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ESSENTIAL DESTINATIONS

MONTH: January/February 2007

Livestock gift charities do not help poor nations, say global critics

 

LONDON--Sixty years after Heifer International founder Dan West pioneered the idea of soliciting donations to give livestock to poor families in disadvantaged parts of the world, criticism of the practice at last cracked major mainstream news media during the pre-Christmas 2006 peak giving season.

At least three major British newspapers and news syndicates amplified critiques of livestock donation programs, quoting most extensively from a prepared statement distributed by Animal Aid director Andrew Tyler.

"This year about a dozen agencies are using your money to punt goats, chickens, sheep, camels, donkeys, pigs and cows to the world's starving," Tyler warned donors. "Prices vary: £70 will get you a cow from Help The Aged. Send A Cow demands £750 per animal. Farm Friends wants £30 for a goat, whereas World Vision will settle for £91 for a whole herd.

"Farming animals is an inefficient, expensive and environmentally destructive way of producing food," Tyler continued. "Sceptical readers might accuse me of dressing up a concern about animal welfare as a concern for the world's poor. There are major animal welfare issues involved in sending animals to, for instance, the Horn of Africa, where earlier this year up to 80% of the cattle perished in a drought. Many of the remainder were washed away in the floods that followed. But this is not about cows taking precedence over people. Reality is that animal gift schemes are, in the words of the World Land Trust, 'environmentally unsound and economically disastrous.'"

"Oxfam, Christian Aid, Help the Aged, and others are wooing the ethical shopper with pictures of cute goats wearing Christmas hats and promises of helping the poor in developing countries," summarized Sean O'Neill of The Times of London, "but the World Land Trust and Animal Aid say that it is 'madness' to send goats, cows and chickens to areas where they will add to the problems of drought and desertification."

Said World Land Trust director John Burton, "The goat campaign may be a pleasing gift and a short-term fix for milk and meat for a few individuals, but in the long term the quality of life for these people will slowly be reduced with devastating effect."

Added Andrew Tyler, "All farmed animals require proper nourishment, large quantities of water, shelter from extremes, and veterinary care. Such resources are in critically short supply in much of Africa," the major recipient of help from the British livestock-donating charities.

Wrote O'Neill, "Christian Aid said that its critics misunderstood its program. The purchase of a goat, the charity said, did not necessarily mean that a goat was bought. The money would go into a farming and livestock fund distributed by local project managers."

Added Kevin McCandless of CNSNews.com, "In addition to providing the animals, which are usually bought locally, the charities say they provide the support needed to care for them, including fencing and free veterinary care. Send a Cow said it worked closely with local farmers in Africa, providing them with support and using their knowledge to deal with issues such as soil erosion. It said it does not provide cows to areas where they would compete with humans for water, and insisted on a zero-grazing policy. The donated animals are kept in spacious shelters and have fodder brought to them."
Few of the poorest parts of Africa and Asia can afford to raise animals that way.

Objection from India

 

Commented former Indian minister for social welfare and animal protection Maneka Gandhi, "Nothing irritates me more than charities abroad that collect money and purport to give it to women or children or for animals in Asia or Africa. Very little reaches the country or the cause for which it is meant. Most of it goes toward their own 'infrastructure,' which means rent, staff, travel and 'investigation,'" Mrs. Gandhi charged.

"If people have paid money for 5,000 animals, fewer than 200 will actually get there--I can bet on it. This is cynical exploitation of animals and poor people," Mrs. Gandhi alleged. "Basically [livestock gift schemes] are a fundraising mechanism.

"These charities woo the ethical shopper with pictures of goats wearing Christmas hats and promises of helping the poor in developing countries [but] it is madness to send goats, cows and chickens to areas where they will add to the problems of drought and desertification," Mrs. Gandhi continued.

 

"Each goat eats all the grass and shrubbery on two hectares of land a year. A goat destroys the fertility of land and [the value of] any milk or dung it may give is very little compared to the havoc it wreaks. "Within two years," Mrs. Gandhi asserted, "the people who get goats have an even poorer lifestyle. There are village quarrels about community grazing; children are taken out of school to graze the goats; water becomes even scarcer. Two goats can reduce the amount of farmland available to local people and result in villages becoming deserted, while a cow will drink up to 90 liters of water every single day."

