This year has been disappointing for Canadian animal rights advocates. In June, a Supreme Court decision upheld the legality of sex acts between humans and animals so long as they fall short of penetration. The Court held that the Criminal Code offence of bestiality must involve sexual intercourse, ruling in favour of a man who had forced his stepdaughter to perform sex acts with the family dog.
In October, Parliament soundly defeated a bill which would have given animals more legal protection against cruel and brutal treatment, and moved crimes against them from the Property to the Public Morals section of the Criminal Code. The bill was a historic opportunity to recognize animals as more than mere "things" under the law.
Those who love and respect animals as conscious, sentient beings, capable of suffering, are understandably disheartened by these developments. However, on another front, circumstances may be converging for progress against the largest perpetrator of the systemic torture and extermination of animals: the meat industry.
Meat must be taxed at much higher rates to discourage production, encourage alternatives and reduce Canada's carbon footprint.
Even those who oppose rights for animals cannot deny the negative environmental impact meat production has on the planet. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that livestock production accounts for 18 per cent of all greenhouse gas emissions. With a growing global population, increasing demand for meat, and an urgent need to cut GHG emissions if humanity hopes to avoid catastrophic consequences, it's clear decisive action must be taken against meat production.
Livestock production it is also one of the leading causes of air and water pollution, deforestation, land degradation and loss of biodiversity. Like other harmful and polluting products, meat must be taxed at much higher rates to discourage production, encourage alternatives, and reduce Canada's carbon footprint.
While over a quarter of the world does not have enough food to eat, 40 per cent of the world's grain harvest is being fed to livestock, increasing the price of grain for the world's poorest people. Meat is also an incredibly inefficient way to feed people, requiring up to seven kilograms of grain to produce one kilogram of meat in some cases. Waste of this magnitude cannot be permitted when the consequences are so dire for people and the planet.
Since it is well-established that people can live healthily and sustainably on vegetarian and vegan diets, livestock production is different than some other, necessary, sources of greenhouse gases. For the time being, many people must heat their homes, drive their cars, and transport their goods using fossil fuels. Nobody needs to eat meat, and those who choose to do so should pay its true cost.
Nobody needs to eat meat, and those who choose to do so should pay its true cost.
Since the production of meat is, quite literally, destroying the planet, it must be severely curtailed. It ought to be treated like tobacco, another deadly and unnecessary habit -- though, to be fair, tobacco use is not an existential threat to humanity. Calculations should be made as to the environmental, health and economic costs the livestock industry imposes on the world and it should be taxed accordingly. Given Canada's plan for taxing carbon, we can expect the bill to run into the tens of billions of dollars in this country alone.
Increased prices for meat would have numerous benefits: lower prices for grains and other food currently used to feed livestock, the improvement of Canada's reputation as a climate change laggard, reduced carbon emissions, cleaner air and water, potential reforestation of millions of acres of pasture land, and increased biodiversity.
The money from an increased meat tax could also be directed in positive ways: compensating livestock farmers, providing subsidies for sustainable food, energy and agricultural practices, as well as educational programs designed to discourage meat consumption and other bad environmental habits.
Animal advocates believe they are more than things and deserve recognition and rights under the law. However, even those who reject this argument should accept that the price of meat ought to reflect its true cost. In the situation humanity currently finds itself, continued widespread consumption of meat is totally unaffordable.
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According to the USDA, 36.8 billion pounds of broiler chicken were raised and killed for consumption in 2013. Since these animals live in such close quarters, some farm operators remove the beaks of chickens, turkeys and ducks to keep them from pecking one another to death, often by burning or cutting the beaks off. Although a number of scientists claim that this practice does not cause the animals too much pain, a significant portion of them die throughout the ordeal. Despite the mass amounts of chicken, turkey and ducks we consume annually, fowl are exempt from the Humane Slaughter Act. This means that unlike the mammals we consume, chickens can be killed however the farm owner sees fit.
In 2011, more than 80 percent of antibiotics produced were fed to livestock. Although some of these drugs were necessary to keep animals healthy in conditions that would otherwise make them sick, like living on top of one another's waste, most of it was specifically administered to artificially increase rapid growth. While it may seem like these drugs could be inadvertently protecting consumers from disease, they are actually contributing to the terrifying rise of superbugs -- deadly antibiotic-resistant bacteria that thrive and multiply in the absence of weaker microbes.
According to one study, 65 percent of all hogs tested had pneumonia-like lesions on their lungs. Researchers believe this is due to ammonia and other gases released from the massive amounts of manure that the animals come into contact with every day.
In 2009, Mercy For Animals went undercover at a Hy-Line Iowa egg factory and discovered that baby chickens who were of no egg-laying use to the buyers (read: male chicks), were put on a conveyor belt and sent directly to a grinder. Hy-Line defended this practice by insisting that it was industry standard.
While cows can live naturally to about twenty years old, many dairy cows living in factory farms are sent to slaughter before they reach the age of five. Though cows can naturally remain productive for 12-15 years, the intensive conditions of industrial dairies can take a toll on their health.
Every year, millions of sows are kept in cages called "gestation crates," a cost-cutting measure that keeps the pregnant pigs immobilized. The concrete floors beneath the crates are often slatted so that manure can just slip through into huge pits. After spending a full four-month pregnancy in these gestation crates, the sows often suffer from abscesses, sores and ulcers. However, even when the pigs are released from the crates, they are not living a comfortable life: The uneven floors of the hog houses have been proven to cause leg and feet deformities.
Notoriously mistreated, veal calves are often forced to wear heavy chains to keep them from becoming overactive in their stalls. The calves are also kept in near or total darkness and suffer from forced anemia, for no reason other than to keep their flesh pale and attractive.
"Battery cages," the common living space for more than 90 percent of egg-laying hens in America, provide as little as 0.6 square feet of space per hen. That is smaller than a regular sized sheet of paper.
Citing health reasons and worker comfort, a majority of U.S. farms practice tail docking, the act of removing the tails of livestock by burning, emasculating, or constricting the tail with an elastic band. This practice causes pain, stress, and sometimes infection in the cows, which is why it has been outlawed in a number of countries, such as New Zealand. However, California is the only U.S. state where tail docking is illegal.