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Last updated: August 7th, 2000

Why Vegan?

Whether you are considering veganism on humane, spiritual or health grounds, there are many good reasons to adopt the vegan way of life...

"Land, energy and water resources for livestock agriculture range anywhere from 10 to 1000 times greater than those necessary to produce an equivalent amount of plant foods. And livestock agriculture does not merely use these resources, it depletes them. This is a matter of historical record. Most of the world's soil, erosion, groundwater depletion, and deforestation -- factors now threatening the very basis of our food system -- are the result of this particularly destructive form of food production" - Keith Akers, p. 81, "A Vegetarian Sourcebook", 1989

If you are reading this, you probably already know many reasons for avoiding meat. Here we will give you just a small number of the facts behind it.

  • 90% of oats, 85% of corn, and 80% of soybeans grown in the U.S. alone are fed to livestock. If everyone consumed plant foods instead of innocent animal beings there would be enough food to feed the entire world several times over.
  • The world already has a shortage of fresh water, and animal production plays a large part. In the U.S., for example, meat production consumes over half the water used. 2500 gallons (9500 litres) of water are used to produce 1 pound (454 grammes) of meat, where only 25 gallons of water are needed to produce 1 pound of wheat. For every person who follows a vegan path, they have saved 2800-3700 gallons of water each day.
  • Loss of topsoil is another major problem our civilization is facing. In the U.S. (a country with more laws and controls than most others), 75% of its topsoil has been lost and 85% of this loss is becasue of animal agriculture industries.
  • Every 5 seconds an acre of the precious South American rainforest is cleared to create cropland for the production of meat and dairy. In the U.S. alone, 260 million acres (105 million hectares) of forests have been destroyed. For every year that a person follows a vegan path, they have saved an acre (0.4 hectares) of trees.
  • 33% of all raw materials (the basic products of farming, forestry, and mining, including fossil fuels) consumed by the U.S. are devoted to the production of livestock. It takes 11 times as much energy to produce meat and other fatty foods than to produce grains.
  • It is now common for farmers to use confinement stalls to raise their pigs. These small cages are barely big enough for their massive bodies which grow rapidly due to all the hormones they are injected with. Pigs are highly intelligent - more than dogs - so their treatment is especially sad.
  • Sows are kept impregnated their entire lives. Most pens have a bar over the sow in order to keep her lying down so that her babies can easily feed. Once the piglets are large enough to eat the 'food' the farmers feed them, they are taken away from their mother. Then she is impregnated again...

Most people will tell you: "There is nothing wrong with using eggs - the chickens aren't killed and they produce too many eggs."

  • When chickens are born, approximately half are female and half are male. Most of the male chicks are unwanted, and are killed immediately. The rest live a short life and are slaughtered as soon as they reach an economic weight.
  • Egg-laying hens are killed as soon as they become 'useless'.
  • Almost all eggs are produced by battery hens - frightened, fearful birds forced to spend 10-12 months squeezed inside a small cage.
  • Battery hens are debeaked with a hot blade, causing severe and continuous pain in the highly sensitive tissue within the beak. This is done to save feed costs, but results in problems with eating, drinking and natural functions such as preening.

Dairy cows are killed for meat when they are about 5-6 years old. In nature they live for 25-30 years...

  • Cows are made pregnant each year so that they are always producing milk.
  • In nature a calf would suckle for almost a year, but the dairy industry removes the calf soon after its birth. The mothers, full of mothering instincts, suffer the loss of their children each year.
  • Some calves are slaughtered immediately for pet food, and the rennet from their stomachs is used in cheese manufacture. Others are raised to be milk machines, like their mothers. Others are fattened as beef animals, being slaughtered at 11 months - often without ever seeing grass. The really unlucky are sent for veal production and spend short, unnatural lives in small cages being fed an iron-deficient milk substitute in order to produce white meat.
  • Dairy cows are given large doses of hormones and antibiotics in order to increase growth and milk production, and to prevent infection. Many of these drugs find their way into the milk products.
  • Because of drugs, cows often produce 10-20 times as much milk as they normally would. This results in extreme discomfort for the cows: their udders become huge, often infected, and they become lame because of the extra weight on their hind legs. A large quantity of blood and pus from infected udders goes into the milk.
  • Dairy products contain large amounts of cholesterol and saturated fats, considered to be a major cause of heart disease. 50% of all people who consume animal products die from heart disease, compared to only 4% of people who do not.
  • Milk has been shown to be responsible for a large number of digestive, skin and other problems.

All of the major vegan societies, including the IVS, have declared bee products to be non-vegan. Many vegans, however, still find them acceptable.

