More On Meat…

…and why it is a key pandemic vector:

This expanding industrial footprint has accelerated the flow of pathogens into new territories around the world. In Central Africa, the growth of bushmeat hunting—linked to a dearth of local fish due to Chinese and EU overfishing—has spread monkeypox, a smallpox-like virus, from rodents to humans. In China, the growing prosperity of the middle class has led to an increased demand for the luxury “yewei” cuisine, which revolves around the consumption of rare, exotic wild animals; live animal (or “wet”) markets, where such wild animals are sold, have grown accordingly. These wet markets facilitated the emergence of SARS-CoV-1 in bats, civet cats, and humans in 2002 and, some speculate, the novel coronavirus in 2019. And in southeast Asia, rising incomes have led to the increased consumption of pork and the growth of pig farms. The expansion of swine farming in Malaysia precipitated the transmission of Nipah virus from bats to pigs and then humans in 1998; similarly, in China, the expansion of swine farming has led to the frequent emergence of highly virulent forms of avian influenza viruses and antibiotic-resistant pathogens.

And more on “wet markets,” and why shutting them down is a complicated question:

Among today’s wet markets, you’ll find some that sell no live animals whatsoever, just slaughtered animals and produce; some that carry common live animals like chickens or fish; and some that sell wildlife like bats and snakes.

While US lawmakers and other public figures talk about wanting to ban wet markets writ large, what they seem to really want to ban is the sale of wild animals — or perhaps any live animals — that sometimes occurs there. (Presumably they would have no problem with the wet markets that carry only slaughtered meat and produce; after all, the US is full of such markets.)

Which is why (can’t refrain), the most comprehensive solution would be evolution toward plant-based diets. Just saying.

Moby Mobilizes

I’ve never been a big Moby fan, but I have unbounded respect for the way that he puts his music behind big moral causes.

This is one powerful way to confront the world on animal welfare:

And this cry for more connectedness and empathy in our global culture of distraction is heartbreaking.

Documentaries About Animals, Food, and Factory Farming

As regular readers know (and some former readers, who left as a result), I post plenty of material on food, the implications of eating meat, and the idea that giving meat up is the single most powerful choice an individual can make when it comes to the health of the planet, the health of humans, and the welfare of billions of animals.

Reader Maria Ramos wrote in and offered to write up a guide to some of the most thought-provoking documentaries on the topics of factory farms and meat consumption. Since the power of documentaries to inspire change is another of my favorite topics, I said “Sure.”

So here is Maria’s list of films that can change the way we eat. Feel free to add your own favorites (Earthings–if you dare!–anyone?) in the comments. I would also recommend “A Peaceable Kingdom,” a very moving film about what it means to give animals the lives they deserve, as well as “The Ghosts In Our Machine,” about photographer Jo-Anne McArthur‘s quest to capture what it truly means to turn animals into human commodities.

Take it away Maria:

Documentaries That Show the Truth About Factory Farms

Factory farming, and its far reaching effects on both the environment and the public health of American citizens, is one of the most important issues of our time. Gone are the days of the small independent farm where animals have all the space they need to roam. Instead, farming has been turned into a corporate operation that continually sacrifices ethics for profits. Below are five documentaries that expose the truth about factory farms and other aspects of modern farming that need to change – now.

Food, Inc.

This 2008 film, directed by Emmy award-winning filmmaker Robert Kenner, looks at the many dark sides of corporate farming in America. The first part of the film exposes the awful living conditions of chickens, cows, and pigs on factory farms. Food, Inc. is effective because it changes people perspective on meat from an object bought at a supermarket to a living thing. This may make viewers apply a different set of ethics when purchasing their meat and has already sparked several companies to be more transparent with how their meat is produced.

Farm to Fridge

Farm to Fridge, a documentary made by Mercy for Animals in 2011, provides undercover footage of animal cruelty at some of the nation’s largest factory farms. Although it is only 12 minutes long, its graphic footage leaves a lasting impression. Some of the worst footage shows male chickens being grounded up while still alive. Other scenes show dairy cows being physically abused by workers. This graphic style of filmmaking has been a big contributor in the 100% vegan diet movement that is  growing steadily in America. It certainly leaves a lasting impression  – find it here on YouTube.

