Monthly Archives: August 2016

What Is The Truth Behind One Of The Most Brutal Horse Slaughter Images On The Internet?

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What Is The Truth Behind One Of The Most Brutal Horse Slaughter Images On The Internet?

Written by:  Heather Clemenceau

How many times have we seen the picture below depicted as gruesome evidence of horse (and foal) slaughter?  I’ve no doubt that many people have been disturbed or reduced to tears by what it depicts,  a dead mare and foal on a cold floor,  seemingly devoid of any sort of compassion in their final moments.  Ever since I first saw the picture, I wondered what was happening – was it a picture of a slaughter operation?  If so, it seemed to be uncharacteristic in many ways from what we’ve seen elsewhere and know about slaughter, stunning and evisceration.

Google and Tin Eye’s reverse image search engine are great tools that can be used to find the date that any image first appeared on the internet.  This image first appeared on a Polish website  in 2011, and has been copied on many social media channels since then.  Because the entire site is in Polish, and the video in question no longer seems to work, I wouldn’t advise visiting it because I don’t know if there’s anything malicious about the website itself in terms of viruses or harmful codes. But if you want to view the original video that has been recently copied to Youtube, you can see it here [graphic and disturbing].

But back to my search for the truth behind the image…….The following may be hard for many to read so proceed with caution…

I shared this picture with a veterinarian and asked that person to comment on what they saw.  Because this image was captured in a foreign country we can’t be absolutely certain what we’re looking at, but our veterinarian found the image to be inconsistent with a slaughter operation and more likely to be an example of a necropsy  or possibly an effort at an emergency caesarian.

Horses are generally stunned in a chute, then hoisted with one rear leg and hung from the line where they are bled out.  They then travel along the line where they reach the evisceration area.  As mare and foalmany of us have seen from the Canadian Horse Defence Coalition youtube videos, it’s a brutal operation where horses are left bloody and covered in excrement and urine.

In this screen cap, there’s no chute, the mare has not been hung and is instead shackled.  She is still wearing a halter, which in a slaughter operation would have been long removed. There is a channel in the floor for removing bodily fluids.  There is no evidence that the mare’s throat was slit and no evidence that she was bled out.  We don’t know how she died, whether her death was natural or sudden in a large animal clinic, or whether she was euthanized with barbiturates.

We know mares and foals are dying in feedlots and slaugherhouses in real life in Canada. Through Access-To-Information requests, the CHDC has publicized evidence that pregnant mares are being shipped to slaughter, sometimes delivering in trailers or in the actual slaughterhouse itself (both are issues of non-compliance and/or violations of Canada’s Health of Animals Regulations).  We know mares  are enduring transport in late stage pregnancy and giving birth to their foals in these places of death.  We don’t really know the context in this sad photo, but the above clues suggest (but don’t confirm) that this is not a photo of a horse being slaughtered for food.  At least this is what I am going to choose to believe based on my conversation with a veterinarian who is familiar with commercial slaughter operations.  Despite all the evidence of cruelty toward horses already available and assaulting us every day,  I want to believe that this is one less example.

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Embryo Transfer – A Shadowy Market Ripe for Exploitation

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mare-services

Written by:  Heather Clemenceau

We’ve known for many years that farm animals have been exploited to produce more meat, milk, wool etc.  Embryo transfer in horses is another technology that is unrivalled for its inefficiency and costliness.  There’s also some evidence that embryo transfer (ET) is exploitative because it can be painful, requiring analgesics.  We recently read about the cast-off recipient mares (the “gestational” carriers that give birth to foals of a different mare/stallion) from the Arnold Reproduction Center  who were consigned to the Kaufman kill pen/kill buyer Mike McBarron for eventual slaughter.   Once exposed on social media platforms, veterinarian Leea Arnold responded:

“I recently sent some mares to the Cleburne Horse Sale.  I certainly never intended for them to end up in the slaughter pen. Many of these mares came to me through the sale barn system, were sick, completely unbroken and certainly destined for slaughter at that time (15 or so years ago). As long as these mares are reproductively sound, they stay in my herd – many probably longer than they are useful. My staff and I have taken the time, money, and resources we have to help these mares become useful and give them a viable purpose.

“I will use another avenue to re-home these mares in the future. If you are a non-profit organization and have your 501(c)3 at hand, I would be more than happy to donate any older or reproductively unsound recipients to your facilities as they become available.”

