Going vegan for the animals? You might want to rethink that.
Unless you grow all of your own food or can source all of what you eat from a local, regenerative farm that practices veganic, organic, natural, and holistic methods for raising the food you eat, you will want to rethink that just going vegan alone and still being able to shop from the grocery store is going to save any animals.
What many don’t understand about being vegan for the animals—for ethical reasons—is that what doesn’t show up on your plate or in your glass doesn’t actually mean you’re contributing to least harm possible.
Most people don’t understand how the grocery store denies the privilege of understanding how their food is grown; how most of the crops that they eat are grown in monocultures that till the soil and use chemical fertilizers and pesticides.
Most also don’t realize what kind of harm these crops cause to a variety of animal life and micro-organisms, not to mention the degradation to the soil itself.
That’s what I want to talk to you about with this blog post: That harm that’s been caused by those monoculture crops. And I’m not just talking about grain crops either, even though these make up a large part of the harm done to both wild animals, insects, and the environment.
But before I get into that I want to make note of one important thing: Quality over quantity. I know how much we love to recite numbers to prove or disprove a point, but when it comes to the question of how many animals have been harmed or killed with conventional industrial agriculture, even on a per-year basis (let alone a per-loaf basis), we don’t have an accurate number. No scientist has yet been able to quantify just how many animals are killed on just any old crop field; most quantifications have been anecdotal and estimated, or rather based only on number of mice decimated by machinery. So, for that reason, I’d like to talk a bit about the quality of harm done; just what those animals are put through with all the fertilizers, pesticides and machinery that go over those fields.
The beauty (or lack thereof) of the quality of harm really allows us to look more into the environmental impacts of industrialized plant agriculture, as well as the kind of impacts on a variety of animals, from soil microbes to bugs to megafauna like deer and hawks. I guess you can say it brings a bit of a holistic context to the whole least harm debacle.
Let’s first look at the kind of harm that has been done to our soils with current industrial plant agricultural methods. The very thought of ripping up grasslands and even deforesting areas to “better utilize” them for feeding a single, highly greedy species makes my blood run cold.
Agrochemical Agriculture’s Destructive Habits
Tillage. Chemical salt-based fertilizers. Pesticides. They all play a role in soil degradation and unforeseen impacts on a multitude of organisms, including us.
Annual monoculture crops have relied on increasing amounts and sophisticated concoctions of fertilizers and pesticides. This has been more noticeable in the last couple of decades. The primary reason behind this is two-fold: The soil in these conventional monoculture crop fields is basically “dead,” fertility gone with erosion and very little organic matter; and pests (insects and weeds) have increased resistance to the pesticides that are *typically* used to target those pests in these particular crops.
These are very problematic. All of this points to the very real fact that industrial plant agriculture is destroying the soil and the life that depends on it. It may not be readily seen in the fields necessarily, but we can see a lot of the damage down-stream. Literally.
Let’s back up for a minute, though.
How does cropland even come about in the first place?
The answer lies in the deliberate destruction of native vegetation. You see, in order to first grow crops, the native perennial vegetation must be removed, no matter if it’s a forest (where trees are pushed or cut down, stumps removed, understory brush removed by fire or “brush-hogging”, and the soil beneath tilled up), or a grassland (the plow, cultivator and disc needed to break up the heavy sod with multiple passes).
The intent is the same for all: Destroy the current, biodiverse, permanent plant communities (“wipe the slate clean”) so that there is very little to no competition from any other plants while the sown crop is growing and maturing prior to harvest.
It destroys an existing vibrant and thriving ecosystem that contains a highly diverse array of plant species that are suited to the climate and environmental extremes (or lack thereof) of that area. These plants provide a wide array of ecological goods and services from protecting the soil and feeding the soil biota community beneath, to providing essential habitat and a food source to a myriad of animal life, from the smallest arachnids to the largest herbivores, to the fiercest predators.
Removing this biological community means that these critters are forced find new places or travel farther to find food and shelter. This displacement is often a matter of life or death, as they may need to fight another animal for new territory and may risk injury or death as a result. Others may need to travel a long way to find a new home. Sometimes the place they eventual find safe and with adequate food and shelter isn’t the safest place at all, as I will show you later.
