New Zealand, Veganism and a Kinder Life – 11 Questions With James Cameron

Just in time for October’s World Vegetarian Month, acclaimed director and NZ resident James Cameron, speaks at length about the plant-based lifestyle he and his family choose to follow and about his Greytown café; Food Forest Organics. The Vegetarian activist, who recently teamed up with Terminator friend Arnold Schwarzenegger to encourage the world to eat less meat, shares with SAFE some very personal thoughts and philosophies around this lifestyle choice.

1 What’s been most rewarding about opening your shop and café?

It’s great to get feedback from the community, and to see our little store embraced by the locals.  Greytown is a wonderful little town. It reminds me a lot of the town I grejamescameronfbw up in as a kid in Canada, which was near Niagara Falls, so you had the small town feeling, but also a big flow-through of tourists.  In Greytown you have the overlay of vacationers on the locals, which is good for business and good for spreading the word about organics and plant-based nutrition back to where the visitors are coming from, Wellington or wherever.  We’ve found the store is catering particularly well to the locals who know us and appreciate our reputation for quality of produce and products.  It’s great to see people asking questions and wanting to know more about organic foods and health products, and about the benefits of plant based diets.

2 What’s surprised you the most?

I expected more resistance in an area known for its animal agriculture, but people seem to be embracing the health benefits of organic and plant-based eating.

3 Has this been a life long dream?

To open a modest store in Greytown?  If you’d asked me when I was starting out as a film-maker wanting to conquer the world, that goal would have been about 10 millionth on my list.  But it’s been my dream since 1994, when I drove around the country, to come back some day and live in New Zealand.  And part of the appeal was the warmth and forthrightness of the people.  So in a sense, that dream entailed becoming part of a community here, and raising our kids here with the values we admire in New Zealanders.  To that end, owning a farm, being productive members of the community, and having a business here in the South Wairarapa that puts us in touch with local people day to day, is all part of what my wife Suzy and I aspired to – so in a funny way the answer is YES.

4 Do you have other plans/dreams for developing veganism in NZ?

We want to tread lightly in spreading the word, because animal agriculture -beef, dairy and lamb in particular, is such an important part of the economy of New Zealand, and of the culture and history.  But if people are interested and want to learn more, we will be helpful and supportive.  The health benefits are astounding, once you open your mind and start to read up on it.  And what will be very important to New Zealand, in order to meet its carbon goals for controlling climate change, is reducing meat and dairy consumption for environmental reasons.  The whole world is waking up to the fact that we can’t control climate change at less than 2° C without reducing our animal agriculture.  It’s simply not possible.  And cleaning up the lakes and rivers of New Zealand will require some degree of shift away from beef and dairy production, into more eco-friendly forms of agriculture, which is what we practice on our farm at Pounui.  But speaking as a farmer, I want to be solution-oriented.  I want to be able to offer farmers profitable alternatives.  We’re still exploring the best practices to do that, treating our farm as a test site for eco-agricultural research.  Over the long haul we want to expand our organic produce operations, and our no-till/low input cropping operations.  In addition, I want to look for ways to add value locally in the supply chain, such as building processing facilities for pea protein, hemp and some of our other eco-agro crops.

5 How long have you lived a plant-based lifestyle and what are your reasons for this?

Our whole family -my wife Suzy and I, and our 3 live at home kids, went plant-based in May of 2012, so it’s been over 4 years.  Suzy’s goal was improved health for us and the kids, but my goal was to set an example of living responsibly as an environmental activist.  I knew about the serious negative impacts of animal agriculture on the environment —  the massive contribution to greenhouse forcing,  deforestation, biodiversity loss, habitat loss, water pollution, ocean dead zones, etc – but I believed we NEEDED to eat meat and drink milk for health.  I think that’s a particularly male perspective.  I need PROTEIN, damn it!  What I didn’t understand was that protein comes from plants —  that’s where the cattle, pigs, chickens and so on get it in the first place —  so we can absolutely cut out the middle man, and in the process cut out heart disease, diabetes, many forms of cancer, osteoporosis, high blood pressure and all sorts of diseases of modern life that are caused or worsened by eating critters.

NOBODY in the western world is dying or even sick from a protein deficiency – I defy any doctor in NZ or the US to say he/she has ever treated one, or even seen one – and yet we’re obsessed and terrified by not getting enough protein.  For zero factual reason.  And yet EVERY doctor has treated heart disease, stroke, cancer, obesity, diabetes and all the other ills caused by our animal diets.  Our obsession with protein is killing us, agorilland at the very same time people on western diets are actually ODing on protein – taking in two to three times more than is necessary.  The average person is eating enough protein to be a world champion body builder, so imagine how much of a protein overdose champion bodybuilders are getting? Even my friend Arnold Schwarzenegger is now preaching less meat in the diet, because he understands both the health and the environmental consequences.  As governor of California he was a powerhouse leader for environmental policy, and now he’s walking the walk, eating more and more plant-based.  He’s not all the way vegan yet, but I’m working on it.

6 What are you proudest of, about your plant-based lifestyle?

It takes commitment and a good support system, amongst family and friends, to change to a fully plant based diet.  I’m proud of our immediate family for doing it 100% and sticking with it.  I’m proud of Suzy for incorporating plant-based nutrition into her school in Malibu, California, which is called The Muse School – where kids from pre-kindergarten through grade 12 are able to raise their own vegetables, then have them incorporated into the meals they eat at school.  Her school serves only 100% plant-based meals, and is the first school in the US to do so.  It also won the award for the greenest restaurant in the world.   So our shift to a plant based diet has rippled out far beyond us personally to everyone we interact with.  I’m proud of being part of the solution for climate change, and part of a healthier future.  That said, it’s very critical for vegans to be humble – the holier than thou attitude of a lot of vegans is very off-putting to meat eaters.  We need to put out the vibe that we’re all on a journey, and some are not as far along the path in their understanding of the issues.  Until 4 years ago I didn’t know about the health benefits of plant based eating.  I always thought vegans were freaks – I couldn’t understand how they could be healthy on an all-plant diet and I guess I subconsciously thought they were either lying and sneaking meat from time to time, or they were medical anomalies.  It wasn’t until I watched Forks Over Knives and read The China Study (twice) that I realized I had been programmed by a culture that celebrated meat and dairy consumption in spite of the facts.

