The focus on food choices as part of the vegan lifestyle is so essential that many people conflate veganism with diet. Much to the ire of ethical vegans (who abstain from animal products as much as possible in all forms including food, clothing, cosmetics, and so forth) dietary vegans (aka strict vegetarians) simply avoid animal products in food. The “true” vegans will correctly proclaim that veganism is “more than a diet” but anyone seriously involved in animal advocacy must acknowlege the fact: food choices matter the most.
Most of the animals who are killed by humans are those who are killed in order to become food for humans to eat. Moreover, the number of animals who LITERALLY suffer to death as a result of animal agriculture dwarfs the number of animals killed for fur, killed in shelters AND killed in laboratories combined. Your food choices matter MOST.
Over at the nerdy blog Counting Animals, the author has taken a close look at the number of animals who suffer to death as a result of animal agriculture. These are the animals who don’t die as a result of slaughter, they literally suffer to death as a result of factory farming methods.
The analysis begins:
“There is no dispute over the fact that well over 95% of the animals that die at the hands of humans are those that are killed for food. But, unfortunately, it is also true that they receive a smaller share of human compassion than that warranted by either their numbers or the intensity of their suffering.”
I added the emphasis above (bold) while the Counting Animals blogger did the other addition. The numbers came out to be these below.
Animals killed for fur, in shelters and in laboratories: approximately 19,523,000
- Fur: approximately 3,873,000 animals killed for fur each year. Some are wild animals like foxes caught in traps but most are minks raised on fur farms.
- Shelters: an estimated 4,000,000 animals are killed in shelters each year. These animals are mostly cats, dogs, and rabbits.
- Labs: about 11,650,000 animals are killed in research facilities every year. Most of these animals are rats and mice.
Animals who suffer to death: over 137,831,000
- Chickens: each year about 7,533,000 hens suffer to death as a result of battery cages in the egg industry, about 98,014,000 chickens suffer to death as a result of leg deformities in the meat industry, and approximately 32,284,000 chickens suffer to death during transport from farm to slaughter adding up to approximately 137,831,000 chickens who suffer to death before slaughter.
- Other farmed animals (turkeys, pigs, cows): not counted in this examination.
Check out the whole article for details on how the numbers above were crunched. The link is http://www.countinganimals.com/is-vegan-outreach-right-about-how-many-animals-suffer-to-death/
Looking purely at the issue of animal death and disregarding suffering, Animal Visuals has created a useful tool that compares various food sources and the related numbers of animal deaths each food causes. Take a look:
There, the creator Mark Middleton concludes:
“A diet of plants causes the fewest animals to be killed. Leaving chickens and eggs out of our diets will have the greatest effect on reducing the suffering and death caused by what we eat.”
For the complete analysis by Middleton, read his detailed examination at http://www.animalvisuals.org/projects/data/1mc
Clearly, the numbers indicate that the largest abuse of animal welfare and animal rights take place in animal agriculture. You can “save” more animals simply by refusing to eat them and by encouraging others to do the same than by virtually any other form of animal advocacy.
Despite all the above, Ward M. Clark has published a rant against veganism based on the unlikely possiblity that a very carefully planned omnivorous diet consisting of meat sourced from either farmed animals who graze purely on land unfit for any other more environmentally-sound purpose or animals who have been hunted in an environmentally-friendly* manner might cause fewer animal deaths than some vegan diets:
“A pound of wild venison (net cost in animal death: about 1/120th of one animal) almost certainly causes less ‘death and suffering’ than a pound of rice (net cost in animal death: including rodents, insect, reptiles and amphibians, number of deaths may range into the hundreds).”
Clark compares apples to oranges, ignoring the primary reason that the majority of Americans do not hunt or work in slaughterhouses: there is a difference between intentionally and needlessly killing an animal versus accidentally causing the death of an animal. For example, if we are unable to stop our car just as a squirrel runs into the road that accidental death doesn’t give us license to breed, confine, mutilate, and slaughter rabbits to make fur hats.
Consistent with his bias, Clark doesn’t address the fact that most people who eat meat do not eat meat that could be described as humanely sourced; most people eat animal products that come from factories:
“For each food animal species, animal agriculture is now dominated by the factory farm - 99.9 percent of chickens raised for meat, 96 percent of laying hens, 99 percent of turkeys, 95 percent of pigs, and 78 percent of cattle”
source: Eating Animals
But the most compelling argument against Clark’s claim is that even if the diet he imagines is possible for some people, it’s still the case that most people will not have that possibility. There simply isn’t enough land to feed everyone in a way that is both “humane” and omnivorous. The math on that is easy: if everyone ate wild venison (aka Bambi’s mother) then there would quickly be no more deer.
The truth is undeniable: anyone who thinks that animal suffering and animal deaths matter will embrace a plant-based diet. Whether they should go 100% vegan or not may be debateable depending on their particular circumstances, but there is simply no ethical justification whatsoever for consuming factory farmed animal products.
*Environmentally-friendly hunting is usually an oxymoron. See why in this article >>