Cowspiracy

Cowspiracy exposes how Big Meat is the number one destroyer of the environment through the use of unsustainable farming practices. It discusses impacts most people don’t associate with agriculture, such as deforestation, greenhouse gas emissions from food transportation and slaughter factories, and the long-term harm most pesticides have on the environment. It also shows just how much political red tape surrounds the problem by including interviews with industry whistleblowers, in which the whistleblowers discuss various threats against their career and life for spilling industry secrets. This film makes viewers realize that there is a business behind their food and how these businesses have complete disregard for the health of their customers and the planet.

Indigestible: The Film

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Indigestible is a 90 minute film that exposes the hidden costs of providing cheap meat to consumers. It breaks down the illusion most people have of the small-time farmer showing his animals tender love and care each day, and exposes viewers to the realities of factory farming. Once people see how our food is confined to tiny spaces similar to a prison and treated as raw materials to be converted into product rather than a living organism. Like Food Inc, it changes the way people view the production of their meat by putting the face of a living animal to the process. You can find clips of the full film here on YouTube.

Cock Fight

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This heartbreaking documentary is one chicken-farmer-turned-whistleblower’s story on how the corporate chicken industry exploits its farmers to maximize their profits. He compares being a chicken farmer for a corporate farming company to being a sharecropper. The farmer just works the farm. The corporation owns all of the chickens and equipment and decides how these chickens are treated (cruelly). The film also shows how the number of chicken farmers have shrunk from over a million in 1950 to just 30,000 today, with 54% of them contracted by the same company. This documentary from Fusion filmmakers and DirecTV and makes viewers realize how their fellow Americans are also exploited in order to bring meat to their plates.

The one underlying theme that links these five documentaries is they outline severe problems within our food industry that must be changed if we are expected to survive as a species long-term. Films like these prove documentaries have the power to not only raise awareness, but inspire widespread positive change.

What I love about all these films, and there are so any good ones, is that they convincingly, systematically, and powerfully, rebut all the spin, truth-twisting and outright BS or the industrial farm lobby. Watch them and see whether you thing there are any happy chickens or cows. Whenever I hear such talk, or contemplate the vast industry that grows and processes meat for human consumption, I go back to Isaac Bashevis Singer, who captured the relationship between humans and animals in a perfect and unforgettable frame:

What do they know–all these scholars, all these philosophers, all the leaders of the world–about such as you? They have convinced themselves that man, the worst transgressor of all the species, is the crown of creation. All other creatures were created merely to provide him with food, pelts, to be tormented, exterminated. In relation to them, all people are Nazis; for the animals it is an eternal Treblinka.

 

Animal Citizenship?

“Whoa, back off citizen! Sheep have rights, too.”

 

Well, we already have the Nonhuman Rights Project going for personhood. This angle, explored via Vox, is worth pursuing as well:

What if domestic animals — pets such as dogs and cats as well livestock like cows and chickens — were granted citizenship rights? That may sound like a crazy question, but Canadian philosopher Will Kymlicka thinks it’s a critically important one.

Kymlicka, a professor at Queen’s University, is a well-regarded figure in modern political philosophy. He’s also the author, along with writer Sue Donaldson, of Zoopolis, a book making the case for animal citizenship. Their basic premise is simple: animals are already part of our society, as pets and work animals, therefore we should formally recognize them as such.

That’s not just a head-in-the-clouds thought experiment. We already have basic laws forbidding animal abuse and regulating industrial slaughterhouses. But, as anyone who has visited an animal shelter or thought about the ethics of what they eat can attest, we as a society have not come anywhere close to solving the problem of animal mistreatment. If we really want to improve animals’ lives, Kymlicka and Donaldson argue, we need to stop thinking in terms of merely treating animals better. Rather, we need to acknowledge on a fundamental level that animals are a part of society and deserve to be treated as such. That leads you, however improbable it might sound, to citizenship.

Here’s a key point from Kymlicka, in an interview with Vox:

We need to create a shared interspecies society which is responsive to the interests of both its human and animal members. That means that it’s not just a question of how you ensure that animals aren’t abused. If we view them as members of society — it’s as much their society as ours — then it changes the perspective 180 degrees. The question is no longer “how do we make sure they’re not so badly treated?” We instead need to ask “what kind of relationships do they want to have with us?”

That’s really a radical question. It’s one we’ve never really bothered to ask. I think there are some domesticated animals that enjoy activities with us — I think that’s clearest in the case of dogs, but it’s also true of other domesticated animals whose lives are enriched by being part of interspecies activities with us. But there are other animals who, if we took what they wanted seriously, would probably choose to have less and less to do with us. I think this would be true of horses.

