Interview with Dr Melanie Joy on the psychology of eating meat

Yesterday I interviewed Dr Melanie Joy on the psychology of eating meat for LiveKindly. Jodi was kind enough to allow me to display the video on my website as well, so here it is and I hope you enjoy. Please also consider checking out LiveKindly, it’s a great resource and read for vegans and non-vegans alike.

Policy brief: The role of the Australian food industry in climate change

I’m grateful to have been shortlisted for the 2017 APRU New York Times competition titled ‘The future of the Pacific Ocean’. Unfortunately, as I wasn’t placed in the top 3 my essay won’t be published, so I’m hoping it will get some use here. You can see the winners here.

The essay was pitched as a policy brief to key Australian ministers on the risks of climate change to Australia (specifically relating to the Pacific Ocean) and the role of the food industry as a solution. I focus primarily on a actionable solutions relating to a transition from an animal-based industry to a plant-based industry.

Impacts of climate change on the Pacific Ocean

Global analyses show the upper Pacific Ocean warming. Sea temperatures on the Great Barrier Reef have increased by about 0.4°C over the past 100 years (Lough, 2000). The Great Barrier Reef is an important Australian landmark. It brought US$4.48 billion to Australian businesses in the 2004/2005 financial year, and resulted in the employment of 63,000 individuals (full-time equivalent). It also plays a critical role in biodiversity.

The GBR is most under threat from rising sea temperatures (resulting in more intense and more frequent coral bleaching events), and ocean acidification (reducing the ability of corals and other organisms to calcify). The 2007 IPCC report on climate change outlines the risks to the Great Barrier Reef and likely outcomes in more detail.

Effects of livestock industry on climate change and the environment

The 2006 report Livestock’s Long Shadow by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations discusses the environmental impact associated with animal agriculture. The livestock industry is responsible for 14.5% of global anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. Despite this, there is a disparity in where climate policy focuses. Climate debate and policy rarely acknowledges the role that animal agriculture plays.

Globally, the livestock industry produces around 130 times more waste than the global human population. This waste can contain a host of diseases, and if water ways become contaminated, can be a serious risk for human health. If the waste reaches the ocean, it becomes a source of major environmental degradation. The Australian livestock industry also uses a disproportionate amount of water resources.

Not only does this industry affect wild animals and environment, it also creates an immense amount of suffering for the animals used as food. Many Australians are already against animal abuse. While we tackle the environmental issue, we can also align government policy with the ethical preferences of Australians.

Policy recommendations

A multi-level policy is recommended. We should gradually replace the livestock industry with plant-based farming. This can be done by reducing livestock subsidies and raising a small tax on animal products, creating disincentives for consumers and producers.

We should assist farmers as they shift from livestock to more sustainable produce. The revenue from the animal product tax can be used to facilitate this support, and may come in the form of grants for land use change or subsidies and tax breaks for producing plant-based foods. Arid land in Australia typically used for grazing livestock can be used to grow other foodstuffs such as almonds and dates, or be used for carbon sequestration.

We should support the Australian food tech industry to develop plant-based and cellular agriculture alternatives to animal products. Already we are lagging behind as USA and Europe develops this technology. We should provide the industry with subsidies and research & development credits. We

should host international collaborative events to facilitate technology transfer, particularly with USA and Europe, and also aim to encourage new food tech businesses and partnerships in Australia.

We should promote a plant-based, whole foods diet. Whilst also reducing the public-health burden of Australia, this will have the added effect of reducing the consumption of environmentally damaging animal products. This type of public health campaign has already been demonstrated to work through anti-smoking campaigns, and may result in savings based solely on the public health burden reduction.

Australia can become a respected leader in this space whilst much of the world lags behind in action on animal agriculture. Whilst Australia’s net emissions are relatively small for the region, our greenhouse gas emissions per capita are amongst the highest in the world. One of our greatest tourist attractions, the Great Barrier Reef, is in danger and relies on a healthy Pacific Ocean.

