I was wrong about veganism. Let them eat meat – but...
I was wrong about veganism. Let them eat meat ? but farm it properly http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/sep/06/meat-production-veganism-deforestation By George Monbiot This will not be an easy column to write. I am about to put down 1,200 words in support of a book that starts by attacking me and often returns to this sport. But it has persuaded me that I was wrong. More to the point, it has opened my eyes to some fascinating complexities in what seemed to be a black and white case. In the Guardian in 2002 I discussed the sharp rise in the number of the world's livestock, and the connection between their consumption of grain and human malnutrition. After reviewing the figures, I concluded that veganism "is the only ethical response to what is arguably the world's most urgent social justice issue". I still believe that the diversion of ever wider tracts of arable land from feeding people to feeding livestock is iniquitous and grotesque. So does the book I'm about to discuss. I no longer believe that the only ethical response is to stop eating meat. In Meat: A Benign Extravagance, Simon Fairlie pays handsome tribute to vegans for opening up the debate. He then subjects their case to the first treatment I've read that is both objective and forensic. His book is an abattoir for misleading claims and dodgy figures, on both sides of the argument. There's no doubt that the livestock system has gone horribly wrong. Fairlie describes the feedlot beef industry (in which animals are kept in pens) in the US as "one of the biggest ecological cock-ups in modern history". It pumps grain and forage from irrigated pastures into the farm animal species least able to process them efficiently, to produce beef fatty enough for hamburger production. Cattle are excellent converters of grass but terrible converters of concentrated feed. The feed would have been much better used to make pork. Pigs, in the meantime, have been forbidden in many parts of the rich world from doing what they do best: converting waste into meat. Until the early 1990s, only 33% of compound pig feed in the UK consisted of grains fit for human consumption: the rest was made up of crop residues and food waste. Since then the proportion of sound grain in pig feed has doubled. There are several reasons: the rules set by supermarkets; the domination of the feed industry by large corporations, which can't handle waste from many different sources; but most important the panicked over-reaction to the BSE and foot-and-mouth crises. Feeding meat and bone meal to cows was insane. Feeding it to pigs, whose natural diet incorporates a fair bit of meat, makes sense, as long as it is rendered properly. The same goes for swill. Giving sterilised scraps to pigs solves two problems at once: waste disposal and the diversion of grain. Instead we now dump or incinerate millions of tonnes of possible pig food and replace it with soya whose production trashes the Amazon. Waste food in the UK, Fairlie calculates, could make 800,000 tonnes of pork, or one sixth of our total meat consumption. But these idiocies, Fairlie shows, are not arguments against all meat eating, but arguments against the current farming model. He demonstrates that we've been using the wrong comparison to judge the efficiency of meat production. Instead of citing a simple conversion rate of feed into meat, we should be comparing the amount of land required to grow meat with the land needed to grow plant products of the same nutritional value to humans. The results are radically different. If pigs are fed on residues and waste, and cattle on straw, stovers and grass from fallows and rangelands ? food for which humans don't compete ? meat becomes a very efficient means of food production. Even though it is tilted by the profligate use of grain in rich countries, the global average conversion ratio of useful plant food to useful meat is not the 5:1 or 10:1 cited by almost everyone, but less than 2:1. If we stopped feeding edible grain to animals, we could still produce around half the current global meat supply with no loss to human nutrition: in fact it's a significant net gain. It's the second half ? the stuffing of animals with grain to boost meat and milk consumption, mostly in the rich world ? which reduces the total food supply. Cut this portion out and you would create an increase in available food which could support 1.3 billion people. Fairlie argues we could afford to use a small amount of grain for feeding livestock, allowing animals to mop up grain surpluses in good years and slaughtering them in lean ones. This would allow us to consume a bit more than half the world's current volume of animal products, which means a good deal less than in the average western diet. He goes on to butcher a herd of sacred cows. Like many greens I have thoughtlessly repeated the claim that it requires 100,000 litres of water to produce every kilogram of beef. Fairlie shows that this figure is wrong by around three orders of magnitude. It arose from the absurd assumption that every drop of water that falls on a pasture disappears into the animals that graze it, never to re-emerge. A ridiculous amount of fossil water is used to feed cattle on irrigated crops in California, but this is a stark exception. Similarly daft assumptions underlie the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation's famous claim that livestock are responsible for 18% of the world's greenhouse gas emissions, a higher proportion than transport. Fairlie shows that it made a number of basic mistakes. It attributes all deforestation that culminates in cattle ranching in the Amazon to cattle: in reality it is mostly driven by land speculation and logging. It muddles up one-off emissions from deforestation with ongoing pollution. It makes similar boobs in its nitrous oxide and methane accounts, confusing gross and net production. (Conversely, the organisation greatly underestimates fossil fuel consumption by intensive farming: its report seems to have been informed by a powerful bias against extensive livestock keeping.) Overall, Fairlie estimates that farmed animals produce about 10% of the world's emissions: still too much, but a good deal less than transport. He also shows that many vegetable oils have a bigger footprint than animal fats, and reminds us that even vegan farming necessitates the large-scale killing or ecological exclusion of animals: in this case pests. On the other hand, he slaughters the claims made by some livestock farmers about the soil carbon they can lock away. The meat-producing system Fairlie advocates differs sharply from the one now practised in the rich world: low energy, low waste, just, diverse, small-scale. But if we were to adopt it, we could eat meat, milk and eggs (albeit much less) with a clean conscience. By keeping out of the debate over how livestock should be kept, those of us who have advocated veganism have allowed the champions of cruel, destructive, famine-inducing meat farming to prevail. It's time we got stuck in.
