ABSTRACT

Search the internet using “vegetarianism and environment” and you will find several articles by prominent people espousing the view that vegetarianism is bad for the environment. One of the recent articles on the subject by Professor Mike Archer entitled “Ordering the vegetarian meal? There's more animal blood on your hands” attracted a lot of comment when it appeared in the Conversation in 2011. Archer, in his article, argued that “if you want to minimise animal suffering and promote more sustainable agriculture, adopting a vegetarian diet might be the worst possible thing you could do.” He claims that if we stop eating grazing animals and turn to a vegetarian diet then we will need to farm an additional area the size of Victoria plus Tasmania to meet our nutritional needs. Compared to rangeland grazing, clearing such large areas for crops means a loss of the vegetation and many of the resident animals. The livestock industries must relish this free promotion. But, the logic is wrong – dangerously wrong! After providing a brief history of the Australian diet, food industry and animal industries, I point out, with some simple calculations, that as appealing as the argument may sound it has no basis. Instead, lacto-ovo vegetarians need to ingest about 30 kg of protein from crops in a year, which includes 10 kg fed to dairy cattle and laying hens. In contrast, before they eat any vegetable matter the average Australian omnivore will have indirectly consumed a staggering 38 kg of plant protein, just in the chicken and pig meat they eat. This increases to 48 kg of protein when we include eggs and dairy products. This should not surprise anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of ecology, who would know that eating at higher trophic levels elicits a loss of nutrients. The last thing we need is prominent people promoting dangerous agriculture with more land clearing and further decimation of native flora and fauna. Instead, a largely vegetarian diet makes environmental sense while also offering health benefits. I finish by elaborating on some of these issues.

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