Australia is also well poised to supply Asia with a range of healthy, environmentally friendly and cruelty-free food. As Asia moves out of poverty and demands more luxury foods, we can provide them with high quality meat alternatives. Vegan Australia is developing a series of recommendations for moving to an animal free agricultural system in Australia, which may be beneficial in formulating our own policy.

This is a multi-disciplinary issue, and it requires multi-disciplinary action. A committee of agriculture reform should be formed to facilitate these changes. The policy recommendations outlined here fall under the portfolios of the Minister for the Environment and Energy, the Minister for Health, the Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources, the Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment, and the Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science, and thus each of these ministers’ offices should be directly involved.

Through these policy recommendations, Australia stands to benefit financially both in the short and long term, ensure the long term sustainability of our agriculture and tourism industries, and align government policy with public values.

Adventures on the east coast of USA

I went to the east coast of USA for the first time a few weeks ago. The trip started off very well. I bought a magazine from the book store at the airport, and the chap said “Enjoy your flight”, to which I responded, “Thanks, you too.” I then boarded and showed the flight attendant at the entrance of the plane my ticket so they could check it. Apparently this isn’t a thing in USA, because the flight attendant and I just had a staring contest for a few seconds before I awkwardly lowered my ticket and walked towards my seat.

“Enjoy your flight.”
“Thanks you too.”
This was a good read, which makes up for the awkward exchange.

First stop was DC, which was pretty neat. Since my existing views of the city were formed by a combination of House of Cards, The West Wing and Miss Sloane, it’s fair to say that it was a little different.

When I was walking from the train station to my hostel, a man came up behind me and asked, “Are you going to the vegan conference?” I was kind of surprised, so I just said yes without thinking. “Oh cool, me too.” he said. I asked how he knew I was going. For a brief moment, I wondered if I was famous, but he just pointed the the vegan sticker on my luggage.

Anyway, turns out I was going to the conference, I just had no idea what he was talking about at the time (sorry!). It was the Green Festival Expo, with a combination of environmental and vegan stalls and presentations. I spent the afternoon there and got to try some of Quorns’ new vegan food line up, as well as meet some people from the Humane Party and the Citizens’ Climate Lobby, one of whom happened to be an effective altruist. He was very excited when I told him I used to work with Effective Altruism Australia.

The one downside of the conference was, as is seeming more and more common, the general disdain towards GMO food and blind positivity towards organic food. To avoid sounding like I’m repeating myself, I’ll just refer you to here for my feelings on this. In short and simplistically, it’s not backed by science.

One evening at the hostel, I was sitting in the common area working on my laptop (covered with vegan stickers), when a woman sitting next to me told me she liked them. “I’m vegan too.” she said. I’m pretty late to the ‘put stickers with messages on things you own’ party, and I always assumed it was mostly to try and convince others of the message, but now I’m wondering (from my anecdotal data) whether there’s more value in signalling what you’re interested in to other people, and meeting people with similar interests.

Strangely enough, you can’t see Capitol Hill from every point of the city.

I was lucky enough to get a tour of Capitol Hill (which you can do by contacting your local congressperson or senator). I saw a Trump supporter at Capitol Hill (I could tell because they were wearing a ‘Make America great again’ hat and a Trump t-shirt), bringing the number of Trump supporters I’ve knowingly seen in person up to two.

I also enjoyed the never-ending selection of museums, almost all of which were free. I especially recommend the National Museum of American History and the Newseum (which was around $20 – it was worth it, but there are many free alternatives which are good).

The first dog to drive across America and his car and hooman.

I made some friends and went looking for politicians and staffers in local bars known to be politician hangouts like Bistro Bis, but failed. Until I left DC I was still holding some hopes for discussing socialism with Bernie Sanders over a stout.

No Sanders, Underwoods or Spaceys in sight.

In Philadelphia I stayed with my cousin, who moved to America 15 years ago for work, met and married an American then never came back. He took me mountain biking, and only told me that he once snapped his collar bone after I agreed. While rolling down those rocky paths and swearing in Australian I was very grateful that my university’s health and travel insurance included leisure travel.

