Straight talking about ‘factory farming’

There seems to be some sort of blind spot in our collective consciousness about the term ‘factory farming’ and all the various types of *CAFO in which our numerous species of victims are incarcerated.

For a start, the creating of victims and keeping them alive until they are executed in response to consumer demand is a practice known as ‘farming’, a term we are raised to mistakenly view as benign and bucolic. There’s nothing benign or bucolic about creating unnecessary victims. Nevertheless, popular mythology suggests that these ‘farms’ have a range of options by which to conduct the practices that are needed to meet consumer demand. ‘Factory farms’ are widely vilified as some sort of particularly brutal or ‘cruel‘ option. On the other hand, establishments with different labels like ‘family’, ‘organic’, ‘local’ are held up to be more ‘ethical’ or even ‘humane’ in some way that quite frankly escapes me. But then, comparing types of torture has never appealed to me.

What rarely seems to be confronted is that it’s the practice of ‘farming’ itself that is the real problem; the flawed concept of needlessly creating victims out of unconsenting and defenceless individuals; not only is it completely unnecessary but it is also destroying the planet while making humans sick. That’s the fundamental problem – NOT the type of establishment in which it occurs.

It’s all about scale

I’ll come back to ‘factory farming’ in a minute but before I do, let’s continue with my simplified take on where we are as a species that is destroying the planet that we all call home. The key thing to note is that the human population of this planet is currently 7.7 billion and rising exponentially. Most of these humans have been encouraged to think they need to use and consume other species for their wellbeing, and the industries that make money from ignorance on such a breathtaking scale, are working very hard to foster and maintain that ignorance. As information about plant-based nutrition and the calamitous ecological impact of farming – ALL farming of lives – becomes more widely known, vested interests are becoming increasingly blatant in their attempts to retain their income (follow the money), and as yet, the truth is not spreading fast enough.

Farming takes up a lot of space to grow plants to feed to our victims

This human population of 7.7 billion currently demands that almost 75 billion members of other species (almost 10 times the human population) be ‘farmed’ for use and consumption each and every year.

Every one of these victims requires to eat, so that’s 75 billion mouths to feed each year before we even think about feeding humans. These corpses, breast milk, eggs and body parts do not come close to meeting the nutritional requirements of the human population because although these 75 billion have **converted feed into whatever substance the victim makers require to profit from financially, all members of animal species are inefficient converters of food into what our exploitative species thinks of as ‘resources’. We all eat food to live, to stay warm, to provide us with energy, to build and repair our bodies and our victims are like us in this, as in almost every other sense.

When we are feeding others with the intention of slaughtering and eating them, eating their eggs or breastfeeding from their bodies, the physics of ‘feed conversion’ inevitably results in a nutritional output that is only a tiny percentage of what they were given to eat. And as biological plant eaters, the one thing that we do actually need to consume for our wellbeing is plants. So every year, on top of growing plants to feed the 75 billion, we have to grow an additional supply of plants for ourselves. As indeed we have done up to now, although the news this month is increasingly worrying as supplies falter around the globe.

Also this week, the Amazon rainforest has been in the news, with deforestation recently escalating by between 60 to 88.4%. It’s now running at the equivalent of 1.5 football pitches per minute. This is being driven by – any guesses? Well just in case there’s any doubt, while there will no doubt be an instant return for the loggers, the real driving force is the need for grazing for victims to supply the escalating global population’s demand for dead flesh.

Please just let the scale of this sink in; 7.7 billion of us (and increasing by the minute), 75 billion nonhuman victims – not counting our 2.7 trillion aquatic victims and numerous other groups. Every year, year in year out.

Farming needs space to incarcerate our victims

And here, after a bit of a circuitous route, let’s come back to the term ‘factory farming’. Rather than being some particularly barbaric choice, factory farming is the inevitable consequence of a massive population with an insatiable demand for death and destruction and very little space in which to indulge that proclivity.  Protesting about it is a complete waste of time although many large ‘welfare‘ organisations raise funds on the strength of the misdirection; it’s actually the only way there is to meet demand, and only a vast reduction in that demand could ever have made any impact on it.

As the lungs of the planet disappeared at the rate of several football pitches while I was writing this, we have run out of space to incarcerate our billions of annual victims. Even if it were true that there was some difference between needlessly creating victims and keeping them alive until they are executed in one place as opposed to another, it’s just not feasible to have these rolling pastures of our nursery rhymes on a planet in its death throes.

This means that every time we point the finger at ‘factory farming’ as the problem, every time we sanctimoniously promote labels like ‘family’, ‘organic’, ‘local’, every time we comment or post or write about animal rights and slip in the word ‘factory’, we are encouraging the view that there’s a different type of farming that is ethical. And that’s not the case. There just isn’t, although it’s such an unwelcome message that the majority of humans will grasp at any straws that they can find to continue to feel ‘ethical’ without changing their behaviour.

If we were all to stop buying death and destruction now at this moment, while lobbying governments to stop subsidising it and listen instead to what the health authorities have been saying for years, it would take some time, but eventually the death cycle would slow and stop.

Even so, there’s no guarantee that our world is saveable for the life forms who currently regard it as home, but at least one thing is true; each of us who withdraws from participating in the practices that are depriving us all of a future will be able to meet their own eyes in the mirror and know that at least they tried. Maybe that’s the best we can hope for at this stage.

Be vegan.

*A concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO), as defined by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), is an animal feeding operation (AFO) in which over 1000 animal units are confined for over 45 days a year.

**Feed Conversion Rate is a ratio or rate measuring of the efficiency with which the bodies of our victims convert feed into the desired output.

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What are eggs for?

Most of us are raised to eat eggs. I was. Probably you were too. We are taught that laying eggs is just what hens and quail, ducks, geese and several other species do. And to a certain extent, that’s true. They do lay eggs; but then so do robins and blackbirds, sparrows and hawks, woodpeckers and magpies and wrens. All birds lay eggs.

So apart from the fact that many birds are protected by law, why would it never occur to us to help ourselves to the eggs of a blue tit or a crow, a chaffinch or a jay, or any of the birds whose antics give us so much pleasure in our gardens or on our window sills?

Well it’s obvious, isn’t it? These birds need their eggs. Their eggs are the beginning of the family they create once or maybe twice each year. For each family, it’s a huge and draining investment of nutrients for the mother’s body to create, and a massive labour of time and devotion sometimes undertaken by both parents to raise their hatchlings to independence. It would be unforgivable to take their eggs. We all know that and we’d never dream of it.

So what’s different about hens?

So since we all agree about that, what’s different then about the other eggs, particularly hens’ eggs; the ones humans eat?

‘They’re different’, we’re taught. ‘Hens lay far more eggs than they need, even without being fertilised. It’s just what they DO,’ we’re told, ‘They’d lay them even if we didn’t take them.’ And we conclude from this that we might as well and it must be okay.

Now here’s the thing. WHY do you think it happens that hens lay so many eggs even without being fertilised? WHY would they be so different from every other species of bird on the planet? We’re not encouraged to even ask those questions, are we? We’re encouraged to think it’s all just ‘another of nature’s miracles’.

Image by Jo-Anne McArthur / We Animals

Only it isn’t. There’s a reason, and here it is: They do it because humans have tampered with their genes to select characteristics that serve our interests and make profit for our species. Instead of laying two clutches like other birds, like their wild ancestors used to do, each frail little egg-laying hen now lays up to 350 eggs in a year and scientists are working to increase that number even further. It’s all about maximum output for minimum outlay. Profit is the principle that underpins all our use of other species.

And here’s something else no one wants us to think about. These fragile little creatures were not designed by nature to be used in this hideous way; it’s not how they evolved at all. Their bodies wear out; they become exhausted, depleted, diseased and broken. The industry word to describe them then, is ‘spent’; defined as ‘having been used and unable to be used again.’ They are packed into crates, trucked off to a slaughterhouse and replaced with a new crop of victims.

Image by This is an egg laying hen rescued from a truck that overturned on its way to a slaughterhouse. Note her mutilated beak.

