Is This Charity Good or Sleazy?

Every year during the holiday season, Americans receive a marketing catalogue in the mail from Heifer International, an Arkansas-based live animal charity. Decorated with photos of cute animals and cute poor children who will eagerly receive them, it seems an appealing charity.

What’s not to like?

This year its materials even put animals in Christmas sweaters. Aaaaaawwwwwww.

Poor People Can Grow or Buy Fodder

There’s a lot not to like about Heifer International and other live animal charities. While the animals hugged in photos by the grateful children are made to look like pets, they are actually livestock. Ask anyone who raises livestock what the expense of food, housing, security and veterinary care is – and the kind of diseases animals get and give to people – and you quickly see that livestock are not gifts at all for poor people. They add to their troubles.

Addressing the paradox of poor people with minimal food and shelter caring for animals requiring food and shelter, one Heifer International communication actually says the poor should “buy” them. Right.

Pet rabbits for dinner cartoon.
Cartoon Pet rabbits for dinner.

Visitors to villages that have received Heifer International “gifts” have reported whole flocks of birds that died from diseases and children sleeping with their animal “gifts” so they are not stolen. One mother whose son visited a demonstration Heifer International village in the US says her son was traumatized for years by hearing and watching a rabbit unceremoniously slaughtered in front of children by the Heifer International leader.

In Chicago, Heifer International’s attempts to set up aquaculture operations to pull poor ghetto kids out of “poverty” ended in all the fish dying – not once but twice. Don’t try this at home, kids.

Expecting poor people to have the money, resources and skills to raise livestock when even ag professionals fail is only half of Heifer International’s stupidity. The other is pretending that animal based agriculture is the solution to world hunger – a myth perpetuated by profiteering biotech and animal drug companies and an insult to the public’s intelligence. According to this spin, “high quality protein” means eggs or beef not the High Energy Biscuits routinely distributed by the World Food Program that provide up to 15 grams of protein from grain.

Heifer Cartoon, advocating poor people buy feed
Heifer Cartoon, advocating poor people buy feed.

Bacon and Cheese Deficiency

According to the World Food Program, hunger comes from climate change, poverty, unstable markets, war and displacement – not bacon and cheese deficiencies. (There’s also biotech seed giants crushing local agriculture.) Moreover, animal based agriculture, which ties up so much land to raise animal instead of human crops, is a leading cause of climate change. “Unless strong demand growth for meat is curtailed, livestock sector emissions will increase to the point where dangerous climate change is unavoidable,” the UK think tank the Chatham House recently declared.

Lactose Intolerance

Heifer International is not alone in presenting animal based agriculture as a hunger solution. Biotech and animal drug companies like to present technologies that get more “product” out of an animal, as green and they are not referring to the money they make on them.

Recently, animal drug giant Elanco launched its “Sensible Table,” “Enough” campaign that boasted that “Simply by using practices available today or already in the pipeline, cows around the world can increase their output by a mere half glass per cow, enough to satisfy future global demand.” This was not only a veiled commercial for the GMO Posilac (rBGH) that Elanco bought from Monsanto a few years ago. It disregards the fact that much of the poor world, especially Africa, is lactose intolerant. Undaunted, in 2008, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation gave Heifer International $42 million to launch dairy operations in Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda replete with “chilling plants” and “refrigerated commercial dairy delivery trucks.”

Christian Response To Inquiries?

Heifer International says it is a Christian organization but reporters who write critically about it have received un-Christian-like responses. As an investigative reporter who covers Big Food, Big Pharma and the gun lobby, emails from Heifer International supporters and staff stand out as the most abusive I have received.

Martha Rosenberg is the Investigative Health Correspondent for NewsBlaze. Martha illustrates many of her stories with relevant cartoons. She was staff cartoonist at Evanston Roundtable.