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An Open Letter to Those Who “Only Eat ‘Humane’ Animal Products”

In An Open Letter to Those Who “Only Eat ‘Humane’ Animal Products” on August 29, 2012 at 5:50 pm

This letter is to those of you who, after being presented with the idea about possibly being vegan, respond with “I eat only ‘humane/free-range/organic/sustainable’ meat/eggs/dairy.” I’m glad to see that you are concerned about animals enough to have changed the way you eat. After being presented with the incontrovertible evidence of the cruelty behind factory farms you recognized there is a problem and you’ve decided to act and change your behaviors with regard to the products you buy. Most people say that they care about animals, but the hardest step is for people to recognize and acknowledge how their own behaviors contribute to animal suffering and to be motivated enough to align their actions with their avowed principles. It’s great that you’ve been motivated enough to address those concerns in your own life.

Since you say that those are the only animal products you consume, I can therefore assume that you are diligent and consistent with your choice. I assume when you’re traveling, you don’t opt for the convenience of fast-food. When you go to restaurants or anyplace else that offers food prepared for you, I am sure you are asking questions about their ingredients. When you get coffee, I am sure you are asking the barista where the milk comes from, or about the eggs in the pastries. Doubtless you bring your own food to cookout events and parties. When you go grocery shopping, I’m sure you’re thoroughly reading the labels and are avoiding all the baked, frozen, canned, packaged, processed and prepared foods that do not have “free-range” and “organic” animal products listed — which end up being the vast majority of the products on the shelves.

You probably have realized that by asking as many questions as you are, by reading as many labels as you are, and avoiding as many foods that are available, you are eating in a manner similar to a vegan, since the vast majority of the food products offered that are animal-derived or contain animal products do not proclaim to be “humane,” “free-range,” “grass-fed,” etc.

With an effort to act consistently on your principles, and with such a concern about how animals are treated, I can assume you have taken a look at what those labels really mean.

Doubtless you have investigated the labeling standards set by various certification programs (such as Humane Farm Animal Care , whose “Certified Humane Raised and Handled” labeling standards are lauded to be the “Gold Standard” of such programs), and have noticed exceptions and loopholes (such as HFAC’s Standards for Chickens “Section G: Free-Range: The Animal Care Standards for Chickens Used in Broiler Production do not require that chickens have access to range.” Or that federal requirements for “free-range” allows that chickens are merely not kept in individual cages, but are otherwise kept in the same crowded and unsanitary intensive housing situations as “battery-cage” chickens) and noticed little assurance that such labels are backed up by credible outside monitoring (for instance, HFAC requires an inspection only once a year and is heavily reliant on forms and reports that the farmers fill out with no assurance that the farmers are not providing inaccurate, incomplete, or misleading information).

I’m sure you’ve seen that the labeling standards state guidelines for what suffering is actually “acceptable” because animals are bred to grow extremely fast, and produce milk or eggs at a much more intensive level than nature intended, and thus are susceptible to genetic and health problems such as lameness, leg deformities, skeletal disorders, diseases, infections, inflammations, heart failure, and much more.

And surely you’ve noticed that there are guidelines for “acceptable” conditions that arises from the unnatural confinement of large numbers of animals (such as what is considered “acceptable” levels of concentrated ammonia in the air, and admissions such as “In cage-free housing systems of laying hens, there is a risk of outbreaks of cannibalism… In flocks that are susceptible to outbreaks of cannibalism, the beaks of hens may be trimmed at 10 days of age or younger as a preventive measure,” from HFAC Standards for Egg Laying Hens).

And you probably have seen or heard news about how the USDA’s Process Verified Program came under fire by the Animal Welfare Institute (AWI) for misleading the public by improperly labeling meat as “humanely raised.” You likely saw how the AWI investigative report stated that this meat comes from animals on factory farms who suffer the same standard meat industry practices as other farmed animals, which include, but aren’t limited to, the use of battery cages and gestation crates, and searing off the beaks of baby birds, dehorning, and castration, all without painkillers.

With such a concern about the welfare of animals, I’m sure you’ve noticed that even on the smallest family-run farm that sells to local consumers (a precious few, as most “family” farms nowadays are contracted out to big-name agricultural companies), what are considered standard agricultural practices would bring about criminal charges, let alone be considered humane, if they were done to a dog or cat.

You likely have realized that “free-range,” “cage-free,” and “organic” eggs are laid by chickens from hatcheries that kill 50% of all chicks hatched, as male chicks are considered economically useless. You already noticed that even the chickens being provided for the “backyard” movement come from the same hatcheries.

You already know that livestock auctions often serve as the way stations between farms and slaughterhouses for millions of cows, pigs, chickens, goats, sheep and other animals who are raised, bought and sold for slaughter, and that many of the “humanely raised” animals end up here. And you already know that workers at these auctions are gratuitously unconcerned about these animals and regularly abuse them. You likely saw CNN’s report on how an undercover investigation at a livestock auction confirmed that workers throw, beat, stomp on and kick animals (including the “humanely-raised” ones) in the face and body; that they grab, drag, and throw animals by their heads, necks, ears, horns, tails, and legs; that they crowd animals into small pens, forcing animals to stand on and even trample each other; and that they kick, push, and drag sick, injured, and dying animals into transport trucks to be sold and slaughtered for human consumption.

And you already know that the vast majority of the animals raised on “family,” “sustainable,” “grass-fed,” and “free-range” farms are tightly crammed into transport trucks which sometimes travel for hundreds of miles, without food or water, exposed to the extremes of weather – and are occasionally killed in accidents along the way – destined for the very same slaughterhouses that factory farm animals go to. You already know that given the speed at which slaughterhouse workers are forced to work, many of these “humanely raised” animals are not effectively killed and are often still partially or fully conscious when the process of skinning, gutting, and dismembering begins.

And you’ve realized that even on the small “free-range” farms where they do their own slaughter, the so-called “humane” method of slitting throats mean animals slowly suffocate on their own blood and writhe around in pain until they die. You have likely realized that it is a redefinition of what it means to be “humane” when it can be used to describe the raising of animals, no matter how gentle the hand, for an abbreviated life met by a violent death.

So then you likely know that such labels are essentially meaningless and are merely a way to cover up inhumane practices with a “feel-good” veneer to placate consumer guilt and encourage them to buy such labeled products. You may have noticed that even according to former animal farmers, “there is no such thing as humane animal products,” and “what a mistake it is to believe there is anything called “humane” slaughter. Animals have families and feelings, and to think that kindness before killing them is an answer is totally wrong.”

And in accordance with your level of consistency and willingness to stand up for your principles, I’m sure you’ve given up purchasing other products that use animals, such as leather and wool, as those industries don’t even bother pretending that the animals raised for those products are in accordance to “humane” labeling standards. And you’ve given up supporting other companies and organizations that use animals, such as circuses, who regularly violate the meager animal welfare laws currently in place.

After such thorough examination that you’ve undertaken to examine the issues surrounding the use of animals as commodities, it likely has lead you to the realization that the truly humane approach is to not confine, use, and kill animals for human purpose. You may then already realize that your principles and convictions, and your willingness to act consistently on them, aligns that of being vegan. Welcome.

The Shifting Definition of Veganism

In The Shifting Definition of Veganism on June 7, 2012 at 3:16 pm

For the past few decades we have been seeing a shift of what “vegan” means, in much the same way how the term “vegetarian” changed over time. The term “vegetarian” was, according to research in the earliest published texts in which the word first appeared, first coined by the Alcott House, a boarding school near London on Ham Common, which opened in 1838. Later called the Concordium, the Alcott House was named in honor of American education and food reform advocate Amos Bronson Alcott. The Alcott House was a working mixed cooperative community and a progressive school for children. The students and members followed a diet completely free of any animal products, including eggs and dairy, and objected to the use and killing of animals on ethical grounds.  They objected to the use of animals for labor, entertainment, or any other reason. They grew crops on the grounds surrounding the house but refused to use horses for the heavy farm work. Their teachings included that the “same divine law by which a man claims a right to live, equally extends to every sentient being” and “man loses his purity, his real manhood, when he descends to the degraded work of oppression and death, whether inflicted upon a fly, an animal, or a man.” Had members of the Alcott House existed today, they would be known as what we would now call “vegans.”

Alcott House

The community came to an end in 1848, but members helped establish the Vegetarian Society in 1847 along with the Salford Bible Christian Church. By this time the community was struggling; meanwhile the BCC had considerable political and financial influence, therefore one of their members was elected as the first President of the new Society. The BCC had never used the word “vegetarian” in their own teachings (they preached the health “benefits” of eggs and dairy), and imposed their own definition of the new society: The objects of the Society are, to induce habits of abstinence from the flesh of animals as food,” which left a lot of things that were not “flesh,” such as eggs and dairy. They didn’t specifically set out to re-define the word “vegetarian,” but the name of the society combined with that objective, as well as publication of some cookbooks that strongly favored eggs and dairy, caused endless confusion from that point onwards.

