March 1 2018

Animal Rights Activism’s Blind Spot

Sustainable Living


As part of my interest in ethical and sustainable food systems, I have spent a bit of time around animal rights groups on Facebook recently. Usually driven by the quite extreme vegan agenda, there are groups of people out there who genuinely believe that they need to “rescue” animals from human slavery (see e.g. Direct Action Everywhere).

I believe these are all nice, mainly middle class folk who are genuinely passionate and motivated to do what’s best for animals… but I’d like to explain why I also think they’re also misguided. There are several arguments, which I’ll address in turn.

Ultimately, I hope to show not only that the idea of “rescuing” large animals from the food chain has practically zero benefit, but also that it distracts us from a far more serious crime against the animal kingdom being perpetrated by humanity. If animal rights activists are genuinely concerned with protecting animal lives, I believe the meat industry is the wrong area to focus their efforts.

The Fundamentalists’ Hard Line

Of course there’s one area where we’ll probably never agree, which is unfortunate. Militant vegans will say, “There’s no such thing as… humane animal husbandry / humane slaughter / ethical meat, etc.” Their belief system dictates that any raising, eating, or using of animals is wrong per se.

I disagree fundamentally with them on that point. On one hand, I know many farmers who genuinely love and care for the animals in their care (e.g. check out this article about How Now Dairy in Victoria, Australia). While I personally believe there is such as thing as caring, responsible, and ethical meat industry, I totally agree with the ARA movement that industrial-scale raising and slaughter of animals for food is a blight on humanity.

While lumping small-scale, family farms in with faceless, industrial systems is tragic, it gives activists an excuse to pick soft targets for their direct action (family farms are much easier to break into than massive economically-driven facilities).

Also, as I’ll explore below, there is no such thing as agriculture without animals, and large animals are supposed to be part of pretty much every ecosystem on the planet. They occupy a key niche, whether your ecosystems is wild or under human management (as much of the world’s surface is now, unavoidably). Remove them, and you break Nature’s beautifully balanced system, which brings a new set of problems.

Lives Saved: 0

Let’s just get another simple argument out of the way early on. Direct action – rescuing or stealing livestock from the human food chain – saves zero animal lives. If you release a hundred chickens into the wild, or take a goat or calf away to live out its days in a sanctuary, those animals will still eventually die.

You haven’t prevented death, because that’s impossible. All you have done is remove one animal from a farm, which will be imminently replaced with another animal, with zero net impact on the husbandry industry. So the only real achievement is to make the activists feel good for a while or maybe provide some PR material.

Does It Scale?

When considering any proposed solution to the problems our civilisation and planet face, we have to explore whether they would scale up.

So we have to ask the question about what happens if this type of action were extended globally. Let’s say the world’s population rose up and decided to release all the animals from farms. This would seem to be like a return to a more natural system, with the sheep and pigs and cattle free to roam where they like, but the effect would surely be catastrophic for croplands and for the animals themselves.

Couldn’t we set up large sanctuaries where the animals could live free, natural lives? Not if what’s happening at Oostvaarders Plassen, a 56-square-kilometre nature reserve in the Netherlands, is anything to go by, as described by a local resident:

“This piece of land holds, amongst others, thousands of Red deer, Polish feral horses called Koniks and feral cattle. These populations aren’t managed and there are no large predators. Every winter thousands of these animals die slowly of starvation. The stench of the carcasses even makes people gag in the cities down wind. Every well thinking person wants these populations managed, in other words, limit the population to a level the land can sustain. However, the green mafia objects to shooting the surplus and thus the gruesome torment continues year after year.”

In Dutch, but clearly shows how overpopulated the reserve is (partly as a result of zero predators)

We’re back to the same problem. A so-called “nature reserve” without predators is not natural. Without predation or culling the animals are left to breed themselves to starvation – the only way that Nature can balance the equation. If we simply released all the animals to roam free, or put them in enclosed reserves, it probably wouldn’t work out too well for them.

Check out this great post from a New Zealand dairy farmer who announces he’s going the vegan way (satire).

Let’s be clear: large grazing animals have a place in Nature’s model, and (as with everything that lives) one way or another it involves dying and being eaten, whether by predators, by humans, or to die by natural causes be consumed by biological decomposers. It all comes back to the fact that there’s a life-and-death cycle.

And we keep coming back to the question: Is it better for an animal…

  1. to have a good life and death on a farm;
  2. to take their own chances in the wild (assuming we reintroduced wolves and other natural predators);
  3. or to have no life at all?

Personally, I choose life – and death. But option 1 or option 2?

Eating Without Animals?

Let’s say we went with option 2 and set aside the world’s forests and grasslands, which cannot feasibly be used to grow crops for human consumption, to create massive nature reserves populated with all the large grazing animals we release from the farms. (Hopefully the remaining old and native breeds that farmers have carefully protected for generations would continue to survive, and should do better than modern breeds.)

Now we are left with systems of growing plant-based foods without large animals. That means trying to feed as much of the population as possible without manure – simply the best fertiliser there is, and the source of much life on this planet.

