The scientific recognition that meat eating is dangerous to human health is the link between two ground-breaking books published forty years apart; Animal Machines by Ruth Harrison (1964) and The China Study by Colin Campbell (2006). A new second edition of Animal Machines was launched recently at Oxford University on the occasion of a Zoology Department conference to celebrate two remarkable scientist-pioneer women and their books; Rachel Carson and her environmental classic Silent Spring (1962), about the ecological risks of the indiscriminate use of chemicals in agriculture, and Ruth Harrison’s Animal Machines, an exposé of factory farming.
Ruth Harrison (1920-2000), a Quaker and lifetime vegetarian, had felt a moral responsibility to help factory-farmed animals. A vital insight that developed from her work was the importance of a fully integrated approach to ‘animal welfare’ in which concerns such as environmental impact and human health are taken alongside each other. She observed that the incidences of degenerative diseases were rising at an alarming rate and recognised that human health and well-being were directly related to animal health and well-being. Her remarkable book is composed of facts, photographs and reporting on what she witnessed on visits to factory farms in England in the 60s. Comparisons are included with factory farms in America and Europe.
In her book Ruth pointed out the inconsistency of how one person being unkind to one animal is considered a cruelty but where a lot of people are unkind to a lot of animals, especially in the name of commerce, the cruelty is condoned and, once large sums of money are at stake, will be defended - by wilful hypocrisy and justification - to the last by otherwise intelligent people. She clearly saw moral cause and effect:
“…the degeneration of the animal in the appalling ways it is now made to eke out its existence must have an impact on human self-respect, and ultimately on man’s treatment of man ─‘In as much as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren ye have done it unto Me.’” (Matthew 25:40) ─Ruth Harrison, ANIMAL MACHINES, p40
She further explained how some may find it easy to lull their consciences when only animals are concerned, but that the issues under discussion extend beyond conscience and impinge in the most practical manner on the physical well-being of the human race in so far as the food provided by these means is not only inferior but dangerous!
The conclusion Ruth formed was that “meat eating has become a hazard” as a direct result of factory-farming methods and their dependence on abnormal environments, unnatural feeding, genetic modification, antibiotics, hormones, tranquillizers and drugs.
“The sad thing is that the further people get absorbed with large commercial combines [the Beef, Poultry, Dairy industries, the Chemical industry, Pharmaceutical industry, Vivisection industry, University industry…] and turn their minds purely to efficiency and material progress, the more they sink their consciences or salve their woolly thinking.” –Ruth Harrison, ANIMAL MACHINES, p36
The second edition includes a description of the reaction to Ruth’s book. It was serialized in a major British newspaper and caused an immediate expression of shock and outrage from the public who realised that they were supporting institutionalised cruelty through their grocery purchases and poisoning themselves with unsafe food at the same time. In response to the furore, the government had set up the Bramble Committee to investigate “the welfare of animals kept under intensive livestock husbandry systems”. The creation and funding of animal welfare research in the UK resulted from the influence of this report and Ruth’s book.
The far-reaching discoveries of The China Study strikingly contribute to Ruth’s conclusions of over forty years ago. In his book Colin Campbell (who regretfully acknowledges that his initial research used animals) presents the results from a study of the relationship between diet and disease done jointly by Cornell University, Oxford University and the Chinese Academy of Preventive Medicine. It spanned over twenty years of research. Simply put, the study’s startling conclusion is that an ‘animal protein’ diet is the main cause of the ‘diseases of affluence’ i.e. cancer, heart disease, diabetes, obesity, Alzheimer’s and auto-immune diseases. The study also reports that a ‘plant-based whole food diet’ maintains good health and can facilitate healing of disease.
Similarly, Ruth had concluded that ‘most sickness could be prevented by the right feeding of the people.’ The realisation that the best welfare for animals might come about while promoting the best welfare for humans through a plant-based diet, effectively making factory farms obsolete, would undoubtedly have fulfilled Ruth’s humanitarian vision for the real well-being of animals and humans.
Ruth felt that information about food needs to be available to consumers to give the option of choice. Implementing this with the scientific evidence that ‘animal protein’ can cause disease in humans; meat, chicken, eggs, dairy products and fish would carry a government health warning (as on cigarette packets).
The intensive rearing of animals is said to be aimed at increasing the animal protein content of our food (now scientifically exposed as an unhealthy aim) and meeting the requirements of an ever-increasing population. Animal Machines reports the fact that five to ten times as much vegetable protein can be produced per acre as animal protein. Rachel Carson wrote fifty years ago about the hazardous effects of pesticides in the food chain and shares with Ruth Harrison, Colin Campbell and all genuine scientists a profound ethical awareness of the interconnectedness of life - which must be taken into account to avoid global catastrophes.
All this underscores the truth that the highest science is Ethics because it is to do with survival of all Life and not merely data or knowledge. Changing to an ethical way of life is not only a change in diet. It is an enlightened decision undertaken for moral reasons –to end suffering and the exploitation of other species (and end the Dark Age of human degeneracy in the form of animal-research laboratories and factory farming).
How far have we got to where?
Linden Brough is a co-founder of Universal Octopus a small independent publisher specialising in books by English poet-philosopher Brian Taylor, based in Cornwall, UK.
Animal Machines: The New Factory Farming Industry, Ruth Harrison, CABI, 2013 ISBN: 9781780642840
The China Study, Colin Campbell, BenBella Books, 2006 ISBN: 9781932100662