Industrial agriculture is cruel to animals, cruel to people who work in it, it damages the environment and concentrates wealth in very few hands. I guess if you’re reading this, you know that already, and I don’t have to explain it. The problem is, it’s still there, doing its vile stuff every day. What do we do about it?
First, I think we need to stop suggesting that veganism is the only alternative. This will alienate more people than it influences. I strongly recommend this video by ex-vegan Mexie – she speaks so much sense.
I already knew about the vast areas of land that’s used to grow feed for penned animals in industrial agriculture, that could be used to grow food for humans or allowed to revert to wilderness; and how huge quantities of antibiotics have to be used to cope with the fact that the crowded conditions in industrial agriculture are a breeding ground for disease; and how bugs are developing antibiotic resistance, building the potential for more potent diseases in future. But I didn’t know that factory-farm abattoir ‘production’ lines have speed limits, that are now being removed, meaning that the workers in those facilities (always poor, often from minority backgrounds) are being maimed, losing limbs and dying in increasing numbers. This isn’t a job that you’d do unless you were utterly desperate.
Something else she said that jumped out at me is: “Animal liberation doesn’t preclude using animals for sustenance whilst living in reciprocity with the land.” She was talking about ‘indigenous’ peoples – i.e. (I guess) hunter-gatherers, but there are plenty of indigenous people, or people who live ‘in reciprocity with the land’ who are not hunter-gatherers.
And she also said that a predominantly plant-based diet could reduce the amount of land required to feed us all by 90%, so that we could allow most land now used for agriculture to re-wild. Note that she said predominantly, not totally plant-based. She’s making the point, as an ex-vegan, that we don’t all have to be vegan. If we can harvest some animals from forests and oceans, and run animals under orchard trees and on land unsuitable for crops, as well as keeping chickens in our gardens, we’d need even less land to grow crops.
This is why, although we support veganism, because it helps reduce the amount of meat eaten overall, and to get rid of industrial animal agriculture, we’re going to have to vastly reduce the amount of meat eaten, we also provide information on keeping animals, hunting and fishing. We don’t believe that it’s necessary or even desirable that humans become a vegan species, because:
- Herbivores are born into a food chain. They are born to be eaten, regardless of the species doing the eating.
- Organic smallholdings are not cruel.
- Harvesting meat and fish from the wild is more sustainable than eating vegetables grown on farmland that used to be wilderness, and much more sustainable than processed vegan foods, especially from overseas.
- Suggesting that indigenous people whose culture has involved hunting and fishing for millennia should change their diet or leave the land is racist.
- In case of societal collapse, eating meat may be essential for survival.
More can be found in this article and in the comments below it.
If you agree that we should shut down this vile industry, for consistency, there are some things that you’re morally obliged to do.
- Eat less meat (or no meat at all if that’s your thing).
- Don’t ever eat corporate fast food or supermarket meat, under any circumstances.
- If you have friends who do, point out to them why they shouldn’t until they stop, or drop you as a friend (NB ignore pleas of poverty if they’re wearing £100 trainers or if they smoke).
- Don’t eat meat, eggs or dairy when eating out, unless you’re absolutely sure of its provenance. And if it’s from non-industrial sources, don’t worry, they’ll advertise the fact in their window, on the menu and on their website. If you don’t see information to the contrary, it’s industrial.
And finally, stop saying that veganism is the only alternative. It’s not – not if you want to support local, organic smallholdings and food sustainability. If you’re one of those vegans out there on YouTube who love to debate – I think you’re generally, really sound people, but I also think your approach is mistaken if your aim is to minimise animal suffering and environmental damage. Contact me and I’ll be happy to debate you on YouTube.
About the author: Dave Darby lived at Redfield community from 1996 to 2009. Working on development projects in Romania, he realised they saw Western countries as role models, so decided to try to bring about change in the UK instead. He founded Lowimpact.org in 2001, spent 3 years on the board of the Ecological Land Co-op and was a founder of NonCorporate.org. and the Open Credit Network.
