Guest Blog by Marta Zaraska[1]

If there is one thing that is the most responsible for keeping us hooked on meat, it’s our culture. Not our genes, not our taste buds, not even the powerful meat industry with its annual sales in US higher than the GDP of Hungary or Ukraine — although, admittedly, all these factors are important, too.

DSC_0023_2There are plenty of beliefs that, taken together, perpetuate the meat-eating culture. Take the belief that “we are what we eat.” The Hua tribe of Papua, New Guinea, think that children will grow fast if they eat fast-growing plants, while the men of the Dyak tribe of Northwest Borneo avoid venison for fear that eating it would make them timid like deer. In ancient Egypt, kings would once a year slaughter the bull-god Apis and eat its flesh to get the animal’s fierceness. In Benin, West Africa, practitioners of voodoo to this day drink the blood of sacrificial animals to get their strength. And studies show people in the West may hold similar believes, too, albeit subconsciously. In a classic 1989 experiment conducted among 310 undergraduate students at University of Pennsylvania, fictional tribes-people who eat boars were rated as having more hair and being faster runners than those who eat turtles.

No wonder then that we think that eating bloody meat will make us stronger, while eating leafy green vegetables could turn us kind of floppy and weak. You can see the echoes of such convictions in everyday language. We “beef up” our muscles in the gym, but go “couch potato” when we feel lazy. To “become a vegetable” is to become disabled. To be a “beefcake” is to be attractive and strong.

800px-Chimpanzee-HeadMeat has symbolized wealth and masculinity for thousands of years. It all goes back to 2.5 million years ago, when our ancestors started eating meat on the savannas of Africa. Meat is a particular food. It often comes in a big package (think elephant-sized, or even zebra-sized) and spoils fast. That makes it the perfect food for sharing. But when you have something so calorie-dense and nutrient-dense as meat – and hence, craved – to divide among others, some important questions arise: Who will get the largest piece? Who will get nothing at all? Thus politics begin. Our cousins, the chimps, use meat to buy political privileges, too. Not only do they give meat to select apes to form alliances, the alpha-males are also more likely to share meat more generously at the start of their reign than later on.

Vegan_Chocolate_Chip_CookieWhat helped cement the connection between meat, power and wealth later on in human history, was the so-called scarcity principle. Basically if something is rare and expensive we tend to desire it more. That’s part of the allure of things like Aston Martin cars or Patek Philippe watches. In one experiment researchers asked 200 women to rate the value of chocolate chip cookies placed in two jars: one jar contained ten of the cookies, while another just two of them. Even though the cookies didn’t differ whatsoever, those from the almost empty jar were rated higher than the ones from the full jar.

Meat has been a rare and expensive good for most of human history. The diet of a farm worker in 18th century England would consist mostly of root vegetables, bread, cheese, butter, sugar, tea, and a little milk. Meat seldom made it onto the plates of the poor. Meanwhile, the European aristocracy gorged themselves on as much as two to three pounds of meat and fish per person per day, devouring everything from pigs and chicken to peacocks, storks, otters and porpoises. And that abundance of meat was what the lower classes aspired to.

Cashews_1314What’s more, treating meat as a reward, a special food eaten during celebrations, only boosts its power as something to crave. In one experiment researchers told children that they could only have certain snack foods if they behaved well – and right away they started craving these snacks more than did kids in a control condition, who were just simply offered the food. And there are plenty of other experiments with similar conclusions. Watching other people smile as they eat certain foods makes us enjoy these foods more, too. Leann Birch, psychologist at the University of Georgia, has shown in her research that if you give children snacks they don’t necessarily like much, such as cashews, but you do it while being super friendly, the kids will start truly enjoying the taste of cashews (here’s a tip to parents – if you want your kids to love broccoli, show pleasure on your face when you eat it yourself, even if you have to fake it). For centuries meat has been eaten on occasions when people are particularly friendly to each other: think Thanksgiving, Sunday dinner roasts. Even the word Carnevale in latin literally means “farewell meat” – good-bye before the fasting of Lent. No wonder, then, that for so many of us meat equals pleasure.

1024px-Outback_Steakhouse_Hummer_H1_side (1)The mighty meat industry knows well how to play on symbolism of meat to sell us more of it. Look at the advertisements they put on TV. In an ad for Hummer H3, a vegetarian guy has to buy himself that gas-guzzler of a car to prove he is still powerful and wealthy, even though he doesn’t eat meat. In Burger King’s ‘’Manthem’’ ad, a group of guys sing that they need to “eat like men” (meat, obviously), while DelTaco’s ad suggests that beef will feed the beast inside you — the primitive, violent masculinity. Other examples abound.

With such potent symbolism behind it, no wonder we stay hooked on meat. We humans like power and wealth, and that’s precisely what meat stands for. But, hopefully, if we are aware of the symbols and cultural stereotypes the meat eating plays on – and that the meat industry uses to lure us — we can learn to better control our food cravings.

[1] Marta Zaraska is a science journalist published in Scientific American, the Washington Post, the Atlantic, and other publications. She is author of Meathooked: The History and Science of Our 2.5-Million-Year Obsession with Meat (Basic Books, February 2016).41dE4NGvM4L._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_


We love this new video – and it’s a great way to share this important issue with anyone who needs to know:

By Marya Torrez[1]

A lot of weird ideas have been proposed to reverse climate change, including wrapping Greenland in a blanket, launching a huge sun shade into orbit, and forming clouds from salt. But here’s one down-to-earth idea that policymakers should take up: tax meat to reduce consumption, thereby lowering emissions associated with production.

cowspiracy_quoteOf course, it will be challenging to get this idea into the mainstream. Despite the fact that animal agriculture is one of the largest contributors to global climate change, large environmental organizations and policymakers have largely ignored its impact – a phenomenon explored in detail in the movie Cowspiracy. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization calculates that animal agriculture contributes about 18% of all greenhouse gas emissions, more than all transportation combined. Other experts place the number at about half. While there is debate regarding the exact contribution of animal agriculture, the fact that its impact is considerable is widely recognized in the scientific community.

