Who are you eating: that is the question
Food is central to our existence, yet our choices have serious ramifications and greatly influence the quality of ecosystems, human health and the lives of billions of factory farmed animals who suffer needlessly.
Most people don't know the plight of the animals whom they eat. Yet it is imperative we make the connection that, when an animal is on a plate, it's a matter of who's for dinner, not what's for dinner and that factory farmed animals are sentient beings.
As a Fellow of the Animal Behaviour Society, for me there is no doubt that animals suffer and cry out for help when they're being prepared for meals. From the way they're raised and transported to the slaughter rooms of factory farms while hearing, seeing and smelling the slaughter of others, to having a bolt driven into their brain and their throats cut, they are living lives of suffering.
As horrifying as this scene is, there are other questions that also need to be pondered as we decide who to put in our mouths.
Factory farms cause enormous environmental damage. So, even if one doesn't give a hoot about animal suffering and death, he or she must consider what their choices are doing to the environment, local and global.
Animals are living smokestacks. People are now talking about the "carbon hoofprint" to refer to the large amount of greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere by the livestock industry.
According to the Australian Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, "Livestock emissions make up about 12 per cent of Australia's total greenhouse gas emissions or 70 per cent of our agriculture emissions. In fact, livestock are Australia's third largest source of emissions - nearly equal to all transport emissions."
To give greater global context, the Environmental Working Group has stated that "If everyone in the US ate no meat or cheese just one day a week, it would be like not driving 91 billion miles – or taking 7.6 million cars off the road."
Even the United Nation's Nobel prize-winning scientific panel on climate change, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), urged the global community to stop eating meat because of the climatic effects of factory farming, citing studies showing the average production of one kilogram of meat causes the emissions equivalent of 36.4 kilograms of carbon dioxide.
Building on the environmental concerns for greenhouse gas emissions, there are serious concerns for water usage levels of factory farming. For example, the United Nations estimates that by 2025 about 64 per cent of humanity could be living in areas of water shortage with the livestock sector responsible for more than 8 per cent of global human water use.
Without factoring in the billions of animals being killed every year, it is apparent that commercial meat production is not sustainable for the planet.
Each of us can make a positive difference in the quality of ecosystems, our own health, and the lives of billions of other animals by changing who we choose eat.
Professor Marc Bekoff, PhD, is a former professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Colorado, Boulder, and co-founder with Voiceless patron Jane Goodall of Ethologists for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. He is part of the Voiceless Scientific Expert Advisory Council.
He has been lecturing on the realities of factory farming and the compassionate conservation approach and its principles at the University of Technology Sydney and other venues across Sydney this week.