Moving to a vegan agricultural system for Australia

Real concern for the suffering of animals is growing in Australia. The majority of people are against cruelty to animals and many people now understand that they have no need for any animal products and in particular are able to thrive on a plant-based, animal-free diet. They also recognise that the production of animal products causes suffering and death of animals. These people are changing their own lives to be consistent with these beliefs by refusing to participate in the consumption of animal products. They are also advocating for animals by educating others about the reasons and benefits of veganism. They realise that animals suffer under so-called "humane" and organic farming as well as traditional and factory farming and that, as an ethical country, Australia must stop using animals in any way, including for food and clothing.

To try to understand a future where animals are no longer exploited, Vegan Australia has researched the impacts of a vegan agricultural system for Australia and produced this report. The report examines how the economy, employment, land use, food security, environment and other areas would be affected by moving to an agricultural system where no animals or animal products are used.

The report also develops a plan for the transition from the current agricultural system, answering questions about what Australia would look like if it moved to a vegan agricultural system and how this could be achieved. This is an ambitious project but we expect that many compassionate and responsible Australians will respond favourably to the vision presented in this report.

The road to an ethical Australia, which fully values the interests of all animals, may be long but we can accelerate the move towards this goal if we develop an understanding of what a vegan Australia would look like and what changes would be required. This goal is achievable and by moving towards an animal-free agricultural system, Australia can become an ethical world leader.

Justification

The case for moving towards a vegan agricultural system is based on the understanding that the use of animals for food, clothing or any other purpose 1) results in suffering to the animals and 2) is unnecessary for human health and wellbeing.

Well documented examples of the suffering routinely caused to animals used for food are numerous and easy to find. Note that these document suffering caused by standard farming practices. While unusually cruel treatment does occur, the standard treatment of farmed animals is enough to warrant the end of animal farming. We will not spend too much time on this matter, but list a few resources.

  • The Australian film Lucent is a feature-length documentary about the vast yet largely unseen suffering inherent to Australia's pig farming industry.
  • Chickens are one of the most abused animals whose suffering is often ignored. The websites Australian Chicken Farming and Australian Egg Farming document the horrific life of chickens used for meat and eggs.
  • Voiceless's in-depth report, The Life of the Dairy Cow, offers valuable insights into the emotional stress and physical strain experienced by the modern Australian dairy cow and her children.
  • From PETA's Fish Feel Pain website: "there is as much evidence that fish feel pain and suffer as there is for birds and mammals."
  • The comprehensive Humane Myth website reveals the suffering of animals under the many different forms of "alternative" farming, including "cage free", "free range", "humane certified", "grass fed" and "organic".

Apart from the fact that producing animal products causes suffering and death to animals, consuming animal products is unnecessary for human health and wellbeing. Humans can be healthy and thrive without eating or using animal products. Some examples of the evidence for this include the following

  • Australia's peak health body, the National Health and Medical Research Council, recognises that a vegan diet is a viable option for all Australians. Australia's top health experts agree with those in other parts of the world that well-planned vegan diets are safe and healthy for all age groups. The Australian Dietary Guidelines state that alternatives to animal foods, such as nuts, seeds, legumes, beans and tofu, can "increase dietary variety and provide a valuable and affordable source of protein and other nutrients found in meats."
  • The 2016 Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics on Vegetarian Diets (USA) says "Appropriately planned … vegan diets are healthful, nutritionally adequate and may provide health benefits for the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. These diets are appropriate for all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, adolescence, older adulthood and for athletes." This reflects similar positions in 2009 and 2003 and that of the UK NHS on vegan diets.
  • A recent issue of the Medical Journal of Australia, dedicated to the question "Is a Vegetarian [including vegan] Diet Adequate?" included the following statements: "A varied and balanced plant-based diet can provide all of the nutrients needed for good health." "Most vegans meet the recommended daily intake for protein." "Vegan diets generally contain just as much or more iron than mixed diets containing meat." "BMI and obesity was lowest for vegans."
  • Not only are animal products unnecessary for optimal health, an increasing number of nutritionists and health professionals are acknowledging animal products are harmful to our health. This is supported by decades of good research. A healthy vegan diet helps reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke, cancer, obesity, and diabetes, some of Australia's top killers.