7 What other things have come about, as a result of becoming plant-based?

My weight has been very stable at my target set point for 4 years, and it’s easy to maintain.  My health has been phenomenal.  Typically, before going plant-based, I would have had a couple of colds a year, maybe a flu, and a couple of stomach bugs.  Since going plant-based I’ve had zero illness, not even the slightest sniffle.  This can’t be accounted for as a statistical fluke.  It is absolutely evidence of the plant-based diet’s ability to rev up the immune system.  As a film director who needs to go the distance and deal with stress every day for years on end, a good immune system is critical to my work.  As a vegan, I would say my immune system is now bullet-proof (knock wood.)  My fitness levels are very high.  I kick box, lift weights, run and do yoga.  My cardio fitness is better than it was when I was 20, and I have tons of energy.

8 Has your relationship to animals changed, now they don’t feature in your diet?

Interestingly, unlike probably the majority of your readers, my reason for becoming vegan was NOT the plight of animals.  I always assumed I needed that animal protein to be healthy and that was just tough luck for the animals.  That I didn’t make the rules, nature did, so I didn’t need to feel guilty or even think about it that much.  But I was completely wrong.  Once I realized that not only were animal foods not necessary, but they were actively working against my health, and that of our living world, I changed my diet accordingly and never looked back.  And I found an interesting thing happened – I was now willing to look behind the door of the slaughterhouse, where before it existed out of my mind’s eye.  I then tore through all the books on the subject, and now realize how we as a civilization are committing this vast crime against nature, against our own sense of morality, and doing it for reasons largely of ignorance and cultural momentum.  All of which is of course aided and abetted by the advertizing dollars, the constant media barrage of propaganda, and the lobbying power of the food industry, and meat and dairy industries.  Got Milk?  Beef —  real food for real people!  We’ve all heard the slogans.  The truth is that if you think meat is real food for real people, you better live real close to a real good hospital.  Or mortuary.  I think for many new plant-based eaters, one benefit is that they can face the issue of the horrific cruelty being done to animals squarely for the first time.  Before that, one lives in denial.  We somehow are able to straddle this cognitive dissonance created by loving animals on the one hand – cats, dogs, horses – and yet raising others by the billions in unutterably horrific circumstances, then slaughtering them for our supposed need.  Except it turns out not to be a need —  but merely a choice.  A desire.  And not a very smart one at that, from a standpoint of personal survival, and the survival of our civilization.

9 What is your secret for inspiring others to consider becoming vegan? 

I think it’s important to approach it from logical as well as emotional positions.  Emotionally it’s good to appeal to parents, especially mothers, and their sense of nurturing their children and wanting the best for them, both in health and in the type of world we pass on.  It’s good emotionally to emphasize that you look better as a plant-based eater.  You get more compliments on your healthy glow. You’re fitter and trimmer. You’ll live longer and be happier. You’ll have more energy.  Your sex life will be better.  Men – take note – the primary cause of erectile dysfunction is clogging of the arteries caused by meat and dairy.  Real men eat plants.

It’s important emotionally to feel empowered in a world of negative trends.  Everyone is anxious about climate change.  Reducing meat and dairy consumption, or going completely plant-based, is the biggest single thing you can do – right now, today – as an individual, to make a difference.  You can contribute to the Sierra Club and buy a Prius, but changing your diet has a ripple effect on everyone around you, and pushes us incrementally as a society toward a profound change that will save our natural world and prevent the worst effects of climate change.

When it comes to logic – it’s important to be right about your facts, so the first thing I did was raise some money, and contribute a fair bit of my own, to creating a research group to aggregate the facts about animal agriculture’s severe impacts on our planet.  That work is being done by the Plant Power Task Force, which I co-fund, and which Suzy is directing.  Through that entity, we funded a research study done by Chatham House, the UK think tank, which was published last year and was very disruptive in bringing to the forefront the connection between diet and the environment, specifically climate change.  Chatham House also did demographic research in the US, UK, Brazil and China to find out how much people knew on the subject and what inclination they might have to change diet.  The results were surprising.  It was no surprise that people weren’t making much of a connection between meat and dairy consumption and the long list of environmental woes topped by climate change.  What was a surprise was people’s willingness to change.

It has long been fatalistically assumed that asking people to change diet was a non-starter of an approach to saving the environment and stopping climate change.  Ask most environmentalists and they just shrug and say it won’t happen, so they promote other ideas like genetically engineering cows to burp less, and other stupid techno-optimist solutions that won’t begin to make a dent in the problem.  But there was no data to support this notion that people won’t change.  No one had actually checked.  It was just “common sense.”  Well I always say that common sense tells you the world is flat.  And it was for many millennia, right up until somebody actually checked.  When we checked about the willingness of people to change diet, we found a direct correlation between the degree to which people understood the environmental impacts, and the degree they were willing to reduce or eliminate meat and dairy.  It was a linear relationship, and it was true in the four culturally diverse countries we studied.  It turned out not to be an unassailable bastion after all.  This was the most significant outcome of our research.

People can and do change, and they are more likely to change when they understand both the health and the environmental issues.  Both together have more impact than either separately, although we see that baby boomers are more interested in health, because they know their arteries are clogging off and their hearts and the blood vessels in their brains are time bombs, whereas millennials and teens are more willing to change for the environment. Add the plight of animals to this, and you’ve got the trifecta of reasons.

