March 15

Fact-Checking Moby’s Vegan Propaganda

Sustainable Living

18  comments

This piece of vegan propaganda came up on my Facebook feed today, via Moby, the awesome music producer and well-known advocate of veganism.

(Side note: I actually tried going vegan while working away in Sydney, Australia, after reading the sleeve notes on Moby’s CD “Play”. I lasted about 48 hours.)

The post immediately looked suspicious to me, so I thought I’d fact-check it, or at least offer some alternative information to help people make up their own minds.

I’ll unpick each of the claims in turn, but first we get this…

1) “If tomorrow, everyone in the world went vegan:”

Even before the claimed outcomes, let’s consider what would actually happen if the world went vegan, shall we? Massive depopulation would be the first problem that concerns me.

Let’s start with the numerous indigenous tribes all over the world who would be sentenced to starvation. Off the top of my head, I can think of… the Inuit people  of North America, Sámi reindeer herders in Northern Europe, and the Masai and bushmen who live on the African savannah.

These are folk who have lived for millennia in areas where you simply cannot grow crops for the majority of the year, if at all. They can only survive in those environments by getting protein and energy from animals and animal products.

So what do you want to do? Move them all into the cities where they can munch on carrot cakes and sip soy lattes in vegan coffee shops?

Oh, and of course when the next ice age comes around, that’s goodbye homo sapiens!

2) “250 Billion Animals Saved Every Year”

This implies that there would be 250,000,000,000 more animals enjoying life every year, which is clearly untrue. The reality is that the animals would be allowed to die out. Breeds would diminish or disappear. These lives would not be “saved” – they would not be lived at all.

One vegetarian friend commented with a very typical response…

Better they are not born than suffer the torment and cruelty we inflict on them daily.

I’ve discussed this plenty elsewhere, so won’t labour the point, just to sum up that I personally would rather see animals enjoying a good outdoor, pasture-fed life and a quick, painless death.

The fact is, good farmers don’t inflict torment and cruelty on animals. Sure, there are plenty of bad ones who do, but it’s wrong to lump them all together.

We should all stand against factory farming and industrial slaughter. It really comes down to the question of whether you think that all animal husbandry equals torment and cruelty. That’s the hard line over which an ethical omnivore and a militant vegan differ.

This point also states that, if we were all to move to a plant-based diet, fewer animals would die, which is simply untrue, because of the way most farming is done today.

Industrial arable agriculture destroys many times more animal lives than pasture farming of food animals – fact! Ploughing, tilling, and applying pesticides leaves fields almost lifeless, destroying the habitats of small mammals and birds as well as countless insects, earthworms, and other invertebrates.

3) “Rainforest deforestation would be reduced by 90%”

This is a wild claim. I don’t know where Mr. Moby got his numbers, but the Wikipedia page on the causes of deforestation paints a much more varied picture:

According to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) secretariat, the overwhelming direct cause of deforestation is agriculture. Subsistence farming is responsible for 48% of deforestation; commercial agriculture is responsible for 32%; logging is responsible for 14%, and fuel wood removals make up 5%.

Of course, agriculture means fields for crops as well as pasture for animals, and some crops are grown to feed to animals, but there’s no way you can arrange these numbers to make 90%.

Nobody is saying that deforestation is a good thing. It’s not, it’s stupid. But it’s not all being done so people can herd cows.

4) “Antibiotic resistance would be reduced by 75%”

The first part of this report from the United States National Center for Biotechnology Information starts by listing the five main causes of antibiotic resistance. They are…

  1. Overuse
  2. Inappropriate prescribing
  3. Extensive agriculture use (where it quotes, “In both the developed and developing world, antibiotics are widely used as growth supplements in livestock”)
  4. Availability of few new antibiotics
  5. Regulatory barriers

First, there’s no mention that agricultural use of antibiotics is the major contributor. So I don’t see how stopping animal production would reduce it by 75%.

But – far more importantly – this is not an issue that applies to ALL meat production. Pumping food animals full of antibiotics is caused by two main factors:

  • poor animal welfare, keeping too many animals closely confined in feedlots, where antibiotics are administered to all animals as a preventative measure;
  • which in turn stems from faulty economics (which favours the production of meat as fast and as cheaply as possible).

