Animal Rights, Environment

The Case for Sustainable Meat

I. Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics

Meat, we are told, is bad for the planet. It causes global warming, destroys forests, diverts substantial proportions of the world’s grain for feed, all to produce meat which only wealthy Westerners can afford. The iniquity of the situation led George Monbiot to declare in 2002 that “Veganism is the only ethical response to what is arguably the world’s most urgent social justice issue.” Monbiot later recanted but, since then, we are told with increasing regularity that to save the planet we must radically reduce our consumption of meat. In the face of what seems to be universal agreement on the sins of meat eating, is there really a green argument for meat? I think there is, and I think we should be talking about it. Not only is the public discourse heavily one-sided, but the anti-meat message risks destroying the very environment is claims to be protecting.

Let’s start with one of the most repeated statistics used to argue for reduced meat consumption: the claim that 100,000 litres of water are required to produce each kilo of beef – which is a staggering 1000 times more than what is needed to produce a single kilo of wheat. With magazines such as New Scientist uncritically quoting this figure, it is not surprising that it has circulated so widely. Taken at face value, this estimate is shocking and may on its own be responsible for switching tens of thousands of people away from eating meat.

However, there are many different estimates for the amount of water required to produce a kilo of beef. They can’t all be correct. The figure of 100,000 litres – which is one of the largest – comes from agronomist David Pimental (to whom we will return), but many other authorities have attempted to calculate this figure, each starting from different assumptions and political positions. In his book Meat, A Benign Extravagance, author and one-time editor of The Ecologist, Simon Fairlie, painstakingly deconstructs these figures. He points out that a typical beef steer, reared for 500 days, produces 125 kilos of meat at slaughter. From Pimental’s total, we can calculate that such a cow uses over 12 million litres of water during its lifetime – equivalent to an acre of land under ten feet of water. But cows typically drink only 50 litres of water per day, which leads to a figure of 200 litres per kilo or just 0.2 percent of Pimental’s value. How did the agronomist create such a monumentally inflated figure?

Astonishingly, Pimental included all of the rain that fell on the land on which the beef was reared, ignoring the fact that that rain would have fallen whether cattle were there or not. To inflate his alarmist balloon even further, Pimental used the most extreme rainfall figure he could get away with – for ranch cattle which roam over much larger areas than typical European herds. After patiently dismantling many different authors’ statistics, Fairlie concludes that, “The amount of water consumed by a beef cow appears to be a function of your political position.”

The story of how Simon Fairlie came to write his book tells us a lot about the politics behind the AMPAG (anti-meat-posing-as-green) ideology. Fairlie spent ten years living in a permaculture cooperative. They had 13 acres, only one of which was cultivated for crops. Everyone in the commune helped with this task, which provided them with most of their fresh vegetables and some of their fruit. The other 12 acres, however, were grassland, on which Fairlie almost single-handedly reared dairy cows and pigs. Due to the vegetarian predilection of the members of the commune, Fairlie found that although they would eagerly eat the cheese, yogurt, and milk he produced, they drew the line at the 350kg of meat, lard, and dripping that came from the livestock operation annually. So he had to sell it. This would not have been so bad, if not for the fact that the commune was spending £200 a week buying in alternative proteins and fats from halfway across the world: tahini, nuts, rice, lentils, peanut butter, soya. The irony was not lost on him.

Another anti-meat statistic is some variation on the claim that it takes 20kg of grain to produce a kilo of beef. This notion hangs on the false assumption that all farms raise animals in feedlots. In the UK, however, cows and sheep spend most of their life on grass. In winter, when the grass isn’t growing, forage crops (such as beet tops) and agricultural waste (such as straw) are primarily used as winter feed. Grain is an infrequent addition and usually only for a few weeks for ‘finishing’ beef prior to slaughter. So, it turns out that the guilt-trip headline figure is only representative of the worst-case scenario – the confined feedlot system, an industrial farming approach that most UK consumers reject for a host of reasons unrelated to feed efficiency.

David Pimentel, professor of ecology in Cornell University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (who was also responsible for the distorted water statistic mentioned above) reported at the July 24-26 meeting of the Canadian Society of Animal Science in Montreal that the “U.S. could feed 800 million people with grain that livestock eat.”

It’s a superficially persuasive argument. Unfortunately, in addition to selecting the worst case scenario – feedlot cattle – Pimental also ignores the fact that virtually all the grain used for animal feed is grain deemed unfit for human consumption, either because it was spoiled or contaminated. Grain farmers rely on a market for animal feed to convert spoiled crops into cash. If we all stopped eating meat there would be a lot of spoiled grain going to waste forcing up food prices. So animal farming actually subsidises human grain production rather than competing with it as these misleading statistics imply.

Most AMPAG campaigners also fail to mention livestock by-products. As well as providing meat for human consumption, cows, sheep and pigs produce leather, wool, grease, blood and bones in substantial quantities which are used for a huge number of industrial processes, including making fertilisers for organic farming and even – for a brief time at least – the new five-pound notes. Almost nothing goes to waste.

Source: Farm Credit Knowledge Center

II. Cows As Eco-Vandals

One of the biggest controversies (and misconceptions) about meat production is its contribution to global warming, which reached media prominence following the publication of the 2006 UN report entitled “Livestock’s Long Shadow.” This document made the shocking claim that livestock accounts for 18 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions globally, placing it ahead of the transport sector. Now, call me naive, but I thought the cause of global warming was our predilection for burning fossil fuels. Does it seem likely that farming – an activity that took place for thousands of years before the industrial revolution – is likely to be the problem?

For the last decade, “Livestock’s Long Shadow” has contributed to the near-religious dogma that to tackle global warming we all need to eat less meat. However, there are important caveats behind the UN figures that take much of the darkness out of the ‘long shadow.’

Firstly, this is a global figure. It masks the fact that the preponderance of greenhouse gas (GHG) come from deforestation to create new beef pasture or animal feed crops. That is, most of the carbon emissions attributed to the beef are actually from the destruction of the carbon sinks (forests) that preceded them, rather than the ranching itself. Furthermore, this activity is chiefly happening in developing countries. Most developed countries, by contrast, have seen increasing forest cover for many decades. Consequently, when the US did its own analysis of carbon emissions, researchers found that the American livestock industry contributes only 2.8 percent to US GHG emissions. So, even if everyone in the US gave up meat entirely, it would barely put a dent in the country’s emission figures.

Secondly, in many cases it is the value of the extracted timber which drives such deforestation, not the beef production that might follow in its wake. Even if beef production ceased tomorrow, the logging would still take place.

Thirdly, the UN report didn’t consider alternative land use after the loggers had gone. Indeed, researchers have since identified that changing to grassland actually provides the most effective sink and store of soil carbon – far superior to farmland and, surprisingly, even better than replanting forest. Indeed, the Irish Government has identified restoration of grasslands and pasture around the world as a priority with significant potential to mitigate Global Warming. In their analysis, they found that for UK and Irish livestock farms, the greenhouse emissions were negligible. This is in large part because our animals feed primarily on grass for much of the year.

Ploughing up grassland actually releases carbon from long-term soil stores, which makes the idea of switching from livestock to arable farming look decidedly un-green. Ploughing also increases soil erosion, runoff, and nutrient depletion – all factors that are ignored in the AMPAG narrative. Partly because of these environmental issues, the UK government has a target to increase the amount of permanent pasture in the UK as part of its greening agenda. “The principal aim of the new requirement,” says the Natural England Research Report NERR060, “is to ensure maintenance of grassland as one of the most important carbon sinks for climate change mitigation.”