Only two options remain: petrochemically-derived fertilisers, and green manure/compost. Of those, only one is sustainable. We can discount anything that relies on oil supplies, because the oil a) is not a natural ecosystem element and b) must run out at some point.

The problem with growing plants without manure is that the vegetable matter alternative is far less space-efficient. It is possible but, because we’ve manipulated and broken Nature’s plan, we’re left paddling against the flow.

The veganic model requires farmers actually to grow their own manure: either green manure (plants grown as a cover crop then ploughed back into the soil) or compost (crops destined to be cut down and then composted to replace essential organic matter and nutrients into the soil). Aside from the fact that this all means more work for the farmer, there are two significant problems with this approach.

(More analysis of why veganic is less efficient here.)

First, real-world veganic growing typically necessitates that around two thirds of the land be dedicated to these supporting crops, equivalent to a three-year rotation where two out of three plots are left fallow. (I’m actually experimenting with this on my own one-acre test plot.) That means we must sacrifice two thirds of available arable land at any point in time, making it much harder to support a large population.

My second problem with veganic growing is more fundamental: that is is NOT animal-free! This graphic shows the typical life supported by a square metre of healthy land.

If everything from the nematodes upwards are animals, the soil in our fields or pastures can support millions of times more animal life than whatever roams on its surface. And any study of recent soil science will reveal that all this life has a part to play in soil health and thereby our ability to grow food crops in it.

So a “veganic” farmer indirectly employs a multitude of billions of small animals. Without those animals to build soil, to pollinate plants, and to take out pests, we would have no crops. So by removing the ruminants and hogs, all they are achieving is slashing their ability to produce food on any given area of land by over 50%.

But with an integrated system, where large animals occupy their natural place, a huge amount more work is provided just by the beasts going about their daily lives. They will prune, weed, support irrigation, and of course fertilise and build soil with their urine and manure, even help sequester atmospheric carbon, all the while creating vital, delicious, and nutritious meat that can help feed us when the animal has lived out its life.

In addition to wasting productive arable land, not keeping animals means that we would waste around a third of the earth’s land surface that cannot grow food for human consumption (but which animals can graze very happily). This is from a report that assessed the impact and efficiency of five different “healthy” diet options:

“When applied to an entire global population, the vegan diet wastes available land that could otherwise feed more people. That’s because we use different kinds of land to produce different types of food, and not all diets exploit these land types equally. Grazing land is often unsuitable for growing crops, but great for feeding food animals such as cattle.

“The five diets that contained the most meat used all available crop and animal grazing land. The five diets using the least amount of meat—or none at all—varied in land use. But the vegan diet stood out because it was the only diet that used no perennial cropland at all, and, as a result, would waste the chance to produce a lot of food”


The Real Crime

So I don’t see removing large animals from the food chain as in any way natural, helpful, or even ethical. Yes, we can hide them away in their own areas of semi-wilderness, but they and we will all be the poorer from it. And we could inadvertently be supporting a worse crime against Nature in the process.

The worst crime inflicted against the animal kingdom by man is not the meat industry. It is industrial agriculture.

According to this article, “Ordering the vegetarian meal? There’s more animal blood on your hands”

[content_container max_width=’600′ align=’center’]

Published figures suggest that, in Australia, producing wheat and other grains results in:

  • at least 25 times more sentient animals being killed per kilogram of useable protein
  • more environmental damage, and
  • a great deal more animal cruelty than does farming red meat.


Here’s a first-hand testimony about animal deaths from industrial arable (from a Facebook group).

Just to put the greenhouse gas argument into some context, it is estimated that industrial agriculture is responsible for one third of all human-generated GHG emissions. Yes, cows produce methane, that’s part of their natural age-old biological function. But ploughing/tilling emits both extra carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide – a far more potent greenhouse gas.

How did we get into this mess? We applied Enlightenment thinking to the natural world and thought we could feed ourselves by simplifying, standardising, and mechanising production. Instead of complex, unfathomably interconnected systems, humans thought they saw an opportunity to get more and more yield with less and less effort, using our machines and industrial processes. (In reality, though, large monocultures yield less in terms of nutrition and profit than smaller-scale, biologically-rich, organic polycultures.)

So we burned the forests, tore down the hedgerows and ripped up the trees to make large fields that giant machines could work. We took the factories that had made explosives in wartime and saw an opportunity to create artificial nitrogen-based fertilisers at low cost. We have not been farming, we’ve just been mining the soil that Nature had spent thousands of years building up. The soil is nearly gone, and when it goes, so will we.

Every hedgerow that is torn down means the destruction of habitat for birds, small mammals, and insects (all of which have a place in Nature’s great scheme, and many of which qualify as “sentient beings”).

Where is the biological life in this field?

Every pass of the plough or farrow can destroy the earthworms, moles, mice, fungal networks, and host of small organisms that generate healthy, living soil.

Every application of herbicide, fungicide, or insecticide can kill a host of other life forms, who all have roles in the great web of life, leaving a local environment less resilient and more susceptible to pests or diseases.

And can we begin to imagine how many mice, voles, and rats are poisoned each year to protect grain harvests? This Facebook post (April 2, 2018) shows the lengths one grain farmer in Australia goes to to eradicate life from his fields that might compete for his seed.

