It seems every week there is a new take on how we should be eating and living in order to avoid Earth’s (inevitable?) demise. Veganism is in the press almost daily, and the meat and dairy industries are in a state of panic over the rise of plant-based alternatives. As the world becomes more educated on the practices that contribute to the production of their food, and the health benefits of reducing your consumption of animal products, there are lots of little scraps going on about what THE RIGHT THING TO DO is.
Now, I’m not pretending, nor am I under any illusion that switching to veganism is some kind of silver bullet that will end all animal suffering, human exploitation, poverty and health issues. But the whole concept is that we’re doing the best we can to minimise those issues to the best of our ability.
When I read Isabella Tree’s article in The Guardian on Saturday a lot of it made sense to me. I mean, who wouldn’t think it sounds wonderful to turn over a traditonally-run farm in favour of rewilding? Allowing the animals to roam, to eat what they want to eat rather than industrially-produced feed, and to choose where they sleep, free of routine antibiotics and much more healthy and happy as a result. This in turn naturally fertilises the soil, encourages smaller species to thrive and restores a balance to the ecosystem that intensive meat and dairy farming is destroying. Sounds idyllic doesn’t it?
Until that is, you realise that whilst all this really makes sense up to this point, there are a few fundamental flaws in the argument:
- This is the big one. The animals are still slaughtered. Unfortunately, when I read the words “75 tonnes a year of organic, pasture-fed meat contribute to a profitable business”, I realised that this wasn’t the well-balanced defence of more sustainable ways of farming I originally thought it was. No, this is just someone defending what they do because the rise of people being informed and compassionate consumers has already destroyed what they used to do. So now they’re trying to find a way of justifying slaughtering and eating animals to keep their current way of working profitable. Sadly, having had my eyes opened, no matter how much you talk about biodiversity, snuffling pigs and animals living “healthy lives”, the killing part undoes it all.
- Stop blaming vegans for soy production. I hear the argument that we’re going to destroy the planet if we keep eating so many soy products, and that the rise in veganism is only making that problem worse. Not true. In another article in The Guardian in October 2017, it was reported by The WWF that it’s the growing of these crops to produce animal feed for the meat and dairy industries that is the undisputable culprit. There are some hard-hitting statements in that report, such as “If everyone ate the nutritionally recommended amount of animal products, we’d need 13% less land to grow feed. This means we’d save an area the size of the European Union from agricultural production.” – imagine how much more we’d save if everybody ate NO animal products. Also, “In 2010, we needed an area the size of Yorkshire to produce enough soy to feed our livestock. If global demand grows as anticipated, we’d need to step up our feed production by 80%, which just isn’t sustainable”. I’m not going to post the whole thing here but you get the point. And if you don’t, go and give it a read now.
- Rewilding is not sustainable on a global scale. Veganism is. Yes, it’s lovely that Isabella Tree and her husband, and maybe a relatively small number of other rich (and when I say rich, I mean in world terms) people, can have a small group of animals living and roaming on a relatively large plot of land. However, we simply cannot apply this principle to a large enough proportion of the planet to be able to significantly reduce the environmental impact AND feed everyone. That is, without either keeping some intensive meat and dairy farms or not consuming animal products. I’m happy with the latter.
I think it’s really important to provide some balance and a counter-argument to some of these articles. A lot of people will take them as fact, because of the nature of the publication they’re reading them in. People might be impressed or have their judgement clouded by the authoritative, scientific language that is used. Isabella Tree appears to be promoting a fantastic way of operating, with really great practices that a lot of conventional farmers can learn a lot from. But we need to remember that this is also a businesswoman protecting her interests, so her way might be the best way for her profits, but is it really the answer for the planet?