Today I want to address an emotive and controversial topic: Myths About Farming and The Drought here in Australia.
To set the scene, although I haven’t eaten meat for 25 years and have been an ethical vegan for 2.5 years I didn’t always see the disconnect between saying “I love animals” and then deciding some animals are friends and some animals are food.
In fact I spent 16 years eating animal products 3 times a day. I loved meat and I loved staying at my Grandparents sheep farm. Holidays at the farm account for some of my fondest childhood memories and I even thought I might grow up to be a “farmers wife” some day. If you know me at all you’ll be laughing at that as defining myself by someone else’s career is the last thing I’d do these days!
I guess what I’m trying to say is, people change. I got better information and I changed. I decided that the delicious taste, convenience and social acceptance of eating animal products is vastly less important than life.
Because it really does come down to that. Do YOU value taste or life?
At this point let’s introduce the farmers. Those hard working, often under valued, always under paid “salt of the earth” Aussies toiling away to provide us city slickers with food. I have a lot of respect for the work ethic needed to run a farm. I know it’s not easy. I saw the struggles, the sacrifices, the massive uncertainty my grandparents endured.
However I also believe with all my heart that farmers who farm animals need to move with the times. We live in a time of such abundance where it is not necessary to treat animals as products for financial gain. To quote one of my favourite activists Andy Faulkner “The word ‘farmer’ & ‘farming’ will now be preceded by the word ‘Crop.’ There are Crop farmers, who we need & support 3 times a day vs Commercial animal abusers & planet wreckers. Let’s consistently use these terms. The animals are owed this clear distinction.”
Yes, Andy has a view that might be deemed extreme by some however I agree with him 100%.
While volunteering with the amazing vegan street outreach organization Anonymous for the Voiceless on the weekend, a gentleman assured me “Our dairy cows lead amazing lives.” And yet the question remains, how about at the end of the line when they are “spent” (i.e. 4-6 years old and less efficient at producing milk) and are slaughtered for their flesh. Is that ok?
Can there be a moral way to take someones life against their will?
Of course not. I was certain on that yet uncertain so far as some of the facts surrounding animal agriculture and the drought here in Australia. Is some land only viable for cattle grazing? Do livestock provide some unique special purpose in times of drought that enables the delicate Australia ecosystem to survive? Would Aussies starve or be dependant on imports if all our farmers made the shift to plant based crops? Would all our farmers go broke before we had a chance to starve?
Even as I relay this stream of consciousness it sounds ridiculous. I feel like I know the answers yet I don’t know the facts behind the answers. Before I dug in I was somewhat ignorant… naive…. always overly idealistic. I’ll admit that. I still have a lot to learn and as such I’m committing to both my own ongoing research and also to getting people better qualified than myself on the podcast to share their expertise.
Top of my list is someone from team TruthorDrought.com
This website created and maintained by Lorelei Plotczyk, (who has a BA in Media Studies and an MBA with an Environmental Management specialization) is a goldmine of information. It’s like the nutritionfacts.org of land use for agriculture.
Although if I’m giving high praise (I AM!) then best to use the sites own description: “Truth or Drought is a grassroots campaign making the undeniable connection between animal consumption and environmental breakdown.”
And Mission: “We aim to help inspire a vegan shift to transform our planet and everyone on it.”
As a start to what I anticipate will be a deep dive into animal agriculture globally, here are 6 myths about farming:
Side note: I’m going to talk more specifically about the drought in Australia in the second half of the show.
MYTH one: Vegan diets waste marginal land.
There’s so much to work with there however let’s start with a definition of marginal land. Wiki refers to it as “land that is of little agricultural value because crops produced from the area would be worth less than any rent paid for access to the area”.
So the assumption is that crops for vegan food / direct human consumption can’t be grown on the land however livestock for indirect human consumption can gaze on the land.
The issue here is that, what are this livestock grazing on then? Sure, the land might not be suitable everything. It certainly wouldn’t suit huge mono-crops of corn or soy however huge mono-crops are detrimental to the planet and yet another part of our broken, inefficient food system.
Team truthordrought share examples of many hardy and human edible plants that can be grown in difficult conditions. Including leafy greens, fruit, buckwheat, rye, barley, quinoa and so much more. For further details here’s a link to the article they site by a soil scientist:
In fact properly managed marginal land planted with perennial tree crops would not only supplement more traditional crop agriculture it would also help control erosion which is yet another detrimental side effect of animal agriculture.
