Merritt Clifton's Letter to Langley Middle School Concerning their Support of the Heifer Project
From The Heifer Project: Inhumanity in the Name of Humanity - An Animal Issues Article Series


Animal People News
April 2003

From Merritt Clifton
April 13, 2003

Rachel Kizer
K. Bakeman
c/o Langley Middle School

Dear Mrs. Kizer & Ms. Bakeman:

Wolf has informed us that your classes during the next several weeks have been assigned to raise funds for Heifer Project International, and that a portion of his grade will depend on his participation.

Wolf will not be participating in any activity whatsoever to benefit Heifer Project International, which we view as one of the most ecologically destructive and economically imperialistic projects ever to ravage the Third World in the name of "taking up the white man's burden"--a concept which was very much on the mind of Indiana farmer and evangelical Christian missionary Dan West when he founded HPI in 1947.

Heifer Project International is still very much an evangelical Christian sectarian organization, as the accompanying HPI bylaws, taken from the 2002 HPI filing of IRS Form 990, make very clear. It is therefore constitutionally questionable whether a public school should be encouraging, let alone coercing students to participate in HPI fundraising regardless of the other issues at hand.

Beyond that, Heifer Project International, as regards trying to eliminate world hunger, is part of the problem rather than part of the solution.

This is no original insight of mine. Mohandas Gandhi identified rising per capita meat consumption by the rich and middle classes as a major cause of starvation by the poor--and warned that even if the poor could afford to eat meat at the rate of the rich, the earth might not withstand the strain of producing so much grain to feed livestock. Paul Erlich and Frances Moore Lappe warned as far back as the 1960s that U.S.-led efforts to promote more animal husbandry in the underdeveloped world were deeply misguided.

Lester Brown of the Worldwatch Institute, Jeremy Rifkin of the Foundation for Economic Trends, Diet For A New America author John Robbins, the late agricultural reform advocate Henry Geiger of the Manas Institute, the Indian agricultural reformer Vandana Shiva, and the late Henry Spira, founder of the Coalition for Nonviolent Food, among many others, have reached similar conclusions.

In 1997 I personally investigated the impact of animal agriculture on the poor, with specific reference to the role of Heifer Project International as one of the most important mechanisms in persuading Third World nations to adopt a meat-centered diet.

My report, The Meat Mob Muscles In, also accompanies this letter, along with various articles summarizing the findings of Rifkin, Robbins, Brown, et al.

Even beyond that report and the other items with it, there are still further points to make--in particular, about the fallacious image that Heifer Project International promotes of livestock farming, quite beyond the fallacy that it is effectively fighting hunger.

Heifer Project International raises funds by appealing to the myth of Old MacDonald's Farm, where all the animals were supposedly treated kindly, before they were eaten. Recipients of their literature who may know the truth of how nearly 10 billion animals per year are raised and killed for meat in the U.S. (approximately a third of the total global slaughter) are encouraged to believe that Old MacDonald's Farm may still exist somewhere abroad.

If Old Macdonald's Farm still exists anywhere, we have not seen it, in visits to rural regions of every continent. But then, it never did--not as city-dwellers imagine it.

I know the actuality of Old Macdonald's Farm because I lived on such a farm for many years in rural Quebec. I shoveled manure by hand, helped to feed cows, chickens, ducks, sheep, and hogs, chopped firewood with an ax, baled hay, and drank warm milk straight from the milking bucket -- and I saw what really went on there, and on all the neighbors' farms in that then very remote rural community, where many of the old-timers had never traveled more than 50 miles from their birthplace, some still ploughed with horses, and a considerable number were illiterate.

Old MacDonald drowned kittens, shot dogs, chopped the heads off chickens, slashed pigs' throats, flogged his horses when in a bad mood -- and tacked coyotes' bullet-riddled hides to the barn door, below the deer skulls.

Inheriting the remnants of this barnyard paradise, Old Mac's sons built pig or chicken factories under contract to conglomerates, or pushed calves into veal crates.

(I stopped drinking milk in 1982 when my stomach rebelled after hearing cows bawl for their calves, as the calves bawled back from the truck taking them away.)

Old Mac probably didn't intend to be as mean as he was -- at least not all of the time -- but he really didn't want to "know better," and like a lot of other people in traditional cultures, he resisted any effort to persuade him to change his ways.

Old MacDonald's wife was just as hardened to animal suffering. One of Kim's most traumatic early memories was of visiting her grandparents in Tennessee and seeing her grandmother wring the neck off a chicken to fry for Sunday dinner -- a meal Kim couldn't stomach.

The sentimentally remembered earth-wisdom of bygone people and times, which Kim and I both saw first-hand, is in truth just a projection of disenchantment with here-and-now. Painfully aware of current atrocities against animals, we wish there was a time when kindness prevailed -- a wish as old as the Hebrew story of the Garden of Eden.

Heifer Project International speaks to that wish, while preparing the Third World to accept the advent of the pig and chicken factories that inevitably follow the adoption of greater economic reliance on animal husbandry.

In truth, agriculture in any form that includes killing animals was never kind.

On Old MacDonald's farm, the process of denial began with encouraging children to hunt and trap, and to bond with animals raised as 4-H projects--animals whom the children were later forced to tearfully sell for slaughter.

That still goes on right here on Whidbey Island, right next door to the Langley Middle School at the county fairgrounds, and should be recognized by now as a form of psychological child abuse.

Elsewhere, the initiation rite is roughing up animals in amateur rodeos. Sometimes that is combined with raising a 4-H animal. Once the child no longer considers animals' pain, he or she is ready to become a livestock farmer.

Desensitizing methods vary from place to place. Within the Third World they include public rites such as animal sacrifice, still practiced in parts of Africa, India, and elsewhere, bullfighting in Spain, France, and Latin America, and beating, burning, or boiling dogs and cats to death in Korea before eating them, to name just a few of the atrocities we are familiar with.

Around the world, societies that practice animal husbandry are desensitized societies. The abuse of animals inevitably spills over into the treatment of women and children. Polygamy, forced marriage, female genital mutilation, and slavery persist in in many of the very regions that Heifer Project International serves, for example, as extensions of common agricultural practice to those of our own species who are least able to protect themselves.

So what can we do to stop the cruelty where it begins, feed the hungry, and create a happier, healthier, more just world?

I contemplated that question a lot on cold Quebec winter evenings beneath the northern lights, which hinted at miracles but gave no answers. Years would pass before I met Kim and Wolf was born. Together we found our answer, in publishing ANIMAL PEOPLE, creating a global community of people who care about animals and stand up, even in the most difficult and inhospitable places, to oppose all cruelty.

Wolf has been part of our nonprofit work his entire life. Apart from his very valuable contributions as our illustrator, he has contributed art to many other nonprofit projects, including Spay/USA, the International Companion Animal Welfare Conference, the McKee Project in Costa Rica, the Primarily Primates sanctuary, and the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.

~Merritt Clifton

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