Image credit: spratmackerel
A long time ago, George Monbiot argued that the "only ethical response" to the sharp rise in meat eating around the world was to go vegan. He clearly changed his mind a while back though, instead making the case that we should reserve meat eating for special occasions. While he's still an advocate of greatly reduced meat consumption, his latest article seems to be a lot more positive about even a moderate diet of well-raised animal proteins. So what's got him to change his mind? In a piece that is boldly titled I was Wrong About Veganism, Monbiot reviews a new book by journalist Simon Fairlie called Meat: A Benign Extravagance that lays into lazy arguments from all sides of the debate.
There is, says Monbiot (channeling Fairlie) still no excuse for Concentrated Feedlot Operations or raising ridiculous amounts of perfectly good grains, only to feed them to cows. Nevertheless, animal husbandry done right is, apparently, nowhere near as inefficient as many environmentalists would claim:
"Even though it is tilted by the profligate use of grain in rich countries, the global average conversion ratio of useful plant food to useful meat is not the 5:1 or 10:1 cited by almost everyone, but less than 2:1. If we stopped feeding edible grain to animals, we could still produce around half the current global meat supply with no loss to human nutrition: in fact it's a significant net gain."
Apparently the book also shows that the oft-claimed figure of 100,000 litres of water to produce every kilogram of beef is way off mark and based on some fundamentally flawed calculations. Much like my piece on vegan organic agriculture, Fairlie apparently also tackles the fact that farming without any animal inputs is neither an easy, nor a death-free, proposition. (To be fair, he also shows that farmers' claims as to the carbon sequestration potential of pastureland are way off base.)
There's no doubt in my mind that the current system of animal agriculture is broken beyond belief. Nevertheless, Monbiot and Fairlie make a convincing case that the solution may not lie in abandoning meat and dairy entirely.
No doubt others will disagree.
More on Veganism, Vegetarianism and Animal Agriculture
Vegan Organic Agriculture: Is Your Carrot Really Vegan?
Cows and Climate Change
How Eating Meat Could Help Slow Climate Change
Try a Weekday Vegetarian Diet