Crocodile tears – getting under our skin

In the past few days, I’ve seen several excellent posts condemning a well-known designer brand for their use of crocodile skins for leather goods while exposing the conditions in which these innocent creatures are ‘farmed’, with images and descriptions that made the bile rise in my throat. Such barbarity is utterly appalling. It should be noted that this isn’t the first time this particular atrocity has been exposed, nor is this the first designer to be associated with it. And don’t misunderstand me. It’s good that these horrors are being exposed. Light should be shone into ALL the dark hells where our fellow earthlings endure the atrocities that our speciesism is demanding and paying for. 

Angry and sad emotes abound on every post that I’ve seen. So why haven’t I shared them? After all we should be angry, we should be disgusted, we should be outraged.  But anger, outrage and disgust are by no means the whole story. 

Outrage and righteous indignation

It’s my experience that any focus on what is undoubtedly an ‘exclusive’ and expensive substance derived from the unconsenting bodies of other animal species attracts ready condemnation from all sorts of people whose lives and choices will never be affected by the items in question. It’s the same reaction as the one we see on articles about fur. It’s the same reaction we see about eating dogs and cats in countries where it’s not part of the culture. And much of the most heated outrage comes from nonvegan ‘animal lovers’.

On posts and articles about the subjects I’ve mentioned, there’s always a surge of vitriol, there’s very often racism, and there’s always hate speech about ‘ugly people’ with ‘no souls’ and ‘I would rather die than do that’ hyperbole. I’ve written before about how easy it is to be outraged about things that will never affect us personally, how quick we can be to point a finger of blame at things that ‘other people’ do. 

And in relation to animal rights, this can be so tragically counterproductive. On a tide of righteous indignation, what ‘others’ do can serve to make us feel better about our own actions whatever they are. We reassure ourselves that whatever we may be doing, it’s not as bad as that is. Despite having barely any knowledge of the brutal and blood-spattered consequences of their own nonvegan choices, posts about crocodiles, dogs, cats, fur, foie gras and a host of other niche topics attract universal outrage and righteous indignation. How do I know? It’s no secret that I spent over half a century as a nonvegan ‘animal lover’ and I’ve been observing and blogging for several years.

Making connections and learning lessons

So, what’s my point? Well as I noted at the start, shining a spotlight is not the whole story. Yes, it attracts attention and that’s a good start. However, what I try so hard to do is to help those who are just like I once was, to join the dots and see the links between the shocking exposés on social media and the socially acceptable parallels in which they are personally participating.

Not one of us would change places with a single one of our victims whatever their species. And for as long as we refuse to be vegan, then by definition we are pouring money into the industries that service our demands for the broken bodies and destroyed lives of almost 3 trillion innocent individuals every year. If you are outraged by the crocodile posts and are not vegan, then really there are some hard questions begging to be asked. 

As an animal rights blogger and advocate, I see it as my task to invite readers to feel every bit as outraged and disgusted about a pair of *slink leather gloves for £5 out of Asda, and the strip of skin from an unknown corpse selling as a belt for £3 on the bargain counter at Tesco, as they do about a £60,000 handbag from a designer.

Because frankly, from the perspective of the victims, there’s no difference between them.

So please, be outraged. Be very outraged. Be outraged enough to stop refusing to be vegan.

 

 

*Slink leather is the leather made from the hide of unborn calves, it can also be applied to the skin of an unborn lamb as well.

1 trillion is 1,000,000,000,000

Posted in Leather and skin, Victims in the shadows | Tagged , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Last call for planet Earth

Today I was motivated to write a short blog on passing a roadside advert that has stood for many years, directing shoppers to a butcher in a nearby village. Bragging about ‘100% Scottish beef’ and ‘award winning pies and sausages, it’s a true life counterpoint to the many ridiculous accusations levelled at vegans for ‘shoving your ideas down other people throats’, accusations by those who shove other individuals down their throats and don’t like it being pointed out that their brutalised victims were not in any way willing. 

I’m sure it comes as no surprise to hear that blogging and writing about animal rights is not a cheerful occupation. For me, it requires objectivity, honesty, and continuous self-evaluation, seeking the most effective way to get the message across that there is nothing special about our species that entitles us to lay waste to our fellow creatures and the living world they share with us. Even on a good day, it’s a battle to keep despair at bay.

What was it about today?

Today as my journey took me past the fields of sheep and cattle, the date of whose blood drenched fate was decided and booked into a slaughterhouse long before the violence that conceived them, I averted my eyes as always, and found tears streaming down my face. Tears for them as always, because I know what awaits them and it’s far, far, worse than the bleak existence without shelter from the Scottish weather that has been their miserable lot so far. Today there were tears for my own species.

And today there were tears for my children. Page followers will know that my younger son died suddenly last year, leaving his brother and me with a raw hole in our lives that can never heal. No mother should find herself speaking a eulogy for her son. But similarly, no parent should have to contemplate the nightmare that will be faced by any of their children who someday will be left without them, as they struggle against unimaginable adversity on the set of this disaster movie that we’re all trapped in.

As I passed the butcher’s sign and the doomed victims in the desolate fields, I reflected on the flurry of reports and editorials being published, in particular the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, amidst the infernos and the floods, the record temperatures and the evacuations, the droughts and the famines. I am forced to admit there is no evidence of superior intelligence being demonstrated by my species where the majority appear to be pointing metaphorical fingers at someone else; other people, other nations, other corporations, other governments, always OTHERS as a means to excuse their personal continued apathy and ‘business as usual’ approach to sticking their individual and collective heads in the sand. 

We are assured by the most reliable scientific evidence available that even if every activity that’s releasing carbon into our atmosphere were to cease right now this minute, it is already too late to prevent increasing instability of the global climate reaching well into the future. An intelligent species would have woken up to smell the coffee long ago.

Business as usual. Carry on. Nothing to see here.

The problem? Well the problem is that everywhere I look, I see ‘business as usual’; adverts for dead flesh, adverts for eggs, adverts for dairy products; adverts for holidays abroad and cruises and cars. Even adverts, editorials, and opinion pieces calling for lukewarm watered-down half-measures that speak of how ‘future generations’ will look back on the events of the present day are an exercise in outright dishonesty. Lukewarm watered-down half measures mean that there may not even BE future generations of our species left to reflect on our failings. Those who remain will be battling a world where the challenges are exponentially worse than today – they won’t be sitting musing about who to blame at their computers – a pastime that is still available for some of us. They’ll be trying to find shelter and heat and food in a place that isn’t flooded or burnt. That’s the reality.

As usual, animal agriculture, which alongside fossil fuels is one of the main culprits for the catastrophe that is crashing down over us all, is still preaching their message of denial, and individual consumers are so busy blaming someone else that far too few are squaring up to the moral obligation to take personal responsibility for the activities that got us here in the first place by stopping paying for them to continue.

Are we too late?

I couldn’t begin to list every violation, every atrocity, every affront to decency that surrounds us and is contributing to the plight of our host planet and those who call it home. We all need to think for ourselves – we all need to face our own eyes when we look in a mirror. We have to acknowledge the very real likelihood that we won’t be able to save the world but I suppose it comes down to the kind of person that each of us is. Do we give in under pressure or do we decide to keep on trying and go down fighting if we must? 

The world we are destroying belongs to our victims every bit as much as it ever belonged to us. As we saw off the branch our species is sitting on, we must remember that our victims are sitting alongside us, helpless passengers on our journey to ruin.

Is it too late to make a difference? I’ll admit it probably is. I’ve had some tell me that they think it’s all over so what’s the point of doing anything at all? I’ve heard it said that the world would be better off without humans – a speciesist viewpoint if ever there was one. We are animals too.  And besides, we’re talking about events that affect all Earth’s inhabitants. Not just humans. I find it ironic that the moment apathy starts to crack, we find defeatism close on its heels. But never before has the conversation in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings seemed so apt:

“I wish it need not have happened in my time.”
“And so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

What is everything in the world worth to you?