Removing those existing plants also exposes the soil to erosion, nutrient loss, and other issues. Quite frankly the most devastating effects are seen at the soil level. Exposing the soil stimulates bacteria in the soil that are specialists at consuming organic matter at a fast rate, which eventually results in a marked decline in soil fertility—as well as a significant reduction in soil organic matter. It also subjects the soil to erosion by wind and rain, which carry away nutrients in fine particles, never to return. Billions of soil organisms die off because their main food sources and habitat is completely annihilated. Only those microbes that will thrive from both this die off and the sudden injection of oxygen into the system will survive. This is not a good thing for the soil.
If you think that land clearing alone is one that causes a significant amount of harm, what about the fact that the land converted into cropland or monoculture crop production stays in production?
Keeping cropland in production in almost every single year without having to put more land under monoculture, particularly in this day and age, involves needing to utilize the tools of the trade to give the crop the ability to reach maturity and give as bountiful a harvest as it could. Yield is of primary focus in industrial plant agriculture.
Thus, with such a narrow focus, comes the need to use these chemicals to make that primary monoculture crop give what is expected of it. For annual crops in particular, using fertilizers (nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, and sulphur; or N-P-K-S) and pesticides (insecticides, fungicides, herbicides, etc.) are necessary. Not only that but a variety of equipment from trucks and augers to tractors, combine harvesters, tillage equipment, and seeding equipment (along with the enormous amount of oil and fuel necessary to keep them running) are also needed.
I won’t get into the agronomics of growing a crop of wheat, soybeans or corn or other annuals, but basically the planning around when and how to prep the fields for seeding, when and how to seed, when and how to spray for weeds, insect pests, and diseases, and when and how to harvest are all taken into account into the management for crop production.
The only things that get missed out–and ironically happen to be the most important things–is the soil and the environment… and yes, the animals too.
Tillage Does the Soil No Good
Tillage has been around since the start of the Neolithic Revolution. It’s the way that’s always been done to prep the field before sowing the crop. But it is considered one of the worst aspects of farming because of what it does to the soil.
Tillage encourages and exacerbates soil erosion and runoff; continuous tillage, with the help of chemicals, ensures that soil is always exposed to the elements, so that it can be carried away readily with any wind and/or rain event. Several feet of soil have been lost as a result. Tillage also disrupts soil structure to the point that particles are stirred up so fine that it makes it difficult for water to infiltrate quickly deep into the soil profile due to their increased surface area. What doesn’t quickly runoff, is evaporated. It encourages compaction, especially with the help of water. Air also has a much harder time to get trapped in the soil profile, unlike with natural well-structured soil; this creates anaerobic conditions, as well as conditions that kill much of the soil life that need that aerobic environment to live. And above all, when tillage is done to purposely keep a field bare, the heat (via solar radiation) emanating from it disrupts the water cycle, discouraging rainfall. Tillage is the makings of a lifeless, man-made desert. Literally.
Cropland is only covered by vegetation–for merely a three to four months out of 12. These species are often shallow-rooted, and not all that adapted to the climate. They also cannot grow on dead, tilled soil without salt-based chemical fertilizers. These plants are planted so that there is a lot of space in between them; this does nothing to protect the soil in any way. Finally, any “weeds” (annual forbs that’ve taken the opportunity to germinate in the exposed soil and the fertilizers intended for the crop) that come in to fill in these bare spots are killed with pesticides. Where these annuals were Nature’s way of covering herself and protecting the soil, humans only killed them off and caused the soil to become exposed again to erosion and runoff, to the sun’s rays, to further degradation.
We’re destroying our soil, and many of us don’t even realize it.
The greatest folly of agriculture may have been tillage, with the role that it has played in the demise of ancient human civilizations (see the book by David R. Montgomery, Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations) before this modern-day era. And we may be seeing a repeat of that same fate here. However, perhaps an even more significant elephant in the room is the continued and increasing use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides; These perhaps may prove to be the more profound cause of harm, even more-so than tillage.
Chemical Fertilizers for Dead Soil
Fertilizers make plants lazy. They also speed up the ability of organic matter to get eaten up by soil microbes. Not only that, but they sever the natural ties between plants and soil micro-organisms. Finally, they change the biological community of the soil.
