Heifer Project International Breeds Animal Slavery
Vegan Lifestyle Articles From All-Creatures.org

Vegan lifestyle articles that discuss ways of living in peace with humans, animals, and the environment.


Jack Rosenberger, Satya Magazine
February 2001

For more than 50 years, the Heifer Project has worked to feed humans by distributing animals—chickens, rabbits, cows, guinea pigs, sheep, and other creatures—to needy individuals and families. In terms of spreading the misery of animal agriculture around the world, the Heifer Project is a champion.

For humans who believe nonhuman animals are inferior beings and should be treated like slaves, the Heifer Project International makes a lot of sense.

For more than 50 years, the Heifer Project has worked to feed humans by distributing animals—chickens, rabbits, cows, guinea pigs, sheep, and other creatures—to needy individuals and families. In terms of spreading the misery of animal agriculture around the world, the Heifer Project is a champion.

Based in Little Rock, Arkansas, the nonprofit Heifer Project International currently provides animals and training to more than 300 animal agriculture projects in some 40 countries. The Heifer Project supports its speciesist activities by enticing people to buy animals as gifts for those in need.

The Heifer Project’s holiday gift catalog, which it touts as “the most important gift catalog in the world,” encourages a person to, for example, “donate a sheep in honor of your mother, who has always loved these gentle creatures.”

Yes, when it comes to “loving” animals, carnivores (and some vegetarians) are truly perverse. Is there another type of “love” that causes so much pain, hardship, and, ultimately, death to the objects of its affection?

Imagine, say, a nonprofit outfit named the Child Project International that encourages human animals to purchase children so needy individuals can...

The Heifer Project literally puts a price on animals’ heads. A gift of a heifer costs $500. A goat, $125. One can give a pig for $120, or a share of a pig for $10. Other animal slaves whose lives are being auctioned off include oxen and camels, geese and ducks, llamas and water buffaloes, even bees. Do you want to send a pair of donkeys to Zimbabwe so the animals can spend the rest of their indentured lives as draft animals? That costs $5,000.

In 1999, the last year for which statistics are available, the Heifer Project distributed approximately 16,250 animals. This figure, however, does not accurately reflect the amount of animal torment and death for which the Heifer Project is indirectly responsible. When a person “purchases” a gift animal from the Heifer Project, such as a female sheep, the Heifer Project ensures that the female sheep is donated to a village in which there is a male sheep, so the female can be bred. “Each family gives one or more of its sheep’s offspring to another family in need in the community,” says the Heifer Project’s holiday gift catalog. “The second recipient family agrees to contribute their sheep’s first female offspring to a family in need—who ALSO agrees to pass on the gift.”

A 1985 gift of 105 rabbits to the DaYi project in China, for example, has now produced “hundreds of thousands of rabbits [who] are helping 3,000 families feed themselves,” according to the Heifer Project.

As with all animal agriculture, the Heifer Project faces a pair of insurmountable problems, the mention of which it largely skirts in its gift catalog and on its website, www.heifer.org. First, as with all animal agriculture, the process of creating a pound of edible flesh involves feeding many more pounds of plant food and grain to the animal before he or she is slaughtered. It’s hardly an efficient method of producing food. Open the Heifer Project’s holiday gift catalog to page nine, for instance, and you’ll see a color photograph of a farmer feeding corn to a pair of pigs.

Second, the animals are not raised on factory farms, so they often graze in the neighboring area, which results in the loss of habitat for nondomesticated animals and furthers the extinction of other animal species.

When I spoke with Jennifer Shumaker, a Heifer Project spokeswoman and director of evaluations, she claimed habitat loss isn’t an issue because “100 percent” of the foundation’s animal recipients receive pro-environmental animal-grazing training. According to the Heifer Project holiday gift catalog, however, “Some HPI families use managed grazing techniques or keep their sheep in zero-grazing pens, to protect the environment...” The most telling word in that sentence is “some” families—not “all.”

When I spoke with Shumaker about why ethical vegetarians such as myself disagree with the group’s mission, Shumaker said the animals who are not employed as draft animals are used to produce milk and eggs. “We’re not pushing meat eating. Our mission is not to get people to eat meat,” said Shumaker. “Our work is not inconsistent with vegetarianism.”

Really. When the draft animals outlive their usefulness, do they go to a retirement home? I asked Shumaker. What about the guinea pigs who the Heifer Project distributes to families in Peru? Do they lay eggs? Do they produce milk? What about the rabbits who end up in Cameroon? What kind of eggs do they lay?

As the holiday gift catalog mentions in its section on ducks and geese, the animals “produce valuable down and feathers as well as big, protein-packed eggs and meat... Does a child you know love a rubber ducky? Honor that child with a gift of HPI ducks or geese...”

All of the Heifer Project’s gifts don’t involve animals. For $60, one can offer the gift of trees (obviously a major priority since it’s conveniently located at the very end of the catalog). In Loma Negra, Peru, the Heifer Project has donated seeds for algorrobo trees that a group of local residents hope to use to transform “a barren stretch of land into a forest of nutrient-rich fodder trees.” While I agree this is a good idea, I would never support the Heifer Project because of its speciesist practices.

Many people do, though. When I clicked on the Heifer Project’s website in mid-January, I was greeted by a photograph of actors Mary Steenburgen and Ted Danson, each of whom are cradling a lamb in their arms, and an approving quote from Mary that encourages readers to “consider surprising your friends during the holiday season with a meaningful gift.” Also, the Motley Fool website www.fool.com  is featured on the Heifer Project’s home page because the investment group selected the Heifer Project as part of its annual “Foolanthropy” charity drive.

Please tell the Heifer Project how you feel about its furthering of animal slavery. Encourage it to change its emphasis from animal products to plant and tree products and from a meat-based diet to a vegetarian diet. Contact: CEO, Heifer Project International, PO Box 8058, Little Rock, AR 72203; info@heifer.org  800-422-0474.

A New Year’s Resolution: Animal Flesh, Not Meat

If you didn’t make any resolutions for the new year, please adopt one of mine: I’ve decided to upgrade my vocabulary and replace the word “meat” with “flesh” or “animal flesh.” As in “No, I don’t eat animal flesh.”

The words “flesh” and “animal flesh” are less appetizing. Definitely more graphic. Also, society’s use of the term “meat” is often confusing as carnivores typically consider only the flesh of mammals to be “meat.” For example, the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (third edition) defines meat as “The edible flesh of animals, especially that of mammals as opposed to that of fish or poultry.”

Talking about “flesh,” as opposed to “meat,” to carnivores may cause them to reflect upon their diet and their unhealthy relationship with nonhuman animals—and quit eating animal flesh.

Another word you may want to incorporate into your vocabulary is “meathead.”

Please use the term with a sprinkling of humor, though. Carnivores, I’ve heard, can be easily offended.

Lastly, the next time someone glibly tells you that he or she is an omnivore, please ask them what human flesh tastes like. I’m (ha) curious.

Return to Articles Reflecting a Vegan Lifestyle
Read more at Heifer Project - What's Wrong With Gifting Animals...