What does it mean to be an Ethical Omnivore?
Everyone knows that the food and consumer products we choose to buy can have a big impact on our health and on the environment.
The way the food and other products we consume are produced is the most important issue facing us as a species, the rest of the natural world, and the health of the environment.
Ethical omnivores believe that the natural diet that human beings evolved eating, which includes meat, fish, and animal products such as dairy, is not only great for our health and development but can also be sustainable and ethical.
We are concerned about the recent growth in popularity of the vegan movement. While ethical omnivores and vegans share many beliefs and goals, we differ fundamentally on the nature of the relationship between human beings, animals, and the environment – and on the best ways to achieve a sustainable and healthy world.
Veganism is often wrongly presented as a solution for healthy people and the environment, but we dispute this in the strongest possible terms. See our “Veganism Debunked” page for more info, where we break down the most frequent claims and the evidence that refutes each one.
Ethical omnivores base our choices on science and evidence, not ideology.
That means we must be ready to change our point of view, and our lifestyles, in the light of new discoveries.
We’ll give you a summary of the latest science and technology on this page. If you want more info and sources, many statements will link to more details on each topic.
Because we’re constantly exploring and learning, this section of the website will always be work in progress.
The Evidence About Food and Health
The facts on our natural, healthy diet, and the vital difference between naturally-raised food and “conventional” factory-farmed and processed foodstuffs.
Human Beings are Natural Omnivores
The evidence shows that, while human beings came from an ancestor that ate mainly plants, we have since evolved to eat a very flexible diet that includes meat, fish, and other animal products in addition to a wide range of plant foods (leaves, roots, pulses, fruit, nuts, seeds, and grains).
There is also a lot of variation in what kind of diets suit different people. Some are intolerant to milk and dairy, others cannot properly digest gluten, while others cannot eat beans, shellfish, fructose, or insoluble fibre.
There are probably many causes of intolerance, which likely depend on things like genetics, gut flora, and what we eat or don’t eat in early life.
What is most important is that each of us should carefully observe what foods help or harm our bodies.
Meat and Animal Products are Very Important for Health
Because humans evolved eating meat, fish, and other animal products, our bodies need a number of vital nutrients that can only easily be obtained from those foods.
While a few people may be sensitive to red or fatty meat, evidence shows that most of us thrive best on a diet that includes a reasonable amount of animal products.
Vegetarian diets (which exclude meat and usually fish) and vegan diets (which exclude all animal products) may be healthy for some people, at least in the short term, but there is significant evidence that excluding all animal products for a prolonged period can lead to serious damage to health.
The Facts About Saturated Fats & Cholesterol
For several decades, saturated fats and cholesterol were mistakenly identified as unhealthy and people were advised to minimize consumption of animal fats, full-fat dairy, and eggs.
The latest science gives us a very different perspective on the real causes of arterial sclerosis, heart disease, and diabetes.
- Find out the facts about cholesterol.
- The facts about eggs
The Facts About Sugar and Refined Carbohydrates
- The Facts About Sugar and Health
- The Facts About Refined Carbohydrates and Health
- Carbohydrates and Diabetes
- Carbohydrates, Atherosclerosis, and heart disease
Good Meat vs. Bad Meat
- Health impact of outdoor/grass-fed meat vs. grain-fed/factory-farmed/CAFO meat.
- Health impact of organic, outdoor-reared poultry vs. factory-farmed poultry.
- Health impact of wild-caught fish vs. farmed fish.
- Health impact of pasteurised grass-fed dairy vs. conventional dairy.
- Health impact of processed meat.
The Evidence About Food and The Environment
What we eat, and how we get our food, has a huge impact on the environment. We’ll separate fact from fiction.
It is frequently claimed that meat has a high environmental cost. While there is truth to this statement, it can also lead to some wrong conclusions.
The fact is that practically all industrial agriculture (whether arable or animal husbandry) is environmentally unsustainable.
Industrial farming tends to prefer using machinery and chemicals over natural and traditional alternatives. It favours larger farms and larger machines, with a focus on overall productivity per farm
Today’s dominant food model is geared to reward ever-bigger and more automated farming operations and centralized distribution systems. While these can generate more short-term profits for corporations, they often fail to put a value on factors like sustainability and biodiversity.
The fact is that smaller-scale family farms are more productive per unit of land (feeding 70% of the world’s population today), and are also far better for the environment.
Well-managed animal grazing, whether it is a farm’s sole operation or done as part of a combined animal/crop rotation system, can be beyond sustainable – actually regenerative – building soil, storing more carbon, and building biodiversity.
We believe that the only viable future for farming must include a return to smaller-scale farming that is more labour-intensive but also more productive and sustainable in the long-term.
In general, ethical omnivores should always support producers who seek to employ biological solutions to problems (where they exist) before resorting to machinery or chemicals.
Soil Organic Matter / Soil Carbon
- Plowing and tilling the soil is very likely responsible for releasing a similar amount of extra carbon into the atmosphere as all the fossil fuels ever burned by man.
- Soil organic matter (mainly carbon) is extremely important for soil health by increasing the soil’s water-holding capacity, supporting biodiversity, and increasing fertility.
- Industrially-farmed soils are losing their soil organic matter so quickly that most arable areas will only be able to grow crops at all for another 50-100 years.
- No-till methods keep the existing organic matter in the ground and can actually increase the organic/carbon content quite rapidly: a process known as “carbon sequestration”.
