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Norm Phelps: Why the 'Heifer Project' is not compatible with UU ideals of compassion,environmental stewardship, and social responsibility
The Heifer Project International, which provides farm animals to third world families as a way to fight hunger and promote self-reliance, is a popular charity with many American Unitarian-Universalist churches. With the blessing of the Unitarian-Universalist Association, individual churches raise money for the Heifer Project, often through their religious education programs (Sunday School). Many UUs, however, are working to educate clergy and congregations about the dark side of animal agriculture and why the Heifer Project is not compatible with UU ideals of compassion, environmental stewardship, and social responsibility.
January 22, 2007
A letter written by Norm Phelps and Patti Rogers,
the Minister, Student Minister, and Trustees of the Unitarian-Universalist Church of Hagerstown
13245 Cearfoss Pike
Hagerstown, MD 21740
Dear Ministers and Trustees:
Although we may not be familiar to many of you, we have been members of UUCH for over four years. Health issues prevent us from attending most functions, but we have supported UUCH ever since we joined.
We are writing to respectfully request that the church reconsider its support for the Heifer Project International. We understand that the motivation for supporting the Heifer Project arises from the highest ethical and social ideals of Unitarian-Universalism. But as well-intended as they undoubtedly are, the programs of the Heifer Project are actually counterproductive and work to defeat the very goals that they are intended to advance.
1) Animal based agriculture, with its highly inefficient use of water, land, plant protein, and other resources will never be able to feed a human population of 6,000,000,000 that is growing exponentially. The world's last best hope for alleviating hunger and narrowing the gap of injustice that exists between the industrialized world and the developing world is the promotion of a plant-based diet and the expansion of plant agriculture for direct human consumption both at home and globally.
2) Animal agriculture is one of the world's leading sources of water pollution (at a time when the availability of pure water is becoming a worldwide crisis) and a prime generator of the greenhouse gases that are a principal cause of global warming. Recent studies indicate that animal agriculture releases more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere than transportation. Environmental responsibility requires that we reduce rather than expand animal agriculture.
3) In response to the claim that these problems are created primarily by western industrial-style farming, not the family and village subsistence farming promoted by Heifer, we would point out that once the peoples of the third world have moved from a diet based on plant products to a diet based on animal products, the local, subsistence farming promoted by Heifer will quickly and inevitably be supplanted by the industrial agriculture practiced in the industrialized world, both because the profits to be made will be attractive to international agribusiness and because subsistence farming will not be able to supply the needs of an expanding population newly converted to the gospel of meat. This in turn will have the long-term effect of exacerbating, rather than reducing the gap between rich and poor in the third world and thereby increase the dependency of the poor on a global market economy in which they cannot compete successfully, leaving the third world's poor at the mercy of western agribusiness conglomerates. The most lasting achievement of the Heifer Project will be to addict the third world to a western animal-based diet, which translates to short term hope followed by long term despair.
3) By moving to a diet heavy in animal products, the peoples of the third world will be exposing themselves to the diseases that accompany the regular consumption of animal based food-including heart disease and several types of cancer-that their health care systems and their economies are even less equipped to deal with than ours are.
4) Human beings do not need animal products to lead long, healthy lives. In fact, an animal based diet is an impediment to good health and a long life. Animals are sentient beings. They experience joy and pain, they love life and fear death, just as we do. Imprisoning and killing these gentle beings for food that we do not need-food that is actually harmful to us-is gratuitous cruelty for the sake of appetite and custom. It violates the principal of universal compassion that is common to the great spiritual traditions upon which Unitarian-Universalism has always drawn. Speaking of our treatment of animals, Anglican priest Humphrey Primatt, writing in 1776, said, "Let this be your invariable rule, everywhere, and at all times, to do unto others as, in their condition, you would be done unto." As a compassionate, spiritual community, we ought to be working to reduce the sum of cruelty and killing in the world, not to expand it.
The unfortunate fact is that the Heifer Project International is far more effective at making its first world contributors feel good about themselves than it is at solving the problems of the third world poor. There are any number of organizations that pursue the laudable social goals to which UUCH is committed without the terrible downsides of the Heifer Project. We will not mention any of them here because it is not our intent to promote any particular charity, just to encourage you to discontinue support of the Heifer Project and in its place provide assistance to a cause that supports human development without promoting animal cruelty, environmental degradation, and-in the long term-an increase, rather than a decrease, in human suffering.
We are including for your perusal an article by Rev. Gary Kowalski, minister of the First Unitarian-Universalist Society of Burlington, Vermont, and author of several books including "The Bible According to Noah: Theology as if Animals Mattered," and "Science and the Search for God," which speaks in more detail to the problems associated with the Heifer Project.
We would encourage you to meditate upon these questions and conduct further research into them: that is, to search both within and without. If there are questions that you would like to ask us or responses that you would like to make, we will be more than happy to hear from you.
Thank you for your time and consideration.
In loving fellowship,
Patti Rogers - Norm Phelps
Other EVANA-articles about this topic:
EVANA asked US author Norm Phelps about his hopes for 2009 (en)
New Book: The Longest Struggle: Animal Advocacy from Pythagoras to PETA (en)
An Open Letter to the Dalai Lama (en)
Reactions to the article 'The Buddha ate Meat' (en)