Whatever the future holds, this truly is the fight of our lives. As individuals we can do nothing less than live true to the values we believe in, respecting and valuing each other, our families and our friends of all species. Holding these values means that as an absolute minimum we must stop being nonvegan. 

Then at least we can meet our own eyes in the mirror and know that we’re doing our best for as long as we possibly can because we have everything in the world to fight for. I hope to find the strength to do that. Do you?

Posted in Addressing resistance to change, Global disasters | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Victims in the shadows: octopuses, squids and cuttlefishes

Best of Show in the 9th Annual Ocean Art Underwater Photo Contest https://www.uwphotographyguide.com/ocean-art-contest-winners-2020

Octopus are soft-bodied, eight-limbed molluscs of the order Octopoda. The order consists of some 300 species and is grouped within the class Cephalopoda with squids, cuttlefish, and nautiloids. 

This blog was originally inspired by the many excellent articles I’ve read which provide insight to these fascinating creatures. These articles are always popular on social media, even amongst those who would think nothing of devouring these same individuals as a dietary indulgence.

However fascinating they are, as an animal rights blogger I’m only too aware that alongside approximately 3 trillion of their fellow water-dwellers every year, cephalopods are considered – like every other species on the planet – to exist solely for the use and exploitation of the most brutal and oppressive species that has ever existed. Humans.

So I’d like to stress something really important. There is no such thing as a ‘food’ animal. There is no relevant distinction between those whose corpses we casually toss into supermarket trolleys or whose charred remains lie on our plates, and the other creatures who share our homes or our lives. This also applies in the case of the cephalopod corpses that we, in our arrogance, treat as ingredients, and the stars of the videos and articles below. The concept of ‘food’ animals, like our self-serving laws and our invented conditions for our behaving with basic decency towards other species, are all a fabrication and lead to depravities we can scarcely imagine. 

Disrespect hiding in plain sight

I started to look for statistics as I usually do, but even I was surprised to find that a search for the numbers ‘slaughtered’ yielded no useable information. I changed the search word to ‘harvest’ and guess what? No wonder the mainstream gives them little recognition and almost no moral consideration. The brutal and unnecessary terminating of the lives that, being sentient, they value as we value our own, does not even merit the appropriate terminology for the atrocity we commit. The very mildest appropriate word for such brutality, is ‘slaughter’, not ‘harvest’.

To add insult to injury, when I looked up the most basic scientific classification of octopuses, the category ‘cooking time’ came after their description, class, order and anatomy. Cooking time?! What the hell? Which is just one of the reasons why this blog fits into the ‘Victims in the shadows’ category. Harvested. Like wheat and corn, like potatoes and cabbages, with a helpful note about cooking time included. Not even a nod in the direction of their vast intelligence, their zest for life and their rights as inhabitants of our shared planet, rights NOT to be hijacked and categorised as our property by laws we make up ourselves to legitimise the bloodbath we leave in our wake.

Slaughter numbers and uses

Current statistics are hard to track down. For this reason I have used the most recent that I could source, but given the dizzying escalation in the numbers of all our species’ victims, these numbers must be viewed as an extremely rough under-estimate. As with all aquatic  creatures, statistics will exclude vast groups, significantly those caught as ‘bycatch’ when other species were the target. It is also indicative of our complete absence of respect for their lives that their brutal slaughter is measured in tonnage rather than individuals. 

Octopuses – mainly used for their flesh.  An estimated 350,000 tonnes taken from the wild annually with a ‘harvest’ weight that may vary between 750g and 3 kg, averages out at least 200 million individuals slaughtered in a year.

Squids – mainly used for their flesh with ‘squid ink’ being used as a food additive. This is a dark fluid that squids produce as a defence mechanism. An estimate of 1,600,000 tonnes taken from the wild annually at a typical ‘market size’ of 500g is at least 3.2 billion individuals.

Cuttlefishes – used by humans as food, as a source of ink, and for the cuttlebone (a dietary supplement for caged birds) An estimate of 500,000 tonnes taken from the wild annually. Average market weight estimated at 1 kg which translates to approximately 500,000,000 individuals.

Total estimated number of individual cephalopods slaughtered annually is thus well in excess of 3.9 billion.

‘Farming’ lives for profit

Unlike many other aquatic individuals whose numbers captured from their wild habitats are supplemented by ‘farmed’ victims, by far the majority of current cephalopod victims are caught in the wild, with the business being so lucrative that the race is on amongst several countries to develop ways to ‘farm’ their bodies. 

Late in 2019, in ‘Issues in Science and Technology’,  ‘The Case Against Octopus Farming provided information about why prominent scientists consider it unethical to even consider pursuing methods of ‘farming’. It’s worth reading the article in its entirety.

‘Octopuses stand out among invertebrates for their complex behavior. They are capable of problem-solving, mimicking their surroundings using color changes that take place on a scale of seconds, outwitting predatory sharks, discriminating individual humans, engaging in playful behavior, and hunting in response to cooperative signals sent by fish. As these patterns of behavior suggest, octopuses (as well as some other cephalopods) have sophisticated nervous systems and large brains.

Given their exceptional abilities, one might ask whether humans should be eating octopus at all, but here we want to raise a different ethical question. As global demand for octopus grows, especially in affluent markets, so have efforts to farm them. We believe that octopuses are particularly ill-suited to a life in captivity and mass-production, for reasons both ethical and ecological.

Right now, the farming of octopus is constrained by the technology—it has been difficult to reliably keep animals alive through the early stages in their lives. But with further investments, research, and testing, the technology may well become available to farm octopus at an industrial scale. It is our hope that if such an option does become practical, society will recognize the serious welfare and environmental problems associated with such projects and octopus farming will be discouraged or prevented. Better still would be for governments, private companies, and academic institutions to stop investing in octopus farming now and to instead focus their efforts on achieving a truly sustainable and compassionate future for food production.

Similar challenges apply to efforts to farm squids as well as cuttlefishes but predictably, while consumers demand the corpses for their plates, there’s money to be made and that alone is incentive for exploiters to keep on trying to find ways to maximise their profits. 

What has intelligence got to do with anything?

Intelligence is not and should never be the yardstick by which we measure the moral value of another individual of any species. If it were, then I doubt if any would dispute that large numbers of the human population might find their future at risk. The more the topic of intelligence is considered, the more abundantly clear it becomes that despite the limitations the majority of us have, whatever method by which we decide to define intelligence, however nebulous, however narrow, is the yardstick by which we as a species, generally presume to measure every other. Just like the laws we make up to legitimise our outrageous behaviour towards out fellow beings, the qualifying criteria that we invent are hopelessly biased and anything but fair or objective.

However, in the case of octopuses, I’ve always been fascinated by their well-documented achievements. I have never promoted intelligence as a reason for consumers with an insatiable appetite for death, to stop killing and eating others who value their life.  However in the accounts of the interactions and deeds of octopuses, I find individuals that I’d really like to get to know and appreciate; whose alien bodies, unknowable senses and different ways of seeing the world we share, would almost certainly prove instructive to those of our own species with open minds. 

Look on in wonder and admiration

Finally I invite you to browse the following selection of links and videos. It would take a closed mind indeed to fail to be moved and intrigued by these. And when we learn to truly respect those who share their planet with us, the only logical thing we can do is to withdraw our own unnecessary demands for them to be harmed and become vegan.

1 – Let’s start with an explanation of the image at the top of this piece.