The views expressed in our blog are those of the author and not necessarily lowimpact.org's
1Paul Hart August 16th, 2020
Yes great to stop factory farms and large scale animal agriculture but ALL animal farming is unnecessary in the western world and there is not one decent reason not to go vegan. I loved meat until I learnt what they go through and with so many alternatives these days there is no need to put a knife across an animals throat for a meal. The one thing I know from people not wanting to go vegan is after they learn about it and wake up to the horrors these poor animals go through they ALL say their biggest regret is not going vegan sooner. Supporting local smallholdings is still supporting an unnecessary amount of harm to innocent beings that don’t want to die. Empathy and compassion is the only way forward and it’s so easy these days and getting easier all the time. Future generations will look back on our lifestyles with the horror we look back on torture of the middle ages.
2Dave Darby August 16th, 2020
Paul – animals don’t suffer on organic smallholdings anywhere near as much as they do in the wild.
3Mike Pinard August 16th, 2020
I think the blog is incorrect on so many levels I don’t know where to start but if I can précis it might read.
Go vegan except for those luck/rich enough to afford wild food which will then be hunted to extinction.
Clear all the areas not suitable for cropping and rewild. The people who live there don’t matter it’s a going to be a theme park. You can’t have humans where we want nature back to make up for the nature destroyed by our towns, cities, roads leisure facilities etc
Make sure agriculture relies on artificial inputs rather than integrated livestock to maintain fertility. Age old systems and organic farming are rubbish we know better.
All organic smallholdings are good just because they are.
Go vegan again except for some very minor and exclusive exceptions unattainable to most.
The figure of humans needing only 10% of the land area is a ‘convenient’ one that counts the barren and upland areas whose productivity is a fraction of lowland acres. Also stupid figures are used for calculating the amount of water used in animal production as it counts all the rain that falls on pastures the vast majority of which goes to the rivers unused.
If you are serious about combating industrial animal production you ought to set the dividing line higher as to have organic smallholdings’ and wild harvest as the only sources of meat ensures your campaign will be as attractive to most people as a dose of C19.
Intensive livestock production is not very good for the planet I agree but to classify anything above mythical ‘organic smallholdings’ as bad is plainly ridiculous and insulting to those who live and work there.
4annbeirneanimalwhisperert August 16th, 2020
As a vegan I can’t agree with much you have said of course I agree cruel animal practices in agriculture need stopping we have proved over the years that you can live as a vegan species our athletes are healthy and strong not in need of any meat proteins, I have been vegan for at least 20 years now and am healthier than I ever was when eating meat, meat slows down the transit of food through the stomach leading to dysbiosis a toxicity in the body which leads to cancer often bowel cancer, meat has so many drugs and other vile thing given to the animal throughout its life antibiotics growth hormones to make meat leaner and easier to digest and scientists have linked a lot to these hormones to changing our cells and our health in general. I must say though that true tribal people respect the animal they eat unlike our farming practices who treat meat animals as commodities and not as sentient beings. I will never touch meat again but would take on animals that have been treated cruelly and give them the best life they ever could have this would be cows not wracked our by constantly being pregnant so we can drink the calves milk. Calves are removed from thier mothers too soon so the milk industry can give us thier food which isn’t ever really good for us. the call of the calf and mother is a cruel sound to hear and you would be heartless not to be moved by it cows do actually cry tears as do thier offspring once parted. I would also have chickens who have never seen the outside world kept in barns on roosting poles sitting in the stench of thier own urine and faeces bald because of the stress they go through do you really think this is worth it just to eat thier meat and eggs I don’t and saying that vegans are wrong is just the usual status quo answer I do truly believe our truly plant base diet will save the planet and I am not alone veganism is growing daily so they are being the change they want to see in the world.
5Dave Darby August 16th, 2020
Mike – bizarre way of putting an argument. I thought you were putting a vegan argument at first. But let’s have a look:
“Go vegan except for those luck/rich enough to afford wild food which will then be hunted to extinction.”
– No. I specifically mention smallholdings, and so do you, so you know I’m not just talking about wild food. Not everyone will hunt. You don’t have to be rich to hunt. Rabbits, grey squirrels and roe deer won’t go extinct. Their natural predators have almost all gone. Less land used to grow feed for animals means more natural landscapes with more wild animals. Less meat overall means fewer hunters too. Hunters aren’t putting habitats and wild animals in danger, but our corporate economy is, including and especially industrial animal agriculture.