All the hens who are used for eggs have undergone the same genetic tampering, the same selective breeding. Their wild counterparts, like all wild birds, invest the nutrients and effort that all eggs demand from the body of the mother, to create and raise a family. The birds whose eggs we eat have this natural investment in the next generation subverted. Instead of investing in the future of their own species, we use them to death.

And that’s why, although we may rescue a hen from a cage or a shed, and no doubt use her in a more pleasant environment, she is still being used. We can never rescue her from the self-destructive body that our species has forced her to inhabit. Vegans who rescue hens either feed their eggs back to them to replace lost nutrients, or have a vet administer hormone implants to interrupt egg laying.

To continue to use her for eggs that we consume ourselves is not vegan and it’s not ‘rescue’. It’s just a change of prison.

Be vegan.

If you’d like to know more about issues mentioned here there are a number of links in the following posts:

Hens and puppy mills – an analogy
In a nutshell: why all egg use is inhumane
Chickens and eggs – what about the males?

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Talking about weather, fruit and vegetables

Credit CC0 Public Domain

Reading the daily litany of the disasters that we humans are wreaking on our dying planet through our irresponsible actions, my attention was snagged by news of the storm-wrought crop failure and the resulting declaration of a ‘natural emergency’ in parts of France. It’s not the only place that’s buckling under the strain of climate change, but the western world in general is very good at ignoring what happens in places that don’t directly affect us. For Scotland, this is quite literally getting much closer to home.

I find my writing increasingly needs to combine my focus on animal rights with the environmental consequences of our own species’ actions. The planet we are destroying is theirs as much as ours. In sawing off the branch our species is sitting on, we must never forget that our victims are sitting on it alongside us, helpless passengers on our self-driven journey to ruin. And so it was that I found my thoughts wandering on the subject of crops.

‘The berries’ and ‘the tatties’

Firstly potatoes; one of my favourite foods. In recent years these have become increasingly expensive while the quality has steadily diminished. I recall that in my ignorant, unchallenging and nonvegan youth, the scabby, damaged and rotten parts of the crop would have been considered to be food for the nonhumans who are ‘farmed’ for our use; they would have been pig food, cattle food. I dread to think what our victims are being fed nowadays, if what is being sold to my species is considered to be the pick of the crop. Many shops are trying to turn this into a virtue, using advertising spin to make misshapen and damaged fruit and vegetables appealing. It’s the capitalist way and once you spot this spin in action, you’ll see it everywhere.

It’s also worth mentioning soft fruit. I live in an area in Scotland that is traditionally renowned for strawberries and raspberries amongst other soft fruits, and in my youth it was traditional for children and often their extended family, to ‘go to the berries’, picking fruit during the days of the school summer holidays. It was hard and back-breaking work with the meagre payment based on the quantity ‘weighed in’.

For the fortunate few this was pocket money, but for the vast majority it was an essential supplementary income for the family.  Rural schools even traditionally had an extra two weeks’ holiday in the autumn to ‘go to the tatties’ (take part in the potato harvest) and in my memory’s minds eye I can see the tattie-pickers bent double in the chilly fields, frozen hands picking up the crop, dragging plastic clothes basket type receptacles along the ‘dreels’ (furrows) after the tractor had turned over the soil. Again, many families literally depended on this income.

Now setting apart that socio-economic and technological changes have seen this work become less popular, allocating it increasingly to low-paid, overworked migrant workers, often without rights to protect their working conditions, I look out my window on a completely changed landscape. I’ve mentioned potatoes. The climate here has become increasingly less conducive to the old ways and almost all berries are now grown in vast polytunnels, stretching across the valley like a space-age vision of an alien planet. Only thus protected can they survive the erratic temperatures and rainfall.

Crop failure and our victims

The inevitable conclusion we must draw is that crop failure is becoming increasingly common and all the science tells me we are seeing and will continue to see the phenomenon escalate exponentially. Even the quality of traditional crops is declining and will continue to do so because the climate they need simply doesn’t exist any more. We are all facing a time when there will be fewer plants available for us. That time is not some distant day that need not concern us yet; it’s happening now.

Now ‘animal farming’ is another term for creating and maintaining a supply of victims so that our species can continue to indulge our brutal and environmentally calamitous obsession with using and consuming other living beings; causing escalating levels of disease in our own species by killing and using others in the ultimate act of tragic irony.

Doing the sums

My thoughts meandered onto the maths, sums that examine only land-based creatures farmed for consumption – which is in itself a huge simplification, discounting possibly trillions of creatures killed either directly or indirectly through our usurping of their habitats to facilitate the ‘farming’ of the species used for profit. The estimated 2.7 trillion aquatic lives we take and the trashing of the marine environment is a separate issue that I won’t cover here. Interested in finding out more? Check out the site Truth or Drought which is always factual and informative.

Nonhumans: In a single year, human animals slaughter almost 75 billion  (75,000,000,000) members of other land-based species. That’s almost 10 times the number of humans that currently live on the planet. From conception until slaughter, these victims of ours require food. And what do they eat? Plants. Thus, in addition to the ground where our nonhuman victims are incarcerated, land is required to grow enough food for them.

Apart from the **health issues caused by the fact that humans are not designed to consume animal-derived substances and require to heavily supplement any such diet with plants (!) for nutrition, the resultant *quantity of the substance thus obtained is only a fraction of the quantity of plant substances consumed by our victims. So anyway – to return to the point – every year that’s 75 billion mouths to feed before humans eat a thing.  And what is achieved by this annual atrocity is not nearly sufficient to feed the human population either in quantity or nutritional value.

Humans: There are currently 7.7 billion (7,700,000,000) humans on the planet. Not only are they physically capable of eating plants, but doing so spares those who are needlessly persecuted for their flesh, their breast milk and their eggs while maintaining or improving human health and simultaneously reducing the damage caused to the planet by animal agriculture which science increasingly recognises as a pivotal driver of climate change.

So in the end of the day, here are questions to ponder. The time is fast approaching when choices will have to be made; feed our victims or feed ourselves?

IF our species is still around when the day arrives that there are enough plants to feed only 7.7 billion individuals (or the human population at the time), who will eat and what will they eat?

To me the answer is clear and there’s no time to lose. The world belongs to all its inhabitants equally.  Our destructive species needs to stop bringing innocent lives into the world for our needless indulgence. As shoppers, we need to stop putting desecrated body parts into our shopping trolleys; if we stop buying, creating victims eventually becomes unprofitable.

Be vegan.  Now.

*For anyone interested, due to the economic implications of treating living creatures as commodities ‘farmed’ for profit, the internet is a rich source of information about ‘conversion ratios’ as this change from plant to animal substance is known.

**Human health: evidence based, scientific and free:

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Life is cheap when it’s not respected

Image by Jo Anne McArthur / We Animals

Every day we see media reports of human actions that seriously beggar belief. Last week I read about extreme violence being inflicted on motherless calves in a victim ‘farming’ establishment of the breast milk trade (aka ‘dairy‘); I read about laughing fishermen hacking the tail off a shark before setting the now defenceless, mutilated, bleeding individual who could no longer swim, adrift to die in agony while filming themselves clearly enjoying their brutality.  A few days earlier I read of a raccoon who had been tormented by laughing, mocking humans until the panic stricken creature was forced from a boat so far from land that survival was impossible.  Who knows what I’ll read tomorrow?

I would be surprised if anyone was reading this while thinking these are just the sort of things they enjoy hearing about. Probably, like me, most readers are feeling some degree of revulsion. I would not even find it surprising if petitions were being planned and exclamations made by those who claim to ‘not believe in cruelty’. Vitriol? Yes I expect there’ll be some of that too, maybe a lot of that; sickened, disgusted and outraged rants about what those who did these things ‘deserved to have done to them’. It’s probably all pretty colourful – the comments on the original posts certainly were. The word ‘cruelty‘ appears regularly.