Dr. Arnold did not otherwise offer to help the animals that were scheduled to be sent for slaughter.

gypsyIn addition to horses, mules are also being used in at least one euphemistically named “mule mom” program  using embryo transfers from gypsy vanner mares.  The Gypsy Gold breeding program  in Ocala Florida charges up to $14,000 for a purebred gypsy vanner foal carried by a mule, who is often shipped to and from the Gypsy Gold Horse Farm and the contractor of their service.  They also helpfully offer a service for purchasers of the gypsy foal who are not satisfied with the quality of their new purchase – they will connect you with an “appropriate buyer” – quite possibly the same buyer who will purchase the mule moms once their fertility wanes.  At the moment, this farm offers 11 mares for breeding, so one can only imagine how many times they are being flushed out and the number of “mule moms” that are being used as gestational carriers.

Currently, most equine breed associations permit embryo transfer. Notable exceptions include the Jockey Club (thoroughbreds), the United States Trotting Association, and the American Miniature Horse Association. Brazil and Argentina are currently the leaders in equine ET, although it’s believed that about 10,000 embryos were collected and transferred in the USA in 2014. The practice seems to have become more widespread in 2015, with more countries reporting embryo transfer activities, including Canada, South Africa, France, Poland, Switzerland, the USA, and Mexico.

Why is Equine Embryo Transfer Also A Welfare Issue?

Because veterinarians can only flush fertilized eggs (embryos) from the uterus of a donor mares at specific times the cycles of one or more recipient mares must be synchronized with the donor mare. This is why reproductive vet clinics tend to have a wide selection of recipient mares from which to choose. The number of mares that some vet clinics keep on hand for this purpose varies from dozens of mares to hundreds.   In many cases the donor mare is synchronized with two or more recipient mares in the event that multiple embryos are recovered from the donor mare.  Obviously,  these mares’ “jobs” come with no guarantee of a home placement after their careers are over and may easily fall into the wrong hands.

There are potential welfare issues for a donor mare, including those associated with the flushing procedure and with repeat injections to attempt to induce ovulation when used. Because more than two mares may be involved, the number of invasive rectal and ultrasound examinations is increased. Where recipient mare numbers are limited, greater pharmacological manipulation (often involving repeated injections) may also be used to achieve ovulatory synchronization between donor and recipient mares.

While there are apparently no studies on whether ET is painful in mares, it is known to be painful in other species, especially those in which embryo flushing is a surgical procedure. Perhaps because of this it is common practice to sedate mares both during flushing and ET.

Transvaginal ultrasound-guided follicular aspiration in women is known to be associated with pain, the severity of which is dependent upon needle design. In sheep and goats, repeated surgical egg retrieval has been associated with the development of adhesions. In a study of pony mares who were the subject of invasive follicular procedures, it was observed that heart rates and cortisol levels increased considerably as soon as a needle was introduced into the procedure.

Lastly, the development of the “super ovulation” protocol and the resulting production of more oocytes (cells that develop into an ovum/egg) will heighten the possibility of more foals using larger herds of recipient mares, greater numbers of horses born that aren’t needed,  and more slaughter after the recip mares are no longer required.

Drugs/Hormones  Commonly Used in Equine Reproduction Practices and Their Withdrawal Times

Sources for withdrawal times were the Meat Hygiene Manual of the CFIA or drug datasheets.  It is important to note that withdrawal times are often extended when drug

Most donor mares are sport horses, Arabians or Quarter Horses. It’s an appealing option for those who can afford it, since it allows the option of the owner taking their mare out of competition for only about a week in order to produce a foal.

Most donor mares are sport horses, Arabians or Quarter Horses. It’s an appealing option for those who can afford it, since it allows the option of the owner taking their mare out of competition for only about a week in order to produce a foal.

combinations are used. Drugs used off-label in unapproved species may have differing withdrawal times even though appropriate dosage is given and whether used in combination with other drugs. The dose itself along with the frequency of use (repeated oral administrations can greatly extend withdrawal times) are two of the most important factors.  Compounded drugs (as opposed to generic or branded drugs sold OTC or through veterinarians) can vary widely in potency as well.  The amount of body fat, the breed, gender and health of the horse are also factors that affect kinetic decay of drugs.  Lastly, the amount of stress that the horse is subject to may also affect withdrawal times.  And even though a pharmacological effect on the animal may be over, the drug and its metabolites may still be detectable, and those metabolites may also be prohibited. The CFIA manual doesn’t tell anyone this, nor could they expect the lay horse person to understand any of the factors that also affect withdrawal times and drug tests,