Beyond the plethora of plant food that could be cultivated on marginal land, the ‘Vegan diets waste marginal land myth’, also assumes ALL land should fall under the dominion of humans to be conquered and exploited for our use.
What is wrong with letting some areas of land – and the wildlife they support – just exist? I don’t want to imagine what our planet would look like if every part of the wilderness had been forced to yield to the domesticated, detrimental desires of humans.
Beyond all this, producing food for vegan diets is so much more efficient that marginal land would not even be needed if we were to swap from grossly inefficient animal agriculture. The truth (and you’ll find this and the relevant links from team TorD) is that, the land used to grow crops directly for human consumption supples more calories and protein than the 4 times larger area of land used for animal agriculture. (Our World In Data) For example (and here I’ll quote from TorD) “about 60% of the world’s agricultural land is used for “beef,” which only accounts for less than 5% of protein and 2% of calories worldwide (Union of Concerned Scientists). A portion of that land is considered marginal.”
A global shift to veganism would free up an astronomical amount of land and (to again quote from TorD) “The most comprehensive analysis to date of the damage farming does to the planet, published in the journal Science in 2018, found that without meat and dairy consumption, global farmland use could be reduced by more than 75% – an area equivalent to the US, China, European Union and Australia combined – and still feed the world.”
MYTH two: Small local farms are the answer not Veganism.
This is the myth that marketing and the media are disturbingly effective at perpetuating. Happy cows frolicking through rolling pastures. Activist Kate can’t brush past the ethical considerations here that even in the rare best case scenario where livestock living on a small farm have a decent quality of life they still end up in the same place as the 99% of animals globally condemned to short, miserable lives on factory farms. That place? The slaughter house. And they end up at that slaughter house as babies or adolescents at just a fraction of the age they would naturally live to. “Small local farms” are promoted by the meat, dairy and egg industries to allow consumers to feel better about their complicity in perpetuating the cycle of cruelty that is animal agriculture.
However let’s examine the “Small local farms are the answer” myth from the angle of environmental sustainability.
Land and water usage to produce meat and excretions like dairy and eggs from livestock are just as wasteful as in larger scale farms. In fact the better the conditions for the animals the less sustainable for the planet. That’s why we turned to factory farms in the first place – to conserve land. Small local farms are not a scalable solution to feed the global population. Again, we come back to the matter of growing plant food to cycle through the bodies of animals which we then slaughter to produce vastly less food for human consumption rather than just growing plant food for humans to eat directly.
The most comprehensive analysis to date of the damage farming does to the planet, called Reducing food’s environmental impacts through producers and consumers, was published in the journal Science (01 Jun 2018: Vol. 360, Issue 6392). Lead researcher of the study, Joseph Poore at the University of Oxford, UK, states (quote) “The reason I started this project was to understand if there were sustainable animal producers out there. But I have stopped consuming animal products over the last four years of this project.” He also added, “Converting grass into [meat] is like converting coal to energy. It comes with an immense cost in emissions.”
I’ll cover the matter of greenhouse gas emissions soon however first here’s a quote from George Monbiot, Guardian journalist & UN Global 500 Award winner for outstanding environmental achievement: “When people criticize farming, they usually preface it with the word intensive. But extensive farming, almost by definition, does greater harm to the planet: more land is needed to rear the same amount of food. Keeping cattle or sheep on ranches, whether in the Amazon, the US, Australia or the hills of Britain, is even more of a planet-busting indulgence than beef feed-lots and hog cities, cruel and hideous as these are.”
On the matter of methane emissions from “grass fed beef” (those lucky animals frolicking through the rolling pastures of small local farms), a Harvard study (I’ll lInkto) published in the journal Environmental Research Letters finds that in the US alone a “shift to grass fed beef would require 30% more cattle and increase beefs methane emissions 43%.” This takes into account the fact that naturally grazing animals eat more belching inducing fibrous food and also are not fattened up for slaughter as fast as those in feed lots and subsequently more of them are around for longer.
However maybe our planet needs billions of grazing livestock artificially inseminated into existence purely to meet consumer demand?
MYTH three: Grazing domesticated animals is beneficial and necessary for the environment.
