New Internationalist

Is being vegan the only green option?

Issue 439

Is it a no-brainer that animal products create a larger environmental impact than plant foods? Or is it perfectly possible to be a green carnivore? Our experts debate which is the true diet for a small planet.

Every issue we invite two experts to debate a hot button issue in The Argument, and then invite you to join the conversation online - we’ll read all your comments and select the best to print next issue. (We’d prefer you to use your real name, but would love to hear what our readers have to say either way.) If you can’t comment, then you can simply vote in our poll, which you’ll find partway down the debate.

Looking for a debate from a previous issue?
Is it ever right to buy or sell human organs? - October 2010
Are public service cuts justified? - November 2010
Should nation-states open their borders to refugees and migrants? - December 2010

Bruce Friedrich

I adopted a vegan diet in 1987 for environmental reasons, so this issue is dear to my heart.

The environmental problems of meat, dairy and eggs fill books, but the intuitive argument can be put fairly succinctly into two points:

 1. A 135-pound (or 61 kilo) woman will burn off at least 1,200 calories a day even if she never gets out of bed. She uses most of what she consumes simply to power her body. Similarly, it requires exponentially more resources to eat animal products, because most of what we feed to farmed animals is required to keep them alive, and much of the rest is turned into bones and other bits we don’t eat; only a fraction of those crops is turned into meat, milk, or eggs. So you have to grow the crops required to raise the animals in order to eat the animals and their byproducts, which is vastly wasteful relative to eating the crops directly.

 2. It also requires many extra stages of polluting and energy-intensive production to get animal products to the table – including feed mills, animal farms and slaughterhouses, all of which are not used in the production of vegan foods. Then there are the additional stages of gas-guzzling, pollution-spewing transportation of moving crops, feed, animals and meat – relative to simply growing the crops and processing them into vegan foods.

United Nations environmental researchers released a 408-page report, ‘Livestock’s Long Shadow’, which concludes that the farmed animal industry is ‘one of the… most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global’ and that eating meat contributes to ‘problems of land degradation, climate change and air pollution, water shortage and water pollution, and loss of biodiversity.’1

Wayne Roberts

We share commitment to the environment, and to food choices supporting nature. So our discussion will be fruitful – a lovely word, reminding us of rightful relations between nature and human diet.

Eating modest amounts of animal products from livestock raised in humane and non-industrial ways is essential to a low-energy and low-pollution strategy balancing needs of all species – from bugs to birds. Animals eat low on the food chain. Most fish and land animals thrive on grasses that humans can’t digest, and which grow in soils and climates that are not fertile for crops humans need – grains, legumes, vegetables and fruit. Their ‘waste’ products (ie manure and bones that are only considered waste because of human narcissism) enrich both soils and ecosystems. By contrast, agricultural crops require prime land, require that water be brought to the plants – usually in wasteful and damaging ways – and rely on significant energy expenditures to eliminate natural predators and competitors because plants can’t fend for themselves. Animals and plants meet each other’s needs in ‘raw nature’. That same mutual exchange is basic to harmony in agriculture.

Sound food policy requires that we get over the search for silver bullet cures. No pot can call any kettle black. All solutions are partial and none solve all problems. As much as bacon and eggs, corn and rice can be grown with dirty chemicals, heavy machinery, huge methane emissions, perverse adulterations and wasteful packaging. We need many-pronged strategies, including diets light on – but not necessarily eliminating – animal products. Fusion cooking, linking cultures of many peoples, together with fusion diets, connecting needs of diverse species, are our future.

Bruce Friedrich

Your argument assumes that if land is not productive for human needs, it’s wasted. But World Bank agricultural economists Jeffrey Anhang and Robert Goodland argue2 that a far better use for arid land is to allow it to revert to wilderness, or to use it to grow some of the plentiful vegetation that (although not consumable by humans) grows in ‘bad’ soil and allows it to regenerate. Such vegetation also acts as a carbon sink, slowing the process of global warming.

Further, while I agree that veganism is not the only component of a sustainable diet, it is an essential piece. The more people shift to a vegan diet, the less we will need the crops that you rightly note require prime land and extensive water – since the vast majority of these crops are fed to animals.

Finally, eating any meat supports factory farming, since most of the world sees just two categories – meat eater or not. Your decision to eat meat will influence others to eat meat – but they will often not make any distinction. Influencing people to stop eating animals is far simpler than influencing them to choose only the (extremely hard to find and expensive) meat that isn’t intensively produced.

Wayne Roberts

I hear you agreeing that green vegans should highlight whole, local and sustainable choices within a vegan framework. I hope you hear me, a green carnivore, agreeing that livestock feed should not come from edible plants grown on prime land. Small numbers of livestock belong on prime land as consumers of weeds, insects and foodscraps and producers of manure for compost, but in large numbers should mainly be raised on marginal lands suited as meadows of perennial grasses. I believe an ethical food strategy accepting the challenge of supporting seven billion humans while protecting biodiversity must find some foods that do not compete with other species as aggressively as annual plant staples inherently do. Animal-based polyculture featuring grass-raised livestock coexists with a huge variety of above-ground birds, insects and plants, and an even more productive network of bacteria, worms and insects underground. When we recognize that these wild species are all threatened by exclusively plant-based farms, we need to design-in a role for grass-fed livestock.