Altrenogest/Progesterone/ Medroxyprogesterone (synthetic variant of hormone progesterone)

  • Trade name: Regumate®, Depo-Provera® (medroxyprogesterone)
  • Class of Drug: Hormone
  • Use:   Clinical uses include synchronizing the ovulations of a donor mare with a specific recipient mare. It may also be used to alter or manipulate the estrous cycle of a mare for a scheduled breeding due to stallion availability.
  • CFIA Withdrawal/Prohibition:  42 days withdrawal

Flunixin meglumine

  • Trade Name: Banamine®
  • Class of Drug: non-narcotic, nonsteroidal, analgesic agent with anti-inflammatory and antipyretic activity
  • Use: Reduces moderate inflammation by stopping the formation of prostaglandins, which are mediators of inflammation.  They also reduce the formation of certain pain-causing products of inflammation.  Embryo recipients may receive flunixin meglumine i.v. at the time of transfer.
  • CFIA Withdrawal/Prohibition: IV – 10 days/IM 30 days

Vedaprofen

  • Trade Name:  Quadrisol, VETRANAL
  • Class of Drug: Analgesic, antipyretic and anti-inflammatory agent, Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug, NSAID
  • Use: For the control of inflammation and relief of pain associated with musculo-skeletal disorders and soft tissue injuries in horses
  • CFIA Withdrawal Prohibition: 21 days (oral and IV)

Human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG)

  • Trade Name: Chorulon®
  • Class of Drug: Gonadotropin releasing hormone or GnRH
  • Use: Can also be administered to mares to accelerate ovulation selectively where needed to improve the degree of synchrony between the donor and recipient mares. Induces ovulation in mares. Induction of ovulation is advantageous if a mare is in a timed breeding, shipped semen, frozen semen or embryo transfer program.
  • CFIA Withdrawal/Prohibition:  0 days

Deslorelin Acetate

  • Trade Name: Ovuplant™ SucroMate™
  • Class of Drug: Gonadotropin releasing hormone or GnRH
  • Use: A potent, synthetic form of GnRH. The drug is administered as a subcutaneous implant.The most common use in a breeding program is the induction of a timed ovulation, such as when mares are being bred with cooled-transported semen or frozen semen
  • CFIA Withdrawal/Prohibition:  not on CFIA website but listed with a “WARNING: For use in horses (estrous mares) only. Do not use in horses intended for human consumption. For intramuscular (IM) use only. Do not administer intravascularly. Not for use in humans. Keep this and all drugs out of reach of children.”

Lidocaine Hydrochloride

  • Trade Name: Lidoject, Lidocaine HCI 2% etc.
  • Class of Drug: Local anesthetic and anti-arrhythmic agent.
  • Use:  Skin block for sutures and implants
  • CFIA Withdrawal/Prohibition: 7 days

Prostaglandins

Domperidone

  • Trade Name:  Equidone®
  • Class of Drug: Dopamine antagonist. Neurotransmitter
  • Use: Modulates or suppresses production of the hormone prolactin from the pituitary.  In breeding programs it stimulates lactation or the induction of lactation in nurse mares or the induction of follicular development. Also used as a preventative for fescue toxicosis.
  • CFIA Withdrawal/Prohibition: “no known manufacture for veterinary use in Canada”

Oxytocin

  • Trade Name: OxoJect™, Oxytocin-S
  • Class of Drug: Hormone
  • Use: Administered to mares for evacuation of uterine fluid and treatment of retained placenta. It may also be used for induction of labor in late term mares and milk let-down.
  • CFIA Withdrawal/Prohibition: not on website: 0 days

eFSH

 

The welfare of the animal is always compromised when greed is involved.  The ability for breeders to implant multiple embryos with no limits caters to the wealthy individuals in the industry. Rakhassa Bey While one might argue that ET is less risky than foaling for a mare,  horses should not have litters, especially since there is some question whether it is humane to repeatedly subject both recipient and donor mares to invasive procedures, after which many horses are dumped.  The worst  but hardly the only offender of this practice, the AQHA, allows multiple-embryo-transfer rules that facilitate overpopulation by allowing mares to have more than one foal per year. Rules about using frozen semen or eggs from long-sterile or dead animals  have allowed horses to breed from beyond the grave.  Consider that First Prize Dash,  a 1988 quarter horse mare – produced  44 offspring!  Her sire, Dash for Cash, sired 1,233 foals!  

