On May 1st, dozens of conservationists and animal rights activists staged a rally in Times Square to help members of the public connect the dots between eating animals and pandemics. Their message was simple: “Eating Animals Causes Pandemics.” The New York City rally was one of approximately 60 that took place in 20 countries around the world in support of International Pandemic Outreach Day.
The Eating Animals Causes Pandemics campaign is a collaboration among animal rights, environmental, conservation and religious organizations. It emerged as a result of the outbreak of COVID-19, which is believed to have jumped to humans in a live animal market in China. Like many of the pandemics that preceded it, including the catastrophic Spanish Flu of 1918, COVID-19 is a zoonotic disease — one that is transmitted to humans from a non-human animal.
On International Pandemic Outreach Day, advocates in New York City spoke to hundreds of pedestrians whose attention they captured with their hazmat suits and posters. Most were not aware that outbreaks of avian flu, swine flu and a human version of mad cow disease are caused by our consumption of chickens, pigs and cows.
Factory farms are a breeding ground for infectious diseases, which could easily spread among the animals and, if zoonotic, to humans
The COVID-19 pandemic shined a global spotlight on the infectious disease risks associated with live animal markets, but zoonotic diseases can – and do – emerge in factory farms, slaughterhouses and any other setting where animals are intensively confined and/or slaughtered for human consumption. Dr. Michael Gregor, the author of Bird Flu: A Virus of Our Own Hatching (2016) has said, “If you actually want to create pandemics, then build factory farms.”
Conservationists and animal rights activists staged a rally in Times Square to raise awareness about the connection between eating animals and pandemics
On September 21, youth climate leaders from around the world converged at the United Nations in New York to participate in the Youth Climate Summit. During the summit, TheirTurn asked them why the youth climate movement isn’t using its platform to encourage grass roots climate activists and the mainstream public to make lifestyle changes to reduce their own carbon emissions.
One day earlier, tens of thousands of New Yorkers, most of whom were students, took to the streets of downtown Manhattan to participate in a youth climate strike with Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg. Neither their posters nor the information they distributed focused on what individuals can do to reduce their own carbon footprint. Frustrated by the fact that youth climate leaders are not proactively encouraging the public to take steps to reduce their own emissions, a contingent of several dozen adult activists joined the climate strike to promote plant-based diets.
Adult climate strikers promote plant-based diets as a strategy to reduce carbon and methane emissions
“Eating animals is the elephant in the room of the climate change movement,” said Nathan Semmel, an attorney and activist who participated in the climate strike. “How can youth climate leaders expect world leaders to take action on the climate crisis if they aren’t encouraging their own constituents to stop engaging in environmentally destructive activity that can be easily avoided?
Ranchers are deforesting the Amazon in order to graze their cattle and grow cattle feed (photo: National Geographic)
During the interviews with TheirTurn, every youth climate leader mentioned meat reduction or elimination when asked what steps individuals can take. None of them, however, indicated that they are proactively conveying this message to their constituents. They are instead pressuring global leaders to make systemic change.
“It’s not an either/or,” said journalist and climate advocate Jane Velez-Mitchell of JaneUnChained. “Youth climate leaders can demand accountability from our leaders and ask their constituents to reduce their own carbon footprint by making the switch to a plant-based diet.”
Waste lagoon at a cattle ranch (taken from above)
Unlike youth climate leaders, who understand the impact of animal agriculture on the climate and are reducing or eliminating their own consumption of animal products, grass roots participants in the youth climate strike were largely unaware. When asked what steps they can take to reduce their own carbon emissions, most recommended reducing single-use plastic and recycling.
Youth climate leaders speak about their advocacy at the United Nations Youth Climate Summit
During the 2019 Climate Strike in NYC, hundreds of students took to the streets to demand that world leaders reverse climate change, but the absence of posters and remarks about the impact of animal agriculture suggested that these students were largely unaware of one of leading causes. During the rally and the march, TheirTurn asked several student participants if they knew about the connection between eating animal products and climate change:
“The student activists aren’t addressing the leading cause of climate change, animal agriculture, and perhaps that is because the advocacy groups for the environment haven’t made it a priority,” said Edita Birnkrant, the Executive Director of the animal advocacy group NYCLASS. “If climate activists aren’t taking the most obvious step to curb climate change, which is adopting a plant-based diet, then how can they expect the mainstream public to take action?”
Climate Strike in NYC, March 15th, 2019
During the rally before the march, Birnkrant asked Jay Inslee, the presidential candidate running on a climate change platform, if he would promote the consumption of less meat. Inslee would not make that commitment. “I’m willing to promote making sure everybody understands this connection,” he said.
Edita Birnkrant asks Jay Inslee, the 2020 presidential candidate running on a climate change platform, if he will encourage Americans to consume less meat.