Then there is the issue of dairy. Although most anti-meat advocates won’t come out and say it, dairy production is considerably greener than beef production even by their own dubious calculations. Primarily this is because dairy farming provides protein in the form of milk all year round, not just at slaughter. Besides which, the oft-repeated rhetoric that we can feed the world more efficiently with grains than animal products has another serious flaw: its calculations are based on meeting human energy requirements only, completely overlooking human protein needs.

There are other significant limitations on grain production: in temperate climates, grains produce just one harvest per season and to avoid nutrient depletion and disease build up they have to be rotated with other crops such as potatoes or oilseed rape. Taking into account the reality of the whole farm cycle as well as human protein needs, New Zealand researchers recently found that in temperate climates dairy farming is actually the most environmentally sound way to feed a population.

So rather than seeing farm herbivores as the ultimate eco-vandals it might be time to start appreciating their virtues. Their ability to convert inedible grass into high quality protein as meat and milk should be seen as a gift – a bit of magic that traditional pastoralists recognised and revered.

III. Pastoral Landscapes

Pastoralism is responsible for shaping the countryside in ways that make it more beautiful, accessible, and biodiverse. Many of the most famous and beautiful landscapes of Britain depend on grazing to maintain their beauty: From the tangle of patchwork pastures that typify the Home Counties, to the sweeping fells of the Highlands or the complex ecosystem of the New Forest. Compare these intimate, wildlife-rich landscapes to the barren and uniform desert of wheat fields one sees in Cambridgeshire where there is nowhere to walk and nothing to look at or discover for miles in every direction. Our food choices shape the landscapes we love.

In the heart of Sussex, where I grew up, one finds unimproved grasslands, water meadows, seasonally flooded pastures, and marshes teeming with species. Many of these sites are only suitable for cows as they are well adapted to such environments having been selected from the wild Aurochs that lived here before them. Reducing our dependence on meat threatens these landscapes, putting pressure on farmers to drain and ‘improve’ the land so that it can be ploughed for arable crops. Is that what we want?

When we look at much of the unspoilt countryside in the UK, what we are seeing is a continuity of incremental changes going back to the mythical days of the wildwood. As Richard Maybe explains in The Flowering of Britain, there are few – if any – remnants of the original pre-human wildwoods left, but what we do have are hedges and copses where some species have been continuously present since that time. Likewise, the richest pastures in Britain are those that have not been ploughed since the iron age clearance of the forests. He tells of two adjacent pastures on the South Downs, one that had never been ploughed and the other ploughed briefly, hundreds of years ago. The difference in biodiversity is still evident. Some things cannot be undone.

In contrast, a field of grain is uninviting and soulless, and what our senses detect with a certain visceral revulsion is born out in the ecology – such fields wipe-clean the last vestige of connection with the ancient wild-wood. Species diversity plummets. Soil mycorrhiza disappears forever. Carbon sequestering stops. Agrochemicals, farm machinery, and soil erosion follow. Yet this is the preference of short-sighted anti-meat environmental campaigners. This is the future they would have for our landscape and for us.

It is increasingly recognised that herbivores are in fact an essential component of a biodiverse landscape. Take for example, the ancient herb-rich turf found on the Trundle – an iron-age hill fort close to Goodwood in West Sussex; to maintain the cowslips, orchids, salad burnet, thyme, and other plants that grow among the fine grass sward, it is essential that it be grazed by sheep. Mechanical cutting rarely succeeds in maintaining biodiversity as effectively as herbivores, whose dung, urine, hooves, and instincts cannot be replicated by machines.

Landowners such as the National Trust have found herbivores to be more effective at maintaining complex natural ecologies than humans. Exmore ponies are employed to maintain the environment at the white cliffs of Dover with almost no human input. For over 20 years, they have had “A highly successful effect on the area’s biodiversity.”

The New Forest, Sherwood, Epping, and other great British forests owe their diversity and unique beauty to the ancient practice of silvopastoralism – pastures in woodland. Such systems have much in common with the original pre-human landscape which is now thought to have been heavily shaped by wild herbivores. The UK Government recognises the important role such animals play and argues that the best way to re-wild the UK is to use modern farm herbivores as substitutes for the extinct British megafauna – the aurochs and elk. In this naturalistic farm system humans fulfil the role of the absent carnivores.

The possibility of livestock farming being part of the solution rather than the problem is looking increasingly probable, logical, and exciting. But for it to succeed, consumers of all tendencies need to be aware of the issues and make choices about the kind of meat they buy and eat. It does not mean we all have to eat meat, but conversely, we should think twice before promoting vegetarianism as the default green option. By many counts, permanent pasture is greener than arable land and silvopastoralism is better still. Your choices as a consumer determine which we see in the future.


Keir Watson is a Head of Physics at St Philip Howard Catholic High School. He runs two blogs: Rosemary Cottage Clinic where he researches and writes about nutritional science, and Herbidacious where he writes about gardening.

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  1. Trent Charles says

    Such a great article! Thank you so much. I feel like this provides a much more balanced perspective on the debate.

    • Santoculto says

      Useless cheerleading comment as usual. There are two balance: UNIVERSAL and contextual. Universal mostly always wins the contextual and also because it’s always morally correct.


      Wrong or poorly drawed arguments to legitimate a social and relevant cause [one the most important of all] is always problematic to the cause itself but it’s don’t deslegitimate it in automatic way only when to the reader ”the meat is weak”.

      Kill billions and billions of non human, domesticated/fragilized animals [often in the most horrible and painful ways] to feed billions of humans, the same species who are destroying this world, and to enrich psychopathic individuals and associates via hyper-capitalism [and ALSO communism] is a central argument for vegetarianism/veganism and is enough at least for me.

      • Bill Milliot says

        I hope your actual salads are better than your word salads. That being said for obvious reasons, shame on you for not acknowledging the millions upon millions of hectares of land taken from their natural place as breeding grounds and homes to billions of species of birds, mammals and insects so you can prance around feeling superior in your vegan/veg ignorance and cognitive dissonance. Personally, I feel fine knowing the grass-fed beef I eat was at least part of a symbiotic and healthy ecosystem prior to the swift and painless death of the animal it came from.

        Your vegetarian/vegan diet is responsible for ecological genocide on regional scales for which you must take responsibility before condemning others for their choice of food. Sorry, your hands are not clean of the blood of innocent creatures.

        • Here is, as I see it, a bedrock-point of this argument. If you make the case that it’s morally right to for humans to kill and eat animals, then you will be responsible for drawing a line somewhere down the food-chain. The vegan and vegetarian position is that this line is arbitrary and thus, has no basis in logic, and is therefore, invalid. The intellectually and morally honest outcome of this position is to, at least, not eat meat.
          The intellectually and morally honest position of the meat-eater, must be that wherever this line of the food-chain is drawn, it cannot be arbitrary.

          However, the challenge for the honest meat-eater is then to present the kind of argument structure that will allow for the eating of particular kinds of meat (animals), without being general enough to provide cover for acts such as cannibalism.

          However, if the honest meat-eater provides such an argument structure, they then must make sure that the same type of biologically rooted, moral segregation cannot be extended or manipulated to justify things like slavery other horrors. Eating grass-fed beef is morally better than pumping cash into the factory-faming business. But until one has an argument that justifies the actual act of killing particular animals for no other reason than to eat there bodies, we must admit that this practice of ‘DEFINITELY NOT MURDER’ is far from perfect.