Common ground

Well consider this: we all readily condemn needless harm being done to those who can’t defend themselves. It hurts or angers us all to be faced with any creature who is being deliberately wounded or hurt. We each like to think of ourself as the sort of person who would not hesitate to protect the innocent, the sort who will stand up and demand justice for the oppressed and persecuted.  Time and time again in exasperation, we shake our heads and demand to know how and why anyone would do such things; we rant and we rage in our despair and our frustration. When we do, it’s clear that each of us has a crystal clear idea of what’s fair and what’s unfair. 

You’ve likely read the same articles that I have, and I know that in each of us this well-developed sense of right and wrong reared up unhesitatingly in blazing condemnation of such monstrous brutality. None of us can excuse the perpetrators of such viciousness, the sickening horror that they rained down onto harmless, unthreatening, and defenceless creatures who tried so desperately to escape, cowering and whimpering in the abject submission that was their only defence. Of course no other species is a match for humans without conscience, humans wielding tools and technology with pitiless brute force. Their lives were taken needlessly, and their pleas were in vain.

So we’ve heard about the calves, the shark and the raccoon. Well there are some other tales that no one has ever told you.  

The untold stories: two piglets

There’s an untold tale of two piglets who were the best of friends. They were together all their lives, those six whole months from when the icy draught blew through the gaps in the shed that was the only world they had known, until the days turned inexplicably warmer.  They slept together every night on the metal-barred and concrete floor, nose to nose, friends, each the only comfort that the other had ever known. As the days became lighter and the air more fetid, occasionally a scent wafted by that they did not recognise. It was the scent of leaves, of rain and of blossom, none of which they had ever seen or known.

One sweet-smelling day the humans with hard hands and electric prods forced them onto a truck where they huddled together, trembling and afraid, as they had all their lives. And when the time came for the terror and the agony, the knives and the bleeding, a moment finally came as they each hung upside down from one chained leg, when their dying eyes found no comfort in the sight of each other. 

The untold stories: three chickens

There’s another untold tale of three chickens who lived in the same shed all their lives, every single one of the 42 days, while their selectively bred bodies created the designer victims that our species had always intended them to become. Every day their merciless bodies compelled them to eat and eat; every day they got heavier, more breathless, and less mobile. Every day, in their lonely innocence they quietly peeped and chirped, vaguely longing for what none of them had never known; the care, the protective wings, the warm feathered body of a mother. As the days wore on, sometimes they would look around and see others whose legs were unable to bear their weight as they struggled to stand;  would watch nervously the obvious distress of their peers. Every day the burning intensified on their trembling legs, as the stench of ammonia from thousands of bodies made their laboured breathing harder to bear.  On the day the humans came, scooping them roughly into crates, they were too afraid, too broken and too heavy to run away. There was nowhere to run anyway.

Their nightmare continued, hanging upside down, splay legged and sick with terror in the place that stank of fear and blood. And in that dreadful place, one of the three, one of the quaking, motherless infants who were all so lonely and so afraid, was so desperate for comfort that he was struggling to hide his head beneath the wing of the infant at his side as the machinery clanked and whirred, carrying them into the bowels of hell.

More untold tales than could ever be written

There are so many more of these untold stories. In fact there are trillions more every single year. Each one is a tale of loss and of fear, of loneliness and pain. Each tells of grief and of misery, of separation and longing and death.

There are too many tales for anyone to write –  but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist – each life is individual, each life has a story. And each one is as heartbreaking and as harrowing as those about the calves and the shark and the raccoon, but the majority of humans completely ignore their very existence and don’t want to know. So why is this?

These are the stories of the victims of nonveganism. They are the stories of the owners of the body parts and the breast milk, the eggs and flayed skins, the shaved fibres, and plucked feathers.  They are the stories of those whose freedom and graceful beauty have been subjugated and defeated piece by piece for our cosmetics and chemicals, for our sports and our zoos and forced labour.

And in the end it all comes down to this. To be nonvegan, which is to make use of the bodies and lives of those who are innocent and defenceless requires a particular mindset, although from experience we may be unaware of this because we are indoctrinated with it from childhood.  

However once we have accepted that the life of another being has no worth other than to be used for our convenience (it is NOT necessity); once we have decided that their desperate wish to live unharmed is an irrelevance, we don’t even stop to consider them as feeling individuals. We regard them as objects, as resources for our use without conscience and life is cheap when it’s not respected. As human animals we grant ourselves the power of life and death over members of all other animal species; either completely disregarding their individual desires and needs or inventing elaborate excuses to seek to justify our behaviour. 

Yet occasionally a tale is told, like it was about the calves and the shark and the raccoon, and we are swamped with concern and outraged about ‘cruelty‘. Yet there was absolutely no difference between the calves and the shark, the raccoon and the piglets, the chickens, the lambs, the rabbits and the mice and all the others whose deaths we ignore.

If only the other trillions of tales were to be told, would we finally appreciate why, to be the people we already think we are, we must be vegan? 




Posted in Advocacy, Cruelty | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

A brief thought about words: euthanasia

A recent comment sought to amend my terminology when I described the killing of Emma the shih tzu as ‘slaughter’. The terms ‘put to sleep’ and euthanasia’ were not only preferred, but my use of the word ‘slaughter’ was condemned. The comment even went so far as to suggest that it was probably ‘doing a kindness’ to Emma, given the conditions of many shelters.

Such a comment illustrates exactly why, as advocates, our language and terminology are so critical. Regular readers will know that there are certain words that I avoid because I deem them to be ‘trigger words’, terms that provoke such a level of outrage that the original point gets lost in debate about the words themselves, however this is not such a case. This is a case where we need to just tell it like it is.

Killing with ‘kindness’

I’ve no doubts that the terms ‘put to sleep’ and euthanasia’ do make people far more comfortable, in exactly the same way as the myriad other euphemisms that we use to describe the unnecessary and brutal taking of body parts and unconsenting servitude, their life and their joy from so many trillions of defenceless creatures every year.

The phrase ‘put to sleep’ is the one we use to explain assisted death to children. It’s deliberately woolly, and has its place in the process when parents are gently explaining the realities of living and dying. In this context it’s an obvious refusal to confront the morality of Emma’s situation.

‘Euthanasia’ is defined as the painless killing of a patient suffering from an incurable and painful disease. Emma was not ailing and she wanted to live. No matter how painless it may have been, her killing most certainly was not euthanasia.

Speciesism in action

The other point that can’t be avoided is the fact that anyone would even consider it appropriate to do this ‘kindness’ for Emma. Consider if Emma had been a human child, the beloved daughter of the deceased woman. Regardless what her ‘last request’ was, would it have been considered acceptable to have the child ‘put to sleep’ or ‘euthanised’ and cremated for burial with her parent on the basis of the challenges inherent in state orphanage provision or adoption and fostering?

I think we all know the answer to that one. It’s utterly unthinkable. You’re probably even shaking your head at the ludicrousness of the question. And there – right there – we have a perfect illustration of speciesism, which to remind the reader is the practice of according or withholding the rights of others based solely upon their species.

The fact is that by using terms like ‘put to sleep’ and ‘euthanasia’, everyone involved and those who defend them are able to distort their actions and reinvent the narrative. They are framed as no longer immorally taking the life of an individual who wanted to live, but rather ‘doing a kindness to a poor little dog’.

The last word

That’s not to say that there aren’t alternative, perhaps even better words that I could have used, other than slaughter. In fact on reflection, I think there definitely is one.

Although ‘slaughter’ was chosen to remind readers of the parallel that we unnecessarily inflict on trillions of other healthy individuals each year, the word I perhaps should have used is ‘execution’, the carrying out of a death sentence on a condemned individual. Emma was executed.

Whatever the best word may have been, it wasn’t ‘euthanasia’.

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Being property – what it means

There’s a story that’s causing outrage in the media at the moment, about a healthy dog named Emma who was slaughtered and cremated so that her ashes could be buried along with her deceased owner. The comments were predictably scathing, railing against ‘cruelty’, disputing the legality of the deed and expressing contempt for those who carried out the final request of Emma’s deceased owner.

Before I go on, let’s get the situation in perspective by pausing for an analogy.


