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Sustainable Animal Products: An Oxymoron

Go to any Whole Foods and you will see a variety of terminology describing a “new way” of raising farmed animals: local, organic, sustainable, free-range, etc. While it is certainly optimistic that the environmental and ethical impact of our diet has come into the collective awareness, we must pause to question how “green” this new meat really is.

While supposedly sustainable, free-range beef and dairy cows are not gobbling up as much grain, they are drinking notably more water than a factory farmed animal because they are more active. As byproducts of their metabolism, they are still producing methane and nitrous oxide, a dangerous greenhouse gas almost 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide. And it takes vast amounts of land to graze these cows, land that was once habitat to wildlife and endangered species.

Furthermore, a closer look at the production and distribution mechanisms behind self-proclaimed “local”, “sustainable”, and “free-range” animal products reveals that they are not the green superstars many in the local food movement believe them to be.

 

Local Buzz

When we think of eating green, we often think of locally produced food as being the most ecological choice. Local eating is the latest eco buzz. People want to know how “green” their tomato is. Is it an island hopper with pages of stamps in its passport, or is it a down home local from the farmer’s market?

Buying and eating regionally is a principled pursuit, however few people realize that in terms of eating carbon consciously, choosing a tomato is always a better option than choosing an animal product regardless of the proximity of its production.

While buying regionally grown and produced food is often good for decreasing greenhouse gas emissions, choosing a plant-based product over an animal product reduces our environmental impact significantly more. Upon deeper investigation into production, local animal products have far more environmental impact than a tomato with a tropical tan.

A study in the Journal of Environmental Science and Technology found that shifting just two meals a week from meat and dairy products to a vegan diet reduces more greenhouse gasses than buying all locally-sourced food.

It turns out there is more to assessing the ecological consequence of a food product than where it was grown or produced. The total production effect, as well as the energy and water needed to produce the product, must be taken into account.  When gauging the carbon footprint of food, transportation (or how ‘”local” the food is) is only 11 percent of the equation, while production is a stunning 83 percent (See Food-Miles and the Relative Climate Impacts of Food Choices in the United States). And animal products are incredibly intensive on production, many times more than plant foods.

Animals raised for meat, dairy, and eggs are fed soy, oats, alfalfa, and corn, among other foods. Feed crops are usually not grown locally. Even “grass-fed” cows are often fed imported grain some portion of the year. Grain that could be going directly to people is shipped for hundreds, sometimes thousands of miles to feed “local” chickens, turkeys, pigs, goats, and cows (See Future Food Production and Consumption in California Under Alternative Scenarios). This is in addition to the water and land wasted growing those grains, water the animals drink, the fossil fuel squandered on the slaughtering process, refrigeration energy costs, etc. The energy used for production of local animal products is enormous compared to the low carbon footprint of plant food.

Free-Range/Sustainable

It is impossible to allocate sufficient land to pasture-raise animals and feed the billions of people on the planet meat, dairy, and eggs. At current consumption levels, to feed all 7 billion people animal products, we have to cram farmed animals into tiny spaces and stack them on top of each other. Fifty-five billion land animals are raised and slaughtered each year world wide. They already occupy 80 percent of the Earth’s total usable arable land (See Livestock’s Long Shadow: Environmental Issues and Options). How much more can we spare?

Imagine a modern egg operation with thousands of hens crowded in a windowless warehouse occupying about an acre of land. Now imagine how much land would be needed to let all those hens have the room they need and deserve. How many acres would that take? We simply don’t have the space.

Loss of biodiversity and habitat destruction is already a considerable concern when it comes to animal agriculture.  Globally, livestock production is one of the leading causal factors in the loss of biodiversity and a key factor in loss of species. Within certain regions in the U.S., livestock grazing is the number one cause of species being federally listed as threatened or endangered (See Livestock’s Long Shadow: Environmental Issues and Options). Shifting to a diet with local animal products has the potential to increase the damage to biodiversity as more community’s open spaces would be required for free-ranging animals (See “Green” Eggs and Ham? The Myth of Sustainable Meat and the Danger of the Local by Vasile Stanescu).