The post-survival selfie.

I didn’t get around to exploring many of the classic tourist sites in New York as I was at the Reducetarian Summit for most of my time there, but I did get to sample some of the fine Manhattan vegan foods (see below for a compilation of bomb vegan food I found on my trip) and not so fine bars.

I had a pretty interesting experience at one very small bar I went to with my friend. It was very dark and underground, with a single bartender and about 10 patrons. My friend gave me some money to buy us a drink then went to the bathroom. I ordered him a beer and got a coke for myself. “I don’t serve that kind of thing here.”

“Oh, I’ll just get a water then.” He gets me the beer and water, then says something to the effect of “If it gets busy tonight, I’ll have to ask you to leave if you don’t order anything.” I was pretty surprised but he looked deadpan serious so I just said ok. When my friend got back, I told him what happened and he agreed that was kind of strange. The bartender must have overheard because he comes back and says “If you’re going to make me sound like a dick to your friend at least tell him the full story.” “I thought I did.” “You left out half of it.” “Which part?” “Where I made it clear I was joking.”

It can’t have been that clear. He said I didn’t understand hospitality and had probably never worked the industry. I told him I did for several years, unless the Australian hospitality industry was totally different to US. He backtracked a bit and became the nicest guy ever. Weird. I told another friend later and they said that happens sometimes in Manhattan.

Vegan Philly cheese steak from Hip City Veg in DC.
Vegan Burrata from some place in DC.
Another vegan Philly cheese steak from Wiz Kid in Philadelphia. Even my non-vegan cousin agreed this was pretty good. “I could tell its not steak, but not that its not meat.”
Plant-based sushi from Beyond Sushi in Manhattan. So good! My non-vegan friend who dislikes new foods tried one then asked for more.

How you can make a difference this World Environment Day (June 5)

The political response to climate change from a number of countries, in particular Australia and USA, has been lacklustre. In the last few days, there has even been discussion of President Donald Trump potentially pulling out of the Paris accord. We can obviously no longer rely on governments to guarantee a solution. Many people have taken the first steps in reducing their environmental impact by swapping their car time for a bike or bus, adding solar panels to their home, or being more conscious of their water use. There is one option for reducing personal environmental impact that is surprisingly effective, but very often overlooked.

Adopting a plant-based, or vegan, diet is one of the most effective individual acts you can make to reduce your impact on the environment and CO2 emissions (more effective than forgoing showers, having solar panels, or using bikes instead of cars). Using American figures, on average vegans use 1/18th as much land for food as a meat eater, while vegetarians use 1/6th as much. Vegans also use 50% as much carbon dioxide, 9% as much oil and 8% as much water.

In 2006, the Livestock’s Long Shadow report (by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations) highlighted the environmental impact of animal agriculture. Of note, an estimated 14.5% of global anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions are the result of the livestock industry.

Globally, farm animals produce around 130 times more waste than humans. This waste can be home to a range of diseases. If waterways become contaminated by this waste, it can be disastrous for human health. If the wastewater reaches the ocean, it can be a source of major environmental degradation, creating what are known as dead zones. The Australian livestock industry also uses a disproportionate amount of water resources.

The impact of climate change is increasing, and will continue to increase into the future, even with immediate action. Of particular note to Australians are the effects on the Great Barrier Reef (GBR). Over the last 100 years, sea temperatures on the GBR have risen by around 0.4°C. The combination of rising sea temperatures and ocean acidification will lead to more frequent and intense coral bleaching events and a reduced ability of corals and other sea organisms to calcify.

Rising land surface temperatures will also lead to more heatwaves, with the governments’ own estimates suggesting a quadrupling of heatwave related deaths in Australia by 2050. This will hit our ageing population the hardest. The World Health Organisation estimates that, from 2030 to 2050, an additional 250,000 deaths will result each year due to climate change.

