You may see the ads on television or receive a glossy catalog in the mail: a plea from an international charity to send money to “gift” animals to families in marginalized communities, ostensibly to fight world hunger. The appeals are filled with colorful images of families frolicking with goats or gleefully holding chickens. The marketing tactic plays on people’s desire to do good.
But sending farmed animals to families in impoverished countries can exacerbate financial and environmental strain while also causing significant animal suffering. Charity assessor GiveWell advises against the practice of giving animals to impoverished people, because if a family is struggling to provide for itself, how can it properly provide animals with housing, nutrition and medical care?
While the charities spin the outcome as one in which the animals are living in idyllic circumstances, the grim reality is that “gifted” farmed animals in developing countries can face deplorable conditions. They may go without shelter or shade in the burning heat and lack sufficient food and water. Since many recipient nations have few to no animal protection laws, animals may not receive veterinary care for even major injuries and illnesses. In fact, an impact analysis of a Heifer International operation in the Philippines revealed that nearly 92% of “gifted” animals who got sick ended up dying—likely as a result of inadequate preventative care.
In 2018, a PETA and Sentient observer traveled to Rajasthan, India, to see how animals were cared for in areas where the Heifer International “goat-gifting” program operated. What they found is deeply disturbing and upends the illusion that promotional materials lead donors to believe.
The eyewitness saw goats housed in extremely crowded pens, goats tied up so tightly that they could barely move, baby goats with sticks jammed in their mouths to prevent them from drinking their mothers’ milk (which is taken away for human consumption) and male goats pinned down and castrated without the use of anesthesia. Goats were seen suffering from conditions including an infected udder, a fractured limb and a maggot-filled wound—none of which were properly treated.
Raising and killing animals for food does not improve the human condition—it harms it. According to the United Nations, raising animals for food is “one of the top two or three most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global.” A study detailed in the journal of the National Academy of Sciences found that raising animals for food uses one-third of the world’s fresh water. And the traditionally animal “product”–heavy Western diet has been linked to a higher risk of suffering from diabetes, heart disease, obesity and cancer.
It’s evident that the best way to provide hungry people with relief while benefiting their overall health is to promote vegan eating. Feeding people plant-derived foods instead of meat, eggs and dairy is a far more efficient and productive way to meet the nutritional needs of a community. The human body can obtain all necessary proteins, minerals and complex carbohydrates from sustainable crops of vegetables, grains, legumes, nuts and fruits. The Fruit Tree Planting Foundation points out that planting fruitful trees and plants not only serves communities for generations but also helps improve the surrounding air, soil and water.
It’s clear that poverty, hunger and environmental degradation are urgent global problems that require viable, long-lasting solutions. “Animal-gifting” charities must shift their focus to sustainable practices that genuinely empower communities, instead of promoting cruelty and wastefulness.