In 1850, just three years after the formation of the Vegetarian Society, a London medical journal (The British and Foreign Medico-Chirurgical Review or Quarterly Journal of Practical Medicine and Surgery) did a 22-page analysis of the typical meat diet in comparison to the recipes which heavily favored eggs and dairy in the new Vegetarian Society cookbook (Recipes of Vegetarian Diet; with Suggestions for the Formation of a Dietary, from which the Flesh of Animals is excluded), and made the following conclusions: “… it is not merely the presence, but the predominance of eggs, that strikes us as strangely inconsistent with the Vegetarian professions…we find that the so called vegetarian positively consumes, according to his own diet-scale, as much animal food as the avowed flesh eater… it is not true Vegetarianism, being nothing else than the substitution of one form of Animal food for another.”

The confusion remained unresolved well into the rest of the 19th century. In 1886, Dr. Anna Kingsford, a noted English anti-vivisection and women’s rights campaigner — who was one of the first English women to obtain a degree in medicine, and the only medical student at the time to graduate without having experimented on a single animal — wrote in the preface of her book Dreams and Dreams Stories, “For the past fifteen years I have been an abstainer from flesh-meats. Not a vegetarian, because during the whole of that period I have used such animal produce as butter, cheese, eggs, and milk.”

For the rest of the 19th century, the Vegetarian Society debated changing its name — “VEM Society”  (for vegetables, eggs and milk) and “Food Reform Society” were among the names considered but no changes were adopted.

From the founding of the community that originally coined the term “vegetarian” to the present day, the definition has completely shifted away from the absolute refusal of the use of animals for any human purpose; people who now identify themselves as “vegetarian” continue to eat eggs and cheese, wear animal skins, use animal-tested products, and in a further dilution of the definition, even eat fish and chickens.

In 1944, citing concerns about the continued lapse of the original definition, members of the Leicester Vegetarian Society decided to form a separate group to re-establish the original principle of the non-use of animals. The new group was called the Vegan Society; co-founder Donald Watson coined the term “vegan” as “the beginning and end of vegetarian.” The Vegan Society defined veganism as “a way of living which excludes all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, the animal kingdom, and includes a reverence for life. It applies to the practice of living on the products of the plant kingdom to the exclusion of flesh, fish, fowl, eggs, honey, animal milk and its derivatives, and encourages the use of alternatives for all commodities derived wholly or in part from animals” and wrote that veganism is a principle “not so much about welfare [of animals] as liberation.” The society pledged to “seek to end the use of animals by man for food, commodities, work, hunting, vivisection and all other uses involving exploitation of animal life by man.” Members were expected to declare their support of these principles, and to live as closely to the ideal as they could.

In its Articles of Association, the legal documents of the Society, a slightly modified version is given: “Veganism denotes a philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude – as far as is possible and practical – all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing, or any other purpose; and by extension, promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of humans, animals, and the environment.”

Both interpretations start off by defining veganism as a “philosophy” and “a way of living.” It wasn’t just a diet, it was a complete moral framework. The founders included the critical point about practicality, recognizing that by living in the modern (and non-vegan) world, it was impossible to completely divest oneself of all animal products and derivatives. They recognized its importance in having practitioners understand that  veganism is not about “purity” or personal perfection, but rather the avoidance and elimination of exploitation and cruelty.

Over the years, there have been numerous attempts to solidify and strengthen the concept of veganism as a philosophy, principle, and practice rejecting the commodification of animals for any use — as well as attempts to make the definition more fluid. Tom Regan is perhaps the first philosopher to argue that human desires and interests do not override animals’ inherent moral rights (in his 1983 book Making the Case for Animal Rights), and other right-theorists such as Gary L. Francione and Joan Dunayer later have refined those arguments, concluding that veganism is the moral baseline in the pursuit of shifting the social, cultural, and political paradigm of respecting animals’ inherent rights. Alternately, philosophers such as Peter Singer have taken a consequentialist (or utilitarian) approach, stating that killing animals is not wrong in principle, but it should be rejected unless necessary for survival. He supports what is known as the “Paris exemption” — if you find yourself in a fine restaurant or in a foreign country, allow yourself to eat what you want. Similarly, well-known groups like Vegan Outreach and PETA have adopted consequentialist positions, making the argument that eating non-vegan foods in certain social situations is better than absolutely adhering to a vegan principle in order to make veganism seem more approachable in the eyes of others.

It is exactly the consequentialist approach that is causing a continual degradation in the definition of veganism. In allowing more and more exceptions, we get further and further away from the ethics of not using animals, and thus the term “vegan” is becoming as meaningless as what “vegetarian” had become. For instance, by failing to ask a server whether something contains animal products in order to avoid a fuss, we reinforce the idea that the moral rights of animals are a matter of mere convenience. Over the years, plenty of anecdotal evidence has shown that many people who self-identify as “vegans” continue to eat dairy products and even animal flesh, as well as purchase products made from animal skins, patronize zoos and circuses, or make the argument that the use of animals is acceptable as long as they “have a good life.” Former president Bill Clinton was described as having adopted a “vegan” diet after cardiac surgery in 2010 even though he still regularly consumed fish. Labels such as “lacto-vegan” and “semi-vegan” have been seen being used.

There are some groups who are attempting to bring back the original definition of “vegetarian,” but in light of the current commonly-held view of the distinction between “vegetarian” and “vegan,” that would only serve to create even further confusion and blurring of differences. The definition of “vegetarian” has been rooted in its current incarnation for many decades, while “vegan” still has a chance to revert back to its original definition as an ethical distinction to what’s currently known as “vegetarian.”

If we are truly serious about veganism, animal rights and liberation, we should not support or passively allow what happened to the term “vegetarian” happen to the meaning of “vegan.” Otherwise we weaken our message and continue to spread confusion about what veganism truly stands for. We cannot allow the continued compromise of the ethical principles against the exploitation of animals for the sake of “convenience,” otherwise people will think veganism means whatever they want in order to allow certain personally favored behaviors that ultimately exploit animals. If we lower our ethical standards, we then cease in challenging people to do better in their own lives.

There is nothing wrong with the original meaning and concept – it is clear, consistent, and morally and rationally defensible. It is inspirational and speaks to the potential of humanity to become more conscious and compassionate beings. It is the vision of the first organization to practice a lifestyle based on those ethical principles that caused them to grow from a small group of individuals to a world-wide community today. That clarity is worth defending and needs to be upheld. We need more ethical vegans now.

Accidents Will Happen When There’s Exploitation

In Accidents Will Happen When There's Exploitation on June 1, 2012 at 6:00 pm

Animals raised for human use and consumption suffer and are exploited not just on farms from standard agricultural practices and worker abuse but also when they are transported to slaughter. To get terrified animals such as pigs or cows onto transport trucks bound for the slaughterhouse, workers often beat them on their face or stick electric prods in their rectums. Crammed into 18-wheelers, animals struggle to get air and are usually given no food or water for the entire journey, which sometimes lasts hundreds of miles in sweltering heat or freezing cold temperatures. The vast majority of animals that are raised on “humane,” “free-range,” “grass-fed” or “organic” farms are not exempt from such treatment, as they are shipped in the same manner to the same slaughterhouses as those raised on factory farms. And along the way to the slaughterhouse many animals are killed and injured when the trucks transporting them are involved in accidents.

In the most recent example, at 9pm yesterday near Melbourne Australia, a transport truck carrying 400 sheep overturned onto its side on an overpass, and the sheep spilled out and fell 40 feet to the highway below. Two cars were damaged by the falling sheep. Hundreds of dead and injured sheep were strewn on the Princes Highway. Dead sheep were heaped in piles and others were dazed and in shock. “The scene was chaos with traffic trying to avoid the bewildered and injured animals in the dark,” an RSPCA spokesman said. Four hours after the accident workers started to use captive bolt pistols to kill the badly injured ones. The RSPCA said more than 50 injured sheep were killed and that less than 10 survived. “Our inspectors described it as the worst accident that they had ever seen. They were there until 4am this morning and are obviously quite upset at the moment. “

Melbourne sheep transport truck accident

Scenes like this are not uncommon in industries involving the use of animals, where transport is largely unregulated, and is just another tool used for animals who are considered mere commodities for human demand. The industry ignores drivers’ reckless driving records, as long as the animals are transported as quickly as possible to ensure the deaths of these animals remain cost-efficient. These accidents occur regularly, and will continue to happen as long as the demand is there to use products made from them, whether it is the wool, cheap mutton, or lamb meat from sheep much like the ones involved in yesterday’s accident, or cheap hamburger meat from spent dairy cows, “prime cuts” from grass-fed cows, bacon from pigs, leather from calves, or “nuggets” from chickens.

In many of these news stories and the comments surrounding them, these accidents are characterized as tragic, heartbreaking, and gruesome. And they truly are, but for all animals being raised for our demand, every day is a tragic, heartbreaking, and gruesome event, whether it is because they died in accidents like these or deliberately by the hands of humans. Whether they die after being thrown from an overturned truck or they die after their throat is slit hours later had the trip to the slaughterhouse been completed without incident, each event is tragic. Because these animals died before we could “use” them, it is no more a tragedy than the monumental breach of ethics involved in intentionally killing them for our interests. These deaths will continue, either by deliberation or by accident, unless we stop insisting that animals be used for our demand.

Some other recent examples of the many accidents involving trucks transporting animals to slaughter:

On April of this year, 30-40 cows were killed when a transport truck crashed through a highway guardrail, careened down an embankment and landed on a street in Kansas City.