- Grazing all kinds of animals on pasture has been shown to add significantly to the storage of atmospheric carbon into the soil. However, the method of grazing management plays a big role in how successful this is.
Pesticides / Herbicides / Fungicides
- Industrial agriculture usually tries to manage against pests and disease by adding chemicals to the soil or to crops. These chemicals can have a very negative impact on soil life, making the soil less fertile and making crops less able to protect themselves in the future, creating a negative cycle.
- It is almost impossible to measure the full extent of the impact of any artificial additive.
- It is known that supporting greater biodiversity (in crops and in the soil) is a natural sustainable way to achieve natural resilience against pests and disease.
- Maintaining pasture, particularly permanent pasture, is a good way to increase biodiversity, supporting a greater range of plants, microorganisms, insects and other arthropods, as well as larger animals.
- Industrial farming has become increasingly dependent on artificial fertilizers since the 20th Century when explosives factories were repurposed to turn out nitrogen-based chemicals for agriculture instead of munitions.
- The use of artificial fertilizers has been shown to damage soil health, leaving farmers increasingly dependent on their use.
- Runoff of fertilizers is known to deliver devastating damage in waterways, including the open ocean. Poor soil structure increases water runoff and makes this problem worse.
- No-till farming methods and permaculture offer viable alternatives to artificial fertilizers. A lot of research is being carried out to see how these methods can scale up to larger operations.
How Livestock Can Heal the Environment
- Putting livestock back on to the land instead of confining them in intensive, confinement animal feeding operations (CAFOs) or factory farms is beneficial to the land when managed properly, and is beneficial to the animals, because they are much more able to express their natural behaviours in as natural an environment as a regenerative farm can give them, and are eating fodder that is more diverse and natural to them.
- Livestock serves as a proxy to the historical herds of wild ruminants that once dominated the landscape.
- Grazing ruminants (sheep, goats, cattle primarily) that are managed so that they mimic the mobbing behaviours of large historic herds provide the necessary hoof impact, trampling, manure deposition, and grazing activity that grasslands need to increase organic matter, encourage biodiversity, and stimulate regrowth. This means that a large group of animals are grazed on a small piece for a short period of time, then quickly moved on to the next area. The area just grazed often receives a lengthy recovery period, however, this depends on how quickly plants will recover.
- Grazing management using livestock differs between brittle and non-brittle environments. Brittle environments are those with erratic and typically low rainfall; Non-brittle environments are those with regular and higher rainfall. Both require encouraging mobbing behaviour in livestock for sufficient impact on the landscape, with emphasis on more brittle areas. Recovery periods will differ, however, with moisture being the limiting factor.
- There is evidence to suggest that grazing animals reduce fire hazard because much of the dead plant material gets trampled into the ground and manured on by the animals so that it can decompose, especially in brittle environments where plant litter would otherwise oxidize instead of breaking down. A significant amount of litter that has accumulated with time and too little grazing pressure has been known to contribute to highly severe and devastating fires.
- Trampling action and manure deposition stimulates the breakdown of plant material into organic matter, and then eventually topsoil. Soil microbes and decomposers such as beetles and earthworms help with this important break-down process and conversion.
- High organic matter content of the soil captures more water and encourages greater water infiltration rates. This makes grasslands and pastures better prepared against drought and flooding. Water that falls on the land quickly soaks in instead of running off like what happens on poorly-managed land bases, and because organic matter acts like a sponge, the water stays in place, with little evaporating, for plants to use into dry periods.
- Biodiversity occurs in well-managed grasslands and pastures due to the grazing activity opening up the canopy with grazing and trampling, pushing seeds into the soil, and providing enough compaction needed for plants to germinate. Opening of the canopy allows sunlight and solar radiation to hit the soil surface, as well as allows more moisture to get down into the soil (instead of being sheltered by a heavy litter cover), all which encourages seeds that may have been sitting dormant in the soil for decades, to germinate. This plant biodiversity, in turn, encourages animal biodiversity, from insects to birds to wild mammals.
- Livestock act to complete the carbon, nitrogen, and water cycles with their grazing, trampling, manuring, and being managed to move quickly onwards from one area to another.
- Livestock is highly versatile for being used for grazing far beyond just perennial pastures and grasslands. They are also ideal to be used as part of an annual crop rotation along with polyculture cover crops because they contribute to building organic matter with their grazing, trampling and providing natural fertilizer in terms of manure. This significantly reduces the reliance on fertilizers and even pesticides to grow cash crops on the same piece of land in a proceeding year.
- Livestock have been used increasingly on small farms as part of stacked enterprises, such as in silvopastures, or leader-follower practices such as chickens following cattle, or to prepare spaces for gardening, such as with using pigs and poultry.
Sustainable Fish and Seafood
- To be completed.
Food and Ethics
More and more people are rightly turning away from factory farming and questioning the ethics of what we eat.
Ethical omnivores believe that, while much of the way meat and animal products are produced in developed countries is deplorable – for health, environment, and for the impact on the animals themselves, there are ethical alternatives that we should support.
Other Consumer Products and Activity
Ethical omnivores are concerned with everything we consume, not just what we put in our mouths.
While food and drink represent the biggest impact we have on our planet and health, we are also consuming more and more non-food goods and materials.
Many of these have a high environmental cost – and there are usually much better alternatives. Our guides help you make smart choices (coming soon).