10 What do you most wish people understood about veganism?

It’s not a cult, it’s not a fad.  It’s the single most powerful thing you can do as an individual to affect climate change, improve the world’s ecosystems, reduce water pollution, protect biodiversity, reduce deforestation and improve your health, energy, and longevity.  What’s NOT to love about that?  You get to live longer, be happier, and look in the mirror every morning knowing that you are living right with Mother Nature, and doing the best you can do for future generations of human beings.

11 How do you find being plant-based in NZ?

I find New Zealanders to be the sanest people in the world.  I believe this country can be early adopters of this important paradigm shift for individual health and the health of the planet.  It’s a small country and it can pivot fast, which can allow us to be world leaders in this.  NZ is thought of as a pure and natural place to visit and live, so it’s incumbent on us to support that vision of New Zealand, and present that face to the world. On the down side, there’s a deeply ingrained culture and history of animal agriculture that New Zealanders rightly take pride in.  So that’s standing in the way.  But New Zealand has been on the right side of history and taken a leadership role on the world stage on other issues, such as being the very first country where women could vote, and being the ONLY colonial country that honors its original treaties with its indigenous People – so why not be leaders in this new consciousness as well?

– James Cameron

James spoke with SAFE’s Amanda Sorrenson. SAFE has produced a free guide to plant based eating. Order yours now.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Is water quality important?

This week is a celebration of the big H2O, and rightly so!

Water is one thing that the human body needs to survive; in fact, your body is composed of approximately 60 per cent water, which serves all sorts of purposes, from regulating your temperature to protecting your spinal cord, joints and muscle tissue. If this is not a good enough reason to make sure that you are hydrating every day, how about you do it to feel energised and keep your skin looking radiant, because water helps with that too.

I cannot think of a reason to not drink plenty of mother nature’s nectar. Oh wait, actually there may be one reason… POLLUTION!

Now you may be thinking – but we live in New Zealand and it is so clean and green. Yes, you are right, but what is living on that greenness? Stock! Cattle, dairy cows and sheep, to name but a few, and what do all of these animals have in common? They all eat, drink pee and poo. Where does this pee and poo go? Into our waterways. Now, I don’t know about you, but the thought of drinking water (even if it has been filtered) th6092395.jpgat has had animal excrement in it really puts me off. I drink water to refresh and cleanse my body – the same reason I shower, not to fill it and cover it in animal excrement.

The problems do not just affect us. Remember that there are a lot of wild, wacky and astounding creatures and critters that we share our world with who also rely on clean water to survive and flourish. A lot of these species inhabit estuaries, also known as ‘nurseries of the sea’, which is where the fresh water from streams and rivers meet the ocean. Our aquatic friends feed, reproduce and often live out the start their lives in these areas, which make estuaries a crucial part of our eco-system.

Unfortunately, due to intensive farming practises, our estuaries are being filled with animal effluent and it is killing our wildlife, the land and ultimately the eco-system. What was once an exuberant breeding ground for vital inhabitants now becomes a dead zone, void of oxygen, activity and life.

Over the space of four years (2008-2012) there were over 150 prosecutions and 300 charges of unlawful pollution caused by dairy effluent in New Zealand. The court fines collected for this period added up to a whopping 3.2 million dollars. It is estimated that it would cost 15 billion dollars to clean up all dairy-related pollution in New Zealand.

Now that I have covered the effect of animal excrement in our waterways, what about water usage? The farming sector requires a vast amount of water. This water is usually obtained from underground aquifers or, from local rivers and streams. It is then used to irrigate the land to keep the grass growing to feed stock.

A recent study conducted by The Cawthron Institute found that New Zealand river flow levels are almost twice as low as they should be. This is dfigure34ue to too much water being syphoned off for farm irrigation. To really put this water usage into perspective, the Water Footprint Network estimates that it takes about 250 litres of water to produce one glass of milk – or 1000 litres of water to make 1 litre of milk!

Every individual human also contributes to water usage and pollution in some way. The good news is there are multiple ways to minimise your ecological footprint, and luckily for you I know some excellent ways to do this. You could cut back your meat and dairy consumption which not only reduces water usage and pollution, but it also makes a difference to the lives of the animals that are farmed. I am sure that they will thank you for it and so will your body, when you fill it instead with fresh fruits and vegetables.

If your car needs a wash, be smart about it – do not just leave the hose running when you are not using it, and avoid harsh cleaning products that are full of chemicals, as these will end up in our waterways.

Remember, the products you use in the shower or bath, sink and laundry all go down the drain. These will eventually end up in a water way, so when you are making purchasing decisions, make sure that you choose brands that are ‘eco-friendly’ like Ecostore and Earthwise.

If you would like more information on how you can combat climate change with a diet change, head along to the Go Veg part of our website   where you will find heaps of helpful information and delicious recipes.

Happy World Water Week!

Krysta – Campaigns Assistant (Go Veg)

Countdown – ‘Use the Force’ to make positive change for the future

I see that Countdown has just launched a new range of collectables: Star Wars Cosmic Shells. But meanwhile they are making excuses rather than taking action about another type of shell: the shells of the cage eggs produced at the expense of appalling suffering inflicted on hens.

Yoda_blogSAFE has a history dating back several years of meeting with Countdown, asking the supermarket giant to move away from selling cage eggs. But they haven’t been listening. So at the start of 2016, we launched the CountdownToCageFree campaign.

I would like to think that Countdown wants to do the right thing. But what appears to be happening, is that they are doing everything they can to make excuses and are even deliberately misleading their customers over why they are still supporting a very cruel industry.

