The wise philosopher, Pythagoras, reportedly once declared that “as long as humanity continues to be the ruthless destroyer of lower beings, we will never know health or peace. For as long as people massacre animals, they will kill each other. Indeed, he who sows the seed of murder and pain cannot reap joy and love.”
Whether or not anyone likes to admit it, eating animal products is a form of violence. Approximately 27 billion cows, pigs, chickens, turkeys, and other animals are killed for food each year in the United States. Our modern factory farming system strives to produce the most meat, milk, and eggs as quickly and cheaply as possible, and in the smallest amount of space possible. Most factory-farmed animals never see the sun, breathe fresh air, or feel grass under their feet. They are torn from their loving mothers, overcrowded in filthy cages, warehouses, and sheds, fed drug-laden diets, mutilated, and slaughtered.
Cattle raised for beef are fed high-bulk grains and other “fillers,” which can include expired dog and cat food, poultry feces, and leftover restaurant food. They are branded, castrated, and dehorned -- all without pain killers. They are crowded into metal trucks and taken to slaughter; they are generally not provided with sufficient food, water, and veterinary care. Many are trampled during the long journey. At the slaughterhouse, cattle may be hoisted upside down by their hind legs and dismembered while they’re still conscious.
“Dairy” cows are typically kept in feces- and urine-saturated “dry lots” of dirt and mud. They are impregnated every year in order to keep up a steady supply of milk. Male calves are taken away within a day or two of birth and sold to veal farms where they are chained in stalls only 2 feet wide and 6 feet long with slatted floors. Their mothers’ milk is used for human consumption, so the calves are fed a milk substitute designed to help them gain at least 2 pounds a day. The diet is purposely low in iron so that the calves become anemic and their flesh stays pale and tender. They are normally killed when they are between 16 and 18 weeks old. Female calves are raised to be milk producers like their mothers.
Nearly 9 billion chickens are raised for meat each year. They are crammed by the tens of thousands into filthy warehouses with no access to fresh air or sunlight. They typically do not have enough space to stretch even one wing. Undercover investigations into the “broiler” chicken industry have repeatedly revealed birds who were suffering from dehydration, respiratory diseases, bacterial infections, heart attacks, crippled legs, and other serious ailments.
Birds are not protected under the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, the only federal law that offers any sort of protection to farmed animals. At the slaughterhouse, they are hung upside-down, their legs are snapped into metal shackles, their throats are slit open, and they are immersed in scalding hot water for feather removal. They are often conscious through the entire process.
Ninety-eight percent of the egg industry’s hens are confined in wire mesh battery cages stacked tier upon tier in huge warehouses. They are generally confined seven or eight to a cage, and don’t have enough room to turn around or spread one wing. Conveyor belts bring in food and water and carry away eggs and excrement. To prevent stress-induced behaviors caused by overcrowding, such as pecking their cagemates to death, hens are kept in semi-darkness, and the ends of their beaks are cut off with hot blades -- without pain killers.
Although chickens can live for more than a decade in natural surroundings, laying hens are usually “spent,” exhausted and unable to produce as many eggs by the time they are 2 years old. More than 100 million “spent” hens die in U.S. slaughterhouses every year.
Mother pigs live most of their lives in individual crates 7 feet long by 2 feet wide. Their piglets are taken away three weeks after birth and packed into pens to be raised for breeding or for meat. Many display neurotic behaviors such as cannibalism and tailbiting, so farmers use pliers to break off the ends of the piglets’ teeth and chop off their tails -- with no pain killers. At the slaughterhouse, pigs are frequently stunned improperly and are still conscious when they reach the scalding water intended to soften their skin and remove the hair.
Choose Peace: Choose A Plant-Based Diet
Each and every one of us has the power to stop this suffering simply by switching to a vegan diet. It is estimated that each vegetarian saves more than 100 animals every year. Vegans also help save their own lives by eating an animal-free diet. While meat, eggs, and dairy products contain high amounts of cholesterol and saturated fat, and contribute to cancer, heart disease, obesity, diabetes, and many other diseases, a plant-based diet is low in fat, cholesterol free, and high in fiber and healthy complex carbohydrates.
Researchers have even found that a vegetarian diet rich in soy and soluble fiber can reduce cholesterol levels by as much as one-third. Renowned physician Dr. Dean Ornish found that patients on a low-fat vegetarian diet actually reversed arterial blockages. Dr. William Castelli, the director of the Framingham Heart Study, the longest-running epidemiological study in medical history, feels that “Vegetarians have the best diet. They have the lowest rates of coronary disease of any group in the country. . . . [T]hey have a fraction of our heart attack rate and they have only 40 percent of our cancer rate.”
David Jenkins, professor of nutrition and metabolism at the University of Toronto, has reported that “the evidence is pretty strong that vegans, who eat no animal products, have the best cardiovascular health profile and the lowest cholesterol levels.” And according to Dr. T. Colin Campbell, an internationally renowned nutrition expert, “The vast majority of all cancers, cardiovascular diseases, and other forms of degenerative illness can be prevented simply by adopting a plant-based diet.”
Make the Switch to Save the Planet
A vegan diet is also essential for the health of our planet. Reducing, reusing, and recycling won’t do a world of good if we keep gulping down meat, eggs, and dairy products. Most environmental problems, including deforestation, soil erosion, fossil fuel depletion, and water and air pollution, are caused by animal agriculture.
Eighty percent of the agricultural land in this country is used to raise animals for food. Cattle raising is one of the primary causes of the destruction of the world’s remaining tropical rain forests, which are being burned and cleared for grazing. Fifty-five square feet of rain forest may be razed to produce just one quarter-pound hamburger.
The world’s cattle alone consume a quantity of food approximately equal to the caloric needs of 8.7 billion people. In the United States, animals are fed more than 70 percent of the corn, wheat, and other grains we grow.
It would be much more efficient to feed this food directly to hungry, malnourished people. Approximately 20 vegetarians can be fed on the amount of land needed to feed one person on a meat-based diet.
Animal agriculture contributes to air and water pollution. Animals raised for food produce 130 times as much excrement as the entire human population. The waste is contaminated with nitrogen, phosphorus, pathogens, heavy metals, and ammonia and leaks into our waterways and pollutes our drinking water.
The Environmental Protection Agency has acknowledged that factory farms pollute our waterways more than all other industrial sources combined.
Factory farming also wastes tremendous amounts of water and other resources. A meat-based diet requires more than 4,000 gallons of water each day whereas a vegan diet requires only 300 gallons of water per day. According to John Robbins, the famed author of Diet for a New America and The Food Revolution, “You’d save more water by not eating a pound of California beef than you would by not showering for an entire year.”
Go Green, It’s Easy
If you haven’t already done so, please consider switching to a vegan diet. It is the best thing for the animals, your health, and the planet. For a free vegetarian starter kit, visit www.GoVeg.com.
Heather Moore is a freelance writer and a senior writer for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.
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