This photo won best of show in the 9th Annual Ocean Art Underwater Photo Contest. It was taken by the octopus. We see anthropomorphic terms being used in articles about the photo; terms such as the octopus ‘stealing’ the camera, and suggestions that the photo was simply accidental. Perhaps it was, perhaps it wasn’t. But perhaps the whole tone is an all too familiar attempt to retain the delusion of superiority by which our species butchers, chars and devours nonhumans without cause or conscience.

2 – How intelligent is a cephalopod?

‘The soft-bodied cephalopods including octopus, cuttlefish, and squid are broadly considered to be the most cognitively advanced group of invertebrates. Previous research has demonstrated that these large-brained molluscs possess a suite of cognitive attributes that are comparable to those found in some vertebrates, including highly developed perception, learning, and memory abilities. Cephalopods are also renowned for performing sophisticated feats of flexible behaviour, which have led to claims of complex cognition such as causal reasoning, future planning, and mental attribution.’

3 – Observations from Octopolis and Octlantis. by Peter Godfrey Smith

At Octlantis, I saw an interesting use of a found object. A small octopus was staring at one of our unmanned cameras from its den, and then went off camera and returned with a piece of dead sponge. It arranged this on the top of the den, as something between a roof and a helmet, and huddled beneath it, looking out. I am not sure that the little octopus was bothered by the camera, and wanted a barrier against its presence, but it did look that way.’ Read on at the link.

4 – Wild Octopus Is Always Excited To See His Human Best Friend

5 – Suckers for learning: why octopuses are so intelligent

‘Octopuses meet every criteria for the definition of intelligence: they show a great flexibility in obtaining information (using several senses and learning socially), in processing it (through discriminative and conditional learning), in storing it (through long-term memory) and in applying it toward both predators and prey.’

6- Why Cuttlefish Are Smarter Than We Thought

‘Cuttlefish are clever creatures, and squirting saltwater is not their only party trick. They’re experts at camouflage, adjusting the colour and texture of their skin to match their environment. Plus, cuttlefish possess a range of advanced cognitive abilities, including a sophisticated memory, to help them optimise their foraging behaviour and adapt to changing prey conditions.

The ability to exert self-control varies across species. Rats, chickens, and pigeons find it difficult to resist food and can only delay gratification for a handful of seconds. Primates and brainy birds, meanwhile, can tolerate delays of up to several minutes to obtain food of higher quality or quantity.

7 – Octopuses have two alternating sleep states 

“It is not possible to affirm that they are dreaming because they cannot tell us that, but our results suggest that during ‘active sleep’ the octopus might experience a state analogous to REM sleep, which is the state during which humans dream the most,” she says. “If octopuses indeed dream, it is unlikely that they experience complex symbolic plots like we do. ‘Active sleep’ in the octopus has a very short duration—typically from a few seconds to one minute.’ Read link for more info and video.

8 – Octo in a cup by Pall Sigurdsson 

‘We spent a whole dive and most of our air saving this octopus from what was bound to be a cruel fate. The coconut octopus, also known as veined octopus, is born with the instinct to protect itself by creating a mobile home out of coconut or clam shells. This particular individual however has been trapped by their instincts and have made a home out of a plastic cup they found underwater. While a shell is a sturdy protection, a passing eel or flounder would probably swallow the cup with the octopus in it, most likely also killing the predator or weakening it to a point where it will be soon eaten by an even bigger fish. We found this particular octopus at about 20 meters under the water, we tried for a long time to give it shells hoping that it would trade the shell. Coconut octopus are famous for being very picky about which shells they keep so we had to try with many different shells before it found one to be acceptable.’ Follow link for video.

9 – My Octopus Teacher

A VERY highly acclaimed documentary available on Netflix and occasionally on other online sources, where a filmmaker forges an unusual friendship with an octopus living in a South African kelp forest, learning as the animal shares the mysteries of her world.

10 – Did a Cuttlefish Write This?

‘[T]hey have three hearts, green blood and one of the largest brains among invertebrates,” she said. “And they can regenerate their limbs, they can camouflage. 

Cuttlefish are more closely related to insects than to humans. They have no true bones in their bodies, just an internal shell filled with air that helps them float. Their blood gets that blue-green tint from hemocyanin, which they use instead of hemoglobin to carry oxygen. The smallest species are scarcely more than an inch long and the largest may reach more than two feet. Most species tend to live alone, and they can be found in the waters of nearly every continent except the Americas. ‘

11-Like humans – cuttlefish can form complex memories

‘[D]ynamics between males and female squid are “many-fold more complex than what we had previously thought. We have so much more to learn,” Sampaio says. 
“The more we learn about squid,” Sampaio says, “the more we’re blown away by their complexities and quirks.”
 
Note – some may question the use of the plurals’ octopuses’, ‘squids’ and ‘cuttlefishes’ when we are more used to seeing the words without the ‘s’ at the end. Most of the terminology surrounding our use of others employs euphemisms about the substances taken from them to discourage consumer association with those who are paying for their indulgence with their lives. I try to use words that remind us that the topic here is the use – the UNNECESSARY use – of sentient individuals in very large numbers, rather than cooking ingredients.
 
Some links and references used in developing this article:
 
 
 
 
Posted in Aquatic individuals, Octopuses, squids and cuttlefishes, Victims in the shadows | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Reduction and restriction – is it compromise or betrayal?

I was recently discussing fireworks, balloons, sky lanterns etc and the devastating harm that they inflict on all living creatures in many ways; some as an extreme form of noise/light pollution, and all resulting in widespread toxic littering that pollutes the habitats of every wild creature who depends on the environment for food and shelter. I was asked whether I considered that these should be banned altogether or restricted in some way; say to municipal or organised displays only. My position is absolutely clear and unequivocal. They must be completely banned without exception.

It occurred to me that in suggesting ‘restriction’ we have another example of the flawed notion of ‘harm reduction’; a concept promoted as ‘pragmatic’ or ‘realistic’ by individuals, organisations and ‘charities’ that use terms like ‘animal rights’ without any concept of the meaning. Closer inspection depressingly often reveals an agenda that has nothing to do with those desperate, doomed individuals whose interests they claim to represent, and a lot to do with ego, nonvegan donations, and collusion with industries with vested interests.

With regard to promoting’ less harm’ as opposed to ‘current levels of harm’ in any true animal rights conversation, the problem with the concept is hiding in plain sight. Whether we promote less harm, more harm or the same level of harm, we are still promoting HARM. To promote this is to give a seal of approval – which no victim has ever sanctioned – to harming those whose only hope of relief from the brutality of our species, lies with those who tell the truth of their plight. And at the risk of stating the obvious, promoting harm to the victims of our species is completely contrary to everything that veganism stands for. 

‘Ahh’, the argument goes, ‘We can’t expect the world to change immediately.’ And yes, that’s absolutely correct. We can’t. However.

All our lived experience of the world tells us that we seldom immediately get all that we want in any area of life. We all live with compromise – in fact we expect it. We all learn early on to ask for what we’d want in an ideal world, knowing full well that we’ll have to put up with less than we’ve asked for.

When I truthfully promote veganism as the only way that we can truly respect those whose planet we share – am I expecting everyone to get the message immediately? It’s a rhetorical question, right? No, I’m not. I can’t estimate how many will listen – not enough, I do know that. But I also know that I have a debt of obligation to every one of our annual trillions of innocent victims not to betray a single one of them by proposing that my species should continue to harm them without cause or conscience.

And a long lifetime of experience has taught me that if I were to promote half measures, harm reduction, nonvegan diets, changes to restrictions, new laws and regulations governing how we cause needless harm as a species, the result would be the same. Only a few might listen. I would NOT get everything I’d asked for. In fact I might even get less than usual because it would be all too easy to spot that my values were far from consistent.