In October, close to 200 pigs were thrown onto the ground when a transport truck driver ran off the road in Virginia – on a clear sunny day on a straight road – and flipped onto its side, killing and seriously injuring 47 of them. This accident, involving a truck on its way to a Smithfields Foods slaughterhouse in southern Virginia, is at least the ninth accident involving pigs who were being transported there since 2004.

May 2011, a truck driver transporting 36 cows lost control and tipped over on an overpass along an overpass near Chicago, sending some of the cows plunging about 25 feet onto the interstate below, with 16 of them dying as a result.

In Feb 2009, four tractor-trailers were involved in a accident on a Pennsylvania highway, including the transport truck that was carrying 180 pigs from upstate New York to a slaughterhouse in Hatfield, causing many pigs to be killed and injured.

In September 2007, a two-story trailer carrying 160 pigs rolled over on a highway near Las Vegas, killing 47. Many pigs were stuck in the wreckage and suffered further injuries as their legs were crushed and broken when the truck was towed off the guardrail.

In 2006, Farm Sanctuary issued a report which surveyed news media stories on transportation accidents involving animals raised for food. Over a six-year period, the survey found 233 accidents, involving at least 27,000 animal deaths.

Good News About Animal Consumption? Not So Fast…

In Good News About Animal Consumption? Not So Fast... on May 17, 2012 at 2:44 pm

In the past few months there’s been some glowing reports being passed around by some of the larger animal advocacy organizations about the decline in meat consumption in the United States. A few days ago the latest one, being cheerleaded by Mercy for Animals, comes from a new study — compiling data by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, National Center for Health Statistics, United Nations, and the U.S. Census Bureau — that suggests the average meat eater consumed fewer land animals in 2011 than any year going back to 2000.

There they state that the number of land animals that were killed for American consumption fell from 8.4 billion in 2010 to 8.2 billion in 2011. That means in one year there were 242 million fewer animals killed — including 1 million fewer cows, 5 million fewer pigs, and 240 million fewer chickens. It’s continuation of a downward trend from 8.9 billion in 2005. Sounds like good news indeed. But I noticed there was something missing in those numbers.

The sticking point in this discussion is the phrase “for American consumption.” The calculations specifically exclude the number of animals raised and killed in the US for export. And using the same source (the USDA), the numbers don’t look quite so well for the animals. Nearly a total of 10.2 billion land animals were raised and killed for food in the United States in 2010, a 1.7% rise from the 2009 totals, which is larger than the 0.9% increase in US population, meaning that animals killed per-capita increased slightly.

And the most recent report from the USDA’s “Outlook for U.S. Agricultural Trade” projects that both the total value and volume of meat will rise in 2012 from 2011, a continued trajectory upwards from 2010 according to their previous report. For example, (sorry, more statistics) the volume of meat — and by extension, the number of animals killed — from pigs is 1.4 million metric tons (mmt) in 2010, which rose to 1.6 mmt  in 2011, and is projected to rise to 1.8 mmt in 2012; from chickens it rose from 2.9 mmt in 2010 to 3.2 mmt in 2011, with a projected rise to 3.3 mmt in 2012; from cows the amount of meat exported (both from those slaughtered as adults and as calves for veal)  in 2010 was 0.7 mmt, and rose to 0.9 in 2011. There it is expected to be nearly the same in 2012, while “beef and pork variety meats” — which includes “chilled, frozen, and processed meat” — rose from 0.7 mmt in 2010 to 0.8 mmt in 2011 and expected to rise to 0.9 mmt.

The report also states that imports of some animals (such as pigs) will decline, due to “increasing domestic supply” i.e., a rise in the number of pigs being bred and raised in the US. This, combined with the weak U.S. dollar, increased demand for meat in other countries, and foreign producers keeping more animals within their own countries for breeding, means U.S. exports will continue to out-pace imports. The continual rise in the “volume of meat” only means that there is a steady rise in the number of animals being raised in the US who are being killed for the export market, offsetting any losses from a declining domestic market.

Additionally, focusing only within countries like the U.S. and U.K., where meat consumption is leveling off, is failing to paint the bigger picture of an increase in meat consumption across the globe. In places like China and other developing countries, increased meat-eating has followed rising affluence.  According to a 2009 Guardian report, China’s levels of meat consumption doubled between 1990 and 2002. Back in 1961, the Chinese consumed a mere 7.9 lbs of meat per person per year, but fast-forwarding to 2002 they reached a rate of 115.3 lbs each; half of the world’s meat from pigs is now consumed in China.

While US and the UK are among the few countries whose meat consumption levels have remained relatively stable, such levels have jumped dramatically across the rest of the globe.  And surprisingly, it is not the US with the largest rate of meat consumption, but Denmark, with a shocking 321 lbs per person in 2002, compared with 274.6 lbs for U.S. citizens.

Exports from other countries in addition to the U.S. are rising to meet the demand of increased consumption in other countries.  According to an April 2012 report from the USDA, India is slated to be the leading exporter of meat from cows in 2012, and shows the rise in exports is in response to a “robust global demand, particularly by Southeast Asia, the Middle East and North Africa.” This report, incidentally, also reports an steady increase in U.S. meat consumption from 2007 to 2011, with a projected rise in 2012. And it confirms that the total number of animals killed for food in the US continually and consistently outpaces the number of animals that were consumed by Americans, with a projected rise in the exportation of meat.

What all this means is that while the valuable and necessary work on educating the public on the issues of animal exploitation may have played a role in the leveling and declining consumption of animals in the U.S. and U.K., the animal-based industries located in these countries– much like the U.S. tobacco industry — are adapting to the changing landscape and are taking advantage of growing markets elsewhere. So while it is good news that animal consumption is dropping here in this country, we who advocate on behalf of animals — from the largest animal advocacy organizations down to individual activists — should not fool ourselves and each other into the belief that education alone will have a net positive impact for animals, as evidenced by industries who are killing more animals than ever before.

An educational approach that targets consumer demand is simply not enough. We need to focus on how to address and challenge the animal-based industries’ ability to exploit animals and recognize how fluidly those industries work within the global market. We must think outside of our own borders and come up with strategies to support other groups and activists across the globe that allow them to effectively challenge the prevailing paradigm in their own countries. Until we do so, we will continue to see misleading “good news” that really isn’t good news to the animals.

Rebuking the “Ethics” of Eating Meat

In Rebuking the "Ethics" of Eating Meat on May 15, 2012 at 3:37 pm

Recently Ariel Kaminer, “The Ethicist” of the New York Times, called upon all the Times readers to make the strongest possible case for eating meat. She solicited entries to an essay contest, after which the winner was picked by a panel of judges. The winning essay chosen from thousands of entries, “Give Thanks for Meat” by Jay Bost, was subsequently published in the Time’s Magazine online edition on May 3, and in print May 6.

After reading the winning essay, I was surprised that it managed to pass muster to actually be chosen as the best ethical argument. First, similar arguments in the past attempted to provide various justifications for eating meat, which were thoroughly analyzed, picked apart, and its scholarly failings highlighted. Even such arguments made by one of the judges chosen for this contest has been shown to be short on facts in favor of a compelling narrative. Secondly, the arguments made by Mr. Bost are tenable at best and hardly stand up to critical scrutiny. That it is considered a winning entry baffled me at first. But after seeing how the contest was set up, I realized that by design such an argument wasn’t going to be an honest examination of such moral dilemmas.

Kaminer starts off with the answer (“Tell Us Why It’s Ethical to Eat Meat“) and asks writers to come up with the justifications to fit the predetermined conclusion. Now I’m hardly an expert on ethics, but I think most philosophers, ethicists, and others who spend time wrestling with ethical dilemmas ask the questions first, and after examining all sides of the issues, arrive at an answer.  Honest ethical inquiry begins with a question, not by coming up with the answer first and using mental gymnastics to work backwards to make the justifications fit.  Starting off with a rhetorical demand does not open up an ethical conversation; closure is designed into the inquiry, discouraging a true exploration of the issues.

The contest’s obvious bias was compounded with the choice of judges; among those chosen there was a marked lack of critical balance and diversity. Of the judges (Mark Bittman, Jonathan Safran Foer, Andrew Light, Michael Pollan, and Peter Singer) four have openly supported the idea of “humane” meat — which makes their choice of the winning essay justifying “humane” meat almost a foregone conclusion. None of them takes a position that it is unethical for humans to use other sentient beings for any human interest; even Peter Singer, a philosopher credited with jump-starting the modern animal rights movement in 1975 with his book “Animal Liberation,” has a utilitarian approach to animal welfare, even going so far as stating that he does not support animal rights. Kaminer could have chosen from any of the hundreds of prominent writers, philosophers, scholars, professors, critics, and well-versed activists who unequivocally oppose meat production on ethical grounds. The fact that she didn’t shows us that there was no serious attempt to critically analyze the issues and arguments at stake, even while assuring the readers that the judges chosen were going to be the rigorous gauntlet through which the submissions had to pass (“We have assembled a veritable murderer’s row of judges — some of the most influential thinkers to question or condemn the eating of meat.”).

