Behind the Scenes: Mars Inc.’s Stake in the Pet Industry

Mars Petcare US—purveyor of pet products including Whiskas®, Greenies™, Sheba®, Cesar®, and Iams™—is a division of the $35 billion Mars (M&Ms) chocolate empire.

Mars Veterinary (Wisdom Health™) is active in genetic research on dogs on behalf of breeders. Mars also owns several vet chains, including Banfield Pet Hospitals. In 2017, Mars paid $9 billion to acquire VCA Inc., which has about 800 vet businesses throughout North America.

Now, this company is putting pro-petkeeping messages into children’s education, and even funding city infrastructure designed, ultimately, to boost the pet products industry.

Read more at CounterPunch.

Eating Flesh: How Do We Frame The Question?

A debate is running about what humans will eat when we stop eating meat.

Why? Our most sustainable protein on Earth is the bean. Beans, lentils, and peas grow in harsh climates with little water, in financially poor regions. They self-fertilize, capturing nitrogen from the air and fixing it in the soil, so they don’t need the synthetic fertilizers that are running off the land and killing the ocean.

Yet some vegans, of all people, are promoting “clean meat” that is actual flesh, made in the lab from real animal cells. No doubt most readers will have heard some self-identified vegans touting this new future of food.

Do they have a point? This is a matter of question framing. And I think we need to lay out what the questions are.

Read on…


Banner photo credit: Niklas Rhöse, via Unsplash.

What to Do on Kentucky Derby Day

We humans excel at making use of other animals, extracting wealth through that use, exhausting them, disposing of them. This week, the 145th Kentucky Derby will showcase these habits.

Frivolous, frenzied pressure surrounds the horse called Omaha Beach, who is dubbed most likely to win. Because the racing industry is all about ROI, this horse and the others will run so hard their lungs bleed. Racetracks use a diuretic called Lasix to stop the horses from bleeding through their noses.

UPDATE: Just three days before the 2019 Kentucky Derby, Omaha Beach was removed from the race, having come down with breathing problems associated with a trapped epiglottis. Inflammation of airway structures can cause a horse’s epiglottis to get stuck in folds of tissue, according to Equus Magazine.

Trainer Richard Mandella calls Omaha Beach “a kind horse. A horse that’s easy to be around.” Evidently we are just sensitive enough to perceive kindness in the other animals—even as we amuse ourselves at their expense. Even as horses continue to die in professional racing. Fatalities include Kentucky Derby horses Barbaro (April 29, 2003 – January 29, 2007) and Eight Belles (February 23, 2005 – May 3, 2008)…

And as long as the horse breeding business exists, so will the auctions and the killer buyers. Tens of thousands of horses, including racehorses, go to slaughter each year. With horse slaughter disallowed in the United States (it stopped in 2006), the unwanted animals just get a longer, more excruciating journey over the Canadian and Mexican borders for a slaughter. Don’t kid yourself about this. That $3 million purse isn’t buying sanctuaries for four-year old horses, either.

The racetrack industry is under scrutiny for drugging horses in the Triple Crown events. HR 1754, the Horse Racing Integrity Act, would create a nationwide standard for testing in racing horses, implemented by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency.

Churchill Downs, Inc. opposes the Horse Racing Integrity Act. The major animal-advocacy groups back the bill.

Given the temptation to push boundaries to win, the racing industry will keep tormenting horses—drugs or no drugs. If we’d ask serious questions, we’d find no integrity exists in horse racing.

And this Saturday’s Derby would be the last.

This Saturday, let’s all refuse to don bonnets. Let’s decline to stick mint leaves in glasses. Let’s stop making light of this event, making bets on this event, and allowing its realities to go unmentioned. Let’s act upon a baseline of decency, speak up in our social circles, and start treating horse racing as the blood sport it is.

Year of the Boar

On 5 February we enter the Year of the Pig in the Chinese Lunar calendar.

Now, Wikipedia tells us, the Japanese zodiac and the Tibetan zodiac do not have a pig; they have a boar.

I’m going with the Year of the Boar.

Because if we want to get to animal liberation, the ideal to keep in mind is a community of free-living beings. Not beings who were selectively bred to be controlled by the apes known (to ourselves) as Homo sapiens.

Decide for yourself. Would you want advocates to represent you this way?

