If you’ve spent any time on social media in the last few years, there’s a good chance you’ve come across content that promotes veganism as a means of combating global warming. Environmental veganism is the practice of eliminating animal products from one’s diet in order to protect the environment. Its goal is to reduce the negative impact that humans have on the environment.
Animal-based food production, according to this theory, is more harmful to the environment than plant-based food production, which is the opposite of the notion. However, the truth is more complicated. There are thousands of variables at play that people must take into consideration before reaching any definitive conclusions.
- Cattle Farming
- Consuming Other Animals
- The Relationship Between Animals and Plants
- “Carrying Capacity”
- Changing Our Diets for the Better
The Question of Cows
Cattle farming has been called into question as a result of recent events such as the raging fires that have engulfed the Amazon rain forest. We frequently hear information that is contradictory from both sides of the debate. It’s difficult to tell the difference between fact and fiction.
The amount of greenhouse gas emissions produced by livestock farming is generally the source of the most concern among the general public. In recent studies conducted by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), it was discovered that the agricultural industry accounts for approximately 8% of the total annual emissions in the United States. Three percent of this total can be attributed to the beef industry..
Cows burp up methane as food digests in their stomachs, releasing it into the atmosphere. Because of this characteristic, they have been identified as a significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions.
Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas that outperforms other greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide. This is due to the fact that it has the ability to trap heat.
In contrast to other greenhouse gases, methane has a much shorter life span than these other gases. In the atmosphere, it only lasts for nine years.
The interesting thing about the methane cows emit is that as long as companies continue to build more cattle farms, the levels of methane in the atmosphere will remain stable and will not rise.
Carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide, on the other hand, cannot be said to be harmless. Carbon dioxide has a half-life of between 20 and 200 hundred years, depending on the source.
Nitrous oxide has been around for approximately 112 years. This suggests that reducing emissions from cattle farming is less effective than reducing emissions from factories, which produce other gases that accumulate in the atmosphere as a result of global warming.
The truth is that, according to a bare-bones estimate, if the entire population of the United States completely eliminated beef from their diets, greenhouse gas emissions would be reduced by 3 percent.
The current method of producing meat through factory farming necessitates the use of significantly more land than pasture-based grazing. Cattle farmers have traditionally fed their cows on grass pastures.
Factory farms, on the other hand, force-feed animals with crops that must be grown in separate fields to ensure a healthy diet. Crops such as corn, which is a staple in a factory-farmed cow’s diet, require significantly more land than other crops.
Beef production is estimated to use 20 times more land per gram of protein than the production of beans, soy, and other protein-rich plants. Additionally, it produces 20 times the amount of greenhouse gases.
It’s easy to see the appeal of completely ceasing all beef production in favor of farming protein-rich plants instead of cattle. There is, however, more to this equation than just land use considerations.
The reality is that we are essentially wasting land by growing more food to feed ourselves.
The Benefits of Pasture-Raised Cattle
Cows are capable of performing a miracle: they can transform inedible grass into edible meat. Raising cattle on land where it is impossible to grow vegetables or grains is a valuable resource for humans and is an excellent use of available resources.
The primary method of feeding cows before factory farming became the norm around the world was to allow them to graze in open areas with an abundance of grass. This all changed when the need for increased production necessitated the mass breeding of cattle at a faster rate in order to increase profits.
When cows graze naturally, they transform land that would otherwise be unusable into something that can be used. Hillsides or areas with rocky and poor soil have a greater potential for food production than other types of land. While cows graze in this environment, they produce manure, which can be used to fertilize crops and increase the production of food in the surrounding area.
The truth: The abolition of cattle production is not always a positive development. Instead, we can alter the manner in which they are farmed.
The Efficiency of Factory Farming
The majority of cows in the United States begin their lives on pasture lands. When they reach a certain age, they are either transported to a feedlot where they are fed a corn-based diet for the rest of their lives, or they are allowed to roam free in the fields.
However, while a feedlot is classified as “factory farming,” in many ways it is more environmentally friendly than rearing cattle on pasturelands, which is an interesting point to consider.
When cows are fed a corn diet, they ruminate significantly less than when they are fed a grass diet. They also mature at a significantly faster rate. Cattle that are raised solely on grass reach maturity in about 24 months, whereas cattle that are fed corn reach maturity in almost half the time.
Cows that take longer to reach maturity spend more time burping and releasing methane into the atmosphere than those that mature more quickly. We can safely conclude that cattle raised exclusively on pasture lands end up contributing significantly more to greenhouse gas emissions than cattle raised in factory farms.
Due to the thousands of environmental factors that surround the impact of the agricultural industry, this question is difficult to answer, to say the least, due to the complexity of the issue.