CDCSome scientists even draw attention to the impact that global meat consumption has on the planet and propose measures such as a tax on meat to address some of these negative externalities. Most recently, a number of interesting proposals were discussed in relation to the UN Climate Change Summit that took place in Paris at the end of 2015. Such measures reflect the belief of many scientists that “reductions in … meat production would simultaneously benefit global food security, human health and environmental conservation.” Carbon taxes imposed by legislators on the energy and transportation sectors have largely succeeded in reducing carbon emissions.

In 2014, I wrote a law review article that explored the potential obstacles and benefits of implementing a greenhouse gas emissions tax on meat. Clearly, one of the largest obstacles is political palatability. But another obstacle would be how it interacts with the United States’ international trade law obligations, as I will explain. The complete legal analysis can be found here.

The United States is a member in the World Trade Organization (WTO), and this can have repercussions on desired policy initiatives at home. In the context of a greenhouse gas emissions tax, the U.S. could certainly impose a tax on domestic meat production without running afoul of our WTO obligations, but such a tax would likely fail because if other countries do not impose a similar tax, it would be more expensive to produce meat here than abroad, making it more difficult for U.S. industry to compete. A tax on only domestic production could create a perverse incentive not to reduce meat production and consumption but merely to replace domestically produced meat with imports from countries without such a tax.

One potential way to address these issues rather than exempting impacted industries would be a border tax adjustment (BTA), which would rebate the tax for exports and impose it on imports. While BTAs are permitted under WTO law, they must be carefully constructed, and the legality of a greenhouse gas emission BTA is currently an open question. Even if the BTA does not comply with WTO law, it still may be lawful if it is “necessary to protect human, animal or plant life or health” or related to the “conservation of exhaustible natural resources.”

veganstreet picAnother issue in connection with a meat tax is how the United States’ international trade law obligations mesh with its multilateral environmental obligations – most importantly the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Because developed nations are the major greenhouse gas contributors, and developing nations often struggle financially and technologically to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, the UNFCCC places the primary responsibility for reducing greenhouse gases on developed nations. A unilateral tax would have a disproportionate impact on developing nations. However, exempting nations in the Global South from the tax would significantly undermine the success of the tax. In the absence of an international agreement – which would certainly be preferable – the fees raised could be used to help developing countries respond to climate change. Using the revenue this way would show that the measure’s purpose is not hidden protectionism and “would certainly strengthen the case that the BTA does not violate WTO law.”

All this may seem purely academic, given Congress’ favorable treatment of the animal agriculture industry and inability to address climate change. Attempts to pass a carbon tax failed in 2009 in part because of the international trade implications. Moreover, American taxpayers currently heavily subsidize the animal agriculture industry. And, while the EPA could and should regulate greenhouse gas emissions from animal agriculture like it does other industries, animal agriculture has been largely exempted from regulation.

Animal food productionAs Dave Simon detailed in his book Meatonomics, U.S. taxpayers spend nearly $415 billion annually on negative externalities from animal agriculture, including health and environmental costs. Rather than addressing the negative externalities imposed on society by animal agriculture, there’s currently a perverse incentive to over-consume animal products at great cost not only to the environment but also to human health, and, of course, to the nonhuman animals.

Despite these obvious political obstacles, we cannot continue to wait to address climate change. The situation is only getting less sustainable. Meat consumption is growing in parts of the world that have not traditionally eaten much meat. “If the entire world population were to consume as much meat as the Western world does . . . the global land required would be two-thirds more than what is presently used.” A tax on the greenhouse gas emissions of meat production could begin to reverse these incentives and account for negative externalities. Interestingly, the researchers who looked at this proposal at the time of the Paris Climate Change Summit found that many people are likely to support such a tax.

As scientists exploring this issue have stated:

Because the Earth’s climate may be near tipping points to major change, the need to act is increasingly pressing . . . . Only with the recognition of the urgency of this issue and the political will to commit resources to comprehensively mitigate both CO2 and non-CO2 greenhouse gas emissions will meaningful progress be made on climate change. For an effective and rapid response, we need to increase awareness among the public and policymakers that what we choose to eat has important consequences for climate change.

The time to act to reverse climate change is now, and a tax on meat would be a great start.

[1] Marya Torrez is an attorney and activist based in Washington, DC. She has written extensively about the environmental, public health, and ethical implications of raising animals for food. Her published works can be found here.

Reposting an early favorite. We get asked a lot about the hidden costs of a typical Big Mac, and this piece spells it out in detail.


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The average retail price of a Big Mac in the United States is $4.56, but that’s just a fraction of the actual cost. When we add in all the hidden, externalized expenses of meat production, the full burden on society is a hefty $12.00 per sandwich. The extra $7.44 above the retail price is borne by American taxpayers and consumers. In other words, rich or poor, omnivore or herbivore, you incur a share of the hidden costs of each and every Big Mac sold in this country.

