Lesley Fox: If you care about world hunger, don't give a cow

By Lesley Fox

The pictures tug at your heartstrings: small children cuddling baby farm animals. The charities behind the photos are appealing to you to send a holiday “gift” of live chickens, goats, and cows to impoverished areas all over the world. Sounds wonderful, but is it?

Could these animal-donation programs actually worsen global hunger? What impact will they have on global warming? And furthermore, if disadvantaged families are struggling to take care of themselves, how will they have the resources to care for the animals? It’s a lot to think about.

A 2006 report by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations summarized the devastation caused by the meat industry by calling it “one of the top two or three most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global”. Livestock’s Long Shadow recommended that animal agriculture “be a major policy focus when dealing with problems of land degradation, climate change and air pollution, water shortage and water pollution and loss of biodiversity”.

In India, cows can cost between 120 and 150 rupees a day in feed. And to funnel grain and water through the animals produces much less nourishment than if the farmers just ate the grain and drank the water directly. (Fact: It takes up to 16 pounds of grain to produce just one pound of meat.)

Many “gift” animals are shipped to countries where there are few, if any, animal-welfare laws (let alone legislation for human rights). Animals can be left to suffer from horrible neglect, lack of veterinary care, inadequate shelter, or dehydration. The slaughter process can also be inhumane.

What can you do? Consider supporting world-hunger charities that do not use animals, such as Trees for Life, Food for Life, and the Women’s Bean Project.

With Trees for Life, you can send fruit trees, which provide ongoing nourishment, a source of sustainability, and potential income for needy families. You can also send educational materials to disadvantaged school children.

You can send a plant-based meal with Food for Life. It’s the world’s largest vegetarian and vegan food-relief organization, with programs in over 50 countries.

The Women’s Bean Project teaches job readiness and life skills for entry-level jobs through employment in its food-production business.

With such charities, you can give a heartfelt gift to a loved one and help people around the world improve their own lives.

Lesley Fox is a volunteer with Liberation B.C. and the creator of Frogs Are Cool.




Dec 4, 2009 at 9:39am

I'd like to see some analysis of the effects of the dairy industry in our society. There are huge numbers of milk cows in this country, and the producers have enough money to keep an advert campaign going for decades.
Much attention is paid to the intake of refined carbs, and the relation to people that are overweight, but most of those products also contain a large array of dairy by-products.
We don't need to consume calcium in the levels that milk has, and it isn't even assimilatable.


Dec 4, 2009 at 8:14pm

It does sound initially like a good idea, especially with cute pictures of a child hugging a chicken. I don't think the average person would stop to think that it wasn't the perfect gift. Thanks for posting the alternative charities. I love the fruit tree idea.

common tater

Dec 5, 2009 at 9:15pm

This rings like someone from the privileged side of the world pushing their ideals on beggars when they can't afford to be choosers. Most of this charitable arrangements involve chickens and especially goats not so much cows. Chickens and especially goats will eat whatever is around. And so are great solutions to the problem of a starving family, as they provide goat milk and chicken eggs while they are being reared for butchering. Keeping livestock was a boon to our species as we brought ourselves out of the wilderness and into civilization especially the goats and sheep of Mesopotamia.
I completely agree with cutting back the amount of meat eaten in the developed societies it's way too much, it's unhealthy for us and the environment at levels we eat it and commonly in the industrialized manner in which they are reared.
I think the alternatives mentioned are wise as well but not all climates allow for fruit and vegetable production year round; in the lean times of the year the advent of keeping livestock helped stave of famine in our ancestors and it is no less helpful a way of survival today.
Ideally we all cut out meat and everyone puts enough food on their plate everywhere in a sustainable manner. We are not there and we can't ask others to go there while they are starving. The first priority is staving off the hunger with the best methods available; then educate their children on the sustainable thing (once we the developed ones demonstrate we have that figured out). We simply will not solve environmental crisis es while large amounts of people are desperately trying to survive.
Unless we seriously reduce poverty the crisis es facing the environment will be unfix able due to the nature of humans supreme ability to exploit what we need when faced with life or starvation.


Dec 6, 2009 at 4:41pm

Another organization that does great work in the developing world is UNICEF. They have similar programs where one can donate virtual gifts, only they offer vaccinations, mosquito netting, water pumps and purification, and education. They do all of their work without supplying animals to people.


