Reduce animal suffering significantly by choosing a plant-based diet
Whether it is pigs, cows, chickens, or fish, industrial farming methods cause suffering to countless animals, all of whom are sentient beings and have complex social lives. But a plant-based diet minimises the number of animals who live in these conditions and it is easier than ever thanks to the increasing variety of meat and dairy substitutes available.
South Africa has a strong meat-eating culture. According to a study by Knorr, South Africans on average eat meat at least 4 times per week, equalling about 58kg of meat eaten per South African every year. In 2015 the United States Department of Agriculture estimated that South Africans consume approximately 2.9 million tons of beef, pork and poultry every year.
Yet few of us know or think about where our meat comes from and what these animals endure before ending up on our plates. Even fewer of us might know how just how much a plant-based can relieve their suffering.
FOUR PAWS, an animal welfare foundation, agrees, stating that Veganuary is a “great time to kick start the new year by making animal-friendly food choices which not only individuals can contribute towards, but also the food industry at large”.
“FOUR PAWS supports Veganuary as it prevents animal suffering, it positively contributes to the environment as well as people’s health,” says Fiona Miles, Director of FOUR PAWS in South Africa.
Unfortunately, family and small-scale farms are mostly a thing of the past, with factory farms or industrialised farms continuously expanding to meet the high demand for animal products.
Pigs (aka “pork”)
About 1 billion pigs currently live on commercial farms around the world, and an extra 5 billion are also are bred, fattened, and slaughtered every year. Globally, pork is one of the most consumed meats. In 2013, the average person ate approximately 16 kg of pork. In the US, the per capita consumption is 28 kg, while in Europe, it is 39 kg.
Pigs are usually fattened enough for slaughter at only six months. This rapid growth is due mainly to three factors: their movement is severely restricted, they are fed calorie-dense foods, and they are selectively bred to grow as fast as possible, all of which impact negatively on their health.
A week before giving birth the sow is moved to a farrowing crate (metal cages so narrow that the sows cannot even turn around). Mothers and their piglets generally remain in these bedding-less farrowing crates for about four weeks. When her piglets are taken away, the mother is immediately returned to a gestation crate, where she will be inseminated again a mere five days later.
Shortly after birth, piglets endure several mutilation procedures, like castration, tail docking, and the grinding down of their teeth, usually performed without anaesthetic.
Chickens (aka “poultry”)
Chickens are among the most intensively farmed animals, while the consumption of eggs also has a significant impact on their welfare.
Worldwide, over 7 billion chickens are kept inside egg factories, laying more than 1.3 trillion eggs per year. Laying hens are bred to lay as many eggs as possible and are kept under artificial lighting designed to further increase laying rates to an average of 300 eggs per year. As a result of this unnaturally high laying rate, the bodies of laying hens are quickly exhausted and most of them are considered “unproductive” and slaughtered after just one year.
The majority of all laying hens live in conventional battery cages, providing each bird with a living space smaller than an A4 sheet of paper.
The conditions for chickens on “free-range” or “organic” farms are often very similar to those in barns. According to regulations, chickens in free-range systems must have access to the outdoors, but due to overcrowding, many of them are not able to access the door.
In most egg factories, chicks have their beaks trimmed or cut off at a young age to prevent them from pecking at and cannibalising each other as they grow older, usually using a hot blade. This is usually performed without anaesthetic. And because they cannot lay eggs, and their breeding makes them unprofitable to raise for meat, male chicks are considered worthless to the egg industry. Consequently, on their first day of life, male chicks are separated from their sisters and killed either by suffocation or shredded alive in a grinder.
Fish and “seafood”
Fish have the same capacity to feel pain as mammals. Yet millions of tonnes of fish are caught each year and an increasing number of species are at risk of extinction. Today, over 90% of fish stocks are considered either overfished or exploited close to the point of unsustainability.
Each year, around 96 million tonnes of these marine creatures are taken from the sea and subsequently die in pain and distress. 2.3 trillion of these sentient creatures perish each year – and this does not include the numbers killed by the rampant practice of illegal fishing.
Each year, several million marine animals end up in fishing nets as bycatch. The term ‘bycatch’ describes sea dwellers that are not the targeted animal – including 300,000 whales and dolphins but also seabirds and other marine mammals that get caught in fishing nets. Most of them do not survive the ordeal – they either perish in the nets or die a slow death later on due to injury or stress.