Bruce Friedrich

Nicky Loh / Reuters
Nicky Loh / Reuters

We’re both opposed to how meat in Western grocery stores and restaurants is made, since it comes from animals who are fed mono-cropped corn, soy, etc – it’s wasteful and creates massive amounts of greenhouse gases, desertification, water pollution, acid rain, and more.3 And we agree that for anyone who is going to eat meat, they should eat much less, and only grass-fed animals.

But for the environment, zero is better than less meat or even exclusively grass-fed meat. Grains and beans can be sustainably farmed, easily, once we’re not using most arable land to grow feed crops for farmed animals. Since moving away from growing feed crops will free up huge amounts of land, marginal and other excess lands can be allowed to regenerate without domesticated animals devouring whatever grows there, requiring massive water inputs, and causing the almost unbelievable amounts of global warming that is inherent in all farmed animals (from breathing and excretion).

Please read the work of agricultural economists Robert Goodland and Jeffrey Anhang (cited previously): grass-fed animals created nine times the greenhouse gases of intensively fed animals. The latter, of course, cause all the other problems we both agree on.

The best choice for the environment is a vegan diet.

Wayne Roberts

I’m going last, Bruce, but I’m not going to try to have the ‘last word’. The ‘last word’ and ‘best’ single solution is the syndrome that keeps getting us into problems.

We should custom-fit dietary recommendations to where people live. Some people live in the far north, where the growing season for plants is short, the soil is thin, and meat from wild land animals and fish provide most nutrients and calories, as well as clothing and tools (contrary to your assertions, the non-meat parts of animal bodies are not inevitably wasted). Since most of the people living in the far north are indigenous peoples responsible for very few environmental pollutants, and since traditional foods are essential to their cultural well-being and personal health, I could never agree that a vegan lifestyle is ‘best’ for them.

I’d make a similar case for any peoples – again, largely indigenous – in heavily forested or mountainous areas that are not hospitable to plants that provide all the nutrients humans need.

A plant-based diet can meet the dietary needs of most people in temperate climates, an area inhabited by most people in the privileged Global North, the area that most needs to curtail the harmful emissions of its people. But this diet should not set the ‘best practice’ standard for areas of the world that have historically been inhabited by the lowest polluters.

In most food matters, we need to go beyond silver bullet cures such as veganism. A powerful vegan case can be made on health grounds for many people, but the environmentally – and socially – ethical grounds for a purely vegan diet are not there.

BRUCE FRIEDRICH is Vice- President of Policy and Government for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). WAYNE ROBERTS recently retired as Manager of the Toronto Food Policy Council and is the author of The No- Nonsense Guide to World Food.

  1. Available at
  2. ‘Livestock and Climate Change’, WorldWatch Magazine (Nov/Dec, 2009),
  3. ‘10 Ways Vegetarianism Can Help Save the Planet’, The Observer, 18 July 2010,

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  1. #1 Worldwatcher 22 Dec 10

    The debate between Wayne and Bruce seems now superseded...

    This exchange seems to have been written before the latest UN climate conference in Cancun concluded with failure in remaking the Kyoto Protocol. That failure was expected -- as it seems impossible to agree on spending the required $18 trillion in the next 20 years that is needed for spending on renewable energy infrastructure to keep atmospheric carbon below 450 ppm (a target that in itself is high enough to cause much harm).

    As new energy infrastructure will be too minimal to stop runaway global warming, the world must now turn its hopes to minimizing emissions from agriculture -- and maximimizing regeneration of forest, which in turn would maximize absorbtion of atmospheric carbon. As Wayne seems to recognize, this means minimizing the feeding of crops to livestock.

    Wayne argues that grass-fed livestock are 'green.' That seems untrue, as those livestock emit up to triple the methane emitted by grain-fed livestock. Even accepting Wayne's argument, only 8% of meat today is entirely grass-fed. The rest are produced by some level of crop-feeding. Grass-feeding can be expanded only by destroying more forest. So extrapolating from Wayne's own argument, the world needs as many vegans as possible.