It is also very doubtful  that either Canadian or Mexican slaughterhouses have tested for some of these lesser used or less obvious drugs or hormones.  Since some drugs/hormones are not even line items in the Meat Hygiene Manual, it would be easy for sellers of horses to plead ignorance of the requirement to disclose on an EID. Embryo transfer therefore facilitates  an already unsavory horsemeat industry in novel, previously unanticipated ways.

Rescue Reality

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Vinnie-aka-Executive-ShopperSeveral competitive markets for horses have emerged as a result of the opportunities gleaned from social media sites like Facebook. Kill buyers outbid private buyers at auctions on horses that they think they can flip. People are buying horses at outrageous prices and paying phenomenal amounts of money that could be used for feed and vetting, to ship them halfway across the country only to sometimes find that they are sick. In many cases the horses that arrive bear little resemblance to their photographs, may be misrepresented and sometimes must be euthanized upon arrival. After passionately giving themselves to their previous owners, these horses do not deserve to die.

We have largely forgotten about the horse rescues who have to confront this competition for resources and face challenges that surpass those of humane societies and shelters.  Most rescues and sanctuaries rely on public donations rather than government funding, and they require commitment, passion and business acumen in order that they be sustainable. Private rescues are often run by a single person or a small group rather than a large board of directors. Most of their expenses cannot be discounted, and veterinarians and farriers usually don’t work for free.

Many horses waiting for homes at rescues are registered, sound, very rideable, beautiful, kind, and healthy after months of care. Rescues restore horses to good health, evaluate them for a variety of different types of riders, put training on them, and often provide warranties for a price that doesn’t reflect the investment of time.  Yet the perception exists in public realm that rescued horses are devalued or marginalized as old or dangerous, when in fact they are usually quite the opposite.

I really believe that we need to be careful what we allow, as it is what will continue.  If we choose not to support rescues, they will all go away….

Tanya Boyd of Kindred Farm Rescue will no longer offer adoptions through her rescue.  In her own words,  she explains why she is decertifying her not-for-profit and her former rescue operations will now operate for-profit.  (We are trying Tanya….)

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“I have been running a horse rescue for just over four years. Effective today, that comes to an end. From now on, any horse that I “purchase” will be rehabbed and marketed as for sale for a price that is in line for their true value. I will no longer operate as a rescue, because, for some reason, potential buyers think that these horses/ponies are less than, and are not as valuable as horses of the same quality, advertised on the open market.

I cannot put in words, just how emotional this is for me…showing my horses to potential buyers…knowing full well the value of any of my “rescues”, on the open market…and I am singing their praises….and offering them up for free or for $500. and still no buyers. I will do this no longer. I am simply not going to give horses away for a song anymore.

If you were an orphan…or adopted…are you worth any less? Many horse rescues in this area, and beyond, are giving it up. Why? Because there is no funding…because acquiring and maintaining Not for Profit Status or Charitable Status….for horse rescues is extremely time consuming, in terms of the administrative requirements. I know…been there, done that…cannot commit the time required to fill out paperwork. So, I sent off my letter to dissolve my Not for Profit Status. Not worth the time and energy required. Sadly, horses do not rate, in terms of rescue organizations…they are still deemed as livestock…and livestock is butchered…..and that will not change until the public demands that it change.

Frustrated, yes. Sad, yes. But I do not see a move towards any change of status for horses in sight . They are indeed, the forgotten. Where would we be now without them?. I am truly heartbroken that in the four years I have been doing this, nothing has changed. And the public is no more aware now, than it was then, of the degree to which we subject horses to so much pain and abuse. It seems that it really doesn’t matter. I feel so defeated. What does it take to get people to understand that horses are not meant to be slaughtered so inhumanely….and transported so inhumanely. Along with many other animals that we ship in transport trucks, packed full, in 35 degree weather….for hours and hours.