Dec 8, 2009 at 10:07pm

I would like to second Glenn's recommendation of UNICEF. Food for Life and Trees for Life are also both fantastic and don't require us to mistreat animals or screw over the poor--I don't know anything about the Bean Project but am off to look it up!


Dec 9, 2009 at 3:56pm

I highly recommend Food for Life. Their food is really wholesome, healthy and very delicious! They are doing amazing work all over the world.


Dec 10, 2009 at 11:18am

I have been a supporter of Heffer Intl for years. They do provide livestock, but the animals are not slaughtered, but rather are used for milk. Any information on how much grain/grass it takes to produce a gallon of milk? I'm only basing my opinion on their website, but it seems that a high protein/high fat food like raw milk would be an enormous health benefit to the people who care for the cows, and with the additional income from selling the milk, they are able to break the cycle of poverty. I personally don't consume animal protein, but I also live in an affluent country where vegan options are delivered to my house without any effort.


Dec 10, 2009 at 8:01pm

It doesn't make any sense to make poor people feed and care for animals when they can hardly feed or care for their families. It just makes the situation worse. UNICEF and Food for Life are much better organizations. I'm writing my cheque now!

Ashley Seay

Dec 11, 2009 at 7:02pm

Hey all,
I have to admit I'm very disappointed in this article. I might sound and be a little biased on this subject, due to the fact I have just spent a year volunteering at Heifer International's learning center. There are many points in this article that are just plain wrong! Where to start?

First of all Heifer is a DEVELOPMENT organization, meaning it works with people who have their basic needs met and are desiring to grow and looking for opportunities to do so. They believe strongly in and fully support relief agencies, but they aren't one. Therefore the people they are partnering with are not starving, Heifer would never ask someone to take food from their mouths in order to feed their animals, thats not sustainable, which is one of their 12 cornerstones (something I could expound upon but will refrain from doing so.)

Second Heifer's mission is 'to work with communities to end hunger and poverty AND care for the earth' and they are doing really great things that fit into both categories!
1. They do not ship animals anywhere. They used to and realized it was unsustainable and started buying animals in country for many reasons, one being the protection of biological diversity.
2. A single cow, for example, is not just dropped of with a recipe for bbq ribs! Heifer works with a community for sometimes over a year before one hoof steps into the village. This time is heavily spent in education, community building and preparation. One part of this education is learning all you can get from one animal, known as the 7 m's (MILK, MUSCLE, MATERIALS, MONEY, MOTIVATION, MANURE AND THEN MEAT)

3. As for the global warming issue this is something Heifer is also concerned with and working hard to come up with solutions! For one heifer doesn't just give animals, they also work on re-forestation projects, giving tree saplings to improve soil and stop erosion. They also teach green manure practices (which is where you sow plants that fix nitrogen and sequester carbon...pretty cool i think). Also as for those megga methane producing animals, Heifer helps people by teaching about and installing appropriate technologies such as bio-gas units (which are also very cool, look it up!) which capture the methane released from the manure and is then used as a cooking gas! It only stinks for a second, but it reduces or eliminates a community's need to cut down trees and it harnesses a resource they have...POOP!

I could say so much more! I have had the opportunity to meet and speak with many project participants from all over the world whose lives have been enriched through the blossoming of their community, the improved nutrition of their family and their expanding opportunities due to the generosity of a stranger! I urge everyone DO YOUR HOMEWORK!!! No person or organization is perfect but they sure are trying and doing wonderful things!
I also have to say that I myself was very cynical about Heifer International when I decided to commit a year of my life to volunteer with them, and thought that the more I learned and the closer I got to the top people the more I would be disappointed (as this was a trend I had experienced with other organizations). But my experience, obviously was the opposite! I have to say I don't like their website very much, i find it hard to navigate but give them a call, better yet go on a study tour and see the projects yourself!

below is an article that made me laugh because it seems it could have been a rebuttal to this one:
but in the end don't just listen to me or the above article and PLEASE dont listen to Lesley Fox! Think about it and make up your own mind!

Scott Geiger

Dec 13, 2009 at 8:26am

I highly recommend everyone to read this article from CARE:

The shortened url takes you to CARE's website: