5 reasons why veganism means much more than fighting for animal rights

Vegans and vegetarians often get accused of caring more about animals than humans. Here are five reasons why the "let's solve human problems first" argument against a plant-based diet is faulty.

1) The meat industry is choosing to feed animals instead of humans

World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that one-third of the world’s population is affected by malnutrition; at least half of the 10.4 million child deaths each year are attributed to it. Yet, between one-third to half of world’s edible harvest is fed to livestock each year.

We are using the land in developing countries — in which malnutrition rates are inhumanely high—  that could otherwise be used to grow food for humans to produce and export feed for animals in the developed world.

For example, Brazil sends large amounts of crops, that are grown on destroyed rainforest land, to Europe and Japan each year while 16.7 million people in the country suffer from malnutrition.

A report published by the International Food Policy Research Institute estimates that if we can decrease meat consumption in the developed world by 50 percent, we can save 3.6 million children in the developing world from malnutrition.

Yes, killing animals to feed humans is cruel (for some) but feeding them at the expense of millions of people is beyond that, it is a violation of human rights.

2) The meat industry is draining the planet

Water is a resource critical for life on earth and it is vastly exploited by the meat industry. Worldwide, more than a billion people can’t access enough safe water that meets minimum levels of health. And the threat of water scarcity is growing by the day.

Meanwhile, the meat industry plays a critical role in depleting and polluting the planet’s water resources. The average of meat products has a much larger water footprint than plant crops. According to David Pimentel, a water resource specialist at Cornell University, it takes 500 litres of water to produce a kilogram of potatoes, 900 to produce a kilogram of wheat, 2000 for soybeans, and a whopping 100.000 litres of water for just one kilogram of beef.

The diet of a meat eater requires 15 times more water than a plant-based one. This means that switching to a plant-based diet can save up to five million litres per year, per person.  

3) It’s not just food and water

On top of food and water, another resource crucial to the prosperity of people and the planet that the meat industry is exploiting is land. A meat-based diet uses up to 20 times more land than a vegan one. The use of land is mainly attributed to animal feed pastures and grazing.

 Worldwide, we are now using 30 percent of the earth’s entire land surface for livestock. And as if taking up precious land is not enough, the meat industry also degrades the land it uses, making it baren.

As the world isn’t this big flat ball (oblate spheroid) the land that’s required to grow and feed livestock isn’t just around for the taking. To create this land trees and vegetation, habitats for millions of living organisms, are destroyed.

Over four decades, about 40 percent of rainforests were cut down in Central America to produce animal feed and land for grazing.  Between 2004 and 2005 an estimated 1.2 million hectares of rainforest was destroyed because of the soybean boom, the production of soybean as animal feed.

 Many experts on desertification argue that the deforestation of the Sahara Desert which was once a fertile region was caused primarily by animal grazing, the direction we are going towards right now.

The desertification caused by the meat industry affects the rural poor the worst. Drought caused by the changes in rainy seasons, which is related to the destruction of rainforests and overgrazing of the land, has become the chief cause of extreme human famine. Destruction of the land is leaving local communities hungry, poor, and desperate.


4) Working in the meat industry is not good for humans

 Animal farming is considered amongst the most dangerous industries worldwide. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration of the US government (OSHA) has reported that just in the US, close to 10.000 people have died from work-related injuries between 1992 and 2009.

The injuries that occur in animal farming include a vast range from chronic pain to cardiovascular disease, to death.

 Slaughterhouse work is often undertaken by transient and migrant workers who are undocumented which leads to situations in which the workers are fearful of reporting illness or injury. Often, they don’t receive adequate treatment.

On top of the physical toll, many workers endure incredible emotional trauma that comes from working in a slaughterhouse. According to Human Rights Watch, worker conditions in factory farms are considered “systematic human rights abuse.”

5)  Did someone say climate change?

A report released by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, states that "the livestock sector is a major stressor on many ecosystems and on the planet as a whole. Globally it is one of the largest sources of greenhouse gases (GHG) and one of the leading causal factors in the loss of biodiversity.”

According to the same report, the meat industry produces 18 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions. That is more than the emissions of all planes, trains, and cars combined.

By now, we should all be convinced that climate change is real and it affects not just the planet but also its inhabitants. As Dr Katherine Hayhoe says, "The most dangerous myth we’ve bought into is that climate change will only harm plants, animals, and future generations; someone else, not me.”

Same goes with eating a meat-based diet, we are vaguely aware of the effects of the livestock industry on climate change but do not realise how dire the situation is, and how close to home.

Ignoring the effects of the meat industry on climate change is essentially just fooling ourselves, trying to sweep a massive problem under a bath mat.

Veganism implies different things to different people. To some, it’s just a dietary preference, some don’t like the taste of meat, some think eggs are gross. To others, eating meat represents animal suffering, a violation of animal rights.

But in the current climate veganism represents much more than a dietary preference or caring about animals. The meat industry, as it currently is, does much more than just harm animals. It is depleting our resources, polluting the planet, and exploiting human beings.