What have we become, as a society, that we close our eyes to this abuse….it makes me so very sad. We are allowed to ship animals for 36 hours, without water, without feed….and in this heat. And that is considered to be ok. Again….in 4 years of doing this…this horse rescue…I have seen no change in our approach….no real concern about what we subject both horses, and other farm animals to in terms of humane handling…prior to being butchered for our consumption. Are we really that unfeeling? Or do we really not want to know.

Time to ask yourself these questions.”

We All Matter – A Sermon About The Moral Value of Animals

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This is a sermon delivered by Earthsave Canada president David Steele at the Unitarian Church of Vancouver, July 31st, 2016.  It was originally published on Earthsave Canada`s website.

dreamstime_s_54024506Six years ago today, on July 31st 2010, one of the closest friends I’ve ever known died. Her name was Tasty. Tasty the Sky. She was a canine person. An Australian Shepherd.

Tasty was born in early September 1993 in a research facility at the University of Virginia. She was bred to be deaf. It turns out that a common mutation in Australian Shepherds is an analog to similar mutations in humans – these mutations are behind the most common genetic cause of deafness in our species.

Once the study of her deafness was done, she was sent to another lab where the nerves to her heart were cut. The idea was to mimic one of the effects of a heart transplant. Her heart rate from then on was very low. Didn’t interfere with her health overall, though.

But the next event planned for her very definitely would have. Because she was no longer of any use to the institution, she was slated to be killed. Fortunately for her – and, as it turned out, for me – a brave veterinary student named Jessica Levy couldn’t let that happened. She spirited Tasty out of that place. After a short chain of events, Tasty found her new home with me.

I tell you about this because I think that it is through our pets that we often get insight into the internal lives of animals. We can learn from them how similar they often are to us – in their basic wants and desires; in their curiosity; in their problem solving, even.

Tasty would hug people she loved. She would remember how to navigate complex paths in places she once lived – years before – to find old friends or to get a treat that she expected would be at the end of the line. She was very bright. There’s no doubt about it. But really, she was unexceptional. The vast majority of creatures on this planet have amazing capabilities.

That’s in very large measure because, like you and me, they share a very basic and mysterious trait. They are conscious.

And wow is consciousness amazing!

To me, consciousness is the essence of what it is to be a person. It is awareness, the ability to experience. We all know we’ve got it, but we don’t really understand what it is. Physicians assess it by simple test, ranking humans’ consciousness on a scale ranging from full alertness and responsiveness, through states of delirium, and all the way to what they consider a complete lack of consciousness, defined by a complete lack of responsiveness to painful stimulation. Still, this is just a practical definition. It doesn’t get to what consciousness really is.

It’s a question that has eluded the greatest of minds for millennia. Philosophers have puzzled over it and scientists, too, haven’t been able to figure it out. Some claim consciousness is an illusion. The vast majority of us would disagree with that, I think – and with good reason. I include myself on that one. But still, try and tell me just what it is.

Some say that mind and body are separate; others say mind and body are the same. “Consciousness is a fundamental property of the universe”; “it’s a side-effect of how our brains are organized”; “it works like a machine”; “it works because of the spooky properties of quantum mechanics.” The list goes on and on. Put the theories together and what do you get? An unintelligible mess that still doesn’t explain what consciousness is.

Me, even though I don’t understand it, I think it’s physically based. We know that we can modify it by drugs – even eliminate it, e.g., for surgery, then bring it back at will. It disappears every night, too, as we sleep. That, to me, says that it arises as a property of our brains.

And again, looking around, as my experience with Tasty showed me so very well, we humans are obviously nothing like the only creatures on this planet who experience it.

Dogs and cats, cows and pigs, chickens and crows all clearly share the basic experience of life that we do. Fish, too, show clear signs of conscious awareness. Charles Darwin saw it even in the lowly earthworm. I’m not so sure that he was right about that, but I do know that they can be trained to solve very simple mazes. Fruit flies are much better at solving mazes, though; and they can even learn from each other.

We humans have our biases, so most of what we know about animal consciousness comes either from tests of animal intelligence or studies on a trait that is medically useful to humans: pain. We look into intelligence because we value that in others; we look into pain mostly because we want to use the understanding we get from pain in animals to figure out how to alleviate pain in us.