So industrial-scale agriculture directly kills huge numbers of animals and creates bio-deserts that are incapable of supporting much life at all. Comparing an average crop field to a meadow grazed by cattle or sheep is like the difference between night and day. (Go out into the countryside and see for yourself how many animals you can spot in each environment.)

But it isn’t an either-or choice. We no longer have to be tied to the reductionist approach that says this field is a corn field, or that farm is a dairy farm.

The reality we are waking up to is that the more complex a growing system is, the more productive it is, the more resilient it is, and the more profitable it is!

Combining crops with animal grazing, following as closely as possible to Nature’s model, take more full advantage of the winning cycle of Nature, where every element is connected to countless others though bonds we can only begin to understand. And these more natural agriculture models support countless more lives than the industrial field bio-deserts!

So if you are somebody who really cares about all animals, forget about breaking into small farms. We all need to work together to rid the world of industrial-scale agriculture.

Even buying organic vegetables from your local supermarket or farmer’s market could be causing significantly more loss of life than eating meat! Industrial crops are massively violent! Of course, just like those of us who eat meat, we’re insulated from seeing how our organic cauliflower kills animals by so many layers of logistics.

What should we do? Ideally, buy our food from sustainable small farms that practice permaculture. Even better, grow what you can yourself. Consider getting hold of whatever land you can, and make that piece of land a productive biological paradise.

I can’t see governments and trans-global corporations voluntarily changing the system that currently favours the biggest producers anytime soon. This is something we have to do.

But enough words. I’ll let Mark Shepard, author of “Restoration Agriculture” show you the future I’d like to see.

[responsive_video type=’youtube’ hide_related=’1′ hide_logo=’1′ hide_controls=’0′ hide_title=’1′ hide_fullscreen=’0′ autoplay=’0′][/responsive_video]

Further reading

About the author 

Ben Hunt

My job is to look at the world and wonder... "How should we live?"

You may also like

Cows and Carbon for Dummies

Cows and Carbon for Dummies

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked

  1. I totally agree that integrated systems that include animal husbandry are the most robust systems that make the most sense. However there are 2 points you raised that I disagree on:
    You say keeping livestock instead of growing green manure saves the farmer work. That sounds like looking after livestock does not involve work?
    You say that using green manures to maintain soil fertility is inefficient because you need twice the area you want to crop to grow those green manures, i.e. only 1/3 of your land is available to grow crops instead of all of it. I was on an intro to bio-dynamic veg growing course some years ago. Bio-dynamic farms are closed systems, i.e. they don’t import feeds for their livestock and it is the livestock that produces the fertility to grow the crops. On that day I learned that on a bio-dynamic holding they need 3/4 of the land to feed the livestock that in turn produces the fertility to grow crops on the remaining 1/4 of the land. So those two figures of the land area needed to maintain soil fertility are not that far apart from each other.
    Simon Fairlie wrote a very interesting article in ‘The Land’ a few years back asking the question if Britain could feed itself. In the article he compared different systems, including small scale mixed agriculture and vegan organic agriculture. He reckoned they both could potentially provide for the nutritional needs of the British poulation but would have very different social and demographic impacts. The small scale mixed holdings scenario would more likely result in a populated, vibrant countryside and the vegan organic scenario would result more likely in an even more urbanised population and more heavily mechanised, large scale agriculture with very few people living in rural areas.
    I certainly know which of those scenarios I would rather see …

    1. Great feedback, thank you Lisa. I’ll address your points in turn.

      Of course caring for livestock involves work. I only have two dozen poultry and two goats at home, and I know what’s involved. The point is that, when grazing animals mow and weed and prune and build soil, they’re doing good service (which isn’t work to them), meaning the farmer has less to do to create a similar outcome. I do not intend to suggest that farming isn’t work.

      Regarding the comparative use of land between veganic/mixed approaches, one obvious difference is that, when the animals are grazing on non-human-food plants, there is a direct output in the form of meat as well as the valuable manure, whereas in a system that does not use grazing you only get the plant-based compost. I don’t know how the value of the manure/compost output would compare from a similar area of land.

      Additionally, grazing on perennial grasses and other plants has been shown to stimulate activity more than mechanical or manual mowing, which will accelerate the build-up of soil organic matter, sucking extra carbon out of the atmosphere.

      Something else to consider is that we don’t have to confine ourselves to comparing single-use options for land in this way, because it’s possible to raise animals and crops in parallel, using approaches like restoration agriculture. Animals can graze grassed around nut- or fruit-producing trees and shrubs, and of course all poultry love to do pest control around veg plots, converting slugs and other nasties into wonderful eggs and meat.

      Whichever way you look at it, I agree that the complete, Nature-based system comes out as the most productive and preferable option.

  2. Farming crops and animals is normal farming practice. You grow crops in rotations – typically a cereal following a legume, then maybe a brassica etc; then back into pasture for a couple of years. Don’t know what all the hoohaa is about – we were taught this back in the 60’s and 70’s. Who got unlearned?

