Helping Aussie farmers in a drought? There are better opportunities

Lately, I feel like the motivation for me to write a post on a particular topic comes from having had a series of debates on social media about it until I get frustrated enough that I want to write out my thoughts in full so I don’t have to talk about it anymore. This post is no exception.

Some regions of rural Australia are currently experiencing their worst drought in 100 years. This surely affects all farmers (and users of water), but it seems the media has chosen to focus on how it affects animal farmers. It has sparked a lot of attention, from news articles, to it being a major talking point on political Q&A show Q&A and countless businesses pledging to give some of their profits from a certain day or item to farmers (usually through a charity called Buy a Bale which gives stock feed, money and volunteers to farmers).

This issue has also divided many vegans. Most are against the idea of helping animal farmers e.g. by donating to Buy a Bale, but some are also urging vegans to support the farmers to alleviate the suffering of the animals affected by the drought. This would be a hard pill for vegans to swallow, but I would like to argue that, even if you were open to supporting animal exploitation in some cases, to do so here would be highly irrational.

The suffering of the humans and non-humans affected by this is clearly awful. However, in thinking about supporting the farmers, vegans and non-vegans alike have completely ignored the concept of opportunity cost. That is to say, if one were to spend or donate a dollar in one way, they are forgoing other opportunities to spend or donate the dollar in other ways.

By supporting animal farmers, you are forgoing much more effective opportunities to help humans (e.g. Against Malaria Foundation where you would save a life for an average of $6,000 AU), or animals (e.g. Vegan Outreach). It seems quite hard to argue that giving stock feed, money or volunteers to animal farmers would be more effective at alleviating either human or non-human suffering than any of the current top rated giving opportunities (e.g. GiveWell for humans, and Animal Charity Evaluators for non-humans).

Even if you disagree with the research put out by either of these organisations, you must surely recognise that the chances of Buy a Bale being the best bet for reducing suffering are very low. Check your biases – are you supporting Buy a Bale because you think it is the best thing to do, or is it because it is a topical issue currently that is in the news and a lot of other people are doing it?

“Will you buy a parmy and help our farmers and animals?”
Public: Yeah!
“Will you donate to an effective international development or animal charity outside of a media cycle?”
Public (usually): Eh

Any one dollar you donate to help animal farmers is one dollar you could otherwise use to reduce suffering more effectively. Yes, the suffering of animal farmers and their animals is sad, but it’s sad because they suffer. If we care about suffering, we should be open-minded about how best to reduce it.

I also want to say that I’ve seen some quite awful things said about farmers by vegans in the context of this drought. Things have been said along the lines of ‘I’ll pay for the farmers to be shot alongside their animals’. Threats of violence are never ok, and it’s not even useful to say it, regardless of whether it is a joke or not. All suffering is bad, and that includes the suffering of humans who harm animals. We can be sad about their suffering without condoning the suffering they cause non-humans.

If you have seen any comments like these, please know that they are not representative of animal advocates in general. In any case, how a minority of people in a movement or who hold an idea act should not affect your opinion on the movement or idea itself. After all, I have also received death threats from a variety of meat eaters and farmers, but I do not in any way believe this to be representative of meat eaters or farmers as a whole.

In much of the conversation about this, people are turning to climate change and the increased likelihood and severity of droughts. Some are playing a political blame game, while others are condemning the energy industry for their part in climate change. I do find it somewhat ironic that no one seems to be talking about the role of animal agriculture in increasing climate change (it’s one of the leading contributors) which in turn affects animal agriculture (and all users of water).

In particular, I’m disappointed in Q&A for completely neglecting this in their discussion on Monday (yes, I’m calling you out Tony). It has gone on for so long that it is starting to feel like undeclared interests, rather than complete ignorance.

As a final point, if you don’t like seeing animals suffer, don’t pay people to breed them. Be vegan.

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