In a recent interview with Joel Salatin, a sustainable animal farmer made famous in the film Food Inc. for slaughtering chickens on camera, he referred to his cows and confessed, “We move them every day from paddock to paddock and only give them access to a single spot a couple of days a year.” Wow! How many acres does he need to be “sustainable”? You may be able to feed a few hipster foodies that seek out local animal products this way, but try to feed 7 billion hungry people, with an ever increasing appetite for meat, with free-range animals. It can’t be done.  Free-range animal farming is not an ecologically viable method of food production. A global shift to a plant-based diet is the only solution to preserving our environment and having enough food to feed everyone.

Family Secret

I recently heard a commercial that stated, “99 percent of California farms are family farms.” This is a true statement, I’m sure, as the owners of these farms are married and perhaps have children. But many of these family farms are still large, industrial, polluting agribusinesses. “Family farms” is just another deceptive buzz word to sell products to an unsuspecting public endeavoring to make ethical choices.

The desire to eat ecologically and seek out “green” food products is a monumental step in the right direction that animal agribusiness is attempting to exploit. We need to remember that plant-based is best. Eating an organic plant-based diet is truly eating green. Adopting a vegan diet is one of the most powerful things you can do to decrease your carbon footprint, reduce suffering, and live a vibrant, healthy life.

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12 comments on “Sustainable Animal Products: An Oxymoron”

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Ted
2 Years Ago

The only problem is that vegan diets are bland in comparison. Not to mention, vegans rely heavily on soy, 92% of which is genetically modified. Vegans are entirely inconsistent when they claim that eating meat is not good for the environment, yet they consume GMOs that are very detrimental to the environment. Also, it's too hard to ask someone who's been enjoying beef brisket, pulled pork, spaghetti bolognese, etc. for many many years to suddenly give up those up entirely. Yes, we all need to eat more vegetables, fruits, and grains while lowering our consumption of meat, but we don't have to eliminate meat entirely.


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lc
16 Jul 2014

Dear Ted,
Either you work for the food industry spreading false perceptions to maintain market share or you are being lied too. All food is bland without a good recipe. If you food sucks its your fault, man up. Next, the market is saturated on both side, meat and non meat, with products that are GMO or otherwise modified from its original state. Also, not all black people like hip-hop, and not all vegans eat soy products. Next i will tell you sir like I told my friends, your CHOICE to still make bad decisions is your CHOICE. If you can not break a habit for your on self preservation then natural selection be at work and I say "live and let die”. We are witnessing evolution at work folks.

VEco friendly accessories
2 Years Ago

I see here even more reasons to become vegan. To be honest I did not realise the full implications of 'green cattle' etc until I read your article. By the way, the comment box on your pages needs adjusting...when writing, the first couple of words on the left are obscured, so if the any typos please forgive me as I can't see properly.


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vegan leather
2 Years Ago

I'm extremely glad I noticed this site, it presented me with several brand new suggestions and I have lots of your own personal beliefs. Before I got here here I ran across a really good website to get hold of environmentally friendly merchandise, simply wonderful for vegan accessories or non-meat eaters amongst your readership. Thanks a lot for permitting me to talk about this.


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Ryan Welch
3 Years Ago

http://www.islandfarmersal​liance.org/information/rum​inants_climate_chng.htm http://vimeo.com/8239427 Properly managed grazing practices sequester carbon, not increase. The stomachs of ruminants actually help reverse desertification. Alan Savory proves this. (second video) Joel Salatin also proves that grass can feed the world much more efficiently than corn or other monocultures.


