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A challenge to environmental arguments against meat-eating

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Emma Woolgatherer
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A challenge to environmental arguments against meat-eating

#1 Postby Emma Woolgatherer » September 7th, 2010, 1:17 pm

This looks very interesting. See George Monbiot's article in the Guardian yesterday: "I was wrong about veganism. Let them eat meat – but farm it properly", about a new book, Meat: A Benign Extravagance?, by Simon Fairlie. Looks like I might have to eat quite a few of my words.

Emma

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Carja
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Re: A challenge to environmental arguments against meat-eating

#2 Postby Carja » September 7th, 2010, 11:59 pm

Realistically, every animal (including human animals) are on the food chain. I would like to see the animals, that we consume, fed the diets that they were meant to have and not penned up all of their lives.

I believe in moderation when it comes to our diets. I eat meat three or four times a week. What I eat the most of is grains, followed by vegetables and then nuts and fruit. I have a desert once or twice a week. I don't believe in totally cutting one basic food out or our diet. When we do that, we are just as bad off as those cows and hogs as far as not eating the foods we were meant to have.
Laugh often/love much;leave the world a bit better whether by a healthy child,a garden patch,or a redeemed social condition;play w/enthusiasm & sing w/exultation;know even 1 life has breathed easier because you lived. This is success.B.A.Stanley

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Dave B
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Re: A challenge to environmental arguments against meat-eating

#3 Postby Dave B » September 8th, 2010, 9:44 pm

Perhaps we should set all the animals free. Then those that can catch their meat can eat it - just like it was in the (very, very, very) old days for everyone.

I am an omnivore, as are all humans naturally (and I do like my bacon sarnies), but I also recognise that "free range" food is not "efficient" in terms of the amount of meat protein demanded by the world's ever increasing population. This puts me in a dilemma because I do not like the idea of animals suffering by being intensively reared.

Due to medical reasons I have reduced my meat intake - but much of what I do eat is chicken, turkey and salmon - all of which tend to be intensively reared. I do try to be selective and check on the sources as much as possible.
"Look forward; yesterday was a lesson, if you did not learn from it you wasted it."
Me, 2015

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Nick
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Re: A challenge to environmental arguments against meat-eating

#4 Postby Nick » September 8th, 2010, 10:08 pm

A very brave post, Emma, but I know you don't post anything without thought. There are many strands to veggiedom, and for some, an individual response is sufficient (which is fine on an individual level). For me, economics plays a huge role in deciding how one should react, and I am pleased to see a lot of economic factors included in this thread. And before anyone jumps into that heffalump trap, economics is about the allocation of scarce resources, not money and 'greed'. If, as is true of some aspects of this article, there are 'externalities', the challenge is to incorporate them within an economic framework. Lots of food for thought.

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Fia
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Re: A challenge to environmental arguments against meat-eating

#5 Postby Fia » September 8th, 2010, 11:47 pm

Very interesting links, Emma, thank you. I requested the book when in the library today. The permaculture folk have been banging on for ages for sustainable meat production on a smaller scale, utilising recycling of waste and sustainable land use. Not all land is suitable for crops, and good animal husbandry to a certain extent maintains many landscapes we enjoy.

Food for thought indeed...

seyorni
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Re: A challenge to environmental arguments against meat-eating

#6 Postby seyorni » September 10th, 2010, 12:29 am

Some good points on both sides. The large-scale factory farming and fishing needed to supply the world's ever-increasing demand for meat is environmentally and ecologically problematic. On the other hand, small scale husbandry and a low meat demand could be fairly benign -- but how are we to accomplish this?
The meat industry is powerful. Our population is ever increasing. The world's per capita demand is increasing, and I expect any attempts to include externalities in the price of meat would result in popular revolt.

banbbc
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Re: A challenge to environmental arguments against meat-eating

#7 Postby banbbc » September 19th, 2010, 3:38 am

When I joined this forum recently I was asked what I thought of it, at the time I said it was too early to say. Having read this and many similar topics I'm left baffled as to the purpose of this forum. Although claiming to be freethought the attitudes expressed here seem deeply rooted in traditional beliefs often from Christian religion. Whilst the mockery of vegetarianism in some of the responses to "What do humanists eat?" was simply sad and disrespectful.