Fertilizers have the capability to change soil characteristics as well. They can cause a soil to become more acidic, as well as increase the salinity levels. Neither of which are conducive to soil nor plant life.
Fertilizers, which supply primarily nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), potassium (K), and sulphur (S) to plants, come in the form that makes them easy to take up into the root system. A supply that meets plants’ needs right then and there means that plants no longer have use for the interactions with mycorrhizal fungi nor most soil bacteria, nor vice versa.
The decimation of this ancient bond seems to make plants more susceptible to pathogens and pests; but more on that later.
The salt-based (as chemical ions, not table salt) nature of chemical fertilizers makes it easily for them to interact with water, and become quite soluble–some fertilizers more readily than others. While this may be seen as a “good” thing from a reductionist stand point where the chemical compounds are easily taken up by the plant, other unforeseen issues arise such as the acidification of the soil, and increased soil salinity.
Acidification primarily comes about when this fertilizer-water interaction frees up hydrogen ions. An excess of hydrogen ions increases soil acidity. Nitrogenous and phosphorous can be especially notorious for this.
Salinization occurs when salts are left behind on or in the soil after water has evaporated. This usually occurs in low-lying areas, and is noticed by a lack of growth by the crop sown, or by the presence of salt-tolerant plant species, or white residue on the soil surface. Salt (again, chemical ions, not necessarily table salt) causes an imbalance of cell homeostasis by drawing water out of the cells. Cellular death occurs as a result of dehydration; this can be seen en masse with multi-cellular organisms such as plants or smaller biota; it can even harm certain prokaryotic organisms too, particularly if they’re not adapted to high saline conditions.
And what about leaching and runoff into water bodies? Nitrogen (in the form of ammonium or nitrate) and phosphorus (in the form of phosphate), accumulate in water bodies causing massive algal blooms. These algal blooms can kill much of the aquatic life with depletion of oxygen and blocking sunlight from reaching the bottom of the lakes or ponds, which inhibit growth of aquatic plants, and causes massive fish die-offs. The dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico, for example, is a result of the use of synthetic fertilizers on crops, and the runoff and leaching into the Mississippi River, which dumps all that nutrient runoff–as well as eroded soil–into the Gulf.
Fertilizers are actually only effective for growing crops on degraded soils. Even so, they encourage microbes to consume what little organic material is left, not to mention what remaining soil nitrogen is there. All that’s left is some residue from last year’s crop, and virtually no nitrogen left in the soil. If a person were to seed a crop in that field the next year without commercial fertilizer, they would barely get much of a harvest off. Maybe some weeds, if they’re lucky. Otherwise…
So what about this divorce of plants with their microbial communities? There’s still plenty to be found out about this in scientific circles, but there’s already evidence that this break in partnership has resulted in more than one thing: First, the decrease in micro-nutrients available in plants compared with organic agriculture methods that utilized compost instead of commercial fertilizers, and second, roots of crops grown in agrochemical systems tend to be shallower and more poorly developed with less root hairs than plants grown in organic or even natural systems. Both of these weaknesses (lack of nutrients, as well as shallower, poor developed root system) gives for less nutritious food, and crops more prone to drought, pests, and disease.
We still don’t exactly know the mechanisms behind what makes plants more susceptible to disease and more attracted to pests, but we do know that plants that tend to have low Brix (sugar) levels are much more prone to attacks from insects than plants with high Brix levels. So, when we have such plants, so we get more of these pests and diseases. What’s the next tool in the arsenal of agrochemical farming to deal with this? Pesticides.
Use Pesticides If You Want More Pests! (Seriously.)
Pesticides are designed to kill things, whether it’s weeds (herbicides), insects (insecticides), or certain fungal or even bacterial diseases (fungicides/biocides). Everyone has heard of glyphosate as the most infamous pesticide known, next to DDT, but I tell you that there’s many more different types of pesticides than you can shake a stick at. I won’t go over them as it will take up too much time and space on this post.
