For the Earth
“…the livestock sector is a major stressor on many ecosystems and on the planet as whole. Globally it is one of the largest sources of greenhouse gases and one of the leading causal factors in the loss of biodiversity, while in developed and emerging countries it is perhaps the leading source of water pollution.” – From Livestock’s Long Shadow, a 2006 report by the Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations.
Probably the most important thing we can do to limit our impact on the planet is to go vegan. According to the UN report Livestock’s Long Shadow, animal industries produce more greenhouse gas emissions than transport. These greenhouse gas emissions are the primary contributor towards global warming and rising sea levels, and are a decisive factor in what scientists are calling the Anthropocene extinction, the greatest mass-extinction since the death of the dinosaurs 66 million years ago. Animal agriculture is also a major contributor to the loss of wild animals’ habitats, not just because of the land on which agricultural animals must live, but because of the land on which we grow their food, and one of the world’s leading users of water. Intensive animal agriculture also produces huge amounts of pollution, not least due to the colossal volume of faeces produced by even small farms.
For the animals
“Let me say it openly: we are surrounded by an enterprise of degradation, cruelty, and killing which rivals anything that the Third Reich was capable of, indeed dwarfs it, in that ours is an enterprise without end, self-regenerating, bringing rabbits, rats, poultry, livestock ceaselessly into the world for the purpose of killing them.” J. M. Coetzee, Nobel-prize winning author, in his The Lives of Animals (1999).
Almost all of the animals we eat, including fish, are capable of feeling pain, and any animal raised in an intensive operation – which is where most of our meat, milk, and eggs come from – lives a life of suffering. Beef cattle, who would naturally live for 25-30 years, are killed within two. Pigs and sheep, who would naturally live for 10-15 years, are killed in less than a year, while chickens raised for meat (who would naturally live to be 10 or more) are killed in six weeks. Many of these animals go through painful procedures for the convenience of farmers; for example, male pigs are castrated as piglets. The law does not require anaesthetic, and it is typically not used. In the egg industry, male chicks are killed within hours of birth (typically by being fed into grinders), while hens face slaughter within two years. Cows used for milk must be kept constantly pregnant, and are quickly separated from their calves after birth, with male calves going on to the veal industry, and “spent” cows being killed once they are no longer productive. So-called “humane” farms fare little better than intensive operations; labels on food products are there to reassure consumers, not to help animals. Practically all animals raised for human consumption face an early, gruesome death in a slaughterhouse.
“We estimated that global dietary changes towards vegan diets would result in about 8 million [human] lives saved – globally – in 2050 per year, reductions in food-related greenhouse gas emissions of about two thirds … and it would result in savings from healthcare and climate damages of about 1.6 trillion [US dollars]. That is about 3% of global GDP in 2050.” – Marco Springmann, Oxford University.
It should go without saying that the environmental impacts of animal agriculture are having, and will continue to have, a devastating effect on the human population of the world, with already disadvantaged groups (such as those in the global South) experiencing the brunt of the impact. This is not, however, the sole negative affect on humans from animal agriculture. The growth in antimicrobial-resistant “superbugs” and the looming end of the antibiotic “golden age” can be attributed to antibiotic use in livestock. Practically all non-organic livestock are fed copious amounts of antibiotics, both to cure diseases and prevent diseases – and, given the environments in which livestock are kept, diseases are to be expected – and to promote growth, a practice now illegal in Europe but standard practice in Canada. This excessive antibiotic use has led to the emergence of strands of bacteria resistant to existing treatments. The possibility of a zoonosis epidemic – an epidemic spread from animals to humans – is a very real one. Recent epidemics of swine flu, bird flu, BSE (“mad cow disease”) and other diseases among farmed animals have displayed how quickly potentially dangerous diseases can spread, and zoonoses present a major global public health risk.
For your health
“…vegan diets are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits for the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. These diets are appropriate for all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, adolescence, older adulthood, and for athletes. Plant-based diets are more environmentally sustainable than diets rich in animal products because they use fewer natural resources and are associated with much less environmental damage. … vegans are at reduced risk of certain health conditions, including ischemic heart disease, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, certain types of cancer, and obesity.” – Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, US, 2016.
Increasingly, people are adopting vegan diets simply because they are healthy. Veganism is associated with low rates of obesity, heart disease, diabetes and a reduced risk of some kinds of cancer. Athletes turn to veganism as it offers high-energy, high-protein diets which are low in fat and salt. Of course, not all vegans change their lifestyle for health reasons, but many enjoy benefits – ranging from clearer skin, higher energy and lowered bodyfat – as a happy side-effect. Vegans motivated primarily for moral reasons also report benefits, but these are more personal; they are happy in the fact that their lifestyles no longer demand the death and suffering of others, and no longer contribute as much to the destruction of the Earth.