This article originally appeared on Alternet.
This is a remarkable time for animals. We have a U.S. president who cares little about protecting animals and, yet, an American public with a tremendous potential for positive change.
The United States has ranked as the second-worst country for animal cruelty, according to the new Voiceless Animal Cruelty Index (VACI), which evaluates and ranks 50 countries based on the welfare of farmed animals. It is placed 49th out of 50 countries and labeled "extremely poor." These 50 countries account for 80 percent of the world's farmed animal population.
Several years ago, the U.S. was ranked 31st out of 50 by another index, the API, created by World Animal Protection. The massive drop in ranking is accounted for by the different focus: Rather than looking at the quality of animal welfare legislation, VACI measures cruelty to farmed animals.
VACI calculates an algorithm based on how countries perform in three categories: producing cruelty, consuming cruelty and sanctioning cruelty. These categories analyze data on the number of animals slaughtered for food, consumption patterns and regulatory frameworks.
The U.S. performed terribly in the first two categories which primarily measure the effects of diet. The average American is responsible for the slaughter of 28 land animals every year (e.g. cows, chickens, pigs, turkeys), almost triple the global average. This amounts to eating about 2.3 ounces (64.7 grams) of animal protein (meat, eggs, dairy) per day compared with a global average of 1 ounce (26.7 grams).
If you're thinking this sounds like too much, it is. The American diet is made up of 61.1 percent of land-based animal protein, making it the sixth highest percentage of such protein intake in the world.
The treatment of farmed animals is an important ethical consideration for every citizen. Each day, by their dietary choices, Americans choose to be complicit in the shameful treatment of billions of animals raised for food, with 99 percent of them coming from factory farms. These 8.5 billion meat chickens, 300 million hens, 100 million pigs and many more are emotionally complex, intelligent beings.
Yet most will never see the sun, feel the earth under their feet, nurture their young, build a nest, forage for food or socialize as nature intended. Instead, these animals are permanently confined in cages or packed together in such large numbers that they struggle to find space to move or reach their food.
On factory farms, baby animals are usually mutilated in sensitive areas without pain relief. The tails, teeth and genitalia of piglets and the beaks of chicks are clipped, as well as the horns, tails, and testicles of calves. This is done because it is practical, cheap, and most alarmingly, lawful to do so.
"I find that so many of the sows I meet at pig farms are curious, and cautiously friendly, despite the confines they live in and the treatment and deprivations that they endure. Italy, 2015." - Jo-Anne McArthur, a photojournalist, author and educator who has been documenting the plight of animals on all seven continents for over a decade. (image: Jo-Anne McArthur)
A sow at a large pig farm. Italy, 2015. (image: Jo-Anne McArthur)
But the good news is that to bring the U.S. ranking higher, and more importantly, to protect more animals from the worst cruelties, we don't need to rely on government to do the job. If we had to depend on the ethical integrity of the Trump administration, we would likely fail.
Animal protection is one of the fastest growing social justice movements of our time. We are seeing increasing media coverage of cruelty issues, documentary films sweeping cinemas, a huge growth in plant-based food technology and products, and massive public concern. According to a 2017 poll, 54 percent of American adults say they are "currently trying to consume fewer animal-based foods (meat, dairy, and/or eggs) and more plant-based foods (fruits, grains, beans, and/or vegetables)."
And another recent report finds that Americans are switching to a vegan diet in record numbers with six percent of the population identifying as vegan—a 600 percent increase from 2014.
Why has the movement, which began in the 1970s, suddenly taken off? For a couple of reasons. The veil of secrecy surrounding animal industries is being lifted by the strategic work of animal advocates and growing NGOs around the world. And the democratization of the media—and the access platforms like YouTube provide—enables the public to bypass the powerful PR machines of animal industries to see undercover footage. The public can finally witness for themselves what goes on behind locked doors.
Every time we raise our fork, we are making a decision. Our purchase power affects the number of animal products a company will buy resulting in an increase or decrease in animals slaughtered, raised and bred. The line is direct and it is open for business.
And not only that, consumers influence major food companies that are the VIP customers of the worst animal offenders. Due to the growing customer demand, Taco Bell, McDonalds, Starbucks and others have all introduced plant-based alternatives to meat and dairy.
Each person who adopts a plant-based vegan lifestyle by eliminating animal products or even reducing them in incremental steps like becoming a "reducetarian" can make a huge difference.
Each and every one of us has the power to control the amount of animal suffering. Let's bring the U.S. to number one in best practice, and make it truly great again as an example of animal protection for the world.