In addition to the serious environmental impact of animal agriculture, there are a range of global health issues that can be simultaneously addressed.  A few weeks ago, an open letter was written to the next Director-General of the WHO (shortly after revealed to be Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus), calling on them to recognise factory farming as a major global health challenge, and signed by notable individuals such as Noam Chomsky and Mark Bittman.

By this time next year, 700,000 people will have died as the result of resistance to antibiotics. The bulk of antibiotic use is not in humans, but in the livestock industry, to increase productivity and keep animals alive. With a growing global population, these issues will only get more serious.

In 2015, the World Health Organisation announced that processed meats are a Group 1 carcinogen (carcinogenic to humans), and red meats are a Group 2A carcinogen (probably carcinogenic to humans). A diet rich in plant-based food is suggested to lower blood pressure, reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, and reduce the risk of mortality from cardiovascular disease.

Animal agriculture also creates unimaginable suffering for the animals themselves. Undercover investigations in Australia have revealed pain and suffering as standard, particularly in the industrial farming of pigs and chickens. Most people agree that needlessly causing animal suffering is wrong, and so by simply avoiding animal products, you can align your ethical values with your actions.

Living a compassionate and environmentally-minded lifestyle has never been easier. Increased demand for plant-based foods from vegans and non-vegans alike has lead to the creation of realistic animal product alternatives that are now readily available at supermarkets. With relatively little planning, a plant-based diet can be cheaper, healthier and delicious.

So while you consider your bike and solar panels this World Environment Day on June 5, why not give a plant-based diet a go as well? Bring the family together over a tasty meal and let your imagination run wild. Who knows, you might even decide that it was so easy you will want to keep going.

On whether to send back non-vegan food

If you order a vegan meal and it comes out with non-vegan food in it*, should you send it back or should you eat it? I see this question come up a lot on social media and it seems to have people pretty divided, so I just thought I’d formally write up my opinion. Hopefully it helps you decide what you would do if it happens to you.

In short, I would almost always** send the meal back. If I’m with non-vegans, it shows them I take this whole ethics thing seriously, and it makes a statement to restaurant. It might even stop it from happening to the next vegan. Some restaurants are pretty clueless. I once went to a place that served chicken stock in a little bowl as a side to an item listed as vegan on their menu. I asked if it was vegetable stock, and they said no, it was chicken. “Why, do you not eat chicken?”

“Well, I ordered the vegan option.” They seemed pretty confused about the whole thing, so hopefully making a point about it stops it from being served with chicken stock in the future.

Also, especially in a non-restaurant setting, if non-vegan friends or colleagues see you accepting animal products, they may be more likely to serve you them in the future.

I guess there is the counter-point of people seeing you as ‘not flexible’ which might make people see veganism more negatively, or might slightly nudge someone away from trying it. My intuition is that this effect would be small, but I’m happy for someone to try and change my mind. There is the issue of ‘wasting food’, but again, one meal would make pretty little difference to global food waste.

I’ve also had many vegan pizzas come with dairy cheese instead of no cheese or vegan cheese, which I send back. I used to work at a pizza restaurant, and I know first hand that food sent back as a mistake tends to get eaten by the staff. This definitely mitigates the food waste argument.

I have been told second hand about one individual who has risen fairly high in the US public servant sphere (I have been asked not to share their name – let’s call them Casey).

Casey wields a lot of influence, and their job affects the wellbeing of a lot of sentient beings both now and in the future. They often have meals with very important and powerful people. Casey is a vegan for ethical reasons, but they are not very public about it, and when it comes to eating with said important people, rumour has it that they have taken up eating meat again. This is my guesswork, but I’m assuming this is because Casey is worried about how they might be perceived after revealing that they are vegan, and that they believe their job is so important that the possibility of harming their effectiveness is too great to risk.

A couple of comments on this. I can’t share with you what Casey actually does for work, so you’ll have to take my word on this, but I really believe that their job is so important that this is a valid concern. What’s important to maximise is your impact on suffering and wellbeing, not ones’ personal purity (which should just be a tool for the former).

