Thanksgiving is a time to reflect on what we’re grateful for. Many people are thankful for family, friends, companion animals, or the ability to live comfortably. I am too. But I’m also thankful that I spend my life fighting for human rights, animals, and the planet.
I’m thankful I am a vegan animal rights activist.
I’d like to say I’ve been an activist forever, but I’ve really only acted on my beliefs since 2009, when I mustered the courage to go to my first protest against Ringling Brothers. From that point my activism grew, and in the summer of 2012, I co-founded a grassroots nonprofit in New York that focused on animal rights.
That passion and drive eventually led me to working at Mercy For Animals, where every day we fight for a better world for farmed animals. But it doesn’t stop there. By focusing on ending animal agriculture, particularly factory farming, we are simultaneously fighting for human rights and environmental justice. By becoming, and staying, an animal rights activist, I have been able to make the greatest impact for the entire world. Here’s how.
When it comes to environmental impact, the animal agriculture industry’s record is disastrous. A report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change finds that we may have as few as 12 years to cut global emissions by 45 percent to prevent global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius and avert a catastrophe. And one of the leading contributors to climate change? You guessed it: animal agriculture.
Raising animals for food produces more greenhouse gas emissions than all cars, planes, and other forms of transportation combined. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, carbon dioxide emissions from raising farmed animals make up about 15 percent of global human-induced emissions, with beef and milk production as the leading culprits. In fact, even without fossil fuels, we will exceed our 565-gigaton CO2e limit by 2030.
Recent EPA records for 98 large U.S. slaughterhouses found that three-quarters of them discharged toxic waste directly into nearby streams and rivers, violating pollution control permits. Animal agriculture is the leading cause of ocean dead zones. Moreover, Tyson is responsible for dumping more toxic pollution into our waterways than companies like ExxonMobil and Dow Chemical, and that doesn’t even include pollution from its factory farms.
The meat and dairy industries not only exploit our environmental resources but continually exploit female bodies in the reproduction of new animals to use and kill.
Cows in the dairy industry are repeatedly and forcibly impregnated to ensure a continuous supply of milk. Their newborns are ripped from their sides within hours, with the daughters forced into the same generative cycle and the sons killed for someone’s dinner.
If that isn’t enough to churn your stomach, consider this: Pregnant pigs are often kept in gestation crates, individual cages so small the animals cannot walk, turn around, or lie down comfortably. They are continually impregnated to produce more pigs for human consumption. Mother pigs spend their lives on concrete floors. They will never see grass or root through dirt, and they will never be allowed to bond with their piglets.
The suffering inflicted on mothers is immeasurable and indefensible.
Living near factory farms is a nightmare. These farms pollute the surrounding areas so much that residents suffer a host of illnesses from breathing in the many harmful gases these facilities emit. More often than not, these facilities are built near low-income communities and communities of color.
In 2016, the Environmental Working Group released a collection of maps and data revealing that the environmental cost of North Carolina’s 6,500 factory farms disproportionately affected vulnerable communities.
Just recently, North Carolina residents sued Smithfield for “unreasonable nuisances” they suffered from odors, flies, and rumbling trucks, according to the Associated Press. Those living near Smithfield’s factory farms, which hold thousands of pigs in cramped, filthy conditions, have had to deal with the facilities’ intense stench. According to a neighbor, the odor was comparable to that of rotting corpses he’d found during his career as a police officer and firefighter. Other neighbors had to flee their homes when the sickening smell became overwhelming.
Smithfield continues to use open-air pits as a low-cost method of handling waste, even though North Carolina banned this method for new factory farms in 1997. The facilities empty these large pits by spraying liquid excrement onto fields, but winds carry it to neighboring houses and communities.
According to an article by Civil Eats, North Carolina pig factory farms produce nearly 10 billion gallons of feces and urine each year. That’s enough to fill 15,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools.
The National Resources Defense Council stated in February 2017:
People who live near or work at factory farms breathe in hundreds of gases, which are formed as manure decomposes. For instance, one gas released by the lagoons, hydrogen sulfide, is dangerous even at low levels. Its effects—which are irreversible—range from sore throat to seizures, comas and even death.
Heartbreaking and immoral.
Immigration and Workers’ Rights
Poultry processing is one of the most dangerous jobs; more than 27 workers a day suffer amputations or other injuries severe enough to require hospitalization. With high demands for how many animals are “processed” per day, workers rarely get bathroom breaks. Some have even resorted to wearing diapers. Additionally, slaughterhouse workers have been found to suffer from PTSD and illnesses caused by antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
With an unknown percentage of undocumented immigrants working in the industry, factory farmers prey on vulnerable people. A 2017 report on immigrant labor at New York dairy farms showed that a whopping 93 percent of the workers surveyed were undocumented immigrants, who are easily exploited. Many undocumented workers are afraid to go off the farm for fear of being caught and deported, a fear reinforced by demeaning or intimidating comments from their supervisors. Some remain on the farms for more than 11 days at a time.
I feel incredibly lucky to spend my days both fighting for animals and fighting to make this world a more just and compassionate place. All of us have a part to play and we can start by leaving animal products off our plates. Join the millions around the globe who are going vegan. Visit ChooseVeg.com today and get started.
According to a study from Lancaster University, we already grow enough edible crops to feed not only the current population but the one projected for 2050. Similarly, an analysis published in the Los Angeles Times claims we could feed all 327 million Americans, plus 390 million more people. But this would require a massive lifestyle shift: going vegan.
A 2015 Reuters article reports that U.N. officials believe going plant-based could alleviate human starvation: “Today half the world’s agricultural land is used for livestock farming, … which is far less efficient for feeding people—and worse for the environment—than producing grain, fruit and vegetables for direct human consumption.”
A large-scale shift to a plant-based food system would help not only the billions of animals who are killed each year for food but the 815 million people who don’t have enough to eat. Simply put: If humans stopped using land and edible crops to feed animals bred and killed for meat and dairy, we could potentially end world hunger.