Sure, the cut-paper caricature seems happy, but there’s no joy in being born dependent on, and ultimately killed by, a controlling owner.

Very few purpose-bred pigs make it to refuges. Those so-called lucky ones wouldn’t need luck if we humans would just stop breeding away their independence.

So much for the happy pig motif. Let’s get real.

Now look at the banner photo. Free-living boars live and move together, in groups. If the image of young sibling boars evokes a happy feeling in the viewer, it happens in a more respectful context: freedom.

Representing pigs as adorably happy in a pet-like state isn’t the best we can do. But it’s what a lot of vegan advocacy does.

Here it is, at the most extreme, with this cute little lonely pig. 

Yes, lonely.

Undomesticated boars live in groups. Babies stick together. So, this image should trouble us and make us question whether what seems “cute” to most human eyes is a profoundly sad state for the animal who’s displayed.

And now, are we really going to share a video clip of a helpless baby pig in a bidet for “National Dog Day”?

OK, yeah, I’m gonna get preachy here.

In the Year of the Pig Boar, how about we focus on these beings’ ancestral, free communities?

Most people don’t know what young boars look like, or where they live. We, as vegans, should know. Because veganism is not about making selective breeding seem adorable. Veganism is about challenging it and refusing to obscure the reality of where animal communities come from and who they really are.

Best wishes to everyone in the Year of the Boar. Let these images of boars interacting set the tone for a new year in vegan outreach.

#TimesUp in the Animal Charity World

The Humane Society of the United States has just accepted CEO Wayne Pacelle’s resignation.

This followed reporters’ investigations into claims that CEO Wayne Pacelle and (now former) VP of farm animal protection Paul Shapiro have sexually humiliated HSUS staffers.

In the words of the Chronicle of Philanthropy, wider concerns involve a “frat-like ‘bro’ culture” that manipulates and stifles advocacy careers.

Some say the #MeToo problem in advocacy can be fixed with more female leadership. Can it?  Read on.

 

“But Vegans Kill More Animals!”

Justin Van Kleeck is a microsanctuary pioneer—a farm animal rescuer working on a small scaljustin-van-kleecke, often rescuing animals from small-scale farming operations too, and resisting the calls of industry to tout “humane” or “local” agribusiness as a step in the right direction.

While Justin urges consistency—no amount of homespun pictures or creative PR can ever make animal exploitation “humane”—some will then challenge the commitment to crops as food.

There’s a clever argument, and maybe you’ve heard it, that vegans cause the deaths of more animals by being vegan. Growing crops for human food, the argument goes, involves tractors and threshers that kill field mice, voles, and so forth.

Have you ever noticed how this argument misses all the feed crops used in animal farming? Note, for exSlide37ample, that 99% of your local chicken farmers drive to feed stores to keep their birds growing and producing. The feed store is reliant on the fossil-fuel industry. So the “local” and “sustainable” concept in animal farming, when we dig deeper, is questionable.

Your local animal farm would also be a consumer of the massive feed industry that uses heavy equipment on the land without regard for the countless small animals seeking food and shelter amidst the fields.

As discussed before on Vegan Place, facile excuses to avoid personal change abound. When people face the reality that becoming vegan is possible, there seems to be a shut-off valve, signifying: “Change myself? No! Let me seize an excuse that I haven’t really thought through and hope you haven’t thought through either. Vegans do more harm—so there! Yeah, that’s the ticket!”

Justin, when confronted with the “vegans kill more animals than your local animal farmers” claim, says:

We vegans start from the premise that exploitation and killing of other beings for our own ends is unacceptable, and we seek solutions…beneficial for all involved. Husbandry starts from the premise that other animals are here for us to use and consume, and all we have to do is be nice. So vegans seek harmonious coexistence without holding a knife to anyone’s throat.

Veganic models of agriculture and permaculture are available. Along with being more sustainable they are also workable in a variety of settings. Veganic urban gardens and food networks EXIST, but animal husbandry does not make sense for all communities. Remember: “If it isn’t accessible by the poor, it is neither radical nor revolutionary.”

In our conversations, Justin has noted that we, our whole generation, are products of an industrial revolution now. Why hold vegans alone responsible for what mechanized farming does to the land and to animals seeking habitat? Vegans didn’t plan to produce food this way.

