I remain confused by the fact that more people don’t turn away from animal products in response to the sheer horror and revulsion they feel at the idea of participating in the slaughter of an animal, but we humans have a truly frightening ability to shut off our awareness of what is ‘out of sight’, and thereby continue participating in something we are morally repulsed by.
April 19, 2010
“The need to distinguish animal rights from animal welfare is clear not only because of the theoretical inconsistencies between the two positions but also because the most ardent defenders of institutionalized animal exploitation themselves endorse animal welfare. Almost everyone – including those who use animals in painful experiments or who slaughter them for food – accepts as abstract propositions that animals ought to be treated ‘humanely’ and ought not to be subjected to unnecessary suffering. Animal rights theory explicitly rejects this approach, holding that animals, like humans, have inherent value that must be respected. The rights view reflects a shift from a vague obligation to act ‘humanely’ to a theory of justice that rejects the status of animals as property [emphasis added]… The rights theorist rejects the use of animals in experiments or for human consumption, not simply because these activities cause animals to suffer, but because such use violates fundamental obligations of justice that we owe to nonhumans.”
~ Gary L. Francione Rain without Thunder: The Ideology of the Animal Rights Movement
February 6, 2010
“There is something almost primal about it,” gushes the former vegetarian, as though the word ‘primal’ is a noble quality to be embraced by virtuous people. It seems more likely though that the directors of the puppet show are aware that ‘primal’ is simply a concept that plays to the desires of the lowest parts of our selves, to our lust for blood. Let’s not forget that the word is almost synonymous with ‘primitive’, and could just as easily be used to describe cannibalism or rape.
November 30, 2009
Since the definitions for the ‘free-range’ label are deliberately vague and hundreds of millions of turkeys are considered nothing more than economic commodities to both owners and regulators, regulating the conditions for animals in any meaningful way is impossible. In order to obtain approval for the ‘free-range’ label, poultry producers must only provide the USDA with a brief description of the conditions for their birds, and their claims are very rarely verified by inspections.
November 24, 2009
Partly as a result of the eagerness of animal welfare advocates and even vegans to promote supposedly ‘humane’ animal products, many people have been deceived into believing that these labels indicate vastly improved conditions for animals. However, the truth is that these labels were invented as part of a carefully-planned PR strategy to whitewash animal cruelty, and stem the tide of increasing public opposition to the injustice that underlies the production of all animal foods.
September 27, 2009
On September 16th of this year, just over a week ago, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) launched a national campaign publicly urging the International House of Pancakes (IHOP) chain of restaurants to start switching some of its eggs to cage-free.
If it is part of a fundraising strategy, this move is a no-brainer for the HSUS. But despite the hype around well-publicized, hugely-popular campaigns such as this one, “Take a Bite Out of IHOP’s Animal Cruelty” will do very little, if anything, to reduce the suffering of the hens whose freedom and lives are taken from them to provide the country of America with cheap pancakes.
After running similar campaigns against Denny’s, Burger King, Wendy’s, Quiznos, Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr., the HSUS now publicly endorses these fast-food giants as being some kind of animal welfare forerunners. Likewise, when IHOP fulfills its end of the deal and ‘gives in to the pressure’, the HSUS (and many animal advocates) will help to promote yet another restaurant chain that profits from animal slavery by offering its customers a selection of artery-clogging meals consisting of fried body tissue and other products of extreme animal exploitation.
In fact, ironically, when you think about how many more eggs IHOP will use as a result of the positive exposure they receive when they fulfill HSUS’ request, one wonders if this campaign might actually serve to increase the suffering of hens.
On the surface, the campaign might appear to be a good idea, as far as improving the lives of non-human animals, who needlessly endure unthinkable suffering simply so human animals can maintain unhealthy and unjust eating habits. IHOP serves “over 700 million pancakes every year”. When you add to that the number of eggs they must use every year in omelets, scrambled eggs and other cholesterol-laden breakfasts, well… that’s a lot of eggs.
So surely, if the eggs being used at IHOP were cage-free, wouldn’t that represent a significant improvement in the lives of America’s laying hens? The HSUS would love for us to think so, but the reality is very different.
As one investigation website explains:
“The reality? Millions of young hens standing shoulder to shoulder in huge enclosed warehouses, forced to dwell day and night in their own waste, enduring air so foul that workers sometimes wear gas masks to prevent permanent damage to their lungs. Just like their battery-caged sisters, ‘cage-free’ hens are brutally debeaked, force molted (starved for [up to 14] days to restart an egg laying cycle), and, of course, slaughtered when they are no longer of use. Or, as one investigator discovered, if no buyer can be found for their ravaged bodies, they might just be packed into steel drums and gassed, the piles of their lifeless remains sent to a landfill or used as compost.”