At least not everyone was as easily taken in as George Monbiot:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/sep/14/vegan-diet-health-planet

Maria Mac
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Re: A challenge to environmental arguments against meat-eating

#8 Postby Maria Mac » September 19th, 2010, 1:38 pm

banbbc wrote: Although claiming to be freethought the attitudes expressed here seem deeply rooted in traditional beliefs often from Christian religion.

This is a bit vague and general and I'm not sure what you mean by it. Could you give specific examples?

Whilst the mockery of vegetarianism in some of the responses to "What do humanists eat?" was simply sad and disrespectful.

I see no mockery of vegetarianism on that thread and no disrespect. There is nothing to stop you taking issue with anything anybody has said on any thread but you need to make a case for the opinions you express. Simply calling posts 'disrespectful' or saying they are rooted in the Christian religion without specifying why you think you are, isn't constructive and makes you sound a bit petulant, if I may say so.

seyorni
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Re: A challenge to environmental arguments against meat-eating

#9 Postby seyorni » September 19th, 2010, 11:53 pm

I've no problem with a most of Jesus' teachings (though I'm a bit mystified by his antipathy towards figs). Like Gandhi, I like Christian teachings but have problems with Christians.

Johnnywas
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Re: A challenge to environmental arguments against meat-eating

#10 Postby Johnnywas » December 9th, 2010, 12:26 am

I think that the environmental arguments for greater usage of non-meat foodstuffs remain strong ones.

the fact is that livestock take up large amounts of land which could be used to grow non meat foods which require less space for the same outputs of calories. the land freed up as a result of changing to a largely vegetarian diet could be used to feed more people (or in some cases turned over to other less intensive uses)

however I agree that the arguments are not in themselves a wholly convincing argument to give up meat. theres no reason why better managed farming (including of livestock) would not be compatible with a low carbon and sustainable lifestyle.

as an aside, I suspect that most people who give up meat do so for moral rather than environmental reasons. all animals are sentinent creatures and are conscious of pain. to the extent that we see the minimisation of pain and suffering as an ethical issues then there is perhaps no reason not to extend that to suffering other animals.

but to return to the point at hand. I do worry that good livestock farming techniques persuade some that to continue to eat meat is a credible choice - without seriously challenging the production process across the industry. if you are worried about the impact of food choices on the environment - vegetarianism still offers a clear set of options.

Koll
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Re: A challenge to environmental arguments against meat-eating

#11 Postby Koll » February 7th, 2011, 11:41 am

I'm a Humanist and a livestock farmer. I raise cattle and sheep for meat, and to a lesser extent for breeding. Personally, I prefer that people eat meat but not too much, and that the animals should be raised in as natural a way as possible. Farmers though, are being forced by necessity to do things on an industrial scale, a lot of which I don't like.

The point I would really like to make is that livestock farming involves an obvious problem, the slaughter of an animal, so people think immediately of eating non-animal produce only instead (as my wife did till she met me). However, if you asked me what is the worst thing I do on the farm, I would genuinely say making hay is high on the list. We grow the grass till it's high, then mow it with an 8' wide mower, then we go round with a tedder that spreads the hay, then we row it up and bale it. Most of these processes mean the total destruction, or at least the displacement of lots and lots of wildlife. We don't have a serious alternative.

If there is a deer calf in the long grass, they usually don't move, they stay still, hiding. I've slammed on the brakes within a couple of feet of chopping one to bits more than once.

So being vegan or vegetarian does not exclude "cruelty" to animals unless you live entirely on home-produced, home-picked food. You could possibly argue that arable is worse than traditional livestock farming depending upon whether you consider the death of 50 small things, birds, mammals, nests destroyed, instead of one large one (I just made those figures up!!!).

As a note, I'm in the UK, and the majority of farmland, I think it's 70%, is not suitable for arable production. A scientific report produced in Wales recently has shown that some traditional livestock farms are not only low producers of carbon, but some are actually carbon negative.
Koll

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Re: A challenge to environmental arguments against meat-eating

#12 Postby Maria Mac » February 7th, 2011, 1:34 pm

Welcome, Koll, and thanks for your interesting post. :)

I know next to nothing about farming. Is hay used for anything other than feeding farm animals? If so, I can immediately see the argument a vegan might make...

Koll
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Re: A challenge to environmental arguments against meat-eating

#13 Postby Koll » February 7th, 2011, 1:58 pm

Most arable processes used to make the cereals and crops that we all eat, have a downside on the wildlife. Cornflakes, porridge, whatever all have a cost in these terms. It can be displacement, destruction of nests, chopping up leverettes or young of whatever species, running them over, etc, etc. You can't see them usually.