          • Santoculto says

            ”Here is, as I see it, a bedrock-point of this argument. If you make the case that it’s morally right to for humans to kill and eat animals, then you will be responsible for drawing a line somewhere down the food-chain. The vegan and vegetarian position is that this line is arbitrary and thus, has no basis in logic, and is therefore, invalid. The intellectually and morally honest outcome of this position is to, at least, not eat meat.
            The intellectually and morally honest position of the meat-eater, must be that wherever this line of the food-chain is drawn, it cannot be arbitrary.”

            It’s not logically arbitrary, but it’s RATIONAL arbitrary.

            If we will r-evolve to animalistic way of life so i can kill you without mercy, everyone will behave as a total psychopath.

            There are so many things that cannot be teached, must be felt firstly and fundamentally and the empathetic capacity, something prevent people kill you by baseless reasons, are one of them.

            ALL imoral and amoral people are FAKE about their supposed lack of morality

            They are super concerned about it but only for themselves… it’s their dirty secrets.

            These people who have destroyed this world.

          • Bret Toliver says

            You can morally eat any non-human animal. The only caveat would be endangered species, but that is pragmatic function of humans wanting to keep ecological diversity. I only eat meat that I hunt, but there isn’t the only good argument against not eating meat is to not extinct various animals. The reason you can do this is because animals don’t have moral agency. It is immoral to kill other moral agents.

        • Santoculto says

          First of all, it’s very impolite to talk about lack of better ”english” for someone who have another mother tongue. This is JUST the globalization little BABY!! Most people no have time or patience to learn your PRECIOUS slanguage as a english lord so, CALM DOWN and pay attention to my arguments… I no have patience for cognitive or even CULTURAL elitism.

          Secondly BABY [white tra$$$h], learn how to behave in the debates. How* Answer my points and don’t creates a new useless debate with a retarded ”bacon-luver” as yu.

          Thirdly, most of your vomit here is just vomit by a subhuman ”airyan mind”.

          ”That being said for obvious reasons, shame on you for not acknowledging the millions upon millions of hectares of land taken from their natural place as breeding grounds and homes to billions of species of birds, mammals and insects so you can prance around feeling superior in your vegan/veg ignorance and cognitive dissonance.”

          I no have more doubt

          there are basically two types of WHITE TRA$H

          idiotic pseudo intellectuals

          idiotic right wiggish.

          95% of so called SUPERIOR WHITE RACE can’t think beyond binnary thinking…

          Someone who feel himself superior about

          skin color
          eyes color
          [supposed] intelligence [just like a robot]

          is trying to teach me about to be humble

          come one albino snake!!

          It’s not a argument, it’s your stomach with hungry…

          It’s IMPOSSIBLE try to teach objective morality for IMORAL or AMORAL ones. It’s just try to teach kindness or altruism for PSYCHOPATHS.

          I will not repeat myself.

          Answer my comment firstly, something you don’t, you can’t like a coward…

          eternal teenager idiot.

        • Santoculto says

          Another thing SLAVE ANGLOOS must need to learn, of course the basics of REAL INTELLIGENCE:

          How i’m responsible for something i’m not participating directly or even participating**

          On other hand, stop to eat ”meat” is something anyone can do and start for the moment you don’t want even with all sort of videos showing how cruel is all this, so it’s alarming about your REAL inferiority…

    • dirk says

      Not a balanced, Trent, in what age are you living?? A differen perspective, O.K., but not a balanced one, that’s out, nobody these days seems to go for anything balanced. We are fond of identities and camps. That’s the time-table.

      • Santoculto says

        No have such thing ”balanced” when this reality is already extreme… We are talking about the planet earth being totally taken by humans, destroying nature, killing billions and billions of lives by the price of capitalism, socialism or any other idiotic invention…

        No have a debate here because what we have is

        people who stop to eat ”meat”, sometimes putting their health in some risk, by the price of absolute kidness [and it’s also can be described as INTELLIGENCE]. people who sacrifice one of their possible well-being by the well-being of others who are not even related at species-level [even at the very end all lifes are the same in essence]


        people who are at least indifferent, at least, to all type of enormous suffering ”our loved and bright species” are perpetrating against docilized/hopeless resistless lives.

  2. This article is shamefully dishonest in it’s presentation of facts, the water usage of cattle is not only measuring what they drink, if they are grain fed, the copious amounts of crops they eat obviously need copious amounts of water, and if they are grass fed, the land is often supported by a serious
    amount of irrigation.

    With regards to the claim that “In the UK, however, cows and sheep spend most of their life on grass”, what about in the U.S? Ya’ know, the much larger population where a heck of a lot of meat is produced, in the U.S alone there are 28.5 million total “farm units” on factory farms. And to claim that factory farming is less efficient is preposterous – it’s the industrialised form, it’s almost -by definition- the most/more efficient method.

    Furthermore, citing New Zealand researchers claims that dairy farming is the most environmentally sound way of feeding a population? I live in New Zealand, perhaps you’re unaware of the massive impact dairy farming is having on our lakes and rivers, many rivers are disappearing due to intense irrigation and many lakes are now poisonous swamps.

    • MyName says

      and doesn’t the article clearly say that most grain feed is spoiled that would have gone into the human food supply otherwise, so the water use there was already committed. and since when were grasslands especially irrigated? I have not seen any significant examples other than maybe modifications of the routes of existing springs.

    • Zachary Reichert says

      This comment says far more about the OP than it does about either the article or the issue behind the article.

    • Tim, your reply shows that you obviously don’t understand how water footprint numbers are derived. Per Mekonnen & Hoekstra 2010, the consumption of water, whether they eat grains or not, is only 1.1% of a water footprint number . 98% of the water is the water needed to grow feed, forages or grasses that the cattle eat.

      Now you’re correct that the “green” and “blue” water amounts may vary whether that feed is irrigated or not. But in the case of irrigated forage, approx around 6 to 8% of the 98% is “blue” water (irrigation water) whereas in the case of grass finished ruminant less than 2% of that 98% is blue water. Blue water is what’s critical, not green water. So no, “copious” amounts of blue water aren’t needed under either scenario.

      Grasses and forbs typically are more drought resistant than crops, so they require less water than crops. Many grasses and forbs are perennials, so they have deeper root systems. Un-tilled, and diversely covered soils also have more soil diversity and microbial life below soil, so these soils sequester more carbon which increases the water holding capacity of soils significantly.

      Now as for the US, you really don’t have a clue how beef cattle production is done (there aren’t that many sheep). All cattle are born on cow/calf operations, where the calves live for 6 to 8 months. Then the calves go to stocker operations, where tey live to around 12 to 14 months, Finally these yearlings are then sent to feedlots where they are “finished” on roughages and then finally “concenrates” (grains)…Grain finishing is around 94% of production, though grass finishing is growing at around a 25 to 30% per year. So in terms of numbers, this means 66 out of 81 mill head of inventory are on cow/calf and stocker ranches. These ranches are grass fed operations. Plus also means beef cattle spend at least a 1/2 but more often closer to 2/3’s of their lives on grass, before being “finished” in a feedlot .

      So, in other words, Tim you’re kind of clueless.

      • dirk says

        I really don’t see so many mistakes in Tim’s reactions Chef. Cattle drink water, but also eat grass (needs a lot of evaporating water, mostly from rain) and crops (maize, sorghums,mostly irrigated), Pimentel was cherry picking, without making any difference in blue and green water, but Tim did not. Pimentel is an activist.

