by George Monbiot
September 8, 2010

I used to think being a vegan was the only ethical way to eat. But an important new book suggests we can change our food system to allow for healthy meat consumption.

Carracci - The Butchers Shop - 1583

This will not be an easy column to write. I am about to put down 1,200 words in support of a book that starts by attacking me and often returns to this sport. But it has persuaded me that I was wrong. More to the point, it has opened my eyes to some fascinating complexities in what seemed to be a black and white case.

In the Guardian in 2002 I discussed the sharp rise in the number of the world's livestock, and the connection between their consumption of grain and human malnutrition. After reviewing the figures, I concluded that veganism "is the only ethical response to what is arguably the world's most urgent social justice issue". I still believe that the diversion of ever wider tracts of arable land from feeding people to feeding livestock is iniquitous and grotesque. So does the book I'm about to discuss. I no longer believe that the only ethical response is to stop eating meat.

In Meat: A Benign Extravagance, Simon Fairlie pays handsome tribute to vegans for opening up the debate. He then subjects their case to the first treatment I've read that is both objective and forensic. His book is an abattoir for misleading claims and dodgy figures, on both sides of the argument.

There's no doubt that the livestock system has gone horribly wrong. Fairlie describes the feedlot beef industry (in which animals are kept in pens) in the US as "one of the biggest ecological cock-ups in modern history". It pumps grain and forage from irrigated pastures into the farm animal species least able to process them efficiently, to produce beef fatty enough for hamburger production. Cattle are excellent converters of grass but terrible converters of concentrated feed. The feed would have been much better used to make pork.

Pigs, in the meantime, have been forbidden in many parts of the rich world from doing what they do best: converting waste into meat. Until the early 1990s, only 33% of compound pig feed in the UK consisted of grains fit for human consumption: the rest was made up of crop residues and food waste. Since then the proportion of sound grain in pig feed has doubled. There are several reasons: the rules set by supermarkets; the domination of the feed industry by large corporations, which can't handle waste from many different sources; but most important the panicked over-reaction to the BSE and foot-and-mouth crises.

Feeding meat and bone meal to cows was insane. Feeding it to pigs, whose natural diet incorporates a fair bit of meat, makes sense, as long as it is rendered properly. The same goes for swill. Giving sterilized scraps to pigs solves two problems at once: waste disposal and the diversion of grain. Instead we now dump or incinerate millions of tons of possible pig food and replace it with soya whose production trashes the Amazon. Waste food in the UK, Fairlie calculates, could make 800,000 tonnes of pork, or one sixth of our total meat consumption.

But these idiocies, Fairlie shows, are not arguments against all meat eating, but arguments against the current farming model. He demonstrates that we've been using the wrong comparison to judge the efficiency of meat production. Instead of citing a simple conversion rate of feed into meat, we should be comparing the amount of land required to grow meat with the land needed to grow plant products of the same nutritional value to humans. The results are radically different.

Continue Reading Page 2 HERE:

Check Out This Book Review:

The Vegetarian Myth: Food, Justice, and Sustainability, by Lierre Keith
* Posted by Dallas Gaytheist on September 8, 2010 in the Read Atheist group.

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Replies to This Discussion

Your speaking out of your ass and showing your lack of knowledge on biological functions and how nervous systems and brains react.


We know coma patients can feel pain even though they lack consciousness(thats the whole point of calling them coma patients) because we can run pet scans and see what neuro pathways light up. We can also see the chemical reactions of pain stimuli in a coma patient.


Even all that aside. What exactly do you think pain is if its not neuro and chemical stimuli? Do you think there is some magic computer in our brains that is something more then neurons and chemical reactions?


It does not take conscious identification for one to feel and the body to be damaged and suffer because of pain stimuli.

let me ask you one question. lets say in the next decade or two they geneticaly engineer animals to feel no pain or emotions. to react to no stimulus and have no brain function except fot that absoloutly neccesary to turn plants into meat. lets say the animal basicaly stays in a harness or whatever with a feeding tube down its throat. would you then happily support that and eat that meat since it gets rid of all your objections that i can see?

Let's start with a definition so we are all on the same page. The original definition of veganism is "a philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude - as far as is possible and practical - all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing, or any other purpose; and by extension, promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of humans, animals, and the environment." It's not about perfection, and I think we can all agree it is a noble goal.


