Image credit: Michael Cannon, used under Creative Commons license.
When I asked whether vegans can eat carrots grown with manure, some commenters found the question despicable. But my intention was not to question anyone's commitment, nor to lessen the very real benefits of limiting our reliance on industrial animal agriculture. I merely want to ensure that the models we advocate for are truly sustainable in the long-term. Now a related, and probably less controversial, topic has cropped up—how can vegetarians avoid produce grown with fish, blood and bonemeal as fertilizer?
For lovers of organic produce this is of particular importance, but with peak phosphate knocking on our door, even conventional agriculture may find itself using more and more recycled animal products alongside its new found love of manure.
And while vegans may have found my question about manure a step too far, it does make sense that vegetarians would want to avoid products that support the slaughter of animals. At least that's why one reader wrote to Leo Hickman at The Guardian to ask him how vegetarians can avoid animal-based fertilizers.
I'm sure some will argue that if you are using a waste product, it's all to the good. But that misses the point. As I posted only recently, when waste becomes a resource, and we start paying for it, then it is no longer waste. Increased demand inevitably puts pressure on farmers and slaughter houses for increased supply. (Vegetarians running their cars on waste chicken fat biodiesel face a similar dilemma.)
OK, so we know it's a problem, but what the heck can be done about it? Answers in the comments on Leo's column range from shifting to conventional produce grown with chemical fertilizers, to considering biodynamic agriculture. (Although another commenter points out that biodynamics actually uses considerable amounts of animal byproducts.) Ultimately, the answer—as with so many things in the green movement—is to get to know your producers and ask them about their methods. Or better yet, grow more of your own. After all, learning to do it yourself gives you ultimate control of the inputs. (And nobody is forcing you to make homemade bonemeal anyway.)
More on Animal Agriculture, Veganism and Vegetarianism
Homemade Bonemeal: A Partial Solution to Peak Phosphate
Vegan Organic Agriculture: Is Your Carrot Really Vegan?
Vegan Diets Healthier for the Planet
But Is it Vegan? The Chicken Fat for Biofuel Debate Heats Up