        • Dirk again, you don’t understand how water footprints are now derived. Water footprints now do clearly differentiate between blue, green and grey water. Green water falls regardless, blue water is what’s critical. Grasses/forbs can grow on land using only green water, most crops can’t. Most crops need blue water especially for higher yields. So water utilization is largely an appropriateness of land use issue. Most grazing occurs on non-arable land.

          Moreover, water evaporates when the ground isn’t covered. There’s also evapotranspriation through plant stomata, and that contributes to the hydro-logical cycle. When grassland is maintained, or covers are used in integrated systems, this improves the hydrological cyle, as well as also improves water retention, so any rain that does fall is more effectively used.

          So neither you or Tim has a clue. You both strike me more as zealots trying to explain numbers you don’t understand as to the water balance models from which these footprints are derived or what the numbers actually mean.

          • dirk says

            Spoken about zealots: you seem to be a good example of one from the Hoekstra’s school. I wonder why discussions on veganism always take such a meandering fashion, to stay in hydrological terms. There is no such a thing like evapotranspiration through stomata, that’s too much of the good stuff, but maybe too technical on a blog like this, and not necessary for the discussion (like my evaporation maybe was too little). The point of interest of Keir and Tim: almost anybody not familiar with footprints will be amazed reading about 100.000 lt (mostly you hear it is 150.000 lt) for just 1 kilo of meat, not realizing it is mostly just the water transpired by the growing grass and crops (so, not all the rain fallen on the meadow is at stake). I just read that cows in Israel and Arabia produce much more milk than our famous Frisians, but this, of course, is all from irrigated fodder and crops, and none or almost none from rain. For the discussion on vegetal vs animal food: our province of Groningen once was a dairy and cattle province, now mainly crops, and even old grasslands are now often under maize and potatoes, so, depending on the market,there is much competition between land for feed and food. Too often you hear from propagandists of animal produce that grassland has no other use (the cherrypicking at work). In the end, due to the much larger areas needed for cattle (and not because of lacking rain), I expect prices of beef worldwide hiking soon, whereby people necessarily will have to give up their steaks and sirloins. Vegetarians score a minor victory.

          • Bret Toliver says

            Doesn’t the article clarify that the grain product is waste grain? It would be created regardless of animals because it is meant for humans, but has spoiled.

        • Funny, how it won’t let me reply to your last comment, but nope not a zealot from any school. Just noting how water footprint derivations are derived as was explained to me by Older models didn’t differentiate between sources of water, but newer models including those by Hoekstra. These models are also always being further refined, and are applied per GIS mapping. The numbers bantered around all the time are global averages that more often than not have zero meaning in regards to environmental impact. The models make large assumptions about soil type, synthetic nitrogen use (only by country), type of irrigation (e.g. currently the models don’t differentiate between drip or flood irrigation), etc So the models also have a number of other constraints. They’re far from refined especially considering there’s a lot of variability of land. This variability also may not just be limited to edaphic and moisture conditions but also by topography and other climatic variables, so yes there’s a lot of land that can be grazed that can’t be cropped. Grazing grasslands is also a better solution from a climate perspective, because tilling such land releases carbon….and using non-tilled chemical farming methods also reduces the soil biology and thus the carbon storage capacity of the land.

          Integrated systems with livestock are a different solution. Here too, non-till, and no inputs for syn NPK’s and pesticides (especially herbicides) also drastically increases the soil biology which in turn improves carbon sequestration, nitrogen cycling, P cycling, methane oxidation, fertility, water infiltration and retention, etc. Though obviously most soil science is way over the heads of people such as yourself, though I’ve also written about that more in this article as well, if you wish to edify yourself. Once one learns about soil health, and the critical role animals plays in regenerating soil, the vegan argument fails miserably.

  3. Softclocks says

    Show us your math and I’ll show you where you went wrong with this article.

    What a dishonest piece of hackery.

    • Zachary Reichert says

      Yeah, no you won’t. You don’t have anything to present.

    • Here’s an article I wrote explaining how water footprints are derived. I wrote this article after a month long correspondence with –

      As for feed efficiency, the UN FAO just issued a report on feed (Mottet el al 2017). This report is open source, so click this link below to download a copy. This report clearly demonstrates that livestock are “up cyclers” meaning they up grade inedible food into very nutrient dense food and thus INCREASE food security. The feed efficiency argument repeatedly made by vegans and cell Ag companies is a stupid one.

      • Robert B. Doll, Jr., M.D. says

        The sentient suffering that is part and parcel to the production of meat and dairy is indefeasible. I would challenge all of you who are defending the consumption of meat to be a party to the suffering of these animals. And if you are deaf and blind to the suffering, you should have your vision and hearing checked.

        Further, the health benefits that accrue to consumption of plant-based whole food unprocessed diets are undeniable. Look at the literature. Try or for starters. There is no human nutritional requirement for animal protein.

        Finally, LA Chefs, your confirmation bias is obvious. You will have to live with your karma and your health problems that ensue from the consumption of meat. Good luck!

        • Bill Milliot says

          An M.D. talking in terms of karma, really? In any case, when was the last time you drove through California’s central valley for instance, to see where the food for your plant-based diet comes from? Denuded and sterilized pastures and fields that were once vibrant grasslands, now devoid of the billions so species of wild animals (and yes, the trillions that once lived in the now dead soils) to supply vegetables to the world’s tables, complimented by the stench of the CAFO meat system I might add.

          So, no sir, you don’t get to proselytize with impunity simply because you avoid meat. You are as much a part of the BigVegetableAg’s eco-genocide as the rest of us that eat vegetables, whether it’s with our meat or not.

          On the other hand, provided I stay away from CAFO meat, I can eat my grass-fed beef knowing full well the animal that supplied it was once integrated in a healthy ecosystem that assured the well-being of all species living there; birds breeding, bees pollinating, plants thriving, deer and cougar. So, I’ll take my karma over yours any day. IMHO.

          Enough with the holier-than-thou vegan superiority nonsense already. Feeding humans is a deadly business for all creatures. It’s just a matter of which system can do it in a way that supports the most life – grass-fed beef from a well-planned grazing system. Now that’s good karma.

  4. If you try hard enough, you can find an argument for anything. We can surely find a way to raise animals for meat in an environmentally friendly way, but if we decide to for veganism it’s a choice that comes from a higher consciousness. I don’t quite understand the point of this article.

    • dirk says

      Yes, indeed, veganism started long before the environmental and ecological concerns took up around the 1970s. For deeper consciousness and a healthier, pure, ascetic life mostly, in earlier times even because a belief in reincarnation (Buddists wear a cap on the mouth to avoid the inhaling of innocent insects). Muslims and Jews eat no pork, Hindu’s no cowmeat, for centuries, or even millennia now). But, there comes prof Pimentel ( after the worrying reports of the club of Rome, 1972), from heaven (= Cornell) with his math (=cherry picking) on ecology: -it’s the environment, stupid-! I wonder what Ontario dairy farmer Chris has to say on all this!

    • Intrograted says

      That was the point of the article. It’s all well and good to choose veganism for animals’ sakes, but if you’re doing it for primarily environmental reasons you might want to look into things a little deeper.

      • Robert B. Doll, Jr., M.D. says

        If one is stupid, Matt, any diet (including a plant-based diet) can be dangerous. Beer and pretzels is technically vegan, but hardly to be recommended. B vitamin, iodine, calcium and omega 3 FA deficiencies can be easily avoided.