Moving away from the production of animals products will also have significant positive benefits for the environment and global warming as documented by this report.

As a consequence of the above justification for ending the use of animals and moving to an animal-free agricultural system, this research will not examine the relative merits of different animal uses. For example, it may be argued that there are environmental benefits to using kangaroos rather than cows for food. Or that it is economically better to use "marginal" land for grazing than leave it unused. We could also argue that since cow meat is the most damaging food to the environment, people should switch to eating chicken meat. Since the research is based on the principle that all animal use should be abolished, it will not examine these issues but rather look at alternatives that do not use animals.

A fairer world

Animal agriculture causes more than the suffering of animals. It also impacts people throughout the world, especially the powerless and the poor, in a number of ways.

"Every day 40,000 children die in the world for lack of food. We who overeat in the West, who are feeding grains to animals to make meat, are eating the flesh of these children."
- Thich Nhat Hanh (2003)

Over 20 million people will die this year as a result of malnutrition and approximately one billion people, mostly rural women and children, suffer chronic hunger. A lot of food that is currently fed to animals could instead be used to feed the world's hungry people directly. To produce just one kilogram of beef protein, it takes at least seven kilograms of grain and other plant protein to be fed to a cow. Eighty percent of starving children live in countries that actually have food surpluses - the children remain hungry because farmers use the surplus grain to feed animals instead of people.

Fresh water is becoming a scarce resource and is excessively used for the production of animal products. The lack of fresh water is a major cause of disease transmission, especially amongst the world's poor.

Major causes of deforestation are growing cattle for meat and growing crops to feed farmed animals. Throughout the world, deforestation is often in areas occupied by indigenous people and their rights and interests are often ignored.

"For as long as men massacre animals, they will kill each other. Indeed, he who sows the seed of murder and pain cannot reap joy and love."
- Pythagoras

The normalising of violence towards non-human animals and our disconnection between the flesh on our plates and the animal from whose body it was taken undermine our capacity for compassion and teach us that it is OK to oppress the voiceless and weak to fulfil our desires. This topic has been explored by Dr Will Tuttle in his book, The World Peace Diet, where he considers how this unconscious learnt behaviour can then transfer into other areas of human life and kindle historical atrocities such as human slavery, conflicts and war.

"Until we are willing and able to make the connections between what we are eating and what was required to get it on our plate, and how it affects us to buy, serve, and eat it, we will be unable to make the connections that will allow us to live wisely and harmoniously on this earth. When we cannot make connections, we cannot understand, and we are less free, less intelligent, less loving, and less happy."
- Dr Will Tuttle

As the report focuses on Australia, these issues will not be addressed further, but they are significant benefits to a vegan agricultural system.

Guidelines for the recommendations in this report

The changes in land use and agriculture recommended by this report are guided by the following principles. The report uses sound economics and agricultural and environmental science to ensure these principles will be upheld.

  • There should be no negative effects on the availability of food to provide for a healthy population. The changes will result in different food types being available, but the consumption levels for all essential macro and micro nutrients should be maintained or enhanced.
  • The changes should maintain or improve current living standards.
  • Costs, including monetary and externalities such as environmental costs, should not be deferred to future generations.
  • The changes should protect the state of the environment and maintain food and water security.
  • Any economic and employment impacts should be minimised and alternatives investigated.
  • Where economic and employment impacts are unavoidable, the costs of these must be met by society in general and not left to landholders and workers to bear. No individual should be disadvantaged.

This last point, shared responsibility, is crucial to ensure fairness. Moving to an animal-free agricultural system will result in significant changes to large areas of Australia, potentially impacting the lives and livelihood of a number of people. The changes will result in major benefits to the environment and climate and these benefits will be shared by all Australians. To ensure that rural Australians are not asked to shoulder this burden by themselves, the economic costs of these changes must be shared by society.