Curious what you’re paying for? The externalized costs of each burger include:

  • $0.38 for cruelty.  A total of $20.7 billion in cruelty costs is imposed on Americans each year. (Extrapolated from a study in which auction participants bid to end cruel farming practices.)
  • $0.67 in environmental losses.  This is a small piece of the $37.2 billion in annual environmental costs related…

View original post 190 more words

Go Vegan Billboard - Cow

The meat and dairy industries bombard Americans daily with aggressive, often-misleading messaging to convince people to consume more animal foods – a tactic discussed at length in Meatonomics. Now, in a refreshing counterpunch, advocacy group Animal Protection & Rescue League (APRL) has launched two “GO VEGAN” billboards next to a busy freeway in Los Angeles. It’s not cheap to design, create and run them – $13,500 for the first month, to be exact, but the economics make sense.

Go Vegan Billboard - Pigs

Together, the billboards are getting two million impressions per week – or eight million impressions over their four-week run. That’s about $0.002 per impression, or less than 1/35th the cost of vegan literature (which runs $60 per 1,000 fliers). While a flier in hand might provide a more detailed message than a “GO VEGAN” slogan glimpsed in passing, advertising lore says a message must reach a viewer nine times before it pays off. Thus, by subjecting commuters to repetitive views, these billboards could help nudge many toward veganism.

True, they’re not cheap. But anyone who likes the message and wants to help promote it can pitch in. If you’d like to donate, feel free to visit APRL’s local website and click on the donate button.

Uncle Sam Says: Eat More Meat!

Posted: December 9, 2014 in Images, Posts
Tags: , , , , , ,

640px-Uncle_Sam_(pointing_finger)In his 1932 novel Brave New World, Aldous Huxley imagined a future where people exist solely to support the economy and are conditioned from birth to buy things. Government bureaucrats manipulate the sheep-like citizens with drugs and slogans to make them consume as much as possible. In Huxley’s vision, 26th-century consumers learn that “ending is better than mending” and “the more stitches, the less riches” – that is, buying new things is better than fixing old ones. But as I discuss in my book Meatonomics, this eerie futuristic fantasy – with government using marketing slogans and other undue influence to drive consumption – has arrived centuries early for US consumers. In the Brave New World of the 21st century – where big box stores and mega markets dominate the landscape – the US government uses innocuous-sounding “checkoff” programs to encourage people to buy more animal foods.

In fact, checkoffs make us consume much more meat, eggs and dairy than we would otherwise. Yet most Americans have never heard of these government programs, and for that reason it’s important to consider the dramatic impact checkoffs have on our consumption patterns and our lives. In this article, I explore seven surprising facts behind our government’s marketing of animal foods via these little-known programs.

  1. Checkoffs Use Super-Catchy Slogans

beefiwfdMeat and dairy ads have bombarded American consumers relentlessly for decades.  You’ve seen the milk mustaches and the snappy slogans:

Beef. It’s What’s for Dinner.
Pork. The Other White Meat.
Milk. It Does a Body Good.

They’re as American as apple pie and as commonplace as ads for Ford or Chevy. Like an ink stamp, these ads imprint themselves on our subconscious and become part of our belief system. What’s for dinner? Without even knowing why, many think, Beef.

  1. A Checkoff is a Tax

Checkoffs used to be voluntary, and producers opted in by checking a box. Nowadays, the programs are mandatory – just like any other tax. The way they work is simple: Congress slaps a small assessment on certain items, and the collected funds are used to pay for research and marketing programs that boost the goods’ sales. So when animal food producers collect $1 per head of cattle, $0.40 per $100 of pork, or $0.15 per 100 pounds of dairy, the funds go to national, state and regional marketing groups. There aren’t many Boston Tea Party–like protests when it comes to making the payments – because most consumers don’t know about checkoffs and most producers think their trade groups put the money to good use.

  1. It’s Consumers, Not Producers, Who Pay the Tax

Nominally speaking, it’s producers who pay checkoff taxes – a fact they proclaim loudly and regularly. But that’s not who really pays for checkoffs.  Economists point to a tax’s “incidence” to describe who ultimately bears the burden of paying it. In the case of checkoffs, the cost is generally passed on to consumers in the form of higher prices. In other words, we pay extra to get both the product and the snappy marketing message.

  1. They’re Incredibly Effective

dreamstime_xl_17990934Across the board, checkoffs work remarkably well to make Americans buy more meat and dairy than we would otherwise. According to the US Department of Agriculture, for each dollar of checkoff funds spent promoting animal foods, “the return on investment can range as high as $18.” The pork checkoff program drives $14 in sales per dollar spent. The lamb checkoff lacks a memorable motto but still provides an unusually huge boost, driving additional sales of $38 for each dollar spent on promotion. But the biggest winner might be dairy, which boasted that over a year and a half, checkoff efforts contributed to more than 7 billion additional pounds of milk sold. That’s an extra forty-seven servings of dairy per person in the United States – above and beyond the hundreds of servings people would have consumed anyway during the period. Clearly, milk is up to more than just doing a body good.

  1. They Spend a Fortune

All told, these programs provide funding of $557 million yearly for animal food producers to promote their goods. This massive, government-mandated marketing budget gives the animal food industry something few other sectors have: a huge marketing war chest to boost sales of all goods from all producers in the program. In almost every other industry, individual corporations must fork out their own funds to increase sales rather than rely on government programs to prop up their numbers. With checkoff programs, on the other hand, Americans buy more of nearly every conceivable animal food than they would otherwise. Like an insatiable diner, the animal food industry relishes the higher sales that result. Dairy promoters brag that since their checkoff program started in 1983, annual per capita consumption of milk “has climbed 12 percent to 620 pounds.”