That’s not how good farmers roll. In fact, I’ll go further and say, that’s not how farmers roll. The corporations who mass-produce animals for slaughter are not farmers in my thinking.

5) “Climate change would be reduced by 45%”

Um, nah. First, have some science.

The burning of fossil fuels for energy and animal agriculture are two of the biggest contributors to global warming, along with deforestation.  Globally, fossil fuel-based energy is responsible for about 60% of human greenhouse gas emissions, with deforestation at about 18%, and animal agriculture between 14% and 18% (estimates from the World Resources InstituteUN Food and Agriculture Organization, and Pitesky et al. 2009).

And here’s a picture that illustrates it nicely (same source).

One key point to note is that, even within the 13.5% of GHG impact attributed to agriculture overall, “Agriculture Soils” is the single biggest factor at 6.0%, compared to “Livestock & Manure” at 5.1%. This is because mechanical soil disturbance (ploughing, tilling etc.) releases a whole heap of carbon dioxide as well as potent nitrous oxide, and compacted wet soils can also generate methane.

So tell me again how everyone shifting over to a plant-based diet will halt global warming? How would we feed everyone, or would it only be the privileged few who get to survive in this vegan utopia?

There are vast areas of the world that cannot be used to grow veggies to feed our 8-billion-plus hungry mouths, but many of those areas (including remote grasslands, tundra, and hillsides) can be used for grazing.

Currently, according to the World Bank, just under 11% of the world’s land area is arable, i.e. used for growing crops. If we replaced all the grazed meat with plant crops, where’s the extra land going to come from? We certainly don’t want to be cutting down more rainforest!

Here’s more recent evidence that the 45% reduction claim is bogus, from Sara Place, Ph.D. (March 2018):

Researchers at USDA’s Agricultural Research Service and Virginia Tech just published a study in the Proceedings of National Academies of Sciences confirming this socially debated fact. The study examined what our world would look like without animal agriculture in the U.S.

The bottom line? We’d reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. by 2.6 percent, and 0.36 percent globally — but we’d also upset our balanced food ecosystem and lack essential dietary nutrients to feed all Americans.

Considering meat production in the West is particularly intensive, it’s reasonable to assume that if we were to extrapolate the U.S. result to the whole world, you’d be looking at a 2.6% global eduction at most. A long way off Moby’s number.

6) “Heart disease, obesity, type 2 diabetes, and most cancers would be reduced by over 50%”

This is a very tricky area, with so much information around that it’s possible to use the available data to come up with practically any conclusion.

For the past few decades, accepted orthodoxy has been that consuming saturated fats is a significant cause of heart disease, but the data are by no means clear-cut, and we have to be very careful to examine what we’re actually measuring.

A recent wide-scale study of mortality in a large group (covering over one million person-years) found no significant difference between overall vegetarian vs. various omnivore diets, but note that vegans seem to have a slightly higher mortality rate if anything.

Scanning over the “Summary table of data” on this Wikipedia page on the causes of heart disease will illustrate how little consensus there is across recent studies.

One study states:

Pooled data found that for every substitution of 5% of dietary energy from SFA with PUFAs reduced the risk of coronary events by 13%, and coronary deaths was by 26%, whereas replacing 5% of energy intake from SFAs with carbohydrates increased the risk of coronary events by 7%, with a non-significant trend of an increase in coronary deaths. Monounsaturated fatty acid intake was not associated with coronary outcomes.

So moving from the saturated fats most often found in animal products to polyunsaturated fats may have a negative impact on heart disease risk, but note that replacing the energy of saturated fats with additional carbohydrate increased the risks. (There is a large body of evidence that links refined carbohydrate intake to multiple health problems.)

It gets yet more complicated when (again) we distinguish between good and bad meat. Pasture-raised meat tends to contain a healthy proportion of Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids, whereas the more animals are fed on grains, the more Omega-6 their meat contains.

In a natural cycle, a grazing animal would be richer in Ω-3 during the summer months, when they can graze on grass and other vegetation, and perhaps a bit higher in Ω-6 after consuming more grass seeds in autumn, which has the effect of storing fat and slowing the metabolism to save energy over the cold part of the year.

