Do Vegetarians Kill More Animals Than Meat Eaters?

Editor’s note: This post is a Care2 Favorite. It was originally published January, 2013. Enjoy.

People become vegetarians for a wide range of reasons, not the least of which is in opposition to the idea that we have the right to kill and eat other sentient beings. A recent article published by an Australian scientist, however, contends that those who choose to eat all-plant diets are actually responsible for the death of more animals than those who eat them.

Shocked? Indignant? I have to admit, I read the article’s title, “Ordering the vegetarian meal? There’s more animal blood on your hands,” with some surprise as well. Still, the author makes some points that forced me to think about aspects of the vegetarian vs. meat-eater debate in a new light.

Written by Mike Archer AM, Professor and member of the Evolution of Earth & Life Systems Research Group at University of New South Wales, the article starts off by acknowledging that our current agricultural system causes a lot of undue harm to animals. Those who feel this is unfair and inhumane find an obvious alternative in a plant-only diet. Certainly when compared to a factory farm or commercial slaughterhouse, a field full of tall corn seems positively benign.

According to Archer, this couldn’t be further from the truth. He cites Australian statistics that suggest producing wheat and other grains kills at least 25 times more sentient animals per kilogram of useable protein. He goes on to say that a plant-based diet causes more environmental damage, and a great deal more animal cruelty than farming red meat.

Agriculture to produce wheat, rice and pulses requires clear-felling native vegetation. That act alone results in the deaths of thousands of Australian animals and plants per hectare. Since Europeans arrived on this continent we have lost more than half of Australia’s unique native vegetation, mostly to increase production of monocultures of introduced species for human consumption. If more Australians want their nutritional needs to be met by plants, our arable land will need to be even more intensely farmed. This will require a net increase in the use of fertilisers, herbicides, pesticides and other threats to biodiversity and environmental health.

Of course, Australia is slightly different than many other parts of the world. First, it’s an island so space for agriculture is already limited. Second, almost 70 percent of the continent is covered in wild, and in many cases, protected rangelands. While these lands must be razed and highly processed in order to grow plant crops, they are perfectly suited for cattle grazing, which provides almost no disruption of animal inhabitants.

Raising a cow on the rangeland instead of plowing it up for crops does eventually result in a death, Archer concedes, the death of the cow. Raising plants on that same acre of rangeland kills small mammals, snakes, lizards, mice and other animals. He describes a terrible scene in which predatory birds follow Australian farm plows in flocks, feeding on the carcasses of dead field animals left in its wake. And that doesn’t even begin to account for the destruction caused by unnatural irrigation, fertilization and the heavy use of pesticides.

By Archer’s reasoning, protein obtained from grazing livestock costs far fewer lives per kilogram: it is a more humane, ethical and environmentally-friendly dietary option. What do you think?


Related Reading:

Go Vegetarian Or The World Will Go Hungry

Why It’s Ethical To Eat Meat

The Ethical Dilemma Inherent In The Weekday Vegetarian Plan


Image via Thinkstock


Sandra L.
Sandra L.3 hours ago

Mary, I'm sorry you have been treated so poorly here, to read posts espousing compassion and respect and truth and yet see what actually plays out here on this thread is mind boggling. There was a comment made recently about desensitizing and I have to say the best example of that I can think of is in members who claim to practice respect, truth and compassion yet come here, hide behind computers and lie, manipulate and personally attack people who differ in opinion but hold, in the end, similar values. Seems to me that compassion is something you demonstrate, not something you talk about.

Christopher P.
Christopher P.6 hours ago

Darlene Buckingham
Darlene Buckingham12 hours ago

There has to be an intent to heal and make better choices. That is where self-esteem is found, not in making the most money. Our priorities have become inside out and upside down and life is suffering. I keep the intention that we can return to the principle of looking at decisions from the seven generation guideline as well as from the viewing point that life is sacred. That would help make better decisions and be better for all life. It is not about perfection but striving for improvement especially when we know what we are doing is causing great harm. How to talk about this with respect is another challenge. Unfortunately many people don't value that - look at the Presidential election! Holy guacamole!

Darlene Buckingham
Darlene Buckingham12 hours ago

That is why wisdom, knowledge,logic, intuition, introspection and common sense all have to be looked at when deciding what is a healthy diet. Realistically many people do not even consider health and diet goes together! Omnivores, vegetarians and vegans can have unhealthy diets.The most important thing is ethics and doing what is best. If you have done you best, you know that and nobody can make you feel guilty or ashamed if you are OK with yourself. It is also about personal power and self esteem as well as respect for others. Empowering people rather than gaining power over will result in good decisions. IT is never OK to denigrate another for whatever reason. That is why I always talk about respect as being the most important, open discussion and then looking for the truth of the matter. Justification, denial will not find the truth and lead to lowered self esteem. Healing work is important to understand the shadow side of guilt, shame, fear, anger, stress, depression and illness, sickness and untimely death. Living is all about change and growing. Gerald I think that both eating styles are guilty of being extreme - omnivores denigrating vegans and vegans denigrating omnivores. Balance is important and honestly looking for the truth of the matter. Certainly people eat too much meat today and a more plant based diet is better for all but then there is the issue that plants are being abused and contaminated as well. The whole food chain is in trouble today.There has

Christopher P.
Christopher P.12 hours ago

Christopher P.
Christopher P.13 hours ago

Gerald L.
Gerald L.13 hours ago

Why do some of the ethicists of veganism even look down at lessor vegetarians?

Why are backsliding vegans treated with disdain ostracized and even sometimes threatened with physical harm?

Christopher P.

Christopher P.

Okay, Mary. Keep up the good work.

Darlene Buckingham

I am going to do more thinking about guilt and shame around this issue of becoming a vegetarian or vegan. Guilt and shame are not healthy emotions and it has to be dealt with. Guilting and shaming is never going to result in a good outcome. This is an important issue that has been uncovered in this debate and warrants more discussion and looking into it. I don't see it as sharing awareness of animal cruelty as guilting and shaming people but I can see this is what happens to some people and it does have to be looked at. I think respect goes a long way to talking about difficult subject matter but maybe guilt and shame have to be talked about more in feelings arising when faced with the cruelty to animals and the mixed feelings of continuing to eat meat. I accept it is difficult for me to not eat animals but I don't feel shame or guilt. If I had to eat meat again for health I would do so understanding that self care is important but I would still eat as little as possible to maintain my health. Personal honesty is difficult and challenging to any human being. I hope for the sake of the health and well-being of life on Planet Earth we continue to talk about complex and difficult decisions faced by all of us and we can move forward.