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June 19, 2009

Cutting Back Means Cutting Animal Consumption

At The HSUS, we are engaging in a range of cost-cutting management actions to cope with the downturn in the economy, but we are doing our best not to cut any essential animal protection programs. Especially in tough economic times, the determined actions of The HSUS and other animal protection groups are needed more than ever for animals in crisis.

Consumers are having to make tough cost-saving decisions, too. And as they strike some non-essential items from their shopping lists, they are shrinking demand for certain products that cause harm to animals. For example, the fur industry, which produces a luxury product, is experiencing waning sales. The Federal Trade Commission reported in 2005 that an estimated 3.5 million animal fur garments and accessories were for sale annually in the United States, and in 2009, that number has dropped to just more than 1 million—an astonishing decline of more than 70 percent. In fact, prices for seal pelts from Canada have declined by a record amount, though part of that steep decline is due to our closing markets for the pelts through policy changes in Europe and elsewhere.

HSUS Guide to Vegetarian Eating
Our guide provides the hows and whys
of reducing animal products in your diet.

Gourmet magazine is reporting that people are reducing to some degree their consumption of meat products. Given the inordinately high per capita consumption of animal products in America, this is good news for animals, the environment, and public health. The HSUS is a big tent organization, and we support people who want to switch to more humanely raised animal products, reduce the amount of meat in their diets, or try a vegetarian lifestyle—but the reduction of meat consumption is one of the best things we can do for the planet given how unsustainable the current levels of factory farming are.

Reductions in meat consumption means less support for factory farms—many of which confine animals in small cages or crates, and subject them to other procedures and handling practices that compromise their welfare. In fact, Smithfield Foods, which has pledged but not yet completed the shift toward eliminating gestation crates for sows, reported major financial losses during the last quarter, and it says it needs to shrink its pig population to account for decreasing demand. The dairy industry is also in the throes of reducing its size because of oversupply.

Gourmet notes “the USDA estimates that the production of meat from every major category of farm animal will drop for the first time since 1973.” This is also good news for the environment, since the massive numbers of animals on Confined Animal Feeding Operations, or CAFOs, produce enormous volumes of waste, and pollute watersheds and streams. It also means less in the way of greenhouse gas emissions, since the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations has reported that the animal agriculture sector worldwide accounts for 18 percent of all emissions—more than the entire transportation sector.

Unfortunately, some members of Congress don’t want the farm animal industries to do their fair share to combat the problem. Lawmakers aligned with the Farm Bureau and other ambassadors of agribusiness are actively working to exclude agriculture from the impact of any remedial actions to reduce climate change. As a result, you may hear from The HSUS soon to contact your lawmaker to turn this situation around.

As Gourmet’s editor Ruth Reichl noted in a powerful editorial about the detriment of raising so many animals for food on factory farms, “Now it is becoming increasingly clear that we ought to change our ways.”

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