What many people are also not aware of is that ‘cage-free’ and ‘free-range’ egg producers generally purchase hens from the same hatcheries as traditional egg producers. As the Huffington Post reported recently, half of the chicks born in these hatcheries, being male, and therefore useless to the industry, are considered a waste product of the layer-hen business. These male chicks are killed in unimaginably cruel ways, including being ground up alive or suffocated.
But if cage-free hens have such a remarkably similar life to battery hens, surely the HSUS, the largest animal advocacy group in the world must also know these facts? Of course they do. On the HSUS website itself, it is acknowledged that cage-free hens typically come from the same hatcheries, that hens still have their beaks burned off, may be subjected to forced molting through starvation, and are typically slaughtered at less than two years old, after being transported long distances with no food or water.
Yet the HSUS still claims that their cage-free egg campaign is a meaningful way to work toward eliminating animal suffering. They must believe this to be true. Or could it be that they see this as an excellent opportunity to solicit donations, while maintaining their public image as the world’s most popular animal welfare watchdog?
But surely limousines and six-figure salaries couldn’t have anything to do with it?
The tremendous suffering that results from industrialized animal agriculture certainly does ensure a fantastic business niche for an organization that profits from the public’s concern about the welfare of America’s non-human slaves. Perhaps that is why the HSUS doesn’t work toward ending exploitation in the form of animal farming, by running campaigns to reduce demand for products such as eggs.
When you consider the fact that IHOP also serves beef, chicken, bacon and of course, many items made from dairy milk (which, like eggs, is notorious for the cruelty involved in its production), it will be quite obscene if the HSUS ends up having anything to do with endorsing this kind of exploitation. However, since the same can be said of Denny’s, Burger King, Wendy’s, Quiznos, Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr., I don’t see any reason why HSUS would have any moral objection to promoting the improved animal welfare standards of IHOP once they agree to ‘start switching some of their eggs to cage-free’.
I would respectfully suggest that supporters pay close attention to what happens at the end of this campaign, when IHOP concedes and HSUS ends the boycott. If it is anything like the public reconciliation of KFC Canada and PETA, then I imagine that IHOP, just like KFC, will also be ‘delighted with the agreement’.
As a result of the enthusiasm of animal welfare advocates and even vegans to promote supposedly ‘humane’ animal products, many trusting people have been duped into believing that ‘cage-free’ and ‘free-range’ labels indicate vastly improved conditions for the animals concerned. The reality is that these labels were invented as part of a carefully planned strategy to stem the tide of increasing public opposition to the cruelty inherent in all animal products.
If the “animal rights movement” would articulate a clearer message about the moral imperative of ending not just the worst welfare violations, but our use of animals in and of itself, then perhaps the rest of the consuming public would not be so completely confused about what it is we really stand for.
Call me whatever you will, but I do believe that all animals will one day be free. I believe it because I know in my heart that freedom is what all animals deserve, and despite the heartbreaking apathy and tremendous resistance of the general public, I still believe that where innocent beings are suffering, the truth will one day come to light, and justice will eventually prevail. Anything less than that would be letting us all down, because every single animal who suffers at the hands of her captors, whether we accept it or not, is a part of the moral community. It is wrong to exclude her from our circle of empathy, and however stubbornly we may ignore or protest that fact, we know that it is wrong. For that reason, as long as animals are suffering, we are all suffering. But… we don’t have to also be guilty. That choice is up to us.
NB: If you feel moved to speak up about this subject, please visit this ‘Twitition‘ using your Twitter account, and tell the HSUS to stop promoting cage-free eggs.
May 6, 2009
After my last post, The Vegan Solution, there were several comments by readers indicating that ‘grass-fed’ or ‘pasture-raised’ beef was considered a viable solution to the problems of intensive animal farming. For various reasons, it seemed to me that free-range farming couldn’t provide a realistic solution to the many issues associated with the animal-based diet, including the well-documented environmental devastation that is beginning to be brought into the view of the general public.