But the question is, are they effective? And if they are, why am I inclined to tell you all that they are nothing more than band-aid solutions for–mainly–poor management practices? From where I’m sitting, they are nothing more than band-aid solutions. Have an overgrazed pasture with bare soil cropping up here and there, with a nice sward of weeds (common tansy, Canada/Russian thistle, ragweed, absinthe, tall buttercup, scentless chamomile, oxeye daisy, etc.) coming up? Well, maybe spraying some 2,4-D ester, or aminopyralid (Reclaim II®) or even picloram (Grazon®) in a water-based solution isn’t actually going to help. It’ll get rid of the weeds sure, but when are you going to clean up your act and stop overgrazing your pastures, and adopt some kind of mob grazing/rest rotation/holistic grazing management scheme instead??
This is no different in crops. Bare soil begets weeds. Weeds love bare soil, and Nature loves weeds because they cover her up. But, most crop farmers (sorry guys, but I have to tell the truth here) hate weeds because they both bring down yields, and they just make the crop look like shit to the neighbours. Some crops, like corn, can’t even grow that well if there are weeds in the stand. So out comes the jugs or herbicide to kill everything except the crop itself. Just like in that overgrazed pasture, just because the herbicide application was put on doesn’t mean those weeds aren’t ever coming back, because as long as there’s a seed bank, they’ll be coming back year after year, guaranteed.
The weeds should be telling you not that you need to get the sprayer cleaned up, but that you’re doing something wrong with your management. Let me put it another way: If you succeed in getting rid of the weeds, but don’t change your grazing or cropping practices, you’re going to get those weeds back again in a matter of a couple of years, whereby you will have to repeat the money-spending operative to buy more herbicide again. See what I mean about band-aid solutions? And a quick-fix recipe that comes conveniently in a jug?
I’ll say it again: Pesticides are temporarily effective band-aid solutions that work to only cover up the mistakes–or even “mistakes”–made that are bound to come back again and again. Just like a lot of rain makes any farmer or rancher look good…
This is not an attack on farmers, folks, this is an attack on the management practices that are promoted as “okay”. That is all.
Besides their long-term ineffectiveness, so do pesticides do more harm than good, and really tend to create their own worst enemies. Talk about herbicide-resistant weeds, or insecticide-resistant insects: Pesticides only kill the stuff that’s living in the field (or pastures) at the time being, it doesn’t kill the seeds in the soil nor the other bugs outside the crop; even then it may not even kill most of what is targeted, mainly because of timing (gotta get the pests at the right time at the right stage at the right temperature at the right wind conditions…)
What does that mean? It means that the organisms have an opportunity to breed and adapt quickly to become more resistant to the chemicals that they have to battle to achieve their life’s goals.
Dr. Jonathan Lundgren had done studies on effects of pesticides on insects in particular and found that these chemicals had the opposite effect of their intentions: Spraying for pests only brought on more pests.
Why was this? It was primarily because the insecticides harm more than just the targeted pest species. They also target predatory arthropods. Meaning, if you kill off the predators, you increase the prey species.
Pollinator species also come at risk for getting killed off by pesticides. Neonicotinoids are coming under fire for being a threat to bees and other beneficial insects. Neonicotinoid is just class type of insecticide that is used for killing bug pests: believe me, there are several others out there that the media hasn’t brought to folks’ attention. Even when some countries have banned neonics, we still don’t know what kind of unintended consequences are going to come out with other insecticides that are on the market; Just as we don’t know, even fully, the extent of the unintended and albeit disastrous consequences of other pesticides, not to mention GMO (genetically modified organism) crops like Bt corn, soybeans, canola, etc. But that’s another blog.
We can only share about what we do know. So, what we know is that pesticides, as much as they are simply a tool, still are capable of doing more harm than good. There are pesticides that are quite toxic to soil biota. Also, the repeated use of pesticides certainly will alter the soil community to one that is not beneficial to the rest of the ecosystem.
We can also speculate. What kind of harm does pesticides do to larger organisms both directly and indirectly? We knew that DDT had almost caused the extinction of the peregrine falcon. But what about other animals? How many get poisoned and later die from exposure? They don’t read signs nor know (except through smell and maybe taste) that a field has just recently been sprayed with chemical and they shouldn’t go through it, nor eat any of the “treated” plants. Maybe animals are smarter than we think and will avoid that field until the chemical residue smell has passed a day or two later. But that’s just speculation. I haven’t been able to ask a deer of what he thinks of a field of freshly sprayed canola…
And, what about the effects of agrochemical agriculture on other animals as a whole? This is another topic I’d like to explore a little more.