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Daniel
3 Years Ago

An excellent article written by Bob Holmes over at New Scientist, give it a read! "Veggieworld: Why eating greens won't save the planet 14 July 2010 by Bob Holmes NEW SCIENTIST IF YOU'RE a typical westerner, you ate nearly 100 kilograms of meat last year. This was almost certainly the costliest part of your diet, especially in environmental terms. The clamour for people to eat less meat to save the planet is growing ever louder. "Less meat = less heat", proclaimed Paul McCartney in the run-up to last December's conference on global warming in Copenhagen. And this magazine recently recommended eating less meat as a way to reduce our environmental footprint. If less is good, wouldn't none be better? You might think so. "In the developed world, the most effective way to reduce the environmental impact of diet, on a personal basis, is to become vegetarian or vegan," says Annette Pinner, chief executive of the Vegetarian Society in the UK. It seems like a no-brainer, but is it really that simple? To find out, let's imagine what would happen if the whole world decided to eliminate meat, milk and eggs from its diet, then trace the effects as they ripple throughout agriculture, the environment and society. The result may surprise you. In 2008 the world consumed about 280 million tonnes of meat, 700 million tonnes of milk and 1.2 billion eggs, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Environmentally speaking, this came at an enormous cost. All agriculture damages the environment - think of all those felled forests and ploughed-up prairies, all the irrigation water, manure, tractor fuel, pesticides and fertiliser. Agriculture produces more greenhouse gases than all methods of transport put together, and contributes to a host of other problems, from nitrogen pollution to soil erosion. Livestock farming does the most damage. In part, that is because most livestock eat grain that could be used to feed people. As little as 10 per cent of that grain gets converted into meat, milk or eggs, so livestock amplify the environmental impact of farming by forcing us to grow more grain than we would otherwise need. As a rough measure of how much more, consider that livestock consume about a third of the world's grain crop. So as a first approximation, a vegan world would need only two-thirds of the cropland used today. That's only part of the story, of course: meat and milk make up about 15 per cent of calories eaten by humans, so we would need to eat more grain to compensate for their loss. Altogether, switching to a vegan diet would reduce the amount of land used for crops by 21 per cent - about 3.4 million square kilometres, roughly the size of India. Such a reduction would have a huge effect on the environmental impact of farming. Take nitrogen pollution, which can lead to eutrophication in lakes. As a small-scale illustration, environmental scientist Allison Leach of the University of Virginia in Charlottesville calculated that if everyone at her university cut out meat from their diet, it would reduce the university's nitrogen footprint - the amount of nitrogen released to the environment from all activities - by 27 per cent. This is largely because of reductions in fertiliser use and the amount of nitrogen leaching from manure. If everyone went a step further and eliminated dairy products and eggs as well, Leach found that the university's nitrogen footprint would fall by 60 per cent. It's not just in terms of nitrogen that livestock impact the environment. Global statistics are hard to come by, but in the US at least, livestock account for 55 per cent of soil erosion and 37 per cent of pesticide use. As well as that, half of all antibiotics manufactured are fed to livestock, often as part of their normal diet, a practice that is leading to antibiotic resistance in bacteria. That's not all. Livestock are also a major source of greenhouse gases. Much of this comes in the form of methane - an especially potent greenhouse gas - produced by microbes in the guts of grazers such as cattle and sheep, and eventually belched out to the atmosphere. Livestock farming also accounts for a lot of carbon dioxide, mostly from forests being cut down for pasture, or when overgrazing and the resulting soil erosion causes a net loss of carbon from soils. When you add all this together, livestock account for a whopping 18 per cent of all greenhouse gas emissions as measured in CO2 equivalents, according to Livestock's Long Shadow, a 2006 FAO report. Eliminating livestock would certainly make a big difference in efforts to control global warming. Just how big a difference depends on what replaces the livestock and the land it grazes. Certainly, where pastures revert to forests - particularly in areas like the Amazon basin, for example, where 70 per cent of deforested