Farming today has been so "industrialized" that live stock are treated in such a way as to increase productivity to support the mass population, which I feel is out of control. The "product" is no longer viewed as a living, breathing, feeling thing. I'm part Cherokee and I know that the Native Americans of long ago hunted and killed buffalo but over each one they downed, they said a prayer of thanks and homage to it for supplying them with food for the winter as well as warmth from it's hide. They never took more then they needed. With all things in nature, there should be a balance and things are out of whack, in my opinion. To eat meat or not, is not the question but more to strike a balance that is ecologically sound and that involves controlling the explosion of humans, not only in their need for consumption of food but for their ever growing encroachment on the planet. Since the suburbs have exploded outward, it is felt that the deer populations are growing. No, we are moving in to their area and taking it and then culling them out. It's sad and it's wrong, but that's another issue. It seems all food stuffs, vegetable as well as animal based, is being so genetically tampered with that we are becoming a more and more unhealthy species, which could be the saving grace of the planet as we inadvertently strike the balance by our own stupidity and greed. The Earth will always win, no matter what. It has eliminated species before and it will again in order to survive. I think we are arrogant as a species to feel we have the ability tol destroy the planet before we destroy ourselves in the process! The planet can regroup and regenerate after we are gone from disease and destruction of our resources. Animals eat other animals to survive. It's the "circle of life" theory. Humans will also consume meat and the thought that they will ever stop, I'm afraid, is a pipe dream. The humane treatment of animals is where the problem lies more then anything else. For those who believe in vegetarianism or veganism, I applaud your endeavors, for the sake of your own health and well being as well as your own personal boycott of the inhumane treatment of slaughter animals. I have cut my consumption of meat back to a very small portion. I believe that if I could eliminate meat entirely from my diet, I would be healthier and I would like to do that for my own sake but I don't think it will cut the number of animals that are used as food down. I elimated red meat from by diet entirely for several years and lost 25 pounds in the first four months. I began eating red meat again, albeit in much smaller quanities, and all the weight returned without changing another thing in my diet. For some, they will never stop eating meat, but my hope for them is to cut it back, not only to make a healthier society but to cut back the need for the beef industry to mass produce. And I am going back to cutting out red meat (beef and pork) despite the chiding I get from my family. And for all you vegans out there, I love you and applaud you and your character not to judge those of us who do eat meat. Cheers, L
MsBeckie last edited by
Thanks for the article reference. Indeed this society is so wasteful oriented. We have the erroneous belief that if we just mass produce we would end hunger, but ended up with more waste and currently have just as much, if not more hunger as a result. The present bovine fast food diet we have in mass produced beef industry actually is harder for the livestock to digest, thus creates an environment of increased bacterium. This is what leads to increases of methane gas. Not all farms use these methods though, so it's asonine to use a couple of extreme examples as the average to calculate the whole. To suggest ethical decisions that go against nature's laws and natural animalistic reactions in man is against logic. To truly be ethical, it must be based on the logical, thus suggesting a particular diet for all of man kind to obtain that is not in accordance to the biological aspect of omnivorism in man, is not ethical at all because it is not logical. This is the same problem that occurs when someone tries to enforce any philosophy or religion upon an entire society, then expand across borders. They will come across the nature of man that has variances in experiences and conditions in life that the philosophy or religion is against their own morals. It denies fellow men as an "end," but rather as a means to their personal ends. This dehumanizes man when one tries to enforce personal opinioned "ethics" upon others in order to achieve an end by using another man as a "means." For more, read Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals from Ethical Theories by Dr. A. I. Melden