But there would be ONE absolutely critical difference for me and much more importantly for the victims of nonveganism: To promote half measures is always a betrayal of someone and I refuse to do that. No one has ever given me the right to bargain away or compromise their life.

So to come back to where I began with this essay should I be promoting restrictions? Are we talking about some practice that is absolutely essential by any definition of the word?  No, we’re not. Will restrictions end the harm that’s being needlessly inflicted on our victims and on the environment? No, they won’t. 

So, I’ll repeat that fireworks, sky lanterns, balloons etc must be completely banned without exception. It won’t happen immediately but at least it’s honest. And when we take that position, we could look any one of the victims of our species in the eye and know, hand on heart, that we haven’t tried to bargain away the respect and the freedom from persecution that they deserve.

Stop being nonvegan.

Posted in Fireworks and 'celebrations' | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

‘Saving’ victims by being vegan – numbers from a hat

Image taken on a carp farm by Photojournalist Andrew Skowron

In a previous blog I included an observation about this idea of ‘saving’ victims by being vegan, but I’m revisiting it because it deserves to be addressed in a blog of its own.  It should be noted that when this myth is repeated on social media, it is frequently connected with the framing of veganism as being synonymous with a plant-based diet, rather than its correct definition as a lived ethic rejecting all use of other individuals who value their lives. 

“Veganism is a philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude—as far as is possible and practicable—all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose; and by extension, promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of animals, humans and the environment.”

In the absence of context, any number relating to victim numbers is meaningless. I found myself thinking here about the number 42 given in A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy as ‘The Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, The Universe, and Everything. In that case there was humour in its meaninglessness, but when we are talking about the victims of our species there’s no humour in any of it at all. The numbers that I’ve seen attributed in social media to ‘how many animals are saved by being vegan’ illustrate a staggering lack of awareness about the extent of our species’ violence and disrespect for those whose planet we share. This serves to trivialise it, which in turn is a betrayal of those who are relying on us to tell the truth of their plight. So in this blog, my focus is to provide some context.

For a start, technically we don’t ‘save’ anyone by being vegan.

Let’s first consider those whose bodies, eggs and breastmilk we consume. Removing nonvegan demand, if enacted on a sufficiently large scale, could at best mean that our land-based and ‘farmed’ aquatic victims will never exist; their parents will never be sexually violated to birth or hatch them and the number of animals bred by the industry for our use will diminish. To suggest otherwise is a rather significant insult to those who ‘farm’ lives and bodies for profit, implying that they would be insufficiently aware of shifting market demands to cut back on ‘production’ and diversify, and not for a moment would I suggest such a thing.

However, reducing demand is not ‘saving’ in the sense that we would consider if we were victims ourselves. Not one single desperate and frightened victim is ever given the chance to turn their back on the slaughterhouse and go home with their loved ones to a life of respect and companionship. And knowing the brutal existence that the victims of nonveganism endure as they go through the monstrous system from which their eggs, breastmilk and broken bodies will emerge, the most decent thing that can be done for them is to spare them the ordeal. I’m willing to be vegan for that. 

On using numbers without context

Every single estimate that I have ever seen of the number of creatures that our monstrous tyranny creates in response to nonvegan demands, completely ignores the maths. Over the years, I’ve struggled to come up with accurate statistics of our victims but I have failed to gain anything better than incomplete but verifiable statistics in some areas, an estimate in others, and a horrified chill when I acknowledge the vast victim groups where I can’t even hazard a guess but I know it beggars belief.

Again there are a number of reasons for this. Statistics are sketchy to say the least, a consequence of a world where the majority of nonhumans are considered to have so little importance that we either don’t bother to count how many we’re slaughtering or we measure weight rather than numbers, arrogantly highlighting that we don’t even see our victims as individuals. Those statistics that do exist are mostly directly related to consumption but of course they’ve got nothing to do with concern for the victims but are an accounting tool related to the production of a vast and highly profitable industry. Current FAO statistics of land-based individuals slaughtered in slaughterhouses to be eaten, are over 80 billion for the latest available year.

Records of the deaths of random non-industry or non-food related groups are produced independently for various reasons, mostly with insufficient data and always with no possibility of regular updating. Once we turn our attention to these, we are in serious trouble as far as accurate estimates are concerned.

Victim groups not associated with slaughterhouses, where statistics are unreliable/ incomplete/absent include:

  • Marine creatures  both wild and ‘farmed’– estimated 2.7 trillion annually;
  • Insects farmed for consumption – estimated at least 1 trillion;
  • Male chicks killed by the egg industry estimated at 7.4 to 8 billion annually;
  • Snails – estimated 3.6 billion annually;
  • Members of all land-based species who die before slaughter for a multitude of reasons including disease and injury – up to 10% of the slaughter total.

And no global estimates are available for the killing of:

And these lists are attributable mainly to the market for consumption. The following groups are also victims of nonvegan consumer demand. There is no global estimate for the numbers involved but an educated guess would put them at very many billions each year.

  • Individuals slaughtered for their fur, fleece, skin and feathers;
  • Trophy hunting;
  • ‘Culling’ of indigenous creatures so the ‘farmed’ animal profits may be maximised;
  • Deaths in the ‘entertainment’ industry;
  • Deaths of individuals incarcerated in various establishments such as zoos, safari and water parks etc.
  • Individuals caught in the wild to be traded as ‘pets’;
  • Individuals whose bodies are used for ‘medicine’ or as ingredients in toiletries, cosmetics or other consumer goods;
  • Silk worms;
  • Unwanted dogs/cats and other species bred for use as accessories who become homeless and are executed for their crime.

Taking numbers out of a hat

I’ve no doubt that at this point someone, somewhere, will be spotting groups who have been omitted from the list and I readily agree there will be many. A rough count of those where some sort of estimate is possible, gives a figure of about 3.8 trillion victims, and with a human population currently numbering over 7.8 billion, each human may be notionally responsible for more than 500 deaths a year. 

So how many more than 500? And that’s exactly my point. Please look back at the lists above where most groups have no possible global estimate. I have no idea how many individuals that adds up to every year. Billions? Trillions? But one thing is certain. Each victim was an individual. Each victim had a life and that life mattered to them, irrespective of the size of the body that life inhabited.

So returning to the original topic of ‘how many animals are saved by being vegan’, I see the number 10 bandied about a lot.  TEN?? Even the number 500 that I’ve detailed above, excludes so many statistically unrecognised groups as to render it meaningless.  To use even that number to advocate for animal rights and veganism, would be the most sickening betrayal of those whose plight is more urgent than I can ever describe.

Let’s stick to the truth. Let’s use real statistics when we can get them and not undermine ourselves and trivialise our victims with made-up numbers taken out of a hat. Be vegan.

 

Links for interest or consideration in future revisions

https://ali.fish/blue-loss?

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Zoos and other prisons – not vegan, not ‘conservation’, not ‘education’

Zoos and aquariums are just two types of place where members of nonhuman species face lifelong incarceration for the ‘entertainment’ of our species. Many with vested interests are quick to claim that the ‘entertainment’ aspect is only part of the story; that the main reason for imprisoning other species has something to do with ‘education’ or about ‘conservation’, and there’s no doubt that both these words frequently allow a free pass from criticism or even critical thinking for these widespread and lucrative businesses. 

Zoos , ‘wild life parks’, and sea world equivalents crop up frequently on social media and one doesn’t have far to look to discover that the folk myths about ‘education’ and ‘conservation’ are alive and well, and have been since long before the days of TV and film.

We may arguably live in at a time when the use of other animals is increasingly frowned upon as unethical in circuses, but meanwhile every family heading to look at imprisoned creatures for a day’s ‘entertainment’ is doing their bit – to the sound of cash registers and burger stalls – to reinforce the continuing message that humans are superior creatures and that other species exist for our entertainment.

