Growing numbers of people worldwide are making informed choices by voting with their feet and purchasing cruelty free vegan products. The environmental, ethical and health reasons for a lifestyle free of animal based products is beyond doubt. It’s thought one of the major reasons for this growing trend is the strong association consumers have with animal cruelty and the meat, dairy, egg and leather industry. Another reason for this seismic shift can be found in the latest Oxford research. This shows that going vegan is the ‘single biggest way’ to reduce your environmental impact on the planet. A worldwide 2020 poll also found the UK 43% and Germany 44% were the countries with the biggest support for a vegan lifestyle. Yes, the rise of the ethical consumer is upon us and they are set to take over the world, Let’s examine how this growing shift has occured.
What is a vegan lifestyle?
Veganism is defined as the practice of abstaining from the use of animal products for ethical, health or environmental reasons. Vegans reject the commodity status of animals likening speciesism to other forms of prejudices.
Why are consumers rejecting animal products and going vegan?
As a society, our moral compass is in constant flux. Some argue that it is this inherent ability to change and adapt our behaviours, attitudes and values, which has led to the incredible advances we enjoy in our modern civilisation.
As with many noble causes throughout history, change may not always be swift. However as in the past, the seeds of change often begin with the simplicity of awareness.
Many people have now been made aware of the scourge of industrialised animal abuse. They are aware of a problem and realise that these problems need to be addressed. This moral awakening has become a major catalyst for change, led by an energetic new generation of animal rights advocates.
Activists, investigative journalists and photographers continue to successfully bring the issues of cruelty into sharp focus. They have achieved this by exposing the horrors of animal factory farming practices for all to see. Time and time again high profile cases emerge, casting a grim shadow over the meat, dairy and egg industry.
Democratic principles at risk
The response from this multi billion dollar industry is to use its economic leverage and influence to lobby governments. Powerful lobby groups have successfully persuaded governments to change the law in their favour by introducing so called ‘ag-gag’ laws. The aim of these laws is to silence critics and diminish scrutiny by watchdogs and whistleblowers. This effectively gives animal factory farmers carte blanche to continue their abuse behind closed doors.
Countries such as Australia, Canada and USA are just a few who have succumbed to the aggresive lobbying tactics. Meanwhile, dissenting voices opposed to these laws have argued vociferously against their introduction on the basis that they constitute a serious threat to both freedom of speech and democratic debate.
Unethical advertising standards
To make matters worse, the industry is well known for borrowing unethical advertising tactics employed by the tabacco industry. This strategy seeks to mislead the public with manufactured false health claims, using heavily marketed branding in the media. This is despite a World Health Organisation’s IARC cancer research, classifying processed beef as a class 1 carcinogen. In terms of animal welfare, their advertising misleads consumers by depicting happy farm animals singing and dancing in fertile pastures.
A litany of reasuring terms attempt to appease the ethical conscience of consumer concerns. Packaging labels aim to brainwash consumers with terms such as ‘Humane Slaughter’, ‘Organic’, ‘Free Range’, ‘Pasture Raised’ ‘ Hormone Free’, ‘Grass Fed’, Preservative free’ and ‘RSPCA approved’.
This marketing is designed to normalise killing, but many realise that the reality of it all is very different. The fact is that the sector continues to haemorage customers away from animal products as the veil of deception is lifted. For those whose judgements are still clouded by industry lies, the evidence to the contrary is stark.
Animal cruelty persists despite the label – Don’t be fooled by industry marketing tactics
- Dairy cows on organic and ‘free-range’ farms end up in the same slaughterhouse as beef cows. Their hides are traded in the lucrative leather industry and are artificially impregnated every year. Baby calves are taken from their mothers soon after birth. Mothers are sent to the slaughterhouse if sickness affects their capacity to produce milk. Male baby calves being useless to the dairy industry, are butchered for veal.
- As with conventional factory farms, animals on organic and ‘Free-range’ farms can be genetically modified and bred to unnaturally increase meat, milk, egg and wool production. Artificial breeding leads to further suffering as animals often become too large too quickly to support their own body weight.
