Seventh Generation recommends giving livestock as a holiday gift to relieve hunger

Seventh Generation has suggested its environmentally-concerned customers contribute to Heifer International, an organization that is deeply problematic for many reasons.

You may want to write to Seventh Generation asking the company to remove Heifer International from their list of ways to make a difference, and to choose a more sustainable and animal-friendly alternative to help people in the developing world, like Food For Life or VegFam.

Refer the company to Global Hunger Alliance, a site that lays out the inefficiencies and inequities of the types of animal production Heifer International is truly concerned about. It would be nice if Seventh Generation would recognize that we should not be increasing the number of mouths to feed on this planet.

I do want to take a moment to address this issue philosophically. There is no area more fraught with trouble for animal activists and vegans than the developing world, where those with plenty are often seen as dictating food choices and values and not understanding the needs and concerns of local peoples.

For instance, in the developing world and especially areas of extreme poverty, animals are seen as far more valuable and reliable than plant agriculture, to the point that they are seen as currency. This is particularly true in climates where droughts are common, and plant-based agriculture is not well-developed (though one questions why modern science hasn’t made efforts to reclaim this land).

But the FAO, while acknowledging the detrimental impact of livestock on the environment, states the following:

the livestock sector is socially and politically very significant in developing countries: it provides food and income for one billion of the world’s poor, especially in dry areas, where livestock are often the only source of livelihoods. “Since livestock production is an expression of the poverty of people who have no other options,” FAO says, “the huge number of people involved in livestock for lack of alternatives, particularly in Africa and Asia, is a major consideration for policy makers.”

(italics mine)

Everything I’ve ever read about trying to address animal concerns in those climates has demonstrated an uphill battle for animal advocates, usually with well-meaning people arguing that the activists care more about animals than people, and they often take an intractable position once they’ve made up their minds about that.

I do have difficulty understanding why they are so resistant to the notion that one can help both non-humans and humans at the same time.

I agree with HI’s stated goals, that our humanitarian aid should increase self-sufficiency, rather than relying on handouts to fight hunger, teaching techniques for working with one’s environment, and inspiring self-reliance, but one can do this without exploiting animals or taxing the environment. Granted, on a small scale, the environmental impact is geared to be positive, but the ultimate goal of organizations like HI — with which I emphatically do not agree — is to create large markets for livestock around the world, which leads inevitably and unsustainably to factory farming.

We need not support animal exploitation while helping people, whether we want to support vegan hunger relief organizations like Food For Life, desert reclamation projects, or other ingenuous innovations, and Seventh Generation could be an important part of that, with our encouragement.

The online form to contact Seventh Generation is meant for questions, even though it allows for comments, and they require you to choose options to help them route your question, none of which really suit comments related to their giving list. You may want to mail a hard copy, call, or fax the company at:

Seventh Generation, Inc.
60 Lake Street
Burlington, VT 05401-5218
802-658-3773
802-658-1771 (fax)
800-456-1191 (toll free)

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3 comments

  1. FWIW, here’s what I sent in:

    As a long-time customer of Seventh Generation bath and kitchen products, I was concerned to learn that you recommended Heifer International at the top of your list of giving to make a difference.

    I am completely opposed to this organization. While on the surface, it all looks well and good, the sustainability of livestock is greatly overstated, and HI’s behind-the-scenes efforts will lead to increased factory farming and genetically modified organisms in climates that cannot sustain either. As developing countries gain self-sufficiency and grow, it is environmentally more beneficial by far that they avoid relying on corporate-owned seeds and on domesticated animals, which tax the environment the more they are relied upon as a source of food, competing with humans and native species for resources like water and grain, and eventually producing more waste than the land can handle.

    Efforts need to be made to reclaim deserts to make them more hospitable to plant agriculture (search reports on this in Egypt, Pakistan, and other environs) and to build self-reliance by growing renewable crops.

    In the meantime, organizations like Food For Life and VegFam need our money to help combat hunger around the world with animal-free foods, reducing suffering on the planet by both human and non-human animals, and reducing the number of mouths to feed in the world. (More resources at Plants for Hunger)

    Thank you for your consideration. I know you mean well, but I prefer win-win solutions. A solution that involves animal exploitation is short-sighted and seems contrary to the spirit of Seventh Generation’s mission.

  2. Thanks, eric. My letter isn’t nearly as eloquent as yours, but I took your suggestions and looked into the issue more deeply before writing my own letter. I’ll mail a hard-copy as well.

  3. I’m the editor of the Non-Toxic Times, the Seventh Generation newsletter and the person who wrote the piece recommending Heifer International, a suggestion which came from our staff. There are some interesting thoughts in your commentary, Eric. We invited Heifer to respond to them in a post to our own blog, the Inspired Protagonist. In turn, I’d like to invite you and your readers to come over and dialogue with us and with Heifer. Perhaps we can all find some common ground on which to stand. Hope to hear from you.

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