, an area more than twice the size of Delaware;
  • 33 tons of antibiotics.
If everyone went vegan just for one day, the U.S. would prevent:
  • Greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to 1.2 million tons of CO2, as much as produced by all of France;
  • 3 million tons of soil erosion and $70 million in resulting economic damages;
  • 4.5 million tons of animal excrement;
  • Almost 7 tons of ammonia emissions, a major air pollutant.