Monoculture Crops vs. Wildlife
What happens when you replace a biodiverse ecosystem with a mono-speciated one? You get an ecosystem that is no longer conducive to as diverse a community as there was once before.
Wildlife are displaced, from deer to insects, when the aforementioned happens. They have to find new homes, new places to forage or find food, both which can come at great risk. Some may need to establish new territories and compete or battle with those holding existing territorial status. Some will need to travel further distances than just the outside of the field, which is rife with danger in and of itself. Others may not be able to get a chance to survive, and will perish either by the machinery equipment, or by some lucky predator.
But what about those animals that have discovered an opportunity for abundance and survival from the crop itself?
Well, what an opportunity! Like an all-you-can-eat buffet of nothing but corn or canola or soybeans or wheat or… What’s on those fields, or even what gets left behind seems such a recipe for success with producing more offspring that can be taught about this plentiful food source, doesn’t it?
There’s just one major problem: That crop was never intended to feed them in the first place. That crop was intended for humans only (and the domesticated animals in their care); These humans seeing these animals making the most from their hard work of planting and caring for a mono-speciated crop to bring in later in the year react in the strongest way possible to protect their potential harvest. Of course, the more abundant these critters are, the more worrying they are to us humans, right?
The reaction to protect the harvest is to destroy, to kill, as many as possible. Depending on the species of animals in question, the methods employed to seek-and-destroy is typically via trapping, shooting, or poisoning. The purpose is to decrease the population to “manageable numbers” or at least so few animals that they are no longer a threat to the crop.
The reductionist reasoning is that by doing so, only the targeted animals (including insects, as they certainly are classed as “animals” under Kingdom Animalia), and not any else. This reasoning couldn’t be farther from the truth. Such practices, especially with use of chemicals like insecticides that I talked about above, affects many other animals in the food web which those targeted pests are a part of. (I refuse to use the concept of the “food chain” since that completely ignores the complexity of prey-predator interactions.)
Of course, agrochemical agriculture is going to kill a lot of animals, not just through the above-mentioned methods, but also “unintentionally” with machinery. Let’s talk about that for a minute.
Unintentional Consequences, or an Extremists’ Escape Clause?
A little aside to talk about the intentional versus unintentional deaths of plant agriculture.
Often, I hear of the argument that it’s somehow okay that animals are maimed, injured and killed in cropland agriculture from the vegan crowd because none of those deaths were intentional. I think that’s a wrong and fool-hardy way to realize the impacts cropping has on animal life.
Let me argue this: There’s nothing unintentional about a farmer going out to buy a jug of insecticide or a bunch of poison to kill a bunch of vermin animals going after his crops and his grain stores. A farmer doesn’t accidentally shoot some squirrels who are finding their way into the grain bins, or pigeons who are shitting all over the place.
What of the animals who cross paths with the farm machinery in the field? The farmer knows that those animals are there, and rarely will stop or slow down enough to allow those critters to get out of the way in time to save their own skins. Most of the time a piece of equipment is coming up on them too fast for those animals to get out of the way in time. Not only that, but do you honestly think that a mouse knows where the combine harvester is really coming from in such tall vegetation?
Let’s do a thought experiment to answer that question. Picture yourself in the middle of a forest and suddenly you hear this odd rumbling sound, but you can’t get its exact location. You know it’s getting closer and closer to you, but you don’t know where because the trees surrounding you are bouncing the sound around. You can only stand and listen, and your fear grows ever more as you cannot explain the sound nor where it’s coming from. Then you start to run, as you hear crashing that sounds like it’s all around you. All of a sudden, the enormous, tree-eating thing comes into view and comes at you so fast that you’ve no time to run away, run to the left, run to the right… or even think to duck under… Then suddenly, blinding pain, and nothingness. Game over.
Let that sink in for a moment.
