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Do Vegetarians Kill More Animals Than Meat Eaters?

Do Vegetarians Kill More Animals Than Meat Eaters?

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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1:50PM PDT on Aug 9, 2014

Interesting opinion by author of this article. Not sure if it is correct, though.

3:51PM PST on Mar 6, 2014

OMG i felt so confused and angry when i read this article, i thought about changing of diet for a moment but thanks God then i found a counterargument, this is so polemical. But i think i couldn´t eat again an innocent creature. So f*ck this article.

12:33PM PST on Feb 13, 2014

Thank you for this very interesting article.

5:53AM PST on Feb 4, 2014

The argument ignores the fact that it requires more grain to feed the animals to create the 'meat' in the first place, than it does to just eat the grain. So if vegetarians kill X amount of animals due to harvesting etc of grain, then meat eaters kill X times 7 + the animal they are eating.

8:28AM PST on Jan 29, 2014

s.:"Man is destructive and loves to kill living things." unless the "man" you refer to is you, i find your comment misleading and insulting.

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7:16PM PST on Jan 25, 2014

Elaine W, all a farmer has to do to protect sheep, cattle or whatever is to obtain a few donkeys. Wildlife tend to steer clear of donkeys as they kick. Donkeys are used by some sheep and other farmers and the coyotes avoid the domesticated farm animals when they see donkeys around. Certainly more farmers should have donkeys and avoid shooting coyotes, wolves and other wildlife.

Kayleigh H, some wild animals no doubt perish clearing land for farming. Also, the clearing of rain forests for palm oil devastates the habitat for orangutans and palm oil is still included in some vegetarian, omnivore and vegan products even now. Many people are checking to make sure there is no palm oil in what they purchase. Even in the harvesting of veggies in fields on large farms, the machinery can kill wildlife. No doubt even the construction of new homes for people creates havoc where wildlife lived before as well, so it is across the board in many areas. Animals killed by driving vehicles, planes, trains and boats. Birds are killed by the thousands by office windows in high rises and even putting up new wind turbines has a bird fatality rate. (Some are testing out a paint colour that could be visible to birds on the turbines as a way to have birds avoid hitting these).

3:25AM PST on Jan 19, 2014

Anywhere there are farmed animals, there are going to be clashes with wildlife. Predators will naturally go after easy prey, and all farmed animals are easy prey since they are 100% dependent on humans for their lives. Which means those wild animals will be hunted, trapped, and killed to protect the farm animals. Other wildlife will be displaced by the vast land needed for grass fed farm animals. And lets not forget that billions of farmed animals are bred and created just for human food. Before agriculture, the ecosystem was more balanced because humans had to hunt for animal food already available, the same as all other species. Now we breed and manipulate the genes of animals in the name of science to feed our appetites. And agriculture started as a means to provide for livestock.

8:35AM PST on Jan 9, 2014

Interesting perspective! Thanks for sharing!!

5:05AM PST on Dec 15, 2013

Late to the discussion BUT who is the UNSW evolution of the earth and life systems research group...why do we care what they say? Look at the University's website and see if you can find them...or anything else. And they are trying to clone dinosaurs. So, let us put them as a dubious source of information?

4:04PM PDT on Oct 15, 2013

@ MS, Really cow manure isn't used as organic fertilizer? Really Cattle grazing is very destructive to the land? Most cattle that graze does so on uneven and rocky ground. Some my graze on the plains on public lands. Their hooves would be destructive on land suffering from drought. Humans are the most destructive animal on the planet! MS are you a vegan/vegetarian? So the chemicals are needed, all the pesticides and herbicides poisoning the land and creating super weed? MS do you like Monsanto or Bayer? They make those chemicals poisoning the land and water. The same chemicals making super weeds and killing bees off by the millions.

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