1. Animals Want to Live; They Love Life and Fear Death.
We’re taught to think of animals raised for food — if we think of them at all — as an abstract category— “farm animals”— nameless, faceless herds and flocks whose generic characteristics are merely recycled through an endless stream of indistinct entities. But farmed animals are individuals with unique personalities and emotions, just like cats and dogs. They feel joy, affection, and pleasure, as well as fear, grief, and pain. Like us, they form deep friendships and emotional bonds and like us they seek to preserve their lives.
The above footage is not graphic; it shows the experience of a cow who is waiting in line to die. Contrast with this footage of possibly the world’s happiest cow.
2. The Egg and Dairy Industries Also Cause Immense Suffering and Death
It is a common misconception that animals are not harmed in the production of eggs and dairy. In fact, the egg and dairy industries cause enormous suffering and kill billions of hens and baby chicks, and millions of cows and calves, every year.
In nature, wild hens lay only 12 to 20 eggs per year. But domesticated chickens have been genetically manipulated to produce between 250 and 300 eggs annually, leading to painful and often fatal reproductive disorders. More than 95% of chickens used for eggs are confined in cages so small they cannot even spread their wings, and the majority of “cage-free” and “free range” eggs come from miserable hens packed inside filthy warehouses by the thousands. Most hens used for eggs have a portion of their beaks painfully cut off to prevent nervous pecking in overcrowded conditions, and at the hatcheries where new hens are hatched to be sent to egg farms — including humane label farms, small farms, and backyard hen operations — 6 billion male chicks are destroyed every year by being suffocated or ground up alive.
Similarly, all dairy farming depends on the exploitation of female reproduction, and on the destruction of motherhood. Like all mammals, cows only make milk to feed their babies. On dairy farms, including small and humane label farms, calves are permanently removed from their mothers within hours of birth so that humans can take the milk intended for them. Male calves are slaughtered for veal or raised for cheap beef. Female calves spend their first 2 to 3 months of life isolated in lonely hutches, with no maternal nurturing during the time they seek it most.
Hens used for eggs and cows used for milk are also slaughtered when their production declines, at only a fraction of their natural lifespans.
Learn more about the hidden harms of eggs and dairy, even on so-called humane farms, at our features, Eggs: What Are you Really Eating? and 10 Dairy Facts the Industry Doesn’t Want You to Know.
3. Science Confirms: We Have No Need to Consume Animal Products
A well balanced vegan diet can easily provide all the nutrients we need to thrive. Government health experts worldwide are finally catching up with the large body of scientific evidence demonstrating that a vegan diet is not only a viable option for people of any age, but that eating plant foods instead of animal-based foods can confer significant health benefits, including reduction in incidence of obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart attack, stroke, and some types of cancer.
In their official position paper on vegetarian and vegan diets, the American Dietetic Association— the U.S.’s oldest, largest and foremost authority on diet and nutrition— states that well-balanced vegan diets “are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases,” and that they are “appropriate for individuals during all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, and adolescence, and for athletes.”
Learn more at our features, Catching Up With Science: Burying the “Humans Need Meat” Argument and Vegan Diets: Sorting Through the Nutritional Myths.
4. Animal Agriculture’s War on Wildlife
While many people are aware that more than 10 billion land animals are killed for food every year in the U.S., far fewer know that in the last decade alone, more than 30 million wildlife animals — many endangered — have been brutally killed by a secretive branch of the USDA that is primarily employed to destroy wildlife deemed a threat to animal agriculture.
The USDA’s Animal Damage Control (ADC) program was established in 1931 to police and destroy wildlife animals considered to be detrimental to the western livestock industry. The government later changed the program’s name to “Wildlife Services” on the advice of public relations strategists, and changed their motto to the benign sounding, “Living with Wildlife.”
In reality, Wildlife Services spends millions of tax-payer dollars each year to kill native carnivores and predators — coyotes, wolves, bears, mountain lions, and many others — on behalf of the livestock industry. These animals are destroyed by the most violent and gruesome methods imaginable: gunned down from helicopters; poisoned; gassed; torn apart by trained dogs; strangled to death in neck snares; and caught in torturous leg-hold traps in which they languish and slowly die.
Of the millions of animals destroyed by Wildlife Services each year, coyotes are perhaps the most viciously targeted. Every year, tens of thousands of coyotes die slow, agonizing deaths in traps simply because Wildlife Services is not required to check their traps, and personnel frequently do not return to traps for weeks.
