TODAY, October 2, is World Day for Farmed Animals.
The purpose is to remind ourselves of animal agriculture's devastating impacts on animals, on our health, and on the environment. Humans make up only 0.01 per cent of all beings on the planet, yet we have put an indelible stamp on the face of the Earth that may never be erased.
For example, since human civilisation began we have lost 83 per cent of all wild animals.
Most mammals in the world now are farmed. We use them for their flesh, milk, hides, hair and a variety of other reasons.
But should we?
Our health is as good a reason as any to reconsider keeping animals off our plates.
We have evidence that meat and dairy products are laden with saturated fats, cholesterol, hormones, pathogens like E coli and salmonella, and antibiotics.
Over the past few decades, study after study has found that consumption of animal products is associated with risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, stroke and certain forms of cancer.
If we consider the effect of eating meat and dairy on the environment, it is more bad news.
The disturbing reality is that animal agriculture is not only a leading cause of climate change but is also responsible for more water pollution, topsoil depletion, deforestation and wildlife destruction than all other human activities combined. In New Zealand, the release of methane gas from ruminant stock is one of the highest in the world, over 40 per cent.
As has been well documented by freshwater ecologist Dr Mike Joy, unconstrained intensification of farming, and the use of fertilisers, have polluted our once pristine waterways, further impacting biodiversity.
The third main reason to stop farming animals is the dearest to my heart. I do not believe we have the right, as humans, to kill the masses of animals we do.
The numbers of animals we slaughter for food each year are staggering.
Worldwide, an estimated 70 billion cows, pigs, chickens, turkeys and other sentient land-based animals are killed for our palate.
If we factored in the number of aquatic animals caught and suffocated by vast trawler nets, as well as their by-kill, it would probably take that figure up into the trillions.
In New Zealand, in the year 2016-17, nearly 30 million large mammals (cattle, goats, pigs and sheep) were killed, and over 115 million chickens raised for meat. I don't have figures for layer hens, but it would be in the hundreds of millions also.
Add to this the male hatchlings who are macerated or gassed in their first hours because they cannot produce eggs, and the numbers climb astronomically.
Many animals suffer immensely in the process.
Most of the meat we eat in New Zealand is from animals raised in factory farms, and these are the cruellest forms of farming.
Animals in factory farms live their entire lives without ever feeling the sun on their backs or the grass beneath their feet.
They spend their brutalised and foreshortened existence crammed inside smelly, barren, windowless sheds, standing in their own faeces and urine and breathing in ammonia and other choking fumes from waste. Their endless suffering has been observed in undercover footage showing the repetitive and aggressive behaviours of pigs and chickens confined to cages where they can barely move. The stress literally drives them mad.
This past weekend I watched a live video of activists who entered an enormous "organic" meat chicken facility in California, and took out some dying birds.
Some of these birds had broken legs, some had broken wings. Some had open sores, some had burns from the ammonia produced by the faeces they are forced to lie in. Many were dehydrated.
This type of farming of animals is prevalent here in New Zealand also. If you eat chicken, then the chances are that your last meal was a baby, less than six weeks old. Tragically, direct rescue agencies in this country, such as Farmwatch, say that while they are bred to grow large in a short time to maximise profit, these chickens still "peep" like little babies.
At my slaughterhouse vigils here in Whanganui, I regularly see cows waiting to be offloaded from trucks or in holding pens in the slaughterhouse. The cows are often standing in their own excrement, and look to each other for comfort as they try to deal with the frightening situation they find themselves in.
But change is in the air in this town. More and more vegan products are available in supermarkets, and a new dedicated vegan restaurant has just opened on Taupo Quay.
We are following the trend in the Western world that shows a marked decrease in meat and dairy consumption. But until every last slaughterhouse is closed, I won't relax my efforts.
Today is not only World Day for Farmed Animals, it is Mahatma Gandhi's birthday.
Along with thousands of others worldwide, I am fasting. I will refuse all food today in order to remember and mourn innocent lives sacrificed for our palate.
We have to stop killing other beings for our consumption when we have no need to. Healthier, plant-based alternatives exist that are far better for us and the environment.
Footnote: As I write this, the activists who rescued chickens are in jail, with a combined bail of millions of dollars. The chickens were taken from them and killed. Although Californian legislation says you are entitled to go on a property and rescue animals that are dying or being abused, there is a loophole in the law that says "unless it is standard industry practice".
Sandra Kyle of Whanganui is an animal activist who posts on Facebook, has a weekly Access Radio programme, Safe and Sound, and has written a book, Glass Walls.