  2. #2 radicalmom 23 Dec 10

    ’sustainable’ vegan farming?

    oh, where to start? ....
    in order to grow anything ’sustainably’ it's important to take into consideration the effects of the farming practices involved and to apply them so the least harm is done to the ecology of the land, which ranges from fertilizer to plowing to harvesting to storage. in my opinion it would be very difficult to run a factory farm or even a small farm without harming any creature. it's fine to grow fields of vegetables for the vegan eater, but the harvest must be done by hand to spare the lives of the critters who have made their homes in the rows upon rows of crops. that, in itself, is time-consuming, yet sustainable. if we are farming organically and sustainably, then we avoid the chemicals used to kill weeds, bugs, etc. does a vegan worry about killing bugs and weeds to allow for a successful crop? does a vegan consider the effects of large quantities of chemicals on a field of corn, soy or wheat? where does one draw the line when a compromise must be made?
    is a vegan even thinking about the source of the grains and foods required to feed the hordes? sustainable soy? only on a small scale, as with the rest of the crops required to feed the newly converted. so then it must be up to the vegan drummers, if they are so intent on this transformation, to begin to introduce small-scale farming of clean and chemical-free vegetables and grains. THAT is sustainable.
    in my humble opinion, to date, sustainable vegan farming is an oxymoron.

  3. #3 happy without cow 23 Dec 10

    my footprint is lesser than yours

    The world holds enough for every mans need but not for every mans greed.

  4. #4 sneakerdog 23 Dec 10

    RE: ’sustainable’ vegan farming?

    radicalmom writes, ’... is a vegan even thinking about the source of the grains and foods required to feed the hordes?’

    Yes, certainly. Veganism isn't the entire picture; it's only one (but important) aspect of it. Veganism isn't about being ’pure’ (an impossible goal) -- it's about reducing the amount of harm caused to the environment, to show mercy to animals, and to free up crops that could sustain humans. As you point out, current agriculture practices require killing or displacing a certain number of rodents and other native animals. Considering that the vast amount of grains, cereal, and soy grown in the United States is diverted to feed livestock, though, removing the animals from the picture would greatly reduce the amount of farmland required to grow crops (resulting in fewer harmed animals). Moreover, agricultural practices are continuing to change. Experiments with urban farms, vertical farms, and other innovations could further reduce the amount of farmland required to grow sustainable crops.

  5. #5 JFC 23 Dec 10

    A Holiday Thought...

    Aren't humans amazing? They kill wildlife - birds, deer, all kinds of cats, coyotes, beavers, groundhogs, mice and foxes by the million in order to protect their domestic animals and their feed.

    Then they kill domestic animals by the billion and eat them. This in turn kills people by the million, because eating all those animals leads to degenerative - and fatal - health conditions like heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, and cancer.

    So then humans spend billions of dollars torturing and killing millions more animals to look for cures for these diseases.

    Elsewhere, millions of other human beings are being killed by hunger and malnutrition because food they could eat is being used to fatten domestic animals.

    Meanwhile, few people recognize the absurdity of humans, who kill so easily and violently, and once a year send out cards praying for ’Peace on Earth.’

    ~Revised Preface to Old MacDonald's Factory Farm by C. David Coates~


    Anyone can break this cycle of violence! Everyone has the power to choose compassion! Please visit these websites to align your core values with life affirming choices: &

    ’Any great change must expect opposition because it shakes the very foundation of privilege.’
    Lucretia Coffin Mott, 1793-1880, minister, women's rights leader, abolitionist, peace activist, humanitarian

  6. #6 Stephen Kaufman, M.D. 24 Dec 10

    One of many problems of ’ethical’ carnism - social awkwardness

    To add to the thoughtful comments above, Jonathan Saffron Foer in his book Eating Animals notes that those who choose to eat animals and animal products derived from ’ethical’ sources have difficulties refusing the hosts' factory-farm-derived flesh when they are guests. In general, such a refusal would offend the hosts, though hosts are rarely offended if their guests decline because the guests are vegans or vegetarians. Further, if a meat-eater is trying to advocate on behalf of animals and/or the environment, it is difficult to oppose factory farming when one is obtaining flesh from conditions that, while not as brutal as factory farms, still involve pain, suffering, and violence. ’Ethical’ meat typically involves killing young, healthy animals; branding, castration, and other mutiliations without anesthetics; harsh conditions during transportation to the slaughterhouse; and pain and terror in the slaughterhouse itself.

  7. #7 Jerry Friedman 24 Dec 10

    Green Virtue

    The more we rely on animals as food, the more harm we cause our environment. Unless one wants to become Grizzly Adams and live away from society, eating animals by hunting or farming takes too much from the land, sea and air.

    All of man's industries pollute too much, and raising animals pollutes the most. It's Pollyanna to think that humans will ever eat few enough animals not to tip the balance toward our own extinction, as humans strive for wealth and affluence leads most to gluttony. Instead, abandoning animals as a human food source will take enormous pressure off of our environment, it will save humans enormous resources in fuel, water, land, pesticides, et al., and we will no longer commit life-ending violence three times daily for us to live.

  8. #8 Karin Anderson 24 Dec 10


    A non violent world begins with a non violent diet.

  9. #9 Godscre 28 Dec 10

    political views

    Matthew Scully's (a former special assistant and senior speech writer for Pres. G.W. Bush) book, ’Dominion: The Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy’ has much to say about how our government allows animals to suffer. The animal industry is big business and the love of money is the root of all evil.

