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Do Vegetarians Kill More Animals Than Meat Eaters?

People become vegetarians for a wide range of reasons, not the least of which is in opposition to the idea that we have the right to kill and eat other sentient beings. A recent article published by an Australian scientist, however, contends that those who choose to eat all-plant diets are actually responsible for the death of more animals than those who eat them.
By Beth Buczynski on Care2.com

Shocked? Indignant? I have to admit, I read the article's title, "Ordering the vegetarian meal? There's more animal blood on your hands," with some surprise as well. Still, the author makes some points that forced me to think about aspects of the vegetarian vs. meat-eater debate in a new light.

Written by Mike Archer AM, Professor and member of the Evolution of Earth & Life Systems Research Group at University of New South Wales, the article starts off by acknowledging that our current agricultural system causes a lot of undue harm to animals. Those who feel this is unfair and inhumane find an obvious alternative in a plant-only diet. Certainly when compared to a factory farm or commercial slaughterhouse, a field full of tall corn seems positively benign.

According to Archer, this couldn't be further from the truth. He cites Australian statistics that suggest producing wheat and other grains kills at least 25 times more sentient animals per kilogram of useable protein. He goes on to say that a plant-based diet causes more environmental damage, and a great deal more animal cruelty than farming red meat.

Agriculture to produce wheat, rice and pulses requires clear-felling native vegetation. That act alone results in the deaths of thousands of Australian animals and plants per hectare. Since Europeans arrived on this continent we have lost more than half of Australia's unique native vegetation, mostly to increase production of monocultures of introduced species for human consumption. If more Australians want their nutritional needs to be met by plants, our arable land will need to be even more intensely farmed. This will require a net increase in the use of fertilisers, herbicides, pesticides and other threats to biodiversity and environmental health.

Of course, Australia is slightly different than many other parts of the world. First, it's an island so space for agriculture is already limited. Second, almost 70 percent of the continent is covered in wild, and in many cases, protected rangelands. While these lands must be razed and highly processed in order to grow plant crops, they are perfectly suited for cattle grazing, which provides almost no disruption of animal inhabitants.

Raising a cow on the rangeland instead of plowing it up for crops does eventually result in a death, Archer concedes, the death of the cow. Raising plants on that same acre of rangeland kills small mammals, snakes, lizards, mice and other animals. He describes a terrible scene in which predatory birds follow Australian farm plows in flocks, feeding on the carcasses of dead field animals left in its wake. And that doesn't even begin to account for the destruction caused by unnatural irrigation, fertilization and the heavy use of pesticides.

By Archer's reasoning, protein obtained from grazing livestock costs far fewer lives per kilogram: it is a more humane, ethical and environmentally-friendly dietary option. What do you think?

This Is Absurd 07.Dec.2014 04:25


"Raising a cow on the rangeland instead of plowing it up for crops does eventually result in a death, Archer concedes, the death of the cow. Raising plants on that same acre of rangeland kills small mammals, snakes, lizards, mice and other animals."

First of all, this is talking about Australia, which is 90% desert, to the extent that you cannot even raise cows there.

Second; what about all the "small mammals, snakes, lizards, mice and other animals" that the cows step on?

Third; what about the fact that it takes 1.1 gallons of water to grow one almond? It takes like a million gallons to grow a cow.

Peak water will be the downfall.

"peak water" 07.Dec.2014 06:54

a man

I believe that water distribution, use and ownership is the problem, not any contrived; for profit / control, 'shortage' when it is stolen from the commons.
The priorities of the quality of life and precautionary principles need to be enforced. Not selective gain for a very few while we choke on their waste.
There is no shortage of water.
There are resource and distribution problems.

not just animals. 07.Dec.2014 18:40


I can last for a month of off the death of one cow, yet vegetarians must kill many times a day to survive. It might take 20 radishes or carrots for a vegetarian in one day. Its very racist to believe that radish has less value than a cow. Just because you can relate to something with eyes and fur and can't to a radish, makes you prejudiced.

Cows Do Not Equal Radishes 07.Dec.2014 19:58


I just have this innate feeling that cows are not the same as radishes.

We don't want to hurt people's feelings. But we want to be correct. Cows just do not equal radishes.

Oh, and about the water:

Who do you think believes that we won't run out of fresh water? It sure would be nice if it were just a matter of maldistribution. It's just not. We know now that at least 2/3rds of the ocean rise comes from the draining of natural aquifers, the fresh water oceans under the land.

When it's gone, we are. It's simply non-renewable.

blues 08.Dec.2014 05:05


Its only your own bigotry keeping you from seeing an equivalent between veggies and mammals.

years ago under Jim Crow blacks were considered on 3/5s a person.
So perhaps there is hope that your narrow minded prejudices can evolve on this matter too.

This article is 10.Dec.2014 10:35


This article is just to bait vegans. This is not a rational dialogue. No wonder so many people left indymedia. It's sad because I won't do Facebook and I'd rather get my information here.

To buy into the argument for one moment, fewer animals are killed by agriculture for vegans because if you are eating meat, it takes more agriculture so sustain the meat you are eating.

Veggies may experience something, but they don't experience pain and fear as animals do because they don't have the same neural system; i.e. we *know* what animals experience because their experience is the same as ours would be. To ignore that in favor of what we don't know is unethical.

Soon everyone will have to be vegan. I've been introduced to Guy McPherson who says humans will be extinct in 15 years. Even if it's 30 or 50 or 100,the only real ethical concern is whether you are inflicting suffering in the world or giving shelter and care to the abandoned.

Be kind to the animals. They are truly at our mercy. Don't breed/don't eat.

I Plant Concrete Gravestones For Radishes And Pink Petunias 10.Dec.2014 12:40


Because the are obviously they equals of beloved cow and bulls.

So every radish gets a tombstone. Every sweet pink petunia gets a tombstone.

What more can I do, pray tell?

Another reason I'm glad I'm a vegetarian ... 10.Dec.2014 15:57

Jody Paulson

bait 10.Dec.2014 16:33

too funny

If people come here for a daily affirmation ego bath, then yes, having some basic ideas challenged is just too much for them so they find another hole to wallow in.

So if we are all going to die off in 15 years, who gives a shit. Why not have a big fucking party. Get rid of Grade schools, (no need to educate people who will be dead on HS Graduation day), EPA (waste of money if the planet will heal itself starting in 15 years), and shitload of other things.

Ask your Mr. McPherson (whoever the fuck he is) if you can have his pension/Social Security since he won't be using it. His house too. You need to expand your area of knowledge because your current circle isn't cutting it.

too funny 11.Dec.2014 13:51


I'll tell you who gives a shit. All the pigs and cows and hens who are suffering. All the abandoned and feral cats. That's why what's important is suffering today and what we can do about it.

I don't need an ego bath, but I hate to see people eroding the work of those who give everything to comfort the needy. Many of these comments seem disingenuous. Too bad some many indymedia activists have been driven to a more fractured and dangerous platform (Facebook).