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Earth Day: Go plant-based for the planet

Today marks the 48th annual Earth Day celebration and around the world events and efforts will be taking place to draw attention to the need for stronger environmental protections.

As the global community reflects today on the increasingly sensitive state of the planet and what role we as individuals can play in tackling what can sometimes feel like an overwhelming issue, it’s important to remember that every time we sit down to eat, we have an opportunity to stand up for a better world.

Animal agriculture has been identified as a leading contributor not only to climate change, but to air and water pollution, water use, land degradation, deforestation and biodiversity decline.

In fact, animal agriculture is responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions than the entire global transportation sector. This is because animal-based foods are incredibly inefficient to produce and are very resource-intensive. The processes involved when it comes to raising, transporting and slaughtering animals for food are responsible for potent greenhouse gas emissions including carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide. To put this in perspective, beef production requires 20 times more land and emits 20 times more greenhouse gas emissions per unit of edible protein than common plant-based protein sources such as beans, peas and lentils.[1]

The production of animal-based foods also requires and pollutes large amounts of water. Agriculture accounts for 92% of our global freshwater footprint; approximately one third relates to animal products.[2] The water footprint per gram of protein for milk, eggs and chicken is approximately 1.5 times larger than for pulses (beans, lentils, peas). For beef, it is six times larger than for pulses.[3] The sheer volume of animal waste, along with fertilizers and pesticides used for feed crops, as well as hormones and antibiotics used on livestock create major water pollution issues. These pollutants seep into waterways, threatening water quality, ecosystems and animal and human health.[4]

Meanwhile, animal agriculture is a key contributor to land degradation and deforestation, with one-quarter of the earth’s land surface (excluding Antarctica) being used as pastureland. [5] The conversion of natural habitat to accommodate livestock and feed crops puts immense pressure on wildlife that struggle to survive in increasingly fragmented and degraded environments. Ineffective and ill-informed cull programs put additional pressure on predator populations, due to the perceived threat they pose to livestock profits.

While our diet can be a major part of the problem when it comes to protecting the planet, that also means it is a crucial part of the solution. A 2016 Oxford Martin School study found that the adoption of global dietary guidelines would cut food-related emissions by 29%, vegetarian diets by 63%, and vegan diets by 70%.[6] By reducing and eliminating resource-intensive animal products from our diet and supporting efforts to make more sustainable plant-based foods widely accessible, we can drastically decrease our individual and societal environmental footprints.

This Earth Day, join the growing number of people around the world who are recognizing the power behind what we put on our plate. Take our Meatless Monday pledge for recipe ideas and download our Live Well booklet to learn more about a plant-based diet. You can also support VHS’s efforts to introduce more healthy, humane and sustainable plant-based menu options in schools and other institutions.







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Factory farming: A problem with solutions

A farmer veterinary walks inside a poultry farm

Two recent news stories underscore why factory farming must end and how some powerful interests are working to make that happen.

Last week, A new study found compelling  and disturbing evidence that a novel form of the dangerous superbug Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA) can spread to humans through consumption or handling of contaminated poultry.

“We’ve known for several years that people working directly with livestock are at increased risk for MRSA infections, but this is one of the first studies providing compelling evidence that everyday consumers are also potentially at risk,” said one of the authors of the study.

Intensive farming practices, which often involve giving food animals low doses of antibiotics to encourage fast growth and compensate for overcrowding and unsanitary living conditions, has led to the spread of superbugs like MRSA.  Those same conditions, which billions of animals around the world must endure, are the reason animal advocates have called for an end to factory farming on animal welfare grounds.

Animal suffering and dangerous superbugs are, of course, not the only unwanted consequences of industrialized animal agriculture.  Intensive farming also degrades our environment, including contributing 14.5 per cent of all greenhouse gases to global climate change. It uses up huge amounts of land, water and energy.  And, not least, its end product is meat – the overconsumption of which can be damaging to human health.

The other related news story acknowledges these problems and offers solutions.  This week, a group of 40 investors managing $1.25 trillion in assets launched a campaign to encourage 16 global food companies to shift from selling meat to selling plant protein. “The world’s over reliance on factory farmed livestock to feed the growing global demand for protein is a recipe for a financial, social and environmental crisis,” said the investor leading the initiative.