    1. Yes, I’m just reading “Grass-Fed Nation: Getting Back the Food We Deserve” by Graham Harvey from the Sustainable Food Trust. He says that over 100 years ago farmers in Britain learned that rotating crops then animals on the same land magically improved the soil. It’s the so-called “Green Revolution” in the mid-20th Century that started pushing artificial fertilisers, pesticides, etc. onto farmers that messed everything up. That’s when we unlearned it as a soceity.

  3. “organic cauliflowers killing animals…………………………………” It appears to me that you are certainly over-reaching there.
    Further, may I suggest you be more careful about bundling ‘vegans, ‘militant’ or otherwise, and animal-rights activists into one group. Closer contact would show you there is a wealth of diversity between the beliefs and activities for people who hold these beliefs.
    In addition, while much of your argument is closely-reasoned and persuasive in terms of the “what ifs” you have left out any acknowledgement of the higher ethical choice which for many vegans goes like this:
    “Other creatures/beings that have eyes, are sentient and can feel pain have as much right to life as I do and I will neither eat them nor any of their bodily products nor will I be complicit in causing them pain nor ending their lives so others can eat them”.
    So I think you have actually missed the point Ben Hunt, when you tak of “animal rights activists and their ‘blind spot’. It’s about ethics. Not Profit. For me anyway.
    Maybe that’s your blind spot.

    1. Thanks for your feedback Brigid.

      As for over-reaching when talking about the massive number of animal deaths (including those we know to be sentient) from conventional agriculture, I don’t think I’m over-reaching at all. Go out into any field, which a few generations ago would have been teeming with life, and have a look around for yourself. Not only does mechanised agriculture directly kill animals, but the destruction of their habitats means they can’t come back. Now I totally get that it’s easy to distance your food-buying choices from those effects, but it doesn’t make the relationship any less real. Mark Boyle’s excellent book “Drinking Molotov Cocktails with Gandhi” does a great job of explaining this large-scale sub-contracting of violence against Nature.

      If it all comes down to the ethical argument for you, that’s great. Now you have a choice, either conveniently to ignore the impact of industrial agriculture on Nature, or to accept the reality of it and then make your own choices.

      I also address the ethical questions in my earlier article “Should We Eat Meat?”, in which I argue that eating meat is generally necessary (for most people, as far as I can see), can be perfectly ethical (because it’s natural), and better for the environment (because it’s natural, if properly managed). If that were not the case – if being vegan were better for my body, better for animals, and better for the environment – then I would change my diet to vegan. But it isn’t.

    2. Regarding bundling Animal Rights Activists and vegans together, of course there’s a spectrum. Some people choose a vegetarian or vegan diet for reasons of ethics, others for health reasons, and others for environmental concerns. I think all three positions are debatable at least.

      The title of the post singles out ARAs specifically, as I’m directly addressing the “animal liberation” movement. However, aside from the rights and wrongs of animal liberation, the other arguments may apply to many other vegetarians or vegans.

    1. Good idea Karissa.
      As a vegan of over four decades, I would love you to bring this article to me if we were discussing the merits of a vegan lifestyle.

  4. Ben,

    I agree with parts of your article – but your take on vegans and our motivation and “agendas” needs a lot more face-to-face research before other of your opinions can be taken seriously.

    Thank you for spending token time trying to understand the minds of the rapidly increasing number of us who oppose breeding and raising animals for the purpose of exploiting, murdering and eating them.

    You’ll go a long way to find a vegan who suggests releasing all the farmed animals to fend for themselves. If you’d spent time with real people, rather than “a bit of time around animal rights groups on Facebook”, you’d know that this is not common thinking in the vegan population.

    Now that vegan lifestyles are fast gaining popularity, the demand for animal flesh and animal secretions (such as eggs and cows milk) will gradually diminish – not suddenly, not in one decade, not in one year, not in one month, one day, or one hour; not so there is a mass of animals hanging out in sheds and pastures or roaming across the countryside… but gradually. As demand for these “products” lessens, breeding and supply lessens too – until animal agriculture is no longer desirable for the consumer or for the farmer.

    What is the “extreme vegan agenda” you speak of? The only agenda of a vegan is to stop using and harming other beings. Surely it’s a much more extreme agenda to choose to enslave and kill other beings?

    The pyramid graphic you provide depicting the insect life and birds, rats, mice, etc that can be harmed through industrial plant-based agriculture demonstrates that the same compassion applied to farmed animals needs to be applied to these creatures.

    In a world where non-harm is the goal, such issues will be important considerations when raising crops instead of animals as human food. Because we currently live in a predominantly animal-eating world, insects and small vertebrates are simply and unacceptably viewed as by-kill. It’s encouraging though, that you appear to give some value to their lives and well-being… even if it it is to promote the continuance of using animals as human food.

    Of the three scenarios you mention, I would choose option 3). To have no life at all. I would prefer that myself and my children were not born to be slaughtered to provide human taste bud entertainment and to maintain their habit of eating flesh, cow breast milk and the reproductive waste of chickens.

    I look forward to your next opinion piece.

    1. Thanks Paul. What I’m trying to do is to find the way that we can all feed ourselves that’s sustainable, and all roads seem to come back to Nature’s model, which has evolved over millions of years to be not only sustainable, but life-enhancing.

