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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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8:37AM PDT on Aug 31, 2015

Continued: Just because everything in your life went wrong does that mean your life has no meaning and you are a resource? I still don’t see how you came to that conclusion. Spirituality is about learning through experience and sharing with others, not consulting a crystal ball or a Pagan High Priestess! And things do go wrong in life; all of us have experienced loss and will continue to experience loss, that does not mean that people’s lives do not have any meaning or are objects to be bought and sold.There is also accumulated knowledge and wisdom that we can take a look at and see if it rings true. What is ringing true, right in this time, here and now is that industrialized nations are eating too much meat, that raising large animals for food to eat is unhealthy for the person eating this meat and damaging the environment. The lessens are there for all to see and a logical reasonable conclusion is to eat less meat, in fact to eat less food, especially processed and junk food eat, more plant based foods from organic sources. Advocating eating more meat by supporting the paleo diet and eliminating all grains and legumes is headed in the wrong direction. What will be a black stain on our history is that we ever raised billions of animals to be slaughtered in the first place as we learn to eat more of a plant based diet.

8:35AM PDT on Aug 31, 2015

Lynda: I live beside 2 horses so I can walk to them. I don’t have any Angus cows nearby but the question then becomes are you going to kill these cattle for your dinner!? Most people have access to local fish - again a person does not have to eat a lot to be healthy and can get much of their nutrients from local plants as well. As for costal sea fish I am sure that we can develop renewable technologies before going back to the horse and buggy! Developing local farming economies, getting to know the food available where people live rather than relying on humongous big business is where many communities are headed now as the harmful consequences of Big Agriculture cannot be ignored. The wineries near you are not organic which the veggies have been saying for 1000s of posts that is essential, to return to organic gardening and the wisdom of permaculture. Organic wineries plant rows and rows of rose bushes around the perimeter of the vineyards that pests will attack first as an early warning sign and if both roses and grapes are healthy - imagine the beauty!

11:25AM PDT on Aug 29, 2015

Have a nice day, Eileen.

11:23AM PDT on Aug 29, 2015


Re: truth, inconsistency, bending the rules, internal conflict, etc.

I think I know part of your problem. What does betrayal mean to you? Does it apply in some situations, not others? I think most people would agree (at least in the US) that if I were to suddenly kill my very healthy, loyal dog of 8 years, that would be considered an act of betrayal, esp. since he had no reason to fear me.

Human behavior is quite fascinating. The fact that perspectives vary greatly from person to person, culture to culture is all you need to know. For instance, in some Asian cultures where they eat dog, they also have them as pets. Personally, I know several people who cut pork out of their diet because they respect their intelligence.

Does that make sense to you? Ultimately, doesn't consistency make the most sense?

10:18AM PDT on Aug 29, 2015

@ Christopher P.

It is because you and a few here would have all reading this article, and believing, that those responding to you have no interest in anything resembling animal welfare.

it is you spreading the dissent not any of us. It must be such a joy to be so pious and at the same time "DIS" a huge portion of the C2 membership.

Most are here are not only involved in topics like this but in Politics, women's rights, LGBT issues, global warming, food preparation just for fun, children, health issues, education and on and on.

C2 may be pro vegan but there are many other topics paying the bills here.

I'm sure my post here will be followed by many more borrowed quotes, information that has been shared here thousands of times, some nastiness, etc. There may also be many interesting articles about sustainable farming and how we can help support those who choose for whatever reason to remain omnivore. Animals ARE killed during any harvest of anything and that is a fact.

Christopher P., have a wonderful day !!

9:53AM PDT on Aug 29, 2015

"Anyone who tries to improve the lives of animals invariably comes in for criticism from those who believe such efforts are misplaced in a world of suffering humanity." Jane Goodall


Why is that?

9:51AM PDT on Aug 29, 2015

@ Christopher P.

yet another "borrowed" quote.

Ms. Goodall is vegetarian not vegan. Just an FYI for other members.

I expect that most members on Care 2 are very interested in animal welfare, animal rescue, our earth, our food. our fellow man, our future and everything that happens to us on a daily basis.

You, and a few here, didn't invent this concept. If all the millions of members here were vegan / vegetarian then it would be a wonder for all of you. but that isn't so is it.

If the omnivores here were to withdraw support for the causes, advertising, and anything else that goes into possibly having "good debate' and sharing of ideas and suggestions, care 2 would not exist as it is.

We can co-exist but a few here make it difficult and petty. Why is that?

9:17AM PDT on Aug 29, 2015

"The more we learn of the true nature of non-human animals, especially those with complex brains and corresponding complex social behavior, the more ethical concerns are raised regarding their use in the service of man -- whether this be in entertainment, as "pets," for food, in research laboratories, or any of the other uses to which we subject them." - Jane Goodall

7:19AM PDT on Aug 29, 2015

“How did you come to the conclusion that life does not have any meaning and we are a resource!? Who taught you this!?”

Darlene: I was into “Spirituality” big time. I had an altar in the living room, covered in natural objects, crystals, symbols and candles. I divined the future by crystal ball, tarot cards and runes, and meditated in stone circles. Read every book available for “Ancient Wisdom” and followed all the rituals throughout the Pagan Celtic year. I did everything I could to “connect” spiritually to people, animals and nature.

My health deteriorated rapidly. People I cared about shafted me. My husband lost his job and we got evicted. I was diagnosed with LVH. We had to sell nearly everything we had. I consulted a Pagan High Priestess, and guess what she told me?

“You weren’t doing it right.” Sound familiar?

3:32AM PDT on Aug 29, 2015

So you cannot tell me that cattle, sheep, pigs, deer and chickens are destroying the land, when I see the opposite with my own eyes. The only overgrazing I have observed locally is during severe droughts, and no area has been cleared for livestock around here for over 30 years: we have to get a permit to cut down a single tree. The information you are getting from your veg websites does not apply to pasture-reared, free-range animals.

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What a wonderful story. Thank you and well done.

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