On intelligence, know, for example, that orangutans are relative geniuses. They have been known to steal canoes and paddle them away and even to put on humans’ clothing, if given the chance. Returning to dogs for a second, we have good evidence they can recognize the emotions in other dogs’ faces and in our faces, too.

That animals feel pain is obvious.

We use rats in experiments on pain because we know that they will react to it like we do and that drugs that blunt pain in them almost always do the same in us. They recognize pain in each other as well, and will try to help when they see another rat in distress. Lots of studies have shown this! We’ve even learned that fish feel pain and react similarly to us when confronted with it.

Some scientists claim that fish are not actually feeling pain; their brains are too different from ours, they say. That, to me, speaks of irrational arrogance. One doesn’t need a similar brain to have fundamentally the same experience and ability. Different structures may well take on different roles in different species. Just look at the intelligence of a crow or a parrot! Or even a chicken!

Birds’ brains are very different from those of humans and other mammals. They lack the neocortex that so many scientists tell us is necessary for intelligence. Yet, they are clearly intelligent. Crows make tools – both in the lab and in the wild. Just last week, scientists reported observing New Caledonian crows make long hooks so that they could carry more than one item away from a scene at once. Clearly ‘bird brain’ doesn’t mean what we once thought it did!

I speak of this not only because consciousness is such an amazing mystery, but also because of its moral dimension.

Beings with consciousness feel joy and pain; excitement and disappointment. They have wants and desires. What we call good can befall them; so can ill.

In short, animals – like us! – have moral value.

I am not saying that there are not differences in the ways the we and dogs and sharks and elephants experience consciousness. I’m not saying that the vast majority of other animals we share this earth with are anything like as aware as we are of their place in the world, or of the consequences of their actions.

What I am saying is that they are very much worthy of our moral consideration. That their experiences of life are sufficiently similar to our own that we should do our best to avoid causing harm to them.

We love our dogs and cats and do our very best to ensure that their lives are pleasant. Other animals are similarly deserving.

And those animals may be more aware of us and our abilities than you may think.

Many sure are aware that we are not beings to be trusted. We hunt them, pave over their habitats and otherwise disrupt their lives.

One study that I read about this week highlights this reality very well.

Scientists at the University of Western Ontario studied the fear responses of small predators. I confess that I haven’t read the study yet, so I don’t know the details. What I do know – reported in New Scientist Magazine – is that that badgers, foxes and raccoons evidently fear humans much more than they fear bears, wolves and dogs.

In one experiment, the scientists played badgers, in the wild, the sounds of bears, wolves, dogs and humans over hidden speakers. While hearing bears and dogs had some effect – reducing the likelihood that the badgers would feed, simply hearing the sound of people conversing or reading passages from books completely prevented the badgers from feeding.

A lot of animals, I would guess, if they think about it – think of we humans as terrible threats.

Clearly, from the animals’ points of view, we are perpetrators of horrors. We can’t say just how aware any specific animal is of the dangers we pose, but clearly they avoid us to the extent that they can.

There is one major way that we differ big time from at least the vast majority of the other animal species on earth.

We have highly developed abstract language. We can learn from others over great distances; we can learn from ancestors long dead.

What a huge advantage that is!

And with that advantage comes great opportunity for improvement – and in my view, great responsibility as well.

We have developed thoughtful, sophisticated theories of ethics and morality. We understand the world to a degree unimaginable in the rest of the animal kingdom. We know dreamstime_xs_7168047that others feel pain and fear when we do harm to them, just as we know that they can feel joy and belonging when we treat them well.

So let’s live according to the better angels of our nature. Let’s look objectively both at the good we do in the world and at the ill. Let’s strive to enhance the good and eliminate the bad.

To do that well at that, we need to look carefully at our own actions in our own lives. We need to consider their effects, even whether our actions are warranted at all.

I’m going to focus now on one part of the moral universe that we should be considering. It’s one of the easiest for us – in this rich Western world – to deal with. And it is one with among the greatest consequences.

For the last few minutes of this homily, I’m going to focus on animal agriculture.

From just a human point of view, this is an extremely important issue.

Animal agriculture is a huge contributor to global warming. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization pegs it as responsible for between 15 and 18% of global warming. That’s more than the 14% associated with all of the cars and planes and trains and ships in the world, combined.

Animal agriculture is responsible also for other egregious environmental effects.