This myth is perpetuated by ranchers and farmers who believe that ruminants and other livestock could not possibly exist in nature without being commodified and micro-managed. The idea was made more popular in a TED talk by Zimbabwean ecologist and livestock farmer Alan Savory who insists his holistic method of grazing mimics nature and will save the planet. Does Savory’s name ring a bell? He’s the gent who previously incorrectly blamed elephant herds for destroying African grasslands and had 40,000 of them slaughtered.
Back to the ‘beneficial and necessary’ component of grazing domesticated animals? It’s a claim that has been thoroughly debunked in a new 2 year study for the Food Climate Research Network citing 300 sources.
In short the methods don’t compensate for the damage they cause (large scale land clearing and habitat loss for wild animals, increased erosion, huge water use, 18-55% of global methane emissions, contamination of water systems and ocean dead zones with fertilizer and feces) let alone provide benefits.
To try and ‘sell’ the ‘beneficial and necessary’ component of grazing domesticated animals a number of false dichotomies are regularly put forth.
One: Domesticated grazing animals OR Mono-crops. It’s not a matter of picking the lessor of two evils. Neither of these are the solution. In fact as the world gradually transitions to a vegan lifestyle neither will be necessary as the vast majority of soy and corn grown in un-natural and un-sustainable mono-crops are fed to livestock not to humans.
Two: Domesticated grazing animals OR No grazing benefits. As we’ve already touched on moving away form livestock farming would allow natural eco-systems to repopulate and with them wild grazers such as horses. Instead of killing wild horses because they compete with grazing livestock we can let them live and also enjoy the benefits they provide to the ecosystem. To quote from TorD: “Bovines have no upper front teeth so when they yank grass out they usually kill it, and their digestive system does not retain seeds in their droppings. Wild horses, on the other hand, “clip” grass when they graze, allowing the grass to grow back, and their digestive system means seeds are deposited in their fertile droppings.”
Three: Domesticated grazing animals OR No fertilizer for plant crops. Plant based fertilizers like mulch, ‘green manure,’ vegetable compost and chipped wood bark can easily provide for the multitude of organisms existing within the soil. In fact veganic farming is nothing new. We’ve only been using farmed animal manure because we’re drowning in it! As Nassim Nobari of Seed the Commons explains: “The highly efficient milpa system in Mesoamerica (based on corn, beans, and squash) fed what was likely the densest population on the planet at the time without any animal inputs, including draft animals.”
Four: Domesticated grazing animals OR No ruminates will exist. This is ridiculous. As covered already once we move away form livestock farming natural eco-systems can repopulate and with them wild ruminates and also their natural associated bird and predator specifies.
MYTH four: There’s no difference between wild ruminants which once roamed the planet emitting methane and livestock.
I was horrified to learn that we now use 45% of Earth’s global surface to accommodate livestock. So even if the only consideration was methane emissions of wild versus domesticated ruminants the numbers of animals involved are vastly different. The rate at which we breed livestock animals into existence to meet our desire to slaughter 56 billion land mammals a year is horrific, heart-breaking and simply NOT comparable to the numbers of wild ruminants that once roamed our planet.
However sadly it’s not just about greenhouse gas emissions. Although ‘just’ is hardly the right term when you consider emissions from livestock account for 18% of all greenhouse gas emissions which is more than the entire transportation industry (that’s conservative – I’ve heard 55% too).
Other vital considerations on the matter of wild ruminants vs livestock:
- Humans do not squander the planets resources to breed, feed, water, confine, transport, slaughter, process, refrigerate and then again transport wild ruminants like we do ‘our’ livestock.
- We don’t tear down rainforests and contribute to vast species extinctions (over 100 animal and insect species A DAY) in order to provide wild ruminants with grazing land or feed.
- We don’t kill wild animals that threaten or compete with wild ruminants.
- We don’t fatten wild ruminants up in feed-lots or factory farms with human edible food like: wheat, corn and soy. More than 800 million people are living in starvation because we feed the food we grow to animals not people so we can eat their flesh and excretions.It’s grossly inefficient. 82% of starving children live in countries where food is grown to feed animals that are eaten in western countries. The grain that is used to feed livestock in America alone could eradicate world hunger.
- We don’t fertilize crops to feed wild ruminates and then let the fertilizer run into oceans and create dead zones.
- The feces of wild ruminants don’t collect in huge toxic manure lakesthat are then sprayed over neighbouring ’spray fields’ creating abysmal living conditions in lower socio economic regions.
- We don’t pump wild ruminant full of so many antibiotics that humans are now becoming scarily antibiotic resistant.
