My response to Heifer International

Note: I tried posting this in the comments at Inspired Protagonist, but was experiencing grave technical errors that prevented me from doing so. I have modified my opening for this post to reflect that it is being posted at AAFL instead.

I’d like to thank Geoff for inviting me over to The Inspired Protagonist to chime in on Mr. White’s response to my original entry. I’d also like to thank readers who have taken the time to share their thoughts there in the comments section.

I am, frankly, a little concerned that my post may not have been well-read, but was rather reacted to as a generic critique of Heifer International. I infer this because a number of my points are either avoided or simply missed by Mr. White in formulating his response.

Anyone that takes the time to read my post can see quite plainly that a) I’m male (Hi, my name is Eric), b) I do propose alternatives, and c) I provide a link to support the contention that Heifer International is doing more to pave the way for an animal-based agriculture in the developing world than merely providing “livestock” and skills to people in need.

The reason Mr. White and I may not find common ground, despite Geoff’s request that we try to do so, is that Heifer International at its very core considers animals to be livestock, meant for our use, whereas animal rights philosophy, in finding that animals exist for their own purposes, considers the common view of animals inherently unjust.

I mentioned that this philosophy can be somewhat more problematic when advocating in developing countries, as often people square off animal rights against human rights in a false dichotomy. But Mr. White seems to have misunderstood my meaning. I never called people who believe animals are less important than humans “fanatic.” Such a view is, of course, the dominant paradigm of our time.

I merely lamented that, when attempting to espouse animal rights when humans are suffering, people who still see nonhuman animals as things instead of individuals generally argue that humans are more important than nonhumans, rather than seeing that one need not pit the two against one another. One can help humans without harming animals. My point in identifying the common (often knee-jerk) response against animal rights in this arena was to point out that, so far, this sort of third-way thinking has been sadly absent.

Unfortunately, the same mindset that pits animals against humans highlights the very same deep-seated beliefs that Heifer International espouses, namely that animals are ours do with as we please.

But the power and strength to subdue animals and bend them to our will does not make it right to do so. We are a powerful and intelligent species, it’s true. And that is why it is ever more incumbent upon us to find ways not to exploit animals, and to implement compassionate alternatives.

Beyond the philosophical reasons, there are still numerous concrete objections to the use of animals in agriculture, even at this small scale. Mr. White seems to have missed my observation that helping out at this level provides a foundation for the growth of livestock industries in these areas in the future (he’s being disingenuous if he suggests that profit-challenged industries aren’t salivating over the potential to exploit developing economies as Europe and the U.S. become less desirable places to raise and slaughter animals). In other words, contributing to Heifer International now lays the foundation for a society that views animal flesh as a commodity and, as that society grows, so will its flesh consumption, along with all the negative environmental, health, and animal issues attendant to modern “animal agriculture.”

Again, because Mr. White seems to have missed it, I also originally suggested a number of alternatives, including giving to Food for Life or VegFam and reclaiming the deserts. In fact, a number of projects have already done this quite successfully, and you can see links to just a small handful of these in my original post as well (Here’s an additional permaculture website).

Remember that, despite the fact that we may not eat exactly the same food, nonhumans drink the same water as humans, and contribute to desertification. Even in our own country the aquifers are being drained at an alarming rate, with a substantial portion of that water going to “domesticated” nonhumans and the food they eat. Why put all those resources into animals, when they are not an energy efficient source of nutrition for humans? It’s rather well known these days that the lower you eat on the “food chain,” the more efficient and sustainable your diet is.

Bearing all this in mind, I’d suggest that Heifer International promotes reliance on livestock, rather than self-reliance. That is a dangerous position to place people whom you’re trying to help become self-sufficient and to grow into a prosperous society in the long-term.

If anything, developing countries offer people that want to help an opportunity to take the lessons we’ve learned in our own cultures to help others grow in ways that are truly sustainable, from the ground up. That means not hooking them on the animal-based agriculture that–with its contributions to global warming emissions, deforestation, and competition for resources–threatens the very survival of the planet we all share.

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