Feeding crops to animals kills more animals. Animal farms breed large numbers of animals into existence for human consumption.

And when field animals get caught up in the collateral damage in the production of food crops (eaten by vegans and non-vegans), it’s because we’re all dealing with constraints imposed on us by modern agribusiness.

But we can go vegan to stop direct exploitation and killing within our food system, and try to change that system completely. Let’s insist on fewer excuses, and real engagement.


I am grateful to Justin for expanding my knowledge on vegan and sanctuary ethics greatly, and also for being a patron of my animal-liberation work. Photo of Justin: source. Banner photo by Philipp Kuchler (own work), via Wikimedia Commons.

Hands Off the Camels

I’ve been so busy looking at cashew cheddar, hemp Parmesan and avocado ice cream that I didn’t notice the camel milk in a local co-op until a friend nudged me. Yes, camel milk has arrived. A website called Wellness Mama touts the stuff as a one-stop fix for everything from allergies to autism.

The Camel Milk Association must be under some social and legal pressure, though. They’ve posted a fact sheet about their members’ right of association on their website.

One camel milk vendor, Meadow Ridge Farm, calls itself a private membership club, citing the Weston A. Price Foundation as prescribing the raw-milk tradition to which they adhere.

But raw, unpasteurized milk, sought by many camel milk devotees, is generally prohibited in the United States and Europe. And camel milk has only recently been accepted by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as a commercial product.

Desert Farms, an online sales hub, attempts to make camel milk look eco-friendly, with a particular reference to the Amish suppliers.

But camel farming is just another example of the traffic in introduced species. Plus, it comes with methane emissions. Although these emissions might be lighter than those of cows and other ruminants, they are significant. Note that commercially exploited camels and their descendants have been blamed for a significant portion of Australian methane.

The Desert Farms website also claims that the suppliers spend a lot of time with their camels, that the smallest supplier owns just two camels, and that these suppliers’ camels are just the happiest in all the world.

The pink camel in the room here is a baby camel. Where does a baby camel go after being conceived and born to induce lactation? A free-roaming baby camel is suckled for more than a year.

The Desert Farms Frequently Asked Questions page doesn’t say a word about the offspring. It does include the bizarre question Is Camel Milk Vegan? Answer: “No, Desert Farms camel milk is an animal product. Animal lovers can rejoice that our camels are treated well and cherished by each family farm!”

The vendors are clearly well versed in pretending that the camels whose milk they usurp endorse this business model. Hogwash.

In any case, what makes up happiness in the world of camels is none of our business. These beings are so wonderfully adapted to the desert habitats in which they evolved that they have extra eyelids for removing grains of sand. Camels have their own history without us, spanning more than 40 million years.

Jeffrey Mousssaieff Masson writes in Altruistic Armadillos, Zenlike Zebras:

An Arab proverb says that a foal knows the well where her mother came to drink before she gave birth to her. It is not clear how they can find their own home range again over vast stretches of trackless desert, but they do.

Does your local health food shop or co-op carry camel milk? If so (or if not), conversation could make a difference and spare new camels from being brought into a life of confinement.

A search on the Desert Farms store locator page brought up three retail sellers within 25 miles of me:

One encouraging factor is the limited number of camel milk outlets on the map. This fledgling trend should be vulnerable to sound critique.

Some readers might point out that making a special case of camels leaves the trade in cows, goats and others unchallenged. I’m not suggesting that we advocate solely for camels; nothing prevents us from admonishing animal agribusiness generally, including when discussing camel milk. Camels as a community can be defended, and the broader questions about why we take any other animals’ milk can come to the fore.


I thank Linda Stein for inspiring this post.

Climate and Vegetarian Summerfest 2016

On Thursday 7 July in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, I’ll be offering a talk named Climate Change: How the Public Conversation Is Shifting and How Vegetarian Voices Can Be Heard. (The North American Vegetarian Society presentation summary includes a description: “This session will provide updates on farming and climate, and also involve some easy, memorable, and valid points to raise—whether in ordinary conversations or at the policy level. Attorney Lee Hall holds a specialist’s degree in environmental law with a focus on climate change, and will facilitate discussion, including new findings and vital points not raised in most discussions of climate and diet.”)