It’s simply just not comparable.
MYTH five: We can’t feed the world with Vegan food / we’ll all be nutrient deficient.
We’ve already covered the extent to which producing vegan food is vastly LESS resource intensive in myths one and two. Again here’s that quote from the journal Science in 2018, “without meat and dairy consumption, global farmland use could be reduced by more than 75% – an area equivalent to the US, China, European Union and Australia combined – and still feed the world.” Just to reiterate, we already produce enough food to feed 10-12 billion people. The reason there are still around 800 million starving people in our global population of 7.5-8 billion is our selfish obsession with grossly inefficient animal agriculture.
So what about that eagerly promoted “vegans are nutrient deficient” myth?
This is perhaps my primary focus and personal specialty. I live to show how you can create and keep a fit, strong, healthy body following a 100% vegan lifestyle. However don’t just listen to me (!) listen to The American Dietetic and the British Dietetic Associations (which are the largest bodies of diet and nutrition professionals in both countries) who have categorically stated that: “a vegan, plant based diet is nutritionally adequate, healthy and safe at all stages of life including pregnancy.”
All the nutrients we think we need form animals products can be found in abundance in the plant kingdom. The biggest and strongest land animals – Elephant, Rhino, Hippo – are all herbivores. The Gorilla who we share 98% of our DNA with is a herbivore.
The persistent cries of: “But we need red meat for iron” and “But we need milk for calcium” are sneaky and scarily effective propaganda designed to protect the HUGE financial interests of the HUGE meat and dairy industries.
The things you are MUCH more likely to miss out on with vegan food are saturated fat, cholesterol, obesity and lifestyle related diseases such as heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and some forms of cancer. Adopting a whole food plant-based diet is the one nutritional regimen that has been scientifically proven to prevent and even reverse these modern day plagues. For your own research I recommend Dr Michael Gregers book How Not To Die and amazing site nutritionfacts.org and also the documentary What The Health:
MYTH six: Vegan products like tofu are destroying the planet.
The tofu / soy myth conflates the primary consumption of soy based foods with the secondary consumption of soy fed animals. 80-85% of the worlds soy crops are fed to animals bred for human consumption. (Oilseed and Grain news).
Of the 15-20% of soy that does make it’s way to directly human consumption the majority is hidden as cheap filler in processed crap-o-la demolished by non-vegans and vegans alike. It’s the type of food we’d be much better off avoiding… while embracing less processed soy options like tempeh, edamame and tofu.
To be clear, soy farming is detrimental to the environment. Both so far as displaced people and destroyed rainforests. It’s unsustainable at it’s current rate. However since the super vast majority of soy grown is fed to livestock animals eradicating animal agriculture would make soy farming for human consumption sustainable.
The happy and increasingly publicized news is that investors worth trillions of dollars are moving with the times and investing in the many exciting new plant based products. Sure, when a meat company like Tyson Foods invests in American startup Beyond Burger I’m fairly certain it’s not an ethics led transition away from animal exploitation, however the end result is the same so I’ll gratefully rejoice it.
Just today I read a Insta post claiming meat companies should not worry about this “vegan fad” however that’s wishful thinking. In fact Forbes Magazine in an article titled: Here’s Why You Should Turn Your Business Vegan In 2018 warns business’s about getting left behind as “the plant-based food sector is experiencing tremendous growth.” They also state, “Rather than resist the inevitable, smart animal agriculture businesses are getting in on the plant-based revolution by buying or investing in plant-based brands.”
My prediction is that as big meat, dairy and egg business’s continue to see their market shares and profitability diminish while witnessing the massive growth in vegan alternatives we’ll see increasingly devious fear mongering tactics and lies aimed at taking down their competition.
As an optimist at heart I feel certain truth will prevail. Consumers are getting more savvy and are asking tougher questions. When it comes down to it, why would you open your wallet to support industries that slaughter 56 billion land animals and 2.7 trillion marine creatures a year when you have an ever increasing abundance of other choices? Put another way, why unnecessarily take the life of someone who does not want to die?
If I make this sound simpler than it is that’s not my belief or my intention.
Absolutely I think the power and responsibility each of us have as a consumer at each and every meal is HUGE. Everything counts and as such, your individual every decision is impactful.