I decided that it’s important to start to compile the best information and links into a single resource to be added to as more comes to hand, providing something to share when the subject is raised by those whose self interest blinds them to the facts. I start with a piece that I recently came across by the great Tom Regan. The other articles are in date order.

Are Zoos Morally Defensible?

1995  In this piece comprising a chapter of a larger work authored by others, Tom Regan (1938-2017) examines and discusses the ethics of zoos from the Animal Rights position, by providing valuable insights into how the sharply contrasting ‘utilitarian’ or ‘holistic’ stances affect the subject. He writes,

‘As will become clear as we proceed, my own moral position is not that of a neutral observer. Of the three tendencies to be considered, I favor one (what I call the “rights view”) and disagree rather strongly with the other two.’ https://d.lib.ncsu.edu/collections/catalog/mc00236_2596514_20201001_7045#

The Case Against Zoos

June 11 2021 ‘I find one statistic particularly telling about their priorities: A 2018 analysis of the scientific papers produced by association members between 1993 and 2013 showed that just about 7 percent of them annually were classified as being about “biodiversity conservation.”
People don’t go to zoos to learn about the biodiversity crisis or how they can help. They go to get out of the house, to get their children some fresh air, to see interesting animals. They go for the same reason people went to zoos in the 19th century: to be entertained.
A fine day out with the family might itself be justification enough for the existence of zoos if the zoo animals are all happy to be there. Alas, there’s plenty of heartbreaking evidence that many are not.’
https://www.nytimes.com/2021/06/11/opinion/zoos-animal-cruelty.html

The neural cruelty of captivity: Keeping large mammals in zoos and aquariums damages their brains

September 24 2020 ‘Some people defend keeping animals in captivity, arguing that it helps conserve endangered species or offers educational benefits for visitors to zoos and aquariums. These justifications are questionable, particularly for large mammals. As my own research and work by many other scientists shows, caging large mammals and putting them on display is undeniably cruel from a neural perspective. It causes brain damage.’https://theconversation.com/the-neural-cruelty-of-captivity-keeping-large-mammals-in-zoos-and-aquariums-damages-their-brains-142240

It’s Time to Stop Pretending Zoos Are Good for Animals

March 9, 2020 ‘We imagine the zoo as Noah’s Ark, preserving the last remnants of endangered species. And yet, 83% of species in zoos are not endangered, or even threatened. Why are these animals kept, if the zoo is all about conservation? Of the few zoo animals that are endangered, almost none of them will be released into the wild — they’ve been bred and raised for the entertainment of humans, and would not survive in nature. But even if zoos were successfully preparing their animals for release on a grand scale, it would be an inefficient use of resources: Conservation in the wild is far more effective than captive breeding, in almost all cases.

Going to the zoo to support conservation is like buying an extra load of groceries so you can donate $3 to St. Jude at checkout. https://tenderly.medium.com/its-time-to-stop-pretending-zoos-are-good-for-animals-ca72fd4599e5

Zoos are outdated and cruel – it’s time to make them a thing of the past

August 14 2019 ‘If zoos are so abysmal, why do they still exist on such a large scale? The answer is simple. Zooreaucracies and zoo-rocrats have a stamp collector’s mentality and an appetite and preference to please the public with iconic and non-threatened species, leading to their needless captivity and “consumption” for entertainment.

In other words, the public come first and not the animals. Is that conservation? Zoos don’t want you to know these facts because it would expose the fundamental flaws in the arguments they put out for their existence, and as a consequence merely prove that they’re in the conservation of business and not in the business of conservation.’

~ Damian Aspinall, Conservationist  https://www.independent.co.uk/climate-change/news/zoos-cruel-wildlife-conservation-species-a9056701.html

Zooicide: Seeing Cruelty, Demanding Abolition

November 16 2018 

    • ‘Zoos do not protect endangered species.
    • By making them objects of entertainment, they may serve the opposite function.
    • On average, zoos spend about 2-3 percent of their budgets on research. That’s it.
    • Zoos educate nobody. The didactics at most zoos are rudimentary at best.
    • Zoos are unhappy places for animals. Like people, they want to be free and among their kind.
    • The biggest threat to animals is habitat loss. So, what do zoos do? They sell McDonald’s hamburgers, KFC, and every other kind of fast food grown on lands that could have been used to sustain wild populations of animals.’ https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/blog/animal-emotions/201811/zooicide-seeing-cruelty-demanding-abolition

Are zoo animals happy? There’s a simple empathy test we can apply

April 16. 2017 ‘If we are to continue keeping animals in confinement … Making animals happier must be a top priority, and written into the budgets of zoo managers. Nevertheless, we need to remember that enrichment is just a Band-Aid solution. It serves, like the Valium given to SeaWorld’s whales, to manage the symptoms. But it can’t treat the underlying disease. Only freedom from captivity can really resolve the illness.’ https://www.salon.com/2017/04/16/are-zoo-animals-happy-theres-a-simple-empathy-test-we-can-apply/

Do Zoos and Aquariums Promote Attitude Change in Visitors? A
Critical Evaluation of the American Zoo and Aquarium Study

2010 ‘Modern-day zoos and aquariums market themselves as places of education and conservation. A recent study conducted by the American Zoo and Aquarium Association (AZA) (Falk et al., 2007) is being widely heralded as the first direct evidence that visits to zoos and aquariums produce long-term positive effects on people’s attitudes toward other animals. In this paper, we address whether this conclusion is warranted by analyzing the study’s methodological soundness. We conclude that Falk et al. (2007) contains at least six major threats to methodological validity that undermine the authors’ conclusions.
There remains no compelling evidence for the claim that zoos and aquariums promote attitude change, education, or interest in conservation in visitors ‘https://www.wellbeingintlstudiesrepository.org/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1007&context=acwp_zoae

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Using bees for honey; it’s not vegan and it’s not ‘conservation’.

Using and consuming honey taken from bees is not vegan. All the latest research suggests that bees are sentient individuals whose lives matter to them. In keeping with the many other species whose lives and bodies are ‘farmed’ by humans, honey bees are artificially-bred agricultural animals.

I know you’ll sometimes read that it’s a ‘controversial’ subject. It’s not. The denial of nonhuman sentience and the disregarding of their interests are familiar tactics in a nonvegan world that values others only in terms of what humans can take from them by force and use to make money. Those with vested interests will always jump on this bandwagon so as to safeguard their profits and attempt to silence criticism.

While the 6th mass extinction proceeds unchecked, the related insect apocalypse is ringing yet another alarm bell in a biodiversity crisis accelerating as the planet’s human population grows. This crisis is increasingly exacerbated by unprecedented recent climate changes and other anthropogenic stressors such as land-use change, deforestation, agricultural intensification, and urbanisation, all of which are leading to widespread and irreversible habitat destruction and loss. 

Recently I’ve come across many excellent articles that all say basically the same thing that’s been common knowledge for a long time: that using domesticated honey bees as a money making resource to produce honey intended for human consumption does no good for the victims, no good for the indigenous breeds, and no good for the environment in general. 

I decided that it’s important to start to compile the best information into a single blog to be added to as further information is published, providing something to share when the subject is raised by those whose self interest blinds them to the facts. Please note that within many of the following links you’ll find even more sources and information.

Is Honey Vegan?

‘Avoiding honey or bee products is consistent with veganism as an ethical philosophy because a bee is an animal. It has nothing to do with perfection or personal purity. As vegans, we cannot ignore the ethical implications and environmental consequences of the bee husbandry industry. Doing so reduces our credibility as a serious movement trying to affect change.