        • Matt says

          Robert, thanks for ignoring all the cases of early infant deaths due to the diet you advocate. Really sticking it to the man and pushing the boundaries of knowledge by advocating for the government promoted diet. Deficiencies easily avoided? While not actually true due to the chemistry of supplements vs real nutrients, this indicates that plant based diets are unsustainable. They require industrial processes not available in nature. You are anti nature

    • Lee Kingston says

      Well said Bozhidar Hristov…..humane, intelligent, humble and succinct….thank you

  5. Truevo says

    As always, the catastrophic perspectives of environmentalism and the narrative of the misanthropic man who destroys the world are revealed to be essentially unfounded, the environmental problem (such as the pernicious global warming) is potentially solvable, and how it has always happened, science will indicate the path of progress. On this point I agree with Pinker’s analysis in Enlightenment Now.

    The postmodern narrative of oppressed vs oppressors in this case has been cleverly transformed into men vs. animals, practically a problem of social justice… I am glad that Quillette starts to frame the problem of vegan environmentalism in this interpretative quadrant.

    Veganism is a free ethical choice (which I would never do while maybe someone does), but it’s often based on statements and facts that are clearly false and/or appropriately misinterpreted.

  6. Some good points here, but I agree with other commenters that this is a very partial presentation.

    The fact that “Grain is an infrequent addition… for ‘finishing’ beef” doesn’t change the fact that it’s an inefficient method of food production compared to a vegetarian diet (exactly how inefficient depends on how you measure it I suppose that from an environmental point of view, raising animals for food on waste plant produce is better than binning it, but to truly asses the impact we’d need to know the how much cattle is fed this way. There appears to be a huge European import market for soy cattle feed in Europe (, I suspect the same is true in North America. Moreover, we could also presumably use leftover plant material for for biofuel production, so it wouldn’t be wasted if animals weren’t fed on it. Incidentally, it’s worth a closer look at what (quoted ecologist) Pimentel has to say:

    “Does it seem likely that farming – an activity that took place for thousands of years before the industrial revolution – is likely to be the problem?”
    This is an argument from incredulity. Land use changes are still increasing atmospheric CO2 because its not just about the soil carbon, which is what the referenced study compares. Loss of forests is a loss of a huge carbon reservoir because it’s locked up in the wood (not to mention there is a loss of biodiversity). Also omitted is the significant production of methane by cattle (see

    “New Zealand researchers recently found that in temperate climates dairy farming is actually the most environmentally sound way to feed a population”
    According to the linked study, they found combined approach was. It’s fairly well accepted that using marginal land for grazing is efficient and relatively benign, environmentally speaking.

    “Ploughing up grassland actually releases carbon from long-term soil stores, which makes the idea of switching from livestock to arable farming look decidedly un-green” Only assuming same amount of land is required to produce the same amount of human food, which we know is not the case.

  7. Hutch says

    Interesting article just as the previous counter viewpoint article was.

    I’m still unsure as to the true greenhouse emissions produced by live stock during their cultivation. Aside from the nutritional requirements, decaying biomass of uneaten livestock and their flatulence has been credited with a substantial creation of greenhouse gasses.

    If this info graphic is to be believed ( then I would enjoying seeing studies of the various amounts of flatulence being measured for types of edible livestock. Just the testing and control methods would be entertaining enough.

    We could be living in a timeline where we are forced to pick less flatulent producing live-stock breeds or attempt to genetically modify existing breeds.

    • dirk says

      You are right here Hutch, also Keir indulges in cherrypicking, because that flatulence (methane, a CO2 equivalent much more damaging than the CO2 itself) was completely left out, whereas in the Netherlands accounts for some 10% of alle the CO2 equivalents damage nationally. Also strange: the article did not refer at all to that former article here,- The convergent case for veganists-, 27/3, by a certain Jacy Reese, who did not talk at all (or almost not) on the environment, but on animal suffering, obnoxious farmdays, sentience, exploitative mega-bioindustry and the like. I think, this is a shortcoming of the editors here, in one and the same blog, you wouldn’t expect so much controversy and denying of the presence of authors of similar subjects.

      • Dirk, sentient animals die in all forms of large scale food production especially industrially crop production as well as in tilled organic production. Whenever you convert, cultivate, protect, and harvest land, you displace and kill animals, insects and microbes. Whenever you store or transport crops, you also kill animals. The big difference is that you kill different animals and these animals die and rot in the fields rather than be consumed. Whether you consider microbes and insects as sentient or not is up to you, but killing these creatures also kills birds and small mammals, because microbes and insects are at the base of the food webs. Insect populations are crashing along with bird populations due to pesticide (both organic and synthetic) use as well as due to soil ecosystems being destroyed by tillage and synthetic fertilizer use. So sorry, there’s no harm free way to eat, unless you’re foraging all your food and living in a cave. here’s something more I wrote about this here:

    • Bill says

      Aren’t greenhouse gasses produced during the decay of unconsumed grain-products as well (the ones which are alternatively used as livestock feed)? Also, where does the line of reasoning end? If “animals” through their very existence negatively impact “global warming” then should we conduct a widespread extermination of animals in order to reduce all that decay and flatulence?

      Of course, let’s assume all ranching is ended, cows, pigs, sheep, and chickens are all made extinct. We’re now purely vegan farming. Last I checked, a whole lot of negatives come about from that as well. Pollution due to fertilizing and the anti-GMO crowd have been proclaiming that for years. Ignoring the conversion to farmland, the decay and decomposition of unused farm goods, the fossil fuels used in farming, and the shifting of water consumption as well. See, to get rid of the pollution from fertilizers and abandon GMO you need to put more acres of land into farming which then requires greater irrigation to generate the same output.

      You won’t convince me either way when you choose myopic arguments. You can’t argue just “farming is polluting” or “get rid of ranching” with superficial and incomplete assessment of the change to the other side. The anti-GMO/pesticide/herbicide/fertilizer folks go the route of just assuming that more farmland can be developed to make up for lower per-acre productivity. The anti-animal folks ignore the same in their equations.

      • Kristina E Caffrey says

        The massive nitrogen fertilization which supports grain farming has huge consequences, but the answer to that from vegans is always “organic farming,” as if organic farming could support billions of people.

    • With methane, the issue isn’t flatulence. It’s belching (belched methane is known as enteric methane). Cattle have bacteria in their rumen called methanogens that produce methane via a process called methanogenesis. Some other life forms do this as well via their digestive systems like termites, arthropods, cockroaches, centipedes, clams, mussels, etc.

      The way enteric methane is measured for ruminants is via chambers, SF6 tracers, masks, so ruminants are basically treated like tail pipes. The problem with such measurements is that these measurements are out of context. This means that when counting emissions you have to also look at other trade offs for other greenhouse gases and indirect gases. So directly for methane, you have to account for soil, troposphere, and stratosphere sinks as well as soil carbon sequestration and emissions of carbon monoxide, nitrates and water vapor.

      Methane in soils is oxidized (turned to water and CH3+) by bacteria called methanotrophs. This is a small amount of methane that’s oxidized this way. Much more methane is oxidized in the troposphere (the first 30 meters or so of the atmosphere) by fast chemical reactions with hydroxyl free radicals. These radicals oxidize most of the earth’s methane from multiple sources. The amount of hydroxyl radicals available to oxidize methane is determined by how many are created by water vapor and nitrates as well as how many get used up carbon monoxide. When carbon monoxide reacts with a hydroxyl radical, more carbon dioxide is formed. So more carbon monoxide means that there are fewer radicals to oxide methane. When methane amounts exceed hydroxyl free radical amounts, the amount of methane is the atmosphere increases. That’s the current case. From 1998 to 2007, the radicals and methane were in balance, and there was no increase in methane emissions.

