[Ed. Note: For more information, see The Heifer Project (Gifting Animals): A Bad Approach to Solving World Hunger Problems]
By Neville Heath Fowler, Director of HIPPO (Help International Plant Protein Organization)
"If you were to put as much effort into caring about people as you do for animals you would do more good." Anyone who has been on the street collecting funds for animal charities may have been the butt of such comments as that at some time or the other. I have usually found that the quickest way to see the back of such a heckler is to ask: "So what do you do for people then?" The fact is that those who care about animals are more likely to care about people too. Sociologists and criminologists know only too well that violence to animals and violence to people, especially to children, often go hand in hand.
Need versus Greed
Our street antagonist whose concern for people spares him no time for animals might be disturbed at the fact that hundreds of millions of humans in this world live on the edge of starvation. Take India for example. Mareka Gandhi, Minister of State for Social Justice and Empowerment in the Government of India states:
"In a country where millions of people go hungry 37% of all arable land is being used to grow fodder for animals that are being raised and killed for export. As if that were not enough we are exporting soy beans to feed European livestock, who will in turn be murdered for meat. These kinds of figures cry out against any kind of meat production at all, compassionate or otherwise. I see no reason why India should feed the world at the expense of her own land, her water, her people, her hunger."
It is not just India that pays the price for western greed. Many poor countries contribute to sustaining the high meat diets of westerners. "In Brazil alone, 5.6 million acres is used to grow soy beans for animals in Europe." (Tim Lang, Professor of Food Policy and Director of the Centre for Food Policy at Thames Valley University). Even poor Ethiopia exports food to Europe, even during famines! It is getting worse. The recent EU-wide ban on feeding Meat & Bone Meal to livestock as a result of the BSE and nvCJD catastrophe has led to a mad scramble by the compounders of livestock feeds for vegetable proteins like soy. Every third world country is in danger of being ransacked to find protein food for Europe's cattle, pigs and poultry - food that could be used for direct consumption by hungry human beings. The USA produces lots of soy (its principal agricultural crop) but most of it is now contaminated by Genetically Modified Organisms and the growing demand in Europe is for meat from animals not raised on genetically engineered feed. When our proverbial 'man- in- the- street' wakes up to the fact that through his meat-eating habit he is grabbing many times his fair share of the earth's resources of land and water, his concern for humanity and sense of fair-play should persuade him to become a vegetarian even if he doesn't care much about animals. The extra land needed to feed meat-eaters has to come from somewhere. With approximately 0.2 hectares of agricultural land for each of earth's inhabitants, many are bound to starve if some insist on consuming 2 hectares each. Meat production is a woefully inefficient process as animals waste about 90% of what they eat and use vast quantities of water - a precious and scarce commodity in most poorer parts of the world.
Suffering at Home Too
It is possible that our challenger was thinking less about foreigners in distant lands and more about his "own people". If so, has he stopped to think of all his fellow countrymen and women who are suffering pain and disability as a direct consequence of unhealthy diets loaded with flesh and dairy products? Coronary heart disease (CHD), arterio-sclerosis, hypertension, strokes, cancers, kidney failure, diabetes, obesity, osteoporosis, abound. Not only do they cause the afflicted individuals great suffering and their families much sorrow but they throw a huge burden of cost onto often overstretched Public Health Services. No-one is altogether immune from sickness it is true but the fact is that the incidence of all these causes of human suffering and death is greatly increased by diets high in animal fats and animal proteins. Then there is new variant CJD, Salmonella, E-coli, Listeria, Crohn's Disease - the list is long and growing longer almost daily. He may not be bothered about the mass slaughter of animals - over 2 million per day in the UK alone plus 12,000 newborn calves killed to steal their mothers' milk plus the massacre of hundreds of thousands in the name of disease control - Foot & Mouth Disease, BSE, Swine Fever etc. But at least his love for humans should make him want to persuade them to stop taking such risks with their health and to press the government to back preventive health measures. After all, they impose heavy taxes on other substances that are known to cause illness, such as tobacco and alcohol. Meat they subsidise! Why? It is more than ten years since the World Health Organisation of the United Nations called on governments around the world to make a radical change. "Policies should be geared to promoting the growing of plant foods and to limiting the promotion of meat and dairy" they said, on the grounds that it is cheaper, more efficient, and above all healthier. The plea has fallen on deaf ears.
The Threat Grows
It is nothing short of alarming that our western meat culture is rapidly spreading to the Third World too. In developing countries the per capita production and consumption of the traditional plant protein foods like peas, beans, and lentils, has declined drastically over the last four decades. The production and use of animal food has correspondingly increased. A growing middle-class in these countries strives to adopt wasteful western 'standards' including its burger culture, and the poor get hungrier. Overgrazing and deforestation are often the result, leading to climate change, land degradation, desertification, soil erosion by wind and water, and flooding. This trend must be arrested and reversed urgently. Why do otherwise well-meaning aid agencies continue to promote the introduction and expansion of livestock enterprises? Is it because they are run by meat-eaters who find it impossible to contemplate, let alone advocate, a meatless future for the world because of their own personal addiction to meat? Those who are poor and hungry for food and land to grow it on do not need more mouths to feed in the form of farm animals. Instead, people should be taught to have a proper appreciation of the value of their plant protein crops, how to grow them efficiently and healthily, and how to utilise them to make nutritious and palatable foods. This is the aim of HIPPO, a Not for Profit Organisation Registered with the Charity Commission for England & Wales in 1999. HIPPO (Help International Plant Protein Organisation) encourages people at home and abroad to 'go vegetarian' and takes practical help to people in poor countries who are working to improve the nutrition of the needy, through the provision of good plant protein foods. People and animals are HIPPO's concern. "Feeding the world with compassion" is its motto. The work is entirely dependent on voluntary donations and volunteer workers. Every penny given goes to the work and nothing is wasted on paid staff or glossy brochures. Requests for further information are very welcome.