No excuse for omitting the truth

Back in Feb 2016, Countdown was answering consumers’ requests for change with the line, “the New Zealand egg industry has already committed to phasing out cage eggs by 2022”.

Nah, not really true that one, is it Countdown? The reality is that the NZ egg industry must phase out standard battery cages by 2022, but they are just being replaced with another type of cage, the colony battery cage. That’s the important fact that Countdown left out!

Several months on, and the excuses are coming thick and fast……

Excuse number 1 – Countdown says: There are not enough supplies of free-range eggs

This may be the case right at this present moment, but it is irrelevant! SAFE and compassionate consumers are not asking Countdown to stop selling cage eggs today. We are asking them to ‘name the date’ they will go cage-free, (just as their parent company Woolworths in Australia has named the date of 2018 for when they will be cage-free). This phase-out period gives the egg industry time to transition away from cage systems, in the same way as is already happening overseas.

Countdown tends to imply that they only have two options: cage eggs or free-range eggs.

However, the campaign is asking them not to stock cage eggs. This means they also have an option to transition a bigger percentage of their stocks to barn eggs, than they currently have.

Excuse number 2 – Countdown says: We can’t control the supply of eggs

side-colony-1_0

Hens in colony cages

Countdown has stated that they sell approximately 18% of all the cage eggs in NZ: almost 1 in every 5. Supermarkets are very influential at influencing their supply chains. When they ‘name the date’, Countdown will give a strong signal to the egg industry not to spend approximately $150 million on switching to the new colony cages, which they will have to do by 2022 if they are going to remain with cage systems. If colony cages become well established in the egg industry, hens will be suffering in cages for decades, despite the majority of consumers being strongly against this type of animal cruelty!

Excuse number 3 – Countdown says: Australia has higher stocking densities for free-range, so it makes it more expensive/impossible for NZ to go totally free-range

While it is true that Australia has higher stocking densities for free-range, New Zealand has the same stocking density regulations as they do in Europe. Since a huge number of European supermarket chains have already named the date or already stopped selling all cage eggs, including Danish, Dutch and Austrian chains, and most in the UK, Belgium and Germany, what are we waiting for in New Zealand?

Excuse number 4 –  Countdown says: we are providing choice for low-income customers

This is an excuse that has been used by many big supermarket chains to delay announcing an end date of the sale of cage eggs! But hang-on, is Countdown saying that Woolworths and Walmart (known to be a budget US chain), don’t have low-income customers or don’t care about their low-income customers? Or perhaps they are saying that people on low incomes don’t care about hens?

The reality is that prices of most products already cover the extra costs of environmental or human rights initiatives, or health and safety issues. Prices also rise when commodity prices, such as grain, go up. So why is Countdown excluding animal welfare 3 chicksas an important issue that should be affecting price? After all, eggs cost comparatively less than a third of what they cost 50 years ago, purely because the industry has kept the price low by the appalling way they keep caged hens. Even Consumer New Zealand, a consumer advocacy organisation, says cage eggs need to go!

Let’s also remember that there are plenty of healthy, cheap alternatives to eggs as a protein source, as well as substitutes for replacing eggs in cooking. So whatever the budget, there’s no reason to miss out on anything except funding animal cruelty.

The fact is that Countdown is not listening to their customers. There have been daily requests and complaints on their Facebook page about this issue. Surveys in 2011 and 2014 have shown that the majority of NZ consumers do not want hens in cages: battery cages OR colony cages. Supermarkets make choices all the time about what products they sell and don’t sell. It’s time for Countdown to make choices that will stop the suffering for hens.

So, Countdown, enough of the excuses! You imply that you are trying to do the right thing. In the words of Yoda, “Do or do not. There is no try.” Come on Countdown – it’s time to DO the right thing and drop cage eggs.

You can help take action for hens by emailing Countdown.

 

Marianne Macdonald – SAFE Campaigns Officer

 

So what’s the story with greyhounds?

Guest Blogger Aaron Cross of the Greyhound Protection League of New Zealand works tirelessly to help these beautiful animals.

So what’s the story with greyhounds? pax2[1].jpg

They’re amazing dogs. We have three in our household. Pax, who is the oldest, has been with me for almost all of his 10 years. He’s a very well behaved dog. His nature is kind and gentle. He’s very affectionate but not at all pushy. He’s often hilarious with his goofy sense of humour and his greatest crime would be occasionally rolling in stinky things…. Or relocating random shoes…..

Sally’s the social one. Sally[1]If you meet us she will be the one that looks straight at you with her beautiful brown eyes, before coming over to you and leaning gently against you for a smooch. She loves people and gets excited meeting even strangers. We don’t know what she went through before we got her but she was very timid, and would start yelping if we tried to push her off the couch. We don’t do that anymore; the couch is hers. It suits her, when she’s not on the bed.

Then there’s Pippi. We were looking into links between ex-racing greyhounds and pig dog breeding when we came across Pippi. Her foot was broken in a race, and instead of having it pinned and put in a cast to heal, she was given awayPippi[2] for breeding pig dogs. She was mated and bred from by a brute of a dog in the confines of her kennel, despite having multiple broken bones in her foot. It’s healed now, but has healed deformed. She’ll never run or walk properly again. Pippi is a casualty of racing greed. They day we rescued her she behaved like she hadn’t been out of her kennel for months. It took her awhile to trust us, but now she has come out of her shell. She’s hilarious with her fun and a bit over-the-top personality. We love them all dearly.

The thought of them surviving the racing industry raises a lot of different feelings for me.

Greyhound racing is a questionable activity in any context, but when done on an industrial scale for profit-driven reasons it is most definitely cruel to the greyhounds involved. Unrestricted breeding results in hundreds having nowhere to go at the end of their racing usefulness. At that point most are culled. All just so people can gamble at the TAB.