“Clear all the areas not suitable for cropping and rewild. The people who live there don’t matter it’s a going to be a theme park. You can’t have humans where we want nature back to make up for the nature destroyed by our towns, cities, roads leisure facilities etc”
– Yes you can have humans living in forested areas. I never said anything about clearing humans. Show me where I did. (it was the same with previous vegan / meat eating debates – why do people insist on inventing things that I’m supposed to have said).
“Make sure agriculture relies on artificial inputs rather than integrated livestock to maintain fertility. Age old systems and organic farming are rubbish we know better.”
– I’m saying the exact opposite to this.
All organic smallholdings are good just because they are.
– No, because pesticides are toxic, because they produce more food per acre than industrial agriculture, because they employ more people. More here – https://www.lowimpact.org/lowimpact-topic/smallholding/
“Go vegan again except for some very minor and exclusive exceptions unattainable to most.”
– No. I said clearly: ‘First, I think we need to stop suggesting that veganism is the only alternative.’
“The figure of humans needing only 10% of the land area is a ‘convenient’ one that counts the barren and upland areas whose productivity is a fraction of lowland acres. Also stupid figures are used for calculating the amount of water used in animal production as it counts all the rain that falls on pastures the vast majority of which goes to the rivers unused.”
– No, it doesn’t count barren and upland areas. You’ve misunderstood the point. It only concerns arable land used to grow crops to feed to animals in feedlots. I didn’t mention any figures for water.
“If you are serious about combating industrial animal production you ought to set the dividing line higher as to have organic smallholdings’ and wild harvest as the only sources of meat ensures your campaign will be as attractive to most people as a dose of C19.”
– I’m not sure you read the article slowly enough to understand it. That’s exactly what I’m suggesting. It would be better for animal welfare, ecological sustainability and human health if the only meat humans ate came from organic smallholdings and from the wild. This is in contrast to some vegans’ campaign to end the consumption of animal products altogether. That’s an even more difficult sell, wouldn’t you say? And let me ask you something. You’d only get involved in campaigns because they were popular, not because you believed in them?
“Intensive livestock production is not very good for the planet I agree”
“but to classify anything above mythical ‘organic smallholdings’ “
– pretty sure they’re not mythical.
as bad is plainly ridiculous and insulting to those who live and work there.
– a non-organic smallholding is better than industrial ag. (imho), but I’d encourage them to drop the pesticides. Re-organising agricultural production so that land isn’t used to feed animals in cages in ind. ag., which would free up more than enough land required to feed the world from organic smallholdings and from the wild (including the oceans).
6Dave Darby August 16th, 2020
annbeirneanimalwhisperert – your arguments are against industrial agriculture, and of course I agree. But your arguments don’t apply to free-range animals on organic smallholdings, or in the wild.
(plus we only support calf-at-foot dairy – https://www.lowimpact.org/taking-calves-away-mothers-cruel-want-practice-stopped-prepared-pay-milk/
7Dave Darby August 16th, 2020
PS Mike, (off-topic, but….) by ‘organic’ I don’t mean organically certified, I mean without using toxic synthetic chemicals. Surely you think we should be able to feed ourselves without putting toxic synthetic chemicals into nature?
8Vincent August 16th, 2020
I completely agree with you Dave. Great article!
9Dave Darby August 17th, 2020
Thanks mum – sorry, I mean ‘Vincent’
10Anthony Hay August 22nd, 2020
Dave, I think the Low Impact site is very interesting and I’ve several times recommended it to others. I’m generally supportive of what you do. I’m not vegan but, for what they are worth, these are some of the thoughts that occured to me when I read your arguments against veganism.
“Herbivores are born into a food chain. They are born to be eaten, regardless of the species doing the eating.”
I think your argument is that because something happens in nature, without human intervention, it is therefore moral for humans to do the same. But there are plenty of examples of behaviour in nature that people do not consider moral. For example infanticide, canibalism, sexual coersion. So I’m not clear how this “it happens in the wild” argument gives any support to the idea that it’s ok for people to eat meat. People have choices that wild animals don’t have.
“Organic smallholdings are not cruel.”
I’m not a farmer. But my understanding is that to get milk from a cow you must make the cow pregnant (often done “manually” by the farmer) then when its calf is born you must remove it from its mother. I used to live next to a farmyard and the calves would call day and night for days after they had been taken from their mothers. They didn’t sound happy to me and I don’t think it would make any difference to them if they were on an organic smallholding or not. (I may be wrong; perhaps on organic smallholdings milk can be produced without cruelty, or perhaps organic smallholdings don’t produce milk.)