      If you read “Should We Eat Meat?” you will know that I genuinely care about the impact of my lifestyle – all our lifestyles. Furthermore, you’ll know that I believe that you can eat dead animals and love animals, and you can also raise animals for slaughter and love animals. I’m sure you’ll disagree fundamentally, and that’s fine. I’m not interested in hard-line fundamentalist arguments, I’m interested in exploring what’s realistic. And the most productive and sustainable way to farm is to incorporate both animals and plants in our diets.

      You can keep your vision of the countryside devoid of large animals; I choose to live my life in a world where they roam the fields.

  5. I am vegan because I choose not to eat nor harm nor use in an abusive way any other sentirent creature. I am not an activist, but I support the activities of those who are. Ben, it is a great opinion piece, but your blind spot seems to be that you have failed to see that the highe ethical position, whileit may align with some of your views, is not represented in your articel. Thanks anyway.

    1. Thanks Karen. I have addressed this “higher ethical position” elsewhere, and I strongly believe it is deeply misguided. This is the fundamentalist hard line I mention at the start of the piece.

      Let me spell out why I think that eating meat is natural.

      1. The Natural system has a place for large herbivores. You find them practically everywhere on Earth, except for a few remote islands.
      2. Large grazing animals play a vital role in building soil. The biology of their guts transforms vegetable matter into the best compost there is, and they keep the cycle of life turning.
      3. In the wild (i.e. in Nature) large herbivores are most often predated. They simply don’t get to die of old age. They get slow, and they get caught
      4. Without predation, they will breed to the point where they die horribly of starvation, plus they won’t need to herd and move in the natural way, resulting in habitat destruction. (Elephants, who are rarely predated, will do this in the wild.)
      5. So Nature is meant to use large grazing animals, and those animals are meant to be predated. As we have destroyed most of the predators in developed countries, we are the primary remaining predator.
      6. Every life has one death. That’s the way life works. Without death, you cannot have life. So to avoid death is to avoid life. The opposite of death is not life, they are intertwined. If you try to do away with death, you are left with no-life, nothing.
      7. So it all comes down to the choice either to occupy our natural position as predators, or to go against nature and decline that position.

      I do understand we all have a natural aversion to death. We don’t like to have to face it, it’s scary because one day we all have to die. But that does not make death wrong. It does not make taking life wrong.

      I understand you believe your position is ethically “higher” but I don’t agree with you. I use Nature as my guide. I’m looking for the best way to live, for my own body, for the animals, and for the world at large… and again and again the answer comes back to Nature’s beautifully-worked-out model.

      If I find a better way, one that’s healthier, kinder, and more sustainable, I will champion that way, but veganism is not it, particularly if it relies on industrial agriculture, which kills far more sentient animals than the meat industry.

  6. ‘that can help feed us when the animal has lived out its life.’

    Doesn’t happen though does it? Farm animals are slaughtered for profit after an unnaturally short life and repeatedly inseminated to produce secretions we don’t need until production drops.

    Also if we transition to a vegan diet surely the amount of land required to produce enough to feed us shrinks below industrialised levels?

    1. Marc, it’s a very good point about length of life. I don’t agree with slaughtering animals at the most profitable point, which is as soon as possible after they reach full size. However, we should also bear in mind that many prey animals in the wild won’t live past their first year. So it isn’t really an “unnaturally short life”. It’s a life whose length is determined by humans, so it may be unnatural, but may not be shorter than its natural equivalent.

      But I take issue with your claim, “if we transition to a vegan diet, the amount of land required to produce enough to feed us shrinks”. I think that’s wrong. Many comparative studies only count calories produced per acre, so a field of corn or soy may technically feed us, keep us alive, but will not actually nourish us – PLUS, industrial farming is NOT sustainable!

      If you want to eat vegan AND do it sustainably, I think you’re looking at less productivity than a mixed animal/vegetable production system, for the reasons I explain. Would anyone promote a diet that relies on artificial petrochemical inputs and that will realistically result in continued soil erosion and eventual killing of the land? No – the right diet for humanity must be sustainable, first and foremost.

      If you can show me studies that show you can produce more NUTRITION per acre by growing only plants, I’ll be glad to see them. But the fact remains, if you grow perennial tree crops (which is ideal), you can also graze cows, sheep, pigs, turkeys, chickens, and more, on the same land. And if you grow cover crops to help restore soil between edible crop rotations, it is more efficient to have animals clear those crops and turn them into manure than it is to mow or plough them up.

      If you can prove me wrong on that, I’ll happily change my stance immediately. But until then, I’ll take the evidence of real farmers who are working in the field rather than vague headline claims.

      1. “we should also bear in mind that many prey animals in the wild won’t live past their first year”

        If this is true, then how come many animals that we slaughter for food live a lot shorter than their parents do? Also, Marc did make the point about how parent animals in the meat industry are typically treated with artificial insemination so that they can be forced to reproduce. Is this also true for animals in the plant food industry as well, or even animals in Nature? Like I said, I don’t disagree with your overall points about how ethical omnivores know more about this stuff than veg*n extremists do, but these are still a few questions that come to mind here.