      So as you can see, the atmospheric science is actually a bit more involved than just simply counting the the amount of methane belched by ruminants and multiplying that number by the number of ruminants.

    • augustine says

      Your concern about uneaten and decaying biomass, and flatulence, is related to another problem: waste products. I read some years ago that the production of animal waste (excreta) of stock animals in the U.S. is something like 80,000 gallons _per second_ (yes, 24hrs/day). Hurts the mind to think of it. It is an industry challenge to utilize or dispose of all this, plus the waste from slaughter (blood and tissue) and in spite of the uses depicted in the article graphic.

  8. The great prairies and pasturelands of the world were created by millions of hoofed animals grazing, breaking up the soil, peeing and pooping for hundreds of thousands of years. That’s where vegans need to start to straighten out their vast misinformation.

    • Softclocks says

      Look a bit closer at the numbers. Maybe then you’ll muster up something a bit more formidable than that trite nonsense of yours.

  9. dirk says

    What trite nonsense are you talking of Softlocks? Around 1850 (just before the railways were laid out there), about 50 million buffaloes were trampling the US prairies. If I am well informed, it,s now about 100 million cattle and dairy in the feedlots and stables now. Nevertheless, I read in Homo Deus of Yuval Harari, pg 84, that nowadays there are 700 million tons of domesticated (and flatulating) animals on earth, against only 100 million tons of wild large animals (also flatulating, and even more so per ton than the domesticated type, but in absolute terms much less of course). I wonder what Keir, and professor Pimentel (or is it Pimental?) thinks about all that!

    • Um, your numbers are a bit off. Bison estimates range from 30 to 70 millions and the range was a bit more extensive. Though you’re forgetting there were around 30 million elk in large herds as well as 20 to 35 mill pronghorn and another 25 to 35 million deer. This was up to around the mid -1800’s. Currently in total there are around 100 mill domesticated ruminants this include dairy and beef cattle, goats and sheep. beef cattle are around 81 million head. So in other words, the number of wild ruminants exceeded the number of currently domesticated ruminants in the US. . It gets much harder to estimate numbers of ruminants outside of the US and Africa, since populations of stepped bison, auroch and bison in Europe and Asia went extinct (or nearly extinct as is the case of European bison) a long time ago. So any other global estimates bantered about, I’d take with a grain of salt.

      One other thing to note, when you go back further in times, the amount of megafauna including many species of larger bison, also had very extensive ranges in the US and Europe. These megafauna went extinct eight to ten thousand years ago. As to why, a umber of theories abound including over-hunting, climate change, climate change and over hunting, over hunting of predators, volcano eruptions and asteroids.

    • Oh, and bison didn’t “trample” prairies. Bison, pronghorn and large herds of elk by pooping and urinating plus constantly moving due to predatory pressure BUILT the fertile biologically alive top soil …that we’re now rapidly depleting.

  10. Edward says

    George Monbiot has since recanted again. In 2010, he bought into Simon Fairlie’s arguments. In 2013, he realized that “sustainable meat” is simply not feasible on a large scale. People would either be priced out of buying meat or everyone would have to drastically reduce their consumption of meat in any case. Monbiot once again advocates for veganism.

      • As this was your last input as of 6 April on the above subjects, I will use this place to complement you on your knowledge base, and to say it was a pleasure to read your comments.

        Vegans complain about the horrible murdering of animals. Geez, only naive city slickers say that, because they have never seen a wild animal killed by another wild animal – now that is a horrible, painful, and prolonged death, unlike that which happens at slaughter houses, where the demise is swift and far less painful.

        If vegans want to pursue their nutritional protocol, best of health to them, but to attempt to maintain the high moral ground on these issues is ridiculous.

  11. Joseph says

    A very nice and interesting piece. The vegan-environmentalist narrative has its own distortions and like all the narratives it comes to distort, at least partially, certain facts to propagate its own ideology.

    In any case, eating less meat would not hurt. As (almost) always, aurea mediocritas/moderation is the right way. On the contrary, the complete elimination of the consumption of meat in the world, as evidenced well by this article, could be extremely dangerous for the environment itself. Checkmate against vegans.

  12. Jan de Jong says

    I would suggest that there are no crises, that the end is not nigh, that “sustainable” is rarely sustainable and that man is a meat eater.

    • dirk says

      In Hungary, a few square miles of prairies (called puszta there) are left, with nice and diverse vegetation, and a few primitive long horned grey cattle on it, chosen by the ecologists. But 90% of West European grasslands is under monocrop of 1 type of productive grass ,heavily fertilized, a pain in the ass of the ecologists and bird lovers, without insects and flowers. Our (Dutch) government thinks about it to force the farmers to get rid of them, the onslaught of greenhouse gasses is too heavy, the agreements of Paris at work.

  13. nicky says

    A bit on a tangent, there is -as mentioned in a link above- quite some evidence that a vegan diet is not really very healthy, especially for children. Something that -I’d think- should also be taken into account.
    I’m surprised that the Alan Savoury method of ‘holistic’ animal husbandry was not mentioned. It allows for quite high ‘yields’ in extensive (as opposed to intensive) animal husbandry, basically by trying to imitate nature: dense herds moving in space over time (that sounds weird, but it is literally that), allowing for a ‘balanced’ natural vegetation.
    And now I’m going to eat my ‘afval’ (tripes) with a clear conscience 🙂

    • dirk says

      I wonder how many Dutchmen are wandering around here (even without having Dutch names), is it because of the cows?

      • Wiebe van der Land says

        No I always read the Quilette from Groningen

      • nicky says

        From South Africa, the farmers here are quite interested in Alan Savoury’s approach. ‘Afval’ is a local dish here, particularly popular in the ‘coloured’ community.

  14. J.J. says

    All I see here are flesh eaters trying to justify mentally their complicit participation in the abuse, enslavement, torture, rape and slaughter of innocent sentient beings for you own pleasure and flesh addiction. That’s all. If you all slept next to a slaughterhouse and had to endure the death moans, the stench, and palpable fear in the air of innocent creatures you may think otherwise. The fact is you’re so far removed from the killing and need to be otherwise the guilt would overwhelm you. “Do unto others as you want done to you.” No, it’s Eyes wide shut to the darkness that is animal agriculture. And don’t give me “oh I’m for humane slaughter and killing.” Right sign up your children, your pets and your spouse then. It’s humane. So perfectly fine for everyone!! Fact is you could care less for creatures that you perceive as objects. Creatures you do not have to enslave, kill and eat. Creatures most of you do not hunt with your bare hands. Innocent lives. Justify all you want. 98% if the world gets their flesh from inhumane flesh factories of innocent lives. The blood is on all of our hands.

    • nicky says

      As a youngster I worked (during a holiday) in a rural butchery. We slaughtered the animals ourselves. We did not torture or rape them.
      My daughter is vegetarian though, she hates the idea of eating her ‘cousins’.