What if someone had requested that they be buried with their most treasured photographs or some deeply sentimental possessions like books, or items of clothing, jewellery, or ornaments? Or like the pharaohs and some other cultures of the ancient world, what if they had requested that some (or many) precious item(s) that had been significant in life, be buried with them? I’ve recently heard tales of people choosing to be buried in a prized car.  I don’t suppose many would see an ethical problem with such notions, apart from the total impracticality of the space it would take up if everyone was to do it. I think the general consensus would be a shrug, indicating that although it may be incomprehensible why anyone would want to do the more extreme things, we recognise others’ right to choose what they do with their own possessions.

With me so far? Why are we all so fine with this, do you think? The answer is breathtakingly simple. Every one of us is thinking about inanimate objects. They’re things; perhaps precious to the deceased but they’re clearly not other living individuals. In fact that’s the point at which we all begin to get uncomfortable and – let’s be honest – rather judgemental; the point where we hear about funeral rituals where the living are, or were, interred or immolated alongside the deceased, whether as slaves destined to serve the dead in some hoped-for afterlife, or for some other reason. That’s where it becomes a completely different matter for the majority of us.

Okay, so what’s actually different about this situation involving Emma? I’ve seen outraged comments, seeking to convey something so obvious that it almost defied expression; Emma was a living individual. She was healthy and clearly not ready to die. It’s clear that almost every single person expressing an opinion totally ‘gets’ the concept of Emma’s life, and her right to live it, at a deeply instinctive level. We can all see the immense injustice of what was done to this innocent and blameless little creature. We can all recognise the betrayal of this little dog who simply wanted – and deserved – to carry on living her healthy life.

Wake up call

Yet in fact, what was done to Emma is a perfect illustration of the key legal definition as property that underpins every nonvegan choice that any of us has ever made, a definition without which it is questionable whether nonvegan ‘choices’ would even be legal.

So this is where we have to all wake up from the cosy land of make-believe and the myths with which we are indoctrinated from childhood. Whatever we may fondly imagine about the world in which we live, the laws, the regulations, even the governing and commercial structures that enable a nonvegan way of life and facilitate our demands as consumers are designed to make what happened to Emma perfectly legitimate and not even open to question. And they absolutely have to be for our actions to continue.  Read on if you find that shocking.

But…There are laws!

Such legislation as exists relating to members of nonhuman species certainly bestows no protection whatsoever upon them for the vast majority of the vile and unthinkable practices that our species inflicts on them. This brief talk by Lesli Bisgould, Canada’s first animal rights lawyer, explains the reality so well.

Other animals are legally defined as the property of our species.

Every time a similar situation evokes a widespread emotive response in the way that Emma’s slaughter has, and I write about it as I did about Cecil the lion,  and the floods in Carolina, it surprises me how few people had appreciated all the terrible implications of ‘the property status of animals’. Although the phrase is one that many activists, including myself, have used, it’s clear that few recognise the true significance of the words; few understand what it truly means for a living, breathing individual who values life and living, to be the property of another species that values them only for the use that can be made from them.

It needs to be stressed that this ‘property status’ is not some legal technicality that prevents every other species from sharing in the privileges that humans accord themselves in this world that we are destroying at a breathtaking rate. It’s not some legal hocus-pocus that’s needed so we don’t have to give members of other species the right to vote or drive vehicles. ‘The property status of animals’ has very real and utterly predictable consequences that are as sickening as they are inevitable; it means we can do what we like to them and in the vast majority of instances, commit no offence.

This status that our species accords to other living creatures whereby we designate them as our ‘property’, is the one that facilitates that carton of breast milk in the fridge, that dead flesh, those eggs on the supermarket shelves. It’s what enables zoos and animal testing laboratories to exist, how we manage to use others for forced labour and ‘entertainment’ without being held to account for the absence of consent from our victims.

But… It’s cruelty!

Please see my previous discussion about this subjective concept we call ‘cruelty’. Basically it’s a word that can’t even be objectively defined – it means whatever we want it to mean, whatever suits our purposes.

Once we have decided that the life of another sentient being has no worth other than to be used for our convenience; once we have decided their desperate wish to live unharmed and in peace is an irrelevance, their status as our property facilitates any and all that we need to do to indulge ourselves.

And for as long as the human animals who make up the laws they choose to recognise, grant themselves the power of life and death over members of other animal species; to buy them or sell them or even give them away without being in breach of any law; if we can disregard their preferences and needs to suit our own justifications, then regardless of our intentions, they will continue to be considered to be our property and concern about ‘cruelty‘ is an irrelevant effort to salve our conscience for the atrocity.

But… It should be illegal – we need to change the laws!’

Here we have an example of the stark inconsistency with which our species regards other animals. Here, because Emma, a named individual with whom we all empathise, is being considered and championed, we have a situation where it is crystal clear to so many that we have a moral duty to protect healthy individuals from actions that we all recognise as completely against their interests.  And it should be noted that slaughter,  the usual escape for the majority of our victims, is always against their interests.

Yet on the other side of that same coin the majority hold a contradictory stance regarding the animal species that it suits us to use to death and/or slaughter in infancy to gorge on their dead flesh. The very fact that as ‘property’ in the eyes of the law, they have no rights and no recognition of their interests, is what enables our brutal use of them, and the suggestion that it could ever become illegal is often used as an unsubtle suggestion that any such intervention to protect them would add insult to injury by potential infringement of ‘personal’ choice

I can attribute the following quote only to an unknown law professor.

‘Law has no meaning or relevance outside of society. It both shapes and is shaped by the society in which it functions. Law is made by humans. It protects, controls, burdens and liberates humans, non-human animals, nature, and inanimate physical objects. Like the humans who make it, Law is biased, noble, aspirational, short-sighted, flawed, messy, unclear, brilliant, and constantly changing. ‘

In short, it is society that must change in a way that begins at the level of the individual, and this must happen long before any legislative change can occur. Society as a whole and as a collection of individuals, must first acknowledge what values our laws should enshrine, before that legislation can be adopted.

And so back to Emma

There is no biological or other difference between the species that we brutalise for consumption, and for other purposes such as ‘entertainment’, forced labour, laboratory test subjects, surgical spare parts or simply, as is the case for so many that we consider to be nonhuman family members, as companions or ‘pets’. And in general the law does not differentiate.

So did Emma deserve to live because she was not a thing, not an object like a photograph, an item of clothing, or an ornament? Well, here’s the thing. We can’t have it both ways:

  • We can continue to fabricate myths and fantasies to excuse ourselves for nonveganism when it suits us to use, harm and slaughter them without conscience. To do this, we need to regard them as ‘property’ because the fact of our use of them as resources and commodities denies their every right and interest.
  • Or we can stop.

If we do recognise that Emma deserved her life, then, because they are not in any justifiable sense any different from Emma, we must also recognise the rights of the trillions of other individuals that we slaughter each year for spurious and fabricated reasons.

Only veganism recognises the rights of all individuals – whatever their species – to own their bodies and live their lives so I see it like this. If Emma deserved to live, we need to be vegan.

Posted in Nonhuman family members, property status | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Veganism; do motives matter?

Image by Tras los Muros / Aitor Garmendia

Recently I saw a comment that ‘most people define veganism as the same as a plant based diet‘, before they went on to say, ‘Why does it matter? If people go vegan for health or environment it’s still good for animals too.’ So is that true?

The vegan believes that if we are to be true emancipators of animals we must renounce absolutely our traditional and conceited attitude that we have the right to use them to serve our needs. We must supply these needs by other means. If the vegan ideal of non-exploitation were generally adopted, it would be the greatest peaceful revolution ever known, abolishing vast industries and establishing new ones in the better interests of men and animals alike.

~ Donald Watson (2 September 1910 – 16 November 2005), who coined the word vegan

The first thing that needs to be stressed is that veganism isn’t a fad diet, it isn’t a health kick, it isn’t an environmental stategy. It’s a moral decision, taken on an individual basis, to stop using other beings for any and all reasons. Veganism is a rejection of all use of other animals to serve our interests.  That’s not a ‘matter of opinion’ as I’ve seen the uninformed claim. It’s the actual definition. It’s what it is.

