Vegetarianism Isn't All About Animals: The Human Rights Implications of the Meat Industry
January 24, 2020
Article 25, part A of the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for health and well-being of themselves a
Article 25, part A of the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for health and well-being of themselves and their families, including food and the right to security in the event of a circumstance like sickness. However, agribusiness -- streamlined, mass-produced, corporate farming -- violates this right, affecting consumers as well as workers in the interest of nothing more than profit.
Photo: Markus Spiske on Unsplash
The impact extends to consumers more than most realize. Factory farms utilize Concentrated Animal Feeding Organizations (CAFOs) to feed cheap, unnatural corn- or grain-based diets to the animals. The meat produced is then higher in saturated fats, which promote higher cholesterol and increased risks for obesity and chronic illnesses like heart disease and diabetes. Unsanitary conditions during processing also lead to illnesses like E. coli or food poisoning, which can be fatal to certain demographics. The animals’ diet regularly includes a slew of antibiotics as well, causing them to develop deformities and pose an enormous public health issue among humans in terms of antibiotic resistance.
These are the true costs of cheap meat and fast food. An even bigger problem lurks within that low cost. For many, processed meals are the only reliably affordable option for food. When families are forced to eat this way day after day, they increase their risk of developing long-term health problems. Then, as healthcare is increasingly endangered by self-interested politicians, these families suffer even more financial strain and can remain trapped in the cycle of poverty. Many of them may live in “food deserts" – areas where access to fresh food is severely limited and it’s easier to find a McDonald’s than a head of broccoli.
Article 23, part A of the U.N. Human Rights Declaration says that everyone has the right to choose a job with adequate working conditions. Conditions in factory farms, though, involve long hours performing grueling, gruesome, and repetitive tasks under consistent exposure to a variety of harmful gases, animal waste and blood, and dangerous situations where many sustain injuries from the machinery and panicked animals. The resulting health effects include respiratory disorders, cardiovascular complications, and premature death. Unsurprisingly, pay is extremely low: these companies typically prey on poor people of color who are sometimes undocumented, so they can’t fight for better conditions or the living wage they deserve.
The U.S. government supports and even enables these abusive practices by helping to hide the companies’ dishonesty and lack of transparency. For example, the former Chief of Staff for the U.S.D.A., the department meant to regulate food production, was previously a lobbyist for the beef industry. They instated “ Ag-gag " laws, which ban workers from speaking out about the abuses within the industry, and “Cheeseburger bills" that make it nearly impossible to sue companies that deceive the public about the nutritional value of their food. The industry, though, has no reservations about instigating lawsuits against workers or whistleblowers and often do so just to send a threatening message of their dominance. Their monopoly is only worsening: just four companies have gained control over more than 80 percent of American meat. In 1970, for comparison, the five largest meat companies only produced 25 percent.
While vegetarianism is the best option to fight back against these systems, a solution for those who wish to continue eating meat is to spend money at local, sustainable farms rather than purchase from major corporations. Remember, in America we vote with our dollars – cast yours to things you truly support.