  • Bees are often killed in the harvesting of their products, and sometimes on purpose when the beekeeper does not want to pay for their protection over winter.
  • Artificial insemination involving death of the male is now the usual way of generating new queen bees. The favoured method of obtaining bee sperm is by pulling off the insects head. Decapitation sends an electrical impulse to the nervous system which causes sexual arousal. The lower half of the headless bee is then squeezed to make it ejaculate.
  • Honey carries the risk of botulism (see Vegan Nutrition: Pure and Simple, by Dr. Michael Klaper, M.D.) and is actually regurgitated insect food, not human food.
  • Honey is 98% sugar and therefore easily substituted. Sweeteners such as maple syrup, barley malt, coconut sugar or sorghum are preferable to honey.

Used in photographic film, many sweets, desserts, medicines and other products, gelatin is often hard to detect and avoid. It is made from the boiled bones, skins and tendons of animals, but easily substituted by agar-agar, guar gum and carrageenan which comes from seaweed. Alternatives exist for phtographic film, but they are not used since gelatin is cheaper. Fortunately the best cameras will soon all be electronic.

It is a little-known fact that the skin is often the most valuable part of an animal: if farmers were not able to sell the skins then meat and other animal products would soon become so expensive that few people would buy them.

  • The production of leather (soaking, tanning, dyeing, drying, and finishing) consumes large amounts of energy and involves extremely toxic and polluting chemicals (PCBs, chromium compounds).
  • Fur trapping and farming are both very gruesome and disgusting processes. Animals raised on fur farms are packed in small cages and usually suffer from malnutrition. They are deprived of everything they would have in the wild, unable to follow their natural instincts. They usually suffer a very painful death - anal electrocution and gassing are the most common methods. In some countries, notably China, animals (including dogs and cats) are skinned alive. This is almost too awful to imagine.

    Animals who are caught in traps will often try to free themselves by chewing off their own limbs. Whether they are successful or not, they will usually die from blood loss.
  • Alternatives to leather and fur exist - alternatives that are cheaper and better. One leather alternative, known as "Lorica", is breathable, stronger, and resistant to water, salt and most other chemicals. It lasts many times longer than leather - there is now no excuse for using animal skins, unless nothing else is available where you live. This is a situation that we at the IVS hope to change.

Even vegans often fail to understand the cruelty involved in wool production...

  • In nature sheep produce just enough wool to keep them warm, but scientific breeding has turned them into wool-producing machines, with wool often making up half their body weight. During hot weather they often die from heat exhaustion, and in Australia alone one million sheep die each year from exposure to cold after shearing.
  • In order to prevent maggot infestation in the folds of skin around the sheeps' tails, farmers now perform an operation without anaesthetic called "mulesing" in which sections of flesh are sliced away, leaving a painful wound.
  • Sheep are treated roughly at shearing time, with serious cuts and dislocated limbs often resulting.
  • In Australia alone, about 10 million lambs die each year when they are just a few days old. This is mainly due to unmanageable numbers of sheep and not enough farm workers.

Although a beautiful material, hundreds or thousands of living silkworm larvae may be boiled alive to create a single piece of clothing.

Refining sugar often involves using animal bone charcoal as a decolourant. The processing differs between countries, between cane sugar and beet sugar, between white sugar and brown sugar so it is almost impossible to discover the truth. The safest solutions are either to avoid sugar, or only use 'unrefined' sugar.

DOWN (feathers)
Used in pillows, sleeping bags and warm clothing, few realize the truth behind how these feathers are obtained from the birds.

  • The process of live-plucking is still common: terrified birds, with their legs tied, are lifted by their necks and have all their body feathers ripped out. Veterinary surgeons have described this process as "extremely cruel".
  • This torture begins for geese when they are only eight weeks old and then repeated every eight weeks another two or three times. The birds are then slaughtered.
  • The 'lucky' birds are plucked after they are dead.
  • Man-made substitutes are not only cheaper, but also superior in terms of thermal properties and durability. Expeditions to the Arctic and Antarctic generally use man-made fibres.

Cosmetic, cleaning and personal hygiene products often contain animal products, and almost all have been tested on animals through force-feeding and application to their eyes. If you are unable to find products labelled as "Cruelty Free", "Not Tested On Animals" or "Contains No Animal Ingredients", there are natural substitutes for many items.

Millions of animals each year suffer unimaginable horrors in the name of scientific research. The lucky ones die.

  • Most products marked 'New!' have been tested on animals. Most non-food products do not contain a full list of ingredients. The choices for vegans are to ask the manufacturers, use "cruelty-free" products or natural substitutes.
  • Fortunately the situation is slowly improving for students who refuse to take part in animal experiments as part of their education.

Doctors are increasingly puppets of the pharmaceuticals industry, and this industry in turn exists simply to make large profits - often at the expense of animals. It is extremely difficult to find vegan medicines, and even when they have vegan ingredients, they must still be tested on animals regularly to ensure safety to humans.