So veganism is an acknowledgement of our kinship with the other species with whom we share a planet; it’s a decision to stop the deep injustice of making victims out of them, and it’s made out of respect for those victims. One of the consequences of that decision is to stop using their bodies for food, but it equally impacts on a decision to avoid substances and services that use their lives and bodies in other ways too. The food vegans eat is often referred to as a ‘vegan diet’ but in fact it is a plant diet and to eat that way is only one manifestation of the single decision to stop using others.

So when we hear about ‘going vegan for health’ or ‘going vegan for the environment’ it illustrates that many people don’t understand what veganism actually is.  Quite understandably, and possibly because they don’t know what veganism is, they fail to see that it could be a problem as long as animals are not being eaten. So I have been wondering if they could possibly be right, that the net result actually IS the same regardless of motive.

But in the end I decided that I do consider it a problem. And my view has nothing to do with ‘personal purity’ or ‘policing’ or ‘being more vegan than someone else’ or any of the ridiculous accusations that tend to fly; it’s based on a lifetime of knowledge and a deep understanding of how our behaviours as humans can be swayed and affected by the motives behind them. So let’s clarify what is actually meant by ‘going vegan for health’ or ‘going vegan for the environment’; we clearly know what is meant even though, as I’ve said, they are inaccurate terms in themselves.


Now before I go on I’d like to get something out of the way because I’ve been doing this long enough to anticipate irate comments brewing. I know of many people who made the decision to adopt plant diets or change the range of species that they chose to use, for various reasons not necessarily connected with other animals. Many of these people subsequently did make the decision to become vegan and all are glad to have done so. For them, their intitial motivation gave way to a true vegan ethic but it would be wrong to claim that the progression was automatic. In almost every case , some additional information, along with vegan education, provoked the shift.

As an advocate on behalf of the trillions of annual victims of my species, I will not sell them out by promoting anything less than being vegan for our victims. They are depending on every one of us; they have no one but us, and they are queueing in the slaughterhouses as I type.

‘Vegan for health’

‘Going vegan for health’ is used to mean that someone has opted to change their diet to a plant based one because they quite understandably consider that it will improve their health. For whom is this change made? Naturally it’s for the person who wishes their health to be improved; they adopt a diet.

Now given that it’s a diet, several things common to all diets will apply. We all cheat on diets. Go on, tell me you’ve never cheated on a diet and I won’t believe you.

Another phenomenon with diets (Atkins, Keto etc) is seen when media hype either renounces the whole thing, or claims certain aspects of the diet are unhealthy/need supplementation etc. Do we consider changing? Well again, because the reason for the diet is our own health, that’s our priority and it’s very likely we’d follow recommendations / change or stop.

Now given the fact that the animal use industries continuously advertise in ways that mandaciously suggest health and wellbeing both of victims and consumers, as well as paying to produce skewed ‘science’ in their attempts to safeguard their vile trade – it doesn’t take much figuring out to see where someone for whom health is their priority may be tempted. These industries and their ‘farming’ suppliers have for decades got away with the most outrageous lies about the necessity for our health of the horror show that they make vast sums of money from. They make it in sales and in subsidies and they have massive budgets to continue their propaganada machine as well as the clout to influence political and health policies and decisions.

In fact this ‘health centred’ route is the one travelled by so many who proclaim themselves ‘ex-vegans’. And the alacrity with which ‘anti-vegan / pro animal use’ sensationalist media picks up and publicises such stories is surely well known to us all.  The claims made by these alleged ‘ex vegans’ about their need to reintroduce animal bodies to their diets invariably stem from flawed advice and nutritional misunderstandings but that’s not a subject for this essay. The fact is, when motivated by our own health, we can be much more easily swayed by the skillful propaganda being aimed so unscrupulously at those like us by industries that want our cash at any price.

‘Vegan for the environment’

So how about ‘vegan for the environment’? This is taken to mean a decision to adopt a plant diet in the face of almost overwhelming scientific consensus that animal agriculture is a pivotal driver of the climate emergency that is threatening to deprive our children of a future, and in fact will ultimately cause our own extinction as a species. That choice is arguably less self-centred than a similar one made for reasons of personal health but it is still unquestionably human-centred.

Debates are raging – and will continue to do so because so few are willing to accept their own personal role in the problem – but it is deeply disheartening to see how many articles continue to focus the blame for the current crisis on corporations and governments, refusing wilfully to pick up on the elephant in the room. That elephant? This time, it’s animal agriculture, its impact on the planet, the subsidies it continues to attract, and the fact that it is at heart a demand-driven system. Ideally, as an animal rights advocate, I envision that as consumer demand for animal use diminishes through individuals making the decision to opt out of the brutal regime of oppression, governments can finally be pressed to accept the deep immorality of continuing to subsidise a failing industry that is killing the planet.

However meanwhile there’s an unseemly rush in evidence, opportunists seeing the money-making potential of developing scientific and technological means to tackle the mammoth task of planetary cooling and the removal of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere while minimising or even avoiding (!) any fundamental change in our destructive behaviour as a species. Can they do it at all? Can they do it in time? I doubt it, personally. With estimates ranging from 5-12 years before the whole planetary collapse becomes irretreivable, I just can’t see it happening. But if a miracle were to happen and it did, what then?

Well I would bet my boots that once the heat was off (pun intended), ‘vegan for the environment’ would no longer be seen as imperative and like the ‘vegan for health’ motive, adherents of such diets may see no harm in indulging themselves on the dead flesh, breastmilk and eggs of other creatures once again.

Not a diet

My final point on the two dietary options that I’ve talked about here, is that – wait for it – veganism is not a diet. As well as refusing to consume substances derived from the bodies of other creatures, where it is at all possible, vegans make appropriate choices in terms of all other goods and services including toiletries, cleaning materials, clothing, entertainment etc.

Underpinned by the decision to stop the deep injustice of creating victims, no checklist is needed to determine which species deserve to be respected; it’s ALL of them. This is what veganism actually is and once an individual has acknowledged that this is their choice, it is unshakeable. It becomes completely unthinkable to even consider going back on that decision; it becomes an integral part, even the defining part of who we are as individuals.

And that is why I so desperately hope that the commenter is wrong about ‘most people’ thinking in terms of diet, because if they are not, then there is only one group that will lose out by it, as they do every time. That group is our victims; for whom any reprieve as a result of human-centred and self interested motives can be only temporary.

Only on the day they take centre stage and are recognised as individuals with the right to be free of our violence and persecution, owning their bodies and living their lives, will their years of oppression end.

So be VEGAN for them.

Posted in Advocacy, Global disasters, Health and plant based eating | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 16 Comments

Wool; it’s been pulled over our eyes for too long

Baa, baa, black sheep, have you any wool?
Yes sir, yes sir, three bags full!

One for the master,
And one for the dame,
One for the little boy
Who lives down the lane.

Able to recite this before I went to school, this was a significant part of my formal instruction about sheep. Affirming that they exist for our use and are willing and eager to hand over their fleeces, this little rhyme encompassed all the assumptions with which children are indoctrinated about other animal species, their reason for existing, and our assumed requirement and right to exploit them to death. Fast forward a number of years and on social media we frequently see the confident statement:

‘Taking wool doesn’t kill sheep. They have to be sheared so we may as well use the wool – they don’t need it.’

Some of us go through our entire lives without challenging the myths of our childhood . Oh, we dress them up in grown-up words and drape them in cherry picked notions, acquired assumptions, and pseudo science but at their heart they remain simply that. Myths that we somehow grew up knowing; never quite sure how we know them but confident that they must be correct because otherwise we’d surely know.

(In this essay I intend to focus on sheep, but it should be noted that the word ‘wool’ may also refer to the shaved body covering of members of a number of species including goats from whom cashmere and mohair is taken, angora from rabbits, and other types of wool from camelids such as alpaca and llamas.)

