The Harmful Effects of Eating Animals


A herd of cows standing in a line

Sarah Ruano, Opinion Editor

Do you recall the last time you were lied to and how it affected you? Now, imagine being lied to for your entire life, where that lie not only affected you, but it also affected the lives of others. We, as a society, have all been lied to, but by who you might be wondering?

The animal agriculture industry has been putting labels on animal products with phrases like “Grass Fed,” “Cage Free,” “Humanely Slaughtered,” etc. With that in mind, do you know that you’re harming animals every day? How, you might ask.

Although you might not make the connection right away, the simple answer is in what you eat, wear, and buy on a daily basis. 

A pig on a farm

You probably love animals, or at the very least, you are against animal cruelty. But on the other hand, you pay people to torture, mutilate, and kill animals. These lies that I mentioned earlier- they have been perpetrated by a billion-dollar industry to convince you, the consumer, that the things you are buying are benefiting you.

I’m guessing that you think you need meat for protein? That you need to drink cow’s milk for calcium? That eating eggs is ethical? Wearing the skin of another being is a fashion statement? Buying products tested on animals is okay because it is intended for human consumption? That those animals are treated “humanely” before being killed and wrapped in cellophane?

Trust me, I once believed that all these things were once okay too. I want to ask you about the decision you make three times a day, the clothes you wear, and the products you buy- is it really worth it? We in America are the number one consumers of animal products in the world, and by default, cause the most harm to animals. The decisions we make not only harm ourselves, but it causes harm to animals, the environment, and will cause harm to future generations.

We as a society need to change the way we treat animals. Animals are not property, they are not machines, not objects either, and certainly not food. Animals aren’t here for us, they are here with us. So why do we continue to use them as if they are property, machines, objects, and food? 

A young calf in a pen

I find it very striking that in the society we live in, we have this moral hypocrisy, where we view some animals differently compared to other animals. Why is it that so many of us get furious and upset at the notion of a dog or cat being hurt and killed? Why is it that society laughs at people who get upset at the thought of a cow, pig, or chicken being killed? Why is that?

All in all, these animals are alive, they have the capacity to feel, to think, to see, and to receive and give love. So what gives us the right to harm these innocent beings who have done nothing wrong? What gives us the right to point the finger at who gets to live or die for “us?” What gives us the right to subject these animals to a life filled with agony, suffering, exploitation, and ultimately a painful death?

Lambs in a field of grass

I’ve been doing vegan activism for a long time now, and I’ve always noticed these excuses that people who consume animal products have to justify the harm they cause. One of them being that we are “natural meat-eaters.”

I find this argument the most humorous, because from birth, natural meat-eaters (like lions, tigers, hyenas), have their mothers teach them how to hunt for food. Have you ever heard of parents teaching their babies how to hunt and kill right from birth? Natural meat eaters also have their own biological weapons. We as humans, don’t have big claws to rip apart flesh, super speed to hunt down prey, or powerful jaws to rip apart a carcass. Natural meat eaters don’t get to pick and choose which body parts they get to eat, they also don’t cook their food, and don’t get put off their food when killing an animal.

A chicken roaming around

I want you to think of this scenario: a baby is in a crib with a bunny rabbit and an apple. Now, what do you think the baby is going to eat and what do you think the baby is going to play with? Why would it be so wrong for that child to kill the bunny rabbit and eat it and play with the apple? Why do we as a society discourage harming others from such a young age?

I believe it’s because it goes against the inherent compassion we all have as human beings. We, as humans, have something called the moral agency, where we have the capacity to make decisions based on what is right or wrong.

Animals in the wild don’t have moral agency; therefore, they shouldn’t be held accountable for their actions. So why is it that we take one thing that an animal does (eating animals), and base it as a proper justification for what we are doing to animals?

Wild animals kill out of necessity because they are obligate carnivores, they need to kill to survive. Humans, on the other hand, (especially those living in a first world country) don’t have to kill to survive. 

A chicken and a calf on a farm

Another argument that I hear quite commonly is the fact that we need to consume animal products because “it’s a part of the food chain.” I do agree with this argument a little bit because the purpose of a food chain is to maintain balance in an ecosystem. Ecosystems are crucial to how our world works- the Amazon Rainforest, the deserts, and even the big cities we live in.

What we now do is selectively breed these animals into existence, take their babies away, mutilate them, torture them, and we exploit them for what isn’t ours–their milk, eggs, skin, and fur. We then take them to a slaughterhouse where we hang them upside down and slit their throat. This has nothing to do with a food chain or an ecosystem. In fact, it’s destroying our ecosystems at a much faster rate than it has ever been before because of the rise in meat consumption in the past 100 years.