Modern intensive animal husbandry has replaced most of the fresh green grass in animals’ diets with grains in the critical last few months or weeks, in order to force the meat to gain fat, which means consumers are mainly consuming meat that’s over-rich in Omega-6, which will also encourage us to get fat and lazy.

Many scientists are now saying that it’s not fat itself, but the balance between these fatty acids, that has the biggest impact on health. One article sums it up neatly:

  • Omega 3 and Omega 6 Fatty acids are essential to health and must be consumed in our diet as they cannot be made by the body
  • The ratio of our fatty acid consumption has changed from around 2:1 Omega 6 to Omega 3 (which is pretty ideal) to around 16:1 Omega 6 to Omega 3
  • Many people, including a number of scientists, believe that this change in fatty acid ratio is having a negative impact on our health
  • Omega 6 also increases inflammation in the body, which has been linked with obesity and heart disease amongst other conditions

Chris Kesser’s article “How too much omega-6 and not enough omega-3 is making us sick” includes the following chart detailing the relative Omega-3 / Omega-6 content of various foods. So you can see how getting your dietary fat from many plant sources (and also grain-fed meat) could introduce its own risks.

So I think it’s safe to say there are a lot more factors in play here than simply saturated vs. unsaturated fats. Some communities like the Inuit who survive almost entirely on animal fats and proteins with practically zero fruits and vegetables have lower rates of both heart disease and cancer (see article), so it’s likely to be more of a case of the kind of meat that’s being eaten than meat vs. no-meat.

The health impact of consuming refined carbohydrates is another fascinating area. Many people now link cancer to sugar intake, for example. Humans did not evolve eating much refined sugar; we would only get a little through occasionally-foraged honey or fruits. Today, far more of our energy comes from refined wheat, corn (including the horrible high-fructose corn syrup), and of course refined sugars.

The area of diet merits a lifetime’s exploration, but my instinct is always to trust the natural diet we evolved with, which means I try to eat fresh, natural, recognisable foods and tend to avoid anything processed or manufactured.

Conclusions

I think there is lots of area for consensus between folk who are looking for a healthy, ethical, and sustainable diet. We should avoid processed and factory-farmed food, particularly meat, and go back to the stuff we can recognise as real food.

If someone chooses to go all plant-based, great, if it works for you! But I don’t think that throwing out memes with no sources or evidence to reinforce a particular ethical stance really helps us tackle the very real problems we’re facing as a world today.

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Ben Hunt

My job is to look at the world and wonder... "How can we make things better?"

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  1. Taking to vegans is a lot like talking to flat earthers . You just can’t argue with them. They are ignorant to any form of decent science. Dismiss obvious facts and just believe what fits into their view of the world.

  2. Can I go for a bit of middle ground here?
    1. The proposition was ‘If everybody went vegan’ not ‘Everybody must go vegan’ It’s not about exterminating Masai or Inuit people – who are a tiny minority of the worlds population. The Masai are being driven off their land by farmers raising meat animals and animal feed. If those farmers were vegan their land requirements would be much lower

    2. ‘250,000,000,000 animal lives would be saved each year.’ Of course that’s a one off as nobody would raise animals if everyone was vegan. That would leave a lot more room in Nature for the small animals, birds and invertebrates that concern Ben and which all suffer because of industrial agriculture creating ecological deserts in order to grow animal feed

    3. Rain Forest Deforestation would decrease by 90%. Remember that for every reduction in deforestation there is a corresponding increase in rain forest regeneration. Trees can go up as well as down. The process runs like this: first clear small farmers off the land to graze for a few years and then create massive soya and corn plantations to supply animal feed to intensive meat production; those small farmers then move into the forest to get more farm land. The figure is approximate but nobody can deny that if we stopped eating beef chicken and pork a huge amount of land would be freed up and the logical thing to do with it is grow trees, especially if there was carbon pricing and wood replaced steel and concrete in construction, which is already a global trend even without carbon pricing (which would make steel and concrete more expensive and mean wood for construction would cost very little)

    4. Antiobiotic Resistance – Humans get antibiotics from time to time, but doctors still overprescribe. Chickens and pigs are on antibiotics from birth to death. This is where the antibiotic resistant bugs are being bred . Ben Hunt says we shouldn’t farm this way. Moby is talking about reality, not wishful thinking