Some VeganPlace readers might ask: Wait—vegetarian voices should be heard? Don’t vegetarians consume cow products, which are obviously connected to methane and general climate-wrecking?

No. Real vegetarians don’t eat dairy. The ovo-lacto take on vegetarianism has been ruled out by the North American Vegetarian Society for twenty years. The five-day menu at Summerfest is not ovo-lacto-; it’s pure vegetarian. Sometimes vegans rail against the shortfalls of vegetarians, but in my opinion the vegan movement needs to tip its hat to vegetarians taking their mission seriously. Respect to NAVS for encouraging its membership to strive for an authentic vegetarianism and to learn why animal agribusiness is not climate-friendly.

And now, yes, the public conversation about climate change has shifted. It has to. We’re not stronger than the climate system. It’s having the last word in every debate. No lifestyle, no matter how rich or famous, is exempt.

Nor is any place on Earth untouched; we now know that levels of Antarctic CO2 have reached 400 parts per million. For the first time in 4 million years.

The roadways on which we burn so much fossil-fuel energy seem to be bucking us off.

And yet a poll six months ago showed half of U.S. society thinking climate change isn’t a very serious problem.

2014-summerfest-patreon-cropNothing could be more serious. Everything depends on climate. Plants are losing the conditions that support them. By 2100, some tropical regions are predicted to have 200 fewer growing days a year. Let that sink in.

And then think about what is happening to untamed animal communities when native plants stop growing where they live.

We keep on releasing stored carbon dioxide (by burning oil and gas) and disrupting Earth’s capacity to store it (by cutting down trees). We’re releasing methane into the atmosphere from our landfills, through fracking, and from domesticated animals, mostly cows. We’re polluting the atmosphere with nitrous oxide through our use of manure too.

And getting our proteins though animals raises costs. If your shopping bag is loaded with flesh products, including the bodies of marine animals, your receipt total is going to come out pretty high, compared to that of the shopper with a bag full of horseradish hummus, red and green cabbage, red pepper and ciabatta, sweet potatoes, etc. When we use cows, pigs, goats, rabbits, birds and other animals to funnel our protein through, we are not advancing culture so much as advancing business. I will use the term animal agribusiness when talking about animal farming and its attendant feed industries, and reserve the word agriculture for the growers who produce food.

Free-range is really another form of sprawl

It’s been ten years since the United Nations published Livestock’s Long Shadow, explaining the enormity of damage done through animal agribusiness. But the U.N. never suggested we stop farming animals or consuming the products (which many of us could do overnight). Its key recommendation? Greater intensification. In other words, consolidate and contain animals into high-volume operations. In situations of intense confinement, animals (along with their emissions and waste) can be more strictly contained; and with animals not moving as much, less feed is consumed.

What we learn from environmental science does not lead us to support any of this:Slide44

The above scenes are evidence of a spreading-out of the environmental problems we need to move beyond.

And the warmer the planet gets, the more intensively animals will be raised, for reasons such as temperature control. Overheated dairy cows aren’t efficient producers of milk. When the Union of Concerned Scientists, in their booklet Climate Change in Pennsylvania: Impacts and Solutions for the Keystone State, say that cows are going to need fans and water sprays to cool them as the hot days multiply (cows drink four times as much liquid as they produce in summertime), they too are indicating that factory-style farming is the way of the future. (Look at page 8 in this PDF.)

Nowadays it’s popular to say that “factory farming” is inhumane. Yet we have environmental scientists communicating some important realities about how “cage-free” systems just spread the emissions around and use up more feed to raise roaming animals. With animal agribusiness, you can’t win.

A better recommendation comes Vegan Environmental Party of Ontario when it calls on the government to divest from animal agribusiness by halting the subsidies.

Consider that we reserve about 20 million acres of land for alfalfa alone. (And it must be irrigated.) Virtually all of it is used as feed.

That is in addition to the imposition of the domesticated animals themselves on the land. We need not continue this overbearing way of living on our planet.

For reasons that are many and interconnected, we need to be creating animal-free meals. Seekers of pure vegetarian cuisine miss nothing and conserve so much.

Make reservations at Vedge in Philadelphia or Plant in Asheville if you want to go gourmet. Most cities now have such offerings. Want to learn to prepare food like a pro in your own kitchen? You can learn. Try a subscription to a home delivery service with recipes and instructions from a professional chef such as Trish Sebben-Krupka at VegTable.

