The Heifer Project - A Position Paper of The Factory Farming Conversion Project
From The Heifer Project: Inhumanity in the Name of Humanity - An Animal Issues Article Series


Ellen Bring
March 2000

Did you receive "THE MOST IMPORTANT GIFT CATALOG IN THE WORLD" during the holidays? That's the proclamation of the Heifer Project International, a "farm" animal exploiter, whose public relations propaganda is akin to Hunters for the Hungry. After all, how can one argue against wanting to help people who don't have enough to eat?

According to its information, Heifer Project International (HPI) has provided "livestock" and training to more than four million families around the world for over fifty years. It has more than 300 projects in more than forty countries.

Apparently, HPI became a favored cause this winter. It was endorsed by a columnist for The Independent who listed HPI amongst a few alternatives to traditional gift-giving. It was adopted by at least one church for a year long commitment of charitable fund-raising. Its catalog lists endorsements from Pres. Bill Clinton, former president, Jimmy Carter, The Boston Globe, The Christian Science Monitor, The Rocky Mountain News.


pig slaughter

(Ed. Note: Since the publication of this article, we have been informed by Ellen Bring that both The Boston Globe and The Rocky Mountain News were questioned about their endorsements of HPI. Both newspapers deny that they have ever endorsed HPI. According to what's been passed on to Ellen by this woman's e-mail correspondence with the newspapers, HPI may have used isolated statements from articles the newspapers did on HPI (years ago), quoted and showcased them in its catalog to make it look like the newspapers are supporters of their work. Apparently, HPI did not have the papers' permission to use the info in this way.)

HPI has offices or addresses in Arkansas and Washington, D.C. "Rooted in the Christian tradition, HPI joins with people of all faiths to work for the dignity and well-being of all people."

The cover has a picture of a sheep with a woven halter encircling her/his face. The halter is tied through hair between her/his eyes so it doesn't slip off. There is a prominent Heifer Project International tag hanging from the sheep's neck and I can't tell how it is attached. The sheep looks bewildered or sad to me.

The catalog shows numerous smiling adults and children hugging or cuddling goats, rabbits, pigs, sheep, llama, chickens, cows, water buffalo. HPI also uses ducks, guinea pigs, camels, donkeys, oxen, geese and bees.

Not surprising, there are no pictures showing the animals being killed for consumption. The catalog does mention protein, meat, selling offspring, but pictures of slaughter would make this catalog messy and off-putting to the folks they want to sucker in with cutesy writing such as: Your granddaughter is celebrating her very first Christmas. What better way to share the joy you see in the eyes of such a happy, healthy little girl than to give a trio of bunny rabbits to a struggling family in her name. (p.12)

A trio of HPI rabbits is a low-cost, high-yield gift that helps impoverished families increase their protein intake and income. (p.12)

How happy and joyous will this child be when she's old enough to know that violence was done in her name? How happy and joyous would a child be witnessing the killing of rabbits?

According to the catalog, in 1983, HPI gave 105 rabbits to four families in a province in China. Now there are hundreds of thousands of rabbits "providing meat and income for villagers." (Boston Globe) One recipient has set up a training school for rabbit farmers. The rabbits no doubt live in factory farm conditions.

Here's another ditty: The holidays are right around the corner and it's time for more piglet gifts for your mother. Something about their cute, squishy faces and their curlicue tails brings a smile to Mom's face. Over the years, her holiday gifts have ranged from pig T-shirts to pig doorstops to pig weathervanes...This year, how about the gift of a real live pig to put a smile on Mom's face and brighten the future for a struggling community? If HPI animals are 'living savings accounts' for poor families, the pig is the most interest- bearing. When you donate a pig, you give a struggling family a valuable source of protein, income from the sale of offspring, and natural fertilizer to nourish crops and soil. .....An average sow can provide a family with up to 16 piglets a year. (p.9)

There's a nephew story concerning a suggested "gift" of goats (p.6); an uncle story concerning a suggested "gift" of llamas (p.18); and a teacher story concerning a suggested "gift" of chickens (p.14).

