Two weeks ago, the Worldwatch Institute reported a study that showed livestock produce 51% of anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions, not 18% as previously estimated. The report is, frankly, damning and the Institute’s summary concludes with a succinct suggestion that we abandon animal products:
Based on their research, Goodland and Anhang conclude that replacing livestock products with soy-based and other alternatives would be the best strategy for reversing climate change. “This approach would have far more rapid effects on GHG emissions and their atmospheric concentrations-and thus on the rate the climate is warming-than actions to replace fossil fuels with renewable energy.”
This Monday, the New Zealand Herald caught up, in a beautifully-titled article: Meat Eating Worse Than Thought – Study.
Now, of course that’s fascinating – not to mention concerning – in itself. I’m sure that the environmental side of veganism will become a recurring theme on this blog, and this new study adds new weight to the ecological case for eating less (or no!) animal products.
But what I find more interesting is the comments on the Herald’s Your Views page about this. It’s a great vox populi sample of the New Zealand population, and, while I really do hope that it’s not representative, it’s definitely telling. So let’s have a look at what people have to say.
The first example comes courtesy of Editing the Herald. H from Franklin is really worried that people might kill the animals:
“H (Franklin): What concerns me about this topic is that it sounds as if a great number of animals will have to be killed off to stop them contributing to green house gasses through expiration and flatulence. (Remember the FART tax!) And it probably won’t just be limited to traditional farm animals.”
Editing the Herald retorts:
Oh what? You mean… they’ll have to kill the livestock.
This is a striking example of the complete illogic that is common regarding animal farming. It seems that the thought that farm animals might get killed never crossed H’s mind. And H is not alone. It definitely didn’t cross AndrewKiwi’s mind:
Besides, what are you going to do with all those anamials if we stop eating them? They will not magicaly stop producing methane. Far from it. The only answer is to kill them along with the New Zealand economy. Unless you do that thier numbers will actualy INCREASE. You know, the whole mating thing.
Aside from the empty and silly economic claim,* there it is again: The horror. We’re going to have to kill the animals. Tied into it is Andrew’s simple ignorance that most farmed livestock don’t breed naturally.
Now, possibly, being charitable, H and Andrew are attempting to mock a straw man of the animal rights advocate, laughing that if we go vegan, we’ll have to kill all the animals. That’s a nonsensical argument, because: one, we already kill the animals; two, if we stop breeding them, we’ll stop having to kill them; and, three, not even the most optimistic vegan expects everyone to go vegan overnight. Thus, rather than having to do one mass cull of all farmed livestock, presumably, if the world does move to a vegan diet, economic pressures will just slowly encourage animal farmers to stop breeding animals.
But I don’t think they thought it through quite so far. In fact, I think they just didn’t think it through at all. I firmly believe that a lot of the population simply does not consider the implications of animal farming. One such implication is that it is entirely possible that more farmed animals are killed in any one year than are alive at any one time. The average lifespan of a broiler chicken is six to eight weeks. So, six times as many broiler chickens will be killed this year as are alive as you read this. Layer hens live around 18 months. But wild chickens? They can live up to ten years. Pigs are usually slaughtered after five to seven months; a pig’s natural lifespan is 10-15 years, or more. Dairy cattle probably live the longest, surviving for four to six years (of a natural lifespan of 20-25 years). Cattle raised for beef live for 15 to 20 months. Sheep can live for eight to eleven years, but prime New Zealand lamb comes from a sheep killed before he or she is one year old.
Moving on, there’s more gold to be had on Your Views. WineGrower from Motueka is worried about vegans’ health:
“it impsayslies that replacing livestock products with better alternatives would be the best strategy for reversing climate change.?
Is this organisation actually a front for some self serving lobby group ?
Humans have evolved as an omnivorous species for a reason.
Consider the following: Vitamin B12 is naturally found in meat, milk and eggs
Vitamin B12 deficiency can cause severe and irreversible damage, especially to the brain and nervous system. At levels only slightly lower than normal, a range of symptoms such as fatigue, depression, and poor memory may be experienced. Vitamin B12 deficiency can also cause symptoms of mania and psychosis. (similar to that found in PETA?)
According to the U.K. Vegan society, the present consensus is that any B12 present in plant foods is likely to be unavailable to humans and so these foods should not be relied upon as safe sources. Also, vegan humans who eat only plant based foods must ordinarily take special care to supplement their diets accordingly. The only reliable vegan sources of B12 are foods fortified with B12 and B12 supplements.