Racing itself is also very dangerous. On the first bend the dogs almost always collide, creating intense dynamics that frequently see horrific crashes at high speed. These dogs aren’t built for those crashes. But the shuffling and “smash up derby” aspect is part of the entertainment. Their bodies suffer and can literally break just from the effort they exert in chasing, as a result of having their prey drive aggravated. Some greyhounds have literally dropped dead at the end of a race.

Are our entertainment desires a justification for running them to death and killing the slow ones?

The increase in gambling has in turn increased the demand for race-ready greyhounds. This isn’t just mum and dad taking the family pet to the track for a run on Saturday. There were a whopping 5,396 greyhound races last year in New Zealand, meaning that 42,628 times a greyhound’s life was put on the line. I’m not including training in these figures either. This breaks down to 15 commercial greyhound races a day, every single day, every year. It’s extreme overkill. Literally.

That demand means a huge number of animals need to be involved, and as greyhounds live far longer then their fastest, fittest years, most have ended up being treated as an unwanted waste product. When past their use-by date, they’re disposed off. That’s the financial reality because there’s no money in slow dogs. By that stage they’ve already suffered a lifetime of being trained in the worst way possible in terms of responsible dog training: being encouraged and rewarded the whole time for chasing things.  Thankfully for some greyhounds their laziness and good nature rises above their training, and these are typically the ones rehomed by the Greyhounds As Pets programme.

The Greyhound Protection League petitioned the government in 2013 for transparency around the numbers culled and numbers injured. The industry’s response was to admit incompetence in its record-keeping and to plead for an opportunity to show they were committed to animal welfare. At the same time, they also withdrew what little welfare-related information they were sharing publicly, and that information is still withheld from the public.

It was a big deal when race stewards were found to be deliberately misleading the public around the number and nature of greyhound racing injuries in Australia recently, but that is exactly what is happening here, only no-one with any power is calling them out on it.

Australian entities that collate breeding and exporting data for both our countries allow us a view into the numbers introduced here for racing. Running those numbers against the adoption figures that different groups in New Zealand provide, including homes found by and provided by trainers, gives us a good insight as to what is happening for these dogs.

The industry commissioned their own audit by a former Chairman of the NZ Racing Board, and that told us, based on trainers’ input, how many dogs were finding homes with trainers. It was a pretty dismal admission.

In the end we count the number of dogs coming in and the number of dogs coming out of the racing industry and we get a pretty clear picture of the greyhound population and trends within it.

Despite Greyhounds As Pets — the industry-funded rehoming initiative — and several smaller adoption groups rehoming dogs, there’s still a whopping number of greyhounds simply disappearing off the face of the earth. Between 600-700 greyhounds per year are being euthanised in New Zealand, after being deemed unfit for racing. Around 50 dogs are killed annually, in addition to this, on the track due to injuries.

The racing industry, of course, has direct access to this information, but they are keeping quiet. If they do talk about this, my guess is that they probably wont be counting very well! Sadly we can tell from their record-keeping in the field, that proof of rehoming a greyhound is simply not required, and on the injuries front trainers are wondering why race stewards aren’t referring injured dogs to the vet like they should be. That means reported injuries will be down and the percentage of dogs rehomed will be up. We can see that data collecting is not being done in a credible way.

What we’ll do now is petition the government and this time ask for an outright ban on greyhound racing.

The changes that resulted from the industry’s own review have done nothing to protect dogs’ welfare, but instead have made it completely non-transparent. We are now in a really strong position to point out the industry shortcomings to the government and the public. Despite the secrecy, we can pretty much prove that they are culling more dogs than they are rehoming, and that they are covering up greyhound injuries and deaths caused directly by racing itself.

You can help by sending an email to the Minister for Racing calling for an inquiry into the cruel sport.

Aaron Cross

Greyhound Protection League

Eating animals: Our personal choice?

11081208_10204327955699217_8218186321919808593_n.jpgGuest blogger Carl Scott shares his views on eating animals. Carl is an ex-slaughterhouse worker, comes from a meat-eating, hunting family and has now become one of the country’s most outspoken animal rights activists.

Some people say what we eat and other lifestyle choices that involve harming animals are a ‘personal choice.’ They say things like, “I respect your choice to be vegan. But you should respect my choice not to.”

Sorry. I can’t do that. I can respect you as a person. I’ve killed countless animals in my life, and I’ll be the first to acknowledge that good people can make bad choices.

But the problem with exploiting animals is that it cannot really be considered a morally acceptable ‘personal choice’ because…

… there is an innocent victim involved!

So while I can respect you, I truly CANNOT respect your choice to harm animals.

In all of the most important ways, the other animals are very much like us. They are not like plants or inanimate objects. They are conscious and sentient. They have thoughts and emotions. They have meaningful and complex social relationships – friendships and family bonds. They love. They grieve. They remember the past and project into the future. They problem solve. They have language. They even dream. And so much more…

Do we consider it a matter of ‘personal choice’ to kill another creature capable of thinking and feeling? To deny someone their freedom or autonomy for no good reason? Of course not.

As an ex-slaughterhouse worker, I know it can all seem so necessary. I had to keep killing those animals – to keep my job, to keep the business running, and to feed the world. But the truth is, there’s nothing necessary about it. I stopped eating animals and the world didn’t end. Once you accept that we don’t actually NEED to eat animal foods or exploit animals in order to meet any of our other needs, it changes everything. Then when you also consider that exploiting them causes unnecessary destruction to the planet and even unnecessary human illnesses, how can it be justified at all, for any reason? It simply can’t.

206758_10150259834887738_2756891_n.jpg

Carl once spent 30 days in a cage to raise awareness of the suffering of hens.