There is significant evidence that the environmental destruction which occurs as a result of the wide-spread grazing of cattle, is much worse than the free-range PR leads us to believe. Grazing cattle pollutes water, erodes topsoil, kills fish, displaces wildlife, and destroys vegetation, more so than any other land use.1
In recent years, grazing animals have all but disappeared from sight on the landscape. This has occurred as a result of modern ‘agricultural’ practices that include intensive confinement of animals in factory farms that have become the focus of much criticism from advocates of animal welfare. But a return to widespread free-range grazing, especially as the human population continues to increase, would mean a return to the widespread damage that this grazing wrought on the land not so long ago. Following is an excerpt from a speech given in 1985, almost twenty-five years ago. The speaker is Edward Abbey, conservationist and author, addressing cattlemen at the University of Montana.
“Most of the public lands in the West, and especially the Southwest, are what you might call ‘cow burnt.’ Almost anywhere and everywhere you go in the American West you find hordes of cows. . . . They are a pest and a plague. They pollute our springs and streams and rivers. They infest our canyons, valleys, meadows and forests. They graze off the native bluestems and grama and bunch grasses, leaving behind jungles of prickly pear. They trample down the native forbs and shrubs and cacti. They spread the exotic cheatgrass, the Russian thistle, and the crested wheat grass. Even when the cattle are not physically present, you see the dung and the flies and the mud and the dust and the general destruction. If you don’t see it, you’ll smell it. The whole American West stinks of cattle.”
John Robbins is the author of the international bestseller Diet for a New America, The Food Revolution, and Healthy at 100. He is widely recognized as one of the world’s leading experts on the dietary link with the environment and health. He is also the Founder of EarthSave International.
According to Robbins:
“The price that western lands and wildlife are paying for grazing cattle is hard to exaggerate… widespread production of grass-fed beef would only multiply this already devastating toll.”
One of the problems is the sheer scale of the animal industry. The issue that leads me to question the benefits of free-range farming isn’t only the matter of more humane treatment, (which is grossly overstated, as explained below), but the matter of space. In order to farm enough animals to feed the collective appetite for flesh and other products of animal exploitation, we are already destroying our wild lands at a rate that is boggling to the mind. Since we have so many food animals intensely confined, it would be impossible to allocate sufficient land to pasture-raise them all. Without a significant reduction in the overall consumption of animal products, animal farming (free-range or not) is not an ecologically viable method of food production.
“It takes a long time and a lot of grassland to raise a grass-fed steer. Western rangelands are vast, but not nearly vast enough to sustain America’s 100 million head of cattle. There is no way that grass-fed beef can begin to feed the meat appetites of people in the United States, much less play a role in addressing world hunger.”
Most environmentally-aware people are now familiar with the correlation between intensive animal farming and greenhouse gases. But that problem wouldn’t be solved by pasture-raising cows either:
“Next to carbon dioxide, the most destabilizing gas to the planet’s climate is methane. Methane is actually 24 times more potent a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, and its concentration in the atmosphere is rising even faster. The primary reason that concentrations of atmospheric methane are now triple what they were when they began rising a century ago is beef production. Cattle raised on pasture actually produce more methane than feedlot animals, on a per-cow basis.”2
According to an article on ScienceNews.org, Nathan Pelletier of Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia says:
“We do see significant differences in the greenhouse gas intensities [of grass vs grain]. It’s roughly on the order of 50 percent higher in grass-finished systems.”3
Another serious concern, of which many people aren’t aware, is that commercial free-range grazing involves the eradication of wildlife, including threatened and endangered species.
“The USDA’s Animal Damage Control (ADC) program was established in 1931 for a single purpose—to eradicate, suppress, and control wildlife considered to be detrimental to the western livestock industry… In 1997, following the advice of public relations and image consultants, the federal government gave a new name to the ADC—“Wildlife Services.” And they came up with a new motto—“Living with Wildlife.”4
According to a USDA website, Wildlife Services “provides Federal leadership and expertise to resolve wildlife conflicts and create a balance that allows people and wildlife to coexist peacefully.”
According to John Robbins:
“What ‘Wildlife Services’ actually does is kill any creature that might compete with or threaten livestock. Its methods include poisoning, trapping, snaring, denning, shooting, and aerial gunning. In ‘denning’ wildlife, government agents pour kerosene into the den and then set it on fire, burning the young alive in their nests.
“Among the animals Wildlife Services agents intentionally kill are badgers, black bears, bobcats, coyotes, gray fox, red fox, mountain lions, opossum, raccoons, striped skunks, beavers, nutrias, porcupines, prairie dogs, black birds, cattle egrets, and starlings. Animals unintentionally killed by Wildlife Services agents include domestic dogs and cats, and several threatened and endangered species.
“All told, Wildlife Services, the federal agency whose motto is ‘Living with Wildlife,’ intentionally kills more than 1.5 million wild animals annually. This is done, of course, at public expense, to protect the private financial interests of ranchers who wish to use public lands to graze their livestock.”