Is this one dimensional report worth the paper it is written on?
Now, he’s not the only one posting there who hasn’t heard of the Worldwatch Institute. Nor, presumably, has he heard of the World Bank, because, if he had, I expect he’d know exactly which self-serving lobby group employs the two people who wrote the report. But that’s for a different post.
So, to recap WineGrower’s point: Humans evolved to be omnivorous because humans need B12. And B12 deficiency is making PETA crazy. Right.
This is a common misconception. Many people firmly believe that vegans and vegetarians are unhealthy. B12 is the strongest example of such an alleged deficiency. The others, especially the protein myth, are very easily dismissed. It is true that B12 doesn’t come from any plant sources. Strictly speaking though, it doesn’t come from any animal sources either: Bacteria produce it. As WineGrower cited the UK Vegan Society, let’s see what it actually says about B12:
Good sources for vegans are yeast extract and fortified foods – like fortified soya milk, fortified margarine and fortified cereals. The B12 is made by fermentation using bacteria, a bit like beer making.
I can live with that. In fact, I do; I’ve been vegan for over six years. I don’t take special care with my diet. For most of the last two years, I only recognised two food groups, and one of them was coffee. Yet I’m not B12 deficient.
WineGrower also simply doesn’t grasp the basics of the land area argument:
Take out non productive areas such as all the mountains and hill country, sea, lakes, swamps and rivers. Then take into account the fact that to get enough essential vitamins and minerals to remain healthy we would need to eat considerably more volume of food.Is there enough viable land on earth to grow enough vegetable based food without the use of animals?
This is completely wrong: It takes less land area to produce a vegan meal than an omnivorous one. There are several environmental reasons for going vegetarian or vegan, and one of the oldest is the contention that it takes much less arable land to produce a vegan’s (or vegetarian’s) diet than an omnivore’s. James Rachels pointed this out in 1977, and I haven’t seen any cogent counter-argument since. To quote Rachels:
In fact, we do use a process that is just this wasteful. The process works like this: First, we use our farmland to grow an enormous quantity of grain–many times the amount that we could consume, if we consumed it as grain or grain products. But we do not consume it in this form. Instead, we feed it to animals, and then we eat the animals. The process is staggeringly inefficient: we have to feed the animals eight pounds of protein in the form of grain to get back one pound in the form of meat, for a wastage of 87.5 percent.
Some days, I find it hard to believe that something first exposed in 1977 isn’t commonly accepted by now. Then I think of climate change and sigh a little. That said, I do heartily recommend that you read Rachels’ article in it’s entirety, as it is very well argued.
Back on Your Views, Dan from Wellington City has different worry:
It’s absolutely true that if everyone on earth was vegetarian then the planet could support twice the population it can support at the moment, but then would you want to live on a planet that crowded?
Never mind the 1.02 billion undernourished people alive today; Dan doesn’t want longer queues at the Wellington supermarkets. The point about veganism and food production is not that we can use it to feed 12 billion people; the point is that we can use it to better feed the six billion people alive today, with less environmental damage, less deforestation, and less wastage.
LadyBarbieGirl, from Epsom, thinks vegetarians are pale, sickly creatures:
Almost all the vegetarians I’ve ever come across look absolutely palefaced like they are about to cop it.
So much for being a, pardon me, “healthy” vegetarian.
Not to mention that a pig can flee it’s killers whilst a carrot and beetroot can’t run anyway at all. Yeah, think about that.
Another common misconception, and one I simply don’t understand. Perhaps I’m simply meeting different vegetarians. On the small team writing this blog, so far, we have passionate cyclists and a weight-lifter. I know a vegetarian kickboxer. And I suppose now is a good time to mention that I’m finding it rather hard to walk today; I ran a marathon yesterday, with Team Vegan. We’re hiking 100km in 36 hours next April (again). Poor, pale, unhealthy vegans.
Finally, I’ll leave you with the views of a fellow Aucklander, Donna. She’s a little bit confused. According to Donna, vegans can’t exist. Because, vegetarians need dairy products like eggs, or they’ll make themselves very ill:
You still need milk, eggs, cheese and other dairy products to keep a good diet. All these products come from animals, especially the humble cow, which we will still need, and will still polute our air.
[* Because no economy has ever successfully changed from producing one kind of product to another, ever, and it’s entirely beneficial to the New Zealand economy to be reliant on a small spectrum of low-value-added export products. Right.]