Changes to land use, such as regrowth and reforestation, will continue far into the future. It is important that these changes be protected. Again the responsibility to manage these risks lies with society both now and in the future and not just with individual landholders.

This report defines a vegan agricultural system as one which does not use animals in any way. This includes not breeding, raising, using or killing any animals, as well as not using non-human animal fertilisers for growing plants. No fish would be farmed or caught in a vegan agricultural system.

Summary of sections

Research into a vegan agricultural system is in the early stages and is continuing in a number of areas. The following sections outline these areas and give links to more detailed reports.

Land use

This section looks at options for reusing land that is currently used for animal agriculture in Australia. It quantifies how much land is currently used for animal farming and then describes how this land could be reused for other purposes, that do not involve the use of animals.

Read the draft land use report

 

Environment and climate change

This section describes the impact on the environment, particularly greenhouse gas emissions, of a move from animal agriculture to alternative uses for the land. It looks at how these changes to greenhouse gas emissions would contribute to Australia's national emission targets.

It also covers the impact of a move to non-animal agriculture, including an end to fishing, on other environmental issues such as water use, biodiversity, soil loss, pollution, species extinctions, marine ecosystems, etc.

Read the draft environment report

 

Economy and employment

This section will be based on the following questions.

  • How much do current animal industries contribute to the economy, including exports?
  • What would be the contribution to the economy of alternative industries?
  • How many people are currently employed in animal industries?
  • How are these jobs distributed amongst industries, such as farming, sale yards, slaughterhouses and processing, distribution, retail, etc?
  • What is the geographical distribution of employment in animal industries?
  • What would be the geographical distribution of employment in alternative industries?
  • What population movements would a move to alternative industries entail?
  • What would be the impact on housing and regional towns by a move to alternative industries?
  • As the demand for meat, dairy and eggs reduces, what new jobs would be created in the expanding plant farming sector and in the new vegan food industries?
  • What programs can be put in place to help animal farmers transition to plant-based farming?

Read the draft economic report

 

Health and other social impacts

This section will be based on the following questions.

  • What would be the impact of a vegan diet on population health and health care costs? This incidence of diseases such as diabetes 2, heart disease, some cancers, etc, are known to reduce when on a vegan diet. This should result in less demand for medical services.
  • What would the impact be of the reduced risk of antibiotic-resistant infections, caused by the elimination of giving antibiotics to farmed animals? (Ref 1: Last year the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that at least 2 million Americans fall ill from antibiotic-resistant pathogens every year and declared that "much of antibiotic use in animals is unnecessary and inappropriate and makes everyone less safe.")
  • How would the changes in agriculture impact food security?
  • How would a vegan agricultural system produce adequate nutrients for the Australian population, including calories, protein, fats, iron and calcium?
  • What impact would a vegan agricultural system in Australia have on exports of food to other countries?

Read the draft health and society report

 

Planning

This section will be based on the following questions.

  • How long would it take to change to a vegan agricultural system?
  • What steps would it need to go through?
  • How can we mitigate any negative issues, such as job losses?
  • What measures can be taken to reduce the harm caused indirectly to animals due to plant-based agriculture?
  • What legal reforms are needed to make this change? Examples include changes to pastoral leases which require the land to be grazed.

Future work

Vegan Australia is supporting this research. This is a large project and we are looking for funding to be able to continue this project. We are also looking for other researchers to work on parts of it. If you can assist in any way, please email Greg McFarlane at greg@veganaustralia.org.au.


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  • commented 2016-04-18 06:00:57 +1000
    I am looking for information about converting pasture grazed cattle to vegan agriculture, eg what crops would be a good nutritional substitute for a comparable land area eg would soy be a good crop to grow on a few acre paddock from the point of view of saying there’s the ‘protein paddock’ that used to be cow? Any links or suggestions would be greatly appreciated! Thanks