The truth: A straightforward solution is to consume less beef. A 50 percent reduction in annual beef consumption by the average American would eliminate the need for agricultural expansion in the United States for the next 50 years.
The Story of the Amazon Rainforest
However, even if we switch to only pasture-fed cattle, we are still contributing to environmental degradation to some extent. There are numerous examples of companies clearing forests in order to expand the amount of pasture land available for cows to graze on.
A common scenario in many South American countries is that corporations have significantly harmed pieces of the Amazon rainforest in the name of food production, which has resulted in significant environmental damage.
Thousands of acres of the Amazon rainforest were destroyed by fire in 2019, and the entire world watched in disbelief. Farmers played a role in this by clearing forest for grazing cattle, which contributed to the problem.
Despite the fact that this event did not garner much media attention, it reignited the debate on environmental veganism. Many environmentalists have advocated for veganism as a means of slowing the destruction of the Amazon rainforest.
While it is true that these farmers are destroying the Amazon, they are only doing so as a result of the failures of the regulatory authorities. After the Brazilian government forcibly protected the Amazon from deforestation in the mid-2000s, the destruction of the forest experienced a significant decline. With these actions, the rate of deforestation in the area was reduced by as much as 80 percent, making it a resounding success in terms of environmental protection.
The success story came to a screeching halt in 2016 when rates of deforestation increased to levels that were higher than they had ever been. Brazil’s current government has unapologetically supported the rollback of environmental protections, despite opposition from environmental groups. Their willingness to allow cattle farmers to clear forests and destroy habitats in order to increase the amount of meat they produce has had devastating consequences.
The truth: While it is easy to point the finger at cattle farmers, the more serious problem is a lack of regulatory oversight in the cattle industry. The land that was once protected by environmental laws becomes a free-for-all once the laws are overturned.
Consuming Other Animals
Pigs, chickens, sheep, and goats are all included in the pro-vegetarianism equation as well, but they receive little attention in the media. Animals raised for meat tend to mature more quickly and require less feed than their beefier counterparts, according to research. Shortly put, these animals are both significantly more efficient and less demanding on the environment than their predecessors.
This is excellent news for meat lovers everywhere. Eating a chicken curry instead of a steak dinner reduces the overall environmental impact of your meal by a significant amount. The substitution of another protein source for beef is beneficial to both the environment and your health.
Meat Satisfies Our Nutritional Needs
Meat is a nutrient-dense food that provides the body with a wide range of essential nutrients in a highly efficient manner. Despite the fact that some members of the vegan community believe that humans are not meant to consume animal products, the human body actually requires nutrients that can only be obtained through animal products.
The nutrients vitamin D3, vitamin B12, creatine, DHA, and taurine are only found in animal products and cannot be obtained from plant-based foods. Vitamin D3 is essential for bone health. As a result, eating animal products is essential for human health in many situations. While there are supplements available to meet these nutritional requirements, animal products are something that our bodies have evolved to consume on a regular basis.
When it comes to animal products, they are the foods that contain the most nutrients per 100 grams of weight. Beef liver is the most nutritious food available to man, pound for pound, and it contains a high concentration of protein, vitamins, and minerals. In fact, animal products account for six of the top ten most nutritious food sources available to human beings.
The truth: Despite the fact that vegans can take nutritional supplements, consuming animal products is still the quickest and most convenient way to keep your body in good health.
The Disadvantages of Consuming Meat
Despite the fact that eating animal products is generally better for our health, it is not without its own set of complications. One particularly egregious example is the massive overconsumption of meat that exists in most Western countries.
The picture isn’t entirely rosy: excessive consumption of red meat has been linked to a number of health problems, including an increased risk of cancer, heart disease, and obesity. Too much of a good thing, like anything else, can quickly deteriorate into something dangerous.
The World Cancer Research Fund recommends that you eat no more than three portions (12–18oz) of red meat per week, according to the organization. This is significantly less than the average American consumes, and it is associated with a slew of positive health outcomes.
When it comes to other types of meat (such as poultry), humans rarely require more than a single, small portion of meat per day, or even every second day, depending on their nutritional needs. If supplementation and protein-rich foods are consumed on a regular basis, it is possible to safely reduce this amount of meat consumed each week to much lower numbers.
The truth: Excessive consumption of red meat is detrimental to our health. When preparing a meal, it is preferable to use lean meat, fish, vegetables, or dairy products. The environmental impact of these sources of protein is also significantly lower than the environmental impact of red meat.
The Relationship Between Animals and Plants
There is a symbiotic relationship between animals and crops. If everything goes according to plan, the waste produced by the crops will be used to feed the animals, and the waste produced by the animals will be used to fertilize the crops.