land is now pasture - the regrowing forest will sequester huge amounts of carbon. The American plains, too, would accumulate carbon in their soil if grazing stopped. But in sub-Saharan Africa, any reduction in methane from domestic grazers is likely to be at least partially offset by increased emissions from wild grazers and termites, which compete with livestock for food. "It's certainly worth someone spending some time to look at that," says Philip Thornton, an agricultural systems scientist with the International Livestock Research Institute. Hidden costs A meat-free world, then, would be greener in many ways: less cropland, more forest and, presumably, more biodiversity; lower greenhouse gas emissions; less agricultural pollution; less demand for fresh water - the list goes on. Clearly, if meat, milk and eggs were on trial for crimes against the environment, the prosecution would have an easy ride. And that says nothing of animal-welfare issues. But wait. If everyone opted to give up meat there would be significant costs, too. It is true that most livestock today are fed grain that people could otherwise eat, but it doesn't have to be so. For most of human history, cattle, sheep and goats grazed on land that wasn't suitable for ploughing, and in doing so they converted inedible grass into edible meat and milk. Even today, a flock of sheep or goats can be the most efficient way to get food from marginal land. In a world where more than a billion people don't have enough to eat, taking such land out of production would only contribute to food insecurity. Moreover, for semi-arid or hilly land, modest levels of grazing may cause much less ecological damage than growing crops. Even pigs and chickens, which lack the digestive machinery to eat grass, don't need grain. Instead they can subsist on leftovers and whatever they forage. "Your household pig was your useful dustbin," says Tara Garnett, who heads the Food Climate Research Network at the University of Surrey in Guildford, UK. "You give your leftovers to the pigs, they deal with your rubbish, and you get meat." Fed in this way, livestock represent a net gain of calories and protein in the human diet while dealing with some of the estimated 30 to 50 per cent of food that goes to waste - a benefit that a meat-free world would have to do without. Most pig and chicken farms are missing a trick here, since the animals eat commercial, grain-based feeds. You give your leftovers to the pigs, they deal with your rubbish and you get meat Another downside would be the disappearance of animal by-products. A meat-free world would have to replace the 11 million tonnes of leather and 2 million tonnes of wool that come from livestock farming every year. Not only that, many farmers would miss the manure, though the use of animal fertiliser is less important than it once was. "Manure has become a minor source of nitrogen in all major agricultural countries. It's not unimportant, but it accounts for probably less than 15 per cent of total nitrogen," says Vaclav Smil, an environmental scientist at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, Canada. Even ardent vegetarians acknowledge that dairy products and even meat may be a good thing in poorer countries. "Whilst there's no doubt that considerable reduction of meat consumption would have an environmental benefit, we do have to be careful about saying it would be the best solution if the whole world went vegetarian," says Pinner. For as many as a billion of the world's poorest rural residents, an animal or two may represent their only realistic hope for a little extra income, and a little bit of animal protein can make a big difference to a marginal diet. What if we decided on a vegetarian, rather than vegan diet? After all, milk and eggs are very efficient ways of producing animal calories, second only to factory-reared broiler chickens. Unfortunately, an exclusively lacto-ovo livestock system simply doesn't work well in practice. "It's difficult to switch to a no-meat but milk diet, because you cannot produce milk without meat," says Helmut Haberl, a social ecologist at the Institute of Social Ecology in Vienna, Austria. Dairy cows must calve every year to keep producing milk, and only half their offspring will be female. While many vegetarians see moral reasons not to kill and eat the males - or retired dairy cows - there is surely no practical reason to waste so much meat. Similar arguments apply to chickens kept for eggs. So even though a meat-free world sounds good on paper, it is likely that a utopian future will still have some animal products in it. And we are talking meat, not just milk and eggs. The real questions, then, are how much meat do we want, and how will we produce it? The answers depends on how you approach the question. The most straightforward is to assume that the world will continue to demand ever