Some animals are lucky enough to escape, or at least the operator of the machinery sees them in well enough time to do something to let them escape and live another day. But most aren’t so lucky.
The argument for unintentional harm is, to my mind, a way of washing one’s hands and showing their indifference to the plight of animals all over the board. It’s a rather disgustingly cute escape clause.
The only analogy I can think of in this case is of one where a politician ordered the bombings of a certain city for the purpose of going after a couple of terrorists. When asked by the media of the thousands of casualties of civilians (innocent people) as a result, he just shrugs and says, “They’re just collateral damage, there was nothing intentional about their deaths.”
Yet another thing to let sink into you for a moment. Were their deaths really unintentional? The leader knew that there were thousands of people present where bombings were going to happen, and did happen, yet did nothing to ensure their lives were saved in contrast to the few terrorists targeted, and merely shrugged it off as “collateral damage.”
I’m making it sound like the farmers don’t care whether those animals get hurt or not. That’s only partly true, but I know of stories of farmers who did feel deep heartache and remorse when they realized they ran over a family of mice where the mother threw herself over them to protect her babies, or when a little fawn got mauled to death, or when a pretty little songbird flew in front of the tractor and didn’t survive.
My finger is pointing at the vegans who are the ones shrugging off these deaths and dismissing them as “unintentional.” Because, are their deaths really “unintentional”? Lives are still lost, blood is still spilt for the purpose of producing food, which is no different with harvesting an animal for its flesh.
At least the animal who is intentionally killed for food is done so with the purpose of making the death as fast, efficient, and pain-free as possible so that a) the animal doesn’t suffer and b) the meat isn’t tainted or spoiled from an animal that has undergone tremendous stress and fear prior to death.
Yet the animal extremists are proclaiming that the latter is far worse than the former? That’s another topic to discuss for another time.
Now, let’s swing this wagon back around to the main trail again and talk more about the impacts of agrochemical farming on animals as a whole.
If You Want Less Insects…
Have you ever noticed the increasingly lack of insects as you drive along in the summer time? No, I don’t mean the ones you just love to swat at when you’re out camping or sitting on the back porch (well yes, those count too), but the lack of bugs hitting the windshield as you take a summer trip to a friend or relative’s place out in the country?
That’s something I’ve noticed just over the past couple of decades. I strongly feel that most of the blame for the decline in insect populations is the current management practices around crop production. From the increasing use of chemicals to “protect” crops (or assist in higher yields), to the clearing of brush, trees, natural buffer areas, draining of wetlands, or basically turning any potential spot into dirt to allow for more space for bigger equipment, and to maximize space for maximum yields, this and many other reasons create an environment increasingly devoid of insects
Why is any of this important?
Insects are a part of that intricate food web I mentioned before. They’re food for many animals, but most notable here are the birds.
Less insects begets less birds. Not only that (and I’ll talk about this soon), but the less bird-friendly habitat there is, the less birds (and other wildlife) there will be.
I’m not just talking about forests either. Grasslands are also extremely important for birds!!
Birds are one of the most significant key indicator species to tell you how healthy landscape is—along with amphibians and insects themselves—just by their mere presence, or lack thereof. If you’re noticing certain songbirds that used to be around previously, or via historical records (if such exist), are no longer prevalent, or seem to be decreasing in numbers year after year and it’s nothing to do with certain seven or 10-year cycles, then something isn’t right with the local environment.
The birds could be suffering losses by themselves or by less and less young surviving to adulthood with eating insects contaminated and poisoned by chemicals, or because their habitat is destroyed or has undergone too much disturbance to bother making the effort to nurture their young ones to flighty independence.
Birds who cannot find places to nest and raise young are birds whose populations are going to suffer. Birds are quite particular where they nest. The Long-billed Curlew, for instance, which is designated as a shorebird, will actually nest in the middle of a piece of open prairie. Sharp-tailed grouse and the Greater Sage Grouse need open grasslands that have been grazed down for their leks, or breeding grounds, but need tall-grassy areas with some shrubbery for nesting and foraging. Sprague’s Pipit is particular as well, same with the burrowing owl which loves heavily-grazed areas and old gopher towns to call home. And I haven’t gotten into the variety of song sparrows and other birds (including water fowl) who’ve called the grasslands home, even if it’s just for the season before most fly south before the winter.