“Harvesting meat and fish from the wild is more sustainable than eating vegetables grown on farmland that used to be wilderness, and much more sustainable than processed vegan foods, especially from overseas.”
Humans have “harvested” some wild animals to extinction, and others to the edge of extinction. So not really sustainable.
I think you’re saying there once was wilderness, it was destroyed to make farmland, and we could return (sort of) the majority of it to wilderness if we eat the crops we grew rather than first feeding them to animals, but we could return even more if we also harvest wild animals. That may be true, but vegans may believe that not rewilding quite as much farmland was a price worth paying because they believe that it is simply morally wrong to exploit animals in any way.
“Suggesting that indigenous people whose culture has involved hunting and fishing for millennia should change their diet or leave the land is racist.”
Are you saying that if a group of people have been doing something for long enough in the same spot on the planet, then whatever it is is automatically moral? What if for millennia they have cut off thieves’ hands, stoned adulterers to death or mutilated the genitals of girls and denied them access to education? If believing FGM is wrong – no matter who is doing it – makes me a racist, then so be it. (I think this is called moral absolutism/relativism?)
But let’s say we don’t go looking for an indigenous people so we can ask them not to eat animals. Does that have anything to do with you and me and the other 65 million people in the UK? I’m hoping it’s not racist to ask people here to think about what they eat?
“In case of societal collapse, eating meat may be essential for survival.”
In my opinion, in the case of societal collapse, all bets are off.
You and I are as free to choose to eat a bean berger as a hamburger. Some people understand the exploitation of animals involved in the later choice, but don’t care. I imagine most people don’t think about it at all.
Some people believe that it is both morally wrong and unnecessary to exploit any sentient creature, and they back these beliefs with argument. I don’t think you have explained why it is either not morally wrong or is necessary for human wellbeing to eat animals. To my mind you’ve given only a series of excuses.
11Dave Darby August 23rd, 2020
Anthony – I have no argument against veganism. We have veganism as a Lowimpact topic – https://www.lowimpact.org/lowimpact-topic/veganism/. We support it wholeheartedly. What I have a problem with is the philosophical position that no human should ever eat meat.
The thing that troubles me about your position is that you talk about nature as if it’s something separate from us. I think that approach is very dangerous. The more people are crowded into cities, surrounded by steel and concrete, and separate from nature, the less they’ll feel any kind of connection with it, and the more nature will be damaged. And damaging nature damages us, because we’re part of it. Herbivores are born into food chains, as food. Which carnivorous or omnivorous species eats them is compeletely irrelevant.
We are philosophical creatures, unlike any other. We can discuss the practices of other species, and decide whether we want them as part of our society. Take one of your examples – cannibalism. There have been human societies that practice cannibalism. In the West, we have tended to kill (but not eat) or enslave conquered people. Is killing and eating conquered people any worse? It saved resources. There is no divine intelligence to tell us what is morally right. It’s down to each culture to work it out for themselves. This is what we’re doing now, when it comes to eating meat. My position is that, under certain circumstances only, it is. If you convince me that I’m wrong, I’ll change my mind.
Your points on dairy farming we’ve covered many times. In our dairying topic introduction – https://www.lowimpact.org/lowimpact-topic/dairying/ – we state quite clearly that we only support dairying where the young are not separated from the mother. We have a series of linked articles on how to do it for budding smallholders or dairy farmers who want to convert.
Of course harvesting meat from the wild is sustainable, as long as we don’t hunt endangered species (and it’s not hunting that’s made them endangered, it’s the human economy, cars, roads, habitat removal, agriculture, pesticides etc.). I’ve said that in previous articles, but granted, not in this one. I’m talking about the wild deer, hogs, rodents, birds and fish that have been hunted by humans since humans have existed. Many now have no wild predators, and their numbers need to be controlled for the sake of ecosystems.
Your point about racism I agree with. I also oppose FGM, which in my terms would make me as racist as if I criticised indigenous hunting. I’m changing my mind on this one. I won’t mention the racism point again. But I wouldn’t criticise the San Bushmen in their hunting of Eland because I see nothing at all wrong with it. The Eland will be killed an eaten at some point in its life – usually before maturity, but definitely when it gets old or just unlucky. Whether it’s killed and eaten by a lion or a human is irrelevant to the welfare of the Eland or to sustainability.