And yet, farms and industries don’t transition from animal agriculture to plant based with the flick of a switch. They’ll likely need government assistance and they’ll absolutely need encouragement from consumers and by encouragement I mean diminishing demand for animal products and increasing demand for plant products.
Now I’d like to turn my attention from a more global perspective and focus on our farmers and our dry land that right now and increasingly frequently is in drought here in Australia.
First the facts. How bad is it?
- 100% of NSW and more than 50% of Queensland is in drought.
- The NSW government is currently spending more than $1 billion and the Federal government is spending more than half a billion in drought support and emergency relief.
Because I’m admittedly biased I’m going to momentarily remove my animal rights activist singlet (!) and reference the economist, the scientist and the agriculturist featured in an article published by tendaily.com.au (August 2018) titled: Experts Agree Our Farmers Need To Get Out Instead Of Being Bailed Out.
The brave and surely unpopular consensus? Taxpayer dollars would be better spent helping farmers leave the industry.
The Economist, Saul Eslake observes: “There tends to be an almost unconscious belief our farmers are more noble or more worthy than other industries.”
To quote from the ten daily article (which I’ll link to in the show notes): Up until the 1950’s farming accounted for around 90 percent of our exports, but today it sits closer to 15 percent and approximately three percent of our GDP.
Although the best farmers know droughts happen and prepare for it during the good years there are also farmers who don’t bother doing that and have to be continually bailed out.
To quote Eslake: “We can’t just keep throwing cash and drought assistance, given some farmers are farming in areas that are more often in drought than not.”
To get an economists input on MYTH five, Eslake states: If farms begin to close, food supply and food security isn’t a concern.
“Australia exports far more food that we supply to ourselves, so if we wind down productions and close some farms, that’s not going to mean we just run out of food.”
Donning my animal rights activist singlet again (!) that’s not even taking into account the likelihood that many farmers that love the lifestyle of living on the land – that see it as a passion or family legacy – would transition to producing plant based crops rather than ditching farming completely. Those plant based crops that as covered in MYTH one, require vastly less land and include hardy and human edible plants that can be grown in difficult conditions. Including leafy greens, fruit, buckwheat, rye, barley, quinoa and so much more.
The Scientist, Professor Andy Pitman, Director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate Extremes believes “More periods of drought are likely and Australia’s landscape seems to be drying more rapidly and intensely.”
To quote Pitman: “The Federal government has to start looking at packages to help move farmers off non-economically viable farms. Government policy also needed to plan for, and address how wider communities would be affected by farm closures.”
The singlet is still on!!! Can’t we help our farmers clinging to animal agriculture move with the times and transition to the many exciting new plant based products? That means wider communities can benefit from the plant-based revolution too.
The Agriculturalist, Professor David Lamb from the University of New England, (also a Chief Scientist at foodagility – a partially government funded organisation that helps producers with innovation and technology) conceded: there are farmers who ought to opt out once the dust settles.
To quote Lamb: “There are definitely some farmers who shouldn’t be in the game, they’ve been struggling for years and haven’t innovated and developed or changed their ways. They need to get out, I would agree with that much.”
In closing today’s show I have a final shout out to the awesome site TruthorDrought.com they share the stories of plenty of farmers who have made the transition from animal agriculture to crop farming. It’s worth checking out.
To get actionable today, I’d love to hear from YOU. As I mentioned at the top of the show I know this topic is controversial and highly emotive. What have I neglected to see that you’d like to bring to my attention? I just want to get better at understanding the situation we’re currently finding ourselves in here in Aus and indeed all around the world. As deep as I dig I just keep circling back to the indisputable belief that there is no humane way to kill someone who does not want to die… especially when you have alternatives. Even when those alternatives come with struggles, sacrifices, and massive uncertainty – because what farmers aren’t already dealing with such hardships right now anyway??
What have I missed? I sincerely like to hear from you.
That’s it for this week in Healthification. If you’ve stuck with me this far HUGE gratitude… I respect your time and appreciate your support – so Thank you!
The Healthification podcast is proudly bought to you by my FREE ‘Easy Vegan’ plan. It took me 25 years to transition from a meat eater to a happy, healthy, non-judgemental Vegan! You can do it in just 3 days with my simplified ‘easy vegan’ plan! Get the fit, strong, and healthy plant based body you deserve… while avoiding ALL the mistakes I made along the way!
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If you liked ‘Myths About Farming and The Drought‘ you’ll also like: Being Vegan And Getting Lean
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