And if you are still with him to this point then there is a logical implication that follows. As Kymlicka puts it: “We can’t go around eating our co-citizens.”

Fair point, fair point. Read Vox’s full interview with Kymlicka here. It is a very interesting way to stretch our thinking and logic as we apply it to animals. One way or another, via personhood or citizenship or some other cultural/legal construct, we will eventually give animals the rights and protections they deserve.

 

Chris Christie Weighs Morality Against His Political Ambitions

“Yo, Chris. I know I don’t have a vote in Iowa, or a Super Pac. But sure would be nice to be able to move around a bit.”

 

The legislators of New Jersey have seen fit to ban cruel gestation crates for pigs, and the pig industry of Iowa demands a Christie vet. Its presidential ambition versus basic compassion and morality, with a deadline of Dec. 1, and I suspect I will not be surprised by which way Christie will go.

But Matthew Scully, a lonely and articulate voice on the right calling for compassion, weighs in with a plea for Christie to ignore the lies and spin he is being fed from Iowa and do the right thing:

Being immobilized for all of their existence, lying and living in their own urine and excrement, the sows are sick, sore, atrophied, usually lame, crazed or broken in spirit, and kept alive in these torments only by a massive and reckless use of steroids. The confinement of the sows, presented in terms of solicitude for the piglets, is among the causes of the welfare problem it purports to solve. And the piglets in any case are taken from their mothers in short order to begin their own lives of merciless confinement, mutilation, privation, and fear, in a process, from birth to slaughter, utterly devoid of human compassion.

I saw all of this myself once on a visit to a mass-confinement hog farm in North Carolina, the kind of investigative tour that would now be a crime in Iowa, taking in scenes that anyone not numbed to the sight of animal suffering would find abhorrent and deeply disturbing. (Let’s just say that Joni Ernst’s celebrated campaign ad, shot in a sunny, straw-filled showcase instead of a typical industrial hog farm, would have lost its sassy charm had the backdrop been the real thing.) The particular issue of the crates may seem a small matter, these extra few inches for a lowly pig, so miserable already and doomed to a nightmarish end. But that’s not a thought I’d stress if I were one of those guys from the National Pork Producers Council talking to Governor Christie. It only draws attention to the sheer pettiness, the unfeeling, unyielding, unchristian spirit, of anyone who would refuse so minimal a comfort to an afflicted animal.

If you and I made a living doing things like this to weak and defenseless creatures, we’d want to steer clear of legal scrutiny too, protesting against intrusions into our private commercial pursuits. But the argument that the bill on Governor Christie’s desk would constitute an undue regulatory burden on hog farmers, by directing the state board of agriculture to write new rules forbidding gestation crates, falls apart the moment you pause to think about it.

Yes, yes it does. And the unspeakable cruelty of industrial pig farming is not an issue that should be ignored for any political purpose.

PS: Here’s Jon Stewart’s take:

Pigs, Politics, and Chris Christie

“Psst. I hear Christie might spring us.” “Nah. These days he cares more about what Iowa thinks than what New Jersey thinks.”

Want to know how you will be able to tell whether Chris Christie has decided to run for President in 2016? If he vetoes a widely popular law to ban gestation crates in New Jersey.

The Daily Beast explains:

In 2013, a measure to make illegal an inhumane farming practice made its way to Christie’s desk. S.1921 would have banned gestation crates—small, metal cages which are used to contain breeding sows during industrial pork production. There was no reason to assume Christie would veto it. For one thing, the cages—so small that the animals can barely move at all or lie down—were not even thought to be used much among the 250 pig farmers in the state, meaning the ban would be more of a symbolic gesture than one that would really impact farming methods. But more than that, the bill had passed almost unanimously in both chambers of the legislature and was supported by 91 percent of voters, making it perhaps the most popular idea to be floated in the Garden State since Bruce Springsteen had been inducted into the New Jersey Hall of Fame several years earlier.

When Christie vetoed the bill, he claimed that it was because two obscure national veterinarian groups had not endorsed it (although a coalition of 100 others had) and that the Department of Agriculture wasn’t involved enough. But many assumed that it had more to do with his dreams of the White House, for which he would need the support of voters and donors in Iowa—a pork manufacturing wonderland—to obtain.

