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Do Vegetarians Kill More Animals Than Meat Eaters?

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


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4:59PM PST on Dec 21, 2014

Darlene, thanks to the squirrels burying Walnuts they carry from 5 houses down, we now have 12 walnut trees growing in our garden. They will be transplanted to a woodlot as apparently they shed a toxin unto the ground which is not conducive to vegetables. This is surprising that they are growing here, north of Lake Superior. They also have been burying peanuts which are sprouting, but our climate is too cold, they are not maturing. But maybe we will have a heat-wave of a summer, and they will produce, but being so unpredictable they take up valuable garden space. Although we now recognize the stems now which are very fragile.

About the black & grey squirrels they must have migrated up here on trains or transport loads because they are a recent species invasion.

10:30PM PST on Dec 18, 2014

Gerald. We put wire around our apple trees in the winter to make sure the deer don't eat them. We don't feed the deer anymore when we found out it may be harmful to them. In the summer they don't come around because they have enough to eat in the 45 acres of woods that we have. As for the hazel nut trees we wrap them with protective netting and this helps. Also there is plenty of food for squirrels in the woods. If you have to live trap that that is the most humane but you would be taking away squirrels every day! Better to use the netting. I don't like hunting - we have a no hunting sign on our property - and will not eat venison. I hope this helps.

9:41PM PST on Dec 18, 2014

Darlene you were talking about planting more Hazelnut trees. Our own experience is that it's a battle in between the squirrels and the nuts. Would you try and live trap them? There's 3 colours of squirrels travelling through our garden, a tan, black and grey, but not quite sure of how many.

There are also people feeding deer, while we try and garden as much produce as possible. I was entertaining the idea of squirrel and deer stew, but don't relish the thought of deer meat that has been nourished by pink buuble-gum flavoured corn. Do you have any ideas?

11:30AM PST on Dec 18, 2014

Suba: Thank you for clarifying your position and I have to agree with you. We do differ about solutions and viewing humans as a disease. I do believe that many human beings today are making great efforts to understand the planet we live on and live with care and compassion for ALL living things. WE have a long way to go to understand how to do this but intention is everything. If we hold the intention that we desire to live in harmony and balance with planet Earth and to take care of Earth and all its inhabitants, solutions that honour ALL life will present themselves.

Peace and Happiness to You Suba as Well and Peace and Happiness on Earth

7:31AM PST on Dec 18, 2014

Resilience & endurance are desirable qualities, but NOT excuses to abuse a living being.
-Plants can push through cement. Is that a reason to use/abuse them without pain-relief?
-Rats can live in sewers. Is that a reason to use/abuse them without pain-relief?

"In summary, my position is that life can be lived in balance and achieved through permaculture and small organic farms and gardens that can create thriving ecosystems that honour and respect all life."

I've always agreed that's a huge step up from the current system. However that still doesn't address the issue of plant suffering, much like sustainability alone does not address the issue of animal suffering.

OK let's agree to disagree:
My position is that humankind is absolutely NOT the only living beings who matter. Other inhabitants on this earth, animals & plants, should be valued for their OWN sake, not just for the benefit we can get from them. We should acknowledge that they are living beings capable of suffering, and treat each & every one with great care.

Until people learn to care about non-humans for THEIR own sake (not ours), humankind will continue to be a disease on earth.

Peace & Happiness!!

9:50PM PST on Dec 17, 2014

Suba: Are you saying that plants spread like a virus just like humans and rats? Viruses spread illness, sickness and death. Not a flattering description of plants, animals and humans!
Resilience, abundance is of course not an excuse to abuse any life. I have always supported honouring and respecting life so why would I now be justifying abusing life? It is giving power to plants that you say are helpless. Plants cover most of the Earth and are to be found in every nook and cranny. They can push through cement! That is not demonstrative of being helpless.
I will say that I do not have anything further to say that I have not already said. I agree to disagree with you Suba as once again we are spinning in circles. We will never see eye to eye but that is what makes the world go round!
In summary, my position is that life can be lived in balance and achieved through permaculture and small organic farms and gardens that can create thriving ecosystems that honour and respect all life. Read about the "guerrilla grafters" in San Francisco. People are quite creative! WE have a long way to go before we achieve balance but many people are doing the best they can to move towards this. Hopefully more people will continue to "come on board".
Peace on Earth To ALL

9:44PM PST on Dec 17, 2014

Darlene you speak of minerals often. Someone I met at Canada Blooms shared a story of visiting a Cherry Orchard on the North Shore of Lake Erie. He was selling a mineral supplement, likely cooked volcanic lava which would crumble into sand when manipulated with their loader.

The Orchardist pointed out a failing cherry tree he was planning on cutting down that fall. The salesman had a open bag of mineral supplement so he spread some around the dying tree. The orchard owner called him that fall full of excitement, the tree had revived. He gladly ordered a supply of mineral supplement for his operation.

7:47PM PST on Dec 17, 2014

"I think you have underestimated plants and their ability to take care of themselves."

First, no living being is invincible.

Second, "ability to take care of themselves" is NOT an excuse to abuse any living being with no pain-relief and no thought for their suffering.

Humans can spread like a virus too (as can rats). Is that a reason to torture any individual human being (or a rat)? Some individual humans and animals have remarkable resilience. Is that a reason to abuse them?

"Humans are the most vulnerable and can cause the most damage."

Contradictory statement, while the first part is a blatant excuse to use/abuse non-humans.

Happy Holidays all!!

6:44PM PST on Dec 17, 2014

The same to everyone Happy Holidays! May your holiday season be filled with friends, family and good memories.

Peace on Earth!

6:32PM PST on Dec 17, 2014


I think you have underestimated plants and their ability to take care of themselves. Humans are the most vulnerable and can cause the most damage.

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