Honey isn’t some magical ingredient no one can avoid. It’s an animal product that has been mass marketed and mass-manufactured for generations, and it’s been tested on animals. With so many vegan alternatives available, honey is not only exploitative; it’s unnecessary.’ https://www.yourdailyvegan.com/vegan-guides/is-honey-vegan/ https://www.yourdailyvegan.com/2016/03/if-you-eat-honey-read-this/

Myth: Beekeeping is needed to conserve pollinator populations.

Like dairy, honey consumption is a form of interspecific kleptoparasitism (literally “parasitism by theft”) of food made by/for another species that has been bred and manipulated specifically to be parasitized and exploited by people. https://www.truthordrought.com/beekeeping-for-conservation-myths

‘Honeybees are voracious’: is it time to put the brakes on the boom in beekeeping?

“Honeybees are not in decline; they are probably the most numerous bee on the planet,” says Andrew Whitehouse from insect conservation charity Buglife. While the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization reports there are more than 90m honeybee hives globally, many rarer native pollinators are in increasingly precarious positions.

“Our wild pollinators are in serious trouble. Across the board we are seeing a loss of the abundance and the diversity of pollinating insects,” adds Whitehouse. “We are seeing threatened species becoming more threatened and more rare. We are seeing some species that we know are really on the brink of extinction in the UK.

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2021/jul/24/this-only-saves-honeybees-the-trouble-with-britains-beekeeping-boom-aoe

The Truth About Honey Bees

June 1, 2021 ‘Like chickens, pigs, cattle and other livestock, honey bees—not native to North America—are domesticated animals.’ https://www.nwf.org/Home/Magazines/National-Wildlife/2021/June-July/Gardening/Honey-Bees

The Problem with Honey Bees

November 4 2020 “Beekeeping is for people; it’s not a conservation practice,” says Sheila Colla, an assistant professor and conservation biologist at Toronto’s York University, Canada. “People mistakenly think keeping honey bees, or helping honey bees, is somehow helping the native bees, which are at risk of extinction.”

High densities of honey bee colonies increase competition between native pollinators for forage, putting even more pressure on the wild species that are already in decline. Honey bees are extreme generalist foragers and monopolize floral resources, thus leading to exploitative competition—that is, where one species uses up a resource, not leaving enough to go around. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-problem-with-honey-bees/

Honeybees disrupt the structure and functionality of plant-pollinator networks

March 18, 2019 ‘Our results show that beekeeping reduces the diversity of wild pollinators and interaction links in the pollination networks. It disrupts their hierarchical structural organization causing the loss of interactions by generalist species, and also impairs pollination services by wild pollinators through reducing the reproductive success of those plant species highly visited by honeybees. ‘ https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-019-41271-5

Honey Bees Compete With Native Bees

February 25,  2019 ‘As our awareness grows about how ecosystems work, we’re having to think in different, uncomfortable ways as we challenge comfortable preconceptions. Honey bees are livestock, part of an agricultural machine and so are an agricultural issue; native bees are an ecological issue. https://www.monarchgard.com/thedeepmiddle/honey-bees-compete-with-native-bees

Keeping honeybees doesn’t save bees – or the environment

September 12, 2018 ‘The European honeybee (Apis mellifera) is a social bee species that has been domesticated for crop pollination and honey production. Beekeeping is often promoted as a way to conserve pollinators and, as a result, is on the rise across the UK. It’s great to see people backing the pollinator movement, but managing hives does nothing to protect our wild pollinators. It’s the equivalent of farming chickens to save wild birds.’ https://theconversation.com/keeping-honeybees-doesnt-save-bees-or-the-environment-102931

How the Honeybee Buzz Hurts Wild Bees

May 29, 2018 Contrary to public perception, die-offs in honeybee colonies are an agricultural problem, not a conservation issue. First domesticated about 9,000 years ago, honeybees are not all that different from livestock. https://www.sierraclub.org/sierra/how-honeybee-buzz-hurts-wild-bees

Urban beekeeping is harming wild bees says  Cambridge University

January 25, 2018 ‘Honeybees are artificially-bred agricultural animals similar to livestock such as pigs and cows. But this livestock can roam beyond any enclosures to disrupt local ecosystems through competition and disease.’ https://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/2018/01/25/urban-beekeeping-harming-wild-bees-says-cambridge-university/

NOTE:

Bee products used by humans and/or sold commercially include:

  • Honey
  • Nectar
  • Beeswax
  • Pollen
  • Bee Bread
  • Popolis
  • Royal Jelly
  • Bee venom
  • Bee hive air.

 

Posted in Addressing resistance to change, honey, Victims in the shadows | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

Veganism and conscience

Image by We Animals Media is of a snake rescued from research in a university

I recently did a post on social media where I mentioned a number of subjects which I have observed over the years to be less popular with page followers than others. I can’t remember having posted that type of observation before but many engaged with the post and the responses were interesting and helpful. Some also made it clear that The Elephant will likely lose followers as a result of this blog but so be it. I am nothing if not sincere and I’m not doing this to be popular.

I found myself reflecting on the fact that my writing centres mainly on these areas of exploitation that affect the majority of us, namely consumption, clothing, testing and entertainment and decided that this was a conscious choice on my part. Not only are these areas common to us all, but in terms of sheer victim numbers, if we were to bring these horrors to an end, then massive strides would have been made towards a vegan world. 

Minefields

There were comments regarding the many minefields that can trigger defensive and hostile responses. Hostility can quickly divert the focus from the subject of a post and the message becomes lost in mudslinging and recriminations. A topic that was mentioned as particularly contentious by one advocate, was why humans riding on the backs of horses is not vegan.

This made me consider other similar trigger subjects that incite fury every time they’re mentioned – like the use of members of other species as ‘service animals’. We have all heard of individuals, usually dogs, used as guides, or used as assistants to humans with various medical conditions, used to detect drugs, firearms, money or explosives; I’ve read of dolphins and sea lions used to detect mines, pigeons used to carry messages even in this day and age, horses used for various purposes in the military. We hear of individuals of various species used as ‘therapy animals’ for humans. Nonhuman body parts are even used as spare parts for certain human medical procedures.

Vegans who are forced by health and circumstance to take life preserving medications, is another thorny subject. All medications will have been tested on nonhumans because that’s currently the law. Many contain milk, gelatine and/or various other derivatives from the bodies of others and there are no vegan alternatives. I would never presume to judge anyone for what they do on that score. In what are literally life or death situations, it’s purely for the individual to decide, but I know from personal experience that they are unlikely to get a free ride from their conscience on that subject.

And the topic of ‘pet ownership’ in itself is a massive minefield. Ranging from the terminology, the legal standing of other lives as our ‘property’ and the logistics of caring for other individuals of many different species, the pitfalls are many.  In the past I have touched lightly on the topic and have made no secret of my views on the domestication of species to act as companions and accessories for humans; views which I have held only since veganism opened my eyes to the fundamental human self interest of the practice. 

My recent post was pounced on almost immediately with a demand to know what I feed to the cats in my care, and the accumulation of all these thoughts and opinions led me down the path of considering the role of conscience in our veganism. 

What is veganism?

To recall the definition by the Vegan Society:

“Veganism is a philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude—as far as is possible and practicable—all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose; and by extension, promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of animals, humans and the environment. In dietary terms it denotes the practice of dispensing with all products derived wholly or partly from animals.”

The phrase within this definition that lights the way for each of us down the avenue of conscience is ‘as far as is possible and practicable’. 

Does ‘as far as is possible and practicable’ let us off the hook?

However, far from being a license to be lax about our interpretation of veganism, I have always found the phrase to be something of a goad that results in continuous self examination; constantly questioning whether I’m really doing my absolute best. I came to the conclusion long ago that a constant feeling of guilt is probably more to do with my own upbringing and personality than anything else, but maybe others can relate. No one else in the world knows the unique combination of circumstances that each of us faces and there’s no flow chart that gives us black and white instructions for any and every eventuality.