The lack of diversity in her choice of judges is another concern (which has not gone unnoticed by others). In this day in age, it is surprising to see a panel of all white men, especially when there are so many noted feminist, LGTB, and/or non-Caucasian theorists, philosophers, and writers available to critique our society’s overt masculine domination and violence against those who are more vulnerable, e.g. women, minority populations, those in foreign countries, or other species.

The “winner”

After around 3000 entries were submitted, the field was narrowed down to six semi-finalists, from which the judges picked Mr. Bost’s contribution as the winner. In a cursory examination of his essay, Mr. Bost uses poetry and eloquence as a sleight-of-hand to hide some very obvious short-comings in his arguments, which apparently was enough to seduce the judges and confirm their inherent position bias.

Most notably, Bost glaringly omits tackling the key question that such an essay would purport to answer — he states “the issue of killing of a sentient being, however, lingers.” With such an admission, such doubt makes his argument fail no matter his other justifications.  An actual examination of the central issue of killing a sentient being on behalf of diet would have noted the empirical basis of the position, namely, the known facts of animal cognition and of the violence inherent in any model of animal-based agriculture.

There has been a surge in scientific studies in the past few years that have shown that animals killed for food have more complex emotional and cognitive lives than previously attributed, including empathy, the capacity for envisioning future events, and the ability to intuit the emotional state of others. He fails to acknowledge that animals have a will to continue living, form social bonds with each other, struggle to avoid painful situations, and experience fear, stress, pain, and trauma during any number of the things we do to animals that are being raised for our demand.

Violence and suffering is inherent in every step of animal-based agricultural production, including on the idealized small family farms: from the killing of all male chicks in egg-laying-hen hatcheries, to the continual forcible impregnation of cows to produce milk and the snatching away of their calves for the veal or pet food industries, to the slitting of the throats of young pigs and chickens screaming in terror, to the castration — without anesthetics — of cows and pigs, just to name a few common agricultural practices that would be considered felony animal abuse if it were to occur to a dog or cat. Virtually all animals raised on small farms, including ones advertising themselves as “humane,” “free-range,” or “organic,” end up in the same slaughterhouses used to kill animals raised in factory farms. The speed at which slaughterhouse workers are forced to work means many animals are still partially or fully conscious when the process of skinning and gutting occurs.

These and other facts have led a majority of contemporary moral philosophers who have studied this question to reach the conclusion that killing animals in order to eat them is not a morally defensible position for humans, especially not in today’s society such as ours, where vegan alternatives are more and more widely available.

The losers

But in order for his argument of meat-eating to make sense, he considers the human interest (by couching it as an ecological “benefit”) of an animal’s death to be more important and outweigh the moral harm of the animal’s untimely death; instead of trying to explain how eating meat is ethical, he merely redefines his ethics to justify the killing of animals. But the concept of ethics is meaningless without considering the well-being of sentient, conscious beings who experience emotions and are capable of suffering. Only by failing to recognize animals as the unique individuals they are, individuals that desire and deserve to live their lives in freedom as nature intended, can he then determine that the lives of animals are no more important than to be eventual food meant for human consumption. He does not consider that nonhuman animals have interests of their own that we as humans can readily acknowledge and protect as rights. Rights protect individuals from having their interests violated or traded away simply because it’s more convenient or worthwhile for those in a position of power to do so; just because it serves us to keep, use, and kill animals, it does not morally allow us to violate their inherent rights. The natural characteristics that allow humans to hold moral rights — sentience, the will to live, liberty — are shared by non-human animals, therefore they share the same inherent rights that cannot be taken away, violated, or exploited by others. Any justification that allows humans to exploit others — human or non-human — is on its face unethical, even if it is in the interest of humans to do so.

So instead of addressing the key central question of killing sentient animals, he sidesteps the issue by suggesting that killing animals is inevitable, so who is he or anyone else to decide? Here he confuses inevitability with deliberation; in our current system of food production, we deliberately kill animals in the prime of their lives despite that we have a choice not to. He tries to make an argument that under certain environments, meat is the only food available — perhaps that is so for the indigenous peoples living in the most northern parts of the world lacking edible vegetation, but certainly not in the industrialized world where the most meat consumption occurs. Where we all comfortably sit and read this now, eating meat is not an inevitability. With the multitudes of other options available we simply do have a choice of whether or not to eat meat.

The justification of inevitability brings forth sister arguments such as “humans evolved to eat meat,” “humans have historically eaten meat,” and “animals eat other animals,” however, tradition, history, culture, and evolutionary processes do not have any intrinsic morality.

We have been behavioral omnivores in order to survive during our more primitive days, but a comparative cross-species examination of anatomy reveals that our bodies are adapted best to a plant-based diet, and the latest scientific studies of nutrition have confirmed that humans can not only be healthy, but thrive on a solely plant-based diet. There have been persistent myths about the safety of vegan diets, but the evidence supports that such a diet allows for optimal health. If the most “natural” diet for humans is not necessarily based on what we’ve eaten in the past, or what we choose to eat today, but what is optimally best for our health and our bodies, then the “inevitable” conclusion is that a plant-based diet is what we as humans do best on. Traditions and cultures are not static; they are transformed over time, so we have the capacity to change what we do as a society to reflect our values of compassion.

When one uses the justification that animals eat other animals so humans therefore have an obligation to follow animals’ model, it is obviously problematic, as there are many other actions by animals that humans decidedly do not engage in. If animal behavior alone is justification for a human behavior to be acceptable, then it should hold as an ethical behavior the practice of eating our own babies to control our population, since after all, many animals do the same thing. We pride ourselves in our ability to reason and govern our behavior towards one another for our mutual benefit, so why is it in this case we allow ourselves to abandon such principles in favor of animistic behavior that belies our evolution and cognitive/technical ability?

The second most obvious omission in his argument is his failure to acknowledge the huge environmental impact that any meat production (both factory and free-range) has on the environment— especially surprising since he espouses a central concern for the environment.

First, he makes the unfair comparison of an idealized method of small-scale meat production against the straw man of mass commercial crop agriculture, as if there is no other way to raise crops. Surely as an “agroecologist” he is well aware of the growth of biodynamic crop farms, of a resurgence in what used to be common agricultural practices before the age of intensive commercial chemical-based farming (crop rotation, organic methods, etc.), of other methods such as hydroponics and “veganic” agriculture, just to name a few examples. His assertion that animals are an essential component in crop-based agriculture ignores the fact that farmers can get just as much if not more nitrogen and other essential nutrients in the soil if they use legumes and other cover crops as “living mulches” which are then turned under, rather than by growing plants and having animals eat those plants and produce manure (or by using synthetic fertilizers).

Secondly, only by omitting key aspects of the meat production in the manner he suggests can he justify that eating meat is “most ecologically benign way.” He offers two equations:

Sun > diverse plants > cow > human. This in a larger ethical view looks much cleaner than the fossil-fuel-soaked scheme of tractor-tilled field > irrigated soy monoculture > tractor harvest > processing > tofu > shipping > human.”

He seems to forget the amount of fossil fuel it takes in the transport of the animals to slaughter, and the amount of resources it takes to cut the carcasses apart, package, ship, and keep them refrigerated during the entire time to keep them from rotting until the consumer buys them. Not to mention the vast amount of fossil-fuel, tractor-tilled, irrigated monoculture soy, grain, and corn that is required to feed the animals. Even in his idyllic vision of cows grazing in pasture lands means that their diet has to be supplemented with tilled crops once winter sets in, the pasture is dead for the season, and the cows need substantially more calories to keep warm. His example of the “dry, scrubby grasslands in Arizona” as being a better environment for raising cows rather than crops fails to take into account the vast amounts of water that have to be diverted for the animals and the non-native grass they eat (an invasive species that incidentally fuels destructive desert wildfires there). One cannot graze a non-native species like cows and not inherently change the natural balance of the ecosystem.

Thirdly, the idealized version of meat production he suggests ironically has a greater environmental footprint than that of factory farms; for example, raising animals in a “free-range” method requires more land and more resources per animal. But it is the massive demand for meat that makes such factory-farming inevitable; there just is simply not enough land or resources for free-range operations to meet such a demand, thus ensuring that Bost’s version of “ethical” meat remains a niche market — the vast majority of humans will not have such a choice as he suggests. The reality is that this essay will simply encourage people to eat more meat — no matter how it was produced — with a guilt-free conscience.

And finally, he ignores what may well be the most important fact that drives all of these environmental concerns; with the world’s population approaching the 7 billion mark (and projected to pass 9 billion by 2050), the very survival of the human species may very well hinge in part on a switch to plant-based diets. To supply the current demand for meat, an additional 53 billion land animals are bred into the world, raised, and killed each year across the globe. All of those animals consume crops grown to feed them and drink water that is becoming more and more scarce. The earth’s ability to support the resource-consumption of 53 billion extra lives we as humans bring into the world for our demand is being stretched thin, and vast tracts of bio-diverse ecosystems are irrevocably damaged as they are cleared to make way for animal-based operations and the crops grown to feed them — not to mention that the demand to eat aquatic animals (worldwide estimated to be in the order of roughly 90 billion a year) is causing the collapse of marine ecosystems. And it is well-documented that vegetable-based crops are more sustainable and have a greater yield per acre than animal-based agriculture. Meat production requires more resources and causes much more pollution than crops grown for human consumption. And given that an overwhelming majority of crops grown across the world ends up as animal feed (70-80%, depending on the crop), he doesn’t bother to discuss the question of whether those feed crops might be more efficiently used to feed people directly. By simply curtailing animal-based agriculture and using the greater yield of crops, the amount of land needed to adequately feed the world’s population would be reduced dramatically — which would potentially allow some of the previously-used land in the best-case scenario to grow back as a bio-diverse habitat for previously endangered wildlife.

