Altruism: Our impact on the animals and the world, from Matthieu Ricard

“Human use, population, and technology have reached that certain stage where mother Earth no longer accepts our presence with silence.” ― Dalai Lama XIV

I want to start by asking you a question. When was the last time you read a book that struck at your soul. That resonated so much with yourself that you felt its impact? Physically and emotionally.

It is rare these days that something takes hold of you in such a way and for many of the activities we undertake, we surface skim through the activity and the associated emotions. Perhaps it is the society and culture we live in today. The hustle and bustle, the need to quickly passing onto the next topic; the next event; the next emotion.

Earlier this year I went to an event in London; hosted by the Action for Happiness charity; where Matthieu Ricard spent the evening talking about Altruismand the power of compassion to change both yourself, but also the impact on society, other people, the other creatures that co-exist with us, and ultimately, the world at large. At the end of the evening, I bought Matthieu’s new Book, “Altruism”. It is a massive book, with 700 pages of dialogue and a further 131 pages of references. Now, for those of you that know me well, you know I am am a voracious reader and can get through books like a bookworm in a library. Instead, I have read the book slowly and carefully, chapter by chapter, with a sense of awakening occurring along the way.

Of the many chapters in the book, there are two, that have affected me the most.

The Instrumentalization of Animals – a Moral Aberration
This chapter begins with the tenet that man has changed from a farmer to a factory manager in the start of the 20th century when it comes to the regard for animals. in the developed world, 99% of the animals we eat are “produced” in industrial breeding grounds.

“They are reduced to the state of products for consumption, meat making machines… and rank them among objects”

The descriptions of the slaughter houses are too shocking to repeat here. It reminded me, that when I was a small boy, my grandmother & aunt took me to Newton Abbot [a large town in south Devon] for a day out and happened to walk me through the local cattle market. That day, there was a market going on, and as was the custom at the time, when the cattle were being sold, they had a plastic tag punched through their ear. Obviously, without any form of pain relief and the resultant blood flow. I happened to see this and shouted at the person doing this that “it was not fair and how would he like it happen to him”. I don’t remember his reply, but the sight and sounds have stuck with me since.

The sections on destroying male chickens, pigs with the non-tails and calves that are deprived of iron to make their meat paler – because the consumer likes the colour; re-enforced the machine production view of animals.

So let’s extract some of the numbers.

Every year, over 1 billion land animals are killed in France, 15 billion in the United States and 70 billion across the rest of the world. 86 billion land animals. That is 163,622 per SECOND!

100 million animals are killed for their fur

Finally, 1 trillion or 1,000 billion fish are killed every year

The second chapter that made me even more aware of what our lives are doing to the world around us was the chapter entitled:

Backfire: Effects of the meat industry on poverty, environment and health
So what is the impact of the industrialisation of the animal kingdom? Why is it important to think about the impact of the industrialisation of the meat industry. Read the following facts:

Industrial breeding contributes to 14.5% of greenhouse gas emissions linked to human activities, in second place and BEFORE transportation! The production of 1 kilo of meat produces 50 times the amount of greenhouse gases than to produce 1 kilo of wheat. Think of the last time you walked past a field of cows and got a whiff!

To produce 1 kilo of meat you need to use 10 kilos of food that could feed poor countries

60% of available land in the world is devoted to the breeding industry – 30% as pasture and 30% to produce the food to feed the animals

The breeding industry alone consumes 45% of all the water destined for the production of food. The production of 1 kilo of meat requires 50 times the amount of water to produce 1 kilo of wheat.

1 hectare of land can feed 50 vegetarians or 2 meat eaters

The world wide consumption of meat has increased 5 times between 1950 and 2006, twice as much as the world population, and the consumption will double again by 2050. I question whether we will physically have enough resources left on the planet. Tropical rainforests cover about 720 million hectares and are home to 50% of the biodiversity on the planet. Since the 1950’s, when the industrialisation of animal food production really kicked off, over 200 million hectares have been destroyed directly caused by the need to produce more pasture land for cattle.

So is eating all this meat good for you?

A study involving 500,000 people showed that 11% of deaths among men and 16% among women could be avoided by a reduction in red meat consumption. A separate study involving more than 100,000 people, daily meat consumption is linked to a increased death risk of 18% for men and 21% for women for cardiovascular disease and by 10% and 16% for death by cancer.And if that does not make you worry, then the thought that, due to the increase in intensification of farming methods and the increased use of pesticides, meat contains about 14 times more pesticides than vegetables,

The final quote that I would like to share is the following:

“If all the inhabitants in North America abstained from eating meat for a single day, that would allow the equivalent of 25 million to be fed every day for an entire year!”

Now before I finish, I like to say, I have been a meat eater all my life. At times I have relished the idea of a big steak and chips [fries to non-English people]. However, the book is making me think really long and hard about the amount of meat I eat, the type of meat I eat, and whether it is produced in a way that I feel is ethical to the animals. Does this mean I will become a vegetarian, maybe.

I leave you with the following quote…..

“If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito.”
― Dalai Lama XIV

Extracts from: Altruism – the Power of Compassion to Change Yourself and the World by Matthieu Ricard, published by Atlantic Books ISBN: 978-0-85789-699-5

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