    In 2006 the United Nations stated that the livestock industry is one of the largest contributors to environmental degradation worldwide. In 2009 the meat industry's emissions of greenhouse gases was upgrated by two World Bank scientists from 18% to an estimated 51% minimum. (World-Watch, World Bank).

    A vegan diet on a global scale is vital for the environment, our health (both spiritually and physically) and for billions of animals. ’A 2010 report from the United Nations Environment Program's (UNEP) international panel of sustainable resource management global shift towards a vegan diet is critical for mitigating global issues of hunger, fuel poverty and the worst impacts of climate change.’ (Wikipedia, Environmental vegetarianism) The panel stated: ’Impacts from agriculture are expected to increase substantially due to population growth increasing consumption of animal products.’ (How Sustainable Agriculture Can Address the Environmental and Human Health Harms of Industrial Agriculture)

    Our resources can't hold out any longer. We are taking away precious clean water and food resources for our desire for animal products (meat, eggs and dairy) which are not essential for our well-being, in fact, we will be much healthier by lessening our consumption of them to a minimal.

    God's Creatures Ministry
    Jan Fredericks
    Wayne, NJ

  10. #10 itsmejustme 29 Dec 10


    Well vegan means elimination of cruelty, to me it seems naff that one can be green yet eat tortured animal bones.How very insane.....
    veganism forever.

  11. #11 curmudgeon 04 Jan 11

    Vegan eating is non-violent?

    Not from the point of view of the veggies, who die just like a cow does and, as has been shown, ’scream’ when pulled from the3 ground. Non-violent eaters must eat only fruit and seeds.

  12. #12 Robert Corfield 06 Jan 11

    So does being a vegan mean that if for example a person is a schizophrenic, they should not take their medication on the grounds that it has been tested on animals?

  13. #13 Bindu 07 Jan 11

    As opposed to sustainable animal farming?!!!

    If sustainable vegan farming is an impossibility, then it follows that sustainable animal farming is a bigger impossibility. If vegetable farming kills bugs and weeds, animal farming does the very same! In much huger quantities! You realize animals are fed plant food, right?

    ’does a vegan consider the effects of large quantities of chemicals on a field of corn, soy or wheat?’
    So because of the highly ineffective conversion of plant food into animal food, it follows that a meat-eater contributes to higher quantities of chemical used!

    All of the silly unwitting arguments made by meat-eaters generally makes the veganism case!

    Only fundamentalists make black and white arguments. Veganism isn't about being 100% cruelty-free; it's about being the least cruelty-free. To the animals, the environment and the starving children of the world.

  14. #14 Bindu 07 Jan 11

    Typo: Veganism is about ..... being least *cruel!

    Oops! Correction:

    Veganism isn't about being 100% cruelty-free; it's about being the least *cruel. To the animals, the environment and the starving children of the world. :)

  15. #15 ciderpunx 07 Jan 11

    Disclaimer: I've been vegan for about 15 years.

    Sure, if you live in Tibet or the arctic circle or something you probably need to supplement your diet with animal products. But the key thing here is that most people (even most indigenous poeple) don't. They live in temperate climates where its easy to grow vegetable foodstuffs.

    Its entirely possible to grow food without using animal manures. You can use green manures or human poo - a much more appropriate fate than dumping our poo into the water table, no?

    On the chemicals issue that seems more like an organic/non-organic debate. We put the chemicals that we put on crops into animals. Animals store poisons in their flesh. So eating them means you are eating more concentrated poisons.

    Well that's my thoughts for now.

  16. #16 Rich 07 Jan 11

    Focus on Factory Farms

    One reason to be vegan is a commitment to reduce the suffering of animals and humans, to non-violence and respect for life, recognising that sentient animals other than humans can suffer. This is not an absolute, we cannot live in a world without suffering, but that does not mean we cannot try to reduce it.

    Both Wayne Roberts and Bruce Friedrich argue that factory farming of animals is NOT a 'green option' for people or the planet. This is based not on animal welfare but human health and survival, or you could possibly say non-violence to the ecosystem. That leaves the discussion as I understand over whether hunting wild animals and keeping a small number of livestock in small scale agriculture when appropriate is 'green' or not.

    The main point is that factory farming and intensive agriculture are not 'green' and make up nearly all food production in the west, and each meal we have supports or does not support this to different degrees. Factory farming is growing as it makes a high profit for some people. Factory farming is still very much integrated with free-range and organic production of meat, eggs and dairy. If this ceased, which this discussion assumes necessary, then the current economics of animal products would change beyond recognition. Maybe only the extremely rich could eat animals, or those willing to hunt and kill, or meat eating would reduce to only special occasions, who knows. The mentality of it being natural and necessary to eat meat may change. The media would change the story and governments would fund adverts to promote healthy delicious veganism and animal rights just as they have promoted the goodness of processed meat and milk, only this time it would be based on science and non-violence, rather than profit.