Substantially reducing (and preferably ending, but let’s be real) meat consumption and production is crucial for the future of the planet and consequently, the people.

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  • Climate change is a matter of international security


    When we think of “global threats”, we usually imagine terrorist attacks, cyberwars, and weapons of mass destructions. Or maybe, trespassing into the realm of fiction, of James Bond’s Dr. No and other, similar, cats-owning villains.

    Obviously, these are all fearsome scenarios and risks (especially Dr.No). However, there’s another “global threat” that is looming above us, even though we probably wouldn’t think of calling it that way. Such a threat is climate change.

    Last Tuesday, the Office of the Director of US National Intelligence published its yearly Worldwide Threat Assessment, a hearing of the US Senate Select Intelligence Committee that has occurred since 2006.

    In the report, the US intelligence community lists a series of “global threats” that humanity is currently facing. Amidst transnational organized crime, the proliferation of weapons of mass destructions, and online operations to interfere with political elections, we find also — grouped in the section relating to “human security”  — the “negative effects of environmental degradation and climate change.”

    In particular, the assessment highlights how the increased magnitude of these phenomena is likely to “fuel competition for resources, economic distress, and social discontent through 2019 and beyond.”

    Three are the main critical points raised by the report. First off, the intelligence community is concerned by extreme weather events and particularly by how they will affect urban coastal areas in South Asia, Southeast Asia, and the Western Hemisphere.

    Secondly, they link the increasing water and food insecurity around the world with the “changes in the frequency and variability” of heat waves, droughts, and floods.

    And, finally, the report zooms in on the issue of diminishing Arctic sea ice, highlighting how this problem paves the way for increased competition with Russia and China over access to sea routes and natural resources.

    En passant, the intelligence report reminds its readers that Arctic ice is shrinking constantly. “In 2018, the minimum sea ice extent in the Arctic was 25 percent below the 30-year average from 1980 to 2010,” the report warns.

    As environmental media outlet Inside Climate News reminds us, The Worldwide Threat Assessment included “climate change” as a global threat to human security also in the past years, so there’s “nothing new under the sun”: the ice is still melting.

    However,  while other global threats like terrorism are treated as such in the media, climate change is still too often debated not as an imminent threat but as something that, if at all, will strike far in the future.  At the opposite, as the 2019 Worldwide Threat Assessment denounces once  again, climate changes' effects are already underway.  

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  • The U.K. government should grant charitable status to public-interest news media


    A year ago, the UK government asked economist Frances Cairncross to conduct an independent review of the challenges high-quality journalism is facing in the country.

    Last Tuesday, the Cairncross Review was published, highlighting nine recommendations that the government and regulators ought to follow to help secure the sustainability of journalism in the future.

    The recommendations range from investigating the workings of online advertising (aka the Google-Facebook duopoly) to developing a media literacy strategy.

    However, the recommendation that attracted my attention the most, given my particular interest in the charitable sector, was number nine.

    It reads: “New forms of tax relief: The government should introduce new tax reliefs aimed at (i) improving how the online news market works and (ii) ensuring an adequate supply of public-interest journalism.”

    Cairncross is hinting at two tax changes here. The first one is the extension of zero-rating VAT to digital subscriptions and micropayments for online news (currently, the exemption is enjoyed just by print newspapers and periodicals) and the second is granting charitable status to particular types of high-quality, public-interest journalism.

    Last June, Cairncross issued a ‘call for evidence’ to gather material for the report and the review reveals that granting charitable status to select news outlets was one of the most frequently raised proposals.

    As known, charities benefit from several tax breaks in the United Kingdom so it would be much easier for a news organization with charitable status to attract philanthropic donations that could provide a much-needed additional revenue stream.

    However, this is easier said than done. As the report notes, UK’s current charity law is probably incompatible with the role of news organizations since it forbids charities “to undertake certain political activities such as securing or opposing a change in law, policy or decisions affecting the country”.

    A solution could then be to add public-interest journalism to the list of charitable causes the 2011 Charities Act set out to advance. But, again, this might take time and be deemed legally too complicated. That’s why the Cairncross report also highlights a “second-best option”: building a journalistic equivalent of the Creative Sector Tax Relief that grants support to creative industries ranging from video-games to film production.

    Legal feasibility aside, the indication expressed by Craincross is part of a larger trend that is taking hold in the news industry: non-profit journalism.

    Facing shrinking revenue opportunities, several news media startups across the world decide to opt for business models that rely solely on donations, from private individuals or larger foundations.

    One of the most notable examples is certainly ProPublica, a Pulitzer-Prize winning newsroom established in New York in 2007 to produce investigative journalism in the public interest.

    But media organizations that adopt mixed business models are also considering the idea of attracting philanthropic money to fund in-depth reporting with increasing interest.

    I’m thinking of Vox’s vertical Future Perfect or The Telegraph’s Global Health Security initiative, founded respectively by the Rockefeller and the Bill and Melinda Gates’ foundations.

    Just to give a number, Oxford University’s Reuters Institute for The Study of Journalism found that 12 percent of European publishers saw philanthropy as an “important” income stream in 2019.

