December 14, 2012

The Dark Side of Animal “Gifts.” ~ John Merryfield

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

Now, imagine a single mother in the third world with two small children, both of whom are starving. Naturally, you want to help. Many people generously give during Christmas to organizations like Heifer International, an organization that claims to work against world hunger, by donating animals to families in developing countries.

Heifer International’s catalog portrays beautiful children holding cute animals in seemingly humane circumstances. The idea is to help feed the poor and hungry by providing them with an animal that will provide milk and meat. What the marketing brochure for Heifer International does not show, are the animals being transported, their living and slaughter conditions, or the erosion, pollution, and water use caused by the introduction of the animals and their offspring.

By definition, animals raised for food are exploited in a variety of ways. A large percentage of the families receiving animals from Heifer International are struggling to provide for themselves and cannot ensure adequate living conditions, nutrition, and medical care for animals they have been given. The animals shipped to developing countries are often subject to water and food shortages; cruel procedures without pain killers; lack of veterinary care resulting in extended suffering when illness or injury occur; and brutal conditions in slaughter.

Photo: Joanne McArthur

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

The fragile land in many of the regions where Heifer International is sending the animals cannot support animal agriculture. Although they say they encourage cut and carry feeding of the animals to avoid erosion, the reality is often quite different.

While it may seem humane and sustainable to provide just one or two dairy cows here or there, the long term consequences are: an increased dependence on animal agriculture for survival, causing a less sustainable environment, and more animal suffering in the world.  Also, it cannot be overlooked that 35 percent of all grain production in the world is fed to livestock, not humans.

There is an alternative.

While adopting a plant-based diet can have a positive global effect, there are other international organizations working to end hunger, and the causes of hunger, without exploiting animals.

We cannot deny the existence of hunger in our world. It’s a reality that challenges us, and stirs our deepest compassion.  Our own lives can be our greatest vehicles for change in the world. This Christmas, work to end world hunger; eat plants instead of animals.


John Merryfield lives with his wife in Lake Tahoe, California and works as a painting contractor. He is director of Vegan 1 Day.




Ed: Terri Tremblett

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