Even fish farms or Aquafarms exacerbate the problem of overfishing. Aquafarms frequently breed predators such as salmon or trout, which require smaller fish as their food source. Fishmeal and fish oil production has become a huge industry supplying aquafarms and the livestock industry with fish meal and fish oil to feed billions of animals. About 20-30% of wild-caught fish are used as animal feed, with a large part of this potentially suitable for direct human consumption.
Even as a “relaxing hobby”, fishing and “catch-and-release” fishing causes substantial suffering to fish: the hook produces deep wounds in the oral cavity, while the fish slowly suffocates after being taken out of the water.
Cow’s and their milk (aka beef and dairy)
Dairy products are among the most frequently consumed animal products worldwide. Due to the enormous volume of milk production, dairy cows, who are intelligent, empathetic, and affectionate animals, must endure uncomfortable and stressful conditions which do not meet even their most basic needs.
On today’s industrial dairy farms, cows are bred specifically to maximise milk production. As a result of this breeding, the average milk yield per cow has risen dramatically over the years. Producing milk at such an unnaturally elevated rate is physically exhausting for cows. To produce a single litre of milk, a cow’s body must pump half a tonne of blood through her udder.
Contrary to popular belief and what industry advertisers would like people to believe, even pasture-fed dairy cows do not spend all their time in pastures. They generally have access to pastures for less than five months per year. The rest of the year, they usually live in either tie stalls or cubicles. Cows seen grazing outside are typically beef cattle or young dairy cows before their first calving.
On many commercial dairy farms, cows live in cramped stalls, tied in place with a chain or rope. These conditions are so restrictive that, for much of their lives, cows in tie stalls are unable to walk, turn around, groom, look to the side, or naturally interact with other herd members.
Like all mammals, cows produce milk only after giving birth. To maintain milk production levels, industrial dairy cows are forcibly inseminated each year. Like humans, cows gestate for nine months. During this time, cows are milked up until the seventh month of their pregnancies.
Newborn calves are separated from their mothers within a few hours of birth since the mothers’ milk is reserved for human consumption. The separation is traumatic for both the mother and her calf. She will be inseminated again six to eight weeks after giving birth.
Most female calves born to dairy cows face the same fate as their mothers. They are isolated in small pens for the first eight weeks of their life, then spend the remainder of their lives producing milk for the dairy industry.
Worldwide, commercial dairy cows are usually slaughtered as soon as their milk production starts to decline, generally between 4.5 and 6 years of age. Cows who fail to conceive after their first insemination, as well as those who do not produce sufficient levels of milk after their first calving, are slaughtered at even younger ages.
Male calves and ‘surplus’ females are most commonly sold to fattening farms, where they spend a few weeks gaining weight until they are slaughtered and sold as veal.
In total, more than 300 million cows are slaughtered for beef around the world each year. Beef production in the Amazon rainforest is the biggest cause of deforestation, as well as a major contributor to climate change and decreased biodiversity.
Meat, dairy and egg alternatives are growing in popularity
More and more consumers are questioning the consumption of meat and the effects that our diets have on animals, the environment, and our health. This is also reflected in the increasing demand for meat substitutes. Meat alternatives offer several advantages compared to meat. Vegan versions of burgers, for example, are free of cholesterol and usually contain fewer calories and less fat than similar burgers made from meat.
Plant milks have been consumed for centuries in various cultures, but their popularity has skyrocketed over the past decade. People choose plant milks over dairy milk for a variety of reasons. Whether it is for their nutritional value, animal welfare reasons, lower environmental impact, to avoid lactose or dairy milk allergens, or simply out of preference, there are many delicious options to try.
Plant-based egg alternatives are also becoming increasingly popular. Eggs are an important ingredient in many cuisines, whether for baked goods and desserts or mayonnaise and hollandaise sauce. However, due to the industrial production methods used, eggs come at a significant cost to animal welfare, the environment, and our health. There are now healthier, plant-based egg alternatives for every purpose. These include applesauce or bananas for baking, kala namak for a typical egg flavour, as well as commercially available alternatives.
ProVeg International does not only point out healthy, cruelty-free alternatives but also makes them more readily available. In 2011, ProVeg provided the idea for VeggieWorld – Europe’s first and biggest trade fair promoting a plant-based lifestyle – and continues to help the event organisers with the core programme and the selection of exhibitors. Furthermore, ProVeg advises and supports innovative companies that want to enrich the veggie market with their products.