While most of the Climate Strike attendees were NYC students “on strike” to demand climate action, many adults participated, some of whom were eager to help the students make the connection between animal agriculture and climate change. Among them was Paul Watson, the founder of Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, who spoke to TheirTurn the impact of animal agriculture on the oceans:
“We’re overfishing the oceans. Forty percent of all the fish caught in the ocean is fed to pigs, chicken and domestic salmon. If we put an end to industrialized fishing, that would go a long way in allowing the ocean to repair itself. If the ocean repairs itself, we can solve this [climate change] problem because the oceans is the regulator of climate – single greatest absorption of CO2. Seventy percent of the production of the oxygen we breathe comes from phytoplankton, and we’ve diminished phytoplankton populations by about 40% since 1950. All of these issues should be addressed, but they’re not getting the attention they deserve.”
The New York Chapter of the Climate Save Movement, which advocates for an end to animal agriculture, participated in the Climate Strike
Greta Thunberg, the 16-year old climate change activist whose activism inspired the global Climate Strikes on March 15th, is vegan. Ms. Birnkrant is hopeful that she will use her global platform to promote climate-friendly plant-based eating.
Over 300 activists attending the 2018 Animal Liberation Conference in Berkeley participated in a funeral procession for farm animals in front of City Hall to remember the victims of animal agriculture and draw attention to the need for an animal rights amendment to the U.S. constitution.
During the funeral, which lasted approximately three hours, mourners marched through the streets of Berkeley with a deceased piglet named Chloe and then buried her in a public park in front in front City Hall. Participants also eulogized five rescued farm animals and spread their ashes under and their photos, which were displayed in the park.
Hundreds of animal rights activists participate in DxE’s funeral for victims of the animal agriculture industry.
The funeral was organized by the global animal rights group, Direct Action Everywhere, which hosted the Animal Liberation Conference.
Perhaps the only thing that the animal agriculture industry and animal rights activists can agree upon is the name of the device in which dairy cows are impregnated – the “rape rack.”
Female cows restrained in a device referred to as the “rape rack”
The “rape rack” is a narrow, chute-like device in which female cows are restrained while they undergo a process the dairy industry euphemistically refers to as “artificial insemination.” During artificial insemination (AI), a dairy worker inserts one of his arms into the rectum of a restrained cow and, with his other arm, inserts a rod-like device called an Al gun into her vagina. The Al gun, which contains bull semen, is pushed in further until it reaches the cervix (the entrance to the uterus). The semen is then injected into the uterus.
A diagram illustrates how to artificially inseminate a female cow.
Many supporters of animal rights argue that forcibly impregnating cows constitutes sexual abuse. “As public awareness of its barbaric practices increases, the dairy industry is desperate to whitewash them,” said Kathy Stevens, the Executive Director of Catskill Animal Sanctuary. “They can call this practice ‘artificial insemination’ if they wish, but impregnation against one’s will using forcible restraint pretty much sounds like rape to me.”
In order to produce milk, cows and other animals used for dairy production must be impregnated each year because their milk production stops at around the time their calves would naturally stop nursing.
To maximize the amount of milk available for human consumption, babies are typically taken away from their mothers within 24 hours of birth, causing profound distress to both the mother and her newborn. Mother cows bellow and call to their babies for days following the separation. Some of the babies are sent directly to the slaughterhouse, to veal farms, or to feedlots; the rest become dairy cows like their mothers.
Dairy industry diagram illustrates the different ways to profit off of male calves, who cannot produce milk.
The psychological and physical stresses of life in the dairy industry rapidly weaken and/or sicken cows, quickly rendering them unprofitable to their owners. They are therefore sent to slaughter at a fraction of their natural lifespan. When the cows arrive at the slaughter plant, they often need to be dragged to the kill floor because they are too weak to walk.
A cow too weak to walk (downer) is pulled into a truck which will carry her into the slaughter plant.
A 2014 horror film entitled “The Herd” vividly depicts the torment endured by cows in the dairy industry. This film, directed by Melanie Light, portrays a fictional dairy farm in which the cows are replaced with human women.
In an interview with “Shock Till You Drop,” a website devoted to reviewing horror films, Light, who describes herself as a “vegan feminist,” said: “A lot of people don’t make the connection. Being female isn’t exclusive to humans . . .These cows, pigs and sheep are abused for their reproductive systems.”
Over the years, the term “rape rack” has gradually disappeared from the dairy industry’s vernacular. “It used to be common parlance in dairy farming. Today, farmers are far more savvy about terminology—as are other industries that use animals” says Katie Arth of PETA. “As a result, that term has vanished from the farmers’ vocabulary in the same way that ‘iron maidens’ and ‘restraint chairs’ have been renamed ‘sow stalls’ and ‘gentling devices.’ The industry now prefers to use euphemisms such as ‘breeding boxes’ to describe the boxes or chutes where female cows are restrained while a worker forcibly inseminates them.”
A restrained female cow undergoing artificial insemination
To learn more about artificial insemination please visit Free From Harm.
To learn about other dairy industry practices and undercover investigations done on dairy farms please visit Mercy for Animals.