    I would like to see an article where factory farming is discussed in depth and argued for in terms of environmental, human or animal rights. I have not seen a credible one yet. It would also be great for NI to publish a discussion and analysis over how Factory Farming is increasing, what it involves, and how to avoid it. The easiest way I have found to avoid supporting factory farming to reduce cruelty and for environmental reasons is to be vegan.

    In literature on Climate Change we are bombarded with research on technofixes. We can keep using coal by developing carbon capture, we can possibly inject chemicals into the atmosphere in order to neutralise greenhouse gases, we can attempt to genetically modify humans, animals and plants to solve starvation, nutritional deficiencies and crop yields, and we can try to make nuclear power safe even though the majority of the world are banned from developing it.

    It would be beautiful if as much research, advertising money and time as gets spent on the above is spent on imagination or even a techno-fix that reduces animal and human suffering rather than increases profit for a few, and in so doing produces more food. Instead of human imagination being directed by money, it could be, well you can imagine, vice versa!

  17. #17 AP 08 Jan 11

    The real question...

    is industrial agriculture, whether producing plants or animals, sustainable and ethical? And the answer is no.

  18. #18 KarenB 10 Jan 11

    Is Being vegan the only option?

    I was a raw vegan for a number of years, as a family we chose to restart eating meat as we felt that to support large scale acriculture and air freighted food that sustained the large part of our diet was wholely unsustainable.
    As a family we have chosen to be totally responsible for our food, we grow what we can in every available inch of what was garden we have. We shoot pigeons and squirrels not wasting anything. Collect from nature when seasons are bountyful. We have had our home featured in the towns sustainable homes exhibition here in Southampton.
    If more people grew food on whatever land they had, and more councils set aside land that is otherwise just green spaces and planted fruit and nut bearing trees and shrubs, not only would humans benefit but wildlife would be given more space. We need as a species to get back in touch with food, to realise that one rule does not fit all, not all can be vegan and we can not all expect to eat meat with every meal.
    We have learned that if you miss the shot you don't get to eat the food.

  19. #19 Ricardo Coelho 11 Jan 11

    No, it is not the only option

    One can also choose to eat very small amounts of meat, eating vegan meals 5 to 6 times a week, ans probably such diet would be sustainable. Still, the main argument for veganism, which is related to the rejection of the suffering and killing of animals, remains.

    @KarenB - I think you got the wrong lesson. You should have learned that when you miss the shot there is a squirrel or a pigeon that is left to die slowly and painfully with a bullet wound.

  20. #20 LeeLee 19 Jan 11

    Is being a vegan ’green’?

    Consider the ecological impacts of growing soy in the way that it is being grown today: a devil of deforestation and a biodiversity wrecking monoculture which strips soil of its nutrients. This leads to soil erosion, and as with most industrial monocultures, it undermines a balanced approach to community agriculture which maintains respect for the land which offers sustenance. I have serious doubts this approach is better for our environment than raising meat in a sustainable system which incorporates livestock in a balanced agricultural cycle. (note: I'm not saying that feedlots or overgrazing are a part of this model)

  21. #21 noriko 19 Jan 11

    um, is there sustainable vegan farming today?

    To be sustainable, things came from land should return to the land. If all the vegan return their poos and body to the land, then it can close the circle. They used to use poos as fertilizer way back when in Japan (remember, Japan has been very crowded country but had managed to sustain that population without ’factory farming’ until hundred years ago) - is that what they're doing today? If they use flush toilet and cremation, it steal the wealth of the land away, or at least transfer the resource to somewhere far away from the land suitable for agriculture.

    Also, I'm curious about V B12 deficiency in long term vegan diet. To be lifelong vegans, they need to rely on artificial V B12 - that hasn't existed until modern history. When we run out oil, we wouldn't have Vegan V B12 anymore - and 100 years later that's pretty much when vegans extinct...

  22. #22 Lidia Seebeck 19 Jan 11

    81 million acres

    Here we are, debating how the world can possibly feed itself all over again.

    Meanwhile we're raising 81 million acres-- in the U.S. alone-- of a crop that provides absolutely no practical value whatsoever.

    Confused? Look out to your front lawn. The answer is turfgrass. The American obsession of the perfect emerald carpet sucks up water at astronomical rates right along with fertilizers and chemicals. In many places, having a lawn is mandated by law or by HOA restriction.

    One very simple step toward a greener earth is to forbid laws that mandate lawns!

    See, in olden times having a lawn meant you were wealthy-- you could afford sheep or cows on your property. The grass was used to FEED them, not to be cut by (then non-existent) lawnmowers and tossed to mold away in the yard waste can. Americans have latched onto the lawn as a symbol of prestige and wealth without understanding why it was that way.