more meat. That is certainly how things are going at the moment (see "Wealth = meat"). Under this scenario, the goal will have to be producing the most meat at the lowest environmental cost. That means fewer free-range cattle and sheep grazing in bucolic pastures and more animals, especially chickens, packed into feedlots or high-density enclosures. "If you're going to keep some livestock systems, I think the ones you'll want to keep are the intensive ones," says Walter Falcon, an agricultural economist at Stanford University in California. Indigestible grass That's because pasture grazing is inherently inefficient. Animals burn large amounts of energy roaming about the landscape feeding on relatively indigestible grasses. They grow more slowly than feedlot animals and, as a result, emit more methane over their lifetime. A beef cow in a US pasture, for example, emits 50 kilograms of methane per year, compared with just 26 kilograms in a feedlot, according to Livestock's Long Shadow. But even a feedlot cow is a much less efficient meat producer than an industrial pig or chicken. While these eat a largely grain-based diet and thus compete directly with humans for food, they are relatively good at converting feed into flesh while producing little or no methane. This keeps their environmental cost down: a kilogram of industrial chicken meat represents greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to just 3.6 kilograms of CO2; a kilogram of pork, 11.2 kilograms; and a kilogram of beef, 28.1 kilograms, according to an analysis by Bo Weidema of sustainable development consultancy 2.-0 LCA based in Aalborg, Denmark. Of course, such intensive operations cause other problems as well, notably the disposal of large amounts of manure. In theory - and increasingly in practice - much of this manure could be used to generate biogas and subsequently electricity. If all US livestock manure were processed in this way, it could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by about 100 million tonnes annually, equivalent to 4 per cent of the emissions from electricity generation (Environmental Research Letters, vol 3, p 034002). With the right incentives, intensive livestock farms could cause much less environmental damage than they do today. There is another alternative, though: treat livestock as part of the ecosystem. Garnett envisions returning animals to their original role as waste-disposal units, eating food leftovers and grazing on land not suitable for crops. "In that context," she says, "methane emissions per animal will be higher, but overall emissions would be less because there would be fewer animals." Fewer animals means less meat of course. Just how much less, no one really knows. As a first approximation, Garnett notes that about half of global meat production comes from intensive animal-only farms, and none of these would be allowed under the ecological approach. What is left would be those ranches where animals graze on marginal land and are not fed grain - about 10 per cent of the total today - and a larger number of mixed farms where the livestock feed off crop residues, milling wastes and other leftovers. Such a future would require a major adjustment in food preferences. People would need to eat less meat, especially in the meat-hungry west. Not only that, but we would also have to change the kind of meat we eat. "You are not going to get your fat, heavy-breasted chickens by feeding them household scraps and letting them peck for worms. You are going to get a much scrawnier animal," says Garnett. Would people really accept pricey free-range beef and scrawny barnyard chickens perhaps once or twice a week? Certainly most do not today, opting for price and abundance over environmental impact. But change happens. Given the deforestation, soil erosion, water pollution and greenhouse gas emissions that will result if worldwide meat production continues to rise, some people are already choosing to eat less meat. And the message is definitely less, not none. For best results, meat should be medium-rare. Wealth = meat Persuading the world to eat less meat looks like a tough task. In country after country, as people become wealthier they eat more meat. Between 1980 and 2002, per capita meat consumption in developing countries doubled to 28 kilograms per year, and is projected to rise to 37 kilograms per year by 2030. That is still less than half what the average person in the developed world eats today, and demand is still rising. In the west, people ate nearly 8 per cent more meat per capita in 2002 than they did in 1992. When you add this to the growing population, the United Nations' best guess is that by 2050, the world will need to more than double its production of meat - an increase that would be environmentally disastrous. Bob Holmes is a consultant for New Scientist based in Edmonton, Canada"