“in the case of societal collapse, all bets are off.”
“Some people believe that it is both morally wrong and unnecessary to exploit any sentient creature, and they back these beliefs with argument.”
– I haven’t seen a convincing argument.
Let’s take the example of pigs.
Wild boar maximum lifespan c. 12 years; but few live past 5 years. Females reach maturity at 1, average litter size is 5. So a sow with a lifespan of 5 years will have around 20-25 piglets in her lifetime. In a healthy ecosystem, wild boar numbers will remain relatively stable, so of those 20-25 piglets, on average, 2 will reach breeding age (one for each parent). Over 90% of wild boar piglets die before the age of 1.
So if a sow lives to 5, she will have seen over 20 of her children torn apart by predators or die of disease in front of her. But she probably won’t live to 5. She will probably die horribly as a baby.
This just doesn’t happen to pigs on smallholdings.
It’s not ‘exploitation’ Anthony – being raised on a smallholding means that an animal will always have food and water, will not be stalked and torn apart by predators, mothers will not see their offpsring torn apart, all animals will survive to maturity, with medical treatment if required, shelter in the winter and a quick death. They won’t get any of those things in the wild. Calling the keeping of animals on smallholdings ‘exploitative’ is baseless nonsense.
And if you think that keeping animals at all is exploitative, even with much less cruelty than in the wild, then the alternative is not some animal paradise – the alternative is that those animals would not exist at all. And as we can’t ask whether they’d like to live on a smallholding until they get a much quicker death than in the wild, or not exist at all, we can’t really comment on their position.
“I don’t think you have explained why it is either not morally wrong or is necessary for human wellbeing to eat animals. To my mind you’ve given only a series of excuses.”
First the word ‘necessary’. This is a superfluous argument. We can survive without meat, but we can also survive without bananas. That’s not the point. The point is whether it’s moral or not. I hope you understand that – it’s caused difficulties for other people.
Eating meat has been the status quo for humans for all of human history. So it’s down to you and others who believe that humans shouldn’t eat meat at all to explain why it’s morally wrong. It’s this approach that I have a problem with, not veganism. What should I call it? Miliant veganism? My position is that if you don’t want to eat animal products, I support you, because as a species, we eat too much meat. But if you want to accuse others, who eat meat obtained only under certain strict conditions that minimise suffering to well below levels experienced by almost all animals in the wild, of behaving immorally, you’ll have to come up with some very good philosophical arguments. And so far, you’ve completely failed.
Furthermore, I think the arguments of militant vegans, apart from making no sense philosophically, alienate most of the population, and turn them against environmentalism generally.
12Anthony Hay August 24th, 2020
Dave, I appreciate you responding in such detail.
Please note I’m not vegan or a vegan spokesperson. I’ve read a little about it and would like to understand it better. I hope one day to see a proper debate between you and someone who knows a lot more about it than I do.
I do agree with you that eliminating industrial animal farming would make the world a better place and is probably more important than deciding whether or not it is ever right for people to eat meat. A few further brief thoughts:
I don’t believe humans are apart from nature. In fact, I think nature is about to give us a big kick up the bum in the form of the climate crisis. But surely there is a difference between animals in the wild surviving on instinct and human society, with all our knowledge, tools, ingenuity, adaptability, rationality and so on? We are not forced to eat meat because there is nothing else available, we choose to eat meat.
I agree that anthropogenic destruction of habitat and climate change are the biggest cause of species loss. It seems humanity is the cause of the sixth mass extinction, and most people don’t seem to know and/or care. But you’ll agree that some animals have been hunted to extinction, or the edge of extinction? For example, the blue whale.
I agree about cannibalism between consenting adults. When I mentioned cannibalism I was thinking about the praying mantis female that eats the male during sex, but I couldn’t think how to put it so it didn’t sound obscene. (-: How about the woman who kills her sister’s children so her sister will have more time to help her look after her own children (meerkats)?
My point is that there are things that other species do that humans would find immoral. So a behaviour observed in a wild animal is not sufficient reason to condone an analogous behaviour in humans. As you say, we have to work out morality for ourselves. So that’s why I don’t understand why a fox eating a rabbit has anything to do with our decision about whether or not we should eat animals.