However, with the knowledge I have on the situation (granted, not as much as Casey has), I disagree with their (assumed) conclusion. I don’t know how much being publicly but quietly vegan would harm ones’ reputation and effectiveness in certain circles. I also think that there could be some benefit in being a super important person that also happens to be vegan.

Having said that, I am open to that being the best course of action. In extreme cases, I might even do the same, as hard as it would be to bring myself to do. However, I want to stress that I don’t think I’ve come across a situation yet in my life where I would have been better off pretending to not be vegan (and I’ve had dinner with the CEO of a multi-billion dollar company), and I don’t think that most people ever will.

One thing I haven’t discussed yet is that some vegans might just be totally disgusted by the prospect of eating animal products. This seems like a fairly valid reason to send the food back. Your personal wellbeing should be equally weighted with that of others. I personally enjoy the unami taste (meaty taste) of food, which is why I can eat realistic meat alternatives while some other vegans can’t. But I would still be disgusted by the knowledge that I am eating an actual animal or their excretion.

In short, I’d advocate for sending back the meal.

* For clarity, I’m talking about something like any of the following; your vegan pizza comes out with dairy cheese or meat on it, your veggie burger is actually a beef burger, your laksa has fish stock in it instead of vegetable stock, or your meal comes out with a non-vegan side.

** Just meaning that I would require extenuating circumstances to not send it back.

The Reducetarian Summit – thoughts

As you may have been aware, the Reducetarian Summit was on in New York city last weekend. I went because I was on the fence about whether the ‘reducetarian approach’ to animal advocacy was a good idea (I’ve written about that here), and I wanted to learn more. It was also a pretty great networking opportunity, and it is always nice to meet in person people you have been engaging with online for years.

I also had the pleasure of interviewing Tobias Leenaert, the Vegan Strategist, for my podcast, which you can find here. We talked about the pros and cons of a reducetarian approach. Tobias advocates for an ‘adaptive’ approach, which I like. It involves being flexible and using whichever approach works best for a given situation*. You can also find criticism of this discussion here.

Overall, the talks were mostly on par with what you might expect to see at a conventional animal advocacy conference. There were talks on the impacts of animal agriculture on animals, global health and the environment, as well as on cellular agriculture/plant-based meat alternatives and political lobbying. The main difference with a conventional conference was there a relative lack of discussion about animal rights.

Interestingly, it seemed like most people at the conference were vegan, which surprised me. I had figured that the conference might mostly appeal to people wanting to reduce but not eliminate their animal product consumption, but it seems to have been mostly people with the same mindset as me. They either wanted to learn about the approach, or wanted to improve their advocacy and network.

There weren’t really talks on the pros and cons of a reducetarian approach as I was expecting, so I can’t say I changed my opinion much. I slightly updated towards thinking that reducetarian advocacy could be good in some situations, but as I mentioned previously, I still hold reservations about the way it is currently being done by some people.

The conference was protested by about half a dozen individuals, lead by Harrison Nathan, who has been a critic of various aspects of effective altruism in an animal advocacy context. They stood out the front on the first day with signs, and I went to speak with them. Nathan and I have engaged online about his disagreement with the reducetarian approach, and I share many of the same reservations. I am glad to see that Nathan’s objections come from believing that reducetarian advocacy is ineffective, rather than the more deontologist belief that advocating for anything less than total veganism is always wrong.

I had advised against a protest for fear of it harming the reputation of vegans and reinforcing stereotypes, but I stand pleasantly corrected (as far as I can tell). The protest was very calm and reasonable, and for getting across their views, it seemed successful**.

One recurring theme of the panel talks was a general positivity towards organic food, and a general disdain towards GMO food. This frustrates me. I won’t delve in to the science now, except to say that there is no evidence, health or environmental, saying that we should preference organic or non-GMO food. In fact, GMO food can be designed to have higher food yields, be more nutritious, and more disease resistant. As my friend Michael Selden eloquently put it, “I’m an environmentalist so I’m pro GMO. It’s that simple.” The same Michael Selden (who runs a cellular agriculture fish company) was in a panel on cellular agriculture and spoke positively of GMOs, to my joy. It was a much needed voice in the dark at the conference.