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Josh
3 Years Ago

This post is pissing me off so much! I'm gonna try to be sensible here and give facts not anger, and if I do I want you to understand that its not anger at you but at the disconnected-from-the-land society we've become. Where do you live? SF? LA? NYC? I live in a suburban area too but I just spent a few months in Vermont where intensive rotational grazing (IRG - this is what Joel Salatin is talking about) dairy cows (and to a lesser extent IRG beef) is one of the main industries and has been for centuries. Why is this? Because thats what Vermont can produce the best. Staple grains and vegetables don't grow particularly well in the NE because of the short season and bugs, but the one thing they have plenty of is grass. Obviously humans can't eat grass - thats where the cows come in. I'm confused as to why your arguing against the positive environmental impacts of local production as a reason why free range meat isn't sustainable. Just because greenhouse gas emissions are only cut 11% by local food doesn't mean we shouldn't buy locally. I'm having a problem with the numbers you're using because tt looks to me like the comparison between eating local and cutting meat is for meat raised on a CAFO (which we can all agree is unsustainable). In fact, since you brought Joel Salatin into the discussion, Salatin said in a lecture at Stanford about 2 years ago that he is actually sequestering carbon by using IRG methods. This is backed up by other proponents of IRG (see the book "Greener Pastures on Your Side of the Fence"). If every cow eaten in the US was raised with IRG, Salatin said, we'd reverse the carbon emissions of the entire industrial revolution! Ruminate on that. This of course brings up the issue of land. First of all, stop reading this, go outside, and look around. There is actually a lot of semi-arable land that the "professionals" who do those fancy calculations you used do not take into account. I'm not talking about wildlife corridors and national parks. I'm talking about your front yard. Especially in a place like Vermont there is lots of unforested land that is not being used for either animal or vegetable production. Second, there are clearly some places where grazing cows does not make sense. In fact each region (read: local diet) has its own unique array of edible plants that grow well. And there are some places where raising cattle on grass actually makes the most ecological sense. Then add some trading between different regions (which we've been doing for tens of thousands of years) and we're on the path to food sustainability. In fact, trying to plant the whole world with grains and vegetables would be a huge mistake. If the whole world were converted to vegan foodstuffs we'd be in some serious trouble. I see two main reasons why this is. The first is food security issue that if we continue to limit the sources of our food than all it will take is the right virus or plague to wipe the entire food supply out. Having both animal and vegetable in our food supply makes us more secure. Second is that unless you think 20 million young people are gonna go tend our veggies, we are going to be adding masses of unsustainable machines and harvesters to the industry. Also you mentioned the argument that there isnt enough space on earth to grass-feed all the cows. Well if the true cost of a cow were realized in the supermarket price (as in stop subsidizing, make them pay for hazardous waste on CAFOs, etc), we'd see less people buying meat less often at a much more reasonable rate. Americans eat the amount of meat they do because meat is yummy and because they can. But if all meat was produced properly than you could feed America just fine with that amount of beef. So one of the questions here is would you rather this: http://www.uky.edu/Ag/GrainCrops/Images/10/Nichols_Harvest_0001.jpg or this http://i2.squidoocdn.com/resize/squidoo_images/590/draft_lens6950032module57299902photo_1252960308benefits-of-organic-free-range-meat.jpg Also I want to say that I know vegans get hated on a lot, and I have no problem with vegans. I'm concerned with the health consequences of eating a vegan diet but I'm aware that there's really no conclusive evidence that its particularly unhealthy. I think you could do much better for your health by cutting out sugar (see nofructose.org). I'm not trying to convert you to a meat eater though. But I want you to stop telling people that a vegan diet will save the world. Next time before you post about this you should talk to some farmers. You'd be surprised at how intelligent and knowledgeable they are about this stuff. Please respond and tell me what you think about all this. Don't leave me hanging.