  1. They Speak the Message of the Federal Government

800px-Oblique_facade_1,_US_Supreme_CourtSome producers say checkoffs have been unfairly linked to government and are actually just the tools of good old-fashioned capitalism. They argue these arrangements involve only private firms who pool advertising monies without government participation, and their mission and methods are no different from those of any private advertiser. However, the US Supreme Court decisively rejected this position in a 2005 case involving the beef checkoff. In Johanns v. Livestock Marketing Association, the Supreme Court held the beef checkoff’s message was actually government speech (a form of speech the government can make others support). This holding from the highest court in the land leaves little doubt that checkoff programs, and the messages they generate, are the product of the federal government. So when one of these organizations speaks – regardless of the product it’s hawking – it may say it’s the National Pork Board, but the background sounds are the imposing bass tones of the US government.

  1. They Drive Unhealthy Levels of Consumption

400px-Physical_Exam_-_StethoscopePerhaps the most disturbing feature of checkoffs is that most Americans already consume more animal foods than the USDA recommends. Nonetheless, like a desperate salesperson trying to meet an unrealistic quota, the agency keeps using checkoffs to goad people to buy even more. One result is these programs impose billions of dollars in hidden costs on American consumers and taxpayers. Another is that they further sicken an already-ill nation. Ultimately, perhaps the question we should ask ourselves about checkoff programs is: Got Milked?

               Buddha taught compassion for all sentient beings. Tashi Nyima, whose words are reposted below, provided a great example of what this means during a recent Thanksgiving talk that was quite moving.

Great Middle Way

10349086_10205392592715415_7257494644106864853_n―a brief address by Tashi Nyima to the Richardson Interfaith Alliance (TX) during the Thanksgiving Observance

There is a quote in tonight’s program that reads: “Having abandoned the taking of life, refraining from the taking of life, we dwell without violence, with the knife laid down —scrupulous, full of mercy— trembling with compassion for all sentient beings.”  ―Buddha Shakyamuni

When people think of Buddhist monks, if they think of us at all, they imagine that we dwell in clouds of incense, smiling serenely, unperturbed, meditating on nothing. But, as you just read, we are not called to drift placidly in emptiness, but to “tremble with compassion for all sentient beings”.

I thought that the mention of ‘trembling’ was just a rhetorical device, until late one night, returning with my Teacher from visiting with refugees, when we passed by a dark alley and heard the cries of fear and pain of…

View original post 562 more words

By Robert C. Jones[1]

441px-Jeremy_Bentham_by_Henry_William_Pickersgill_detailWhen he famously asked “Can they [animals] suffer?” two and half centuries ago, Jeremy Bentham proposed the notion that the capacity to feel pain is enough to entitle animals to moral consideration. Today, research continues to emerge showing that animals previously thought to have no capacity to feel pain can, in fact, suffer. In this blog post, adapted from a longer article I wrote titled “The Lobster Considered” (inspired by David Foster Wallace’s masterpiece, “Consider the Lobster”),[2] I explore recent research into the capacity for pain in insects, spiders and crustaceans, and the implications for extending moral consideration to these animals.

BBGMonarchButterflyWingsThe literature on insect and arachnid pain is astonishingly impoverished. For over 30 years, the established view (made so by one Sir Prof. Vincent Brian Wigglesworth)[3] has been that insects by and large do not feel pain. Yet, Wigglesworth goes on to argue that certain insect behaviors (e.g., escape behavior when presented with noxious stimuli) indicate that some insects must experience some form of pain. Later researchers[4] conclude that the evidence “does not appear to support the occurrence in insects of a pain state.”[5] However, others[6] have discovered nociception (the processing of nerve stimuli associated with pain) in at least some insects, namely Drosophila (a genus of small flies).[7] And yet another group of researchers finds nociception in response to thermal noxious stimuli as well as what the researchers refer to as a “pain” gene in Drosophila.[8]

Cricket_(insect)_in_IndiaIn a 1999 study carried out by V E. Dyakonova at the Russian Academy of Sciences, opioid receptors and evidence of pain were discovered in crickets.[9] The experimental setup involved Dyakonova noting the amount of time it took before crickets jumped from a hot plate whose temperature was gradually elevated. Dyakonova then administered morphine to the crickets in three separate and increasing doses. His findings indicate that the morphine elongated the period of the avoidance of the hot surface by the crickets (the length of which increased in correlation with higher doses of morphine).[10] Other evidence of insect pain includes evidence of nociception (or, at least, a nociceptive response) in moth larvae,[11] and in work on spider pain, another team of researchers find that “[t]he sensing mechanism by which spiders detect injected harmful chemicals such as venoms … may be fundamentally similar to the one in humans that is coupled with the perception of pain.”[12]

The evidence for lobster pain is persuasive. At the physiological level, crustaceans possess nociceptors, ganglia (nerve cell clusters associated with sensing pain), and nociceptor-to-ganglia pathways.[13] Although crustacean pain attribution is not yet widely accepted, findings are beginning to support crustacean sentience.