    5. Climate change – livestock and land use change emissions add up to at least 1/4 of annual greenhouse gas emissions. Yes, 11% of the earth’s surface is arable. That’s already enough to feed us all, even though more than half of that land is growing animal feeds. If we stopped growing animal feed that land would be available for feeding humans. Nobody’s going to starve! Quite the reverse

    6. Heart Disease Obesity and Cancers would be reduced. Bowel cancer is directly associated with meat consumption – 240,000 new cases a year just in the USA.
    Vegans don’t eschew saturated fat, in fact they eat a lot of coconut oil and even palm oil in vegan spreads, as well as flax oil and hemp oil. The killer fat has always been hydrogenated fat and this has been phased out in Europe, though the US is much slower at getting it out of the food system. The bottom line on diet is Michael Pollan’s dictum: “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants. If we ate like this then people could be vegan or not. Traditionally we just saw greedy fat meat eating people as killing themselves. It is now the case that they are killing the planet their fellow human beings.

    1. Hi Craig. Great to hear from you, and thank you for providing useful counter-arguments. (We met at the Harmony in Food and Farming conference back in May 2017. I remember discussing nutrition and biochar in the car on the last morning on the way to Peter Segger’s farm.)

      I’m not saying none of these claims can help point in the right direction, but that the headline numbers seem to be fanciful. And I think we can agree that there’s a significant difference between extensive pasture grazing of meat animals and the intensive confined operations, which I’m trying to emphasise: “good meat vs. bad meat” in short. I think many of these arguments fall into the trap of lumping both approaches together.

      On the most basic “price of entry” argument, I hope we’d all agree that growing animal feed on arable land is absurd and counter-productive.

      1. Is it feasible or possible to grow a plant-only diet (that has a chance of feeding everyone) in these arid areas? Non-arable “edge” environments like dry grasslands, tundras, and steep Lake District hillsides surely cannot support vegetable growing, but do already produce useful food for humans.

      2. The ideal would be to move back towards smaller-scale, polycultural, permaculture farming operations that could be highly productive and support a far greater variety and amount of animal life.

      3. We can and should manage all forests much better, no disagreement there.

      4. I agree that the antibiotic issue is a problem and strongly dislike the routine feeding of antibiotics to animals. If we could phase out confined, close-quartered feeding operations, I hope we could use a lot less.

      5. I totally agree that we have enough land for this population and the next couple of generations, if we use it wisely.

      6. With the disease and mortality question, I strongly suspect there’s an important line to be drawn between good and bad meat. We evolved consuming only wild meat, which is markedly different from the mass-produced , grain-fed, CAFO “animal flesh” market. Graham Harvey provides a solid comparison in his excellent book “Grass-Fed Nation”.

    2. No, no, no..
      1. Only 36% of crops is used to feed animals and 9% for other use like biofueling.
      2. If everyone goes vegan it will ensue an environmental disaster; one estimate says that without commercial agriculture only 3.5 billion can be fed and not the current growing population that will reach 10 billion by the year 2050. Remember The Dust Bowl
      3. Dead Zones is another concern.
      4. Correlation is not causation. Cholesterol is not the cause for heart disease and that is a fact!

  3. The problem with debating in the realms of fantasy is that both sides and the middle ground can just say anything they like , as long as it sounds reasonable.

    Currently 1.3- 1.5 billion people make their living from animal husbandry and the processing of animals. That’s 18% of the world’s population. With over 70% of the world’s 1.4 billion poorest people reliant on animals for sustenance and draught power.
    http://www.fao.org/ag/againfo/themes/en/protecting_livelihoods.html

    Of that 1.4 billion over 250 million are indigenous pastoralists who steward 30% of the Earth’s surface.
    http://www.fao.org/pastoralist-knowledge-hub/en/

    There’s another 250-300 million pastoralists worldwide . With 100- 120 million pastoralist in India alone.
    https://www.thesolutionsjournal.com/article/indias-pastoralist-communities-solutions-survival/

    Again the majority of these people live in drylands not suitable for large scale crop production or actually own land. Though these naturally occurring grasslands in drylands have a vast potential to store carbon if managed properly.
    “Grasslands have vast untapped potential to mitigate climate change by absorbing and storing CO2, according to a new report by FAO. Pastures and rangelands represent a carbon sink that could be greater than forests if properly managed. 