    There are two simple ways to convert those 81 million acres-- something like a quarter acre PER PERSON!!-- into practical use. The first is to bring back the backyard-- and front, and side yard-- garden. There is no fresher or more carbon-neutral vegetable production than organic veggies fed with compost and brought in a basket (or one's own hands) to the kitchen.

    The second way is to bring back the original idea of what a lawn was for. Nix all the regulations concerning city livestock and embrace them as a green alternative to the lawnmower. Miniature cows and sheep can grace the land once again. These need not necessarily be for meat production-- miniature cows are most often used to produce milk.

    The ideas-- provided that good fences are in the equation-- work well in tandem, since animal manure is a fantastic source of organic phosphorous for the veggies if composted correctly.

    No, we don't need to be vegan. Some of us have allergies to vegan foods like soy and peanuts, at any rate. What we do need to do is to rethink the suburban emerald carpet.

  23. #23 ericrlepine 19 Jan 11


    There is absolutely nothing inherently ’green’ in adhering to veganism, nor should we automatically assume that ’eating meat’ is detrimental to the environment. It is certainly not that simple, and to think otherwise is seeing our complex world in way too simple a way. If, as a vegan, you need to supplement your diet (and this necessity has been shown in countless studies), how can you justify your choice and believe that this is a ’better’ option, both for your health, society, or the environment? If you choose to eat legumes or grains grown halfway across the world (whether sustainably grown or not - another debate altogether) but live in an area where you could live off animals raised on pasture, how can you justify that choice? Agriculture, for the most part, is mankind's most destructive invention. The current practices are making it so that we are running out of room, running out of topsoil, running out of fossil fuels (for transportation, fertilizers, farming, etc), running out of water, and then some. All the while, allowing us to increase and displace human biomass at the expense of all other biomass!!!!! Veganism is a myth based on ignorance. What grows where you live??? Are you taking care of this place? If your choice lies into living in a way that entails not living off your local community's resources, at what cost does this come to surrounding and/or distant communities? At what cost are you jeopardizing your health, and potentially becoming a burden on society?

  24. #24 soynoyoi 20 Jan 11

    re: #20


    ’Consider the ecological impacts of growing soy in the way that it is being grown today’

    You do know that the soy is mostly fed to cattle, right?

  25. #25 bing 20 Jan 11


    B12 comes from bacterial action, not from oil as far as I'm aware.

  26. #26 steve l 20 Jan 11

    An Australian perspective.

    The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) shows that, at the beginning of 2010, there were well over four times as many cows and sheep in Australia (over 100 million) as there were people (c.22 million). Ruminants emit methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, constantly. Almost all the land used to grow the crops to feed animals is sprayed with fossil fuel-based chemicals. Whilst the number of feedlots is small, relative to the USA, most cows are ‘finished off’ on a grain-based diet (the grain being cultivated using non-organic methods). It is no surprise, therefore, that 15.6% of total greenhouse gas emissions in Australia are derived from agriculture – oh, and according to the CO2 Energy Emissions Index, Australia has the highest per capita greenhouse gas emissions rate in the world (overtaking the USA in 2009). Whilst the main culprit is reliance on coal-fired power stations (37.3%), agriculture is second, emitting more greenhouse gases than transport (14.7%).

    Then there is the question of water, obviously an issue in the driest continent. The amount of water required to produce 1 kg of beef is disputed, figures ranging from 27 to 50,000 litres, the lower figure based on the assumption that all water either passes through the animal as waste or transpiration or is retained in the animal as it grows, the higher figure taking into account the water that falls on pastures used to rear cows, on crops used to grow cattle feed and water used in abattoirs. International studies veer much closer to 50,000 litres than 27. The ABS found that, in the Murray-Darling Basin, whilst most water was used by cotton farmers (793 gigalitres) and cereal farmers (707 gigalitres), pasture for grazing used 518 gigalitres, a significant amount that could have been used to produce food directly for human consumption.

    Other adverse environmental impacts from rearing animals include land degradation, pollution of water resources, waste management, over-use of antibiotics, the use of genetically-modified grain to feed animals, and, as others have noted, issues surrounding human health.

    People do not have to eat meat or use animal products.

    Veganism is undoubtedly the Greener (and healthier) option. The argument about indigenous culture is spurious (can you condone female circumcision?). There has to be cultural change at a global level if global warming is to be abated. Not eating animal products is an easy way of making a contribution to a better future.

  27. #27 alex 23 Jan 11

    while yes, eating vegan is more environmentally friendly than being a carnivore, i doubt that humanity will ever stop raising at least some animals.

  28. #28 no user name 24 Jan 11


    I GUerrilla Garden am vegan and skip food and promote growing own throughout UK .

    i adopted a vegan diet for eco reasons.

    And support the aims and objectives of Vegan Organic Network.

    Let's not confine common sense to the dustbin of history folks!