Mr. Bost’s eloquent argument of “agroecology” stands only when one ignores the basic facts of meat production and its impact, and making his unbelievable assertion that “NOT eating meat may be arguably unethical” in the face of such ignorance is irresponsible.

But Mr. Bost continues, making the assertion that eating meat is considered “ethical” when it satisfies these three requirements:

You accept the biological reality that death begets life on this planet and that all life (including us!) is really just solar energy temporarily stored in an impermanent form.

This argument is truly bizarre; strip away the new-age sentiment and you have at its core a rationalization for the abandonment of ethical concerns for others, concluding death is no big deal in the grand cosmic scheme. It’s a kind of heartless Darwinism that diminishes the value of individual life; it ignores the real relationships that all sentient beings have with each other, and that life is most valuable to those who live it, both to human and nonhuman animals.

It also gives fuel to those who give moral equivalency to the death of plants and the death of animals. Some people still persist in the debunked idea that plants suffer, that mowing the lawn is on an equal moral dilemma as slitting the throat of a cow. Such arguments are made not because of a genuine concern for plants but as a justification to continue the behaviors that cause suffering to animals. Granted, all life does feed on life. Everything on our planet gains nourishment from something that once lived.  But there is a huge gulf of a difference between the animal life we intentionally kill for food who have sentience, self-awareness, cognition, social order, emotions, and a brain and central nervous system that transmits pain, and the rest of “the biotic community” which does not. The choice to be vegan is not because of a desire to have all life not die, but because of the desire to limit to the greatest extent possible the pain, suffering, and death our actions as human beings contribute.

Even when one ignores the core issue of whether or not it is ethical for us to use and kill animals for our demand (as Bost does), when one makes a comparison of animal-based agriculture versus horticulture, it is plants that have a much greater concentration of “temporarily stored solar energy.” Even so, his soothing romancing of the sun and soil is not enough to cover the brutal truth of the violence and brutality of animal agriculture that is kept hidden from us.

Second, you combine this realization with that cherished human trait of compassion and choose ethically raised food, vegetable, grain and/or meat.

This is probably the most dangerous consequence of this so called “ethical” thinking; if conscious living is merely an individual choice, then others can simply choose to destroy the environment or kill animals. If ethics is about general welfare and of the consequences of actions, then such decisions should be made collectively. It is the “cherished human trait of compassion” that have formed policies that affect everyone concerning issues like slavery, child labor, and other issues of oppressed groups. Had we relied in the past on mere individual choice to govern what we had considered to be ethical behavior, people today will still choose to own slaves and marry 12-year-old girls.

And third, you give thanks.

Giving thanks does not change the nature of the act of killing; the result is still exactly the same. Earlier I have written an examination of gratitude’s hollow ring, owing in part that it has recently been a common mechanism employed by those in the boutique butcher and restaurant movement to assuage consumer guilt and to absolve themselves of the responsibility of their actions. It is a paper-thin justification; when committing any other violent act against a living being, giving thanks to our victims for being victims would not make it ethical.

Perhaps he should really give thanks for having the good fortune, by luck or accident, of not being born a cow, a pig, a duck, a crab, a turkey, a chicken, a lamb, a fish, or any number of other fellow beings that humans kill in the prime of their lives for the taste of their flesh, of not being one of the billions of domestic farm animals that humans continuously force an existence of confinement, misery, boredom, and pain before violently meeting their untimely death. It is this attitude that animals are merely here on earth for us to use, that they are mere commodities to be bought, sold, altered, processed, and discarded, that allows us to be irresponsible towards the rest of the earth; by viewing animals as inevitable resources it enables us to ceaselessly mine the land, log the forests, pave over and pollute the environment.

Only by giving the true respect that animals deserve, by not breeding, confining, causing them pain, and killing them, can we as society progress to the next step of truly living in a way that is respectful of the biodiversity of the earth.

It is telling that among the New York Times Magazine readership, this essay was not the one that rang the most true to them. The Magazine allowed the readership to vote on their favorite contribution. One essay got a total of 38% of the total vote, more than double of the second-most-popular submission, but it was not one the judges picked as a finalist. In a highly publicized call among the entire omnivore readership of the Magazine to produce an iron-clad ethical argument in favor of eating meat, the one that was clearly the most popular wasn’t about “humane” meat, “compassionate” slaughter, or “free-range” animals, but rather one that makes the case that in-vitro meat is the only meat that is truly ethical (“I’m About to Eat Meat for the First Time in 40 Years” ). That’s right, out of 3000 essays submitted on the ethics of eating meat, the runaway favorite among the meat-eating readership was one that concludes that eating meat from any sentient animal killed for food is ultimately an unethical choice.

Italian Activists Rescue Beagles Destined for Vivisection from Breeding Facility

In Italian Activists Rescue Beagles on April 28, 2012 at 6:48 pm

In broad daylight today, as reported in the Italian newspaper Giornale di Brescia, Italian activists conducted a bold and daring raid of Green Hill, one of Europe’s largest breeder of beagles for vivisection labs, and rescued at least thirty beagles destined for painful procedures inside laboratories and eventual death from either the fatal results of experiments or the slaughter afterwards when they are deemed no longer useful.

At least 1000 activists organized by Occupy Green Hill who came from all over northern Italy started their procession in Montichiari, a city about 60 miles east of Milan where Green Hill is located. Many of them wore signs saying “We are the 86%,” referring to the percentage of Italians polled who were opposed to animal-based experimentation. On their approach close to Green Hill they were met by police and roadblocks. Groups of activists then cut through the fields and across other streets to the fences surrounding the facility.

There, about 300-400 demonstrators tried to open gates in the perimeter as teams of mobile riot police and police who were deployed tried to contain them. On the side of the gates, however, the protesters opened a breach in the fence and broke into the farm, with others simply scaling the fence, carefully avoiding the barbed-wire. Once inside they scrambled into the sheds and rescued at least thirty dogs, many of them being handed over the fence to waiting hands on the other side.

At the end of the day, it was reported that police had arrested 13 people. Some protesters said they had suffered violence by some officials. View video of the march and the raid here.

So why Green Hill?

Within Europe, Green Hill is now the largest breeder of dogs destined for laboratories. Green Hill houses 5 sheds which imprisons 2500 adult dogs, plus several litters. The sheds are closed, aseptic, without open spaces and without natural light or air. Rows and rows of cages with artificial lighting and ventilation system are the environment in which these dogs grow before being loaded onto a truck and shipped to laboratories where abuse and pain await them.

Among the clients of Green Hill are university laboratories, pharmaceutical companies and renowned trial centers as the notorious Huntingdon Life Sciences in England.

Who profits from Green Hill?

Several years ago Marshall Farms Inc., an American firm, acquired the company. Marshall is infamous throughout the world as the largest “producer” of dogs for the vivisection industry. The Marshall beagle is actually a standard variety. For about €450-900  ($600-1200) you can buy dogs of any age. For those who are willing to pay more one can also obtain a pregnant mother. Green Hill and Marshall also offer its customers on-demand surgical treatments, such as the cutting or removal of vocal cords so “researchers” cannot hear their cries of pain.

Marshall’s dogs are shipped by air all over the world, but with the purchase of Green Hill as the European headquarters and the construction of a huge farm in China, Marshall is pursuing a plan of expansion and market monopoly.

To Green Hill and Marshall Farm, animals are merely merchandise, commodities to just breed and sell without any thought to the pain and suffering — both mental and physical — that they will suffer. Through the work of these activists, a few lives were saved from the horrors of industry, and shows to those who profit from the lives of innocent beings that oppression will not be tolerated.

UPDATE:
Former Tourism Minister Michela Brambilla traveled to the prison to visit those arrested for their involvement in the raid. The former minister noted that the demonstrators’ actions are representative of ”the high level of exasperation felt by citizens, who will no longer tolerate such shameful activity in our country. The thousands of people who for months have staged every form of civil protest against Green Hill are representing the feelings of millions of Italians.”

UPDATE: The activists who were being held have been released.

WARNING: GRAPHIC IMAGE! Click this link to an undercover photo to see what vivisection does to beagles.

The Shame of Body-Shaming

In The Shame of Body-Shaming on April 4, 2012 at 5:12 pm


National animal advocacy organizations have always had a penchant for eye-catching, controversial advertisements, but there are times when the line gets crossed and we should make a stand. Embarrassing people for being fat in an effort to get them to go vegan is one such approach that should never be deemed acceptable by anyone. In their latest effort to target obesity, the Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) proposed a “tongue in cheek” TV commercial to American Airlines, making the automatic assertion that vegans are trim and fit, and degrades people for being fat. This ad is especially problematic because it goes past the ideas of health and appearance by suggesting that people who are overweight are a nuisance and that people would be willing to pay extra to not be around them. This brings fat-shaming to a whole new level.