In a recent study, two researchers from Queen’s University, Barry Magee and Robert Elwood, found convincing evidence of crustacean sentience.[14] The study reveals that the European shore crab (Carcinus maenas) responds to electric shocks and then attempts to avoid them. To avoid being spotted and eaten by seagulls, European shore crabs take shelter during the day under dark rocks. In the study, Magee and Elwood placed ninety crabs in a brightly lit area with the option of scuttling to either of two dark shelters. Once the creatures had taken refuge, half were given an electric shock in the first shelter they chose. It took only two iterations of this routine to produce a significant switch in the crabs’ behavior such that those shocked in the previous trial were much more likely to switch shelters than those who hadn’t been shocked in the previous trial. The crabs would rather sacrifice the value and security of a dark shelter by venturing into the dangerous light environment than face being shocked again. Even after eight iterations without shock, the crustaceans continued to avoid the shelter where they had been shocked. Magee and Elwood conclude that this is more than a simple reflex reaction to pain, and that all decapod crustaceans – including lobsters – would exhibit the same response.[15] And in an earlier 2009 study, researchers found that the more intensely hermit crabs are electrically shocked, the more willing the crustaceans are to abandon their shells for new shells.[16]

800px-PrawnIn 2008, a team of researchers demonstrated that when the antennae of prawns are exposed to noxious chemical stimuli, the crustaceans respond with increased grooming of the antennae, yet when an anesthetic is applied, the grooming behavior subsides. The lead researcher concluded that such findings are “consistent with the idea that these crustaceans can experience pain.”[17] And in a 1988 study, a team of researchers from Buenos Aires demonstrated that injections of analgesic and opioid receptor antagonists into male crabs of the species Chasmagnathus granulatus reduced response to electric shock.[18]

What is the best explanation of the results of these studies? Clearly, it would appear that crustaceans – including lobsters – possess the capacity for pain and suffering. If this is so, then … lobsters are morally considerable.

800px-Blue-lobsterUnfortunately there currently exist no regulations regarding the welfare or treatment of crustaceans, allowing practices in some fisheries that involve the cutting off of claws from live crabs before being thrown back into the sea. Even if one remains skeptical of crustacean sentience, when it comes to issues of welfare it would be most prudent to employ the precautionary principle regarding our treatment of these animals, erring on the side of caution.[19]

There is a good chance that the reason why arthropods possess things like nociceptors and opioid receptors (and why crickets get hooked on morphine) is the same reason that we do: because they experience pain.[20] All of this is certainly enough to warrant invoking the precautionary principle, calling us to err on the side of lobster pain. And that’s all I need and have been arguing for in this essay, a biologically weak yet morally profound conclusion indeed.

[1] Assistant Professor in the Department of Philosophy, California State University at Chico. Jones received his PhD in philosophy from Stanford University in 2005 where his doctoral research examined the moral significance of nonhuman animal cognition. His professional research investigates the substantive cognitive properties that bear on the ethical treatment and moral considerability of both human and nonhuman animals. In addition, his research includes food ethics, environmental ethics, mind and cognition, species studies, and the question of what it is to be human. Jones has been a post-doctoral fellow at Stanford University and a visiting researcher for the Ethics in Society Project at Wesleyan University in Connecticut, and most recently a Summer Fellow at the Animals & Society Institute. He has given talks at Stanford, Yale, Wesleyan, UCLA, and the University of Auckland. Jones joined the faculty of California State University, Chico, in 2008 as Assistant Professor of Philosophy.

[2]  Jones, R.C., “The Lobster Considered” in Bolger, R. K., & Korb, S. (Eds.). (2014). Gesturing Toward Reality: David Foster Wallace and Philosophy. Bloomsbury Publishing USA.

[3] V Wigglesworth, “Do Insects Feel Pain?” Antenna 1 (1980): 8-9.

[4] C. H. Eisemann, W. K. Jorgensen, D. J. Merritt, M. J. Rice, B. W. Cribb, P. D. Webb and M. P. Zalucki, “Do Insects Feel Pain?-A Biological View,” Cellular and Molecular Life Science 40,2 (1984): 164-7.

[5] Despite Eisemann et al.’s conclusion that the evidence ‘does not appear to support the occurrence in insects of a pain state;’ tellingly, he advises the “experimental biologist … to follow, whenever feasible, Wigglesworth’s recommendation that insects have their nervous systems inactivated prior to traumatizing manipulation. This procedure not only facilitates handling, but also guards against the remaining possibility of pain infliction and, equally important, helps to preserve in the experimenter an appropriately respectful attitude towards living organisms whose physiology, though different, and perhaps simpler than our own, is as yet far from completely understood.”

[6] W. D. Tracey, R. 1. Wilson, G. Laurent and S. Benzer, “painless, a Drosophila Gene Essential for Nociception;’ Cell 113, 2 (2003): 261-73.

[7] D. M. Tobin and C. 1. Bargmann, “Invertebrate Nociception: Behaviors, Neurons and Molecules;’ Journal of Neurobiology 61,1 (2004): 161-74.

[8] G. G. Neely, A. C. Keene, P. Duchek, E. C. Chang, Q. P. Wang, Y. A. Aksoy, M. Rosenzweig, M. Costigan, C. J. Woolf, P. A. Garrity and J. M. Penninger, “TrpA1&lt Regulates Thermal Nociception in Drosophila;’ PLoS ONE 6,8 (2011): e24343.

[9] V E. Dyakonova, F. Schurmann and D. A. Sakharov, “Effects of Serotonergic and Opioidergic Drugs on Escape Behaviors and Social Status of Male Crickets;’ Naturwissenschaften 86, 9 (1999): 435-37.

[10] Interestingly, the crickets demonstrated a habituation to morphine such that those administered with morphine for just four days did not differ from control crickets in tests on pain sensitivity, and analgesia was achieved only at a higher dose of the morphine for these unfortunate junky crickets.

[11] E. Walters, P. Illich, J. Weeks and M. Lewin, “Defensive Responses of Larval Manduca Sexta and their Sensitization by Noxious Stimuli in the Laboratory and Field;’ The Journal of Experimental Biology 204, 3 (2001): 457-69.