“Why wouldn’t he [Christie] ban them, except for the fact that the first Republican presidential caucus is in Iowa?” S.1921’s sponsor, Senator Ray Lesniak, told me at the time. “He has no values. His only value is himself.” He repeated it again, slowly: “He has no valuesHe has no moral compass whatsoever.”

A year later, Lesniak is back with another bill to ban the crates—S.998…Per Christie’s complaint, the new bill defers to the Department of Agriculture, and simply asks that breeding sows be able to move in their crates—not that they should be able to roam freely through fields. “For us, there should be no reason for him to veto [the new bill], if he was being honest with his reason for vetoing it last year,” Dominguez said, with an eyebrow raised. “The one out that he has is that he said he had a concern, and we’ve addressed it. He has no reason to veto this bill.”

Well, maybe one: Continue reading “Pigs, Politics, and Chris Christie”

Counterarguments: Do Vegetarians Kill More Animals Than Meat-Eaters?

“Hey, all you vegetarians! What about me?”

Yes, argues an Australian professor Mike Archer:

To produce protein from grazing beef, cattle are killed. One death delivers (on average, across Australia’s grazing lands) a carcass of about 288 kilograms. This is approximately 68% boneless meat which, at 23% protein equals 45kg of protein per animal killed. This means 2.2 animals killed for each 100kg of useable animal protein produced.

Producing protein from wheat means ploughing pasture land and planting it with seed. Anyone who has sat on a ploughing tractor knows the predatory birds that follow you all day are not there because they have nothing better to do. Ploughing and harvesting kill small mammals, snakes, lizards and other animals in vast numbers. In addition, millions of mice are poisoned in grain storage facilities every year.

However, the largest and best-researched loss of sentient life is the poisoning of mice during plagues.

Each area of grain production in Australia has a mouse plague on average every four years, with 500-1000 mice per hectare. Poisoning kills at least 80% of the mice.

At least 100 mice are killed per hectare per year (500/4 × 0.8) to grow grain. Average yields are about 1.4 tonnes of wheat/hectare; 13% of the wheat is useable protein. Therefore, at least 55 sentient animals die to produce 100kg of useable plant protein: 25 times more than for the same amount of rangelands beef.

Well, it’s definitely an interesting argument. But it relies on a number of factors, which don’t always apply. For example, the numbers would be much different for grain-fed beef (i.e. the majority of beef), because the grain being produced for cattle feed will also kill lots of mice and other field species.

Also, while Australia may be rich in natural grasslands, there has been enormous clear-cutting and habitat-destruction involved in creating landscapes around the globe that are suitable for livestock production.

This argument also assumes widespread use of poisons and pesticides in the plant farming. Organic farming almost certainly kills many fewer animals.

It focuses on wheat, and wheat protein. More protein dense crops, such as soy or quinoa, would alter the balance.

In short, this article compares the least-cruel, least-destructive form of cattle farming against the most-cruel, most-destructive form of plant farming.

Still, the central point–that even a vegetarian or vegan diet is not cruelty or blood-free–is correct. I have never assumed my vegan diet somehow means my eating habits are free from murder. But I have little doubt that being vegan is much less cruel than eating the factory-farmed meat that gets slapped down on the vast majority of plates around the globe.

And while I have always understood that there are forms of livestock farming that are much less cruel than factory farming, the proportion of meat produced globally with these methods is vanishingly small. More important, while some forms of livestock farming are much less cruel than factory-farming, there is another perhaps even more compelling reason to favor plants over meat (which is not addressed by the argument Archer is making): the disproportionate impact on the climate of meat-eating.

Climate change is arguably the greatest killer of all. And that is a very powerful argument against meat-eating even if the immediate cruelty trade-off is not quite as obvious as most vegetarians and vegans might assume.

A Drone Program That’s Easy To Love

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1926278254/drone-on-the-farm-an-aerial-expose

Journalist Will Potter wants to use drones to monitor factory farms, especially in states that have adopted ag-gag laws:

The agriculture industry is waging an international campaign to create a media blackout. In response to a series of investigations by animal-welfare groups that has resulted in criminal prosecutions and consumer outrage, the industry is promoting new “ag-gag” laws that make it illegal to photograph factory farms and slaughterhouses. About half a dozen US states currently have these laws, and now this censorship model is being adopted internationally.

So how should journalists respond to investigative methods and sources being criminalised? Just as the best response to governments banning books is to encourage reading them, the best response to banning photographs is to encourage more photography. It’s time for journalists to send in the drones.