So. The myth about sheep and their wool. With a few embellishments depending on our upbringing, it goes something like this:

Sheep are a natural species and man has used them for as far back in time as we know. There are several different breeds. We eat them because they taste good/ because we need to eat animals / because they’d overrun the planet.

Sheep grow thick wooly coats and most of them can’t shed it without help. It makes them overheat so we shave it off for them. They have no use for it after it’s been shaved off so we use it ourselves so as not to waste it.

Was that the sort of idea you grew up with? Me too. Only it’s a million miles away from being that simple. There are holes in that myth that you could drive a bus through but let’s check out some of the facts. (I say ‘some of’ because as I’m editing this, I’m thinking of new points but it’s already well over the length I intended.)

Self interest is a powerful thing

The day I became vegan, little did I realise how that decision marked the first step on a journey of discovery that has led me down many dark and bleak paths. Some days it’s a struggle to close my eyes and ears to my knowledge of the whimpering, blood drenched hell that our wantonly brutal species has created. I am acutely aware of the bleeding, mutilated, broken young creatures who have never known a moment of peace or joy; aware of their pain, the anguish of their broken families, and the degradation that my species routinely inflicts, despite each person being convinced that they’re an ‘animal lover’.  The grim reality of each new discovery makes me buckle with anguish, and so it was with this glimpse into the bleak subject of wool.

The most basic and uninformed of the justifications for using hens for eggs, runs along the lines that ‘hens lay eggs anyway, so it’s a waste not to use them’.  Second only to egg use, come the justifications for using sheep for their wool. ‘It doesn’t kill them. They’d be unwell if they weren’t sheared so we may as well use the wool.’ And as with so many of our ‘justifications’, this one carries the sanctimonious suggestion of bucolic concern for wellbeing, with just a hint of victim consent, positioning our species as compassionate in divesting these unfortunates of the burden of ‘natural’ but inappropriately heavy coats. But let’s get this out of the way right at the start. Wool is an industry of ruthless exploitation. It’s an industry that uses innocent and unconsenting victims, making money from their bodies while disregarding their every interest. Their only escape is through a slaughterhouse.

The history of domestication and the start of selective breeding

Recently I have seen so many people deriding the very idea of selective breeding being used to create ‘designer victims’ for our species. All I can say is that it’s a huge element of our systematic exploitation and has been for a very long time and I last touched on the concept in an essay relating to hens.  Much time and investment goes into maximising the use that can be made of all our victims while minimising the outlay needed to keep them alive until they are ‘spent’ or broken.

Sheep were first domesticated during the period 10,000 – 8,000 BC in Mesopotamia, an ancient region located in the eastern Mediterranean. Remains of domesticated sheep dating back to 5,000 BC have been found there, while the earliest woven wool garments have been dated back to about 4,000 BC.

So there’s the first thing. We frequently hear that ‘it’s always been this way’. It hasn’t.

  • Human ancestors appeared on Earth between 7,000,000 and 5,000,000 (7-5 million) years ago;
  • The earliest fossils of anatomically modern humans lived about 200,000 years ago;
  • Using sheep began 12,000 years at the very most.

So domestication of sheep, like every other species we have forced into servitude, happened in the extremely recent past in evolutionary terms. Basically it’s a new idea. 

The ancestor of modern sheep – the mouflon

Wild sheep looked different from their modern descendants: they had a shorter, coarser fleece and the wool colours were often pigmented. These sheep could not be shorn; instead the wool was plucked by hand.

It is believed that the selective breeding for wooly sheep began around 6,000 BC while efforts to obtain white-fleeced sheep began in Mesopotamia around 3,000 BC. By 600 BC, sheep with characteristics similar to the modern breeds were widespread throughout Western Asia. Selective breeding started very early in the history of our use and continues to this day as we select for the characteristics from which most profit may be made.

Selective breeding for a global industry 

From 476-1453 AD, wool trading flourished in Europe. A fine-wool breed that later became known as ‘merino’ was introduced in the 12th century.

The breed specifics a jealously guarded secret, at one time selling these sheep outside the Spanish empire was a crime punishable by death. However as the empire began to decline, some of these highly prized creatures were gifted to a number of european provinces. Sheep were taken to America in 1492. The Dutch acclimated their gifted Spanish sheep to their South African colonies and from there, several Cape Fat Tail sheep were sold in 1788 to voyagers on their way to Australia.

By 1800, sheep whose bodies grew fine Spanish wool or the coarser British wool had spread across the globe. In response to the burgeoning trade that resulted, Australian wool pioneer John Macarthur successfully lobbied England as early as 1803 to promote and encourage selective breeding in Australia. Today, with a flock estimated at some 70 million individuals, Australia remains the number one wool producer in the world, supplying approximately 25% of the global market. This is followed by China at 18%, USA at 17%, and New Zealand at 11%.

Selection for economically important traits like wool type has resulted in more than 200 distinct breeds of sheep. Some breeds only have hair, some wool and some both. Many – if not most – breeds are multi-functional from a profitable perspective. This means that after an existence being exploited for their wool, their reproductive potential and their breast milk, they are ultimately slaughtered for their dead flesh.

Thus it is another pure fantasy to imagine that sheep ‘aren’t killed’ for their wool. All sheep are brought into the world to be used to death by whatever means, with the aim of generating as much profit for as little outlay as possible.

Of course meddling with nature – which is essentially what selective breeding does – can throw all sorts of metaphorical spanners into the works. An example of this is seen in the case of cat and dog breeds selectively chosen to have the ‘flat’ (brachycephalic) faces that are deemed by some to be aesthetically pleasing.  Many of these individuals are now known to be suffering from a range of health problems, leading to lifelong suffering as a direct result of being ‘designed’ for humans. Breathing problems, eye inflammation, skin infections and difficulty eating are just some of the issues that are being deliberately risked and inflicted, and all for the sake of appearance and the consequent high sums of money that can be made from breeding and selling them.

Routine mutilation

While certain characteristics can be selectively bred at the gene level, there are consequences affecting many of them, consequences that an unscrupulous species such as our own does not hesitate to tackle with a ‘hands-on’ approach – surgical mutilation without anaesthesia. Of course this is invariably presented with the same bucolic sheen as shearing, while being given official-sounding names and being ‘justified’ as a practical measure.

Now some individuals and groups will go on to claim that performing procedures without anaesthesia does not cause sheep pain, since they don’t cry out in agony. However, the sheep is a species that is naturally preyed upon. Like chickens and many other ‘prey’ species, their behaviour has evolved to evade detection and capture by predators. When sheep feel pain, or are aware of life-threatening danger, they won’t cry out but rather they remain silent so as not to attract further predators.

So, what sort of ‘procedures’ are we talking about?

  • Castration: to prevent breeding, aid fattening and reduce aggression, lambs are usually castrated by applying a tight ring,  or else by the use of one of a number of devices resembling medieval torture instruments.  Check the link if you’ve a strong stomach. This is done without anaesthetic.
  • Docking ‘prevents fecal matter from accumulating on the tail and hindquarters of the animal’. Here in the UK all the official ‘welfare’ regulations state that this is to be avoided if at all possible. However as a rural resident for several decades I know for a fact that it is common practice. The fields at this time of year are littered with fallen tails and the adults almost all have docked tails.
  • A particularly stomach-churning practice, mulesing was developed in 1972 and is considered by many to be a routine husbandry procedure, presented as a practical measure to reduce the risk of flystrike. It is most commonly used with Merino sheep, whose woolly wrinkles and folds in the skin around their tails make them especially susceptible to flystrike. Although banned in many countries including, most recently, New Zealand, it is still widely practiced, a consequence of human selective breeding for excessively wrinkled skin in order to grow more wool and make more profit. Mulesing is the cutting away of strips of wool-bearing skin from around the buttocks to leave a gaping wound, and since the scar tissue that grows over the wound does not grow wool, it is less likely to attract flies. Mulesing is not to be confused with crutching (or crotching) which is the removal of wool from around the tail and between the rear legs of a sheep for hygiene purposes. I have not linked an image in keeping with my commitment not to share images that encourage viewers to think there are right ways to commit fundamental atrocities, however if you find it difficult to envisage a sheep who has had this procedure done, I invite you to search ‘mulesing’ on Google and scan through the images. You’ll get my drift.
  • Ear tagging, notching, and other asset/resource cataloguing  Because in the eyes of the law, nonhuman individuals are deemed to be the property of humans, their right to live, even their right to own themselves and their own bodies is not acknowledged.  In essence they have no recognised rights whatsoever. As the property of humans they are nothing more than business assets, commodities and resources, brought into the world to make as much profit as possible for humans.  As any business must keep track of its assets they are tagged /ear notched /branded /tattooed and/or chipped  depending on their species.