        1. ^^^ I noticed you put up my comment above here, but didn’t answer it. You don’t have to put up this one as well btw…

          1. Correct. I’m not obliged to answer every comment. If you want a long debate about the ethics of meat, let’s set up a Zoom call and do it face to face.

          2. Well, like I said earlier, I would choose email over Zoom first, for privacy reasons – and I know you didn’t say that there was anything wrong with that. So for this reason, I emailed you all of the remaining questions that I have instead – if that is okay with you. So once again, thanks in advance!

            And yes, I saw that you provided your email address on your home page here!

  7. I agree with you. Lions, Tigers, Wolves and other creatures eat meat too. The world would be overpopulated with animals if wolves suddenly turned vegan. They really are balancing nature.

    I hate when vegans say animals are sentient. It implies that they think the same way humans do. Animals are mainly driven by the need for food, water, shelter and breeding. However I know they are not “dumb animals” and would not like to see them suffer either, just that they are treated humanely.

    1. Yes, and the implication is that sentient animals do not deserve to die, which exposes the whole paradox: that you cannot cheat death.

      I agree 100% that sentient animals should not suffer needlessly, but that is not the same thing as being killed/eaten.

  8. Brilliant!

    I am a ‘recovering’ vegetarian myself – my vegetarianism resulted mainly from a childhood trauma (being a 5-year-old, snooping around on the neighbour’s farm, I stumbled upon the corpses of the fluffy bunnies I used to pet, which left me in horror — not just about the dead animals, but also about the lies the adults were telling me).

    Now I sometimes eat an insect or some fish – though this is still very very rarely really. Not sure whether I’ll ever truly recover. In the mean time, I defend the sustainable farmers and loving, caring, meat-eating persons against the wrath of fundamentalist vegans whenever I encounter it. Which is A LOT.

    I have always walked around in and looked at nature throughout my life and I came to the same conclusions. The way I see it, veganism is mainly a white, urban religion – a very fundamentalist one at that, ignoring scientific evidence and twisting reality so that it fits its own ideology. I’m putting it sharply here – I am aware that it is very difficult to change the mind of religious fanatics. Just want you all to wake up – I am scorning at you because I love you – not because I hate your guts :-).

    So here’s some more of that tough love

    I understand the ethical point of view of veganism, but it is highly sentimental, misinformed and short-sighted, no matter how good the intentions of the holder may be.

    Of course no sane person likes to kill a sentient being. I’d have a very very hard time doing that myself. Yet it is an unmistakable part of life – it always has been all throughout human history. Without our ancestors killing animals, we wouldn’t be here. Personally I feel very grateful to be alive. I love human beings. And I love animals, plants and all other lifeforms too. So I am very grateful for my meat-eating ancestors.

    I full-heartedly agree with the fact that industrial agriculture has to go – so that it can be replaced by integrated farms that replicate the natural world.

    How could any ecosystem designed by nature be considered to be ‘wrong’?
    How far have we wandered away from nature to even think that?
    Why would we stubbornly think that any manmade system that is not embedded within the larger ecosystem could ever be a ‘better’ one?

    I sincerely hope all of us can look beyond our emotionally charged opinions, heal our trauma’s and see the world as it is. That is the only starting point for the change the world needs. To end ‘all’ suffering or killing is utopian, but seeking to minimize and optimize it isn’t. Let’s all work towards that end. May veganism become a strategy to change the way people eat meat – so that they become more in tune with earth.

  9. Hey Ben,

    I’m a vegetarian myself, and I actually saw some of your other articles on this topic too. I also saw at least a couple of your articles from the “Ethical Omnivore” website – including the one titled “Why the Future Won’t Be Vegan” and “The Hidden Dangers of Veganism”. For the most part, I’d say I agree with you. But just curious – what do you have to say about the following article:

    Also, I do have a couple of other questions to ask:

    1) I know the common “militant vegan” approach to solving the “animal overpopulation” problem, is to neuter them or reduce their fertility in some other way instead. I don’t know how you feel about this though.
    2) I always found it interesting that you’re not allowed to kill another human being and then consume his/her flesh (cannibalism) afterwards, but you’re still allowed to have sexual intercourse with him/her…unless it’s in the event of pedophilia. Funny thing is, it’s the other way around for you and another animal. Slaughtering for meat is legal, but bestiality is not!

    1. 1. Re the abolition article, it’s based on many assumptions…
      a) It’s possible to feed the world sustainably on plants alone. It isn’t sustainable health-wise in the long term.
      b) It would be better for the environment. It wouldn’t. Industrial agriculture is unsustainable and polluting. Grazing is non-polluting and more than sustainable.
      c) Using animals for meat is exploitation. No more than a fox eating a pigeon, or a chicken eating a worm. You cannot automatically extend human rights to animals.

      If these assumptions were true, I would be vegetarian or vegan.

      2) Neutering animals as a solution. That’s just crazy talk, it’s against Nature and a pathetic attempt by feeble-minded, privileged Westerners to avoid the challenge of dealing with where our ancestral diet comes from.