The factory farm lobby is already fighting the idea and trying to extend ag-gag prohibitions to the airspace over big farms, a push given some urgency after a Texas drone hobbyist inadvertently recorded a tide of blood flowing from a slaughterhouse into a nearby river (the slaughterhouse was shut down).

Naturally, that only makes Potter all the more determined to open up a top-down view of the world of factory farms. And he is winning lots of support. His Kickstarter campaign seeking $35,000 to fund a drone fleet hit its funding goal in just five days, and donations eventually topped $75,000.

I have never been a fan of drones, whether they are used as an anti-terrorist weapon, as an annoying and privacy-invading thrill for hobbyists, as a tool of law enforcement, or to further invade the lives of wild animals. But it has to be said that there are some uses that are quite inspired (anti-poaching, for example), and this is definitely one of them.

Coming soon to a factory farm near you: anti-drone missile batteries?

Signs Of Change: Chipotle’s “Farmed And Dangerous”

I am a Chipotle fan. Yes, they serve a lot of meat. But they are at least enlightened enough to make how meat is raised and produced an issue. That is a step in the right direction.

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More important, part of their business model includes recognition that there are people out there (hard to believe!) who don’t actually eat meat. So they have a tofu option for their burritos which is pretty darn tasty.

Now Chipotle is going on the offensive about the appalling cruelty involved in the production of meat used by all their fast-food competitors. But they are doing it in a funny, stylish way, with a four-part satirical comedy series that will air on Hulu. I don’t know if it will deliver real entertainment, or just come off as a clever infomercial.

But I love the fact that it is linking factory farming and the oil industry. That is in encouraging sign of the times, and an explicit attempt to change the zeitgeist on meat, which has long been seduced by too many ads depicting happy farm animals rolling around in the sun with cute kids.

Too bad they didn’t work in the tobacco industry, too.

Here’s the trailer:

The Power Of Activist Art: Factory Farm Edition

Yesterday I posted this mesmerizing photo on my Facebook page (click image for full size):

 

At first glance it looks like modern art, maybe Francis Bacon, maybe Ralph Steadman.

What it really is is a satellite image of a factory farm waste lagoon, that is part of a series curated by British artist Mishak Henner (hat tip to Rachel Clark for pointing the provenance out to me) that seeks to reveal the true impact of factory farming on the American landscape.

Here’s how Inhabitat.com describes the work:

Big food companies are always trying to convince us that their products come from idyllic family run farms, although that rosy image couldn’t be further from the truth. A recently released batch of aerial photographs by British artist Mishka Henner show that factory farming is taking its toll on our planet. In addition to producing nutrient-poor “food” rife with GMOs, these farms are literally carving swaths of death through the American landscape. Henner’s shocking photos provide bird’s eye proof of the destruction that follows when industrial beef farming moves into town.

The images, discovered by Henner while researching satellite photographs of oil fields, look more like post-apocalyptic wastelands than acreage in America’s heartland.

““While I was working on that series I was looking intensely at the American landscape, and that’s when I came across these really strange-looking structures, like a big lagoon, or all these dots that look like microbes,” Henner told Fast Co. “We have factory farming in England, but we don’t have it on that scale. I was just absolutely blown away.”

The aerial shots of factory farming feedlots are open source satellite imagery, so Henner doesn’t have to worry about the legal risk of publishing them. In recent years, the commercial agriculture industry has sought to hide its disgraceful practices from the public’s view, and journalists found photographing feedlots have faced arrest and criminal charges under bogus “Ag Gag” laws. It’s not hard to see why they’d rather no one know what they’re up to.

“Massive waste lagoons, which waft up dangerous hydrogen sulfide fumes and can contaminate groundwater with nitrates and antibiotics, first resemble open, infected wounds,” explains Fast Co. The land on which the feedlots sit is totally barren, brown and dry. Brightly colored waste from the poor animals housed there gives off an alien glow against the neutral backdrop of dying land. The cows themselves look like ants from the aerial perspective, crowded together with no shade or comfort from the harsh conditions.

“To me, as somebody in the U.K., looking at something [like] the feedlots I was shocked on a very personal level,” Henner told Fast Co. “I think what the feedlots represent is a certain logic about how culture and society have evolved. On one level it’s absolutely terrifying, that this is what we’ve become. They’re not just feedlots. They’re how we are.”

Here’s are some more photos (full set here). Very powerful.