Caring for others

Going back to the topic of feeding those in our care, it is certainly one aspect of life where we may be forced to make choices based on our personal circumstances, the species, the health and the medical needs of those whom we care for, along with any other considerations that we must weigh in the balance.  And feeding isn’t the end of it. Should we confine our nonhuman family members to our houses to safeguard them from nonhuman and human predators, as well as to prevent them from following their instincts to prey on other creatures if allowed to roam free?

What do we do when those we look after have ticks or fleas, worms, nits or other lice, mites or even maggots? If we follow through with our examination of our own speciesism, these tiny creatures too have lives that they may or may not value. Common sense tells me they probably do. Nevertheless I have yet to read a vegan argument for allowing infestations of those whom we regard as parasites to remain unchecked within and upon our own bodies or those whom we care for. To leave parasites unharmed is to actively permit harm to the host creature. We may not treat our decisions on the subject lightly but in the end of the day it presents us with a dilemma and we all make judgement calls about the matter. We must. But in no way does that let us off the hook as far as conscience is concerned.

Conflicts and conscience

I know I am not alone in being conflicted. I have spoken to other vegans who are similarly pained by the compromises forced on them by circumstance, illness, poverty, or simply the fact of trying to live vegan in a nonvegan world. Some rescues are unwilling to take on individuals of species that are not by nature vegetarian, preferring instead to seek adoptive homes for them. It’s not my place to judge or even hold an opinion about that. I must simply understand, trusting their integrity and empathising from experience with the sleepless nights that I know these decisions will have caused. 

At the end of the day, veganism is a principle that provides a template to guide our decision making. It can never be absolute, because we are not all the same. I’m the first person to hold up my hand about my many failings and have done so often in a very public way. That has been a conscious choice, however none of us is obliged to explain or justify ourselves in order to satisfy the random judgements of those who don’t know anything about us. For each of us, what keeps us awake at night are not the opinions of strangers, but our own conscience; considering and squaring our own behaviour and decisions with it. It can give us a really hard time and sometimes our relationship with it is, at best, an uneasy truce.

But in the end, that unique and highly individual conscience is our guide to the very best vegan life we can manage.  For some of us that just has to be enough.

 

Posted in Advocacy | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Words of concern – how to mean them

Trish rescued by Eden Farmed Animal Sanctuary. She was too ill to be saved.
https://edenfarmedanimalsanctuary.com/

When confronted with an article or post about a poorly individual who has been rescued from being used as a human resource, it is not unusual to read furious criticisms:

1) about the farmer / breeder,
2) about the absence of veterinary care, or
3) about the apparent apathy of the XYZPCA organisations that are fancifully imagined to care about such matters and implement ‘laws’ to prevent them.

I don’t know if those who still cling to the notion that consumers can duck responsibility for the consequences of their demands are vegan or not, but based on my own memories, I’d guess possibly not. I suspect in my nonvegan past it might have eased whatever conscience I might have had to think that someone, somewhere was caring for my victims when I clearly wasn’t. Like all nonvegans, I was very quick to claim that I cared for ‘animals’ in general while my every action proved such claims to be complete nonsense. I’ve referred to all these things in previous blogs but I’m aiming to stick to the point here. Follow the links for more on a particular subject.

It’s a matter of profit

Products derived from the lives and bodies of our fellow creatures are sold in shops and restaurants at bargain basement prices. It is simply a fact that the majority of people don’t have lots of money and we all need to get as much as we can for what we can afford to spend. In a society where life is so cheap that needlessly slaughtering hundreds of millions of innocent individuals every day, incarcerating millions of mothers to pump out their breastmilk, taking the eggs from billions of hens selectively bred to self destruct, flaying skin, shaving fibres and all the other horrors of nonveganism are not even considered to be atrocities, it’s no surprise that our species’ fundamental lack of reverence for life is reflected in our nonvegan shopping habits. Demand for cheap products is what keeps prices low. We give it very little thought, but it’s the truth.

So we look for cheap products.  And meanwhile, far from being the ‘labour of love’ that some frame it as, farmers, breeders and their enablers are key participants in a demand-led supply industry. Like any other business, they’re in it for the money and work on the principle of ‘least outlay for maximum profit’. Although still reaping the benefits of state subsidies, their income is affected by the cost of the body parts at the point of sale. Which as I’ve pointed out, is cheap. This affects what they’re prepared to spend in terms of accommodation, feed, and also the lifespan of their ‘assets’. It is desirable for victims to reach the point of optimum profitability in as short a time as possible to cash in on the investment.

So here let’s bring in the ‘veterinary care’ aspect.

Reality check about veterinary care

When was the last time you visited the vet with a family member? It’s expensive. Very expensive. The last time I had investigations carried out for two members of my family I had very little change from £800 which is well over a month’s income for me. To be absolutely blunt, if I had been planning to sell their bodies to a butcher, there would have been no way I could have broken even, far less made a profit and that was for a single visit. And to continue in that vein, if indeed they had been destined – as many ‘farmed’ victims are – for their body parts, eggs and breastmilk to be consumed, shoppers would be outraged to discover that drugs and medications of any kind were ‘contaminating’ their purchases.

Every user of veterinary services is subject to the same costs. Because I love my family for who they are, I seek help for them. If they were business assets from which I was planning to profit financially, my decision would have to be based on whether there was any financial gain to be had from spending money on expensive veterinary treatment.

And before anyone starts resorting to rhetoric about the pain, suffering of the victims and compassion for their plight, please don’t. If consumers or suppliers truly cared about these individuals for the thinking, feeling individuals that they are, they wouldn’t be victims in the first place. Because ALL nonvegan use is unnecessary.

We simply don’t get to claim we care while doing something that proves we don’t.

Okay so what about the XYZPCA – isn’t there a law against this?

Now here, many are possibly saying yeah I can see how the money thing works – that makes sense (or at least it does to me), but what about the XYZPCA? Surely that’s what they’re for – to step in and help? This is something I’ve written so much about that possibly people have been put off by the long posts. Suffice to say there is a fundamental misunderstanding about the function of these organisations, about the term ‘welfare‘ which they bandy about so much and about the laws and ‘regulations‘ that are imagined to protect our victims.

Regulations and guidelines are not designed to protect the well-being, the experiences or the individual autonomy of those who are ‘farmed’ as victims, a fact that seems to escape us, considering the shock and outrage of online responses to extracts from guidelines issued by said XYZPCA organisations when they appear on social media; for example extracts describing how to carry out various mutilations, ‘thumping’  piglets, ‘gassing’ and ‘maceration’ of hatchlings, stunning, live transport and a myriad other standard regulated and perfectly legal practices.

It’s clear that shocked commenters don’t expect ‘welfare’ organisations to be advising on stocking densities, slaughter methods and the like. But once we stop imagining that ‘welfare’ has anything to do with our victims’ wellbeing or rights as individuals, it all makes complete sense. That’s what these organisations are actually employed to do, to advise regarding the minimum and/or most profitable standards by which victims may be commodified.

I like the explanation provided by Go Vegan World:

‘Those who profit from them defend their use of them by referring to the ‘animal welfare standards’ which guide their work. Let’s be absolutely clear about what animal welfare means. It is an industry term that refers to the legal breeding of sentient animals into a life where they are deliberately killed.

It refers to the minimum standards by which other animals can be owned, commodified, and exploited. It refers to standard legal practices such as hyperconfinement, mutilation, electrocution, gassing, live mincing, scalding, separating mothers from their babies, and breaking the bonds between animals who know each other. It includes taking their milk and eggs, and it includes killing them.’

Go Vegan World

I was going to summarise in a closing paragraph but as I said, I’m aiming to be brief. So I’ll just repeat what I said earlier.

