International Vegetarian Union (IVU)
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32nd World Vegetarian Congress 1996
[Vegetarian Summerfest '96: A World Vegetarian Congress]

The Meat Industry has a Death Wish
(And we should all help fulfil it)
from EVU News, Issue 3 / 1996

image: Alex Hershaft
Dr. Alex Hershaft is president of FARM (Farm Animal Reform Movement), founder of the Great American Meatout, you can contact him: PO Box 30654, Bethesda, MD 20824 e-mail:

The rise of the Meat-Industrial Complex

In the 1950s General Dwight Eisenhower warned America of the rising political clout and awesome destructive impacts of the military-industrial complex. His warning turned prophetic: the military-industrial complex grew to staggering proportions and devastated our national economy. It killed tens of thousands of young Americans and countless others. It nearly wiped out life on earth in a nuclear mushroom cloud. It took 40 years for the American people to understand fully the terrible danger involved and to start dismantling the monster that they had helped create.

In the 1970s, leaders of the vegetarian movement warned America of a much more formidable national threat - the meat-industrial complex. Like its predecessor, the meat-industrial complex feeds human greed by killing living beings and destroying their environment. But, unlike its predecessor, the meat-industrial complex does not wait for wars or other diplomatic failures. Driven by grain surpluses, government subsidies, deceptive promotional practices, and consumer apathy, it carries out its deadly mission every minute of every day of every year, even as we speak. Its destructive power boggles the mind.

Each year, the meat-industrial complex abuses and butchers nearly nine billion cows, pigs, turkeys, chickens, and other innocent, feeling animals for human consumption.

Each year, nearly 1,5 million of these consumers are crippled and killed prematurely by heart failure, cancer, stroke, and other chronic diseases that have been linked conclusively with the consumption of these animals. Each year, millions of other animals are abused and sacrificed in a vain search for a "magic pill" that would vanquish these largely self-inflicted diseases.

Each year, the meat-industrial complex wastes tons of grains that should be feeding the world's starving millions. It depletes irreplaceable topsoil, groundwater, and other critical food production resources. It poisons the land and waters with pesticides, fertilisers, and other toxic substances. It decimates wildlife and wipes out forests and other wildlife habitats.

The Fall of the Meat-Industrial Complex

And now for the good news, and you are hearing it first here, on this historic occasion. The year 1996 will go down in history as the beginning of the end for the US meat-industrial complex. After four decades of steady growth, meat production is peaking this year and starting a long decline. The reasons are inevitable and irreversible:

  1. Because of the rising purchasing power of developing countries, the world's grain reserves have dwindled to their lowest levels in the modern history, raising feedgrain prices to record heights.
  2. The drive to balance the federal budget is severely limiting government subsidies.
  3. Public acceptance of meatless eating has reached unprecedented levels, with major food purveyors like Conagra, Green Giant, Denny's and Subway vying for this market.
  4. Promotion of plant-based foods by mainstream health advocacy groups and government's admitted inability to vouch for the safety of meat products promise to expand this market even further.

Amazingly, unlike its predecessor, the US meat-industrial complex appears to have a death wish that drives it to co-operate in its own demise. How else can one account for such bizarre behaviour:

  • a) In spite of the long predicted grain shortages, the industry took no steps to reduce production until this year, causing widespread economic dislocations.
  • b) In spite of the vital importance of rangelands to the cattle industry, the industry has pressured the federal government to reduce grazing fees, accelerating the devastation of these lands.
  • c) In spite of its critical dependence on producers who raise the animals and assume most of the risks, the industry has made their economic situation virtually untenable.
  • d) In spite of the severe water and air pollution associated with pig farms, the pig industry has expanded their size to the point where they are now severely restricted in many states.
  • e) Although insects and pathogens are winning the twin battles against new pesticides and antibiotics, the industry continues to use increasing amounts of both.
  • f) In spite of a 25% loss in sales, it took the beef industry 20 years to acknowledge and attempt to repair its cholesterol problem.
  • g) Although 40% of supermarket chickens carry substantial levels of Salmonella, which sickens millions and kills thousands, the meat industry opposed USDA's Salmonella inspection program.
  • h) Although stonewalling on bovine spongiform encephalopathy nearly ruined the British beef industry, the US meat industry is re-enacting faithfully that very same script.
  • i) And speaking of things British, the McLibel lawsuit has turned into a major public relations disaster for the world's largest purveyor of dead animals.
  • j) Although 93% of American consumers oppose farmed animal suffering, the US meat industry pressured 28 state legislatures to exclude farmed animals from their anticruelty statutes.
  • k) And, in spite of a 70% loss in sales due to its inhumane and unsanitary practices, the veal industry would rather go down in flames than ban that damned veal crate.

Now, does the meat industry have a death wish or what?

How we can help

I am asking every one of you here tonight, as caring, compassionate activists, to pledge your full support to the meat industry ... in fulfilling its death wish.

Here's how you can help:

  • Speak out in letters to editors and talk show-ins in how plant-based eating promotes good health, reduces medical costs, preserves a clean environment, and eliminates animal suffering.
  • Display your message on T-shirts, tote bags bumper and envelope stickers, buttons.
  • Thank manufacturers, supermarkets, restaurants, hotels, airlines and other institutions that cater to the plant-based eating market. Introduce plant-based meal options in your children's schools and workplace cafeterias.
  • Take part in movement campaigns that promote plant-based eating, including the Great American Meatout, World Vegetarian Day and World Farm Animal Day.
  • Participate in vegetarian and animal rights conferences such as this one and learn of more proportional opportunities.

Above all, never give up; never give up; never give up!