Animal husbandry

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Revision as of 04:04, 22 November 2013 by Pakraw (talk | contribs) (I am entering here temporarily but hoping we might have a page devoted to addressing vegan critics. This piece breaks down a fallacious pro animal food argument. pakraw)
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Addressing Anti Vegan Claims

The mass murdering plant industry rationalization (what follow is largely based on or even plagarized from the kel faq research which also includes sources)

one of the silly arguments that corpse eaters try to sneak in is the one about veg diets killing more animals in the field to grow plants for food. now those who promote this tripe really have no clue as to how many animals actually die as a result of agriculture, but they figure there must be a lot of bugs out there and probably some worms and may be even some rodents, so a lot of creatures must really die. whether they actually do or not, of course doesn't matter when one is engaged in the art of rationalization.

well let's at least take a quantitative, scientific approach by a professor of animal science from oregon state university named steven davis. some of the rumors likely stem from some of his ideas printed in time magazine 02/08/08:

... to the number of field animals inadvertently killed during crop production and harvest. One study showed that simply mowing an alfalfa field caused a 50% reduction in the gray-tailed vole population. Mortality rates increase with each pass of the tractor to plow, plant and harvest. Rabbits, mice and pheasants, he says, are the indiscriminate "collateral damage" of row crops and the grain industry...By contrast, grazing (not grain-fed) ruminants such as cattle produce food and require fewer entries into the fields with tractors and other equipment. Applying (and upending) Regan's least-harm theory, Davis proposes a ruminant-pasture model of food production, which would replace poultry and pork production with beef, lamb and dairy products. According to his calculations, such a model would result in the deaths of 300 million fewer animals annually (counting both field animals and cattle) than would a completely vegan model. (By Richard Corliss, Reported by Melissa August and Matthew Cooper/Washington, David Bjerklie and Lisa McLaughlin/New York, Wendy Cole/Chicago and Jeffrey Ressner/ Los Angeles)

now while there are many philosophical and common sense ways to address this such as

1) the factual: 80% crops are used to feed cattle not people 2) the all or nothing: since suffering cannot be avoided completely why bother to try at all? 3) the whimsical: So what are you saying? We should eat raw minerals? You start. Here's a rock - bite it. 4) the observant: meat eating humans would be currently guilty of causing DOUBLE harm. They eat crops (since very few are true carnivores), and they eat meat that was raised on grain that killed animals in fields. Vegetarians only eat crops. Veganism still comes out as more desirable morally. 5) the inquisitive: What about the effects of grazing on wildlife populations? The killing of natural predators to keep cattle and sheep from being killed? What about the pollution to rivers from grazing? How many aquatic organisms will be killed because of grazing? What about the trampling of insects by cattle and sheep? Has Davis calculated their deaths or do they not count? This argument to replace all crops with meat and dairy grazing leaves a lot of questions.

the reality is that davis' calculations are arthimetically inappropriate because of a simple error he has made in assuming total estimates of animals killed instead of per capita. so let's look at the actual figures here as researched by Gaverick Matheny, Duke University in a submission to the journal of agricultural and environmental ethics in 03/01.

First, Davis makes an error in calculating how many animals would be killed to feed a vegan-vegetarian population. He explains: "There are 120 million ha of cropland harvested in the USA each year. If all of that land was used to produce crops to support a vegan diet, and if 15 animals of the field are killed per ha per year, then 15 x 120 million = 1800 million or 1.8 billion animals would be killed annually to produce a vegan diet for the USA (p. 5). Davis estimates that only 7.5 animals of the field per hectare die in ruminant-pasture. If we were to convert half of the 120 million hectares of U.S. cropland to ruminant-pasture and half to growing vegetables, Davis claims we could feed the U.S. population on a diet of ruminant meat and crops and kill only 1.35 billion animals annually in the process. Thus, Davis concludes his omnivorous proposal would save the lives of 450 million animals each year (p. 6-7). Davis mistakenly assumes the two systems - crops only and crops with ruminant-pasture - using the same total amount of land, would feed identical numbers of people (i.e., the U.S. population).

ok this sounds nice and compared to the 10+ billion land animals killed per year in us with factory farming it looks nice too. however, it isn't correct because, as gaverick points out:

crop and ruminant systems produce different amounts of food per hectare - the two systems would feed different numbers of people.


crop production uses less than half as many hectares as grass-fed dairy and one-tenth as many hectares as grass-fed beef to deliver the same amount of protein. In one year, 1 000 kilograms of protein can be produced on as few as 1.0 hectares planted with soy and corn, 2.6 hectares used as pasture for grass-fed dairy cows, or 10 hectares used as pasture for grass-fed beef cattle (Vandehaar 1998; UNFAO 1996).

so gaverick continues,

to obtain the 20 kilograms of protein per year recommended for adults, a vegan-vegetarian would kill 0.3 wild animals annually, a lacto-vegetarian would kill 0.39 wild animals, while a Davis-style omnivore would kill 1.5 wild animals.

these calculations follow from davis' own estimates of 15 animals killed in crop production vs 7.5 animals killed in ruminant-pasture (note: 20 kg / 1000 kg = 0.02) hence:

20 kg protein require 1.0 * 0.02 * 15 = 0.3 animals killed for crops only 20 kg protein require 2.6 * 0.02 * 7.5 = 0.39 animals killed for grass-fed dairy (2.6 times the land) 20 kg protein require 10 * 0.02 * 7.5 = 1.5 animals killed for ruminant only (10 times the land)

thus the 'pastural' corpse eater still kills 5 times the number of wild animals (not counting those being imprisoned, exploited, abused and eventually murdered, of course)

(while davis' conclusion is rendered absurd by the actual calculations and unscrupulously used to justify existing omnivorism (corliss 2002), it should be noted that davis himself did not propose existing omnivorism and never intended his paper to be misused for that purpose.)