When we're making hay we leave strips of long grass so that the leverettes that don't get run over can find their way )hopefully) into it. If they don't, they get picked up and taken away by birds of prey which are always hovering around any tractor in a field. You could say that is natural predation, but it isn;t really is it? It's a direct side-effect of tractors doing what they do.

Making of hay is an arable-type process which we can't avoid it unfortunately, and about 1/3rd of the grassland is used to produce hay/silage on a typical traditional livestock farm such as ours. On the good side, my type of livestock farm is a haven for wildlife. We were arable, changed 10 years ago and now we have more of everything and also the soil is now in good condition instead of being ruined by constant taking everything out of it.

I'm not making this as a case for anything. I'm just pointing out, because no-one ever seems to, that arable isn't all harmless as many seem to believe. I think when you realise this, it does change views on the meat-eating / non-meat-eating argument.

Sorry if I've gone on a bit!!!!

Thanks for the welcome, I'm a new Humanist as well.
Koll

thundril
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Re: A challenge to environmental arguments against meat-eating

#14 Postby thundril » February 7th, 2011, 2:56 pm

Hi Koll. :welcome:

The best thing about Monbiot's article is seeing what a real thinker does when confronted with new evidence: he changed his mind! Respect!

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Nick
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Re: A challenge to environmental arguments against meat-eating

#15 Postby Nick » February 7th, 2011, 5:27 pm

Hi Koll and a warm welcome to TH! I find your post most interesting. We all tend to have our own opinions on things, but very often a fresh insight comes from those who really know from experience. Do feel free to graze our other threads too. :D

Koll
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Re: A challenge to environmental arguments against meat-eating

#16 Postby Koll » February 9th, 2011, 8:36 am

That's an interesting article posted by Emma. One of my personal favourite's on farming is Graham Harvey (http://www.guardian.co.uk/profile/grahamharvey), this the guy who is the agricultural advisor for The Archers. I think he is right on almost every aspect and is a champion of traditional farming method and explains why it is good for the planet in his book The Carbon Fields http://www.amazon.co.uk/Carbon-Fields-Countryside-Save-Britain/dp/0956070701/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1297240450&sr=8-1.
Koll

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Emma Woolgatherer
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Re: A challenge to environmental arguments against meat-eating

#17 Postby Emma Woolgatherer » February 9th, 2011, 3:20 pm

Koll wrote:So being vegan or vegetarian does not exclude "cruelty" to animals unless you live entirely on home-produced, home-picked food. You could possibly argue that arable is worse than traditional livestock farming depending upon whether you consider the death of 50 small things, birds, mammals, nests destroyed, instead of one large one (I just made those figures up!!!).
Except, of course, that a large proportion of arable crops are used to feed livestock. I think it's something like 35 or 40% globally, and significant more than that in the United States (I've seen figures of 60% and 70% quoted). In the UK, half of the barley grown is used for animal feed, and most of the rest is used for brewing and distilling (and, as far as I know, vegans and vegetarians don't drink any more booze than the rest of the population!). Around 40% of wheat grown in the UK is used for animal feed. Of the 120,000 hectares of land in the UK used for growing peas, 50,000 are for human consumption and 70,000 for animal consumption. I think the proportion of beans grown in the UK that are used for animal feed is even higher. Not even potatoes are grown entirely for human consumption (just about 80% of them). And of course we import a lot of soya to the UK for animal feed, from places like Brazil and Argentina.
Koll wrote:As a note, I'm in the UK, and the majority of farmland, I think it's 70%, is not suitable for arable production.
According to meatandhealth.com, around 60% of UK farmland is "best suited" to growing grass. That doesn't mean that some of it couldn't be used to grow other things. Hemp, for example, grows on land that's not suitable for most other crops. And there are shrubs and trees that could be grown and coppiced for fuel and fibre and other uses, as well as for food. Still, I don't think it would be necessary to plough up pasture in order to produce enough plant food to feed people in the UK. And in any case, I'm not arguing that everyone should become vegetarian, or that livestock farming should end any time soon. I would be happy if meat consumption were cut significantly, and based on the extensive rearing of livestock, using grassland and small amounts of surplus arable crops. You'd still have that problem with the hay, though.
Koll wrote:A scientific report produced in Wales recently has shown that some traditional livestock farms are not only low producers of carbon, but some are actually carbon negative.
Yes, three out of the twenty farms they looked at. I'd be interested to know how they did it. Were they using hydroelectric power, I wonder? Did they have woodlands?

