Animal exploitation is a human rights issue

Author: Tayana Simons

Read Time:   |  9th July 2020

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Viva!'s Tayana Simons reveals how being vegan is about human rights too...


As vegans, we seek to exclude all forms of animal cruelty through the consumer choices we make every day.

But have you ever considered the possibility that humans are also victims in industries that profit from animal exploitation? So why, and how, is human and animal suffering interlinked?

Human rights issues in the meat industry

The human psychological damage caused by animal farming is often overlooked. Most people wouldn’t want to kill an animal for their dinner, yet the millions of animals slaughtered every day have to be killed by someone. So what damage is caused to those who have to do this work?

Slaughterhouse work has been linked to a variety of disorders(1) including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and the lesser-known perpetration induced traumatic stress (PITS), more commonly diagnosed in child soldiers and war veterans.

Slaughterhouses have also been linked to a higher incidence of domestic violence, as well as alcohol and drug abuse.

A 2010 study(2) by Canadian criminologist, Amy Fitzgerald, found that violent crimes including sexual assault and rape increase in towns once an abattoir moves into them.

The traumatic, and often dangerous(3), nature of the work means that slaughterhouse positions are difficult to fill.

As such, slaughterhouses often employ some of the most vulnerable members of society. In the UK, 69% of the meat processing workforce comprises EU migrants.

The current covid-19 crisis has shone a light on the low welfare conditions that slaughterhouse and meat processing workers are forced to endure too.

There have been outbreaks of the virus in slaughterhouses and meat processing plants across the world, including the UK.

In the US, meat-packing plants have become the nation’s leading hotspots for covid-19 outbreaks. Over 4,500 cases and 18 deaths have been directly linked to one of the US’s biggest meat processing companies.

It has been criticised for not providing safe working environments and not providing their workers with full sick pay.


Pandemics and antibiotic resistance

The impact of eating and exploiting animals on public health has never been so apparent. Covid-19, swine flu, bird flu, SARS, ebola and MERS, all have a common link – it is highly likely that their origin lies in the exploitation of animals.

The impact of covid-19, thought to have started when viruses from a bat and a pangolin collided at a wildlife wet market in China, will take years to recover from, and has already claimed hundreds of thousands of lives globally.

Although this particular pandemic has prompted increased pressure to ban wet markets, the threat of viruses emerging from factory farms is ever-looming. Three in four emerging infectious diseases come from animals – both wild and farmed.

The potential crossover of zoonotic diseases from wild animals to farmed animals in intensified living conditions is a ticking time bomb.

All the while, antibiotic use in animal farming poses another potentially catastrophic threat. Factory farms are a breeding ground for disease, and as such they rely heavily on the use of antibiotics.

They have also been heavily used as growth promoters to ‘increase productivity’ in the meat industry. In the US, 80 per cent of antibiotics defined are used on animals, while in the UK, in 2017, over a third of our antibiotics were used in the livestock industry.

This unnecessary overuse of antibiotics could have farreaching implications for people all over the world. The Chief Medical Officer, Dame Sally Davies, has warned that antibiotic resistance could “wipe out humanity before climate change does”.

The O’Neil report, a 2016 paper on antimicrobial resistance, predicted that: “By 2050, 10 million people a year could be dying from infections caused by antibiotic-resistant bugs”. Imagine a world where you could die from something as minor as a cut on your finger!

Punishing the worlds poorest

Gradually, we’re becoming aware of the devastating impact that animal agriculture is having on the environment.

However, what is often ignored is how our diets of excess in ‘the west’ are affecting the world’s poorest communities right now.

Let’s start with the fact that one in nine people in the world are undernourished, yet we feed one-third of all of our cereal harvest to farmed animals. By cutting out ‘the middle-man’, and feeding these crops directly to people, we could feed an additional four billion people!

We are all now well-versed on how mass deforestation is driving catastrophic levels of CO2 into the atmosphere. Last year’s Amazon fires made it clear to the world that livestock farming was in large part to blame.

This is not only devastating for biodiversity and the planet, but for the hundreds of indigenous tribes that call the Amazon their home.

In the UK, we have begun to feel some effects of climate change. In some of the world’s poorest countries, climate change is more than just an excuse for springtime sunbathing, it’s already becoming a matter of life and death.

Recent years have seen massive flooding in countries such as India, Indonesia, Pakistan and Nepal, while severe drought is currently affecting much of sub-Saharan Africa.

A recent World Bank report predicts that 143 million people will become ‘climate migrants’ in the coming decades(4), as crop failure, water scarcity and sea-level rise make their regions uninhabitable.

Animal farming is responsible for close to one-fifth of all global carbon emissions and rising. By continuing to consume animal products in the way that we are, the privileged behaviour of people in the world’s richest countries is effectively condemning the world’s poorest to a death sentence that will eventually extend to us too.

Our health

Eating animal products has been strongly linked to a long list of health problems and diseases. Processed meats have been classified as a class-1 carcinogen(5) by the World Health Organisation (WHO), while dairy has been linked to an increased risk(6) of prostate cancer, breast cancer and heart disease.

Chronic lifestyle-related disease puts a massive strain on the NHS, costing the government an estimated £11 billion a year.

A whole food plant-based diet can not only prevent such diseases, but has been found to be helpful in reversing both type 2 diabetes(7), and heart disease.

A global responsibility

It is clear that the negative impacts of animal farming reach far beyond the animals themselves; it also damages our health, our environment, our mental wellbeing and our communities.

While the debate around animal agriculture is often reduced to the morality of slaughtering animals and the massive impact of greenhouse gases, there are many other issues which continue to go largely overlooked.

If we do not address our habits and change the way we treat animals, we will quickly find ourselves in a global health crisis of which coronavirus is just the tip of the iceberg.

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