And let’s not forget the shearing procedure itself. Having witnessed this at first hand many times, it is not a gentle process even when observing every guideline in the book.  Sheep are recognised to be easily frightened, stressed or injured and are rightly wary of humans. For them all, it is extremely traumatic to be tipped onto their backs and held down, subjected to the noise and chatter of hard-handed strangers making themselves heard over the buzz of electric clippers or the clack of hand-held clippers.  Many sheep struggle in panic with horrific consequences and I have witnessed many cut and bleeding creatures flee back to their comrades in wide-eyed and abject terror once released. To minimise risk to humans, it is not uncommon in some places for sheep to be deprived of food and water in the period leading up to their ordeal, in order to weaken their ability to resist.

If you find this difficult to imagine, and you are someone who shares their home with a dog or a cat, you will surely know the panic that would ensue if one of our beloved nonhuman family members were to be thrust into a similar situation.  It pains us to even consider the fear they would experience.

So here we are. The wool industry. A far-from-natural, lucrative sideline to the final atrocity of the slaughterhouse; an elaborately manufactured system of exploitation where defenceless individuals have been selectively bred for characteristics that make money for humans, while being forced to submit to brutal and intrusive interference in every aspect of their lives; a catalogue of horrors worthy of Frankenstein.

The fruit of the poisonous tree

Often, at this stage, a reader may shrug. ‘This situation is what it is,’ the shrug says. ‘We just have to live with it.’ ‘They have to be sheared for their own good.’ This is missing a huge point. As a species, we created this situation. The circumstance that led to the current state of affairs is entirely artificial and is of our own making.

Some time ago I was fascinated by an article published by the advocacy and education site Free From Harm, by the renowned animal rights lawyer, Sherry F. Colb who is Professor of Law and Charles Evans Hughes Scholar at Cornell University Law School, where she teaches courses in animal rights, evidence, and criminal procedure. The article was entitled ‘The milk of the poisonous tree‘ and examined the applicability of the legal concept ‘The fruit of the poisonous tree’ to our use of bovine breast milk which we know by the misleadingly innocuous name, ‘dairy‘.

Professor Colb explains ‘the fruit of the poisonous tree’ to signify that if someone has committed a wrong in acquiring some product, it is as wrongful to utilise and enjoy the ‘benefits’ of that product as it was wrongful to commit the harm that resulted in the product’s acquisition in the first place. In other words, one becomes an accomplice in the initial wrongdoing by taking the fruits of that wrongdoing and making use of them.

Even for those who refuse to acknowledge that the absence of necessity for our actions, along with the scientifically proven sentience of our victims, means that we are honour bound not to harm them, I have always felt that the ‘laying eggs anyway’, ‘the wool needs sheared anyway’, and even ‘the animals are dead anyway so we may as well eat them’ excuses all fall into that category.

Applying the concept of ‘the fruit of the poisonous tree’, by taking and using the results of the breathtaking wrongs committed against our sheep victims, we become complicit in the initial crime; an accessory to the needless slaughter of 567,720,576 individuals in 2017 alone. However we view it, the idea that wool is a victimless ‘resource’ just could not be more wrong.

‘So what are we supposed to do? Just let them suffer?’

This knee-jerk retort is so often delivered smugly – intended as a ‘gotcha’ – by all who want to continue to use other individuals and even by some who don’t. So once again, please consider all those cats and dogs with their flat faces, the consequent ill health and suffering that is the result. Let’s think, too of those others of the species with whom we share our homes who have inherited disorders at the genetic level as is common in ‘pedigree’ breeds. What happens to them? Do we just shug? Do we ‘just let them suffer’?

Not at all. We stop allowing them to reproduce, stop perpetuating the defect down further generations, and we have no doubt whatsoever that to allow the genetic disorder to blight the lives of more innocents is deeply unethical. Consider the parallel between this and the disorders with which we have deliberately afflicted our victims to make money. As consumer demand diminishes, the decent thing to do is to stop compelling our victims to reproduce.

So, like a cracked record, I repeatedly say that the world won’t go vegan overnight. A common assertion is that many breeds will become extinct in a vegan world and this is said as if that were a bad thing.  Make no mistake, the almost inevitable extinction of the pitiable, Frankensteinian creations of our unspeakably self-obsessed species is a totally different issue from the extinction of those wild creatures who were quietly minding their own business in the aeons before we came along, and whose habitat we are continuing to lay waste as our planet enters its death throes and we remorselessly drive the Sixth Mass Extinction.

So when we talk of extinction for the grotesquely mutated victims of our deluded species, how can this possibly be a bad thing – if indeed we survive as a species to change our ways? In a way, such extinction, allowing these defenceless innocents to escape the obscene torment of bodies we have created to serve our interests at the expense of their own, would be the only really humane thing we have ever done for them.

Be vegan.

Posted in Addressing resistance to change, FAQ, wool | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Ending life as we know it – humanity on the edge of the abyss

Every day I see posts using fanciful estimates about the number of individuals our species slaughters each year. There are even suggestions (often circulated by those seeking to claim credit – and frequently, donations) that slaughter numbers are falling.

They are not falling. The slaughter of land-based species has actually increased by almost 700,000,000 since the last available statistical year. (Statistics by FAOSTAT)

The numbers above, which average at 2,374 individuals per second(!), do not include numerous other groups including:

Not one of these deaths is necessary. Not one.

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.

I should like to add one further point to ponder.

Every one of our victims is and was an individual. The world of pain and fear that was inflicted on each of them to fulfil the demands of nonvegan consumers was made no greater and no less by how many of their friends and family were suffering alongside them. To brutalise one defenceless and innocent individual without cause or conscience, is to brutalise one too many. Only by ending consumer demand for harm and killing can harm and killing cease to be profitable.

As advocates for the vegan world that has finally been recognised as the only hope for our species and the planet we share with all others, we can’t afford to relax for even a moment. We need to know the facts and we absolutely must keep our focus firmly where it needs to be; on our victims.

Be vegan.

About our dying planet:

Find out about being vegan here:

Posted in Global disasters, Statistics | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 23 Comments

Petitions and single issues – where’s the harm? – FAQ

Freedom. Image by Aitor Garmendia, Tras los Muros

I was recently asked the following very well articulated question by a friend who is a committed activist and vegan advocate;

I understand why we don’t want to put effort into single-issue causes, especially those that are so blatantly speciesist (such as anti-fur campaigns that imply leather is ok). But why is it so awful to sign the occasional petition about a one-off local concern (for example, the petition to spare the dogs who bit the child’s hand off from euthanasia). I don’t sign a lot of petitions for the former reason, but I genuinely don’t see the harm in signing one like the latter while including an anti-speciesist message that points out dogs aren’t the only persecuted species and they wouldn’t be at risk for euthanasia if we weren’t speciesist (or something along those lines). How is my NOT signing the petition going to: 1) Help these dogs, 2) Spread the message of speciesism, and 3) Help any other animals now or in the future?

At one time I wondered the very same thing myself. And yet now I would no longer consider signing any petition unless the top line is a call for the end of speciesism and a demand for veganism – which is the natural consequence of that – and I can’t recall ever seeing one of these. This essay stems from my own experience and the learning curve resulting from examining my feelings, thoughts and the actions leading from my nonvegan past to my vegan present.

