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It’s something most vegetarians and vegans have heard before: “Why worry about animals when so many humans are suffering? Surely that’s more important.” This argument has obvious flaws – it’s possible to care about multiple issues, and besides, human superiority is a matter of opinion. Regardless, anyone who’s truly concerned about human suffering should eliminate animal products from their diet. The truth is, animal and human suffering are intertwined.
Currently, 1 in 8 people in the world don’t have enough to eat. However, we’re growing enough to feed over 10 billion people – more than the population of the planet. Theoretically, nobody should be going hungry. So what’s going on? There are issues with food distribution and food waste, but the driving factor is that most of the grain and soya we grow is fed to livestock. This grain is often grown in the developing world, where it’s most needed to feed the hungry, but instead it’s exported to developed countries to be fed to farm animals. Almost 800 million people could be fed with the grain eaten by US livestock alone. The philanthropist Philip Wollen once said, “Every morsel of meat we eat is slapping the tear-stained face of a starving child”.
Communities located near factory farms tend to be poor, and inhabitants are often people of colour. One study found “higher reporting of headaches, runny noses, sore throats, excessive coughing, diarrhea, and burning eyes” in a community near a pig farm. Other studies have found an increased likelihood of developing neurobehavioural and mental illnesses in those living near factory farms. Open-air ‘lagoons’ of animal waste release toxic gases into the air – they sometimes overflow, contaminating the water. Vast quantities of waste are spread over the land, affecting soil and water quality. Local residents are plagued by unpleasant odours which prevent them from going outside or opening windows. Read this article and this one to look deeper into these issues.
Slaughterhouse workers are often poorly-paid immigrants. They have very high rates of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a result of the horrific conditions they work in, and are more likely than the average person to commit violent crimes like rape and domestic violence. One study found that having a slaughterhouse in the community corresponded to a 166% increase in rape. Slaughterhouse workers are also more likely to abuse drugs or alcohol than the general population.
In factory farms, the confinement of hundreds of animals in crowded conditions is a breeding ground for disease and infections. Antibiotics are therefore administered in animals’ feed as a preventative measure – that is, before they even get sick. This overuse of antibiotics has led to the evolution of antibiotic-resistant superbugs like MRSA, many of which are spreading to humans. In the future, antibiotics may thus become useless, leaving us susceptible to many diseases which were previously curable. Watch the short movie Swine to learn more about antibiotic resistance.
Some diseases thrive in factory farms and spread to humans; the bird and swine flu epidemics of recent years are examples. Factory-farmed meat is often contaminated with bacteria like salmonella, and handling raw meat can cause serious illness in humans. A 2010 study found that 62% of chickens sold in US supermarkets were contaminated with campylobacter, which can cause diarrhoea, nausea and abdominal pain.
The environmental impact of animal agriculture is huge, contributing to deforestation, desertification, carbon dioxide and methane emissions, ocean dead zones, water pollution and much more. In fact, it’s the number one cause of climate change, more than all transportation combined. Even if we stopped using all forms of transportation, climate change would continue to worsen; the planet simply can’t sustain our current habits. The United Nations has deemed a global move towards a plant-based diet necessary if we’re to avoid fuel poverty, hunger and other negative consequences of climate change. Extreme weather, floods and droughts have already killed thousands; the Global Humanitarian Forum estimates the number of people killed by climate change to be 300,000 per year. Click here for statistics on the environmental impact of animal agriculture.
Animal agriculture also has negative impacts on human health. Earlier this year, the World Health Organisation classified processed meat as a carcinogen, and red meat as a probable carcinogen. The standard Western diet, high in animal products and processed foods, is responsible for epidemic levels of obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, cancer, Type 2 diabetes and countless other illnesses. We’re quite literally eating ourselves to death. However, a wholefoods plant-based diet has been shown to prevent, arrest and in some cases even reverse the development of these diseases. Listen to this speech and read Dr. T. Colin Campbell’s The China Study for more information on this.
Plant-based diets aren’t just for those who care about animals or are worried about their health. The ‘personal choice’ to eat animal products has far-reaching consequences for us all, and if you really care about humans, it’s time to make a change.
This post only scratches the surface of these enormous issues. I highly recommend doing your own research to get a better understanding. Leave comments or questions below.
- Farmageddon by Philip Lymbery
- Comfortably Unaware by Richard Oppenlander
- Cowspiracy (documentary)
- Forks Over Knives (documentary)