The meat and livestock sector is no longer just the target of grassroots activists and animal advocates.  The world, including the world of finance, is waking up to just how unsustainable this industry is.

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A chance to speak up for farm animals



The federal, provincial and territorial governments are asking for comments on plans for the future of agriculture in Canada, providing an opportunity to raise issues about the treatment of farm animals.

Phase 2 of the consultation is open until November 30 and includes options to fill in an online questionnaire, email your comments or write a letter. Please take the time to contribute your views about animal welfare and the future of animal agriculture.

The consultation refers to the government’s plan, called The Calgary Statement – the Next Policy Framework, which sets out several Priority Areas:

Markets and trade
Science, research and innovation
Risk management
Environmental sustainability and climate change
Value-added agriculture and agri-food processing
Public Trust

Following are some key points from our submission to the consultation (full submission here):

Markets and Trade

Canada should develop markets for plant-based protein instead of animal-based protein, which contributes to environmental degradation, is resource-intensive and is dependent on inhumane confinement systems.

Science, research and innovation

Canada should invest in research and development of plant-based protein, especially the production and processing of pulse crops.  In contrast to animal protein production, pulses have been shown to be environmentally beneficial (requiring relatively little water and fertilizer), healthy and sustainable.  A number of innovative plant-based industries have emerged in recent years, attracting investment and consumer interest.

Risk management

The livestock sector has a number of inherent risks, including:

– negative environmental impacts (e.g. greenhouse gas emissions)
– zoonotic disease outbreaks (e.g. avian flu, listeria, e. coli)
– consumer rejection of inhumane, intensive confinement systems (e.g. battery cages for laying hens) and other animal welfare concerns
– consumer health concerns over meat consumption (e.g. cancer risk of red and processed meats)
– rise of antbiotic resistance due to overuse of antibiotics in livestock

Environmental sustainability and climate change

Globally, the meat and livestock sector contributes 14.5% of all greenhouse gases, which is more than the transportation sector.  It is also resource-intensive – it is the world’s largest user of agricultural land, through grazing and the use of feed crops. The sector is also a major contributor to water pollution and loss of biodiversity.

Public Trust

Canadian consumers have many concerns about animal agriculture.

Currently, animal agriculture in Canada involves the confinement and suffering of millions of animals.  Animal welfare should be a top priority in the development of agricultural policy. Currently, there are no mandatory animal welfare standards in Canada, only voluntary Codes of Practice.  These should be replaced with mandatory standards enforced by independent, third-party inspections.

The meat and livestock sector is dependent on intensive confinement systems (factory farms) that compromise animal welfare and degrade the environment. In addition, the overconsumption of meat has been shown to be harmful to human health.  Consequently, this sector is unsustainable.  Consumers will lose faith in agriculture if these problems persist.

Resources should be shifted to the development of a plant-based protein sector, including more support for Canada’s production, processing and marketing of pulses (peas, beans, lentils). Plant-based diets should be promoted through public information programs and support for initiatives like Meatless Monday.

Such initiatives would earn public trust, as they benefit the environment, public health and animal welfare.

Your participation in this consultation will ensure that animals are not forgotten in the development of Canada’s agricultural policies.

More info:

CBC News story


Twitter: #agnpf



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Debate over meat heats up




Nutrition Decision



Everyone’s arguing about meat.

The recent announcement by the World Health Organization (WHO) concerning the cancer risk caused by consumption of red and processed meats has, predictably, provoked a heated debate in social and conventional media.

While this is a human health issue, ethical vegetarians and animal activists naturally welcome evidence that may contribute to lower consumption of animal flesh.  The meat industry, of course, is attacking WHO’s report as “alarmist”.  Meat lovers are expressing defiance, with many regaling media with personal anecdotes such as: “My grandpa was 102 years old when he died, and he had beef and potatoes every day.”