    Covering some 30 percent of the earth’s ice-free land surface and accounting for 70 percent of its agricultural land, the world’s 3.4 billion ha of grasslands can also play a major role in supporting the adaptation and reducing the vulnerability to climate change of over one billion people who depend on livestock for a living, according to the paper Review of Evidence on Drylands Pastoral Systems and Climate Change. ”

    “Improved management practices restoring organic matter to grassland soils, reducing erosion and decreasing losses from burning and overgrazing can therefore help sequester large amounts of carbon – up to 1 billion tonnes a year according to some estimates. .”

    http://www.fao.org/news/story/en/item/38916/icode/

    Moby and his 2 million followers would be better spending their time and money supporting and promoting Agroecological farming systems rather than spreading fantasy and misinformation on Facebook.

    http://www.etcgroup.org/content/who-will-feed-us-industrial-food-chain-vs-peasant-food-web

    I don’t expect Moby as a California vegan has a clue how the globalised food system works.

  4. What the hell is this “quick, painless death” you are talking about? What planet are you living on? Have you watched footage of slaughter houses and the terror the animals suffer through before and while they are gassed alive, burning from the inside out, stunned and dumped into boiling vats of water where they are scaled alive while kicking and screaming, or stabbed in the throat by the humans they trusted? Would you be ok with someone you love or your companion animal being killed the same way animals are killed in animal agriculture? Of course you wouldn’t.

    1. Hi Simon. Of course nobody in their right mind would approve of inflicting fear, distress, and pain on animals going to slaughter where it can be avoided. It’s important to do it right. Personally, I’d like to see slaughter be done at a more local level, even ideally on the farm, not at these industrial-scale slaughterhouses.

      However, I do believe that — even when done badly — the death a farm animal gets is almost certainly less traumatic and painful than what it would expect in the wild.

  5. Simon I completely agree with you. It amazes me that people dare talk about “humane” slaughter..wtf is that? I cannot believe that we are in 2019 and people still keep treating sentient beings like products..luckily the world is waking up from this horrible nightmare and we are beginning to evolve into a more compassionate and self-aware world.

    “If we could phase out confined, close-quartered feeding operations, I hope we could use a lot less.”
    Ben, we are long past that phase. The only way to recover most of our land and avoid an even bigger environmental disaster, is by reducing dramatically our meat intake and instead chose plant based food.

    If you listen to your heart instead of your head y0u will know which is the right path.

    Peace.

    1. Hi Friendz, thanks for your comment.

      “Humane slaughter” to me means giving an animal a quick, painless, and as far as possible stress-free death, which is better than they would expect in the wild. That’s actually very easy to achieve, as most wild animals would expect a nasty end through hunger, thirst, accident, fighting, predation, injury, etc. Human beings are the only predator, it seems, that considers the welfare of its prey.

      Your idea is that I’m not listening to my heart in these issues, which I find arrogant, but let’s run with it. You believe that those of us who eat meat and animal products are in some way less compassionate or self-aware. You know what my heart and compassion say to me? That I would prefer to live in a world *with* animals than one where they don’t get to live lives. My compassion says that I want the animals I care for to have good lives, living naturally, where they’re safe, warm, have enough to eat, etc. That’s why I go out at dusk every night to ensure my birds go to bed safely, why I build houses for them, why I bring them food and ensure they have a protected and peaceful environment. If you still think I’m someone who lacks compassion, then you’re the one who’s missing something.

      Then you talk about recovering most of our land and avoiding an even bigger environmental disaster. I’m curious as to what you think the biggest ever environmental disaster (so far) could be. To me, it’s arable agriculture, which is what you’re left with if you quit coexisting with large animals. We have turned the whole Mediterranean region, the former Fertile Crescent, North Africa, and many areas of the US into deserts through agriculture, and the looming crisis is actually loss of topsoil. Properly managed, animals can actually help reverse that, rebuild our vital soil, and support the proper function of a range of ecosystems. Take them away and we’re screwed.

      1. “giving an animal a quick, painless, and as far as possible stress-free death”

        I’m sure the non-human animal doesn’t want it

  6. Thanks for your reply Ben. I would like to mention a few points..

    You say you take care of your birds..because you care about a few selected birds that are in your care, you feel you are compassionate about all animals? Sorry to tell you this, but your compassion is “selective”. It makes you a conditioned pet lover. Not the same thing as loving and respecting all beings.