      3) We have outlawed cannibalism by common agreement. Same goes for other human rights, and also bestiality. That’s what our society has chosen as its rules. We have not outlawed the slaughter of animals for food, whether directly or indirectly (harvesting, pest control, etc.). What’s the issue?

      1. I suppose you’re right, haha. “People eating non-human meat is legal and people committing bestiality is illegal for the same reason both are true for all other non-human animals as well. Otherwise, we’d be going against nature.” Like I said, I’m a vegetarian myself, but I do agree with your overall arguments for the most part. In fact, I think I remember seeing the following meme on other online websites at least a couple of times before:

        Fundamentalist Veg*n: “Almost 9 out of 10 people here in the United States were slave-owners prior to the American Civil War. Now, slavery is completely outlawed in this country. The same principle is true for almost 9 out of 10 people currently eating animal-based products and virtually everybody going veg*n in the future, respectively.”

        Ethical Omnivore: “Umm…while you’re right about how almost 9 out of 10 people here in the US were slave-owners back in the day, the same was also true for gay marriage being illegal as well. And both were highly controversial topics. On the other hand, the vast majority of people agree that a lot of people need to eat animal products in order for both themselves and the entire world to survive. Just like the vast majority of people agree that the Earth is round, climate change is real, and that we exist because of evolution and not creationism. So what’s your point?”


        Fundamentalist Veg*n: “Instead of us eating animals to prevent them from overpopulating, we should neuter them or reduce their fertility in some other way.”
        Ethical Omnivore: “First of all, how does that help us slow down the rate in which WE eat too much plant-based food to the point where it becomes scarce? And not only that, but neutering a large amount of animals within such a short period of time is virtually impossible. While we neuter some cats and dogs a lot of the time to prevent them from overpopulating, we also euthanize other cats and dogs for the same reason as well – especially those that are already suffering from starvation or whatever to begin with. So again, what’s your point?”

        I don’t know what your stance is on these memes though lol.

        1. I tend to trust Natural Law. Nature is perfect… slow, but doesn’t make mistakes.

          To me, the idea of neutering animals is more domineering than raising them for meat, and what’s more it is fundamentally against Nature’s way.

          We just need to get to a point where we’re at peace with the concept of killing. It does not mean that our prey animals are worthless, quite the contrary. We should honour and revere them, and give them what the Italian saying tells us: “Every animal deserves a good life, a good death, a good butcher, and a good chef.”

          Animals are not just products, not just stock units. They deserve love, and Nature’s cycle of life and death is Love.

      2. Also, I will admit that I liked how this was your response to some people in particular saying: “Millions of people can survive with an exclusively veg*n diet, so therefore everyone else can too. If some people complain that they are unable to survive with an exclusively veg*n diet, even by eating lots of tofu and nuts, then clearly they’re not doing it right”, by saying (though not in these exact words): “Aha! There’s the logical fallacy of attempting to prove a general point by giving only a specific example! And there’s also the logical fallacy of the common ‘victim blaming’ argument too!” But obviously, we CAN disprove a general point by giving a specific COUNTER-example. And I know you already did that in one of your other articles too!

        1. I do have at least one other question, however. Regarding your claim: “Humanity’s worst crime against other animals isn’t the meat industry; it’s industrial agriculture”, is this ALWAYS true? I know you proved that at least just as many animals are killed to provide plant-based foods to people as they are to provide animal-based foods to people. But do factory farms in the meat industry really treat animals any better than ANY farms in the plant-based foods industry do?

          Like I said, I’m a vegetarian myself, but even I know that factory farmed poultry (chickens, turkeys, and occasionally ducks) are treated TERRIBLY from when they’re born to when they ‘re slaughtered. And mammals aren’t really treated that much better…except that most of them are at least slaughtered HUMANELY at the end (except for “that last cow/pig/sheep/deer” every once in a while, who is still conscious and crying for help after being literally torn apart – only to be immediately slaughtered afterwards). Sea creatures on the other hand aren’t slaughtered in factory farms as often as land creatures are – but even the ones that are are still treated like crap from when they’re born to when they’re killed. And while I do eat dairy and eggs myself (though in moderation), let’s be honest – cows and chickens in both industries, respectively, are still treated quite badly by factory farms. I don’t know as much about factory farmed bees in the honey industry though.

          Also, I found this:

          Fact is, almost ALL land creatures raised for our food consumption are treated in factory farms (bar cattle, in which only 70% of them are raised in factory farms…which is obviously BETTER than 98% or higher). Factory farms suck, I do remember seeing in one of your other articles that even YOU (Ben) agree on this. Of course, I do know that it’s possible for dairy cows to be milked humanely, and in the span of only a half hour (in contrast to PETA’s claim of 1-2 weeks or something like that…but then again, I don’t really trust what PETA says in general – they’re full of “vegan propaganda”, are hypocritical, and give other superior animals’ rights groups like ASPCA a bad name). But is it really POSSIBLE to raise and then slaughter virtually ALL animals in the meat industry HUMANELY? Especially if they all have to be slaughtered within such a short period of time? I sure as hell hope that the answer to this is “yes”.

          1. Is it possible for all meat animals to be pasture-raised and slaughtered humanely? I believe it is, but it would take a massive shift in our practices, and would fundamentally shake up the economics of the meat sector too.