- Animals on organic and “free-range” farms often endure the same cruel mutilations. Debeaking, dehorning, branding, docking and castration – all without any form of pain relief are common practice. Since they can’t lay eggs, male chicks are considered ‘worthless’ to the egg industry. For this reason they are often dropped live into giant steel grinding machines or gassed to death.
- Animals on all these farms, spend the remaining few days of their meagre existence crammed into overcrowded trucks with no food and no water. These trucks can drive for days through all weather extremes from freezing cold to searing heat and in the end, they all end up in the same slaughterhouses used by factory farms. There, the animals are hung upside down and their throats are cut open, often while they’re still conscious and struggling to escape, with many even conscious as their bodies are being hacked apart.
Apart from animal cruelty, are there other reasons consumers are going vegan?
Animal welfare issues are not the only factor driving consumers away from animal products. There are a number of other reasons consumers are pulling the plug on meat. Ordering vegan meals at restaurants and shopping at the grocery store is much easier than it was 10 years ago. So clearly accessibility, convenience and choice plays a major factor. There are also a number of proven health benefits which attracts people towards a more wholefoods plant based diet. The environmental benefis associated with avoiding animal products is also high on the list of pull factors towards veganism. Social injustice associated with using animal products, often neglected as a reason for ditching meat is nonetheless of significant importance. Covid-19, currently impacting everyone on the planet and the greatest pandemic in 100 years. Could animal to human disease transmissions caused by our greed and addiction to meat be causing a shift in attitudes?
Vegan for health
Multiple studies in the last decades have suggested that appropriately planned wholefood vegan diets exert beneficial health effects. Vegans are at reduced risk of certain health conditions, including ischemic heart disease, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, cancer, and obesity. Research also found low intake of saturated fat and high intakes of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, soy products, nuts, and seeds (all rich in fiber and phytochemicals) produce lower total and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels and better serum glucose control. All these factors listed contribute to reductions in chronic disease. It is however important to mention that Vegans need reliable sources of vitamin B-12, such as fortified foods or supplements. B12 deficiency is however not only a vegan issue asmany other factors can cause deficiency in meat eaters.
Vegan for the environment
The impact of our addiction to meat on the environment is huge. A major United Nations report revealed that we have a limited amount of time to prevent a climate change crisis. In addition, the global organization’s Environment Programme (UNEP) named tackling meat production and consumption as the “world’s most urgent problem.” The reason these 2 reports are so significant is because raising livestock for meat, eggs and milk generates 14.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions. This is the second highest source of emissions and greater than all transportation combined.
Livestock also uses about 70% of all agricultural land, and is a leading cause of deforestation, biodiversity loss and eutrofication of water bodies like ocean dead zones. Land area is not only taken up to house and graze livestock, but also to grow the corn, soy, wheat and barley used as animal feed. If everyone stopped eating these foods, global farmland use could be reduced by 75%, allowing earth to be rewilded. This is continental sized areas of land used solely for raising animals equivalent to the size of the US, China, Australia and the EU combined. And as if that’s not reason enough, research at Oxford university found that going vegan could reduce an individual’s carbon footprint from food by up to 73%, making it the ‘single biggest way’ to reduce your impact on earth.
Vegan for social justice – World hunger
Vegan for social justice – Persecution of indigenous communities
Like it or not, the animal agriculture industry perpetuates systemic and pervasive racism. It therefore goes without saying that buying their animal products means support for their practices. Still not convinced? Lets begin with the past and present discrimination, persecution and genocide of indigenous people. Tribes massacred for their land and stolen by cattle ranchers and soy farmers in South America is well documented. Agribusinesses bribe government leaders to turn a blind eye. Illegal occupation of indigenous lands protected under international law is exposing vulnerable indigenous tribes to diseases like Covid-19. This in itself is seen by indigenous rights activists as yet another sign of genocide unfolding in the amazon.