The more you look into the whole thing, the more you realise that in this day and age, there really is no legitimate excuse for causing harm to animals. It’s simply a bad habit we got ourselves into a long time ago, when we didn’t know any better, which unfortunately stuck. But now the time has come to, collectively, as a society, indeed as a species, break that habit and create a better future for ourselves and the other animals we share this planet with.

They really cannot and must not be considered objects, things, or resources for human use or consumption any more.

So… If my telling you that your ‘personal choice’ to harm animals is unacceptable bothers you, then sorry, but tough luck.

I know that no-one likes to be told what to do. I don’t myself. But someone has to speak up on behalf of the animals, because we know what they would say if they could speak to us. And for better or worse, I have become one of the voices speaking on their behalf.

The animal rights movement is not going away. There are more and more of us all the time, taking the side of the animals. So if you’re not vegan already, now is a good time to start thinking about it.

Why not take SAFE’s 30-Day Go Veg challenge?

You’ll be amazed by how easy it is.

Carl Scott,

Independent Activist

Maxibon, the cat that changed my life

I have a theory about cats. They come into your life for a reason and more often than not they choose you.

This is certainly true of the amazing Max. (AKA Maxibon. AKA The Bon)

Maxibon4.jpg

I was flat hunting in Queenstown when I first had the pleasure of meeting him. For it appeared that he ‘came with the flat’. In fact, he lived with the upstairs tenants but chose to spend most of his time in the downstairs flat.

I didn’t particularity like the flat. I preferred others I had viewed that day. But the other flats didn’t have a Max, and so I found myself signing the lease before anyone else could.

To say that Max was a character is a huge understatement. I simply couldn’t achieve anything at home without Max being involved.

I could be making a cup of tea and he would ‘knock’ at the window to be let in. The cup of tea must be for him, surely? He would then begin to meow in a circle whilst staring up at the mug until I could show him that it wasn’t something he actually wanted.

The meowing in a circle routine would happen every single time I had something in my hand that might be food. If the thing in my hand was discovered to be ACTUAL food the meowing would reach louder and more desperate tones.

Going to the toilet without Max was not an option. Showering without Max’s whiskers pressed up against the screen was not an option. Sleeping without my face being head-butted in the night was also, not an option.

Maxibon1

Not falling in love with this crazy animal was very much NOT an option.

When the day came that I had to move out of the flat I tried to rationalize leaving Max behind. I briefly thought about stealing him but he was not my cat, and surely his humans adored him? How could they not? Instead I cried myself to sleep in my new cosy abode and hoped and prayed that he was OK.

He wasn’t. A week after I moved out I received a phone call from the rental property agent informing me that the upstairs tenants had moved out and left Max behind, ‘kindly’ offering to pay for his euthanasia if they didn’t know anyone that wanted him. He was 15yrs old after all and surely too old to be rehomed?

My heart sank. I dropped everything and drove back to my old flat. And there was Max lying on the carpet inside a cold, echoing empty living room. Waiting in vain for his humans to return.

His big green eyes looked up at me and I scooped him into my arms and took him home and we began our new life routine together.Maxibon3

Over the following years he moved house multiple times with me (he hated moving), moved cities with me, went through a relationship breakup with me and accompanied me through hundreds of showers. Every night he would purr himself to sleep in my arms and every morning he would head-butt me awake, ready to start the day at some ungodly hour.

If anything his food obsession got worse over time. He developed a thing for hot chips and I was simply not allowed to eat them in peace. He would literally distract me while flicking chips off my plate and onto the floor where he could devour them. The ‘distract and flick’ technique also worked well for other foods, such as toast and even peas (another favourite).

One time he went missing for two whole nights. After multiple posters had been put up around the area lots of door knocking I was informed of a possible sighting of Max at the local holiday park. Apparently he had been living in a skip and eating the all the food scraps in there. I collected a fatter, smellier Max from the holiday park that afternoon.

Then one day, during a particularly busy and stressful time in my life I noticed something unusual. He didn’t meow in a circle when I was preparing his food. Instead he remained sleeping on the sofa. I tried a different flavour of cat food but his nose didn’t even twitch.

I knew something was terribly wrong. The vet concluded that his kidneys were no longer functioning and that there was nothing that could be done. I was overcome with guilt for not noticing sooner that he had become so unwell. Had I really been so busy and caught up in my own problems that I had not noticed my crazy food obsessed cat become skinny and weak?

Max fell asleep in my arms for the last time as the vet depressed the syringe into his tired old vein. I cried like a baby for two days straight. I actually thought I’d never get over it.

And in a way I never have. I still kiss his photo every night before bed.  I still find myself talking about him, (working him into conversations that probably aren’t even about cats) almost every day, even 6 years after his passing.

The four years we had together were so special. I still can’t believe he was almost put to sleep 4 years before his time. That’s about 30 human years!

So what have I learned from my time with the amazing Maxibon?

Never take your furry friends for granted.

If a cat appears in your life, it’s probably for a reason. And remember, adopt your animals, don’t buy them from a breeder.

Laura Gentle, National Volunteer Coordinator

You can get more heart-warming stories like this one by following us on Facebook.

Cute animals videos are good for you!

Pretending to work or study, but secretly looking at cute animal videos, are we?

Well, now you can ditch that guilt for good because I have the Best. News. EVER!

It’s official: Looking at photos of cute animals makes you happy and can even improve your concentration and dexterity.

Oh the relief! I can feel your guilt slipping away already.

All those times you’ve been distracted by adorable baby animal photos, dog compilations and funny cat videos, and realised that an entire hour has passed and you have achieved nothing – feel guilty no more!

In a study scientists discovered that concentration, dexterity and general happiness were improved after viewing cute animal images. We already knew they made us smile, of course, but now we have concrete evidence it benefits us.

