A person holds a partially eaten burger.

Who’s Dying for Your Burger? It’s Not Who You Think



While millions of cows are killed each year so their meat can be ground into burger patties, they’re not the only ones dying for your burger.

Americans eat around 50 billion burgers every single year—enough to circle the Earth 32 times, or a long enough line to go to the moon, come back to Earth, and go back to the moon. 

With that astonishing amount of burgers, whether they’re made from cows, chickens, turkeys, or even bison, billions of farmed animals are raised on cruel factory farms and slaughtered for consumption. However, those animals are not the only ones dying for your burger.

Sadly, each of those 50 billion burgers Americans consume yearly comes with a much higher price. Not only does our burger habit impact our environment—adding up to 1,050 pounds of carbon dioxide equivalent, 66,300 gallons of water, and 1,530 pounds of manure—it also directly impacts wildlife who are being killed for farmers.

Sadly, wildlife habitats are often decimated in order to grow animal feed or expand pastures for cows to graze. And Wildlife Services, an agency within the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), kills over a million wild animals each year, largely for the farmed animal industry, by horrendous means such as poisoning, cyanide bombs, neck snares, and even being shot from an airplane, with a large portion of their $286 million budget (all tax-payer funded) going to protect the interests of Big Ag. In fact, a whopping 36.5 percent of the agency’s activities were done to “protect agriculture, including livestock, row crops, aquaculture, and timber.” 

According to Carter Neimeyer, a former Wildlife Services employee from 1975-2006, the grim reality is that “[Wildlife Services] were the hired gun of the livestock industry.” Last year alone, Wildlife Services killed 1.45 million animals through various cruel means. Of those 1.45 million animals, 2,503 native animals were “unintentionally removed.”

In 2022, 142 of the 174 documented wolf deaths in Minnesota were killed by Wildlife Services, often on the bequest of ranchers who claim to have lost animals to wolf predation.

Not only are taxpayers footing the bill for the deaths of wild animals, ranchers are effectively receiving publicly-funded protection for their privately-held “livestock,” while also receiving tax-payer-funded payouts for animals lost to predation. In 2022, that totaled $100,000 for 78 wolf predation claims in Minnesota, according to the Minnesota Reformer

According to the Wolf Conservation Center of New York:

“Funded with millions of taxpayer dollars, and without modern scientific support, [Wildlife Services] uses cruel and often archaic methods to capture and kill wild animals that come between ranchers or farmers and their profits.”

It isn’t just wolves who suffer and are killed to “protect agriculture.” Wildlife Services killed 56,089 coyotes in 2022, with more than one million coyotes killed since 2000. Last year, 68,649 coyotes were killed and in 2022, Wildlife Services also gassed over 200 coyote burrows and dens with an unknown number of animals inside. More than 814,300 European starlings were targeted by Wildlife Services because of their taste for grain used on cow feedlots.

The government agency has also killed hundreds of endangered gray wolves, threatened grizzly bears, highly endangered Mexican gray wolves, beavers, foxes, bobcats, mountain lions, river otters, porcupines, migratory shorebirds, and many other species. In total, Wildlife Services has killed over 56 million wild animals since 2004.

Wildlife Services used a variety of cruel killing methods, including the ingestion of Compound 1080. Compound 1080, a poison that causes acute pain and convulsions, is non-discriminatory and extremely lethal in small amounts—with reports of a wolf and a dog both dying after feeding on a deer carcass poisoned with the pesticide.

Starlings are usually mass-poisoned with DRC-1339, which kills the birds between three and 80 hours after ingesting a lethal dose by destroying their heart and kidney function, an excruciatingly painful way to die.

Between 2000 and 2021, traps and baited cyanide bombs set out by Wildlife Services have even killed more than 1,100 dogs, including family pets. Yes, even companion animals are dying for your burgers.

According to Robert Gosnell, who administered Wildlife Services in New Mexico, he “inherited an entrenched and systemic corruption problem,” according to The Intercept. When discussing the USDA’s eradication of an entire endangered Mexican gray wolf pack, Gosnell stated:

“I know some of those depredation [report]s that caused [wolf] removals were illegal. My guys in the field were going and rubber-stamping anything those people asked them to.”

According to Gosnell, many Wildlife Services workers also had second jobs as hunting guides for the same ranchers whose claims they evaluated. Gosnell was later demerited and transferred out of New Mexico after filing a claim with the USDA Office of the Inspector General for retaliation when he launched an investigation into depredation claims. 

In fact, Rainy Mesa Ranch—whose owner, Audrey McQueen runs a trophy hunting business and actively lobbies for wolf removals—complained up the hierarchy to the Wildlife Services’ Western regional office after one of Gosnell’s investigators visited Rainy Mesa Ranch. The investigator was later removed from depredation investigations, pressured to sign an admission of guilt, and “railroaded” out of the department, according to Gosnell. Rainy Mesa Ranch had 48 of the 49 claims confirmed as wolf attacks between 2018 and 2021, including 31 depredation claims in six months.

While it’s “very unusual” for a wolf pack to attack older cows according to Carter Neimeyer, these very same claims from ranchers made up more than half of the confirmed wolf kills in the New Mexico Wildlife Services database. Niemeyer recalled that he was constantly pressured to change his reports by superiors. Eventually, he was fired due to complaints from ranchers, according to The Intercept.

The collusion between Big Ag and Wildlife Services continues to go much deeper. In fact, Gary Strader, who worked for Wildlife Services before his job was terminated in 2009, found a federally protected golden eagle strangled in a neck snare. When reported to his supervisor, he was told, “if you think nobody saw it, go get a shovel and bury it and don’t say nothing to anybody.”

In order to protect wild animals in the United States, we have to withdraw our support from the industries that abuse and kill them—including Big Ag that not only profits from the cruelty inflicted on farmed animals, but from contracting Wildlife Services to kill wild animals.

Interested in starting your journey to eliminate animal products from your diet? Check out our community of Plant-Powered Changemakers who can give you tips, tricks, and vegan recipes to help you get started!

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