  29. #29 Dylan, age11 26 Jan 11

    I think that being vegan is the greenest option, but as Wayne said it is not possible for all people. The inuit for example are reliant on the fish, caribou, and seal and could not live on a vegan diet. However if all the corn and crops fed to the animals are fed to us humanoids then there would be so much food it would be enough for all of us. Veganisum is the best option but it is not suitable for all off us. Factory farming is most defiantly not the right option

    Dylan Broeke age 11

  30. #30 Veg Wat 30 Jan 11

    Is being vegan the only green option?

    Less factory farming,less corporate agriculture,less monoculture.less methane and less greed would be best.The far north is melting making hunting difficult resulting in more indigenous people becoming urbanised and shopping at supermarkets,likewise islander people.As fish stocks become scarce,traditional lifestyles follow allowing greedy commercial interests to further corrupt and profit.

  31. #31 spiralpunk 30 Jan 11


    EricRLepine wrote ’ Veganism is a myth based on ignorance’

    Eric, you obviously a not in the slightest bit concerned with either knowing facts, caring for the environment or compassion for animals. Your ignorant viewpoint is just the sort of shite that has our world in the state it is and continues to get worse. There is not a defensible argument against veganism in the context of the Western world - be it environmental, animal rights, human health, land & water use - you got nothing mate. I am so sick of hearing such crap, here I am 18yrs being vegan and still have to read idiotic claptrap on a forum for 'progressive views' - you talk of 'health and a burden to society' - WHERE ARE YOUR FACTS? Tell me, where are these hospitals filled with vegans being a burden on the health system.... NO WHERE! Yes I am using CAPITAL LETTERS! Why? Because I truly am sick of idiots like you. Before you get on your high horse or anyone bleats about 'freedom of speech' and all, I was a full on meat eater until I discovered the true facts of eating meat & dairy -and my heart, my conscience, my soul, my intellect WOULD NOT let me continue on the path I was on, so when I see you say that Veganism is based on ignorance. I gotta say F&*k You.

    To the other posts on here I apologise for my abrupt nature and I appreciate the well thought out arguments - I have many I could espouse but it's petty much been covered by both the people who believe in veganism and the deniers...

    A ’Green Carnivore’, sounds just like all those other oxymorons like military intelligence, honest politican and Fresh but frozen...

  32. #32 B12 plentiful 31 Jan 11

    ’Also, I'm curious about V B12 deficiency in long term vegan diet. To be lifelong vegans, they need to rely on artificial V B12 - that hasn't existed until modern history. When we run out oil, we wouldn't have Vegan V B12 anymore - and 100 years later that's pretty much when vegans extinct..’

    The view that Vegans require B12 suppliments is a fallicy. We require a tiny amount of B12 in our diets and this comes from bacteria in soil which is then on vegetables such as mushrooms. To get adequate B12 a vegan should simply eat organic food and not overwash their vegetables.

    Veganism is the greenest diet for those of us in ghg intensive countries. Whilst vegan for both enviro and animal rights reasons, i see that any diet which is mass produced with intensive agricultural practices is damaging. For this reason the greenest option is organic, locally produced whole food vegan. I do wonder the environmental impact created by the production of guns and ammo used in hunting (in responce to the person who hunts their own meat). Humans are never going to be totally sustainable, unless we all die out, however we do have the obligation to be as sustainable as possible in our surroundings, and i imagine for most people reading this magazine, that means the type of diet i have outlines above. So in summary, Yes a vegan diet is the greenest option when combines with local and organic farming practises.

  33. #33 HugoAussie 02 Feb 11

    can Vegan be done

    Hi, I am a vegetarian and would be a vegan but for what I read in New Scientist 3 Nov 2007 issue 2628.
    They say that taking dietary supplements has a risk of causing cancer.
    So that means fortified milk with b12 and other dietary supplements in tablet form can cause cancer.
    I get by on a minimum of 2 liters of organic milk and and a block of vegetarian cheese each week.

  34. #34 veganpedant 03 Feb 11

    B12 misunderstandings

    @B12 plentiful
    Actually, you're wrong to assert that we can get all the B12 we need from unwashed veg. That has yet to be proven. You should read the Vegan Society page at:

    Which says, ’If for any reason you choose not to use fortified foods or supplements you should recognise that you are carrying out a dangerous experiment - one that many have tried before with consistently low levels of success.

    @HugoAussie I think you have probably misunderstood the research. Unfortunately I can't read the claims of the article, but in general most research is more nuanced than simply asserting X causes (or cures) cancer. Despite how the media report it (New Scientist is normally better than most).

    A B12 supplement should carry no more risk than any other form of B12 ingestion, like from dairy or animal corpses. I think the study it quotes is the one which notes a higher risk of oesophageal adenocarcinoma - from non-food source B12 intake, but its far from conclusive And bear in mind that the study cited at: notes a higher risk of some sorts of cancers being correlated to ingestion of animal proteins. There have also been a few population studies linking high folate ingestion and breast cancer.