[12] T. Eisner and S. Camazine, “Spider Leg Autotomy Induced by Prey Venom Injection: An Adaptive Response to ‘Pain’?” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 80, 11 (1983): 3382-5.

[13] L. G. Ross and B. Ross, Anaesthetic and Sedative Techniques for Aquatic Animals, 3rd edn (Oxford: Blackwell, 2008).

[14] Barry Magee and Robert W. Elwood. “Shock avoidance by discrimination learning in the shore crab (Carcinus maenas) is consistent with a key criterion for pain;’ The Journal of Experimental Biology 216,3 (2013): 353-8.

[15] It’s worth noting that in response, a spokesman for the European Food Safety Authority pronounced that despite the results of this research, decapods would not be classified as a sentient species and that the subject of pain in crustaceans remained “controversial” and a matter of data interpretation.

[16] R. W. Elwood and M. Appel, “Pain Experience in Hermit Crabs?” Animal Behaviour 77, 5 (2009): 1243-6.

[17] S. Barr, P. R. Laming, J. T. Dick and R. W. Elwood, “Nociception or Pain in a Decapod Crustacean?” Animal Behavior 75, 3 (2008): 745-51.

[18] M. Lozada, A. Romano and H. Maldonado, “Effect of Morphine and Naloxone on a Defensive Response of the Crab Chasmagnathus Granulatus;’ Pharmacology Biochemistry and Behavior 30,3 (1988): 635-40.

[19] Disturbing factoid: Believe it or not, performing open-heart surgery on neonates without anesthesia was common practice in the US and Europe until the late 1980s. (That’s not a misprint!) Surgeons used no anesthesia when operating on infants (since it was “common knowledge” that infants could not feel pain). Instead (and this is the brutal part), doctors would administer paralytic drugs before surgery and no painkiller after surgery. That is, infants would be fully conscious during open-heart surgery but unable to express that they were in pain because they were paralyzed! The reasons that the medical community gave for denying pain in infants included the claims that (a) since babies do not remember pain, pain doesn’t matter, and (b) a baby’s nervous system is insufficiently developed to experience pain.

[20] This is not to say that all similarly functioning characteristics must have evolved through adaptation. It could be the case that nociceptors and opioid receptors originally evolved for some function other than pain perception, but were then co-opted for that function in vertebrates much later, a process biologists call “exaptation.” For example, feathers, which initially evolved for heat regulation, were later co-opted for use in flight. However, there is little evidence that vertebrate pain mechanisms are the result of exaptation and not adaptation.

MTE5NDg0MDU1MTUzNTA5OTAzCommunications from industrial animal farmers and their trade groups often lack an important element that consumers expect and the law requires: fair play. In some cases, the industry’s words are technically accurate but still unfair or misleading. In others, they’re just plain wrong. And when people rely on incorrect or deceptive information about food, the results can be downright dangerous to their health. This shady approach to salesmanship often puts meat and dairy producers in a class of their own. Honesty only makes sense, said Mark Twain, “when there’s money in it.” When it comes to promoting animal foods, it seems dishonesty pays.

Remember the deadly strain of swine flu that raced across North America in the spring of 2009?  When the media called the disease “swine flu,” the National Pork Producers Council angrily objected, “This flu is being called something that it isn’t, and it’s hurting our entire industry. It is not a ‘swine’ flu, and people need to stop calling it that.”[1] The pork producers got help from the USDA, with Secretary Tom Vilsack telling a worried nation, “This really isn’t swine flu. It’s H1N1 virus.”[2] But it soon turned out the “swine flu” label was completely fitting. A group of experts around the world studied the origins of the flu pandemic and published their results in the June 2009 issue of Nature. The scientists concluded that the disease started “in swine,” highlighting “the need for systematic surveillance of influenza in swine.”[3]


Sometimes the industry messaging comes in a more subtle form, or as Carl Sandburg described the stealthy movement of fog, “on little cat feet.”  When several years ago I first read about a “harvesting facility” for farm animals, it took me a moment to understand what the term meant.  To “harvest” is to gather crops; the word comes from the Old Norse “harfr” for harrow and the German “Herbst” for autumn.  I had simply never heard it applied to animals.  But of course, for those in a business that requires killing animals and selling their meat to a fickle public, “harvesting facility” and “packing house” are useful ways to describe a slaughterhouse.  In fact, the violent expressions “kill,” “slaughter,” and “butcher” no longer figure in the industry’s consumer-friendly vernacular – they’ve been replaced by the kinder and gentler “cull,” “harvest,” “pack,” and “process.”  Nonetheless, even industry veterans must sometimes remind one another of proper euphemistic usage.  Chris Raines, Professor of Meat Science at Pennsylvania State University, writes of a colleague who was advised to chop the word “slaughter,” an “unsavory term, from a presentation to vendors of livestock feed.”[4]

debeaked-chickAnother unsavory term you won’t hear much is “partial beak amputation,” the clinical name for chopping off one-third of an unanesthetized chick’s beak. The industry prefers the term “beak trimming,” which implies the severed portion was unnecessary or superfluous – like the wayward hairs one trims from a mustache or eyebrow.  Or take “forced molting,” the practice of starving hens for up to two weeks to increase laying productivity.  Causing chickens such distress that they will eat their own feathers, and sometimes killing up to one-third of the hens affected, this practice, like partial beak amputation, is routine for most laying hens in the U.S. – including those designated “cage-free.” The industry prefers the term “controlled molting,” which suggests that without the benefit of guidance, birds might just be molting all over the place. Partial tail amputation in cows and pigs, also typically performed without anesthetic, is euphemistically known as “tail docking.” Thanks to an industry striving for a kinder, gentler image, the lexicon of animal farming is rife with terms that minimize unsavory images of animals’ pain or stress and help ensure consumers don’t question or reduce their consumption of animal products.