But does Amazonian soya and beef really have an impact beyond its borders? Isn’t this just a Brazilian problem? If you’re thinking South America is far off and has nothing to do with the meat on your plate; think again! As the worlds largest exporter of soya, unethical Brazilian soya and meat finds its way to many countries where it is primarily fed to animals. The EU imports roughly 13.6 million tonnes of soy from Brazil each year and between 25% and 40% of beef. Australia imports 500 000 tonnes of soya. China imports 8.6 million tonnes of soya and 141,104 metric tonnes of beef. Many of these products are directly linked to our demand for meat and perpetuate the cycle of marginalisation and social injustice of indigenous peoples the world over.
Vegan for social justice – Environmental racism
The term Environmental racism was coined by African American civil rights leader Benjamin Chavis in 1982, describing it as “racial discrimination in environmental policy-making, the enforcement of regulations and laws, the deliberate targeting of communities of colour for toxic waste facilities, the official sanctioning of the life-threatening presence of poisons and pollutants in our communities, and the history of excluding people of colour from leadership of the ecology movements”. Exploitation of workers in animal factory farms, meat packaging and slaughterhouses is well documented. The majority of these workers are from predominantly black communities or are immigrant workers who barely make minimum wage. Many of these workers are illegal migrants or short term contract workers, unwilling to demand better pay and working conditions.
The meat, egg and dairy industry, with its factory farms and slaughterhouses, are also a major contributor of pollution that affects the health of people of colour and low-income communities, because more often than not they locate their facilities in the areas where these people live. “Swine CAFOs are disproportionately located in black and brown communities and regions of poverty …” say Maria C. Mirabelli, Steve Wing, Stephen W. Marshall, and Timothy C. Wilcosky of the School of Public Health at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.
Research has shown that industrial factory farms are responsible for both air and water pollution, mostly due to the vast manure lagoons created to hold the enormous amount of waste from the thousands of animals being raised for food. Residents who live near these factory farms often complain of irritation to their eyes, noses, and throats, along with a decline in the quality of life and increased incidents of depression, tension, anger, confusion, and fatigue.
Contamination from animal farms also yields dangerous concentrations of groundwater nitrates, a leading cause of blue baby syndrome. Hydrogen sulfide has also caused noticeable increases in respiratory ailments near these sites. Runoff from factory farms—containing a wide range of pathogens, antibiotics, and other toxic pesticide chemicals—can permeate aquifers and contaminate surrounding groundwater sources. Due to the location of these industrialised farms, those affected most are marginalised communities of colour.
Vegan to prevent future pandemics
‘Ending the expoitation and commodification of animals is one of the biggest actions humankind can take to protect itself against future pandemics.’ This is a statement made by 10 scientists and campaigners in an open letter in The Independent that factory farms and wildlife markets provide the perfect breeding grounds for disease to thrive and transmit to humans.
Encouraging people to go vegan, the letter says “Across the globe animals are kept in horrific conditions in factory farms and wildlife markets. These settings provide a fertile environment for the transmission of viruses between different species and humans” the letter reads.
Is there a solution?
It’s obvious from the facts presented that animal issues are people issues. Sound advice has fallen on deaf ears for decades! Scientists have been raising the alarm through scientific evidence collected in countless peer reviewed studies. The consensus has been that our unsustainable lifestyle choices will have deadly consequences for our lives, but more so on the lives of the next generation – especially for people of colour living in poverty.
In more recent years however, there has been a growing cultural shift in attitudes as more people experience the effects of our unsustainable lifestyles first hand and are beginning to demand action from their governments. We have witnessed record heat waves, increasing severity and duration of wildfires, floods, droughts and storms as well as the melting of polar icecaps and coastal flooding from rising sea levels.
These are all tangible threats which people can no longer ignore. The younger generation has led the charge for change. Many now realise that one of the greatest single solutions anyone can do to combat this existential threat is to simply consume less meat or better still, go vegan/vegetarian. Will our addiction to meat, eggs and dairy be our downfall or can we rise to the challenge? Only time will tell and future generations will surely be the judge!