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Hope Bohanec
13 May 2011

Josh- just wanted to let you know that I appreciate the opportunity for dialogue. I have been very busy all week, but will have some time this weekend to work on a response. I'll get back to you! Thanks! Hope

Hope Bohanec
15 May 2011

Josh, Thank you for your thoughts. I would like to start this response by pointing out that we have much in common. We both agree that CAFO’s are unsustainable, that we need to stop subsidizing factory farms, and we are both concerned with the environmental impact of our food systems. Where the debate starts to get interesting is when we consider what this sustainable food future will look like. You asked me where I live. I have lived in rural Sonoma County for the last 20 years and have known farmers in the area personally- both animal and vegetable. I partially agree with your assessment in that some of them are “intelligent and knowledgeable,” but frankly many are simply just trying to make a living, basically profit motivated, and have very little regard for the environment. If it wasn’t for the later, we wouldn’t be having this discussion. To your point, “…Because thats what Vermont can produce the best. Staple grains and vegetables don’t grow particularly well in the NE because of the short season and bugs, but the one thing they have plenty of is grass. Obviously humans can’t eat grass – thats where the cows come in.” Upon investigation, I learned that there are numerous crops grown in Vermont. Apples, apricots, Asian pears, asparagus, artichokes, beans, blackberries, blueberries, beets, boysenberries, broccoli, brussel sprouts, and that’s just the A’s and B’s. Kale, cabbage, and potatoes have a long growing season in the NE. Here’s a full list of the crops grown in Vermont: http://www.pickyourown.org/VTharvestcalendar.htm With canning and freezing for the winter, Vermonters can eat a varied and healthy local plant-based diet quite easily. There is absolutely no need to resort to producing animal products that are more energy intensive, and therefore less environmentally sound for food. To your point, “Just because greenhouse gas emissions are only cut 11% by local food doesn’t mean we shouldn’t buy locally.” I agree, buy (or grow) local veggies and fruits. I advocate for a local, organic, plant-based diet. Sure, chipping away at the 11% transportation part is important, but my point was that the production phase is 83% of the greenhouse gas emissions and animal products are SIGNIFICANTLY more energy intensive relative to production than plant foods, whether they are free-range, organic or otherwise. To your point, “Salatin said in a lecture at Stanford about 2 years ago that he is actually sequestering carbon by using IRG methods.” Salatin’s claim is questionable at best. He has himself noted that his method requires one acre PER COW! Again, we just don’t have the acreage to feed the world in this manner. Even if there was a considerable reduction in the amount of meat eaten, that one acre of land could feed many more people if we grew vegetables or grains on it. (Pounds of potatoes that can be grown on an acre: 40,000. Pounds of beef produced on an acre: 250- and that is a feedlot acre with way more cows than Salatin uses) With 7 billion people to feed, we need to use land efficiently if we are to have any hope of preserving wildlife habitat or even feeding this massive human population. IRG and other free-range animal methods are an insufficient use of land-- land that could be reforested with trees to TRULY sequester carbon. Again, it is considerably more resource intensive to produce animals for food. To your point, “If the whole wor”ld were converted to vegan foodstuffs we’d be in some serious trouble… food security issue … unless you think 20 million young people are , gonna go tend our veggies, we are going to be adding masses of unsustainable machines and harvesters to the industry.” To the first issue of food security, I agree that monocroping is not sustainable and there should be a diversity of crops, but only plant-foods. Farming animals actually creates plagues and diseases. And not just in modern animal agriculture but ever since we have been domesticating animals. Diseases animals are suffering from jump to humans and cause serious outbreaks not only in industrial farming, but also in rural “local” farming in Africa and Asia: Foot and Mouth, Avian Flu, Mad Cow, SARS, Bovine Lung Plague, Swine Fever (sometimes called “Hog Cholera”), Newcastle Disease (a highly infectious disease of domestic poultry). An article in Science Daily said, “A remarkable 61 percent of all human pathogens, and 75% of new human pathogens, are transmitted by animals, and some of the most lethal bugs affecting humans originate in our domesticated animals.” (http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/02/110210141210.htm) I knew a bit about this issue, but researching it has brought to light just how serious this is. Thank you for getting me to look into this; I may right my next article for One Green Planet about it. Another factor is that over half of our antibiotic use goes to animals, and this excessive use is creating some tenacious strands of MDR (“multiple drug resistant”) pathogens. I understand that this contention does not apply to organically produced animals, but I also have my reservations about withholding necessary medication from animals simply because a farmer wants to keep their product “organic.” Sick animals should be treated and not left sick so the milk or meat is not tainted with antibiotics. Secondly, the farm land needed to produce plant-crops for humans is already in place. We grow millions of acres of animal feed- corn, alfalfa, soy, oats, etc. to feed animals. Eliminate the animals and feed the crops grown on this land to humans. No need for more workers, no more acres need be cultivated, no more industry equipment. The infrastructure is already there, we just need to stop wasting our grain production on animals. To your point, “I’m concerned with the health consequences of eating a vegan diet but I’m aware that there’s really no conclusive evidence that its particularly unhealthy. I think you could do much better for your health by cutting out sugar (see nofructose.org).” I agree, cutting out sugar is good, but animal products are what’s really killing us. Animal foods are a recipe for disease with high saturated fat and cholesterol with no fiber or phytochemicals. Plant-based diets are high in disease fighting fiber, phytochemicals, and antioxidants. According to numerous studies, plant-based diets have been shown to lower the risk of many diseases including heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes and obesity. The American Dietetic Association states, “…appropriately planned vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. Well-planned vegetarian diets are appropriate for individuals during all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, and adolescence, as well as for athletes.” Bottom line- Climate change imperils life on earth as we know it. An effective way to address the urgency of climate change pragmatically is to significantly reforest land that is used today for livestock and feed production and drastically reduce, or eliminate livestock production which is, whether organic, local, free-range or otherwise, significantly more energy intensive and wasteful of our dwindling resources. With the quality, health, and price of veggie foods being significantly better than the quality, health, and price of livestock products, there is a huge incentive for a global shift to a vegan diet. Again, I really appreciate a healthy dialogue. Thank you for making me think about the issue further and do more research. I have numerous projects I’m working on, so unfortunately, I will not be able to continue this discussion, so you are welcome to have the “last word” if you like. Respectfully, Hope Bohanec Grassroots Campaigns Director, IDA

Ian
3 Years Ago

Comment form is formatting oddly. The real link: http://vimeo.com/22952053 (Please moderate previous post as duplicate)


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Ian
3 Years Ago

I made a video on the ethical side of this issue. While I believe that the argument against eating animal products is very strong, I feel that most people are compelled by the ethical reasons to care for animals rather than exploiting them. I think the ecological impacts of this caring are just icing on the cake.


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Ryan Moore
3 Years Ago

Great article! More people need to make this connection. Driving a hybrid car, recycling and buying local are important things but the single most important thing you can do for the planet is to go vegan. Incidentally, it's better for your health ... not to mention the health of the animals!


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