  • Vaccine production involves a large amount of animal material: gelatin (see above), chick embryos, monkey kidneys, human cells, guinea pig cells and so on. Cell cultures are nourished with the blood serum from calves. Animal diseases and DNA are quite possibly being injected directly into humans. Ignoring the animal products, vaccines processed using aluminium and formaldehyde (a human carcinogen), and preserved with thiomerosal (a derivative of mercury and a deadly poison).
  • Vaccines are suspects in a wide range of medical problems - from fever to brain damage to death. There is much research material to be found regarding the possible dangers of vaccines.
  • The best way to develop natural immunity is to build a healthy immune system through proper diet and lifestyle. Eat a diet of fruits, grains, vegetables, seeds and nuts that are preferably organically grown, preservative free and in a natural unprocessed state as close to nature as possible. Exercise and avoid artificial drugs and stimulants. Scientists have a long way to go before they can improve on nature!

Cheerful, noisy places with smiling clowns! Everyone is happy... except the animals. Travelling large distances between performances, being forced to perform dangerous and humiliating tricks each day, and spending the rest of their time in an unnatural environment: that is the reality for circus animals.

  • Elephants are forced to stand in their own waste, chained in one place for up to 100 hours while being transported in uncomfortable vehicles that can be too cold or too hot. Elephants have three basic needs: live vegetation for food, family relationships, and freedom of movement. All of these are denied in the circus environment. In captivity, baby elephants are taken from their mother at one year of age and trained with abusive, domineering methods. Many elephants die prematurely due to their unhealthy, stressful lifestyles.

    Wild elephants live in herds and have a large extended family with strong social bonds. Baby elephants stay very close to their mothers for the first three years of their lives, and the females remain with their extended families throughout their lifetime. They roam up to 25 miles (40 km) each day foraging for food and water. They take dust baths and find comfort during hot weather by wading in water and standing in the shade...
  • The bears, large exotic cats and other animals also have miserable lives, denied space to move, family lives or natural food.
  • Large and dangerous animals are trained by using fear and intimidation. It is not uncommon for an elephant to be tied down and beaten for days at a time while being trained to "obey and perform". During their training and throughout their lives in captivity elephants are beaten with clubs, shocked with electric prods, stabbed with sharp hooks and whipped.

Most of us have visited zoos and seen distressed animals. Some people argue that zoos are necessary in order to save certain species that would otherwise become extinct. The sad fact is, most zoos are run purely for profit and the animals' welfare is secondary. The IVS recommends that you find other forms of entertainment for your friends and family...

  • Zoos are animal prisons, with little effort made to create more natural environments. The only difference between zoos and human prisons is that everyone can see the misery of the animals in their cages and aquariums.
  • The results of this imprisonment include boredom, neurotic behaviour and being far, far, away from home.
  • Zoos are businesses and must usually make a profit in order to remain open. This can often mean selling, trading or otherwise disposing of surplus animals.
  • At petting zoos, small animals are sometimes distressed by rough treatment from over-eager children who do not know how to handle animals properly.
  • Marine parks are one of the worst instances of animals being confined for human entertainment and profit. They teach viewers nothing about the natural dignity and behaviour of dolphins, whales, manatees or other sea animals - animals that should be living in thousands of kilometers of ocean with their families instead of alone in sterile pools and tanks.

Vegans have different opinions about keeping pets: some believe it is imprisonment whereas others believe that animals enjoy their human friends. Most vegans do however agree that the 'pet industry' is an awful, profit-driven business.

  • So many unwanted animals wind up in shelters that 7 million are killed each year for lack of a home.
  • Every time somebody buys a puppy from a store, another puppy at an animal shelter is killed.
  • Most pups sold in pet shops come from breeding "farms" called "puppy mills", where mother dogs spend their lives in small, filthy cages, producing litter after litter. They are killed when their bodies give out and they no longer can produce enough litters.
  • Some dogs' feet are small enough to fall through the wire of their cages, so they spend their early lives hobbling around, trying to balance on the wire.
  • Dogs will be killed in animal shelters until the pet store puppy trade is stopped... if you really want a pet, please have a look at an animal shelter first. Remember also to spay or neuter your dog or cat in order to reduce the population of unwanted animals.

Many animals produce valuable decorative products which can only be obtained through their suffering and death. As usual, animal welfare is rarely a concern for those who seek to make a profit.

  • Pearls are the product of pain. When the shell of an oyster is chipped or pierced by a worm or boring parasite, a foreign substance, usually a grain of sand, gets in. The inside of an oyster's shell is made up of a lustrous substance called nacre. When a grain of sand gets into a shell, the nacre cells get busy. They cover the grain of sand with layer after layer of nacre in order to protect the soft body of the oyster. The result is that a beautiful pearl is formed. An oyster which has not been hurt does not grow a pearl -- for a pearl is a healed wound.