Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Cats and Humans, Eating Birds

Margaret Atwood is perhaps the highest profile figure in what has become a widespread North American campaign to restrict cats to the indoors. In "The Case Against Cats" in the December issue of The Atlantic, Britt Peterson reviews Peter Marra and Chris Santella's Cat Wars: The Devastating Consequences of a Cuddly Killer, and asserts that cats are "bad for us, and for our planet." Reviewing the same book in a piece this fall in The New York Review of Books ("The Killer Cats Are Winning," September 29), Natalie Angier insists that it's a no-brainer that all cats should be forced to stay indoors, so that they will not be able to kill birds:
This is a ridiculous point to waffle on: pet cats should no more be allowed to roam around at will than should pet dogs, horses, pythons, or pot bellied pigs.
The reason is that domestic cats are alleged to be responsible for the deaths of "up to 4 billion birds" annually in the US.

That figure comes from a 2013 Smithsonian Biology Institute study, conducted under the direction of Marra. Previous estimates had been in the range of 500 million birds; Marra's study put the range at "between 1.3 billion and 4.0 billion." Marra is clearly not impartial on this issue, and so far as I'm aware, neither the 1.3 billion nor the 4.0 billion figure has subsequently been given credence by other scientific studies. But let's say that his numbers are accurate--and then let's ask where our efforts to save birds and other animals should be concentrated.

On the one hand we have a species--the domestic cat--that is by nature carnivorous. The digestive systems of cats, biologists tell us, are such that these animals cannot choose not to eat the flesh of dead animals. If a domestic cat does not catch and kill its own meat, then it must be fed meat from animals that we humans have caused to have killed. One way or another, it must be a carnivore.

On the other hand we have a species that can choose to abstain from eating other animals (and that will be perfectly healthy if it does so--indeed, much more healthy than if it consumes animal products). Yet most members of this species choose a diet that involves the wholesale killing of members of other species. Moreover, in order to minimize their own expenditure, they confine the animals whose flesh and milk they will consume, keeping them in horrific conditions throughout their lives.

The species that must eat meat is said to be responsible for killing between 1.3 and 4 billion birds in the United States annually.

The species that can choose not to eat meat or other animal products is quite certainly responsible for killing more than 18 billion birds annually in the United States--plus hundreds of millions of cows, and pigs, and other animals. And virtually all of those 20 billion or so animals are subjected to horribly cruel treatment through their lives before the humans have them killed.

Is there a priority here? Of these two species, which should we focus on if we are trying to reduce suffering for other species?

The issue of cats killing and eating birds is not trivial. But it pales beside the much, much larger issue of humans killing and eating birds and other animals. Before we blame humans who choose to keep cats who will sometimes kill and eat birds, let's put the larger share of blame where it belongs--on humans who choose to kill and eat birds themselves, and to kill and eat other animals, all of it cruelly, and all of it utterly, utterly unnecessary.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

New Canada Food Guide - Input Needed

For the first time in many years the Canadian government is revising the advice it offers to Canadians on what we should eat. In the current food guide, two of the four food group categories are consumed by animal products. Mercy for Animals and other organizations working to improve the lives of animals (human and otherwise), and to improve the life of the planet, are asking us all to go the the Health Canada website and provide our input. They have provided one template for answering some of the key questions. I'll provide another below in the hope that it may be useful. But please act now; the website questionnaire is open only until December 8.

To find the questionnaire, google Canada Health Guide Questionnaire.

You'll find the following among the questions:

Would healthy eating recommendations based on the level of processing of foods be helpful to you?


Why do you say that?

There is now a huge amount of evidence that a whole foods, plant-based diet is the best way to go. The "plant-based" part is vitally important; as the scientific evidence which and pother sites are continually presenting and analyzing clearly indicates, eating animal products is bad for our health in myriad ways (increased risk of cancer, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and on and on). But the "whole foods" part is important too; processed foods tend to be less nutritious in many ways.

To what extent are the current food groupings (vegetables and fruits, grain products, milk and alternatives, meat and alternatives) useful to you?

Not at all

Why do you say that?

The current categories are absurdly weighted in favor of foods that are bad for our health, bad for the environment, and horrendously bad for our fellow creatures. Two of the four categories foreground eating the flesh or the milk of non-human animals--the consumption of which has been conclusively shown to be associated with increased risk of myriad health problems, from cancer and diabetes to heart disease. (Plus, the factory farming methods that produce today's meat and dairy products are horrible for the environment and endlessly cruel to cows, pigs, birds, and so on.)

If animal products are to be included at all, they should be included in a single category of foods that may provide some nutritional benefits but that have huge health risks and other negatives associated with them.

The recommended categories should be as follows:

vegetables (possibly sub-divided into leafy and root vegetables); legumes (or pulses); fruits; nuts and seeds; grains

Rather than including things such as soy milk as "alternatives to milk" or such things as tofu as "alternatives to meat," they should be presented in a category of healthy foods that is separate from any category of animal product.

What else can Health Canada do to help improve the uptake and use of its healthy eating recommendations?

Don't presume that it would be "too extreme" to tell Canadians the truth about the damage we are doing to ourselves by eating animal products, when we'd be so much healthier if we didn't.

Help to make being vegan a mainstream concept, so that (to pick just one example) restaurants would start to be embarrassed if they didn't offer vegan options.

Vitamin information should be included: Anyone over 50 should take a B12 supplement; anyone in Canada should take a Vitamin D supplement; anyone over 50 should either eat plenty of goji berries or take a multi vitamin that includes lutein and xeaxanthan to help prevent macular degeneration; those who eat little or no citrus fruit know should know that vitamin C supplements are not a sufficient substitute; vegans should take Vitamin B12 supplements, etc., etc.

[Much as I was tempted, I did not suggest including beer as a separate, recommended food group. It's under the grains, I guess.]