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Mainstream, VOL LVIII No 52, New Delhi, December 12, 2020

Controversial Live Animal Charity Still Seeks Donations | Martha Rosenberg

Friday 11 December 2020


by Martha Rosenberg *

You can tell it is holiday season in the U.S. when Heifer International’s saccharine catalogue arrives in the mailbox. Heifer International (HI) is a Little Rock, Arkansas-based charity that "ends hunger and poverty" through sending live animals to poor people overseas. For a small amount of money, donors can send live goats, sheep, pigs, chickens, cattle, rabbits and even water buffaloes. The charity is known for its Unicef style photos of cute kids hugging their gifted animals which will soon be dinner.

Not everyone is enamored with the charity. In 2016 Bolivia turned down a donation of 100,000 chickens from Bill Gates and Heifer International. According to the website the Verge, such live animal gifts may not be gifts at all. "Are there systems in place to teach people to care for their new animals? Who determines who gets a chicken and who doesn’t, and will that distribution foster ill will? How would introducing livestock to a community or region impact existing economies?"

The questions are valid. How do poor people house and feed livestock when they can barely feed and house themselves? (A 2002 HI brochure says, "In places where it’s impossible to grow enough feed, families are taught the best substitutes to buy locally." Buy?) How do they prevent the many diseases that afflict food animals, some of which are transmissible to humans, and purchase expensive medicines? Teachers who HI has sent to South America report entire flocks of HI birds dying. How do recipients breed animals into profitable "businesses" without veterinary care, technical assistance and an animal science background?

Even in rich countries, the track record of Heifer International is abysmal.

The charity set up an aquaculture operation in a Chicago housing project in the 1990s so "at-risk" youth could sell fish to area restaurants and develop promising livelihoods. But in 1999 all the fish froze to death when the heat and power went off. Two years later, the same thing happened only this time the air conditioning went out because of a storm. The fish leaped "out of their barrels trying to escape accumulating ammonia and rising temperatures," said the Chicago Tribune. If these mishaps happen in the richest country in the world, what happens in poor countries?

Former Indian minister for social welfare and animal protection Maneka Gandhi is no fan of live animal donations. "These charities woo the ethical shopper with pictures of goats wearing Christmas hats and promises of helping the poor in developing countries," but within two years the communities "have an even poorer lifestyle," she says.

Exporting the Worst of Western Agriculture

In 2008, Heifer International received a $42.8 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to fund dairy operations in rural East Africa. How could such operations succeed in villages with no refrigeration, electricity, veterinary care or passable roads––for a population much of which is lactose intolerant? With "chilling plants" and "refrigerated commercial dairy delivery trucks," explain the charities! All this to provide a "new" dairy-based Western diet to poor people that is linked to heart disease, obesity, diabetes and even cancer.

Expecting poor people to have the money, resources and skills to raise livestock and run dairy operations is only half of Heifer International’s stupidity. The other is pretending that animal based agriculture is the solution to world hunger—a myth perpetuated by profiteering biotech and animal drug companies and an insult to the public’s intelligence.

According to the World Food Program, hunger comes from climate change, poverty, unstable markets, war and displacement –– not bacon and cheese deficiencies. Moreover, animal based agriculture, which ties up so much land to raise animal instead of human crops, is also a leading cause of climate change. "Unless strong demand growth for meat is curtailed, livestock sector emissions will increase to the point where dangerous climate change is unavoidable," the UK thinktank the Chatham House declares.

Dressing up livestock in Christmas sweaters may get Heifer International donations but it can’t hide the illogic of its mission.

(Author: Martha Rosenberg is an investigative health reporter. She is the author of Born With A Junk Food Deficiency: How Flaks, Quacks and Hacks Pimp The Public Health (Prometheus).)

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