Many people are pro-organic food because they are worried about pesticides, and think that organic food doesn’t have pesticides. This is false – organic food uses organic pesticides, which are not necessarily better and can be worse than synthetic pesticides. For example, copper counts as an organic pesticide. Also, while some pesticides can be harmful, they are probably on average less harmful than you think, and they do provide benefits to food yield etc. Without pesticides, we would need a lot more land and resources to produce the same amount of food. If anything, people should advocate for better and safer use of pesticides than for no use of pesticides.

I also just want to share an exchange I had at the conference which I found quite interesting. I was with a few friends who were all involved with the effective altruism movement, and we were chatting with one woman who had never heard of it before. After explaining the basic concepts, she said, ‘Oh that sounds great, but I’m not earning a lot of money, and I can’t donate much to charity, is there still a place in effective altruism for people like me.

The idea that effective altruism is all about money and donations is an old criticism, but it still comes up from time to time (not that it was necessarily a criticism in this case). But the point is just that taking a high paying job and donating a lot of money to effective charities is just one effective way to do a lot of good that people often overlook, not that it’s the only way. Depending on your situation (interests, skills, network and experience), it might be more or less effective than other things you could do. For example, you could do effective advocacy or research work.

I just found this exchange a good reminder to make sure the message is clear, because I really believe in effective altruism and don’t want people to get the wrong impression of it.

Below are some photos from the conference, including some of my favourite graphs and figures from presentations.

* A valid point was raised to me about saying that ‘it depends’. This could be harmful because it stymies discussion. We can say that it depends and is probably different for different situations, but when it comes down to something like actually putting a message on a leaflet, we need to know what to do.

** Again, a valid point was brought to my attention after writing this. I spoke with the protesters, but most people attending the conference didn’t. Their perception of vegans in general may still have been harmed by the existence/presence of the protest, as they didn’t have the chance to speak with them and hear their arguments or motivation.

Why focus on poultry? From Darius Teter’s talk.
Great panel on ‘The rise of conscious capitalism’, with HRH Prince Khaled bin Alwaleed bin Talal, investor and prince of Saudi Arabia, Molly Breiner of Aloha, Monica Klausner of Veestro, and Adam Chandler of The Atlantic (left to right).
Myself and Tobias Leenaert, after recording our discussion for my podcast.

It was great to see the three milk choices for coffee at the conference were all vegan (as was all the delicious food!), but even more amusing to see everyone excitedly taking this photo, myself included.


On animal lovers celebrating the death of animal abusers

Over the past few years, especially on Facebook and other social media, I’ve noticed a number of animal rights advocates celebrating the death and suffering of humans involved in the direct abuse of animals. By direct, I mean actively involved in the animal agriculture, hunting or animals as entertainment industries, as opposed to paying people to do these things like most humans in the world. Some examples:

School of killer whales attacks and kills 16 crew members of a Japanese whaling boat (note that this story was eventually proved to be fake, but the reaction of animal advocates was still real).

Matador is gored in the rectum by a bull.

And most recently, a man was crushed and killed by an elephant after it was shot.

Here’s the thing. I think publicly celebrating the death of any of these humans was silly for two reasons.

1) It could backfire and harm the movement. Humans are very suspect to existing stereotypes and will take any opportunity to validate them. If someone sees a vegan celebrating the death of a human, they might think ‘I knew it, those vegans love animals but hate humans’.

2) Why celebrate the suffering of any living being? Yes, this individual caused suffering, and we should rightly be upset about that. But suffering is bad no matter whom it is experienced by. I think humans have probably less free will than they think they do. We don’t choose our genes, and we don’t choose our environment. Thus, people shouldn’t be held fully responsible for their good and bad choices. Can you be sure that you wouldn’t also have been a hunter if you were born into their exact situation?

But at the end of the day it just seems like a strategically bad thing to do.