            Personally, I’m in favour of mobile slaughterhouses, which come to the farm, instead of shipping animals away to these massive industrial machines.

            I keep chickens, ducks, and Muscovies, so get free-range eggs all year round. I have killed a couple of my Muscovies for meat, which of course is done humanely.

            You do need to be careful to avoid a logical fallacy here. The danger would be to claim that unless ALL slaughter can be guaranteed ethical and humane, then NONE of it should take place.

            We also need to bear in mind that deer, rabbits, foxes, and other animals that are caught in farm machinery could suffer horrific pain. What’s more, the majority of animals that die in Nature will also go through terror and pain before death. So we have to maintain perspective.

          2. “and would fundamentally shake up the economics of the meat sector too”

            But what about animals’ rights? Isn’t that also at least just as important as well?

            Also, I do understand your point about how the majority of animals die a slow and agonizing death from Nature anyway, but I do know that chickens are EASILY the most abused animals on the planet by people. From what I remember learning, most chickens are still just baby chicks when they’re confiscated into factory farms, abused for the span of only 5-6 weeks, and then slaughtered afterwards (and in a way that many animal rights activists – and not just extremist groups like PETA and L214 – have described as “similar to the Holocaust”). I DO know however, that chickens in general are capable of living up to like 10 years or something at most. So, is it true that chickens particularly (and probably turkeys and ducks as well) have a less miserable life in the meat industry than they do in the plant-based foods industry or even Nature as well?

            Finally, if the majority of meat animals were pasture-raised (which is obviously the way most non-meat animals are raised), would they be treated better throughout their lives as opposed to if they were in factory farms?

          3. The fundamental fallacy of the “Animal Rights” movement is that they’re trying to say that human rights should automatically apply to animals. That’s simply not the case.

            You should see my chickens. They’re in paradise 🙂 I’m not here to excuse barbaric practices.

            As to your last question, pasture-raised animals should be perfectly happy. They ought to get pretty much the same care as a domestic pet: protection, veterinary care, food, water, shelter etc. and hopefully a painless and stress-free death.

          4. BTW, I think I do remember you saying somewhere that you agree that factory farms in general (which comprise the VAST majority of the meat industry) are not only overly cruel and inhumane toward animals, but are also detrimental to the environment and people’s health too. Although I do know that you were able to prove that many people (including yourself) have attempted to go veg*n and suffered from certain nutrient deficiencies – so I will admit that’s interesting. So just curious – for people who are non-vegetarian (UNLIKE myself), what is the best advice that you would give to them, regarding what meats or other food they should eat?

          5. What meats? Generally, pasture-raised ruminants provide the most complete nutrition. You literally can live off only beef, salt, and water. Lamb / hoggett / mutton are also great, as well as goat/horse etc. depending on where you live in the world.

            If someone’s very low in certain nutrients and fatty acids, small oily fish like sardines and mackerel can be extremely beneficial.

            In general, I’d just say buy local.

          6. “human rights do not automatically apply to animals”

            Couldn’t agree with you more there! And just like you said earlier, foxes don’t treat their rights equal to squirrels the same way pigs don’t treat their rights equal to mice, etc. However, I do have one LAST question to ask for now – you said that the idea of people neutering animals is very domineering and goes against Nature…but isn’t the same true for our artificial insemination of animals as well?

            And yes, I saw your comment about how we could always Zoom chat. Worst case, I’ll probably do that if absolutely necessary – though part of me is against that for personal privacy reasons. Would it be okay if we just emailed each other instead, if it gets to that point? 🙂

          7. To your question: Is artificial insemination against Nature?

            Yes, of course on one hand it’s not “natural”. However I don’t think it’s totally domineering.

            I would liken it to something like milking a cow after weaning, or putting up fences to keep your animals safe.

            It is not uncommon for large animals like horses and cattle to suffer injuries while mating, and some beef bulls today are bred so large that it would be very dangerous to put them on cows. So there is an element of safety. It’s human-managed and unnatural, but not inferior to what would happen if the animals were left to their own devices, just like any other security measures that farmers put in place, such as building fences or walls or using livestock guardian dogs.

            Happy to keep answering questions on here, as long as we don’t end up going in circles.

  10. Hey, I forget if you (Ben) or anyone else from the Ethical Omnivore website already covered this in one of your other articles…but don’t plant-based foods need to be FED to animals, in order for us to eat the latter? If this were the case, then how would us eating plant-based foods result in MORE animal cruelty than us eating animal-based foods? And how would that be worse for the environment as well?

    Also, when you have time, you can respond to the email I sent to you yesterday evening too!

    1. Nope, because the ideal way for animals to eat is direct from Nature. Cows and sheep should graze on pasture, pigs and chickens should forage in woodland. The idea that we have to grow food to feed to animals is based in anthropocentric thinking and leads to factory farming, which I’m against.

      I honestly don’t know if I’ll have time to respond to your email, primarily because arguing over the same points again and again does not interest or excite me at this point. From my perspective, the facts are now pretty plain to see.

{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}

Why not sign up to my newsletter to get updates.