Fat-shaming is nothing new, unfortunately, in the vegan community. But is especially ironic that an organization of doctors, people who presumably know the most about human physiology and metabolism, are promoting the simple reductive fallacy that vegan=skinny, skinny=healthy, fat=unhealthy. They of all people should know that being vegan does not necessarily make you thin, that being skinny does not automatically make you healthy, and that many vegans, no matter how sugar-free, fat-free, salt-free, and process-free their diet is, just will never be thin. Vegans come in all shapes and sizes, and using advertisements to humiliate people  for being fat is offensive not just to non-vegans who are overweight, but to vegans who are not thin.

People who struggle with their weight already feel ashamed of their bodies. They do not need those feelings reinforced. Shaming people who are overweight into becoming vegan is mean-spirited and runs counter to the idea of veganism as a positive, inclusive, and compassionate force. How can treating others who are not thin with contempt endear them to our cause? By acting in such a way, we come across to non-vegans as obnoxious, and therefore, it does real harm to non-human animals when non-vegans, offended by our message, make up their minds to not consider veganism.

As shameful as this all is, it’s good to see that I am not alone in calling for a push-back; other noted vegan blogs in recent days have publicly called out PCRM for this ill-advised campaign, including Vegansaurus, The Thinking Vegan, and The Vegan RD. We should all speak out, as this kind of messaging — by anyone — is beneath us and should never be accepted.

This latest incident of body-shaming is endemic of a greater problem of relying solely on health and vanity as a motivation for people to adopt veganism. Obviously, obesity is a major problem in this country, alarmingly so, as the percentage of people who are obese rises every year, and as more and more children are developing diabetes from being obese, but to advertise veganism as a catch-all solution for weight loss is stretching the truth, and sets it up for failure, as people jump on board looking for a quick fix for their weight problem, only to abandon it the minute it fails to deliver on its promise.

Simply eliminating animal products, while addressing many of the health problems intrinsic with them, doesn’t address the other factors that can cause obesity and adversely affect health; while a properly planned vegan diet can help in reducing weight, there is no guarantee, and it is irresponsible for advocates to promote it as a wonder pill. And given the increased prevalence of vegan processed food that are high in sugars, fats, and salt — to mimic many of the foods people in this country are used to eating, one can very well be vegan and unhealthy. Making such simplistic claims and spreading disinformation is a disservice to everyone, both to humans and non-humans.

The focus on health and vanity ignores the ethics behind veganism. Eating a vegan diet does not automatically make you thinner, more attractive, grant you a higher libido or other benefits — being vegan means you have decided not to participate in a system of exploitation and killing of non-human animals. The benefits you may derive personally from being vegan are secondary to the benefits to the other sentient beings who aren’t being bred, used, altered, abused, and killed for your demand. The science behind health and nutrition are always in flux, and health arguments without proper research can be shown to be misleading or downright false, while the ethics behind veganism as a movement for justice have a much more solid footing. Anecdotal evidence, both from my own experience as an activist and from other activists with whom I am connected, suggests those who become vegan for ethical concerns are much more likely to remain vegan than those who become vegan for health reasons.

While PCRM is primarily concerned with public health, and therefore use arguments centered on health benefits of veganism, they can and should do much better than this. Vegan education and advocacy can do and should do better than this. Shaming others is detrimental to the movement and doesn’t help animals — indeed, our movement is best served by people of all shapes and sizes. We must be a community where everyone feels accepted, and be recognized for our kindness, empathy, and compassion.

The Dirty Dozen on Dairy and Eggs

In The Dirty Dozen on Dairy and Eggs on February 24, 2012 at 3:56 pm

Like most vegans, I wasn’t one my whole life. As of now, I’ve been vegan for over twelve years. Six years before that I was a vegetarian. I had made the decision to become vegetarian because I didn’t want to support the violence that was inherent in the industry that killed animals for food. I made the decision not based on health, or concern for the environment, but on ethics. I thought adopting vegetarianism was “good enough” in not supporting the problematic dilemma of taking of a life when it really isn’t necessary to do so. I hadn’t thought then of going vegan. To me at the time it seemed like a step that was more rooted in a sense of purity than anything else. I had deluded myself into thinking that the animals used in the dairy and egg industry were somehow better taken care of, that they didn’t have to be killed to get what we wanted from them. How wrong I was.

Later I learned things that I hadn’t known before, which made it all too clear that the cycle of violence and exploitation is just as prevalent in the dairy and egg industry as the meat industry. I was ashamed and disappointed that I allowed myself to be duped by an industry that presented a wholesome pastoral image of how animals were cared for, when the reality behind the industries was a lot crueler and bloodier than I had ever imagined. After being educated, I could no longer in good conscience support those practices. As a result I made the choice to become vegan, back in 2000, and have not regretted for a single second my decision. In the years since, I have been continually exposed to more evidence that solidified and confirmed the ethics behind my choice.

I offer to you, whether you are vegetarian or not, some of the same information that you may not know about the dairy and egg industry as part of twelve reasons I’ve complied of why reconsideration in supporting them is necessary. Do not feel bad if you do not know many or even any of these points; there is a reason this information is kept hidden from the public discourse–the industries know that if the greater public really knows what goes on, the demand for their products will drop. If you have an ethical concern for animals, then please read through the Dirty Dozen on why vegetarianism is sadly not enough in order for you to live in accordance with your values.

1. Cows don’t just “give” milk.
The average consumer of dairy thinks that cows “have” to be milked, that they just produce it all on their own, so we’re really just doing them a favor by using their milk. It is a testament to how well-hidden the truth of the dairy industry is that people don’t think to question something that is contradictory to a simple biological fact: cows produce milk for their calves. In the dairy industry, cows are kept constantly impregnated to keep milk production going, producing up to ten times more milk than she would naturally. They are impregnated by means of artificial insemination, confined in a “rape rack” (that’s the industry term), and when the cows give birth, the calves are immediately taken away from their mother. When you consume any milk product, there is a calf that is denied the ability to nurse his/her mother.

2. The dairy industry supports the veal industry.
Once the cow gives birth during one of a number of continual pregnancies, the mother cow and her calf will both scream, calling out to one another, while the baby is taken from her. Afterward, the mother will bellow for days upon days, calling out for her baby. If the calf is male, he gets shipped away to a veal producer. The male calf will call out for his mother, for roughly his entire 14 week life-span, spent immobile in a small crate, until he is slaughtered. Other calves not destined for veal are slaughtered for pet food or for their skin to produce leather–or if the calf is female, raised to become another milk machine.

A calf being constrained in a veal crate

3. The dairy industry supports the meat industry.
Because of the rigors and demands imposed on her, the life of a dairy cow is short. Even though cows naturally life 20 years or more, most cows are sent to slaughter as soon as their milk production drops, usually at about 3 or 4 years of age. These “spent” cows end up as hamburger meat or as other “lower quality” meat in your grocery store. Even cows used for dairy from so-called “humane” farms end up at the same slaughterhouses as cows from concentrated farming operations, where there are absolutely no protections in place, where the intensive speed of “processing” means many are not verified as having been killed and thus get gutted and skinned while still conscious.

4. The egg industry is now linked to the Canadian seal slaughter.
After the European Union has banned importation of seal products from Canada, the Canadian seal industry has found a new customer. The egg industry is attempting to improve the fatty acid lipid profile of eggs by feeding blubber from the Canadian harp seal hunt to egg-laying hens.

5. Exploitation is the industries’ business model.
The dairy and egg industry (like the meat industry) spend a significant amount of money to soothe the buying public into thinking that as an institution, they care about the welfare of the animals. But with making a profit as their motive, animals are just seen as disposable commodities, a mere means to an end. Animals are considered as pure numbers, and if they fall short of a cost/benefit analysis, then it is the animals that suffer the consequences.

In a recent example of such a coldly-calculated outcome, the dairy industry trade group Cooperatives Working Together (CWT)–comprised of members such as the National Milk Producers Federation, Dairy Farmers of America, and Land O’Lakes– had from 2003 and 2010 more than 500,000 young cows slaughtered under their so-called “dairy herd retirement” program. They did so in a concerted effort to reduce the supply of milk, and thus inflate the price. Another recent case also involved egg producers who were encouraged to reduce their flock size to reduce egg supply and inflate the price, all part of a program that was disguised as an animal welfare initiative based on the use of a misleading label on egg cartons.

Research shows that cows and chickens have a strong, complex emotional life, feeling pain, fear and anxiety and also worry about the future just as we do. All cows and chickens have unique individual personalities and desire to live free. But what are considered legal standard agricultural practices would be considered unlawful animal cruelty if it were to be done to a dog or cat. Branding and tail-docking are done to cows used for dairy, hens  used for egg production get de-beaked, and it is a common practice to starve them in order to force them to molt, which increases egg production. Even on operations that advertise their products as “humane,” “organic,” “free-range,” etc., animals are often denied basic care; for example, if cows’ udders become infected from frequent milkings, which often happens, many farmers deny them medicine, because if they medicate the animals, they won’t be able to sell the milk as organic. If an animal gets sick or injured, often they are just killed rather than to have to spend money on medicine or veterinary treatment. And as soon as their production drops, then they aren’t allowed to live out the rest of their natural life, but instead are slaughtered.

