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

Watch the rescue video:





Lot's of great info on how much more resources it takes to raise animals for food than plants at Wikipedia. I know, it's just Wikipedia, but you can follow the primary sources at the bottom to verify everything.

That problem could be just as easily handled by better managing our own population - something we'll need to deal with soon anyway.

I already watched this video on another posting you made - what does it have to do with crop rotation for potatoes?


The fact is that over two-thirds of the feed fed to animals consists of substances that are either undesirable or completely unsuited for human food. Thus, by their ability to convert inedible plant materials to human food, animals not only do not compete with the human rather they aid greatly in improving both the quantity and the quality of the diets of human societies. (2)


As to the land use also answered there.

If a large number of people switched to vegetarianism, the demand for meat in the United States and Europe would fall, the supply of grain would dramatically increase, but the buying power of poor [starving] people in Africa and Asia wouldn't change at all.

The result would be very predictable -- there would be a mass exodus from farming. Whereas today the total amount of grains produced could feed 10 billion people, the total amount of grain grown in this post-meat world would likely fall back to about 7 or 8 billion. The trend of farmers selling their land to developers and others would accelerate quickly. (4)

In other words, there would be less food available for the world to eat. Furthermore, the monoculture of grains and legumes, which is what would happen if animal husbandry were abandoned and the world relied exclusively on plant foods for its food, would rapidly deplete the soil and require the heavy use of artificial fertilizers, one ton of which requires ten tons of crude oil to produce (5).


Table 1 presents some statistics that are ignored by those who would suggest that we can no longer afford the luxury of animal foods. Only about one-third of the land area of the world is classified as agricultural. Thus, roughly two-thirds of the land area of the world is not suited for any sort of agricultural use because it is covered by cites, mountains, deserts, swamps, snow, etc. Of the 35 percent that can be devoted to agriculture, less than one-third (or about 10% of the total land area) can be cultivated and produce plant products that the human can digest. The remaining two-thirds of the world's agricultural land is covered by grass, shrubs or other plants that only ruminant animals can digest. Thus, the inefficiency of animals is not a major concern since they represent the only way these plants can be converted to human food. As the human population of the world increases, it is likely that we will be forced to depend more and more on ruminant animals to meet the increased demands for food.


Sorry, but neither the Weston Price Foundation nor the Vegetarian Myth are very good sources of information.


The Vegetarian Myth was written by someone with no background in science, nutrition, ecology or any other relevant field. It is filled with factual errors and bad sources. Lots of sites have debunked that trash book. Here is one of them:


Weston Price Foundation was likewise founded by a person with no scientific or nutrition background or any other relative field. They have also been thoroughly debunked by actual nutritionists and scientists. Here is one:


Seriously, don't just look shit up online. Check the sources. See what people with actual credentials have to say. Check the facts. Here are some to get you started:


“Meat-Eater’s Guide to Climate Change and Health”
Available online at:


“Assessing the Environmental Impacts of Consumption and
Production Priority Products and Materials”
Available online at:


“Livestock’s Long Shadow”
Available online at:


“Putting Meat on The Table: Industrial Farm Animal Production in America”
Available online at:

The link you posted supposedly debunking weston price says this to "debunk" they are wrong its pseudo science we disagree...... with no reference or backup to that claim.

The second link i posted was the oklahoma state university animal science department. Not the vegetarian myth.

Try again about the reading online crack.

I believe I provided more than enough resources to back up the point that the WPF is wrong.


Regarding the Okie State stat from 1995: the Livestock's Long Shadow link I provided from 2006 actually does take into account marginal lands for grazing. It concludes that introducing grazing animals into marginal lands increases erosion and threatens biodiversity.


Overgrazing by livestock is the leading cause of desertification worldwide. Eventually the grasses are consumed by the livestock, the soil erodes and the land becomes a desert. In Africa, this has been going on for centuries. During Roman times, northern Africa was the granary of the Empire, much as Kansas and Nebraska are for the United States today. But after northern Africa was devastated by pastoral nomads and their herds of cattle in the sixth century, it gradually became a barren wasteland. The march of the desert southward has been amply documented — always preceded, curiously enough, by herds of cattle and other livestock.

No infact 2 of your links give information supporting WPFs conclusion that Monocultural farming is in fact bad just as described. They simply add to that conclusion that large monoculture livestock farms are just as bad. I dont disagree with that conclusion.


And BTW just because your cult dislikes The Vegetarian Myth doesnt make it debunked. The woman who wrote that has no been discredited and her sources are widely available. Most of the book is autobiographical so im not sure how you can debunk something that is personal experience.

People will never stop believing in gods so you might as well not be an atheist.



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