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

Its no lesser a feat of mental gymnastics to conclude that some meat is mistreated so eating all meat is immoral.

 

Translation:  it's fallacious to extrapolate one characteristic found in a member of a group to all members of that group.

 

And yet in the very next post:

 

You can blame the human hate argument though directly on some of your brethren in vegan arms.

 

Translation: I am extrapolating a characteristic found in a member of a group to the entire group.

 

I hope you see what you did there... you're saying that all vegans believe something because (you think) some vegans believe that thing.  In one post you called out a fallacy of veganism (a straw man version, I might add) and then subsequently explained that your assertion that vegans hate people was built on that same fallacy.

 

You're right that all livestock isn't necessarily "mistreated" because some is, but it also doesn't follow that eating meat is moral simply because some livestock isn't mistreated.  Besides, that's not the extent of the vegan argument.  Many vegans would say that your definition of "mistreatment" is too narrow: that force breeding creatures and holding them captive for our consumption is mistreatment.  

 

My argument is that there's way too much animal cruelty in the world and our current system enables (and in fact encourages) that cruelty.  You can't flippantly suggest that "noone disagrees with tougher animal cruely (sic) laws and enforcement" when there are big lobbies that work tirelessly to protect lenient laws for factory farms and their distributors -- all to save pennies on the dollar in farming costs at the expense of animal safety and comfort. 

 

This thread and many like it.. as well as the reasons i gave above support my conclusion. 

 

If you would prefer soft language like most, and a majority feel free to read that in as you see fit.

If this is about animal comfort then we should start eating as much meat as we can, even buying meat just to throw away, because farm animals live the most comfortable lives of all.

That's just plain wrong.  Factory farming is responsible for the majority of the meat we consume.  Factory farming does not constitute a comfortable life for the animals involved.

 

Do you not understand how reproduction works?  We force animals to reproduce for our food supply.  Not eating meat doesn't mean we'll have billions of farm animals that have to suddenly fend for themselves in the wild -- it means we won't need to force all of the existing animals to reproduce further for our needs.  Is that a difficult concept for you to grasp?

So you are still suggesting that we drive them to extinction?  How much time have you even spent around livestock?  I've spent a significant portion of my life working the production side of our food industry, and the greater portion working the processing side - why don't you go ahead and tell me about all the suffering I have witnessed?  That is what you are trying to do, isn't it?

I haven't disputed your claim that you haven't seen much animal suffering in your personal experience.  But since you're begging me to argue that claim, I'll point out two major problems thereof:

 

1. You (despite your extensive experience in the field) have a very small sample size and cannot argue that what you've seen is indicative of most food production in North America.

 

2. You clearly have a narrow definition for the suffering of animals and have not convinced me that you're qualified to make claims about what constitutes suffering in animals. 

 

You still haven't even come close to addressing my arguments about your claim that you're providing some great service for livestock.  Even if we could agree that there's no significant animal suffering problem because of our food industry, it's a giant leap to say that it's better to force breed them for food than to let their populations reduce naturally. 

 

Again, "not being able to survive in the wild" isn't sufficient criteria for grinding something into a burger.

I certainly can't speak for all operations, but I do know what the laws are here and what it takes to conform to them. Aside from veal, I think the situation is pretty darn good. Do you have an industry-wide study that indicates otherwise?

At least as a burger they ensure the survival of their species - why do you want to drive them to extinction?

But why should you be prejudiced in favor of your own species? Because they are more like you? Should you be prejudiced in favor of people that live in your block or grew up in the same town as you? Because they are more like you? Should you be prejudiced in favor of people who like the same TV shows that you do or are citizens of the same country? Because they are more like you? You avow that you are a humanist, so I'd suspect that the answer to all these questions are no. So I'm not entirely sure what your point is. Is it that you think that people have concluded that it is unethical to eat meat because they hate humans? Hmm, very doubtful. And so what if a lot of vegetarians and vegans prefer animals to humans? Maybe they do, maybe they don't, but that has no bearing whatsoever on the issue of the question of ethics.

 

Preferring the human species is a rational outlook for anyone who values civilization.  Other animals aren't building libraries, recording the history of life in this planet, or investigation the origins of the cosmos.  When they have potential to contribute to the debate of 'why is there something rather than nothing' then I will definitely consider them equals, worthy of determining their own fates.  Until then, however, since we are the ones capable of philosophical exchange, I'll maintain my preference for humans.

I value civilization. I am filled with awe at what humanity has achieved and hopefully will achieve. But I don't see why that means that I should have a "preference" for humanity. Humanity is just one of many species, and they are all astonishing, and they are all the result of the same process that brought us into being, evolution. I don't see humanity as inhabiting a separate category from all other things. We are products of the universe just like everything else. Yes, we are a distinct species, but we are a member of a larger family of beings: primates, mammals, animals, and eventually everything. It's not too much of a stretch to look at other creatures that we share so much in common with, and feel sympathy for them that so many people see them only as objects, as having no subjective experience of their own; see them simply as meat.

 

Well that is exactly why I don't like to see us killing off a species, even though 98% of all species that ever walked the earth are already gone.  If we give up meat, however, the domestic species of livestock will be lucky to survive a century - maybe handfuls of them living in remote paddocks with a gene pool too small to ensure their long term viability.

 

In any event, everything we know of is a product of the universe, and those things that we call 'alive' we will one day call 'dead' and that includes our own species.  Individual living things die, that's just the way it is.  I don't see that as a reason to avoid bringing fewer living things into being, however.

The irony about your post is that you're doing the very same thing that oneinfinity just remarked about, viewing animals as objects or "things."  You're arguing that in the name of preserving species, we should go on breeding livestock and using them for food, even though that means causing the INDIVIDUALS who are members of that species to suffer and die.

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