Dr. Mike Hudak is an environmental advocate who is a leading expert on the harm to wildlife and the environment caused by public-lands ranching. He is the founder and director of Public Lands Without Livestock, and the author of Western Turf Wars: The Politics of Public Lands Ranching (2007). Since July 2008 he has been chair of the Sierra Club’s National Grazing Committee.
In his article, Public Lands Ranching: The Scourge of Wildlife, Hudak elaborates:
“How extensive is the carnage that ranching inflicts on wildlife? One reasonable measure is the number of affected species that are either (1) federally listed as threatened or endangered, (2) candidates for federal listing, or (3) the subject of petitions for federal listing. By that criterion, ranching’s victims number 151 species in all: 26 species of mammals, 25 species of birds, 66 species of fish, 14 species of reptiles and amphibians, 15 species of mollusks, and 5 species of insects.”
As we can see, the growing popularity of ‘grass-fed’, ‘pasture-raised’ or ‘free-range’ beef, far from being the solution to the damage caused by animal farming, represents just another side of the devastation caused by the animal industry.
Those who profit from the promotion of free-range animal products exploit the ethical motivation of conscious consumers, caring people who rightfully abhor the horrific practices that occur on factory farms. The free-range PR creates the false impression that consuming free-range products is an effective way of boycotting animal cruelty and environmental destruction.
The desire to avoid participating in acts of cruelty is the other (perhaps more common) reason that many choose free-range over factory-farmed animal products. But are grass-fed cows really treated more humanely than their factory-farmed counterparts?
As John Robbins concludes:
“The lives of grass-fed livestock are more humane and natural than the lives of animals confined in factory farms and feedlots, but their deaths are often just as terrifying and cruel. If they are taken to a conventional slaughterhouse, they are just as likely as a feedlot animal to be skinned while alive and fully conscious, and just as apt to be butchered and have their feet cut off while they are still breathing — distressing realities that tragically occur every hour in meat-packing plants nationwide. Confronting the brutal realities of modern slaughterhouses can be a harsh reminder that those who contemplate only the pastoral image of cattle patiently foraging do not see the whole picture.”
In light of this information, and the questions that arise as a result, I am very curious to hear from advocates of environmental conservation or animal welfare who believe that ‘free-range’ or ‘pasture-fed’ is indeed an ethical or sustainable alternative to factory farming. Is it really ‘grass-fed’ that is going to make the difference that we need? At a time when the human population is approaching seven billion, is it realistic to expect to continue feeding ourselves on animal flesh, milk and eggs? Or do we need to make preparations for a future where there simply aren’t sufficient resources to support the inefficient methods of animal-based food production?
For those who seek a way to avoid exploitation and cruelty, the choice doesn’t have to be between factory-farmed and free-range. There is another option, a truly ethical alternative that does not require us to sacrifice our moral standards for the satisfaction of our appetites and our taste buds.
As can be seen by the growing number of people, from all walks of life world-wide, who abstain from animal foods, it’s really a lot easier than many people think. The essential first step toward the vegan alternative is a change in perception. Once that is achieved, with the wealth of information and the ever-increasing number of products that are now available, making vegan choices is easier, and more rewarding than it has ever been.
(For more information about how to make vegan choices, feel free to contact the author.)
1 Robbins, John What About Grass-fed Beef?
3 Raloff, Janet The carbon footprints of raising livestock for food
Originally published on Care2
March 30, 2009
From world hunger to climate change, species extinction to escalating violence, the catastrophic problems we face are clear indicators that we are in need of transformation on a radical scale. Gone are the days when we could procrastinate about necessary changes or take baby steps toward sustainability in the hope that enough small actions would collectively add up to create meaningful impact. Drastic, sweeping changes are needed, and this fundamental shift in society’s values must begin with each one of us.
‘Veganism’ as a philosophy which embodies non-violence and compassion toward the helpless, until now, has been marginalized by our society. Those who embrace this deep and powerful set of values have often been ostracized and the wisdom of their choices ignored or trivialized. But those who recognize the far-reaching effects of this paradigm shift know how powerful the rewards can be. Ironically, it may well be that the survival of our species, and perhaps even the planet, is dependent upon learning the very lessons of empathy, responsibility and self-control that the vegan ideal embodies, and that our society seems so reluctant to embrace.