Workers also “unintentionally” kill tens of thousands of “non-target” animals each year via indiscriminate and excessive trapping and poisoning. Collateral victims include federally protected golden and bald eagles (who frequently die in leg and neck snares), beavers, armadillos, badgers, great-horned owls, hog-nosed skunks, javelina, pronghorn antelope, porcupines, great blue herons, ruddy ducks, snapping turtles, turkey vultures, long-tailed weasels, marmots, mourning doves, red-tailed hawks, black bears, sandhill cranes and ringtails; as well as swift foxes, kit foxes and river otters, all the focus of conservation and restoration efforts. Thousands of domestic dogs and cats are also killed each year when they stumble upon traps or poisoned baits.
The millions of animals being targeted and destroyed by Wildlife Services eat other animals to survive. Humans have no biological need to consume animal products and most of us have access to plant-based foods. Killing animals for food when we have other options, and killing innocent wild animals who have no other options, are equally indefensible practices.
It should be noted that a shift away from factory farming to more so-called humane, pasture-based farming would only increase the targeting and destruction of wild animals. As John Robbins has noted, “The price that western lands and wildlife are paying for grazing cattle is hard to exaggerate… widespread production of grass-fed beef [and other animal products] would only multiply this already devastating toll.”
For an in-depth look at the gruesome work of Wildlife Services, see this 2012 investigative report: http://www.sacbee.com/news/investigations/wildlife-investigation/article2574599.html
5. Animal Agriculture’s Impact on World Hunger
Of the planet’s nearly 7 billion humans, roughly 1 billion people are malnourished and 6 million children starve to death every year.
Farming animals is notoriously inefficient and wasteful when compared to growing plants to feed humans directly, with the end result that “livestock” animals take drastically more food from the global food supply than they provide.
This is because in order to eat farmed animals, we have to grow the crops necessary to feed them, which amounts to vastly more crops than it would take to feed humans directly. (We feed and slaughter 60 billion farmed animals every year; there are 7.3 billion humans on earth). To give one example, it takes thirteen pounds of grain to yield just one pound of beef (USDA) — while crops such as soy and lentils produce, pound for pound, as much protein as beef, and sometimes more.
Compounding this inefficiency is the fact that only a small percentage of the plant energy consumed by an animal is converted into edible protein. Most of the energy from crops fed to farmed animals is used to fuel their own metabolism, with only a fraction of those grains and other plants being turned into meat.
Feeding half the world’s edible grain crop to farmed animals is not only a grossly inefficient use of protein, it is also a staggering waste of natural resources, requiring far more land, water and energy than cultivating plant foods for direct human consumption. One acre of land can yield between twelve and twenty times more plant food than animal-based foods. Writes Richard Oppenlander, “We are essentially using twenty times the amount of land and crops, and hundreds of times the water, as well as polluting our waterways and air and destroying rainforests, to produce animals to kill and eat … which is unhealthier than eating the plant products we could have produced.”
In fact, analysis of global agricultural yields finds that better use of existing croplands could feed four billion more people simply by shifting away from growing crops for animal feed and fuel, and instead growing crops for direct human consumption. Reallocating croplands in this way could increase available global food calories by as much as 70 percent, according to researchers.
To learn more about the ways animal farming contributes to global food insecurity and hunger, visit A Well-Fed World.
6. Animal Agriculture’s Impact on Climate and Environment
Animal agriculture is the single greatest human-caused source of greenhouse gases, land use, and land degradation; the number one source of freshwater pollution, and the leading driver of rainforest destruction. It is also a major cause of air pollution, habitat loss and species extinction, and is a highly inefficient use of limited natural resources. The United Nations has called for a global shift to a vegan diet wherever possible as the most effective way to combat climate change, world hunger, and ecological devastation.
Even with intensive confinement factory farming methods currently dominating global animal farming, farmed animals still use 30 per cent of the earth’s entire land surface. If we attempted to pasture all 100 million cows in the United States on grass, as humane/sustainable farming advocates suggest, cattle would require (using the conservative estimate of 10 acres per cow) almost half the country’s land — which doesn’t include all the land we would need to raise all of the pigs, chickens, sheep and goats free range.
It is also estimated that pasture-raised cows produce 4 times more greenhouse gases than cows raised in confinement. This is because cows eating grass, as nature intended, grow much slower than cows fed on grain, and thus require significantly more time to reach slaughter weight. The longer it takes cows to grow, the more methane and nitrous-oxide they emit. Farmed animals in the U.S., 98% of whom are factory farmed, already generate a billion tons of manure per year, contributing a whopping 65 percent of the planet’s total human-caused nitrous oxide emissions. (Nitrous oxide is an even more potent heat-trapper than methane.)
Environmental research organization Worldwatch Institute observes: “It has become apparent that the human appetite for animal flesh is a driving force behind virtually every major category of environmental damage now threatening the human future—deforestation, erosion, fresh water scarcity, air and water pollution, climate change, biodiversity loss, social injustice, the destabilization of communities, and the spread of disease.”