Forests aren’t the only places to find birds, you know!
And what of the amphibians? Dwindling insect populations affect them as well, not to mention the effect that fertilizer and chemical run-off into their habitats. These critters are negatively affected by loss of habitat (via draining and conversion of wetlands), consuming poisoned not-yet-dead insects that happen their way, and even their absorbing of chemicals through their permeable skin. These critters are also indicators of the kind of harm we need to revert what has been done with the current agrochemical crop production.
Where To From Here?
I realize that I didn’t cover everything I could have in this post with relation to the kind of harm that agrochemical agriculture has caused for the environment, and for the animals. There are many, MANY other terrifying cases out there all over the world that are evidence to the harm that this way of farming has caused.
Not just the environment and wildlife, but to us humans as well, with our health, with the underpaid workers often as illegal immigrants desperate for some kind of work to make some money to live and to send back home to their loved ones, with the terrifying impact on indigenous communities…
Nor did I cover the impacts cropland agriculture has on forests; I couldn’t get too deep into the impacts of monocultures on the myriad of wetlands all over the world. I had to keep in mind that I’m writing a blog on this, not a book!
So where to from here, you may be wondering?
For fear of repeating what multiple other blog posts on this site has already mentioned, supporting your local regenerative farmer and sourcing your food from farms and farmers who do their absolute damnedest to raise crops and livestock in the best ways possible, with the environment and the variety of life within it, is the best way you can make an impact to combat these issues I raised in brief above.
Your food dollar is the vote that counts the most. And I’m speaking to everyone, including the vegans.
Really, if you really cared about the animals, you would be more cognizant of where ALL of your food came from, and not just concern yourself with only the animal products that appear on the grocery store shelves.
Why Support Regenerative Agriculture
The very essence of being regenerative, over merely sustainable, is that a farmer is leaving a resource better than [s]he found it. To be sustainable is to merely keep a degrading resource in the same form, or just slightly worse, than when one found it. Really, who in their right mind wants to sustain a degrading resource?
Regenerative practices begin with the soil, and it branches out from there. When you encourage more life in the soil, you encourage more life above-ground, from the plants to the bugs to the wildlife… and to the farmer and his family, and you the customer.
Basically to regenerate, is to make what is old and tired out (like the soil) new and full of life and health again. What more could you ask for?
That, in a nutshell is why you should support regenerative agriculture, and how you truly advocate for least harm possible.
This is a very well written post. It is an in depth look at all that is wrong with our current agricultural system, supported by our taxes and by our votes cast in supermarkets when we open our wallets. Vegans need to open their eyes to see the reality of lifestyle. Being a vegan for health reasons or beliefs is absolutely fine. Being a vegan on “moral” grounds needs to be re-examined. It’s a totally false premise.
In this article only one thing is true. Billions of wild animals are killed for agricultural crops. BUT, please do not blame vegans for the killing! Over 80 billion farm animals trillions of farm fish are killed worldwide every single year for human consumptions. What do you think they are eating? How much land is used for their feed crops? Remember there are only 7.5 billion people on the earth. PLEASE, DO THE MATH. If we all stop eating animals we can return back the land to NATURE, AND save the planet, Eating, cause all kinds of diseases and pandemics.
Eat local, seasonal and regenerative all year long and none of what you say applies.
I totally agree with all of the above and it is something very close to my heart,( being Vegan and supporting veganism, I have eaten and grown organic products since 1984 when I 1st became vegetarian, and support organic and biodynamic farming at all times. There is now a great deal of information coming forward with regard to renewability and sustainability of our lands and most of the vegan fairs are growing into dealing with these subjects also. But growth only comes with awareness and not by condemmnation of veganism, the majority of which would like to know far more about these issues in order to help, so please help raise awareness not be-little.
Really good article, but the bias they got will never allow them to see the other face of the coin. Although, do you have any article talking about if the free range farming is able to feed “all people”. This is a opposite that they give against sustainable meat,but…i also thought that veganism was more sustainable.