      • J.J. says

        You obviously didn’t read the post. 98% of the world get their animal flesh from factory death houses. That’s almost everyone. Who cares what you did as a youngster for one semester? And I’m sure the animals thanked you so much for slaughtering them and not torturing them. They must’ve smiled at you as you slit their throats. I’m sure women thank rapists for just raping them and not killing them. Female cows are force r**ed about 4 times in their life thru artificial insemination to make them produce a calf so they produce milk that the farmer steals and then 3 out of the 4 calfs (1 is saved to replace her when she gets old) are taken from her at birth and sold off in an auction for veal and when she’s WORN out completely from this horrendous cycle she gets a CULL mark on her, marking her for death and then she’s murdered and cut up so you guys can eat her corpse! It’s absolutely disgusting. IMAGINE YOUR daughter you mentioned going thru that Nicky. Chained up her whole life, r**ed with artificial insemination, made to have babies over and over that are all taken away from her, then she’s “milked” for her breast milk, then killed when she’s worn out. Just because a cow doesn’t look like you doesn’t mean that she doesn’t have the same instincts, feelings and nervous system capable of fear and pain. She DOES. Know That. Look up Specisim, Carnism, and watch Lucent. It might open your eyes.

    • dirk says

      Dear J.J: in Holland, we have a park of 5000 ha of wetland with about 4000 innocent deer, Konik horses and half wild cattle. It is now end winter, for about 5 months no new grass to feed the animals, and therefore widespread starving (more than 1000 animals)after a long period of suffering. People don’t take it any longer, because the slowly and (apparently) cruel dying process was filmed and shown as if they were tragic moovie stars. So, people start throwing feed (hay) in the park for the animals (they risk a fine for that), and are pushing for killing the feeblest animals, finally they agreed to do so, because originally it was thought that nature should not be interfered with. What would you suggest? I know the answer already: a park without large animals, only birds, insects and flowers.But this is not what’s going to happen there. My suggestion: just to shoot the animals before they are going to suffer (November, traditionally the slaughtermonth in Europe), and eat them.

      • dirk says

        As of now, the death toll is close to 3000, of which 90% is shot, 10% died a “natural” death. Today, angry animal lovers are demonstrating. What hell are we doing with our closest friends in the animal kingdom, horrible!

  15. If you want to be vegan for the sake of animals, be my guest. I admire your commitment to animal welfare (no joke, I do). But good luck balancing your diet since we’ve evolved as meat-eaters plus foraging.
    If you want to care for the environment and be healthy, eat a balanced diet including meat but try to chose animal-friendly options (free range, grass feed, etc. ).

  16. Zoe says

    This article debunks zip. It doesn’t even touch on the source of the problem, which is, to put it indelicately, farting cows. Yes farming has existed for a long time, but the volume makes all the difference. Methane gas produced by cows is largely driving global warming. How do I know? My brother has worked for 40 years at Princeton and for the US gov doing nothing but studying global warming, that’s how. If he’s wrong, then I really don’t know who’s right. There are few, if any, people with more knowledge on the matter.

  17. dirk says

    I fear you are right here Zoe, and I don,t trust LaChefs for a second, however much he might have published in scientific journals (I didn,t read all he stuff he advocated here, but wonder whether I am the only one, what he wrote here is already too much to digest). Apart of cattle and dairy, there are more sources of that horrible methane, ask your brother, expanding rice fields worldwide are one, defrosting taigas are another, very soon on this world theatre to come. I am glad that I am not a youngster any more, Jesus Christ, imagine you have to cope with all these disasters, a real apocalypse!!

  18. Fred says

    Regarding carbon sinks, grasslands vs forest, grassland soil may capture more than forest soil, but it seems to me that globally, the forest would capture more overall (including the trees). Both provided links are silent on this point. Any opinion?

  19. Scientist Person says

    An excellent article which has stimulated some good debate and stirred the wobble of one-eyed ostrich!

  20. Fran says

    This article raises many issues. An important one is that adequate nutrition without animal protein requires optimising an equation with over 40 variables, because animal protein sources supply a lot more than the essential amino acids in a balanced ratio. This is not really feasible even if the computational power was available – there is not enough detailed analytic information on all possible sources of nutrients to feed into the equation. At the very least,the amount of knowledge and effort required to even approximate a balanced diet as a vegan (assuming you are not just buying the prepared foods displayed in health food stores) requires more effort than I have left over after trying to make a constructive contribution to my family and community. Furthermore, we still do not know for sure what the ideal nutrient intake is – see all the books and blogs on miraculous novel diets. The meat/foraging diet we evolved eating would seem safest.

    I suppose it could be considered ethical to experiment on yourself, as Gandhi did, and numerous vegans do. University ethics committees are firmly against this, partly because it is impossible to escape subjective biases, such as those that lead to the hostile comments on an interesting discussion of the possible benefits of animal products. I do strongly object to anyone who carries out the experiments on children, be they their own or those of others.

    I grew up in India, where the effects of adding as little as 200 ml of milk to a child’s diet were more than obvious.

    • Thanks for your input here, Fran. It would be the height of human arrogance to assume we know all there is to know about nutrition, so I follow your motto, ” The meat/foraging diet we evolved eating would seem safest.”

      Decades ago, I tried a vegan diet and did not like the adverse effects on my health.

  21. augustine says

    One argument vegans like to use to support their positions is that we can feed many more people per acre if we abandon meat production. I have not seen anyone refute this assertion. It is not so much about livestock areas converted to farming but feed crop farming converted to food for humans. Barring any drastic changes in population trajectories, I have little doubt that we would not hesitate to exploit that potential so long as resources hold out.

    So what are the metrics involved? Some commenters love stats and calculations so, if there is an interest, I will rely on their kindness to tell us how many people might be supported on this planet by such an agricultural conversion. 20B? 40B? The same environmentally concerned folks who decry habitat destruction and loss of biodiversity would do well to keep in mind the effects of a much larger, exclusively vegan human population. I’m not saying meat-eating is a direct conservation strategy but veganism per se is no solution to our basic tendency to combat and subdue nature.

  22. dirk says

    The figure of 40 B. has been calculated once by a professor in theoretical ,potential food production , professor C.T de Wit. This figure was not purely a vegetal diet, but for a diet with minimal animal input to satisfy dietary needs (see Fran,s reation above). Recently, the Netherlands official Food Institute came with kind of more sensible food guidelines, because of our debts to the Paris agreements, we shoul eat less meat and more vegetarian proteins (legumes mostly). Of course, this is not going to happen, unless it is forced by heavy meat taxes. Beans and peas is a poor man;s food, and our chldren are enchanted by all the luxuries they have learned from their parents, they will not give up their luxury salmon, caviar and entrecote diets, neither their vacations(4x a year with the plane somewhere far away, to drink a beer and to swim in the Canary islands or on Bali Island). This simply is the horrible inconvenient truth! Vegans will always stay a minority of 2% or less in some Western countries

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  24. Alexander says

    Interesting article. You re right in highlighting misleading claims – which is what Simon Fairlie’s book is all about. But your argumentation is rather shallow. I’m not shocked that a popular statistic about the water footprint is actually a bit misleading- welcome to the real world. The point is: compared to a plant-based diet, a meat-based diet has a much higher water footprint. I don’t think your figure of 200 liters per kilo makes sense, the highest contribution to the water footprint is from the food, not what a cow drinks.

    About a small permaculture/organic farm: yes, there is an argument for small-scale keeping of livestock, which contributes to organic matter on the arable side of the farm and is relatively friendly for the animals involved. The big picture is however that if you walk into a random supermarket, most of the meat comes from industry-farmed animals. In Western Europe we have so many animals that the nutrients that would in a small mixed farming system benefit agricultural land, are causing pollution. Long story short: in theory yes! And there are some inspiring examples, yes, good! But this has nothing to do (unfortunately) with how the majority of supermarket meat is produced.

