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 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’d been using as my base figures weren’t correct.
(As a note, any errors found in my calculations or relaying of them will be updated at the bottom of the post–Im far from a gifted mathematician, so please feel free to point out any errors.)
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.”
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 site and then looked into things they don’t cover like all marine life, whether by direct slaughter, as bycatch, or those wild fish that are killed to feed the farmed fish we actually eat; or animals who literally suffer to death, dying before slaughter, which, you maybe surprised to learn severely dwarfs the number of those killed for fur (estimated 9,855,840 in US alone), in animal shelters (estimated 4,000,000 in us alone) and by vivisection (estimated 11,646,000 in us alone) combined by at least 113.5 million* , a number derived from just chickens who suffer to death (total of 139,017,000 in the US).
Or those in the dairy and egg industry whose bodies give out and are made into pet food, or the male chicks who are ground up alive or gassed, or the mothers of the chickens we eat, or the veal calves of the dairy industry, taken from their mothers at birth and slaughtered.
Or those killed for their skins and fur via anal and genital electrocution; or those killed in ritualistic slaughter or sacrifice, like the estimated 20,000 goats slaughtered every year at the Dhading temple in Nepal or the estimated 250,000 animals sacrificed at the Nepalese Gadhami festival in 2009.
I dug through the makings of the kill counter 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 using the only statistics on the FAO database that displayed head counts, meaning actual numbers of animals, and used this as my base.
But I found much later from Harish that these 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” 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 that the average weight varies widely from country to country. And while the USDA provides statistics for individual animals, we’re left guessing at a global number.
And then I looked into all of the exceptions that aren’t listed that I went over already (and some I haven't even listed here) 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. And i’ll be using the US understandings of these terms, which is increasingly being used worldwide. 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 you have to factor in the exponential nature to fully understand and grasp the enormity inherent in these figures.
A common helpful illustration is with time:
A million seconds is about 12 days
So a billion seconds would be what, 24 days maybe? Or 48?
It’s actually 31.7 years
So then what is a trillion? Have a guess?
It’s 31,709.8 years
One million is a thousand thousands
One billion is a thousand millions
And one trillion is a thousand billions (or a million millions).
Now to the figures. 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.
Some hard and fast numbers we do have for animal slaughter are from the USDA for 2013. In that year alone the united stated slaughtered 8.6 billion chickens.
so we have:
7.6 billion more chickens were killed in a single year in a single country than all the humans who have ever died from war. [tweet this]
And that is even going with the highest estimation of human deaths. Global chicken slaughter is estimated at 50 billion.
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, encompassing World War II casualties and second Sino-Japanese war, including worldwide Holocaust and concentration camps deaths, is estimated to be 40 million human deaths. The number of chickens who suffer to death every year before even making it to slaughter is over 139 million* (139,017,000) in the United States alone, which is a number we don’t even include in our slaughter statistics.
99 million more chickens suffer to death before even reaching slaughter in the united states every year than all casualties of world war two. [tweet this]
And this isn’t even reaching those animals with the highest death tolls, which tend to be the least valued, even by vegans.
We kill roughly 1 trillion to 2.8 trillion fish a year whether for direct consumption from aquafarms or those caught in the wild to feed the farmed fish we eat.[sources elaborated]
Outside of the staggering 2.8 trillion fish, what about the 703 billion (703,014,400,000) to over 2 trillion (2,391,686,944,000) silkworms boiled or baked or lanced every year so we can dress up?
Or the 1 to 6.5 trillion bees enslaved on farms at any given moment based on the number of beehives listed by the FAO and the average bees per hive, many of which are killed off every fall for economic reasons.
You hear totals thrown around like 150 billion animals slaughtered every year, which I’ve even said in several of my videos having not looked into the kill counter and other statistics to the extent I have now.
Taking just the more thoroughly calculated number for fish including those we kill to feed those we eat, 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.
We kill 2.7 trillion more fish every year than all humans that have ever existed. [tweet this]
And even if we take the lower estimate of 150 billion animals killed in a single year, we’re still 42.4 billion over all humans to ever exist.
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 we 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 from the loss of lives itself but the complete and utter disregard for these losses.
They’re 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. [tweet this] 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.”
-William Bruce Cameron in 1963 [tweet this]
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 where you can give a one-time donation or receive perk and rewards for your support by joining the Nugget Army.
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.
Featured Videos Posts With Further Information:
More on the Impact of Our Choices
More on Wool
More on Silk
More on Honey
More on Animal Testing
More on Shelter Animal Euthanasia
More on Horse Racing
More on Horse Carriages
More on the Environment
More on Fish
SOURCES & Additional Information [not everything linked in the post body is repeated here]
Tools and Misc:
The majority of fish we eat, at least in the us are farmed via aquaculture. Yet we still catch billions of wild fish, and on the global scale at least a trillion. So where are these wild fish going? Well, most of the wild-caught fish go to feed our farmed fish as well as our pigs and chickens. In an extremely thorough and mathematically challenging article, Harish Sethu of CountingAnimals.com deduced that the united states alone uses more than 5.6 billion pounds of wild-caught fish to feed the animals we eat.
And how many farmed fish do we eat? The most recent figure I could find came from FishCount.org’s extrapolation of FAO data, which states that it is estimated that between 38 and 128 billion farmed fish were killed for food globally in 2011, a number which rises every year. Add this to the 0.97 to 2.7 trillion wild fish caught annually, and we kill roughly 1 trillion to 2.8 trillion fish a year. This is not counting fish that die on aquafarms before slaughter, are caught and released only to die from the stress, or countless others. Literally countless because we didn’t count them.
*Errors found in the video*
(It's bound to happen with my math skills and time table! I will keep this updated if more are found.)
1) I say [twice!] that over 139 billion chickens suffer to death in the United States, but the number displayed is correct: it is 139 million.
2) When I speak about the cost of war, I say wars within the 20th century (correct) but 21st century is displayed on the screen (incorrect).