The numbers in this video are shocking. We are great at counting calories, measuring profits, quantifying just about anything. But when it comes to knowing our impact on other beings, we fall short. How many animals do we eat every year?
You hear a lot of numbers thrown around in the vegan and animal rights communities. The severity of cruelty in this world is astounding and it boggles the mind to try and grasp it in its entirety. Today I want to tell you what happened when I attempted, in some sense, to quantify the suffering we humans inflict.
This is going to be a bit of a different video and post than I usually put out. I was planning on releasing a statistical masterpiece today on exactly how many animals we kill globally every year, pulling data from a multitude of sources and attempting to crunch the numbers for some ultimate view of our impact on other species. But about an hour before I needed to be filming, I found that the numbers I had been using as my base figures weren’t correct.
While this post will still contain statistical data, it will not be as overly comprehensive as I had initially hoped and will contain a whole lot more passion and emotion as I’m going to share the experience of searching out these figures. All the data I mention will be linked to specific sources throughout the post along with some additional information at the bottom.
Now why do this at all? What can counting these animals possibly accomplish? For that, I’ll defer to Harish Sethu, the incredible mind behind the blog Counting Animals who states:
Well-sourced quantitative information has a role to play in building convincing arguments, producing dependable literature, choosing effective forms of activism and promoting a credible image of the movement in the public sphere.1— Harish Sethu, Counting Animals
It’s important to realize the true extent of our impact on animals and be able to share reliable data when educating. Believe it or not, statistics can change minds. And I agree with Harish that using false or unsubstantiated data, no matter how emotionally compelling, does a disservice to the vegan and animal rights cause. Things are horrific enough. We don’t have to exaggerate or falsify data. And the utter lack of it can be compelling in and of itself, which is what this video ended up being about in the end.
I spent over 48 solid hours combing the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization’s statistical site2 before looking elsewhere for all of the beings for whom they do not account. Those excluded from the FAO’s count include:
- all marine life—whether by direct slaughter, as bycatch, or wild fish who are killed to feed the farmed fish we actually eat
- all of the beings who literally suffer to death before slaughter—which, you maybe surprised to learn, severely dwarfs the number of those killed for
- the beings in the dairy and egg industries, whose bodies give out and are made into pet food
- the male chicks who are ground up alive or gassed
- the mothers of the chickens we eat
- the veal calves of the dairy industry, taken from their mothers at birth and slaughtered.
- the beings killed for their skins and fur via anal and genital electrocution
- the beings killed in ritualistic slaughter or sacrifice, like the estimated 20,000 goats slaughtered every year at the Dhading temple in Nepal,3 or the estimated 250,000 animals sacrificed at the Nepalese Gadhami festival in 20094
- the beings who die in laboratories, animal shelters, in rodeos, circuses, zoos, racing, marine parks, blood sports, and other forms of animal entertainment, or killed in car accidents, or from pollution or displacement or hunting or abandonment
I dug through the makings of the kill counter5 most of us are familiar with, finding it quickly to be a dead end back to the United Nations FAO. So I figured they must have been using the only statistics on the FAO database that displayed head counts—meaning actual numbers of animals—and used this as my base.6
However, I found much later from Harish that the head count figures are just the number of animals at a given moment. It’s an “inventory” number. To find the number slaughtered, you have to look into a category called “livestock primary”7 in which all data is given by weight.
So, to find the actual number of individuals killed, you’d have to know the average weight of meat that could be sourced from each animal. Of course, there is the additional challenge of the average weight varying widely from country to country. While the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) provides statistics for individual animals,8 we’re left guessing at a global number.
I then looked into all of the exceptions not covered by the FAO—which I listed earlier—all with the end goal of producing a number we’ve never seen before.
But I don’t have that for you. And no one does. Even the kill counter is a guess at best, derived from estimates of estimates of estimates.
We don’t know how many animals we kill every year. And even more so we don’t know how many really die from suffering, from abject misery or even heartbreak. We don’t know the harm we cause.
I did my best to find what data I could for all of these beings in the time I had, but unfortunately, we as a society do not value their lives enough to even note their passing. They are worth less than a mark on a paper. But you’re damn sure that their profit margin was carefully and painstakingly charted.
To help put this complete disregard in perspective, let’s look to the cost of war on our world. We mourn the lives of our soldier and the innocent victims of war. We memorialize them, erect monuments, have remembrance days. And I’m not here to criticize that or tell you a chicken is more important than your family member who died in the war. I’m here to speak for those without mourning family, those with no memorials, no remembrance days, not even magnetic ribbons for your minivan. I’m here to remember them.
Before we look at the numbers, let’s take a moment to wrap our heads around the concept of what these figures mean.9 I’ll be using the United States understandings of these terms, which is increasingly being used worldwide.10 It’s easy to think that one million is more than one thousand and one billion is more than one million and so on. But exactly how much more are these numbers? Our conceptual intuition tends to wane when we get this large, as one has to factor in the exponential nature to fully understand and grasp the enormity inherent in these figures.
A method commonly employed to make such massive figures meaningful is to state them in terms of the passage of time:11
- A million seconds is about 12 days
So a billion seconds would be what? 24 days, maybe? Or 48? In reality:
- A billion seconds is 31.7 years
So then, what is a trillion seconds? Have a guess?
- A trillion seconds is 31,709.8 years
To put it in relational terms:
- One million is a thousand thousands
- One billion is a thousand millions
- One trillion is a thousand billions (or a million millions).
Now that we have a more concrete conception of what these terms mean, let’s dive into the numbers.
