Livestock gifts, Goodall warns, “can result in unintended consequences”
WASHINGTON D.C.––Primatologist, anthropologist, and philanthropist Jane Goodall, 87, on December 20, 2021 added her globally influential voice to those of the growing number of critics of livestock gift charities.
Livestock gift charities include, most prominently, Heifer International, Oxfam, World Vision, and the Cargill’s “Hatching Hope” project.
“In the lead-up to Christmas,” Goodall opened, “many people are feeling generous and want to help those less fortunate than themselves. There are a number of organizations that have launched campaigns suggesting that one way to help those suffering poverty and hunger is to gift them an animal, such as a heifer. As a result, farm animals are purchased in great numbers by generous donors. Unfortunately, this can result in unintended consequences.
“Help by supporting plant-based projects”
Specifically, Goodall said, “The animals must be fed and they need a lot of water, and in so many places water is getting more and more scarce thanks to climate change. Veterinary care is often limited or totally lacking.
“It will be ever so much better,” Goodall suggested, “to help by supporting plant-based projects, sustainable irrigation methods, and regenerative agriculture to improve the soil.
Jane Goodall Institute was a livestock gift charity
Barely more than a decade ago, in 2010, the Jane Goodall Institute was itself a livestock gift charity of sorts.
Backed by USAid, the Jane Goodall Institute helped to introduce fish farming, raising chickens in pens, and raising cattle in sheds instead of open pasture in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, in hopes this would reduce poaching for bushmeat.
Pointed out ANIMALS 24-7 at the time, “The experience of other organizations who have tried similar projects in other nations is most often that since the cost of raising confined livestock is relatively high, these initiatives tend to replace bushmeat poaching only after there are no longer accessible wild animals to poach; and fodder production will in itself require cultivating much land that is presently wildlife habitat.”
The Jane Goodall Institute involvement in promoting animal agriculture as proposed alternative to poaching was relatively brief. Goodall herself has been a vegetarian for nearly 50 years, and vegan since 2020. Her experimental collaboration with USAid appears to have been all she needed to see the fallacies involved in expanding animal agriculture in any form.
Goodall spoke out against livestock gift charities shortly after ethologist Marc Bekoff, a longtime friend and collaborator with her in many previous projects, helped to start a global petition against livestock gifting.
States the preamble to the petition, posted at https://thesavemovement.org/stop-animal-gifting/, “The clever marketing campaigns run by development aid charities really pulls at the heart strings. They promote animal gifts as perfect for ‘animal lovers’ and sell us women’s empowerment as well as solutions to poverty and malnutrition. However, animal gifting has many unintended consequences that remain hidden from the public eye.
“When you purchase an ‘animal gift,’ the Stop Animal Gifting web page warns, “you could in fact be gifting a bird flu outbreak, a slaughterhouse, childhood trauma, a climate crisis or a forest fire. In addition to the massive number of animals who suffer in animal farms and slaughterhouses, your gift could lead to the burning of forests for the expansion of animal agriculture, as well as an increased consumption of animal fat leading to significant health issues, such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer.
Ethiopia exemplifies livestock gift charity failure
“In many cases,” the Stop Animal Gifting web page continues, “animals such as goats are introduced into already degraded areas leading to desertification and further human impoverishment. Animal-gifting programs say that gifting a family a cow means they will benefit from ‘increased dairy production.’ However, a lactating cow can be an immense burden on families, needing up to 90 liters of water a day, as well as lots of food and veterinary treatment.”
The Stop Animal Gifting web page concludes by quoting Food Choice & Sustainability author Richard Oppenlander: “In Ethiopia, over 60% of their population is considered hungry or starving, and yet they have 50 million cattle in that country, one of the largest herds in the world, unnecessarily consuming their food, land, and water.”
ANIMALS 24-7 published the identical quote in the same context on November 23, 2015, but Oppenlander appears to have said it first in his book Food Choice & Sustainability (2013).
The In Defense of Animals’ Interfaith Vegan Coalition, in a media release supporting the Animal Save Movement petition, added soil acidification, water contamination, air pollution, and zoonotic disease outbreaks to the list of “gifts” bequeathed by livestock gift charities to the developing world.
Livestock gifts lead to factory farming
Dawn Moncrief, executive director of the Washington D.C.-based charity A Well-Fed World, has long offered additional criticisms of livestock gift charities from her perspective as a longtime vegan and, previously, eight years as executive director of the Farm Animal Rights Movement.