[…] The Least-Harm Fallacy of Veganism by Karin Lindquist […]
We all agree with what you are saying, but presenting it as the only way to go vegan is misleading and short sighted. Regenerative, local agriculture is the one of the only sustainable solution there is. Technology is also advancing rapidly as it is receiving more and more funding as the number of people awakening to the urgency of changing our practices (synthetic biology is extremely promising and has already shown what is possible) is increasing. You talk about these mono-crops and agrochemical agriculture, but you don’t spend much time discussing cattle feed… From my perpective, every aspect described in growing the vegan food you talk about, is applied to grow the feed you’ll give your cattle, so not only we are dealing with the negative effects of intensive animal agriculture, but also the very ones you are denunciating, doubling up the negative aspects of such practices. Where we are for example, we cannot produce enough feed year round for our cows, forcing to buy what has been produced in the ways you describe.
The environmental aspect is important, so is our health, and enough studies show the negative impacts of eating meat everyday. I believe in moderation, which would therefore allow the ones who still want to eat meat to eat sustainable meat. Demonizing plant base agriculture while without showing the benefit of it isn’t really fair. We can and must change our practises, all of our practices
All well and good ranting about this but ignoring that meat eaters consume both crops and animals that consume crops. A vegan world would require less cropland than a meat eating one so there’s even less crop land death. Thus it still is the least harm.
And you conveniently forget that vegans want to stop farming methods that kill wildlife too so would actively encourage vegan farming (no pesticides or ‘pest’ killing etc).
We’ve heard these arguments ad nauseum and already have rebuttals if you bother to actually research.
I don’t think that was the point of this article. Yes, we all know that the TYPICAL plant-based diet causes less harm than the TYPICAL animal-based diet does – but the fact still remains that all of our food production period causes at least some harm to both animals and the environment.
Factory farmed animal products (i.e.; the vast majority of all animal-based ag today, especially in the Western hemisphere) cause more harm than any plant-based ag ever does. They’re also almost as abusive to their human employees as they are to their animals; plus, they’re also the reason why E. coli, salmonella, etc. spread as often as they do, leading to pandemics.
Likewise, sustainable veganic farming (especially when it’s also organic too) causes the least amount of direct harm.
The whole point of this article though, is that it is comparing the most-harm form of plant-based ag (industrial veganic farming) to the least-harm form of animal-based ag (sustainable/pasture-based livestock farming OR hunting and fishing in moderation), and truthfully pointing out the fact that the former ironically causes more harm than the latter does. But I do agree that hunting and fishing in moderation can help to prevent wildlife overpopulation, and that sustainable/pasture-based livestock animals on the other hand actually have better and longer lives than most wild prey animals do too.
And while most people nowadays can survive on a vegetarian or vegan diet, that still doesn’t mean that EVERYBODY can. And even in general, a vegetarian or especially vegan diet still isn’t necessarily the 100% healthiest diet either. This is NOT to say that consuming too many, or the wrong kind of, animal products is any healthier either though. (The only reason why veg[etari]ans on average live longer than most other people do, is because they also tend to exercise more and do fewer drugs as well. Correlation =/= causation. Plus, the documentaries “What the Health” and “The Game Changers” have been thoroughly debunked; ditto with any health organization that has the word “dietetics” in it too.)
We as a society should continue significantly reducing our current consumption of animal products, and promoting vegetarianism and veganism. But the whole point of this website is that it’s still middle-class arrogance to say that EVERYBODY can and should permanently adopt a plant-based diet (and starting immediately, at that). Yes, the “militant/extremist/abolitionist vegans” should not be taken seriously at all (despite their good intentions about at least trying to help animals) – but I still support the Friendly & Pragmatic Vegetarian/Vegan Activists, as their beliefs go hand-in-hand with everything mentioned in this website, plus they’re very non-judgy toward other people who eat meat and animal byproducts too (ESPECIALLY if those other people already condemn the idea of factory farms).
I’m not a vegan, at least yet, but I am a vegetarian. Just thought I’d throw this out.
Absolutely fantastic article. The fallacy that eating meat causes more harm to animals is revealed here. The truth of what is written here is so obvious that one has to be totally cut off from reality not to acknowledge it. Thank you for your time, effort and research. This needs to be shared widely!