Breeding, confining, using, and killing these individual beings denies them of a full, long life that nature intended for them.

6. For egg production, 50% of all chicks are killed.
Hatcheries breed all the chickens destined for egg-production. Trays upon trays of chicks are hatched in incubators–not a single one will ever see or experience the warmth of their mother. Male chicks hatched there have no economic value. Hatcheries dispose of all male chicks, either tossing them in the trash and letting them suffocate to death, or they grind them up alive. 250 million male chicks are ground up alive or suffocate in hatcheries every year. Even farms that advertise “humane,” “free-range,” “cage-free,” or “organic” eggs obtain their chicks from hatcheries. Hatcheries also supply chickens for the burgeoning urban backyard chicken movement. You cannot attain an chicken used for egg-production without supporting this mass slaughter.

Male chicks having been tossed into a hatchery dumpster

In addition, at all farms, both large-scale and small-scale, all hens used for egg-production are killed when their production declines, typically within two years, as feeding these worn-out individuals cuts directly into profits. Often the bodies of “spent” hens are so ravaged that no one will buy them, and they are ground into fertilizer or just sent to a landfill. Hens can live for ten years or more if allowed to live free of exploitation and slaughter.

Baby male chicks are tossed alive into trash bins

7. Dairy and eggs are a feminist issue.
The vast majority of the animals raised and used in the dairy and egg industry are female. The same worldview that allows for the domination of men over women is also responsible for the mass institutional control of female farmed animals. There every aspect of a female’s life is controlled. Female cows are continually kept pregnant,  impregnated forcibly, have their babies taken away from them, and killed for food. Female chickens are kept alive for only as long as their egg production is optimal. And every female farmed animal (both ones raised for dairy/egg operations and for human consumption of their flesh) has their reproductive systems controlled by a profit-driven industrial system designed to view them as mere commodities rather than as individuals. In any struggle to make a world more equitable from one dominated by a male-centric worldview, addressing how animals are subjugated is as much a feminist issue as any.

8. The dairy and egg industries misrepresent their products.
The industries surrounding dairy and egg production and the manufacture of products from them controls government policy and media discourse, and therefore, public perception. They operate in much the same manner as the tobacco industry did 30 years ago to hide the true costs of their products.

These lobbies are very large and powerful players within government, heavily contributing to House and Senate candidates, who then craft legislation that benefits the industries. The government also supports these industries with price supports and subsidies.

These dairy lobbies are also very cozy with the medical profession so licensed nutritionists constantly bombard us with “drink milk” and “cheese is good for you” propaganda.

Animal production claims and pictures on the cartons all serve to “educate” the consumer about “organic” milk, “free-range” eggs, and the like. Marketers know that contented animals in the field are what consumers want to see, which is why these images are plastered on cartons across the country. But these are just marketing tactics, as the requirements that allow such labels are extremely lax. High-density housing is still allowed to be called “free-range” and “cage-free,” often with the same noisy, smelly, and unsanitary conditions of conventional factory farms. The “organic” label does not govern the living conditions of the animals, but rather on their feed given to them. And there is no standard that regulates the use of “humane.” Through suggestive packaging or using misleading language the dairy and egg industries make the public feel good about what they buy and not question the true exploitative nature of those industries.

“Free-range” hens

9. Cow’s milk is not natural for us.
We are the only animal species that continue to drink milk after we are supposed to be weaned. And we are the only animal species that drinks milk from other animal species. The reason we continue to drink milk well past the period we are supposed to is because we have allowed ourselves to remain addicted to it. Milk (and milk products like butter, ice cream, cheese, and so on) contains casein, a protein that has an addictive calming effect similar to morphine. This is an evolutionary trick to ensure babies continue to drink it to get the nutrition their mother provides, as well as ensuring a bond between the baby and mother. Then as the baby achieves a level of maturity to allow them to eat solid food and develops an interest in foods other than milk, the process of weaning starts. They usually lose the ability to digest lactose as they reach adulthood.

The majority (more than 60%) of the world’s human population is lactose-intolerant, meaning their digestive system simply cannot digest lactose, the main sugar in milk. This is proof enough that humans are not meant to drink milk past infancy (especially from other species).

10. Cow’s milk is not healthy for us.
Milk is Mother Nature’s “perfect food” …for a calf… until he/she is weaned. There’s nothing in milk that we cannot get from plant-based sources. Calcium, the number one nutrient for which milk is considered necessary, can be found in greater amounts in dark leafy greens. Consider that the calcium that the cow uses to build bone strength is obtained from plant sources. Plant sources that supply calcium also have a large amount of magnesium, necessary for the body to absorb and use the calcium. Most of the calcium in cow’s milk basically passes through unused because the milk has insufficient magnesium content for the human body to use. Cow’s milk has only enough magnesium to absorb around 11% (33mg per cup) of calcium.

Because of its high protein content, milk is sometimes thought of as “liquid meat,” but all that protein, in concert with other proteins, can actually leach calcium from the body. Excessive protein in the body creates an acidic environment (in the blood), which the body counteracts by extracting calcium to neutralize it, over the long term resulting in osteoporosis or stone formation. Countries that consume high-protein diets (meat, eggs, milk and dairy) have the highest rates of osteoporosis.

Dairy is a major contributor to obesity. In whole milk 49% of the calories are from fat; in “2%” milk 35% of the calories are from fat; Cheddar cheese has 74% fat content; butter is 100% fat. The cow’s milk protein lactalbumin has been identified as a key factor in diabetes.

Whenever cows are forced to produce more milk, they become more susceptible to udder infections called mastitis. Mastitis is a condition which can increase the amount of cow’s pus which ends up in the milk. Mastitis is treated with antibiotics, used in both a systemic and preventative basis, with many veterinarians mixing up their own antibiotic cocktails. Of the many commercially available antibiotics, only 4 are tested for their presence in milk. The presence of bovine growth hormones given to cows to increase milk production (like recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone, or rBGH) in the cow’s blood stimulates production of another hormone, called Insulin-Like Growth Factor-1, or IGF-1. It is IGF-1 that is directly responsible for increasing milk production. IGF-1 promotes cell division, but excessive amounts can cause out-of-control cell growth — also better known as cancer.

In the U.S., ONE cubic centimeter (cc) of commercial cow’s milk is allowed to have up to 750,000 somatic cells (also called “pus”) and 20,000 live bacteria, before it is kept off the market. There are also allowable amounts for feces, blood, and bacteria. Pasteurization happens for 15 seconds at 162 degrees Fahrenheit. By comparison, the recommended procedure to sanitize contaminated water is to boil it (212 degrees F) for several minutes.

Milk is mixed together in large tanks; one gallon of milk can come from up to a thousand different cows. Because of this it would only take 1 sick and diseased cow to infect thousands of gallons of milk.

According to the February 2005 print edition of Hoard’s Dairyman (Volume 147, number 4), the self proclaimed “National Dairy Farm Magazine,” 89% of the cows used for dairy in the United States are infected with the leukemia virus.

Each bite of hard cheese has ten times whatever was in that sip of milk, because it takes ten pounds of milk to make one pound of cheese. Each bite of ice cream has 12 times the amount of milk, and every swipe of butter has 21 times whatever is contained in the fat molecules in a sip of milk.

The cumulative effect on those who consume cow’s milk and dairy includes obesity, heart disease, cancer, allergies, digestive problems, diabetes, asthma, desensitization to antibiotics, behavioral problems, Crohn’s disease, migraines, eczema, insomnia, and more. Add to that the effects from the constant ingestion of dioxins, herbicides, pesticides that get passed into milk, which wind up getting stored in human fat, and it simply means that milk is not healthy by any measure.

“Milk and many components of milk (butterfat, milk protein, calcium from milk, and riboflavin) … were positively related to coronary heart disease mortality for all 40 countries studied.”- Circulation 1993;88(6):2771-2779

” ‘But doctor, what will happen to my teeth and bones if I stop drinking milk?’ Nothing – nothing that wouldn’t have happened anyway”. - Frank A. Oski, MD, Former Director, Department of Pediatrics, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine

11. Eggs are also risky.
Salmonella is a constant concern with eggs (with one outbreak in 2010 requiring the recall of half a billion eggs).

Regular consumption of eggs has been found to be linked with an increased risk of heart failure and strokes  (due to the high cholesterol content), and an increased risk of developing the more lethal form of prostate cancer.

Much of the protein contained within eggs that is touted as a health benefit actually becomes indigestible after being cooked. Animal proteins also contain more methionine, an essential amino acid, than plant proteins. However, excessive amounts of methionine become toxic as it breaks down into homocysteines; in the 1990’s homocysteines were identified as key factors in heart attack deaths.

The nutritional benefits many people claim for eggs, including iron, protein, phosphorous and vitamins A and D, are in plant-based foods that do not have the high cholesterol and fat content of eggs.