“But I just eat fish!”

That’s another sector of animal agribusiness, and not a sustainable one. The people at Greenpeace say “sustainable seafood” is within reach. They want us to demand better labels on the bodies of marine animals in the grocery aisle so we can tell if codfish are being scraped off the Norwegian Arctic seafloor with massive trawlers. Why do they take this position when they could do better? If we can afford to get food from a grocery store, we can get pure vegetarian food and make it great. And for the climate’s sake, we should.

The personal and political 

Recently a study was published in the journal Climatic Change involving 60,000 “meat-eaters, fish-eaters, vegetarians, and vegans” in Britain. Remarkably, the study found dietary greenhouse gas emissions from the participating omnivores about twice as high as those from vegans. If we have the power to bring our emissions down so low, but we decline to use it, aren’t we committing malpractice as human beings?

By being vegan we can also alleviate social stress. The 2007-2010 Syrian drought, which forced rural people to move in droves to urban areas, culminating in one of the most severe conflicts of today, for example, was driven by climate factors.

What’s to come? We all know, if we read the papers, that 2016 has already shown record global temperatures, month after month after month. The New York Times offers regular reports on this, accompanied by  simplistic, incomplete advice. The Times acknowledges that the problem is complex and can feel overwhelming: “We get it.” 

But they don’t.

They mention “reducing meat” as one item in a list of things to do. They do point to animal agribusiness as the worst segment of agribusiness for the climate. The science would back the Times up on that one.  Slide36

The Times tells us in particular that “some methods of cattle production” demand a lot of land. Now, wait. “Some”? All of it does, and all cows create manure and methane, whether out on the range or within walls.

The Times urges “switching from beef to pork and chicken” and suggests that chicken farming is the least harmful kind.

Let’s not even get into the harmful health ramifications of the “eat pork” advice. Pig manure is still manure and what the world needs now isn’t more of it. And you don’t help the climate even by buying local eggs and chicken or pig flesh. To do so means you’re really relying on a massive feed industry—a serious fuel guzzler. “Local” animal farming isn’t local—because animal feed is routinely shipped many miles for mixing and packaging, and shipped again in distribution.

The huge feed requirements arise in fish farming too. Farmed fish really are “chickens of the sea”; aquaculture is tied into the global grain and feed market and it’s expected to double in size by 2050. Why contribute to that?

Instead, groups such as WWF should be funding vegan festivals.

Slide40

 

WWF’s so-called sustainable seafood standards are pressing small, family businesses, which once used by-products as feed, to enter the global feed market.

Before the pressure to adopt environmental standards like those of WWF’s Aquaculture Stewardship Council, catfish farmers used home-made feeds that included farm by-products. No more. Now the local farmers of the world have to vie for the labels that the affluent populations want to see in the grocery store.

Slide42Is it the height of irony that WWF would expose the “hidden soy” in animal products after pushing this same market?

People listen to the WWF and the New York Times when what they really need is no-nonsense information, and a key part of that information needs to come from those of us who’ve already divested from animal agribusiness in our own lives and can help others to do it.

This is not to say that being vegan is all we need to do. I’m starting to notice a lot of people picking out one kind of change that they like and claiming it as their part. I’ve heard people who bring their own bags back to the supermarket overstate the goodness of this good deed by claiming to be “saving the world, one bag at a time” (regardless of what products are in their re-used bags). Vegans need to be careful that we don’t fall into the trap of thinking we’re doing so much by being vegan that we ourselves needn’t make deep changes in our mindsets and actions.

I’ll also talk about the influence of religious doctrine and of education on people’s attitudes and understanding of climate change. I expect a lot of informed comments and feedback at Summerfest on Thursday the 7th. Join us in the Scholar’s Room if you can.

Meanwhile I’d like to conclude with a thought question. Should we use “the war on” language when we talk about climate? This language is meant to indicate a serious approach to climate change, which of course is well past due.

Slide50

But are we really in combat?

And should we be “arming” ourselves against the hordes of invaders coming in when climatic zones shift because of our own conduct?

Is warring against a natural system’s response to overload what we need to be doing? Is this the best mindset for the work we must do to put ourselves in good stead with our planet?

Let’s talk about this.