[1] Chris Welch, “Inaccurate ‘Swine’ Flu Label Hurts Industry, Pork Producers Say,” CNN Health (April 30, 2009), accessed April 19, 2012,

[2] Caitlin Taylor, “Obama Administration: Out with the ‘Swine,’ In with the ‘H1N1 Virus,’” ABC News Political Punch (April 29, 2009), accessed September 15, 2011,

[3] Gavin J. D. Smith et al., “Origins and Evolutionary Genomics of the 2009 Swine-Origin H1N1 Influenza A Epidemic,” Nature 459 (2009): 112225.

[4] Chris Raines, “Slaughter, Harvest, and Implications of the New Diction” (blog) (July 19, 2011), accessed September 15, 2011 at

cowspiracy_posterAs Californians struggle through a four-year drought, lake and reservoir levels are at historic lows – and many of us are looking for ways to lower our water use. Want to save 660 gallons of water? You could quit showering for two months – if you can ignore the heartfelt pleas of friends and family begging you to resume. Alternatively, and amazingly, you could save the same amount of water by simply foregoing a single hamburger.

This is just one of the astonishing statistics to emerge from the groundbreaking new documentary film “Cowspiracy” by Kip Andersen and Keegan Kuhn. The pair set out to learn why the nation’s biggest environmental groups routinely ignore the massive environmental effects of animal agriculture. Through a series of interviews with environmental leaders that are sometimes tense, sometimes bizarre, and sometimes downright funny, a pattern of denial, fabrication and wishful thinking emerges that will leave you shaking your head and wondering who’s really calling the shots at these huge eco-charities. You might even think twice before writing another check to Greenpeace or Sierra Club.

I was fortunate to be interviewed for the film and given a chance to explain some of the hidden, or externalized, costs of meat and dairy (a topic I explore in my book Meatonomics). Although they’re busy screening “Cowspiracy” and discussing it at conferences around the country, the two filmmakers took time out from their hectic schedules to answer a few questions – like why they got involved in the project, how the environmental groups that they embarrassed are responding, and the most outlandish thing that happened during the filming.

First the basics: How did you get the idea for this film, how long did it take to make, and what sort of background in film-making did you have going into it?

Kip Andersen: After watching the documentary “An Inconvenient Truth” about the catastrophic impacts of global warming, I started following all the advice of the major environmental organizations on how I could best help the planet. But when I found out that animal agriculture plays an even bigger role in environmental destruction and resource degradation than the fossil fuel industry, I was shocked that the organizations I had trusted were not talking about it. I tried emailing and calling these groups for months in order to get answers, but no one would ever get back to me. I realized that I was going to have to take a camera into these organizations’ headquarters if I wanted answers.

Keegan Kuhn: Kip asked me to be involved in this project because of my background in making documentaries through First Spark Media. I had recently just finished the feature length documentary “Turlock” and it was perfect timing to jump into another film. We worked on Cowspiracy intensively for over a year.

The filmmakers: Keegan on the left, Kip on the right.

The filmmakers: Keegan on the left, Kip on the right.

Some potential funders backed out. What impact did that have on the film-making process and on your morale? How did you fund it after that?

KA:  We had applied for a number of grants and funding for making Cowspiracy. A few foundations took serious interest in the film, but after having internal meetings with their boards and looking at the potential risks of being associated with such a controversial documentary, each one of them backed out. It was disheartening and made us wonder what we were really getting ourselves into. The film ended up being entirely self-funded by a non-profit I created, A.U.M. Films.

The film should be a source of embarrassment and discomfort for many of the nation’s leading environmental organizations and government agencies, including Greenpeace, Surfrider, Sierra Club, Rainforest Action Network, National Resources Defense Council, the California Water Resources Control Board, and others. Executives with these organizations come across in the film as ignorant, disingenuous, or both. Have any of these organizations or their executives publicly acknowledged the film or the issues it raises? Do you think the film will someday cause these organizations to acknowledge the massive role of animal production in climate change?

KA: We were shocked by the evasive nature of so many of the executives we interviewed for the film. These are people who have supposedly dedicated their lives to protecting the environment and yet when asked simple questions about the environmental destruction caused by animal agriculture, they would consistently sidestep the question and avoid talking about the subject in every way they could.

KK: The organizations you mentioned should all be embarrassed for their failure to properly address the impacts of animal agriculture. They really should be publicly apologizing to all of their supporters who have trusted them. These groups and organizations are doing good work, but they are misleading their supporters and the public into believing the fossil fuels are the only environmental ill we face. Absolutely the fossil fuel industry is causing huge ecological devastation, but when compared to what animal agriculture is doing to the climate, water pollution, topsoil erosion, deforestation, species extinction, ocean dead zones and habitat destruction, it pales in comparison.

Some of these groups have responded since Cowspiracy premiered. Rainforest Action Network has released a series of images on social media about the impacts of animal agriculture and have advocated for eating less meat, which we are thrilled about. But sadly they still have not mentioned the impacts of cattle on the rainforests in these images or launched a campaign about livestock and their feed crops in relation to the clearing of the Amazon.

I absolutely believe that these organizations are going to have to start addressing the impacts of animal agriculture if they want to stay in business.