No matter how strong the current opposition is to adopting this radically different world view, it will soon have to be accepted that vegan is the way of the future. Only by living the vegan ideal can we address all at once the many, seemingly different issues that are crippling our civilization and threaten not only our survival, but the survival of the many other species that populate the planet. We currently run the risk of driving into collapse the essential life-preserving systems of the planet itself. Much of the destruction stems from the deep-rooted problem of our mistaken belief that we, like the shark or the tiger, are natural predators.
Our collective hunger for flesh and for the products that come from the bodies of animals has driven us to create systems of animal farming that are not only completely unsustainable in the long-term, but are also immediately damaging to natural eco-systems, populations of wild animals and the human population of developing nations. In order to provide affluent countries with meat, dairy and eggs, we have destroyed major portions of the world’s wild lands, altered the levels of gases in the atmosphere beyond recognition, decimated many wild animal populations beyond recovery, and pushed people living in poor countries further and further into cycles of starvation. The UK alone imports £46,000,000 worth of grain from third world countries to feed their livestock. In the US, if we all became vegetarian, it would free enough grain to feed 600,000,000 people. How much good can we really be doing with ‘foreign aid’, when we are taking food right out of the very mouths of those we ought to be feeding?
In addition, our society is desperate for a solution to our social problems. Violence is becoming a bigger and bigger problem in all areas of society, from school shootings to sexual abuse and assault. But the cause of this widespread aggression becomes clear, when we remember that we habitually feed ourselves and fuel our bodies with the products of violence and death. We may think that we can avoid the truth of this, by buying flesh in neatly wrapped packages at the supermarket, but we can not help but be aware of it in our deeper selves, and the violence that is implicit in our meals permeates our society on all levels from global to personal.
In a world that makes little of preying upon the meek, showing callous disregard for the pain and suffering of helpless creatures is not just accepted, but is frequently promoted in different forms by our society. Despite the fact that cruelty to animals is common in the violent histories of most of our nation’s serial killers and school shooters, certain states still allow children younger than 12 to go hunting with a parent or guardian. There is well-known evidence linking violence toward animals in childhood with violence toward people in adulthood. This should make us all stop and think about the values we are teaching our young people. The ethic of compassion toward animals is something that ought to be taught to our children in schools, but this can not happen in any meaningful way until we acknowledge that basic compassion includes not depriving them of their life or freedom, whether they are animals we consider pets, or animals whom we have traditionally considered food.
It sometimes appears that the light of the vegan ideal is so bright that people are afraid to open their eyes to it, even individuals who are deeply involved in other social or environmental movements. Despite a significant number of people being very outspoken about the different tragedies that actually stem from this same root cause, the dialogue of our society continues to revolve around just about anything other than the need to change our eating habits. What is it that makes us cling so stubbornly to a practice that is cruel, unnecessary and may well end up destroying us?
Making the transition toward a vegan diet and lifestyle is the single-most effective step an individual can take toward living sustainably on the planet. For further evidence of this fact, please read about the 2006 report from the United Nations: ‘Livestock’s Long Shadow’. By making vegan choices, people can lessen their ecological footprint more than with any other lifestyle change, as well as gain control over their health, take part in eliminating world hunger, rediscover their connection with the many different animals who share our world, and make a powerful personal contribution toward the beginning of peace on earth.
- Global warming – Animal agriculture generates 40% more greenhouse gas than all cars, trucks and planes combined.
- Water – It takes far less water to generate vegan food. A vegan could leave their shower running year-round, and still not waste as much water as a non-vegan.
- World hunger – Most of the world’s grain is fed to food animals. On a plant-based diet, we could feed the entire human population. Millions of people who are starving (including 40,000 children who die every day) as a result of the unfair distribution of food could be fed by the many tons of grain that are currently cycled through animals.
- Pollution – Animal agriculture is the single biggest polluter of the planet.
- Human health crises such as cancer, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, obesity, asthma, osteoporosis, and many more would be greatly reduced. Diseases created by intensive animal agriculture would disappear.
- Environment – Animal-based food is the primary cause of issues such as rainforest destruction, topsoil erosion, desertification of grassland, degradation of underwater ecosystems, and the declining population of endangered species.
- Global violence – A non-violent lifestyle would create a more compassionate, gentle population.
When examining issues of such catastrophic potential as global warming, species extinction and mass starvation, it is understandable that individuals who care can feel helpless. It is easy to fall victim to the debilitating belief that we might really have no future. The vegan solution contains within it the power to solve the biggest problems we are facing, on every level from personal to planetary. The vegan ideal is nothing less than the next evolutionary step for humankind. We must embrace the ethic of non-violence if we are to evolve; and we must evolve, if we are to survive.
originally published on Care2