7. A Vegan Diet Is Better for Your Heart
The leading cause of death of both men and women in the United States is heart disease. Every day, nearly 2,600 Americans die of some type of heart disease, the most common form being coronary heart disease, also known as coronary artery disease or atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis occurs when hard layers of plaque, usually cholesterol deposits, accumulate in major arteries and begin constricting flow of blood and oxygen to the heart. Arterial plaque is also a leading cause of stroke, the fourth greatest killer of Americans each year.
While other factors can affect cholesterol levels and heart disease (including smoking, exercise, blood pressure, and body weight) one of the single most significant causes of heart disease is dietary cholesterol. Our bodies make all the cholesterol we need, so consuming animal products contributes excessive levels. (There is no cholesterol in plant foods). Animal products are also loaded with saturated fats, which, unlike unsaturated fats, cause the liver to produce more cholesterol.
Fortunately, for most people, preventing coronary heart disease is as simple as eliminating animal products, eating a healthy plant-based diet, exercising, and avoiding cigarette smoking. But beyond prevention, a plant-based diet is the only treatment that has been scientifically proven to reverse heart disease.
Vegan diets have also repeatedly shown to reduce levels of LDL, or “bad” cholesterol. According to a study published in the American Journal of Cardiology, a low-fat vegetarian diet reduces LDL by 16 percent, but a high-nutrient vegan diet reduces LDL cholesterol by 33 percent. The high fiber content of plant-based foods also helps to slow the absorption of cholesterol. Animal products contain no fiber.
8. A Vegan Diet Can Prevent and Reverse Other Diseases, Too
In fact, a whole foods plant-based diet can prevent and in some cases even reverse many of the worst diseases. Dr. T. Colin Campbell is an American biochemist whose research focuses on the effects of human nutrition on long-term health. With his son, Dr. Campbell co-authored the international bestseller, The China Study, based on his findings from a 20 year research project conducted under the auspices of Cornell University, Oxford University and the Chinese Academy of Preventive Medicine, a study described by The New York Times as “the Grand Prix of epidemiology.”
The China Study examines the relationship between meat, egg and dairy consumption and chronic illnesses including heart disease, diabetes, breast cancer, prostate cancer, and colon cancer. Based on a meta-analysis of diet and disease rates in thousands of people in rural populations of Taiwan and China, Dr. Campbell concludes that people who eat a whole foods, plant-based diet—excluding all animal products—can avoid, reduce, and in many cases reverse the development of numerous illnesses, including most of the leading fatal Western diseases.
“What made this project especially remarkable is that, among the many associations that are relevant to diet and disease, so many pointed to the same finding: people who ate the most animal-based foods got the most chronic disease. Even relatively small intakes of animal-based food were associated with adverse effects. People who ate the most plant-based foods were the healthiest and tended to avoid chronic disease. These results could not be ignored. ”
Elsewhere, in 2013, leading U.S. health care provider Kaiser Permanente, with more than 9 million health insurance subscribers, published an article in its medical science journal recommending that physicians consider recommending a plant-based diet for all their patients. The article notes, “Healthy eating may be best achieved with a plant-based diet, which we define as a regimen that encourages whole, plant-based foods and discourages meats, dairy products, and eggs as well as all refined and processed foods … Physicians should consider recommending a plant-based diet to all their patients, especially those with high blood pressure, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, or obesity.”
9. We Are Not Lions (or, A Lesson in Comparative Anatomy)
“Consider again the anatomy of the carnivore and the omnivore, including an enormous mouth opening, a jaw joint that operates as a hinge, dagger-like teeth, and sharp claws. Each of these traits enables the lion or bear to use her body to kill prey. Herbivorous animals, by contrast, have fleshy lips, a small mouth opening, a thick and muscular tongue, and a far less stable, mobile jaw joint that facilitates chewing, crushing, and grinding. Herbivores also generally lack sharp claws. (14) These qualities are well-adapted to the eating of plants, which provide nutrients when their cell walls are broken, a process that requires crushing food with side-to-side motion rather than simply swallowing it in large chunks the way that a carnivore or omnivore swallows flesh.
Herbivores have digestive systems in which the stomach is not nearly as spacious as the carnivore’s or omnivore’s, a feature that is suitable for the more regular eating of smaller portions permitted with a diet of plants (which stay in place and are therefore much easier to chase down), rather than the sporadic gorging of a predator on his prey. (15) The herbivore’s stomach also has a higher pH (which means that it is less acidic) than the carnivore’s or omnivore’s, perhaps in part because plants ordinarily do not carry the dangerous bacteria associated with rotting flesh.