Keegan filming 2In the film, you interview the Markegard family, who raise grass-fed pigs and cattle in Northern California. In one particularly bizarre scene, Doniga Markegard says, “I love animals. And that’s why I’m in the meat business.” Her husband Erik agrees, “We do it because we love them.” Do you think they really believe this? If so, how would that kind of love even work? Or do you think it’s just a marketing line that they’ve been repeating for so long that it now comes naturally?

KA: I think that they undoubtedly care about the animals they raise. It shows in how they are treated and cared for, but there is a powerful disconnect between caring for them and then leading them to be slaughtered. It was very revealing when I was talking with their young daughter about the pigs she is raising, who she truly loves. She even went as far as comparing her relationship to them as like sisters. But quickly corrected herself and said “I know I shouldn’t be bonding with them.”

KK: The Markegards were a very open and kind family to us and I think they justify killing the animals they raise because their animals live so much better lives than factory farmed animals. I think they really do care deeply about the animals but that emotional disconnect is very present when it comes to killing them. But to be completely fair, this is the same exact disconnect that so many people in our society have; they claim to “love” animals and yet they eat meat every day.

One of the many challenges of any message that promotes a plant-based diet is finding acceptance in the mainstream community. How has this been going for you so far?

KA: A lot of people are waking up to the realities of environmental issues and the peril we all face together. I think because of this unifying force of ecological collapse that the issues of promoting a sustainable diet will begin to fade. The resistance that people have been met with in the past will become so much clearer in their motivations.

KK: I think the challenge that we are really facing is about information control. People can only make informed decisions about how they eat when they have the information. Luckily we are living in a time where people are desperately hungry for real information. The response we have had from truly environmentally conscious people has been amazing and I feel very strongly that with proper ambassadors for this issue we are on the right course to a sustainable future.

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What was the most bizarre or outlandish thing that you saw or heard in the course making the film?

KA: The most bizarre thing that I saw was how Rainforest Action Network did not have animal agriculture as one of the four key issues they focus on! How can one of the world’s biggest rainforest protection groups not have the #1 cause of deforestation as one of their main key issues, let alone not having it there at all? This was the case for Amazon Watch as well, I just couldn’t and still don’t understand how they think they can/could get away with that. The whole Oceana and Andy Sharpless TED talk was also perhaps the most ridiculous thing I heard over the course of filming. Oceana saying for us to eat more fish to protect the ocean is like a zookeeper saying to kill more of their animals but to just make sure to rotate killing of animals so they don’t go extinct before they are killed. They care about fisherman, not the fish inhabitants of the ocean, nor the overall health of the ocean it seems.

KK: For me, what I could not wrap my head around is how the Oceana representative said that we could sustainably take 100 million tons of fish out of the ocean every year and that it would be sustainable. Even if we allowed the ocean’s fish population to recover to pre-industrial levels, these ecosystems never evolved to handle a massive super-predator removing 100 million tons, or even 10 million tons, from the ecosystem. In a functioning ecosystem you have a feedback loop, but with human beings, a purely terrestrial species, we are essentially an alien life force mining the ocean of animals.

Is there one particular scene or interview that ended up, metaphorically speaking, on the cutting room floor that you wish could have been included in the film?

KA: The entire Howard Lyman interview I would have liked to include in the film! He is such a powerful force and everything he said was so impactful on Keegan and me. Eventually we will release his entire interview along with the extended interviews of many of the organizations featured in the film.

KK: There were a lot of stats that we couldn’t fit into the film. For example, annually more than 3.3 million tons of palm oil is fed to livestock and yet in the massive PR campaigns about the damage of palm oil from environmental organizations, there is little or no mention of this. Another figure that I wish we could have included is the fact that pigs in the US consume more fish than human beings do. It seems one of the best ways to help save fish is to not eat pigs.

Keegan filmingDo you have day jobs? If so, what are they, and do you think the film’s success will allow you to give them up?

KA: I’m a serial entrepreneur and so have a number of businesses that I run, which have allowed me to work on this film.

KK: I consider myself extremely fortunate that I have been able to make a living entirely from making films for the last 3 years. I have a production company, First Spark Media, that keeps me very busy.

What’s your favorite vegan meal?

KA: My favorite meal overall is breakfast but if I had to choose one food item it would be (right now): Nachos! I love cashew cheese and vegan sour cream on them in particular. I also love pizza and waffles (not together necessarily).

KK: All I ever want to eat is vegan Mexican food. Huaraches, tacos, nopales, etc. Flacos in Berkeley, California is my home away from home.

I was honored that you interviewed me for the film and featured some of the issues raised in my book Meatonomics. I’ve gotten a lot of compliments from friends who saw me in the film. So now I’m thinking Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor. What are my chances? Should I be working a room somewhere in Hollywood right now?

KA: Ha ha, yeah we were really pleased we were able to interview you for the film. I think it’s really important that people realize that this isn’t just about a personal choice. As you say in the film, whether you’re an omnivore or an herbivore, we are all paying the costs of the animal agriculture.

KK: The financial price that we as a society have to pay for this industry is massive and I’m glad that we could touch on it in the film. I feel though the cost is so much higher though than even the astronomical figure of 414 billion dollars that you state. Every single day we have to pay the incalculable price of species extinction, species that have been wiped off the face of the earth forever because of this industry. We pay with the priceless lives of children who die from lack of clean water and food while it is diverted to feed livestock, destined for western plates. And ultimately we may end up paying with our own lives unless radical changes take place.

Cowspiracy is now being shown in theatrical screenings across the U.S. and many parts of the world. To attend or host a screening, visit The film will be available in DVD and streaming formats this fall. For more information, visit