    Obviously, “philanthrojournalism” is not immune to criticism. How can we make sure that the money comes with no strings attached? And even if we can guarantee that the media outlet retains total editorial control - as in the examples I mentioned above - how could we envision a system where the funding doesn’t necessarily reflect the funder’s interest areas?

    These are complex challenges that require bold and imaginative solutions.

    Maybe we should think beyond large foundations. In a recent article for The Guardian, journalist Owen Jones contemplates a sort of democratized public subsidy for the whole media industry. His idea, firstly proposed by US media scholar Robert McChesney, consists of the state giving every citizen a yearly allowance of $200 to donate to one or more publications. In Jones’s hypothesis, the allowance would be funded by an annual tax on the advertising industry.

    The idea lends itself to an array of criticism. There’s the evident risk, for example, that the funding will just mirror the electorate’s political preferences of the moment resulting in a pro-government press with more money than its competitors.

    Regardless, the idea has the merit of being radical and out-of-the-box and that’s the kind of thinking we need in this ongoing brainstorming on the future of journalism.

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  • Go vegan because of mass exploitation, not because eating animals is wrong


    With veganism on the rise and entire supermarket aisles now dedicated to veggie and vegan food ranges, it’s a good time to consider what motivates people to go vegan.

    There are many reasons why people decide to cut animal products from their diet, but the negative health effects of excessive meat and dairy consumption and the enormous environmental impacts of industrial agriculture are popular ones.

    However, the suffering of billions of animals each year in factory farming, referred to in a 2015 Guardian article as one of the “worst crimes in history”, is the most powerful motivation for many, including myself.

    Refraining from something that causes so much harm and suffering is laudable, but there’s one argument occasionally used in vegan and animal rights campaigns that warrants closer attention – the idea that consuming other creatures is morally wrong in its own right.

    Such views are often bolstered by powerful moral arguments framing animals as subjects of a life, able to experience pain, and as leaders of complex emotional lives.

    Opposing meat eating on ontological grounds – meaning, simply because animals are sentient beings, we shouldn’t eat them – separates humans from nature and prevents truly ethical relationships between humans, animals and the natural world. The late environmental philosopher Val Plumwood coined “ontological veganism” to describe this absolute opposition.

    Ontological veganism asserts that beings that count as ethical subjects should not be eaten, in the same way that there’s a widespread taboo about eating humans. While this thinking erects another unhelpful boundary between animals and other life forms, it’s also ironic that the rationale underlying taboos against eating humans is the desire to radically separate humans from other animals.

    By framing the consumption of other living beings as an inherent moral wrong, ontological veganism also risks demonising predation. In order to avoid this, a common approach is to “excuse” animal predation by arguing that the latter is part of “nature” while humans, as cultural beings, should be exempt.

    Some of us – especially those living in wealthy countries – can indeed choose to opt for vegan products, but this argument reproduces another false dichotomy: nature vs. culture. Life is entanglement, with no clear boundaries between “humans” and other species, or between “nature” and “society”.

    Ecological Animalism

    "Come among the deer on the hill, the fish in the river, the quail in the meadows. You can take them, you can eat them, like you they are food. They are with you, not for you."

    This quote is from the late utopian author Ursula Le Guin, in her novel Always Coming Home. Her idea is akin to Plumwood’s theory of ecological animalism, which seeks to replace human supremacy over nature with mutual and respectful use between humans and other species.

    Ontological veganism would frame using or consuming animals itself as inherently exploitative. But consider forms of mutual use seen in symbiotic relationships, such as those between pollinating insects and plants. In such scenarios, use isn’t oppressive or exploitative. It’s the form of use seen within industrial capitalism, where humans and non-humans alike are treated only as a means to an end, that prevents ethical relationships.

    Ecosystems and all living beings depend upon mutual use and consumption. Orcas consume fish and other marine mammals, we must consume living vegetable matter at least, and when we die, we become food for a host of microorganisms, nourishing them in turn.

    If humans are indeed animals who differ from other species only by degrees rather than kind, then like them, we are food. To deny this is to deny that humans are embedded within the ecosystems they originate from and are sustained by.

    The horrific cruelty involved in industrial factory farming reduces living beings to mere profitable commodities. This is why I am a vegan, and it is here where calls for eradicating or at least reforming animal agriculture find firmer ground.

    The ways in which animals are currently treated in agriculture represent the exact opposite of respect and mutuality. No wonder Aldous Huxley observed in his poignant ecotopian work, Island, that

    "For animals… Satan, quite obviously, is Homo sapiens."

    Ecological animalism offers a powerful basis for truly ethical and egalitarian ways of relating to other species. We are all food, and crucially, so much more. We are with and not for one another, and we are all worthy of respect. Go vegan whenever and wherever possible, but be mindful of the underlying rationales involved, lest we reproduce the same harmful dualisms we want to dismantle.

    This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. It's written by Heather Alberro, Associate Lecturer/PhD Candidate in Political Ecology in Nottingham Trent University. Read the original article here.

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