After seeing much celebration and hate towards the hunter crushed by an elephant last week, I made the same warning. Unfortunately, my fears were confirmed after this opinion piece was published, titled ‘When animal rights extremism exposes the worst of humanity‘. It uses such language as:

As news began to emerge about the death of such a prominent hunter, animal rights activists around the world began a frenetic victory dance, joyously celebrating Botha’s demise at the hands of “his enemy” with a string of abusive postings on social media, some of them plastered across his Facebook site so his wife and children could view them.

Very quickly, people in my network were sharing the opinion piece with comments such as “Did anyone else read this sad excuse for an opinion piece?” and “Haha what an idiot!!!!!!! Apparently it’s incomprehensible to him that hunters are killing an innocent being? Whole article can be summed up y ” I lack empathy towards animals and I don’t care about them dying.”“*

Yes, the opinion piece may have been exaggerated, and it sucks that people think that way, but they do, and that matters – we have to act accordingly. Even if you believe in 100% free will (which I think is hard to, given genes and upbringing as I mentioned) and think people are totally blameworthy for their actions, celebrating the death and suffering of animal abusers just seems like a terrible strategic choice. It might make you feel good in the short run, but in the long run it almost certainly hurts the animals we’re trying to protect.

* Original posters not credited to respect privacy, but if they wish I will edit the post.

Celebration of Yulin Festival ban is premature

The Yulin Dog Meat Festival is held annually in Yulin, Guangxi, China since 2010. The name often calls forth imagery of multiple dogs being held in cramped cages, or dogs being skinned and boiled alive. Some of the dogs are even reported to be stolen pets. The use of dogs for food is not limited to the festival, but takes place across China year-round. For Australians, there is little doubt that this is a cruel and needless practice, and many others agree. Celebrities such as Ricky Gervais and George Lopez have publicly spoken out against the event.

Last week, after many years of protests, activists were finally able to rejoice after hearing that Chinese authorities have banned the sale of dog meat at the Yulin Festival. This momentous announcement has been the fruit of labour of both international and brave local activists, some of whom risk their lives to rescue dogs.

However, don’t celebrate just yet. Many activists are skeptical of the ban, with some reports suggesting that cats will likely be served instead, and others that previous bans have not prevented the festival from occurring. Marc Ching, activist and founder of the Animal Hope and Wellness Foundation, believes that this latest ban is simply another attempt to deflect attention from the festival.

Supposing even that the ban goes ahead, we still have a long way to go. Amidst the protest against the Yulin Festival, the vast majority of people globally still consume animal products, many of whom undergo treatment as horrific as the dogs. Pigs show similar mental and social traits to dogs and chimpanzees, and display complex emotions. They can perceive the passage of time, anticipate the future, show signs of spatial learning and memory, and that’s just the beginning.

More people are keeping pigs as companion animals, and anyone who has seen them up close will know the affection they show to each other and to humans, and how inquisitive and playful they can be. Yet in Australian factory farms, they are kept in farrowing cages so small that they can’t turn around. This is where they will see out most of their lives.

The female pigs are forcibly impregnated until they are no longer productive, such they continue to give birth to young pigs, which are either used for breeding or raised for their flesh. The end to their life in slaughterhouses constitutes a final horrific experience to their miserable lives. This suffering is not exclusive to pigs, and it is not the case of a few bad producers that don’t follow regulations.

In 2016, 28 United States representatives of Congress signed a bipartisan resolution condemning the Yulin Festival, calling for the Chinese Government to take action. Today, there are still numerous subsidies supported by the US federal government that support factory farming practices, which arguably treat animals worse than dogs at Yulin. Seen through an objective lens, this is a strange hypocrisy.

If you have been upset by the Yulin Dog Meat Festival but still eat other animals, watch the footage of pigs in Australian slaughterhouses. Ask yourself if it is any better than the way the Yulin dogs are treated. You can help to eliminate the suffering of animals simply by making different purchasing choices, and even benefit the environment and your health at the same time.