The vast majority of corn and soy grown in North America is grown for animal feed. The corn, especially, requires enormous amounts of fertilizer. One result of the use of so much fertilizer is that it runs off into our waterways. This results in massive algal blooms and dead zones. One of the worst examples is the dead zone that forms at the mouth of the Mississippi every year. Every year, about 20,000 square kilometers of the Caribbean becomes an oxygen-depleted zone where all of the fish and lobsters and other sea life go belly up for lack of oxygen.

Animal agriculture is responsible for most of the ammonia pollution in North America. The majority of our fresh water goes into raising animals – mostly to grow the feed corn, soy and alfalfa.

It’s even a major contributor to the antibiotic crisis that the World Health Organization is now warning us about. Over 80% of the antibiotics we use in North America aren’t used to treat humans. No, they’re added to the feed of factory farmed animals. In such tight quarters, they’re necessary to prevent the rapid spread of disease and – to boot – they somehow speed up the growth of the animals.

And that’s not all.

Modern animal agriculture steals food from the poor.

As Vaclav Smil at the University of Manitoba has well documented, animal agriculture is outrageously inefficient. The way we raise animals today, it takes some 14 lbs of corn and soy, etc., to get back one pound of edible pork. Over 30 lbs of corn and soy and alfalfa go into a pound of beef that we actually eat.

In terms of protein, we are similarly careless. Whereas we could get all of the protein in the corn and soy if we just to eat the corn and soy itself, we instead throw most of it away, mostly in animal feces, urine and bones.

Again, referring to Vaclav Smil’s work, we throw away 60% of the plant protein we fed to the cows when we drink a glass of milk. We throw away three quarters of what we could have gotten when we eat chicken or eggs. And we throw away a whopping 87 to 95% of the protein we could have had when we eat pork or beef. It’s outrageous, really!

Throwing away that much corn and soy – and wasting the land on which other forage is grown – necessarily raises the price of grain. That wastage limits the supply of grains, often pricing them out of the reach of the world’s poor. These days biofuels, too, are contributing to that injustice.

Even more outrageous is the way we treat the animals we are so wastefully using.

When we think of farmed animals, we tend to think of animals in pasture; chicken coops; pigs wallowing in the mud. But that is not the reality for the vast majority of animals raised for food today.

Today, the vast majority of our animal foods come from factory farms. Some 98% of eggs come from hens packed 6 to 8 to a cage – each chicken with the equivalent of an 8 ½ x 11” sheet of paper to her – but it’s a wire mesh floor on which she lives. Her brothers, perhaps luckier than her, were ground up alive or suffocated in giant garbage bags on the day they hatched.

Broiler chickens live their 7 week lives on the floors of giant barns. Their badly manipulated bodies growing all out of proportion to the ability of their legs to support them.

60 years ago, it took broiler chickens almost twice as long to reach ‘market weight.’ And ‘market weight’ in those days was one quarter of what it is today. To satisfy our desire for white meat and to meet the financial demand for more meat per bird, the chickens have been bred to grow into near-Frankenstein monsters. They can’t be rescued. Their bodies will soon do them in.

Female pigs are confined to so-called gestation crates. They can stand up and lie down. That’s all. There is not enough room to turn around. Every few months they are forcibly impregnated.

Dairy cows, too, are forcibly impregnated. Like humans, cows give milk only after they give birth. So, they are are artificially impregnated once a year. Her calf will either become another dairy calf or, if male, either be immediately killed or raised for veal. Neither will be allowed to suckle from his or her mother. That milk is for us; the calf gets an artificial formula.

None of this is necessary. Humans do not need to eat meat and other animal products. In fact, there is lots of evidence that avoiding them does us good. Study after study finds dramatically lower rates of heart disease and type II diabetes in vegetarians and especially vegans. Rates of colon cancer and some other cancers are lower, too.

And it’s easier and easier to forgo the stuff. There are plant-based meat substitutes galore. One recently developed burger even has heme in it – evidently the secret ingredient for making beef taste like beef. Plant-based milks are easy to find, too.

We humans are conscious, just like the other animals around us. We have a huge advantage, though. We can learn from others via our abstract language. We can reflect on our actions with the benefit of knowledge no other species that we know of could even dream of – or even imagine exists.

Let’s use our amazing gift for good. We’ll be better off as individuals. We’ll improve our health. Poor people will eat better. Animals will not have to suffer so.