    Do you actually know the meaning of the word “humane”? Let me help you out:

    humane
    /hjʊˈmeɪn/
    adjective
    1.
    having or showing compassion or benevolence.

    Keeping this definition in mind, there is no way that you can kill a sentient being that doesn’t want to die in a humane way. It is an oxymoron. But you should know this already. Would you kill your birds after giving them a good and nice life just because you like the taste of their flesh? If you did it in a quick way, would that make it moral? How about if I were to meet you in the street, and I brought a 6 month old baby pig with me and suddenly stabbed him in the throat..how would you feel? Would you try to stop me? And what if instead of a pig it was a puppy? How would you feel about it in that case? I hope you see where I’m going with this..

    Last point..do you know where 1/3 of the world’s crops go to? Yep, you guessed it. 1/3 of the world’s crops are fed directly to animals which we then slaughter and eat. So actually dear Ben, we are creating useless land BECAUSE of animal agriculture..you can check out a lot of these FACTS in this very good documentary which explains quite a lot of these environmental issues we are talking about:

    http://www.cowspiracy.com/

    And if you still feel that you can kill an animal humanely, watch this other documentary:

    https://www.dominionmovement.com/watch

    Last thing..you said something that I completely agree with, and that is that we are here “with” animals. This is the reason why I don’t eat them. I feel animals are here WITH us, not FOR us (which is what you feel or at least what your actions reflect).

    Thanks for the conversation.

    1. I take care of my birds, which I keep for eggs and for meat. So yes, I know it’s possible to care for animals and to take their lives. It is a solemn and serious matter, but it is no more wrong than when a fox or eagle or dolphin kills to eat.

      And it isn’t just because I like the taste of meat & eggs. It’s also extremely healthy, complete food. And you also need to remember that life and death are a cycle. I can’t keep a hundred birds, so I keep as many as I can manage well on the land I have. So they breed and enjoy a good life, which is important. In caring for these animals, I’m not only taking life, but giving it as well. The alternative is no life. How many animals have you given good lives, I wonder?

      Re: “There is no way to kill a sentient being that doesn’t want to die in a humane way”, I disagree. I just shot a wood pigeon down from a tree (for food). The pigeon knew nothing, the lights just went out. I would call that humane and appreciate if you see it differently.

      Re: Slaughtering a piglet in the street, I probably wouldn’t try to stop someone waving a knife in the street from doing anything. But I would find it insensitive and unkind. For one thing, it’s pointless to slaughter a piglet, as they haven’t had the chance to do their job of converting waste products into lots of delicious and nutritious meat, as well as the fact that the pig hasn’t enjoyed much of a life. So no, I wouldn’t be happy with seeing you do that.

    2. Regarding land use, I don’t agree with growing crops just for fodder. I don’t support conventional (industrial) arable anyway, as it’s extremely wasteful and destructive. But large animals can be used as part of a rotation, clearing away old crops and stubble, for example, all the time enriching the land and stimulating soil life with their activity, dung, urine etc.

  7. I am getting the feeling that we are going in circles with this conversation, so I will just say one last thing.

    How old do you think are the pigs that you are paying to slaughter and eat? Pigs get sent to slaughterhouses in average when they are 6 months old (which is when they hit adult weight).

    6 MONTHS OLD!!!!

    Do you know how long pigs live on average? 20 YEARS!!! If you don’t think that is murdering a baby, then you are the one who’s missing something..

    Watch Dominion and wake the f up.

    1. I don’t think I’m going to approve any more of your comments due to the insulting language you use. You think I’m the one who’s asleep, fine.

      One thing. I don’t keep pigs, but let’s say my land can support two animals.

      Scenario one: I keep two pigs for ten years.
      Scenario two: I keep two pigs at a time, sending them to slaughter at 9 months old (baconer).

      In scenario two, I would be looking after 26 pigs instead of two. That’s 26 animals that have lives, run around, eat, play.

      In YOUR scenario, there are no pigs. Vegan for the animals, huh? Doesn’t make sense to be. I’d rather live in a world with animals.

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