You also get a chance to be an "Ark" angel. The Gift Ark is $5,000 (for a company, civic group, congregation). "You'll be sending farm animals on a voyage wherever they are needed most." I wonder how many die en route? How many die within the first year? Within five years?

Although the catalog states that families undergo training by HPI in the care of the species they will receive, there is no description of training content, duration or follow-up. HPI sends animals all over the world, but apparently doesn't establish regional veterinary practices. It doesn't appear that HPI provides funds to send people to school to become veterinarians and veterinary technicians.

How does HPI train families to deal with illness, injury, unrelieved pain? What happens to water buffalo, donkeys and camels who can no longer plow or transport due to illness or injury or age? Are they cared for, or are they killed and eaten? How does HPI define and implement euthanasia for so many species? What medical supplies and medicines does HPI supply? What does HPI do about medicines that require refrigeration? How are medical instruments kept sterile or sterilized after use? What about anesthesia and analgesic training and supplies?

A supposed true story is "A Hero's Story." A young grandson in the Dominican Republic is heralded for saving the life of his nanny goat who had a difficult third birth. "Jose's HPI training had taught him how a kid should be positioned in the womb. Using plastic bags as gloves, Jose carefully put his hands inside the nanny's womb and discovered one of the kid's legs was in the wrong position. A few minutes after Jose moved the leg, the goat gave birth to healthy twins." (p.7)

How old is this young grandson? If this story is to be believed, why didn't HPI supply sterile gloves to Jose and his grandmother? Hard to believe the goat just stood there while Jose stuck his hands and arms into her uterus and shifted the baby. How was the goat restrained? What would Jose have done next if the goat's difficulties continued? "If she died, his family would be set back dramatically." (p.7) Had Jose and his grandmother been trained in analgesics, anesthesia, surgery and euthanasia?

According to the catalog, HPI provides "free Sunday school lessons and faith-based materials similar to 'A Hero's Story' that teach children ages 5-12 about the problems of hunger and poverty." (p.7)

No doubt, those materials fail to mention that HPI teaches exploitation and a lack of compassion for other living beings. HPI fails to mention that it teaches killing. HPI doesn't tell young people that it is invested in spreading animal agriculture, rather than plant-based sustainable agriculture. There is no education about the politics of hunger and food distribution, and the dire health and environmental costs of animal agribusiness.

The catalog states that a family is supposed to prepare so-called "adequate facilities" for the animals living quarters, but the text emphasizes how little the animals need: "Goats can thrive in extreme climates and on poor, dry land by eating grass and leaves." (p.6) "To help hungry, undernourished families put protein back in their diets at little cost, HPI teaches farmers how to raise healthy pigs in countries where waste products are the only available feed. In Honduras, pigs eat rejected bananas, and in the Dominican Republic, they thrive on damaged yams." (p.8) "Pigs need little land and can eat crop and garden scraps." (p.9) "Sheep often give birth to twins or triplets and can graze even the hilliest, rockiest pastures unsuitable for other livestock. Some HPI families use managed grazing techniques or keep their sheep in zero-grazing pens, to protect the environment and permit efficient collection of manure for fertilizer that improves soil and pasture land." (p.10) "Because chickens require little space and can live on readily available food scraps, families can make money from the birds without spending much." (p.14) "When resources are scarce, it is important that livestock don't use up land reserved for people." (p.18) "Llamas are remarkably disease-resistant and require little care; they can live five days without food or water and can carry as much as 75 pounds for 20 miles over rugged slopes at high altitudes." (p.18)

In case you read too quickly, HPI states that land is RESERVED for people. What arrogance! Says who?

In small print on the order form, HPI informs donors that a "purchase" from the catalog represents a contribution to the entire mission of HPI. I guess that means donations just go in a general fund and HPI decides how the money is spent.

HPI is insidious and dangerous because it promotes violence and labels it "doing good." The animals are invisible except as tools for labor, reproduction and transportation; for cash crops-- selling offspring and wool; for items of consumption-- flesh, milk, eggs, honey.

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