The small intestines of herbivores are quite long and permit the time-consuming and complex breakdown of the carbohydrates present in plants. In virtually every respect, the human anatomy resembles that of herbivorous animals (such as the gorilla and the elephant) more than that of carnivorous and omnivorous species. (16) Our mouths’ openings are small; our teeth are not extremely sharp (even our “canines”); and our lips and tongues are muscular. Our jaws are not very stable (and would therefore be easy to dislocate in a battle with prey), but they are quite mobile and allow the side-to-side motion that facilitates the crushing and grinding of plants.” — Read the full excerpt on comparative anatomy by Sherry F. Colb, from her book, Mind if I Order the Cheeseburger? and Other Questions People Ask Vegans
10. Even Meat and Dairy Farmers Are Going Vegan
Harold Brown is a former beef and dairy farmer. He was born on a cattle farm in Michigan and spent over half his life in agriculture. After a personal health crisis forced him to confront the incidence of heart disease in his family, he went vegan. Living in great health on a vegan diet led him to reexamine all of his previous assumptions about eating animals, and he soon experienced a profound conviction that needlessly exploiting and killing animals for food is immoral. Now a vegan activist, he is the founder of Farm Kind and one of the subjects of the documentary Peaceable Kingdom: The Journey Home.
When asked about so-called humane farming, Harold writes:
“I have often heard the word “humane” used in relation to meat, dairy, eggs, and other products… I have always found this curious, because my understanding is that humane means to act with kindness, tenderness, and mercy. I can tell you as a former animal farmer that while it may be true that you can treat a farm animal kindly and show tenderness toward them, mercy is a different matter.
…I hardly thought twice about the things I had to do on the farm: driving cattle, castrations, dehorning, and I did my fair share of butchering too.
Nowadays I ask myself from both the perspective of the old me and the new me, what does humane mean in the way it is being used? The old me says, “That is an odd word to associate with meat, dairy, and eggs, but hey, if it sells more products, why not?” The new me asks, “Back in the day, I could, and did, raise animals with kindness and tenderness, but how did I show them mercy?” Mercy — a unique human trait of refraining from doing harm.”
Read more powerful testimonies from former meat and dairy farmers who went vegan, here.
11. There Is No Such Thing as Humane Animal Farming
The very existence of labels like “free range,” “cage-free,” and “humane certified” attests to society’s growing concern for the welfare of animals raised for food. But any time consumers of meat, eggs or dairy advocate for “humane” treatment of farm animals, they confront an unavoidable paradox: the movement to treat farm animals better is based on the idea that it is wrong to subject them to unnecessary harm; yet, killing animals we have no need to eat constitutes the ultimate act of unnecessary harm.
Unlike animals who kill other animals for food, we have a choice. They kill from necessity, whereas most humans do so for palate pleasure, custom or convenience. But there is a vast moral difference between killing from necessity and killing for pleasure. When we have a choice between sparing life or taking it, there is nothing remotely humane about inflicting violence and death on others just because we like the taste or the tradition, and because they cannot fight back. Might does not equal right.
Too, many of the worst cruelties inflicted on animals in factory farms are also routine practice on small, free-range farms, even on the best “humane certified” farms. These include: sexual violation and reproductive exploitation; the systematic destruction of motherhood; excruciating mutilations without anesthetic; and denial of instincts and preferences essential to animals’ basic well-being.
Learn more at: A Closer Look at What So-Called Humane Farming Means
12. Living Our Values
It has been estimated that 98% of our harm to animals comes from our food choices. Yet science has irrefutably demonstrated that humans do not need meat, dairy or eggs to thrive. Once we understand that eating animals is not a requirement for good health, and if we have access to nutritious plant-based foods, then the choice to continue consuming animal products anyway is a choice for animals to be harmed and killed for our pleasure — simply because we like the taste.
But harming animals for pleasure goes against core values we hold in common — which is why, for example, we oppose practices like dog fighting on principle. But it can’t be wrong to harm animals for pleasure in one instance, and not the other.
The only way for our values to mean anything — the only way for our values to actually be our values — is if they are reflected in the choices we freely make. And every day, we have the opportunity to live our values through our food choices. If we value kindness over violence, if we value being compassionate over causing unnecessary harm, and if we have access to non-animal alternatives, then veganism is the only consistent expression of our values.
Author’s note: It’s important to recognize that veganism isn’t just a diet. Our society is literally built on animal exploitation, from clothing and cosmetics to household cleaners, from cruel medical experiments to puppy mills. And while living vegan entails making an effort to avoid using animals in all areas of life, the choices we make about the food we eat are an important place to start.
To learn more about vegan eating, check out our Guide to Going Dairy Free and our Guide to Veganizing Your Favorite Egg Dishes (with tips on cooking and baking without eggs). Also be sure to read this essential overview of vegan nutrition. Questions about B12? Go here.