So before you get back to work/study, why not fuel up your brain with these adorable images:

1) Monty and Archie are rats who were rescued from a laboratory and are slowly learning to trust humans again. They now live at the NZAVS office in Christchurch. Millions of animals suffer in laboratories every day. You can help end animal experiments by choosing cruelty-free products with the SAFE Shopper App.

12546056_10156351045095627_849143354_o

2) “Little Squeak” the rescued piggy now lives a happy life at Edgar’s Mission Farm Sanctuary in Australia. Factory-farmed pigs live a life of hell, but Little Squeak is one of the lucky ones.  Read her story here.

Squeak2

3) “Dudley” the calf was saved from slaughter and given a new prosthetic leg and a new life, thanks to the wonderful people at The Gentle Barn sanctuary in Tennessee, where he is now the main attraction! Read more about Dudley’s story here.

Sadly, millions of New Zealand bobby calves aren’t so lucky.

Dudley.JPG

4) KITTENS! Quite possibly the cutest thing on the planet!  Right now there are so many kittens in desperate need of homes. Remember: desex your pets and adopt, don’t shop.

Kitten.jpg

5) Cute couple alert! Penny the fluffy chicken and Roo the chihuahua make an unlikely couple! Watch their remarkable story here.

Penny&Roo

6) Horses are sweet, gentle and peaceful creatures. They do not deserve to be used for profit in the racing industry and tormented for entertainment at the rodeo. YOU can help put an end to rodeo in New Zealand by emailing sponsors.

Horse

7) Meet Sparky! This adorable calf was left to die in a ditch after becoming entangled in an electric fence. He has well and truly landed on his feet after being rescued by kind people and he now lives happily at Matakana Animal Sanctuary. Sparky is one of the lucky ones. Sadly, two million bobby calves are killed every year as a result of the dairy industry. Find out how you can help here.

sparkySo now you know that cute animals are good for you and can improve your work, but you still might need to convince the boss!

Laura Gentle, Volunteer Coordinator

Duck shooting: Celebrating violence

Every time I see or hear a pro-duck shooting advertisement in mainstream media it never fails to shock me a little. Surely your average, caring Kiwi is not OK with the idea of blasting wildlife out of the sky for fun?

Anyone would think that New Zealanders as a whole find duck shooting acMale_mallard_duck2.jpgceptable. Turn on the 6 o’clock news the night before the opening of the duck shooting season and you will no doubt see a light-hearted story portraying a ‘fun Kiwi pastime’. Add in a few duck puns and you’ve got a quacking good story.

Take the full-page pro-duck shooting advert in the NZ Herald recently, captioned “Nature’s Supermarket is open for business”. I was shocked and saddened to see the smiling, innocent face of a child who was holding multiple dead ducks and carrying a firearm on his back.

Surely we want to teach kids to respect wildlife?

Do we really want to supply children with guns and glorify the killing of innocent animals?

Surely ‘celebrating the duck’, as the advert suggested we do, should be about celebrating them as the free, living beings they deserve to be?

What kind of message are we teaching children when we say that it’s OK to maim and kill some animals for fun?

I truly hope that when the boy in the advert is old enough to think for himself he will regret the pain and suffering he caused those innocent, peaceful birds and re-embrace the empathy he was originally born with.

The duck shooters, of course, have a million ways of justifying their much loved hobby, some claiming that they do it in the name of conservation (do they really believe this?) and others in order to feed their family. When you add up the cost of a shooting licence, firearms and all the fancy gear that goes with the hobby, it adds up to being a very expensive way to feed the family!

Another false claim is that it’s a quick, clean kill. Not even James Bond could shoot a moving target perfectly 100% of the time. The sad fact is, estimatfunny-duck_12551_600x450.jpges from similar situations overseas say that around 25% of birds are not killed outright and are left to die slow and painful deaths. A computer model of the action of a shotgun and the flying bird concluded that most competent shooters will average one bird wounded for each bird bagged.

Not to mention the accidental deaths of the hunters themselves that happen every year in New Zealand.

Not all the bird species killed are considered fit for eating.  (Pukeko pie, anyone?) Every year we see stories about large numbers of dead ducks, swans and geese being dumped on the roadside after hunters realised that they had shot more than they could fit in their freezer.

Sadly the danger doesn’t even end when the shooting season finishes.

Some birds, including protected native water birds, can be slowly poisoned to death after ingesting lead shot left behind. The Government banned the use of some lead shot in 2005 but foolishly allowed it to be used in lighter shotguns. SAFE is calling for the Government to protect our birds and ban ALL use of lead shot. It is the very LEAST they can do. You can help by urging the Government to ban ALL lead shot.

When you look at the duck-shooting facts, there really isn’t much to celebrate.

Yes, nature’s supermarket IS plentiful. But how about leaving the wildlife alone and picking apples instead?

Laura Gentle

National Volunteer Coordinator

This Earth Day, Reap What You Sow – And No, I’m Not Talking About Tree Planting

Call me sentimental, but one of my favourite things to do on Earth Day is to gather my favourite people and treat them to a home cooked, candlelit dinner. My hope for each year’s meal is that we slow down and enjoy some beautiful food, company and conversation about how we can ensure our inspiring planet is around to nurture us for generations to come.tree-trunk-569275_1920

The 22nd of April will mark the 46th official Earth Day. While the call for this year is to plant 7.8 billion trees for the Earth, to divest from fossil fuels and to make cities 100% renewable, there’s something much simpler we all can do to honour the planet.

Each year I plan a menu that intentionally treads lightly on our world and is kind to the other species that call it home. And, I’m not the only one who thinks that the way we eat can have profound planetary consequences.

Just last month a striking new study calculated the reduction in planetary greenhouse gases (and the health benefits for individuals) that are within our grasp if we shift away from our meat-centric diets. Eating more plant-based foods on a global scale could cut out 29 to 70 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions linked to food by 2050 – plus, it could save millions of (human) lives and billions of dollars each year. Not to mention reducing the immense suffering and death of billions of animals.

