Thursday, October 16, 2014

Humane Meat: It's Not Humane for Nature

On Wednesday, October 15th I attended the Wildlife Co-Existence Event organized by the Vegan Congress at Emily Carr University in Vancouver. I was flattered to be included (with a vastly more knowledgeable panel) featuring Dan Straker,  Urban Wildlife Coordinator of the Stanley Park Ecology Society, Dr. Sara Dubois, Chief Scientific Officer from the BC SPCA and WildARC, and Marcy Potter from the Association for the Protection of Fur-Bearing Animals.

Dan spoke about coyotes in Vancouver (did you know they're relatively new to the Vancouver area, and there are about 3,000 living in Greater Vancouver? Oh, and none on Vancouver Island!), Sara focused on the problems with feeding wildlife, and offered a great sentiment: feeding wildlife ought to have the same stigma as polluting - it's harmful, and just not cool or acceptable. Marcy spoke primarily about APFA's programs on beavers, which I've also had the pleasure of helping with. (See post on tree wrapping here, and building a flow device here.)

My own presentation was more general, and half was focused on how wildlife need to be given much more consideration for vegan activists. It's featured below; note that it's been edited slightly for more clarity in print.

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Why Wildlife Should Be Important to Vegans

As vegans, we're concerned about the well-being of other animals, but often the vegan movement appears as the 'anti-factory farming' movement, which is troubling to me. That is not to say there is a lot wrong with factory farms, but on deeper thought, some of the alternatives, are actually even more harmful and destructive.

A major focus of reforming livestock agribusiness is providing animals with more space. Bigger cages, no cages, or more movement. But space doesn't come without a cost. The universe may still be expanding, but planet Earth isn't.

A chicken farm with 50,000 hens stacked on top of each other is a horrible and tragic feat of efficiency. There are more birds than nature ever intended compressed into a relatively small space. And it's not a space any sane person would want to find themselves; inside or even outside of those cages.

But what happens when farming laws change, and these methods are no longer allowed, and cages are eliminated? If this 50,000 hen factory farm is stacking cages 10 high, that means there's 5,000 hens per layer. The foundation of the building fills the space of approximately 5,000 birds.

With a cage-free law enacted, it means this farmer can only keep about 5,000 (or less) hens in the same barn. Who believes that a farmer with 50,000 hens is going to be content with 1/10th the number (and income) of 5,000 hens?

They are going to try to maintain that number, or close to it..and so the addition of more barns, and to sustain the same number, we're looking at 9 more barns. Suddenly they're taking up a lot more space, and that space will most likely have been wildlife habitat.

Simply put, improving conditions for hens means denying habitat for wildlife, and destroying their homes and communities - it's pretty much a death sentence.

I don't want to come off as a heartless brute - it's extremely upsetting to me that these hens are living in such awful conditions, but we've got an equally upsetting conundrum: is giving hens more space worth wiping out the lives and communities of wildlife from that area? It's a hard question, and sadly few (vegan or not) have asked it.

Keep in mind this is just one farm. There are nearly 10 billion hens raised in Canada and the US each year. You can't even begin to conceptualize how much space that is.

Thankfully, the new film Cowspiracy helps with this, with some helpful graphics.


Right now in the US, fully 1/2 of all land use is for livestock. That's producing food for them, and the space these cows, pigs, chickens and others take up.

The vast majority, about 98% of livestock, are factory farmed. Remember: this compact method is already using 50% of the land in the US.

Try for a moment to imagine what would happen if the space we give them is increased. Again, Cowspiracy helps:


According to the film, this is what land-use in the US would look like if they switched cattle to pasture-fed. (Just cattle, not chickens or other livestock.) They would need nearly 4 billion acres of land, and the entire US is only 1.9 billion acres. To replace the demand of meat in the US with pasture-raised cattle, we would have to convert large portions of Canada, all of Central America and another huge portion of South America into pasture land in order to swap factory farmed with pasture-raised beef.

I imagine in this scenario the rest of the planet would be transformed to supply the US with 'humane' eggs, chicken, dairy and pork.

To conclude, we would have to convert the entire planet to livestock grazing land, just to supply the US with their current usage if we were to go with 'humane' animal products. It seems to me that 'humane meat' is not humane for the rest of the planet.

I'll wrap this portion of my talk up with two more illustrations that I've found really helpful. If you're doubting the legitimacy of the previous statistics because it comes from a 'vegan' film, then these two sources ought to dash that thought.


First, is a graphic from XKCD.com - it's a bit of an activist website, but definitely not a 'vegan' website.

They've broken down how much mass all land mammals on earth make up.

The dark grey in the middle are us humans. There's 7 billion of us, so it's quite a lot of mass. Making up an even larger portion of the mass is the world's cattle. It's the lighter grey on the left. Around the other side, are our other livestock and pets, also in light grey.

Now this is where it gets scary. The green squares represent wildlife. One, single square represents all the elephants in the world. The other 34 green squares are the rest of the planets wild mammals. From squirrels to deer, lions to zebras, kangaroos to panda bears. All mammalian wildlife on planet Earth only matches the mass of humanity's  goats.

And that's just mammals, the vast majority of livestock are birds.

The other graphic I'll show came out in National Geographic magazine earlier this year, and is similar to the Cowspiracy graphic. Here's our planet broken down by land use:


I don't know if I should be grateful or concerned, but 46.5% of the land on the earth is considered undeveloped. We've taken over or influenced the other 53.5%.

Agriculture takes up another whopping 38.6%. It's primarily pastureland, and includes human crops as well. To give it a bit more context, livestock take up about the same space as all of Africa. South America would approximate how much space all the cropland is taking.

We are out of control! We don't have land to spare, and wildlife are paying the price for it. Just a few hundred years ago, these charts would have looked very different! 10,000 years ago, even more-so. We would be a tiny blip.

We need to stop our invasion of wild spaces, and begin to return these spaces to nature. So-called humane and pasture-fed meat, and campaigns for bigger cages shouldn't be our focus; it's not fair to nature. We need to encourage vegan living (and not industry reform) if we really want to see this turn around.

There are plenty of other non-vegan groups, and even the industry itself, who are pushing for reforms like bigger cages. Yes, farm animals need representation, but even more desperate are wildlife.

When you stop and think about it, who's going to be here when the rest of the world goes vegan? There will be very few cows, pigs and chickens. We're vegan for all animals, so let's ensure that our efforts are effective, and we leave space for the ones who will be here.

UPDATE (Oct 24): Came across this interactive piece from NatGeo illustrating the different foods people have been eating for the last 50 years, some interesting insights: http://www.nationalgeographic.com/what-the-world-eats/

Also, from The Atlantic, a clunky but informative interactive comparing various resource use for 'conventional' to 'free range' chicken, also demonstrating that it's actually more demanding: http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2014/10/what-it-takes-to-produce-one-ton-of-chicken/381568/

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Thank you again, Vegan Congress, for organising this, and including me, it's a very important topic, and I look forward to your future events!

Dave Shishkoff, Editor
Twitter: @Victoria_Vegan & @VeganCyclist (personal)
NEW: Facebook Page: Facebook.com/TheVictoriaVegan
Facebook Discussion Group: /groups/TheVictoriaVegan

1 comment:

  1. forget 'humane' meat - there is no such thing -especially since it means a brutal life and death of a sentient being. Veganism is more than what you eat. It is offensive to play off the case of farm animals against the case for wildlife.

    ReplyDelete

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