For those who feign concern for plants, I have a few points:


1. the vegan ethic seeks to avoid causing needless suffering (hence the "as far as possible and practical" part of the definition). All humans have a nutritional need to eat plants or else we will quickly die. Therefore, killing and eating plants is necessary as is any "suffering" they may experience. We can try to minimize plant suffering of course. However, according to the American Dietetic Association, there is no human nutritional need to eat any animal products at any stage of the life cycle including pregnancy, infancy, and childhood. Therefore, the suffering that we cause animals when we raise and/or kill them for food is unnecessary. With the exception of sadists, everyone agrees that causing needless suffering is immoral (If you don't agree, give an example where causing another being to suffer needlessly is morally justified). There was a time when eating animals was necessary for human survival. In rare cases, it may still be necessary. But by in large, the only reason most humans continue to eat animals is out of tradition, habit and taste preference. None of these or moral arguments to continue eating animals, especially when we understand we have no need to continue the outdated custom.

2. If you would call the cops on your neighbor for sawing the legs off of live kittens or babies in his driveway, but you wouldn't call the cops if he was picking flowers for his wife, then you agree with the rest of the sane world that there is a significant difference between plants and animals and a significant similarity between animals and humans. And no amount of rationalizing your way out if this is going to make your "plants feel pain too" argument sound any more intelligent to those of us who aren't desperately trying to defend a behavior we were indoctrinated with as children (i.e. eating animals).


3. If you still insist on a acting like a stubborn Creationist and persist with the "plants feel pain too" argument, please consider the fact that eating plants directly results in far less "suffering" and death than by growing plants to feed to animals to eat the animals. That's because most of the plants we feed to animals becomes waste. It's basic Biology 101. Pick up a high school textbook and turn to the chapter on trophic levels. 


Do with this as you will. I'm out.

Eating has nothing to do with morality unless you decide to make it so. We eat animals and plants because we are omnivores and evolved the ability to consume them. We are chemically made to digest both. There is no moral issue with killing animals for food unless you are suffering from the effect of the bug eyed round headed perspective.  Being that animals are cute so dont eat them.


You dont have to indoctrinate children to eat meat you have to actually indoctrinate them not too. I dont have to explain to my child why they have to eat meat. I put it in front of him and he consumes it. Thats nature at work. Little vegan children though have to be regaled with stories of why hurting the animals is bad.


Being aVegan is not a creationist viewpoint. Its conforming to the standards of our evolutionary layout. You will find  if you reread your nonsense with an open eye you demonstrated in your first paragraph that you are the one with a dogma.

We evolved the ability to do a lot of things, that doesn't necessarily make any evolved behavior moral. I have physically evolved the ability to rape women. Is rape therefore moral? Should I perhaps consider the feelings of the potential victim in this analysis of morality?


Or murder? I have evolved the ability to kill my fellow humans. In some cases, it may even be considered moral for me to do so (i.e. in self defense or in the defense of another human). But what if I kill for no good reason? What if I kill because I derive pleasure from it? Or just because I can. Now you may agree that killing is immoral.


Do you admit that animals suffer when they are raised and killed for food? Do you admit that humans do not need to eat animals? Do you agree it is immoral to cause others to suffer needlessly?

I only care about my species suffering. 


The moral bankruptcy of someone to compare the rape of a human female to a cow stuck in a confined area is disgusting. You should be ashamed.


Killing for food is not immoral. Its pretty much the way predatory mammals work. We being the top predatory mammal on this little planet kinda makes your inference moot.


I dont care if they suffer i cant taste it.

Your stupidity and ignorance are the only disgusting and morally bankrupt elements here.

Really as a woman you find it okay to compare rape with suffering of animals?


Its disgusting and outrageously demeaning to victims of rape to say such stupid things.

You know the dairy industry calls the system they use to impregnate cows and keep them lactating is called a "rape rack"? If you have objections to the cow/rape comparison, I suggest you boycott the dairy industry.

My issue isnt what is called what.


My issue with your statement is you just pissed all over the suffering of a human being to try and amplify the suffering of a piece of steak.


Thats inhuman and disgusting there is no way around that.

You really are a simple person, aren't you?

Yes i am thank you..


Don't be jealous because you live such a convoluted existence though. 


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