The first point I think I need to stress at the outset is that ‘campaign’ and ‘petition’ are interchangeable words.  A ‘petition’ is how people enlist as supporters of a ‘campaign’. So where I talk about ‘single issue campaign’, or ‘campaign’, the word ‘petition’ may easily be substituted because they are as closely related as the terms ‘animal rights’ and ‘veganism’.

My own definition of single issues, taken from my blog ‘Single issues and me’ is:

All campaigns that focus on either general behaviour towards, general treatment of, general practices and/or specific instances of behaviour, specific treatments or specific practices perpetrated on:

  • one individual member of a nonhuman species;
  • a number of such individuals;
  • a single species;
  • a finite number of species.

Single issue campaigns call for prevention, change, regulation, punishment, reform; the action demanded by the campaign depends on the specifics of the topic.

I have previously written at length about how large campaigns like anti-fur, anti-foie gras, anti-dog and cat consumption etc are by their very nature, speciesist and focused on single-issues. Which brings me to my second point; just as all species deserve the same consideration that can only be achieved through veganism, every type of single issue campaign and the petitions that spring from them – whether about fur (many species), veal (one species), a wolf pack (group of individuals) or a cruelly treated dog (individual) – are speciesist by their very nature.

In considering these campaigns, a vegan activist must confront the same moral dilemma that exists when we are encouraged to support regulatory reform. Obviously instinct suggests that it is preferable to subject our victims to a lesser degree of torture if possible, but the automatic flip side of that coin is that by endorsing what we think of as a ‘reduced level of harm’, we are actually promoting and supporting harm. Intentionally or not, we are agreeing in principle to other individuals being used as our resources, albeit under the slightly different conditions that our campaign defines. That is a fundamental betrayal of their right not to be in the situation in the first place.

For example, if you or I were imprisoned as innocent individuals awaiting the carrying out of the death penalty and our lawyer started to campaign for a ‘bigger cell’, improved transport to our place of execution, or a different means of inflicting our death, we’d know our cause had been completely lost. Our innocence would no longer be the focus and our captors would consider that compromises on treatment were ‘at least doing something’.

It’s not about spending time productively

I’ve seen many excellent vegan advocates go down the route of claiming that promoting single issues is wasting time that could be more productively used for advocacy. I don’t hold with that idea at all. It’s easily shot down by the many who can truthfully say that they have plenty of time to sign petitions and do other forms of advocacy too.

In my view, the problem does not lie in the taking of time to sign petitions; it lies much deeper than that. The problem springs from the very existence of petitions, where they originate, and the mindset that they foster and endorse in those who participate, through these, in speciesist campaigns.

The questions we need to ask

So I suppose this must bring me to the third thing that really must be examined. Have you ever wondered:

  • Who sets up these petitions?
  • Who signs them?
  • How do single issues / petitions affect the participants?
  • Is signing petitions effective as an advocacy method?

A bit about me 

For years, I personally used to spend hours every week signing petitions about every sickening, stomach churning, gut wrenching topic that we all know is out there. The infinite ways that human animals harm members of other animal species is overwhelming and I doubt if there’s anyone reading this who has not felt themselves start to buckle under the weight of the horror.

And this is where my memories kick in with merciless clarity. While I was doing all that signing, was I vegan? Hell, no. I’d never heard of veganism, had no idea about speciesism but you know what?

I thought of myself as an ‘animal activist’, a campaigner against ‘cruelty to animals’. 

Read that sentence again – please. There I was, a nonvegan, wearing, consuming, using members of other species for every purpose under the sun, and I seriously thought I was an activist; genuinely believed I was ‘at least doing something’. I was signing petitions set up by other nonvegans (who by definition were as speciesist as I was because they were not calling for veganism) while I was guilty of horrors equivalent to, or exceeding, the things I was so sanctimoniously complaining about.

The concept of petitions and the harm they do

I was like that for years. Cocooned in my self-satisfied perception of myself as a ‘campaigner’, believing I was doing all I could, and frankly, with a mind closed to discovering the reality of speciesism and the veganism that is the consequence of its rejection. My mind was closed because I already believed I was doing all I could do.

In fact – and this is the crux of why I no longer support petitions and the single issues that spawn them – participation in this form of self-righteous complaining actually worked against my seeking the information and the consistency of thought that led me inevitably to the realisation that I had to be vegan. It was completely counter-productive.

I was firmly in the ‘at least I’m doing something’ camp and what’s even worse – I found myself adopting a xenophobic outlook and was influenced by the general atmosphere of ‘otherisation’ that is also part and parcel of the concept of petitions for other animals. Countries where they consume dogs, countries where they hunt dolphins and whales, countries where elephants are exploited as tourist attractions – we can all add to the list if we think for a moment. So in addition to ‘doing something’, I thought that my actions and the myriad causes I supported were ‘better than what was being done in other countries’, a skewed and mistaken view that was reinforced every day.

And while I’m proclaiming my personal failings to the world, here’s another one.  Almost every petition emphasised the concept that some species are more important, more worthy of our concern than others. Elephants, tigers, dogs, cats, whales, dolphins, monkeys, lions. Yup, how often did the tales pull at my heart strings?  I wept over them all and I  know now that I’m not alone in this.

On reflection, to be honest, the ‘petition’ scene of my experience was a toxic mix of speciesist xenophobia, peopled mainly by nonvegans complaining about other nonvegans, all whipped into a righteous fervour of indignation about single issues that did not touch them personally, or about which their own actions were not on the table for examination regardless of how incongruous they were.

I’m vegan now – so what harm would signing a petition do?

There is a view that is bandied around by those individuals and organisations whose focus is fundraising, and others, many of whom claim to be vegan, that ‘reducing suffering’ is a worthy goal. This view promotes the idea that needlessly harming other creatures is a numbers game; that to harm fewer of them or harm each one of them less is a worthy and ‘pragmatic’ aspiration. Oh how I hate that word ‘pragmatic’ – it always precedes and seeks to excuse a betrayal of our victims.

In the question, my friend mentioned that they always include an anti-speciesist message with a signature. Again, I can only relay my own experience. I’m told by some that they do, but I have never once signed a petition and read all the comments by others. Not once. After reading a few, I quickly realised there was only so much vitriol I could take. So what if I had read a vegan message? Would I have been influenced? In a word, no. I honestly thought I had all the answers and I wasn’t looking for any more.

To participate in any speciesist campaign/ petition, we are endorsing the fundamental principle of speciesist campaigns, just as signing a petition about how animals are transported to slaughterhouses is supporting the principle of their being used as resources, signing an anti-fur petition is endorsing the principle of singling out fur as worthy of particular condemnation, or signing a petition about eating dogs in other countries is encouraging cultural contempt and otherisation while reinforcing the idea that what happens ‘here’ to other species (wherever ‘here’ is) is okay.

We can’t save them all

What can we do to help the individuals who are the subject of the particular petition that sparked the question? This is where it gets really hard and it comes down to our own values and how we square our actions with these.

This point may sound harsh but it is the truth. While the world is not vegan, at this very moment, there are more individuals hurting and dying in circumstances that would make any decent person want to vomit, than we can ever know about, address or save.  As long as speciesism prevails, there will be dogs like the individuals mentioned, and when they are slaughtered (or ‘euthanised’ as the euphemism goes), there will be uncounted others we’ll probably never hear about, who will take their place in the firing line. As well as these dogs, there are millions of sentient individuals of every conceivable species dying today alone, defenceless, unknown, and un-cared-for individuals who are every bit as deserving of their lives.

We can’t save them all. It simply can’t happen. Saving one or two individuals is all most of us can do; and that’s the principle behind adopting or providing them with sanctuary. It changes the world for the individuals concerned and it is a tangible activity that many of us choose to undertake in recognition of the huge injustice that our species is perpetrating without need or justification upon all their kin.

I think the question we need to ask ourselves is whether signing a petition, thereby endorsing what I firmly consider to be a flawed and counter-productive concept, is an appropriate form of advocacy, or whether the existence of that petition is throwing the overarching cause of anti-speciesism under the bus in the hope of making us feel better as individuals?

I made my choice several years ago. Be vegan.

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