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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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6:54AM PDT on Jul 7, 2015

Brian, that was funny! Just as your comment pinged in my inbox, I was proof-reading my comment asking you if you would please repost any link you might have regarding the Ethiopian regeneration project! Thank you for doing so, and I promise I will watch it tomorrow morning, as it is getting very late here.

Mimicking nature, working with it regardless of how much technology and science we can add to it, is the way to go. We agree on that too! But it’s goodnight from me; catchya in about 8 hours.

6:43AM PDT on Jul 7, 2015

Lynda I saw the video. I guess I was wrong. I thought that animals should not be allowed to roam in certain prime agricultural lands, because they ate all the natural grasses, but this is not always true, as your video clearly pointed out. The main point is that we need to mimic nature, and allowing cattle to naturally roam, leave urine and feces, allows natural grasses to grow and regenerate.

Please look at this video about Ethiopians green transformation. It is interesting, because they prevented animals from being allowed to graze on certain areas, and brought food to the animals. They say they had success in regrowing plants and trees, and re greening the landscape.

5:52AM PDT on Jul 7, 2015

(continued) France is closing many of it's nuclear power plants. Germany the world's solar power leader, is closing all it's nuclear power plants by 2022. So nuclear power is very expensive, dangerous, and produces nuclear waste, which we have nowhere to safely store for the next 100,000 years. Solar, wind, and geothermal power are much better options.

5:45AM PDT on Jul 7, 2015

Skye M Bison, antelope, gazelles, goats, sheep, deer, mice, and other animals usually eat what they need to survive, and move on. Many travel long distances, so they don't eat up all the natural grasses, which prevents anything else from growing. Humans began to allow animals to overgraze which prevented natural grasses from establishing their roots and growing. This prevented trees and other natural plants from growing, which helped transform once fertile land into deserts. This has been repeated in many places in the world. Animals in Africa's Serengeti travel thousands of miles.The Serengeti hosts the largest terrestrial mammal migration in the world. They are not confined to ranches that humans have created, which severely limits their movements, and allows them to eat most of the natural grasses, which prevents natural trees and plants from supporting ecosystems.

Radiation is leaking into the ocean at Fukushima in Japan. Trying to compare the natural background radiation received from the sun, with the deadly radioactive waste, that nuclear plants produce, which must be stored for the next 100,000 years, is ridiculous. It will take 50 years to clean up the site at Fukushima. All nuclear power plants produce massive amounts of nuclear waste, which must be stored for 100,000 years, and we are running out of areas to store this deadly radioactive waste. In addition, it takes 50 years to clean up a nuclear power plant site, once it is beyond it's useful life. Even Fr

5:43AM PDT on Jul 7, 2015

Did you watch the video I suggested?

Cattle do not pull the grass up by the roots: they have cutting teeth at the front. If the grass couldn’t grow in the places you mentioned, it was overgrazed. If the cattle are confined in one area, they will eat the grass right down to the roots, and may even eat some of the roots. That isn’t responsible management. They need to be moved to the next paddock, rotated around and around, allowing the grass and other plant life to regenerate. This is what nature intended, and when we work with nature it’s usually win/win/win.

5:43AM PDT on Jul 7, 2015

I’m glad we are in agreement at least somewhere in this complicated topic, Brian.

“…never let them graze on prime agricultural land.”

Sorry, but that is counter to the traditional agriculture that supported humans for centuries. When the crop was harvested, cattle and other livestock were released into the field to eat the remaining plants. The animals flattened down the plant matter (mulch) and added fertilizer, and saved the farmer the job of clearing the field. Pigs could virtually plough the field as well. Furthermore, it was food for the animals, which was often a struggle to provide: hay was kept for winter, but there was usually only enough to keep one or two cows alive till Spring. That was one of the reasons behind the feast at the Midwinter Solstice, or Christmas: eat the animals who would otherwise starve and die along with all the perishable stored fruits and vegetables. Live was hard.

Allowing cattle to graze on prime agricultural land before the harvest would be foolish. I have seen escaped cattle gorging on a cabbage crop - I would expect the methane emissions to have been particularly high that day! Seriously though, the farmer lost his crop and possibly a few cows, as such a rich feast could give them fatal colic.

5:14AM PDT on Jul 7, 2015

Lynda I agree with you that controlled grazing can work in harmony with nature and improve soil fertility. The urine and feces from cattle can improve the soil quality. However, I would argue that in some environments, it is better to corral the cattle in small confined areas, and never let them graze on prime agricultural land.

In Ethiopia, the Loess Plateau, in China, and many areas in the Middle East, cattle have been allowed to constantly graze everywhere, and they have eaten up every square inch of grass, which prevents natural plants and trees from having a chance to grow. This results in a depleted landscape, where no trees or plants can grow.

The solution being implemented to restore the fertility of the soil, and regrow plants and trees is to confine cattle to smaller areas in pens, harvest the grass, and take it to the cattle to feed them. This allows the grass to grow, without being eaten constantly by cattle, which doesn't allow the roots to establish themselves. Next trees and natural plants can now take root, and grow to support natural ecosystems.

Ethiopia, today is re greening it's landscape, primarily because it banned cattle from grazing in prime agricultural land, and eating up the grass, which prevented any vegetation from being able to take root. In past years Ethiopia suffered from horrible droughts and starvation, but today Ethiopia is becoming a green breadbasket with natural fruits and vegetables.

10:10PM PDT on Jul 6, 2015

Soil needs poop: grass needs mowing. Cows make poop, mow grass. It’s a perfect symbiotic relationship. But difference between human control and nature is that animals don’t understand overpopulation (hell, it took us BigBrains long enough…) and they can wipe out an environment’s resources quickly. If they can move to another area (as elephants do) they will survive and the previous trampled, denuded landscape will regenerate. If the grazers can’t relocate, they either succumb to predators or starve to death.

Responsible cattle raising is relocating them to new fields and letting the grazed fields regenerate, and harvesting the cattle to maintain a sustainable population. I lived on a cattle farm and am surrounded by cattle farms. There are 2 Angus grazing in the paddock next to me: there is no overgrazing, and the grass is green, healthy and lush, and the paddocks are filled with wildflowers, sweet clover and an infinite number of small herbs and wild plants. In the summer, the ground hums with honeybees.

10:10PM PDT on Jul 6, 2015

Brian, controlled grazing PROTECTS the natural biodiversity of the soil and the plants above. Grassland has evolved to depend on grazing for renewal and fertilizer. Urine is rich in nitrogen. Undigested seeds spread diverse plants, which in turn benefit the grazing animal.

Undergrazing is worse than overgrazing. Overgrazed grasslands will recover with rainfall and time, but undergrazed grasslands become barren and infertile deserts. Controlled grazing is the closest we can mirror nature, and it works. It’s been used as a reclamation technique in many countries, including the US, with success, but it has prevented environmental damage successfully for hundreds of years.

9:37PM PDT on Jul 6, 2015

Lynda Uncontrolled cattle grazing destroys the natural biodiversity of the soil, and prevents natural grasses, plants and trees from growing which are needed to develop natural ecosystems.

In China, the Loess Plateau suffered from centuries of deforestation and over-grazing, exacerbated by China's population increase, which resulted in degenerated ecosystems, desertification, and poor local economies.

China reversed the deszertification problem by limiting cattle to smaller areas in corrals, and allowing the natural trees and vegetation to grow on the hillsides, to retain water, and prevent soil erosion and floods. Today the Loess Plateau has become a fertile region that produces many different kinds of fruits and vegetables.

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