Not Your Mother, Not Your Milk
Animal rights aren't something I normally discuss on this blog, but it was National Vegetarian Week last week, and as my diet is a rather significant part of my life, I thought I'd share this essay with you. This was one of my folio essays for English this year, and it focuses on the role animal agriculture plays in global warming and poverty. It shocks me how little this issue is talked about, and it's something I want to focus more on in the future. I hope it gives you food for thought.
There is one single industry destroying our planet more than any other. It is the number one cause behind global warming, the main cause of animal cruelty and it plays an unmistakable role in the starvation and resultant death of millions of our world’s children. Yet when it comes to the meat and dairy industry, most of us don’t care that much about knowing where the meat in our Big Macs or chicken nuggets came from. We don’t establish the connection between bacon and slaughtered pigs, or between the milk on our breakfast table and cows who are forcibly separated from their offspring. We prefer not even remembering that a living and sentient creature had to be killed and cut into pieces in order for us to enjoy that finger lickin’ good chicken, and forget that many of the world’s starving children and suffering animals, aren’t actually lovin’ it.
So now to the real question: how does the meat and dairy industry get away with it? How is it that Britain, while regarding ourselves as a nation of animal lovers, we accept such terrible standards of meat production? If dogs and cats were treated as pigs and chickens are, there would be a deafening outcry. Why is it acceptable to treat some animals so brutally, but not others?
In 2015 the number of animals killed in British slaughterhouses was over a billion. This included 9.8 million pigs, nearly 15 million sheep, 18 million turkeys, 14 million ducks, over 945 million chickens and 2.6 million cattle. Add to that 4.5 billion fish and 2.6 billion shellfish and you have a total of over 8 billion animals killed in the UK every year.
Overall it is estimated that 22 million animals in the UK are slaughtered every day; 919,000 an hour; 15,000 per minute and 255 every second. The overwhelming majority of these animals have spent their entire lives confined inside sheds, never going outdoors for more than an hour at best. Their suffering isn’t just for a few hours or days, but lasts all their lives. Cows, separated from their new-born young, are confined in crates too narrow for them even to turn around in, let alone walk a few steps. Egg-laying hens are unable to stretch their wings because their cages are too small and too crowded. For example, on a chicken farm, the UK Government advises that for a “free-range” chicken “the maximum stocking density for chickens kept to produce meat for the table should be 38 kg/m2, which should not be exceeded at any time during the growing period.” 38 kg/m2 equates roughly to 526 cm2 per bird – less than the size of an A4 sheet of paper.
With such little space, and nothing to do, these birds become frustrated and attack each other. To prevent losses, producers sear off their beaks with a hot knife, cutting through sensitive nerves. In addition to being kept in sheds that hold 20,000 birds, they are bred to grow so fast that most of them develop leg problems because their immature bones cannot bear the weight of their bodies, causing their legs to break from underneath them. Another consequence of the genetics of these birds is that the breeding birds — the parents of the ones sold in supermarkets — are constantly hungry, because, unlike their offspring that are slaughtered at just 45 days old, they have to live long enough to reach sexual maturity. If fed as much as they are programmed to eat, they would soon become grotesquely obese and die or be unable to mate. So they are kept on strict rations that leave them always looking in vain for food.
Of course, animal cruelty isn’t the only problem with the UK’s meat and dairy industry. 82% of the world’s starving children live in countries where food is fed to animals that are then killed and eaten by more well off individuals in developed countries including the UK, America and in Europe, while one fourth of all grain produced by third world countries is given to livestock. Globally we are producing enough grain to feed two times as many people as there are in the world. In 2011, there was a record harvest of grain, with over 2.5 billion tons, yet more than half of that was fed to animals in the meat and dairy industries. Seventy seven percent of all coarse grains (corn, oats, sorghum, barley, etc.) and over 90% of all soy grown in the world was fed to livestock. So clearly, the difficulty is not how can we produce enough food to feed the hungry, but where all the food we produce globally is going. And it’s not just an abundance of food that’s going to the meat and dairy industry, but antibiotics as well.
On a typical factory farm, drugs are fed to animals with every meal. On poultry farms, they almost have to be: the animals have been bred to such extremes that sickness is inevitable, and the crowded living conditions promote illness. The result of these inhumane conditions is that UK farm animals are fed antibiotics non-therapeutically: that is, before they get sick. In Britain, nearly 45% of all antibiotics are used for farming. In other words, for every dose of antibiotics taken by a sick human, eight doses are given to a “healthy” animal. In addition to this, most of the drugs that are given to livestock are misused and incorporated into their diets daily for the purpose of weight gain, not just affecting the animals, but also the consumer. The overuse of antibiotics in livestock is just as, if not more harmful to humans as it creates an antibiotic resistant bacteria that can be transferred through several different ways, including raw meat and consumption of meat, while it can also be airborne. This makes humans resistant to certain types of drugs for different diseases, and makes it harder for them to fight off infections.
Another major issue with the meat and dairy industry is the permanent damage it has inflicted and continual harm it is causing to our planet. According to a World Watch Report, 51% of greenhouse gas emissions are caused by animal agriculture. At least five times more toxic than CO2, the methane gases that result from the digestive process of cows is in fact a massive factor causing Global Warming. Of course that, in order to make way for 70 billion animals that can provide us with eggs and milk and meat, a lot of forests had to be cut down. 91% of the Amazon rainforest, for instance, has been wiped out in order to reach a clean slate of land in which the animal agribusiness can thrive. Picture this: the rate of deforestation of rainforests in our planet is equivalent to one football field per second. Absolutely fundamental to the balance of global ecosystems, the Amazon Rainforest, also known as The Lungs of the World, is a giant air-purifying machine: it breathes CO2 in, it breathes oxygen out. Thanks to the meat and dairy industry our civilisation is on what can only be described as a suicidal path, that this essential key to our survival is being ravaged and annihilated at a terrifying pace.
Animal agriculture is the leading cause of species extinction, ocean dead zones, water pollution, and habitat destruction. Animal agriculture contributes to species extinction in many ways. In addition to the monumental habitat destruction caused by clearing forests and converting land to grow feed crops and for animal grazing, predators and "competition" species are frequently targeted and hunted because of a perceived threat to livestock profits. The widespread use of pesticides, herbicides and chemical fertilizers used in the production of feed crops often interferes with the reproductive systems of animals and poisons waterways – making crucial water sources unusable for several of the world’s most deprived and needy villages. The overexploitation of wild species through commercial fishing, the bushmeat trade as well as animal agriculture’s impact on climate change, all contribute to global depletion of species and resources.
The meat and dairy industry is destroying our planet. It is the number one cause behind global warming, the main cause of animal cruelty and it plays an unmistakable role in the starvation and resultant death of millions of our world’s children. Every second, it is responsible for the death of 255 innocent animals and yet, Britain, a nation of animal lovers doesn’t establish the connection between bacon and slaughtered pigs, or between the milk on our breakfast table and cows who are forcibly separated from their offspring. If we really are a nation of animal lovers then maybe it’s time we remembered that if it’s not your mother, it’s not your milk.