“While animal-giving programs seem to focus on small-scale farming,” Moncrief wrote in 2015, “they have extremely large-scale implications that pave the way for factory farming, and exponentially increase consumption of meat, dairy and eggs throughout entire countries and beyond.
“For example,” Moncrief said, “Heifer International is largely considered responsible for the kick-off of industrialized dairy in Japan after World War II. Heifer International boasts that their projects produced 3.6 million gallons of milk in one year in Uganda, and developed a national dairy program in Tanzania. These massive programs were developed despite the fact that 90% of Asian and African populations are lactose intolerant.”
Heifer International has long denied acting as the shock troops for introducing factory farming to the developing world.
Yet, responding to criticism that promoting animal agriculture in regions already plagued by desertification and drought is irresponsible, Heifer International and several other livestock gift charities tout a requirement in place for about 20 years now that their livestock gift recipients must practice “zero grazing.” This is just factory-style intensive confinement husbandry on a very small scale.
What “zero grazing” really means that confined animals must have food and water carried to them. Not only are the confined animals fed and watered in competition with human needs, but more labor is required from the woman and children who tend to do most of the feeding, watering, and carrying.
Reported the charity assessment program GiveWell in 2015, in a critique still posted exactly as originally written:
“When examining organizations implementing livestock distribution programs, we feel it is appropriate to ask the following questions. We have not found a livestock distribution charity that has published either evidence of impact or clear answers to these questions.
• Are the livestock in good health? Will they meet recipients’ expectations, or will they die or underproduce, potentially causing people to make bad plans and investments?
• Do the recipients of livestock gifts have the ability, in terms of knowledge and resources, to take care of the livestock well?
• Do the recipients of livestock intend to take care of the livestock well? Or is there reason to be concerned that gifts of livestock could lead to cruelty to animals?
• Are gifts successfully targeting those in need within a community? Is there a risk of fostering jealousy and/or economic instability?
• Are there other consequences of introducing large numbers of livestock into a community?
• Might recipients benefit more from different valuable gifts, such as cash?
Pointing out that many of the developing nations receiving livestock from Heifer International already have some of the world’s highest ratios of livestock to humans, Australian columnist Geoff Russell in October 2011 dubbed the recurring cycle of cattle introductions followed by increased hunger “boverty.”
Also in 2011, World Land Trust chief executive John Burton observed that, “A charity comparison site lists no fewer than eight charities selling goats as a form of poverty relief, as presents. As far as I can make out, none of the charities carry out environmental impact assessments of the impacts of goats.”
Detailed former Indian minister for social welfare and animal protection, social justice and empowerment, and two-time environment minister Maneka Gandhi, in a 2007 newspaper column that she continues to distribute, “Each goat eats all the grass and shrubbery on two hectares of land a year. A goat destroys the fertility of land and [the value of] any milk or dung it may give is very little compared to the havoc it wreaks.
“Within two years, the people who get goats have an even poorer lifestyle. There are village quarrels about community grazing; children are taken out of school to graze the goats; water becomes even scarcer.”
“Domestic livestock are a major cause of poverty”
Observed Animal Aid director Andrew Tyler in 2006, “Farming animals is an inefficient, expensive and environmentally destructive way of producing food. Skeptical readers might accuse me of dressing up a concern about animal welfare as a concern for the world’s poor. But this is not about cows taking precedence over people. All farmed animals require proper nourishment, large quantities of water, shelter from extremes, and veterinary care. Such resources are in critically short supply in much of Africa,” and in much of Asia and Latin America, too.
“If you look at the statistics produced by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization,” Tyler continued, “it is clear that the vast increase in domestic livestock numbers, over the past half century, is one of the causes of habitat destruction, and consequently a major cause of poverty.”
Factory farming & food security
A review of two reports by Brighter Green executive director Mia MacDonald and colleagues critiquing livestock gift programs, Factory farming & food security in China, Brazil, & Ethiopia, was among the first articles posted by ANIMALS 24-7 when we debuted in April 2014.
ANIMALS 24-7 had even then been documenting many of the insidiously destructive effects of livestock gift charities for more than three decades.
Many others, including Earth Policy Institute founder Lester Brown, had been trying to alert the world to the same growing catastrophe for decades before that.