Objection from Nepal

"I have been sending letters to Dutch agencies to stop this kind of program for yet another reason," commented Animal Nepal founder Lucia DeVries. "The animals are generally slaughtered in an inhumane manner," DeVries alleged. "In Nepal, for instance, there is only one slaughterhouse, in the capital (Katmandu). This means that virtually all livestock is killed with the often-not-too-sharp-knives" of rural butchers, "causing much suffering to the animal and possibly to the butcher. I've met quite a few people who lost fingers while trying to kill a goat," DeVries said.

"Ultimately," said Tyler, "my objection is to the commercial forces that seek to persuade people of the poor world that their best nutritional interests are served by buying into modern, high-throughput farmed animal production processes. With that comes an addiction to high capital input systems, additional stresses on precious water supplies, environmental destruction, a loss of control over the means of production, bad health, a nightmare animal welfare scenario and more human poverty and malnourishment."

Tyler urged donors to "boycott the donate-an-animal schemes and instead support projects that help people, animals, and the environment. Animal Aid," Tyler said, is "seeking support for a scheme to plant 2,000 trees in Kenya's Rift Valley. They will bear oranges, avocados, mangos, pawpaws, kei apples, and macadamia nuts. Such efforts won't erase the blight of poverty in Africa," Tyler said, "but neither will they add to it."

Protest to Oprah

Massachusetts Animal Rights Coalition cofounders Steve and Helen Rayshick asked animal advocates to join them in complaining to television show host Oprah Winfrey about her "supporting and promoting Heifer International," the Rayshicks wrote.

"The Heifer International training farm, called Overlook Farms, is near us in Rutland, Massachusetts," the Rayshicks said. "They raise lambs and other animals for slaughter. It is no different from any other animal farm. We consider the 'donation' of animals to other countries to be a thinly viewed attempt to spread dairy and meat consumption to new parts of the world," the Rayshicks continued. "Note that Heifer International first sent dairy cows to Japan, after World War II, instead of sending them healthy food that was a natural part of the Japanese diet."

Japanese activist Lydia Tanabe affirmed to ANIMAL PEOPLE that the Heifer International work in Japan is widely viewed as the start of the modern Japanese factory-style dairy industry, which is seen as having elevated Japanese animal fat consumption, with detrimental influence on adult health. "Heifer International is bringing a cruel, unhealthy, environmentally destructive diet to cultures that are primarily vegetarian," the Rayshicks objected. "Plus, one of the cruelest aspects of animal agriculture is animal transport, a mainstay of this organization. We wonder how many of these poor animals just get eaten on the spot upon arrival.

Islamic charities

The activist criticisms of animal donation schemes came just as leading Islamic charities introduced similar programs that enable Muslims to "get the animal of their choice sacrificed online for festivities like Eid Al Adha," according to syndicated reports originating from the United Arab Emirates and Pakistan. The charities reportedly included the Alamgir Welfare Trust International, of Karachi; the Sahara for Life Trust formed by singer Abrarul Haq; and the U.S. charities Islamicity and Life for Relief & Development.

Vegetarian organizations and some animal advocates have criticized livestock donations as often being inappropriate, ineffective in fighting poverty, and inhumane almost since Heifer International started in 1948, then called the Heifer Project. Some agricultural economists began pointing out flaws in the strategy during the 1970s, notably that many recipients of gift animals were unable to feed them to maturity, let alone able to feed and raise offspring. Environmentalists later added questions about the wisdom of introducing non-native livestock to often fragile habitats, where animals with larger or different appetites from the indigenous strains might overtax the vegetation or simply starve.

ANIMAL PEOPLE summarized the arguments against livestock donations in a May 2003 review of the Compassion In World Farming and Humane Education Trust video Saving Baby Ubuntu, headlined "A video that never mentions Heifer Project International shows why their premise is wrong."
The review may be accessed at <www.AnimalPeopleNews.org>. --M.C.