We know that hamburgers and chicken wings don't grow on trees. They come from animals we've sentenced to death long before they're even born.
Everyone who eats animal products is responsible for the abuse and deaths of beings with lives and personalities of their own—beings who did not choose to be carved up and put on the dinner table.
Forget about green pastures, fresh air, and sunshine. Animals raised for food are separated from their mothers shortly after birth and spend their brief, miserable lives crammed together by the thousands in factory farms, sometimes unable to move or to take a single step in any direction.
Chickens raised for their flesh are bred to grow so big so fast that their legs collapse beneath them. (How big and how fast, you ask? Well, if human babies were forced to grow at the same rate, they would go from 7 pounds to 1,500 pounds within 11 weeks.) As a result, chickens suffer painful joint and bone conditions and heart attacks. Unable to move, some die of thirst just steps away from their drinking water.
Chickens raised for their eggs are kept in stacked cages, where feces from the top rows fall onto the birds below. Male chicks are worthless to the egg industry, so they're tossed in the trash or thrown into a meat grinder—while they are still alive—to be grounded up and fed back to other farmed animals, even other chickens.
Because animals raised for food are so stressed and fearful, factory farmers think that the only way to prevent them from fighting is through systematic mutilation. Chickens' sensitive beaks are cut off with a hot blade, and pigs' teeth and tails are cut off—all without the use of painkillers. On the killing floor, many animals are still conscious when they are skinned and cut into pieces.
And let's not forget about fish. Whether they're hooked through the mouth, dragged out of the ocean in nets, or "harvested" from fish farms, fish and other marine animals feel pain and don't deserve to die.
It's not just the saturated fat and cholesterol. For one thing, humans simply were not designed to eat animal products even in their most natural, unprocessed form. And because of modern farming methods, each mouthful of meat, eggs, and dairy products can come with the following:
And if heart disease, cancer, and other diseases won't convince you to stop eating animal products, maybe the havoc that the meat industry wreaks on the environment will.
For one thing, raising animals for food depletes our oxygen supply. In Central America, two-thirds of the rain forests have been cleared to make way for cattle ranches. At the same time, the world's livestock account for 15 to 25 percent of overall global methane emissions—and methane is 24 times more potent a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.
In the United States, nearly half of the country's water, more than one-third of its raw materials and fossil fuels, 80 percent of its agricultural land, and 70 percent of its grain are used to raise animals for food—who, in turn, produce a whopping 87,000 pounds of manure every single second! This waste, which is 130 times the excrement of the entire human population, leaks into streams and rivers, contaminating water sources.
The suffering of humans and the suffering of other animals are interconnected. By alleviating the suffering of other animals, we also help alleviate human suffering.
For example, around 840 million people go hungry every single day of their lives. Cattle worldwide consume enough calories to feed 8.7 billion people. Crops that could be used to feed the hungry are instead being used to fatten animals raised for food. Instead of growing grain, feeding it to animals, killing the animals, and then eating their flesh, why not just grow crops for human consumption? Simply put, the more meat you eat, the fewer people you feed. You can feed 20 vegetarians on the amount of land needed to feed one person on a meat-based diet. And speaking of land, big corporations buy land at rock-bottom prices and use them to grow food that only richer societies can afford. The farmers, who could've grown their own food if they didn't have to devote their land to raising animals, end up hungry and poor.
By boycotting animal products, we also boycott slaughterhouses and animal-processing plants, which are notorious for low wages, unsafe working conditions, and poor labor relations.
The farmed-animal industry in the United States, for instance, deliberately recruits immigrants, minors, and poor rural Americans because they will accept low wages and can be easily manipulated for fear of losing their jobs. Some meatpacking giants have even been charged with smuggling undocumented workers into the U.S. Far away from their homes with no support network, many of these migrant workers are treated like slaves by the farmed-animal industry. In some slaughterhouses in the U.S., two-thirds of the workers are immigrants who cannot speak English.
Day in and day out, these workers must struggle against animals fighting for their lives, using dangerous equipment meant to cut through meat and bone. Sometimes training consists of little more than watching a video, and the up to 400 percent job turnover rate at some slaughterhouses means that workers are replaced before they get the hang of operating the machines without accidentally hurting themselves or others.
Often, these workers are too worried about making their quota or keeping up with the line speed to think about taking extra precautions, even the simplest ones such as keeping their knives sharp. As for safety gear, the animal-processing industry usually makes workers pay for this out of their own pockets, despite the fact that many of the workers are too poor even to feed their families. Not surprisingly, one in three slaughterhouse workers suffers from illness or injury every year, compared to one out of every 10 workers in other manufacturing jobs. Repetitive stress injury is 35 times more common among slaughterhouse workers than in any other manufacturing job.
As bad as it may already sound, it's very likely that these figures are even higher: Workers, human resources staff, and management are discouraged from reporting work-related injuries in order to get hefty bonuses and keep insurance costs from cutting into the company's bottom line. Many ill and injured employees are required to report for work anyway, are forced to pretend that they were injured at home, or are even fired outright just so companies can avoid having to pay for medical treatment or having to report injuries to occupational safety authorities.
In addition to exploiting poor people, immigrants, and children and doing little to protect workers from workplace hazards, the farmed-animal industry has also been charged with union busting. When workers try to unionize, the industry uses illegal intimidation and harassment tactics to ensure that pro-union employees are silenced. According to Human Rights Watch, "Many workers who try to form trade unions and bargain collectively are spied on, harassed, pressured, threatened, suspended, fired, deported or otherwise victimized for their exercise of the right to freedom of association."