12. Dairy and egg production result in massive consumption and pollution of the environment.
Where there are animals, there is animal waste. There are around 9.2 million cows used for dairy in the United States. Each cow used for dairy ingests around 330 pounds of feed and water (around 50 pounds of food and around 280 pounds or 33 gallons of water) per day. Allowing for the “optimal” dairy production of 55 pounds of milk per day (about 6 gallons, over ten times what Mother Nature designed the cow to produce) that means that what remains becomes around 275 pounds of urine and feces per day, per cow, for a daily total of 2.53 billion pounds of pollution. That means 923 billion pounds per year of untreated pollution entering our streams, rivers, lakes, and drinking water systems, euphemistically called “agricultural runoff.”

The result of this “agricultural runoff” is millions of fish being killed, and is the main reason why 60% of America’s rivers and streams are classified as “impaired”. In states with concentrated animal agriculture, the waterways have become rife with the bacteria Pfiesteria piscicida. In addition to killing fish, pfiesteria causes open sores, nausea, memory loss, fatigue and disorientation in humans. Even groundwater, which takes thousands of years to restore, is being contaminated; the aquifer under the San Bernadino Dairy Preserve in southern California, for example, contains more nitrates and other pollutants than water coming from sewage treatment plants.

One dairy farm with 2,500 cows produces as much waste as a city with around 411,000 residents. There are many other problems associated with the large amount of animal manure being produced, including dangerous gases, waterborne diseases, and acid rain.

Like all mammals, cows pass gas. And owing that their compartmental digestive system is rather inefficient, it leads to the creation of more gas. Cows used for dairy release more than a billion pounds of methane gas into the atmosphere each year, and as a “greenhouse-intensive food,” it is a major contributor to the global climate change that is manifesting now.

Many people recognize that water is a precious resource, however, more water is used in the production of dairy and eggs than the equivalent amount of crops grown for human consumption. Water is used not only for the animals to drink, but also to grow the crops that the animals eat. Simply cleaning out dairy and egg operations uses vast amounts of water—according to the EPA, a dairy operation that utilizes an automatic “flushing” system can use up to 150 gallons of water per cow per day. There are about 336 million hens used of egg-production in the US. It takes about 120 gallons of water for a hen to produce one egg. By contrast, it takes 13.8 gallons to grow and produce one orange, and only 3 gallons of water to produce one tomato.

By any measure, animal-based agricultural operations consume a vast amount of ever-more-precious resources and is a major contributor to the pollution of the planet. Any discussion about arresting our environmental impact on this earth will be for naught if we do not acknowledge the key role our demand for animal-based agriculture (animals raised for dairy/eggs as well as those for meat) has on the potential future viability of our environment.

13 (Baker’s Dozen). Many cheeses aren’t even vegetarian.
Most cheeses contain rennet. Rennet is a complex of enzymes manufactured in mammalian stomachs, and is used in the production of cheeses to separate milk into solids (curds) and liquid (whey). Rennet is extracted from the inner stomach linings of slaughtered young, unweaned calves. These stomachs are a by-product of veal production. While there are vegetarian forms of rennet, animal sources are still commonly used, and there is no labeling requirements to state their source. So many cheeses are essentially made from mothers’ milk mixed with the pieces of stomach from their dead babies.

What to use in place of dairy and eggs:

It is important to know that you are not “giving up” anything when you decide not to consume dairy and eggs anymore. You can still enjoy sumptuous desserts, mouth-watering treats, and even your favorite recipes simply by using vegan versions of the things you’ve grown up being used to. And you can rekindle a sense of adventure in discovering new kinds of delicious food. The only thing you would be giving up when you decide not to use animal products of any sort is the support of cruelty and ethical dissonance. More and more products come out each year, and are becoming more widely available, so even your regular store will likely have a few products you never realized were there all along.

Eggs

Ener-G Egg Replacer – Tapioca starch used as a replacement in baking

Substitutes such as bananas, silken tofu, ground flax seeds, apple puree, and more can be used in baking. There are many vegan recipes out there for egg-centered dishes like deviled eggs and omelettes. Any vegan cookbook will have at least a few recipes, and a multitude of them can be brought up with a simple web search.

Milk

Soy milk, almond milk, rice milk, and more can be easily substituted for animal milk. These non-dairy milks are widely available under numerous brands, and each brand comes in different varieties, including vanilla-flavored, chocolate-flavored, low-fat, and unsweetened. They all have differing tastes, so feel free to experiment. Dairy milk in recipes can be substituted with (unsweetened) soy milk with no compromise to structure or taste (rice milk tends to be thinner). If you’re feeling particularly adventurous, you can make your own soy milk; even easier is making almond milk. So Delicious and Wildwood make coffee creamers as well.

Butter and margarine 

Earth Balance makes spreads and sticks.
Spectrum makes spreads and shortenings.
Smart Balance makes spreads (not all varieties may be vegan).
Shedd’s Willow Run Soybean Margarine sticks, one of the oldest brands of soy margarine, and by many accounts, the best.

Recipes calling for melted butter in baking or pan-frying can easily be replaced with an equal amount of oil (such as canola or safflower). If you’re adventurous, here’s a recipe for vegan butter that stands out because it is designed from an understanding of the chemical properties of dairy butter.

Cheese

Cheezly from the UK, a variety of flavors in blocks and slices.
Daiya  shredded vegan cheese perfect for pizza or tacos. Many consider them the best. Also available in large blocks.
Dr. Cow – Organic, creamy cheese in “Aged” flavors
Follow Your Heart – soy-based Vegan Gourmet cheese blocks come in Monterey Jack, Mozzarella (it melts and is great on pizza!), Cheddar and Nacho
Parma! Vegan Parmesan – made from walnuts and nutritional yeast, comes in a shaker bottle (great sprinkled on pasta, salads, and popcorn). Comes in Original and Chipotle Cayenne
Road’s End Organics – Chreese packets of instant sauces are great for mac ‘n’ cheese (Cheddar, Mozzarella, and gluten free Alfredo and Cheddar); they also make a Nacho Chreese Dip in mild or spicy flavors
Sheese soy-based “gourmet” cheese from Scotland. Blocks in Cheddar (smoked, chives, medium and strong), Edam, Cheshire, Gouda and Mozzarella. Creamy style in Cheddar, Chives, Garlic & Herb, Mexican and Original. Great for crackers, and for wine/cheese events
Teese – Vegan Cheese in blocks of Mozzarella and Cheddar. Also, Vegan Cheese Sauces in Nacho and Cheddar
Tofutti – Soy-Cheese Slices in Mozzarella and American
Vegan brand – soy-based cheeses: Vegan Grated Topping is a great Parmesan alternative; Vegan Singles, Rice Cheese Singles, and Vegan Chunk Cheese are all available in a few different flavors

Cream cheese

Dr. Cow – Cashew nut cream cheese
Follow Your Heart – Vegan Gourmet cream cheese is creamy and organic
Sheese – creamy style comes in original flavor and others like in Garlic & Herb and Chives
Tofutti – “Better Than Cream Cheese” in French onion, herbs and chives, garlic and herb, garden veggie, and plain
Trader Joe’s – Dairy Free Cream Cheese Alternative
Vegan brand – Classic Plain and Chive & Garlic

Yogurt

Nancy’s Soy Yogurt – cultured soy yogurt (the only brand that carries a plain flavor, useful for cooking/baking)
Silk Live! – cultured soy yogurt
So Delicious – coconut milk yogurts
Trader Joe’s cultured soy yogurts
Wholesoy soy yogurts, also makes drinkable soy yogurt for those on the go

All of the above brands come in a multitude of flavors.

Sour cream

Follow Your Heart – Vegan Gourmet sour cream alternative is also organic
Tofutti – Sour Supreme and non-hydrogenated Better Than Sour Cream

Mayonnaise

Earth Balance – Original, Organic, and Olive Oil
Follow Your Heart
– Veganaise vegan mayonnaise (refrigerated) — my personal favorite! Also comes in Grapeseed Oil, Expeller Pressed, and Reduced Fat
Miso Mayo – Soy/miso mayonnaise available in Spicy Red Pepper, Garlic/Dill, and Original flavor. Great for sandwiches.
Nasoya – Nayonaise vegan mayonnaise
Spectrum – Light Canola Mayo, also available in squeeze bottle

Ice cream

Coconut Bliss – Organic coconut milk ice cream
Double Rainbow Soy Cream – Soy ice cream in a few flavors
Rice Dream – Rice milk ice cream, available in many flavors, both in pints and novelties (bars, bites, and pies)
So Delicious – So Delicious soy, coconut, and almond milk ice cream, and Purely Decadent soy ice cream in many flavors. Also has sorbets and ice cream sandwiches and bars
Soy Dream – Organic soy ice cream both in pints and sandwiches
Tofutti Cuties – Ice cream sandwiches in many flavors

And there are many recipes on the web to make not only homemade versions of dairy-free alternatives like sour cream and cheese, but also other items normally thought of needing dairy to make, such as vegan crepes, omlettes, alfredo sauce, cheesecake, quiche, souffle, and more. Just put in the word “vegan” in any recipe search and you’ll be surprised at the number and varieties to experiment with!

Dairy and eggs are not necessary for us and is ethically problematic, and in light of the evidence against its use — and with the amount of vegan alternatives available — the only question remains is how soon can you make the switch? The animals are looking to you to help them.

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