The study did not account for the beneficial impacts of dietary change on avoided deforestation, meaning that the reductions in greenhouse gases and the overall positive environmental impact of changing our diets could be even higher.new-zealand-647090_1920

While the findings of this recent Oxford study quantify the potential benefits, we’ve known for a long-time that animal agriculture casts a long shadow on our planet’s wellbeing. Political, industrial and cultural barriers to adopting a diet that cuts out animal products persist; but this Earth Day, I challenge you to take what might seem a massive leap by making different choices, one meal at a time.

It’s not about giving up on what you love to eat; rather it’s about inviting love to motivate the choices you make. Perhaps you’ll draw motivation from an aspiration to be healthier (plant-based diets have been shown to cut your risk, and even reverse the effects, of chronic conditions like heart disease, stroke and cancer); or from a desire to be kinder to animals, or maybe the beauty of this planet will inspire you to safeguard it so generations to come can experience its riches.vegetable-1167363_1920

Whatever your motivation, if you do take this leap you may find that you look back (as many of us have) and see that it wasn’t quite the chasm you expected.

If you’re curious and ready to explore, start your own Earth Day tradition with friends and family. Put thought and purpose behind what you put on the table (and I’m not talking about candlelight). There are heaps of delicious animal-friendly recipes to tempt you on the SAFE website.

Ready to do more? There’s also 30 days of support and advice available if you sign up for SAFE’s Go Veg Challenge. It’s not only the best way to help animals, it’s the single greatest thing you can do for our planet, too.  Check out our Go Veg site for more information.

Jennifer Riley
Campaign Coordinator (Go Veg)

My visit to a cage hen farm

SAFE Guest Blog

Megan Ebersberger is an independent and passionate animal advocate. Megan visited the colony cage egg farm that was recently subject to an investigation

I am an animal rights activist in a country whose national identity is strongly based in farming and animal agriculture. New Zealanders have a unique albeit contradictory cultural relationship with other animals. That relationship must be carefully considered when navigating the treacherous waters of animal rights activism. Much has been done to try to discredit the animal rights movement here in NZ. People seem to not like when activists and vegans address the fundamental cruelties of animal industries or when they address the excessive cruelties as in the most recent undercover investigations of hen neglect at Heyden Farms, a commercial cage-egg farm in the Waikato.colony-8

A few weeks ago, I embarked on a freelance activism project with my friend, Lynley Tulloch, in an attempt to better understand New Zealand’s egg industry. Unaware of a recent investigation, I contacted Paul van der Heyden, co-owner with Sir Henry van der Heyden, of Heyden Farms. We spent the afternoon discussing the ins and outs of the egg industry and had a tour of their new colony cage shed and egg packaging facility.

Heyden Farms has 300,000 hens with 40,000 free-range hens on two different properties. 260,000 hens live in their conventional and new colony cages. The industry is replacing the old cages with yet another cage, and investing millions of dollars in the large-scale farms.  It’s a massive and expensive undertaking and will put many of the smaller farms out of business. To be profitable, an egg farm must have a high volume of hens. Economics of scale. Housing hens in cages is cheaper and requires significantly less land than free-ranging them, which is part of the reason the industry is reluctant to ditch cages. Colony cages are applauded as the more humane cage, fitted with ‘enrichments’ and larger in size. But are they really an improvement? We didn’t think so.

Heartbroken

When we walked into the colony shed and saw the birds, my heart broke. While the farmers excitedly showed us all the different components of the cage and conveyor belt that transported the eggs to their egg packaging facility, I was locked onto the hens. Many of them were open-mouth breathing, which is a sign of stress. It was pure chaos in those cages. They barely had room to move. All had some degree of feather loss. All had had their beaks clipped, which the farmer said is done at the hatchery, where the male chicks are ground up alive, as well.

The cages were stacked five tall and it was sad to look up and see hens staring down at us. Everywhere we turned, we were surrounded by masses of hens. They looked miserable. Their ‘enrichments’ were hard plastics – orange plastic flaps for the nest box and a plastic scratch pad. The perch was too low to be considered natural. Some driven insane by confinement, they displayed stereotypic behaviours like pecking each other repetitively.

Sadly, we left the farm with a heavy heart. This is legal.

Investigation

It was pure coincidence that the farm I contacted for my project was the same farm that was investigated. There was a reason why Paul wouldn’t let us into any of the other sheds. He had said that twice-daily walks were conducted to free stuck hens and remove dead birds. If numerous birds were able to decompose so badly as shown in the footage, it does not seem that there is any doubt colony-1.jpgthat the farmer and his employees were not doing a good job. Even without knowledge of this investigation, I thought colony sheds were cruel. Even with best practice, those sheds are cruel. Colony sheds are horrific places. They are truly hell on earth. Is this how we treat our fellow creatures? Locked away in a dimly lit shed so they can lay eggs every day?

Mr van der Heyden said he loved his animals and loved their products. I am sure he does love their product. But as far as him loving the hens that lay those products? I truly don’t believe love is the appropriate word for hens that are kept in cages and denied everything that is important to them. The only time they are let out is when they’re 18 months old and their laying season is over – then they are lovingly sent to slaughter to have their throats slit and feathers boiled off.

While practices like these are legal, they will continue to exist. And of course, even on free-range farms the male chicks will still be killed for having no monetary value. Hens suffer on all levels of the industrial egg industry and I believe it is unethical to continue farming them. Please ditch eggs.

If you’re ready to help hens, I recommend checking out SAFE’s 30-Day Go Veg Challenge.

I also support SAFE’s campaign asking Countdown to stop stocking all cage eggs. It’s so important that hens are not allowed to suffer this way for profit. You can help.

Megan Ebersberger