    The argument about by-products and ‘spoiled grain’ is misleading- the market would adapt itself quickly and produce grain that is fit for human consumption.

    In the second section, none of the arguments are convincing in my opinion. The big picture is that we are 7 billion people, soon to be 10 billion. The least land and water intensive way to feed these people is with a plant-based diet. We use our farmland for all sorts of things, but food is not high on the agenda. We use it to grow malting barley for whiskey (Scotland) or corn for biofuel (US), or soybeen for cattle (brazil). Small-scale farmers in south-east asia and Africa are the chunk of farmers who actually grow food (and yes, often with some livestock).

    The third part is all based on the assumption that current pastoral systems would need to be converted to arable land in case we all went vegan (which is something he doesn’t need to worry about!). That is an interesting question to unpack- globally speaking you need less land for a vegan diet, which would give more space for ‘rewilding’ proper.

    Your picture of arable farming as biodiversity poor compared to permanent pasture is also questionable- especially diverse and small-scale farmland with hedges, margins, rotations etc is essential for a lot of biodiversity.

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  26. dirk says

    After all these reactions, and having calculated a little bit on it (it,s my profession after all), here something I would like to hear reactions on (e.g., from LaChefs or Ontario Chris)
    For a diet with the necessary, small animal input for dietal balanced food you need 150% of a purey vegetal menu (50% extra area). See also Fran above.
    For a diet with 50% animal proteins (not really necessary) it will come to about 200% ( so, 100% extra above the vegetal one).
    For a diet as normal now in the wealthy, carnivore world of Europe, US and Japan (fisheaters) it’s close to 200% extra.
    But, diets are completely unimportant where it comes to footprint and area needed. For total area needed (graveyards, sport, nature, space to clear rubbish, entertainment etc etc) you need roughly 5x more than for food. So, this little bit (50-200%) extra in case of vegetarian, flex, or carnivore doesn’t mean too much! Take care: it all depends very much on the standards of agriculture, whether you use fertilizers and so on. Without fertilizer, the area needed is beyond what is available on this planet.

  27. Joaquim C says

    ”The Ecologist, Simon Fairlie, painstakingly deconstructs these figures. He points out that a typical beef steer, reared for 500 days, produces 125 kilos of meat at slaughter.”

    Oh my!; more about 400 kg of meat or more.
    P.S. I’m a Rancher.

    • dirk says

      I think you are talking about carcass weight Joaquim, and Simon about boneless meat,and probably the prime steaks and ribs without any bone and fat. Everybody, rancher, housewife, butcher, ecologist, painter, vegetarian, vegan, agronomist has its own typical way to look at a (slaugthered) steer.

      • Joaquim C says

        Yes I am, and Simon is a pessimist…

        The amount of meat that is cut and wrapped for
        consumption will be much less than the live animal
        weight. A 1200-pound beef animal will yield a hot
        carcass weight of approximately 750 pounds. Once
        cooled, the carcass weight will be approximately
        730 pounds. When de-boned and trimmed, there will
        be approximately 500 pounds of trimmed and deboned
        meat for wrapping and freezing.


        check page nine…
        500 pounds are about 230kg..

        Albeit I’m not from Tennesee (I’m from Portugal) a 500 days bovine (raised for beef) that is about some 1200 pounds makes sense here too, could be more, could be less.
        Anyway here we also eat the liver, heart, tail. and lots of the trimmed parts goes into burgers and meatballs..
        One thing I can tell you; when I see my herd I think that if not me those living interacting animals would not exist. That’s a good felling!

      • dirk says

        Painters: Rembrandt and Chaim Soutine, splendid views on the slaughtered carcass! And none of them knew the term vegan!

  28. dirk says

    We are going down already a little bit, maybe Simon detracted also the lean trim, for ground parts ?(I did not read the original). I was in Vila Real, and saw some marvelous Barroso steers there, with impressive horns, kept in small herds by local farmers. Absolutely fabulous, so I can imagine your enthousiasm for the local brands and their performance. Greetings from Utrecht.

  29. Joaquim C says

    Small world! My farm is a bit more south, Idanha-a-Nova municipality, cattle area. Greetings from Lisbon where I’m!
    Back on topic.. If the world goes vegan..I’ll be busted, my herd will obviously naturally die or gonna be culled, and that’s it; more space for trees rabbits boars… etc.. that all of them will die too… most of them in more ‘inhuman’ ways…

  30. dirk says

    Now you are the pessimist J.C. Our newspapers just the day before yesterday came with the news that even 1 glas of wine or beer daily is bad for your health and shortens your life. I think very few people will change their drinking habits because of this alarming news. As also they will not do with their meat consumption (though a little bit more pulses instead of chicken and pork would not be bad for people and planet alike. And now I am going to sleep, it’s late, good night!

    • Joaquim C says

      Not at all! that everything that lives dies is good old common sense…

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  32. Kristina E Caffrey says

    One point I did not see made in the article–comparing 1 kg of beef to 1 kg of wheat is apples to oranges. The macronutrient value and micronutrient value of 1 kg of beef is wildly different, and likely wildly higher, than the 1 kg of wheat. Beef is incredibly nutrient dense, so it’s not just about “feeding” a population, but getting the most nutritional bang for your buck.

  33. dirk says

    It would have been better maybe to compare the proteins or the calories that wheat or beef contain. One kg of wheat contains about 3x the calories of 1 kg of meat, but only about 1/2 the (valuable) proteins. More importantly, the price of meat = 100x that of wheat per kg.
    And that’s why poor people (and some idealistic ones) eat a vegetarian diet (much more calories ,to keep you alive, for your (little) money), but,cattle need a lot of space (ask Joaquim C.) and thus more planet and resources.

    • Joaquim C says

      I probaly have more faith in humanity, and that people that are not in State payroll but acctually doing things will try to do them the best way possible. 😉

  34. Joaquim C says

    The price of meat, ok …: lets put it this way; as a thumb rule in the buisness, a calf needs 7kg of grain( wheat,corn soybeans etc, mix ) to put 1kg of live weight. Assuming a conversion of 500p meat / 1200p live weight = 0,416 meat to live weight ratio (Tennesse Uni see link above) we need 7/0,416 kg of cereal to get 1kg of lean meat, so 16,8 kg of cereal to get 1kg of meat. Cattle finishing food is about 280€ a ton here so the cost in grains to get 1kg of meat is 0,28×16.8 = 4,7€. so i’d say that the cost ratio is between 1,5 to 8 of grains used.
    Cattle needs space.. yes my farm needs about 2ha per head.. but it’s hilly terrain and lots of trees I don’t have grain lands. I’m into an organic program and since my basic education is in engineering I think it’s a smart/efficient way to use the resourses i got.

  35. dirk says

    I was talking of the market prices of grain (for bread) and beef meat in the super, to buy as human food, and was amazed to see how tremendously more food calories per kg you get for 1 euro from grains (rice, wheat, maize). About the trees, if that are oaks and cork-oaks (as I saw around Badajos and Cáceres), why not start also with pigs?, the fine types for the special hams, they eat something unedible for men (bellotas in spanish), and produce delicious jamon. Good luck!

  36. Joaquim C says

    yep oaks and cork-oaks here too.

    ok, btw grain for human consumption is top notch.. the rejected stuff goes to the Cattle, Pigs and Chicken feed lots… no cattle.. bread goes up! … Have faith in world! we (Utilities, Commodities, Farmers, Fishermans,Builders.. people etc) are doing our best for our standards of living continue to be like now or better.. ‘do your job well and everything can be fine’
    The West is my team!

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