While the debate over how much meat is safe to eat continues, another controversy rages over the environmental impact of meat consumption.   The United Nations says that livestock are responsible for 14.5 per cent of global anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions, thus contributing more to climate change than transport. Yet, agriculture’s contribution is not on the agenda at the upcoming climate change conference in Paris, an omission that has attracted criticism. Research has shown that livestock and meat production have other negative impacts that could be alleviated by lower meat consumption.  A 2014 report  by respected think-tank Chatham House concluded: “Lower consumption of livestock products in high-consuming countries could also yield significant environmental and societal co-benefits for health, global food security, water security and biodiversity.”

For many vegetarians and vegans these are, to some degree, side issues (albeit important ones) in their decision to switch to a plant-based diet.  Philosopher Peter Singer, often described as the father of the animal rights movement, has long argued that, if it is possible to survive and be healthy without eating meat, fish, dairy or eggs, one ought to choose that option instead of causing unnecessary harm to animals.  This is about a taking a moral, compassionate position against the unnecessary suffering and slaughter of animals.

At VHS, our goal is to reduce or eliminate animal suffering wherever possible.  We have no doubt that reducing or eliminating meat consumption helps achieve that goal.  Whatever the health risks or environmental impacts of meat consumption, moving toward a plant-based diet is good for the billions of animals who face misery and death on factory farms around the world.

The good news is that it’s never been easier to move to a meat-free diet.   Peter Singer was right about being able “to survive and be healthy” without eating animal products – but now plant-based diets are just as much about pleasure as health, ethics or environmental sustainability.  The emergence of convenient and better quality meat alternatives, the increasing number of vegetarian-friendly restaurants and the explosion of online meatless recipes have all helped make plant-based diets familiar, easy and enjoyable.

So while the debates about meat, health, ethics and the environment will rage on in all their complexities, our view is quite simple: If one can eat well without cruelty or slaughter, why not?


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New shocks follow Europe’s horsemeat scandal!


The horsemeat scandal that has rocked Europe may be just the tip of the iceberg, as new revelations about the food supply emerge.  European consumers expressed revulsion when it was revealed that frozen lasagne and other products where contaminated with up to 100 per cent horsemeat.

But now a new shock about food products has turned the stomachs of shoppers and diners in Britain and across the continent:  It has emerged that the flesh of other dead animals, not just horses, is rampant throughout the food system.  For example, it has been revealed that dishes such as roast lamb and lamb stew actually contain the flesh of a baby animal of the same name.  Investigators have also discovered that the entrée known as veal is made from another baby animal called a calf.  There are now indications that the entire human diet may be contaminated with the flesh of a range of dead animals.

British consumers interviewed about the revelations were appalled.  “You mean every Sunday I’ve been eating one of the cute little spring lambs I’ve taken my children to see in the countryside?” said one horrified woman.

A man in a pub refused to finish his lunch when told that steak and kidney pie actually contains the organs of a slaughtered animal.  “What, you mean the kidney is actually a kidney?” said the disgusted diner.

Another diner, who said he had been sick to learn about horses being used for food because they were so sensitive and intelligent, was dumbstruck when told that his ham sandwich was made from a sensitive and intelligent animal called a pig.

Government officials have suggested that the contamination may be the work of “organized criminal gangs” who have introduced the flesh into the food chain.  There are dark rumours that this may even have happened on a global scale, with so-called “factory farms” keeping billions of animals in inhumane conditions before killing them and distributing their body parts for huge profits.

However, scientists and bureaucrats have dismissed the rumours, stating that it’s unthinkable for such a cruel system to exist.  “It’s impossible to believe that anyone could organize something so brutal on such a scale,” said one official.  “No civilized society would ever allow such a thing to happen.”

An environmental expert said such a system would also be unsustainable.  “It would use up an enormous amount of resources, pollute our air, land and water and contribute to climate change through massive releases of greenhouse gases,” he said.   “The human race would never be so self-destructive.”

And health officials say that if people were eating a diet heavy in animal flesh we would be seeing high rates of obesity, cancer, heart disease and diabetes.  “It just couldn’t happen,” said one medical expert.  “It would be almost suicidal for society to take up such a diet and we’re a lot smarter than that.”