But anyway, I'm broadly in agreement with you, Koll. I'd like to see a move towards less intensive methods of livestock production, and less monoculture and more polyculture and permaculture. Perhaps agroforestry is the way to go. Meanwhile, I'm going to carry on with my own personal boycott of livestock agriculture, and remain vegan. It still makes sense, from both an animal welfare perspective and an environmental perspective, given the food production system we currently have, even if we accept Simon Fairlie's figures for the carbon emissions of livestock. (And I'm not quite ready to do that. See Elizabeth Kirkwood's defence of veganism in Prospect, 1 October 2010.) Yes, we could, in theory, come up with much better, less harmful ways of producing livestock. But if we did that, we would, I think, have to reduce our consumption of meat, dairy and eggs drastically. And in any case, we could also, in theory, come up with much better, less harmful ways of producing plant foods for human consumption. I'm hoping we do both.

Emma

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Re: A challenge to environmental arguments against meat-eating

#18 Postby Koll » February 9th, 2011, 9:51 pm

I really would recommend Graham Harvey's book for anyone that wants an insight into food production and the how it affects the planet, he does an excellent job and in considerable detail. You may not agree with all of what he says, but it will make you think when he points out what actually happens in farming in practice.

Certainly for the UK, the figures quoted I find pretty dubious. On the grain front, I'd say maize is the number one feed, surely? You see it whilst you drive around, 8-10 foot high, you can't miss it, it is accepted as the most economical and easy to grow feed available. Why grow grain when you can grow maize with ten times the volume and higher feed value overall? The whole lot gets chopped, all 8-10 foot high of it, it's got to be at least 90% stem and leaf. So if the grain figure is correct, then considering the amount grown and the huge volumes available, then the overall amount of feed being used for livestock is simply beyond belief. Maybe they include the whole maize crop as "grain", or maybe they say that the land could have been used for grain so we'll count it as grain? But then, if you grew grain, instead of (say) fodder beet, as another example of mainstream cattle feed (and sheep to a lesser extent), you'd only get about 4 tonnes an acre instead of 30 (or more) tonnes, and it requires NO processing whatsoever.

What's the point in quoting figures per acre, when the crop can differ ten-fold (or more)? Peas can be fed as they are to humans except crushed, but far more common is to feed the whole crop, stem, leaves, pods and peas, again probably 10 times (or more I'd say) the volume, ensiled.

The Welsh farms had grass. Grown and grazed intelligently, it is said to be a huge carbon sink. That is one of the main good points of traditional livestock farming methods mixed with modern grazing techniques. New Zealand are experts at this. They can graze for just hours, then move livestock to another paddock creating constant regrowth.
Koll

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Re: A challenge to environmental arguments against meat-eating

#19 Postby jaywhat » February 10th, 2011, 6:21 am

I am not strictly vegetarian because I eat fish. The reason I gave up meat, some 10 years ago, is because I was opposed to factory farming. I have no objection to killing an animal but I hate the way so many are kept.
I cannot be sure of the provenance of meat unless I only eat it at home. This means I cannot have meat when I eat out - and this includes restaurants, take-aways, the homes of friends or relatives.
So I have to say 'I don't eat meat'. I cannot say 'I won't eat YOUR meat'. This means I cannot even eat it at home.
[There are other reasons, including the wasteful use of arable to feed animals instead of humans, but I'll stop now.]

Koll
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Re: A challenge to environmental arguments against meat-eating

#20 Postby Koll » February 10th, 2011, 8:53 am

We avoid eating meat out as well when we can jaywhat, but just avoid rather than refuse and try to stick to pork if we can. That's for the similar reasons but more especially that we could be eating Halal (probably pre-stunned Halal, but you can't tell).

The only label that I know where you can guarantee provenance is Freedom Food. To get FF status for beef and sheep, the animal has to be born on an FF farm, raised on an FF farm, and slaughtered in an FF abattoir, which is a bit impractical really unless everyone was doing it. The scheme hasn't got anywhere yet even though it's being going for years, we were on it but gave up as no-one was interested. I don't know how it works with poultry.

Re global warming and cattle, here's a new report produced by the Union of Concerned Scientists which is quite interesting http://www.ucsusa.org/food_and_agriculture/science_and_impacts/science/global-warming-and-beef-production.html.
Koll


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