It’s estimated that 108 million people were killed in wars throughout the 20th century, with estimates for all of human history coming around 150 million to 1 billion.12 In 2013, the United Stated slaughtered 8.6 billion chickens.13 Meaning, even if using the higher estimation of human deaths due to war:
Worldwide, it’s estimated that 50 billion chicken are slaughtered every year.14
Approximately 11 million people died in Hitler’s holocaust. In 2013, the United States alone slaughtered over 112 million pigs.
Of the victims of the holocaust 1.1 million were children. The children of the animal products industry are not tracked, but we can compare the 1.1million children with the estimated 1 million veal calves slaughtered year after year after year.
Or all of the uncounted, but given egg production statistics at least 1 billion male chicks of the egg industry who are ground up or gassed alive.
Or the uncounted baby pigs who slip through the grating of the gestation crate or are unintentionally crushed by their mothers for lack of space.
Or the foals of nursing mares of the horse racing industry who are taken from their mothers and sent to slaughter or clubbed so that pedigreed foals can have their milk.
Am I saying the death of 1.1 million human children wasn’t tragic? Again, please listen–I’m speaking for those who don’t get remembered.
As a whole, the human death toll encompassing combat casualties15 of World War II and second Sino-Japanese war, as well as worldwide Holocaust and concentration camps deaths, is estimated to be 40 million.16 In the United States alone, the number of chickens who suffer to death every year before even making it to slaughter is over 139 million (139,017,000).17
And this isn’t even reaching those animals with the highest death tolls, who tend to be the least valued—even by vegans.
We kill roughly 1 trillion to 2.8 trillion fish every year—whether for direct consumption from aquafarms, or those caught in the wild to feed the farmed fish we eat.18 Take a moment to re-read the profound difference between billion and trillion.
How about the 1 to 6.5 trillion bees enslaved on farms at any given moment—based on the number of beehives listed by the FAO20 and the average bees per hive—many21 of whom are killed off every fall for economic reasons?
When it comes to the number of animals killed every year, you often hear totals like 150 billion rattled off. To be completely transparent, I’ve even used that figure several of my videos, having not looked into the kill counter and other statistics to the extent I have now. Yet, if we taking even just the number for fish, we’re already at upwards of 2.8 trillion lives!
The estimated number of humans to have ever lived on earth in the entirety of our species’ existence comes to 107.6 billion.22
Even if we were to use much-repeated estimate of 150 billion animals killed in a single year, we’d still exceed the total humans to have ever lived by 42.4 billion.
Now you tell me: who are the real victims in this world?
These numbers become more and more unfathomable and there is no total because we simply don’t care enough to know; and really, in the end, don’t want to know.
When I realized—in the eleventh hour of attempting to produce this video—that my statistics had been wrong the entire time, and that there literally is no sure way to even estimate the deaths we cause as a species, I had a bit of a mini-breakdown.
Not from the stress of my production schedule or the demands of my perfectionism, but from an overwhelming sense of loss–not the loss of lives itself, but the complete and utter disregard for these losses.
They are so insignificant to us that we literally cannot even acknowledge them if we tried. And even when we try, we come up short, forget those whose prolonged suffering would most gladly be met with death, and in the end, reduce them even further into abstraction.
And they deserve more from us.
If we’re going to breed them into monstrosities that grow far beyond their natural size, keep them in cramped, horrific conditions rife with disease which literally drives them insane, take their children from them to an often live slaughtering, wear their bodies out to the points of severely premature death, electrocute them anally, pour caustic chemicals into their eyes and dissect them while fully conscious, allow them to die slowly and painfully through suffocation, beat them to perform for us, rape them to make milk for us, skin them to make clothes for us, and kill them to make food for us, the _very least_ we can do is acknowledge what we’ve done. But because of our utter disregard and the shear number of animals we inflict cruelty upon, we can’t even given them that.
We owe the animals more than Meatless Mondays. We owe them more than “I’m trying but cheese is so hard!” We owe them more than “I only buy free-range eggs.” We owe them more than “At least I’m vegetarian.”
For non-vegans who simply don’t know—I understand—most of us started there. But once you know, it’s on you to step up and go vegan. As fast as you possibly can.
Because these numbers are only going up every single year. And the animals can’t wait for it to be convenient or comfortable. The scope of their slaughtering is beyond anything we can possibly comprehend because it surpasses any kind of death toll we’ve ever experienced, and their suffering is utterly unquantifiable.
The best way for us to get accurate statistics is not to have better tracking—it’s to eliminate the need to track. And that only happens by going vegan. After everything we’ve done and continue to do to animals, don’t we at the very least owe them that?
A quote Harish so appropriately has displayed on his blog states:
Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.tweet thisWilliam Bruce Cameron
And these lives count.
Though it ended up being less purely educational and statistics-based than I intended, the time it took to produce this video and post taking into account the research for what initially I set out to cover comes to about 64 hours.
If you’d like to help support Bite Size Vegan so I can keep putting in the long hours in an attempt to bring even an iota of recognition to the animals of this world and shine a light on the horrors we perpetrate against them, even if it’s not always perfect and nicely packaged, please check out the support page.
If this video post reached you, please–more than even supporting my work–share it around to attempt in the smallest of ways to account for our collective negation of all we do.
In closing, I want to say something to the animals:
I’m sorry I couldn’t better encompass what you go through. I’m sorry for all that my species has done and continues to do to you. I’m sorry I’m not able to stop it more effectively or quickly. I do see you. I am sorry. I am trying. And I know that it will never be enough.
— Emily Moran Barwick