A field of cows grazing

Another argument I hear against veganism is that “it’s a part of our culture.” So does that mean culture dictates our morality? After all, not too long ago it was a part of American culture to see people of color as less than human, to deny women their rights, and to treat children poorly, right?

One of the most common excuses I hear is “I love the taste of meat too much.” I did too, but I want you to think about it this way: is the taste of flesh more important than the life of an animal, my health, and the environment?

From the way I’ve interpreted it, the answer is no. A meal with animal products may cost you a mere 15 minutes, but it will cost that animal its entire life. Speaking of animal life, have you ever wondered what it’s like to live as a cow, pig, chicken, or any other animal we abuse and exploit? 

The head of an animal

Living as a farm animal is hellish, and I would even go as far as to say that I wouldn’t wish it upon my worst enemy. The life of a cow ends at about the age of 18 months when the baby calf is taken away from its mother, is then mutilated, has his horns cut off with a hot knife without any anesthetic, and is then put into a small space with hundreds of other cows who went through the exact same things they did.

The life of a chicken ends at a mere 40-50 days, when they are taken away from their mother, and then live out their lives in small metal crates or warehouses with no ventilation, have their beaks cut off with a hot knife (also without anesthetic), and get to spend the rest of their lives in total darkness.

The life of a pig ends at the age of 4 months old, where they are taken away from their mother, mutilated (without anesthetic), and are put into hot warehouses where they have little space to move, and get to live their lives in total darkness.

Wild-caught fish have their lives taken away from them when they are caught in big nets, piled upon each other (that’s tons of weight), where they die from either being crushed or by a water pressure change when being dragged up from their home. 

A cow being contained with barred wire

Now you might be thinking, isn’t being a vegetarian enough? And to that, I say no. Dairy cows, egg-laying hens, and animals used for testing and skin (in my opinion) have the worst lives imaginable. Being a dairy cow is nightmarish- a dairy cow will be forcibly impregnated about 8 times in her life, and every single time, will have her baby stolen from her and will then be dragged to a milking machine for the milk that she produced for her baby. What do you think happens to the male calves when they are born? They can’t produce milk, so are considered a waste product to the dairy industry, and are killed right after birth. Can you guess what happens to the dairy cow once they don’t produce milk anymore? They get sent to the slaughterhouse to be turned into the cheapest meat on the market- fast-food burger meat.

Egg-laying hens have their beaks cut off and are stuffed into metal cages where they will spend the rest of their lives at. Can you imagine what happens to the baby chicks who are born male? Just like in the dairy industry, they are considered a waste product, so they are killed right after hatching. Animals who are tested include rats, dogs, cats, bunnies, and monkeys.

It always baffles me that we perform tests on monkeys–you know, the animal with whom we share 99% of our DNA and who is so closely related to us. Another thing that baffles me is that we think it’s okay to wear the skin of another animal? Wearing the skin of a being that was once alive…this has always been confusing to me. The fact that we view these animals as food, clothing, and test subjects just illustrates how desensitized we as a society have become. 

A farmer wrapping rope around a young calf alongside a cow

I want you to imagine a world where from birth, we are taught that the life of a chicken is just as important as the life of a dog. A world where we are taught that the life of a fish is just as important as the life of a cat. How could that child grow up and cause harm against another human being?

We as individuals have the choice to be for or against animal exploitation. Make no mistake, every single living being that’s alive on this planet is negatively affected by our choice to consume animal products. I ask you this: Are our taste buds worth more than the life of an animal? Is it worth more than our own existence, more than the life of our planet- our only home? What future do we want for our children, grandchildren, and our great-grandchildren?

The United States has stated that to avoid the detrimental effects of climate change, the world needs to shift to a plant-based diet. It’s such a simple change, to switch from an omnivorous diet to a vegan one. I switched overnight and have never looked back since.

With the information that we have so readily available (phones, computers, books, etc.) about animal exploitation and veganism, why is it that people don’t know what they’re doing is wrong? The fact that we have the information out there means that we have a moral imperative to change. Can you still look away and pretend that your actions are not causing harm to others? You can, but it’s not going to change the fact that you are causing detrimental harm to others–no matter how small the choice you make when buying and consuming animal products.

We are living in a time when it’s so easy to stop contributing to animal abuse. We are living in a time that if we don’t act now, we will be the reason why our planet will die. So what are you going to do?

A herd of cows