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Give from your heart…AND your head

November 30, 2016

Image: Cute Overload

“Give a goat, save a life.” This is the slogan of an organization called Give-a-Goat. But unless you’re giving a goat to a farm animal sanctuary, you’re likely not saving anyone’s life.

With the holiday season comes the multitude of ads entreating us to extend our gift-giving to people around world who are less fortunate than we are — a noble request and one that many people will act on. But what is consistently advocated year after year is giving the “gift” of a farm animal to a family in need. Visit various charities’ websites and you will see beautiful photos of smiling children holding baby animals in their arms. The children are smiling, you will learn, because thanks to the gift of an animal, the family now has food and an income! You’ll be told how the goat or the cow or the sheep or the chickens selflessly provide the family with nutritious milk and eggs, and that the animals are a vital source of much-needed protein.


The intentions are great, but badly misguided. First of all, the health benefits of animal products are a myth. I won’t get into animal vs. plant-based nutrition here; ample information on the subject is widely available on the internet and elsewhere, including from Harvard, WHO and NIH. One can be optimally healthy on a plant-based diet. Further, an estimated 75% of the world’s population is lactose-intolerant, making milk consumption actually harmful, so no one’s doing anyone any favours there.

From an animal welfare standpoint, there are so many troubling questions in this scenario: What if there is a drought? What if the animal gets sick? How will the animal be cared for? How will the animal eventually be slaughtered? Animals given as gifts may well simply become another mouth to feed; if a family is having trouble feeding themselves, how will they feed this animal? Animals also use many times more in resources than they put out, so to speak. They use much more land and water than plant agriculture, which makes raising an animal for food an extremely inefficient use of already scarce resources. And what will the family do when that animal is no longer around?

Many organizations that are highly regarded by the general public cheerfully tout their “livestock”-gift options for people in third-world countries. World Vision offers cows, alpacas, baby chicks, goats, piglets, sheep and more. SOS Children’s Villages, Heifer International, Oxfam, Feed the Children (they even had a Cyber Monday special on goats: two-for-one)…all persist in the short-sighted and ill-conceived notion that it’s a good idea to give living beings to people who have next to nothing. Plan Canada International actually has some excellent options, including funding newborn checkups, gardens, school meals, medicine and mosquito netting — yet they still also offer farmed animals.

If you want to really make a difference in the lives of people in poorer countries, there are many ways you can provide concrete, long-term help. Here’s a partial list to consider:

  • A Well-Fed World does incredible work to feed hungry people around the world. Learn more about it and how to support them here
  • Help fund a water project in sub-Saharan Africa
  • Support clean water initiatives through The One Foundation
  • Help African children whose lives have been affected by AIDS by donating to the Stephen Lewis Foundation
  • When women and girls are educated, everyone benefits. Support and empower women and girls through Willow Tree Roots or The Malala Fund
  • Help people in Haiti. The issue of supporting international aid organizations in Haiti has been fraught with controversy, but you can find a list of Haitian-led initiatives here
  • Literacy helps lift people out of poverty. Make a difference by funding literacy programs through The World Literacy Foundation. They work with people in 25 countries around the world.

Share your abundance with others without inadvertently contributing to animal suffering. And while you’re spreading your compassion around, please consider a donation to your favourite animal cause. Farm sanctuaries in particular could really use your help.

Wishing you a joyful season, whatever you’re celebrating.

  1. December 1, 2016 1:54 pm

    It seems to be that time of the year 😉
    I wrote a post about the same topic, about the campaign ‘buy a goat for Africa’ of Veterinarians without Borders.

    • December 1, 2016 2:09 pm

      Excellent post, Trudi. I always find things like that particularly surprising when they come from veterinarians — as though goats aren’t animals too! Hard to reconcile working to help some species of animals and advocating the exploitation and slaughter of others.

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