I think there is something disturbing about the idea that the purpose of a herbivore is to be eaten. Who decided that then? I’m pretty sure the rabbit will try to avoid being eaten if it can. But I’m glad the fox eats the rabbit. If he didn’t it would be a lot harder to grow vegetables.
I don’t see the problem with unborn animals. If I had another child, she might have children and on and on. It would be absurd to prosecute me for being the cause of thousands of people never existing. But I do see a problem with humans arranging for animals to be born and then treating them cruelly. And vegans argue that there will always be some level of cruelty in using animals for food. And even if there isn’t cruelty, they believe in principle that it is wrong to treat a fellow creature as a commodity.
Some vegans may be militant because they believe animals are suffering and they want it to stop. It’s not just a preference like not liking marmite.
What gives me the right to kill and eat another sentient creature when I have no need to (because I could just as well eat vegetables), when it causes harm to the planet and it probably causes suffering to the animal? Isn’t the onus on meat eaters to justify their actions? I thought we’d agreed that “it’s what we’ve always done in my culture” was not sufficient justification.
My own reservations about veganism: I think the principle is that all sentient beings have rights that should be respected. The right to life and freedom. But without a balance in nature we’d be overrun with rats and rabbits. Are we going to arrest a bird for eating a worm? Can it be a principle if only humans have to respect it? Some vegans say that all sentient beings are equal. If they really mean it I’d be scared to be near them. Why is it only sentient life that has rights? Is it ethical to eat carrots alive?
Thank you for helping me think this through a bit further. I’ve just looked at the Wikipedia page on veganism. Everything I’ve said has been said before and much more eloquently. And ideas that go way beyond mine.
13Dave Darby August 24th, 2020
Anthony – I agree with a lot you say there.
What I don’t agree with is eating meat if it ‘causes harm to the planet and it probably causes suffering to the animal’. I only support the eating meat if it’s sustainable and causes much less suffering than in the wild.
I’d go a bit further.
I’d like to see humans massively reduce overall meat consumption, and therefore I support veganism.
But I refuse to demonise people who have a few acres that they work themselves, and as part of that work, keep a few animals for meat, dairy, wool, eggs, skins or honey, without using toxic chemicals on the land, allowing mothers to wean their babies, and providing good food for themselves and for their local community.
I also refuse to demonise people who hunt undendangered species for meat and fish, as long as they are good at what they do and kill quickly.
And I refuse to demonise people who have little fishing boats and sell their catch locally.
These ways of providing animal protein are less cruel than the current fate of wild animals.
Herbivores are born into natural food chains, and we are part of those food chains.
Being vegan is an honourable thing and I respect it.
People who’d like to see industrial agriculture dismantled, I’m with them.
But if they go further, and try to demonise smallholders who keep livestock, or people who harvest meat sustainably from the wild, I think they’re very, very wrong.
14Dave Darby August 24th, 2020
Had a look at the Wikipedia entry. My position is closest to bioethicist Ben Mepham – that vegans who not only don’t want to eat meat themselves, but also would like to prevent meat-eating by all humans, are only concerned with the welfare of animals if they are domesticated, or if they are caught from the wild by humans. Animals that are killed by other species suffer horribly, but the lack of concern with the suffering of those animals, I find inconsistent.
However, I had a debate with someone in the comments of a previous post – that for consistency, maybe there’s a case for eradicating large predators, that are responsible for the most suffering in the way they kill. Then humans would have to keep herbivore numbers in check – but a bullet in the brain is immediate, whereas a wild pig killed by a bear or a leopard will take a long, painful time to die. I was surprised to see that transhumanist David Pearce suggests just this – that we redesign global ecosystems to remove predators and regulate the fertility of herbivores. In my case it was a thought experiment, but Pearce is serious. I’d say that humans are nowhere near wise enough to attempt anything like this, and ‘liberal democracy’ puts low-quality people into decision-making positions. One for the future maybe. I just wanted to highlight the inconsistency and lack of logic in trying to prevent the ‘suffering’ of animals on smallholdings, whilst ignoring the suffering of wild animals, as if the fact that predator species ‘can’t help it’ is any consolation to an animal being chased to exhaustion and slowly torn apart.