by George Monbiot
September 8, 2010
AlterNet

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.



http://www.alternet.org/story/148098/ok%2C_i_take_it_back_--_we_don...


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Replies to This Discussion

Then what was with the 'rape-track' comment - or was that just an attempt at pleading to emotion?

The rape rack comment was me pointing out that the dairy industry compares its treatment of cows to the rape of women. This is not my comparison. It is the dairy industry's comparison. You implied you understood this when you pointed out that many animal exploiting industries make such comparisons and that the rape rack term was actually coined by someone who conducted experiments on animals. So, according to you, it was a vivisector who made the comparison between the ways animals are treated and the rape of women. Again, it wasn't me. But nonetheless you persisted to call me series of insulting names. If these comparisons offend you, direct your rage at the industries that are making the comparisons.

I work in the industry and that isn't the comparison being made - but you continue to insist there is some sort of comparable suffering and refuse to provide any evidence regarding a quality of life comparison between livestock animals and wild animals.  You, and most vegans, talk about suffering that you know nothing about and cast a wide meaningless net based on pleas to emotion.

 

If you weren't drawing that comparison, and had no intention of making that plea to emotion, then why did you drag that colloquialism in here?

You know nothing about me or my background nor do you know anything about the background of the wide variety of vegans you lump together with your prejudice. I know plenty about suffering. I have worked with farmed animals for years at a sanctuary where we rehabilitate them after they have been rescued or escape from people like you. If the dairy industry isn't making that comparison, then why do they use the term rape rack?

Ok, first off you plead with Stephen to disregard your rape comment, and now you bring it back again.  The dairy/meat industry, and vets, use a lot of course colloquial terms - nut cutter, horse cock (for the shaft of a lino pump), rape track, etc, but there is not a systemic disregard for the emotional state of the animals.  They are provided with lives almost entirely free of anxiety.

 

I see, so at one of the places I worked the pigs had this big conspiracy and started digging a tunnel out.  They covered the entrance to the tunnel with the pot belly stove in their barracks and worked at night while...just a minute, that's a movie.  What do you mean 'escaped', what kind of 'animals', and what did you even know about those animals?  If you took in an animal from one of the farms I worked at then you committed theft because they are tagged and registered property.

 

I'm assuming you 'rescued' some pit bulls from a province where they become outlawed or some such shit, but I'll actually wait for more details before I laugh harder.

This is the rape comment...

 

http://www.thinkatheist.com/group/vegetarianveganatheist/forum/topi...

 

The rack came later.

 

You inferred the moral stance you have on eating animals simply because we are omnivores to be on equal footing with the suffering of a rape victim.

No, I really didn't. I made the point that simply being able to do something does not make it moral. You know this. Just stop already.

When approaching any problem, it is important for a solution to be practical. The problem with vegetarianism in general and the more extreme veganism in particular is that it's not going to happen. We like our hamburgers and baby back ribs and Thanksgiving turkey dinners.

 

Basically, vegans are like the streetcorner Christian witnessers that even most Christians cross the street to avoid. Like faithful Christians, they are brainwashed and won't even listen to contrary arguments, such as that replacing meat with grain will mean converting a lot more land to grain and vegetables, which can have ecological and atmospheric effects of its own. Or that tilling millions upon millions of acres of land once or twice a year will kill billions of small animals (rabbits, ground squirrels, field mice). Converting forest land to grain production reduces habitat for birds and forest animals.

 

Anyway, if we really see a problem, we need a solution that most people—not just people who pride themselves on their ability to be different—can agree to.

 

Vegans should go home and work on that problem if they really feel a need for a major change.

Unseen, did you know that the vast majority of grain in the world is used to fatten farmed animals? In fact, we feed enough grain to farmed animals in the United States to feed more than 800 million starving people - according to researchers at Cornell University. It takes less land and less resources to grow crops to feed to people directly than it does to grow crops to filter through farmed animals to eat the animals.

 

Your Christian analogy is cute in a pathetic and childish kind of way. But really, considering most meat eaters are raised in meat eating homes and taught to eat meat when they are young and unable to think critically it seems like meat eaters fit your Christian analogy a little better and vegans match atheists who grew up, became educated about the facts, and realized we don't have to do this shit anymore.

37% (the number I found) isn't any kind of "vast majority." In fact, it's a kind of minority, isn't it? If we're going to feed 800 million starving people (are they real or hypothetical?), we'll need to plant a lot more land because veganism will ALWAYS be a fringe group.

 

Like I said, we need an approach to a problem that will actually happen, not one that will never ever in a billion years attract a majority of Americans. We don't eat meat as the result of a logical deduction that can be attacked with logic. It's a matter of preference and taste. If someone likes peas or pork (it doesn't matter), you can't make it taste worse with an argument. No with most people anyway.

He also didnt mention that the grain fed to animals is not the kind of grain a human consumes. As a matter of fact most of it is not fit for human consumption at all.

That's not true. Even if it were, the land used to grow feed crops could be used to feed people. And it would take less land.

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