To put it simply, it is the “circle of life.” Farms that include both crops and animals function as mini ecosystems, replicating the natural life cycle that animals and plants share.
By eliminating animals from the equation, crops lose a valuable fertilizer that businesses now rely on for production. The result is that more resources are consumed and more emissions are released.
Additionally, businesses must now dispose of crop waste that would otherwise be fed to livestock, and they frequently do so by burning it, releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
Unfortunately, modern farming methods in the Western world have strayed further and further away from this natural model. Many farms in developed countries have become industrialized, and they no longer take advantage of the natural life cycle of crops and animals to produce their products. It is often impractical to implement these models on a larger scale in the pursuit of greater efficiency.
The truth: Raising crops and animals together is more beneficial to the environment than raising them separately. They are mutually beneficial to one another and work in harmony to provide essential nutrients that would otherwise be wasted or converted into greenhouse gas emissions if left to their own devices.
What is “Carrying Capacity” and Why is it Important?
The carrying capacity of a region is the maximum number of people, animals, or crops that can be supported without causing environmental degradation. The method takes a variety of factors into account and is by far the most accurate way of determining how sustainable a diet is when compared to other options.
“How much food could someone realistically produce from this land?” asks carrying capacity when looking at a piece of land. It compares the amount of graze-able and fertile land available to farmers with the amount of food that farms could produce using a variety of animal-to-crop ratios, among other things.
More importantly, it takes into consideration the amount of nutrition and calories that each kilogram of food produced contains. Because, let’s face it, a kilogram of beef will keep you going much longer than a kilogram of lettuce will.
A Vegan Diet isn’t Better for the Environment
When the numbers are crunched, and all of the variables are considered, studies have concluded that a vegan diet does not have the highest carrying capacity. It may come as a surprise to some, but the carrying capacity of a vegan diet is lower than that of some omnivorous and vegetarian diets. At the end of the day, veganism is only ranked as the fifth most efficient diet in terms of carrying capacity.
Types of Diets
- Omnivore: meat, plants, fish, and dairy products are eaten in equal proportions
- Scaling omnivore: The majority of meals (between 20 and 80 percent) are omnivore, with the remaining meals being vegetarian or vegan.
- Vegetarian: consumes a balanced diet of plants and dairy products
- Lacto-vegetarian:Eats a balanced diet of plants and dairy products, but does not consume eggs.
- Vegan: only consumes plant-based foods
|Diet||Carrying capacity (% of population fed)|
According to the findings, a diet that is low to moderate in meat consumption has the greatest carrying capacity of any diet. A variety of factors contribute to this, but one of the most significant is that graze-able but infertile land is unable to produce crops that are suitable for people following a vegan diet. The land is ultimately thrown away because it is unfit for agricultural production.
It’s worth noting that the lacto-vegetarian diet, which includes the use of cows for dairy production but excludes the consumption of eggs, was found to have the highest carrying capacity.
Even a diet that is 40 percent omnivorous and 60 percent vegetarian or vegan is more efficient in terms of land use than a diet that is 100 percent vegetarian or vegan. A fully omnivorous diet, on the other hand, is the most inefficient in terms of land use by a significant margin.
The truth:A lacto-vegetarian diet has the highest carrying capacity, outpacing veganism in terms of carrying capacity. When comparing usable land to calorie production, the lacto-vegetarian diet has the lowest environmental impact of any of the diets studied.
Changing Our Diets for the Better
According to the available evidence, adopting a fully vegan diet is not the solution to our planet’s environmental problems, at least not yet. The most effective diet plan calls for reducing your intake of meat (especially beef) and replacing it with dairy, plants, and other sources of protein instead.
Meat lovers can find a happy medium in a “meat-free” work week by reducing their intake of red meat. When you consume vegetarian meals during business hours and lean meats on the weekends, you can significantly reduce your environmental impact while still consuming delicious meals that you will remember for a long time.
A simple reduction in meat consumption is far more realistic and achievable than requiring society to become completely lacto-vegetarian, which is both unrealistic and impossible. If we continue to allow companies to produce meat, we will be able to better meet the nutritional needs of society than we would be able to do on a diet that excludes meat.
Another advantage is that it will protect important byproducts of the meat industry, such as the jobs that are created as a result of the industry.
Humans, animals, and the environment all benefit from reducing meat consumption, which (like investing in solar and other renewable energy sources) is an excellent way to make a positive difference in the world. In spite of the fact that you have chosen to become vegan for environmental reasons, you are still making a positive contribution.
At the end of the day, a completely omnivorous diet is the worst option to choose from the available options. The bottom line is that every small step forward is a step in the right direction.