We simply don’t get to claim we care while doing something that proves we don’t. If we care we become vegan. If we refuse to be vegan, it’s a statement we don’t care. Which is it to be?

Posted in Addressing resistance to change, Advocacy, consumer demand, property status, welfare | Tagged , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Lies, damn lies, and statistics*

Summary (for clear image)

February is the month that FAO (The Food and Agriculture Organization, a specialised agency of the United Nations) publishes the annual global statistics of the number of land-based individuals slaughtered in the latest statistical year, which is currently 2019. This is the fourth year that I’ve looked at these figures and blogged about them. 

First of all I’d like to express gratitude to my friend, committed activist Markus Bøhning whose many vegan projects include tierrechtsaktivistenbuendnis. This year, he was the one who crunched the numbers from FAOSTAT’s raw data, examining the statistics back to when they were first published in 1961. It’s thanks to him that we’re able to look confidently at patterns and trends from year to year. But before diving into what the latest numbers tell us, context is vital; there are several things that need to be said.

Those who have read my blogs in the past will have observed a sense of  increasing urgency, summed up in my ‘statistics’ blog of March 2019;

‘Make no mistake. We are now in the midst of the fight of our lives; the fight for THEIR lives, and the fight for the very existence of our living world. We no longer have options. Anyone who tells us differently, has a vested interest in lying to us.’

So where do we hope we are now?

If you’re reading this I’d like to start by asking you a question. I’m not expecting – or even wanting – an answer, but whatever it is just hold the thought in your head once you reach a conclusion. Okay. Here we go. One question, two parts:

Q – a) Judging by what you hear and see and read on social and mainstream media, and taking into account advertising, publicity and the availability of plant-based and/or ‘vegan’ options in shops, restaurants, stores and manufacturers, do you think that plant-based consumption /veganism  is on the rise? 

b) If you do think it’s on the rise, and if like many you think it’s taking off in a big way, what would be your conclusion about the consequent impact on nonvegan animal use and exploitation? 

It’s an interesting question, isn’t it?  You may think it’s a no-brainer and I’m going to help out a bit here. Here’s what I would answer if I wasn’t so determined to look behind the hype. I’d say that plant based options are definitely on the up and up although not fast enough for my liking. However I’d also conclude that if that’s true, then logically the use and consumption of other animals should be either reducing or holding steady, taking into account the increasing human population. And I’d be wrong.

Slaughter numbers per head of human population

Now take a look at the numbers – I’ve included a link to an Excel summary which is clearer. The first thing to notice is that slaughter numbers have INCREASED between 2018 and 2019 by over 3.5 BILLION.  Now I’ve seen lots of patronising and even dismissive comments about the increase being accounted for by an increasing population. For this reason, a new number has been included with this summary that indicates the number slaughtered for each member of the human global population.

And that number is going UP.

Which means that all the feel-good hype about plant based diets is just wishful thinking until that number starts to fall. 

And for those who claim that breeding, eating and using our fellow animals to death is just what humans have always done, here’s a horrifying snippet of information. In 1961 when these records first began, that number was 2.70 per person. The number of defenceless creatures slaughtered per human has gone from 2.70 to 10.34 in 70 years. It doesn’t require any particular insight to realise that on a finite planet this is unsustainable in terms of land use, species extinction, climate collapse, human health, pandemics and zoonotic disease, antibiotic resistance, need I go on?

Chickens. It’s always chickens.

Here’s another thing the statistics tell me. The numbers of most individuals tend to fluctuate – some go up, some go down. But in keeping with last year where the bulk of the 2.2 billion increase on the previous year was accounted for by slaughtered chickens, we have the same pattern repeating itself here. Of the 3.5 billion overall increase, 3.3 billion of the victims are chickens.

The enormity of this outrage is impossible to express. It certainly should be rocking the boat of complacency, and the wishful thinking about  the uptake of ‘plant-based options’; screaming out to all who will listen just exactly why we are in such dire peril from a predicted Avian Flu pandemic that could leave COVID19 looking gentle by comparison. Incidentally, millions of defenceless birds are currently being slaughtered as I write this, in what are predicted to be futile attempts to stem the jumping of the species barrier to humans, but I know – and if you’re paying attention, you know too – that it’s only a matter of time. We may already be out of time as a species.

The take-home message

It’s hard not to feel discouraged as I know only too well. The situation is clearly getting worse rather than better and the monstrous brutality of our species is accelerating. 

One thing is for sure. We are fooling ourselves if we embrace the capitalist consumer extravaganza of plant-based options aimed at nonvegans as a solution to the demise of planet Earth. The statistics show that these are supplementing rather than replacing the use and slaughter of defenceless creatures.

I’ve written before about why it’s important to realise that veganism isn’t a diet. The statistics emphasise that ‘eating plant based’ without a moral commitment to becoming vegan, to stopping all use of other species, is having no visible effect on the unfolding catastrophe. 

We have to wake up and realise that our job as animal rights advocates is just being made a whole lot harder by a media circus spinning fantasies of a ‘vegan revolution’. The fact is that although more nonvegans may be supplementing their diets with plant-based products, veganism ISN’T on the rise, and we can’t even think of easing off.  We owe it to the victims of nonveganism to promote veganism and absolutely nothing less.  

It remains to be seen whether the impact of COVID19 upon humans will result in their finally realising that unless we change our ways radically, we truly are sunk. We can live in hope but I, for one, won’t be holding my breath until the statistics are released in 2022 and 2023.

 

 

Notes

NB

1 – The numbers above do not include numerous other groups including:

  • Marine creatures – estimated deaths 2.7 trillion annually. 
  • Male chicks killed by the egg industry (which is currently celebrating an increase in consumption) – currently estimated at 7.4 to 8 billion annually;
  • Bees in the honey industry;
  • Silk worms;
  • Frogs, snails and other amphibians;
  • Insects such as crickets executed for ‘novelty’ and ‘alternative protein’ markets;
  • Dogs, cats and other species slaughtered in ‘small establishments’, ‘backyards’ or slaughterhouses not contributing to FAOSTAT;
  • Wildlife dying from loss of habitat and climate change caused by farming other species;
  • Laboratory test subjects.
  • Insects farmed for consumption – estimated at least 1 trillion
  • Members of all species who die before slaughter for a multitude of reasons including disease and injury, having been discarded by the slaughterhouse because only healthy animals are ‘fit’ for meat production. Depending on the species, this number may be up to 10% of the slaughter total – in this case over 8 billion more deaths than are recorded.

2 – And that list is attributable mainly to the market for consumption. Numbers skyrocket once we add in those whom we victimise for other reasons, such as:

  • Individuals slaughtered for their fur, fleece or skin;
  • Trophy hunting;
  • ‘Culling’ of indigenous creatures so the ‘farmed’ animal profits may be maximised;
  • Deaths in the ‘entertainment’ industry;
  • Deaths of individuals incarcerated in various establishments such as zoos, safari and water parks etc.
  • Individuals caught in the wild to be traded as ‘pets’;
  • Individuals whose bodies are used for ‘medicine’ or as ingredients in toiletries, cosmetics or other consumer goods.

3 – Please note that FAOSTAT’s statistics for each year are amended over the course of that year. That is why, for the purpose of this blog, the statistics used are those released in February rather than the amended (increased) numbers from the end of the statistical year. 

4 – Just for interest, the following are the links to previous blogs on this subject

2020 re 2018 stats – Slaughter numbers jump by 2.2 billion
2019 re 2017 stats – Ending life as we know it – humanity on the edge of the abyss
2018 re 2016 stats – Statistics: a list of individual tragedies

*The further I looked for the origin of the title phrase, the less sure I was of the attribution. I didn’t make it up but it seemed an appropriate title for this blog.

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