    There is a good page about B12 at:

    The Vegan Society I mentioned above is a good reference too:

    As is the Uni of Maryland:

    Finally a good listing of B12 reasearch can be found at:

  35. #35 Vegan Daniel 03 Feb 11

    cut Meat, Dairy, and Eggs

    Is VEGAN the only option? Both of you made great points--those who are consuming the most meat per capita, the ’privileged North’ get most of their meat (as well as bovine milk and chicken eggs) from factory farms. Though I also wouldn't attempt to impose eating an exclusively plant-based diet on the entire world (e.g. it would be a challenge in Mongolia!) I see our way of eating, at least in the United States, isn't even a free-market capitalist system. It's socialist. Without the tax-payer burden of Corporate Welfare, i.e. the Farm Bill, and the subsidies of corn and soy, factory farms wouldn't exist. Subsidized GMO corn and soy = cheap feed. The price of non-organic meat, milk, and eggs makes the prices of the Organic/grass-fed/etc. counterparts seem excessive. Those prices are what the meat/milk/eggs really cost! If all in the privileged north cut our meat AND DAIRY & EGG consumption way down, instead focused on a mostly plant-based diet we would be much better off.

    --Also the point about eating Organic/pasture raised meat, such as at a public event, seems to almost need a disclaimer. The more people are around others eating a lot of animal-based foods the more acceptable it is, and we know that most of those purchases are not for the organic animal-based foods. And this also holds true! The more people that eat vegan foods, and perhaps asks chefs and challenge them to develop even tastier plant-based options for your favorite places to dine, it will become more acceptable and available--even it you're not eating this way *every* meal.

    >>also, I see most of the original discussion, though about Vegan or Not, focuses on meat. There is not much talk of dairy consumption, with much of the world not able to tolerate it well. Why dairy? We certainly don't need to consume another species to appease the USDA, Those cows produce similar waste as those grown only for beef, and being injected with antibiotics and rBGH/rBST make the excrement perhaps even more of a burden.

  36. #36 Elsa Meserlian 07 Feb 11

    What about the Vegan products?

    I'm sorry to divert a bit from the current debate. But I can't help but notice no one has made reference to the Vegan products which are extracted from almonds, sory, rice etc. Aren't they difficult to manufactor, hence cause more Carbon emissions? unfortunately I'm not informed enough on the specific topic of vegan products manufactoring, if anyone has the stats on it I'd like to know myself (given they're from a reliable source).

    Just a thought provoking idea really. I visited a vegan friend in new york who took me to all sorts of places that sold vegan ice cream and vegan cheese, and I couldn't but help think how much energy it would require to make a creamy texture from almonds?

  37. #37 Michael Irvine 19 Feb 11


    I am a pragmatic, tolerant vegetarian on environmental grounds. It is interesting to watch the debate unfold above. It is nearly impossible to have an objective, cool headed debate on whether your chosen diet is the right one because our diet is literally what we are. So some of the expletive- laced comments above should come as no surprise.
    First of all, despite all the impassioned arguments to the contrary (by, for example Lierre Keith in ’The Vegetarian Myth’) the logic is just unassailable- eating low down on the food chain is good for the planet. Sorry if it's a cliche, but it's true. I'm so tired of hearing about all the insects killed by plows, the environmental destruction caused by agriculture, pesticides, etc.... Growing all those crops to fatten cattle simply multiplies the destruction. Much better to grow your food-as sustainably as possible- and eat it yourself.
    Carnivore apologists, at least those ethical enough to recognize the moral and environmental criminality of factory farming, counter that animals should be raised on their natural diet of grass, on pastureland unsuitable for anything else. This argument is sound in parts of the world where this actually happens. When I lived in the Horn of Africa where nothing grows but thorntrees, their thorny leaves stripped by goats, vegetarianism not only made no sense but was incompatible with life. I gladly ate meat because it was the only sensible choice. That has nothing to do with the food production system in the rest of the world, where the US Great Plains and the great swaths of Amazonia that fall to the axe every day are just sprawling corn and soy factories for factory farmed animals. And as Jonathan Safran-Foer, quoted above, has said in his book ’Eating Animals’, try telling your dinner host that you only eat sustainably and compassionately raised meat. You won't be invited back. No-one bats an eye if you politely pass on the porkchops as a vegetarian. This isn't a trivial point. I will not adopt a diet or lifetyle that reeks of self righteousness.
    Concerning the cruelty argument, I do have moral qualms about eating the products of factory farming which basically is on the same moral plane as the Third Reich or Abu Ghraib. If the meat on my plate came from a deer felled by an arrow or hunter's bullet, I'm not sure the cruelty argument would apply. Given that I live in the 21st century in a developed country and shop in a supermarket, it is irrelevant. The day the meat supply is 100% grass fed, or wild, and sustainable might just be the day I eat a steak. Until then, no thanks.
    I am a vegetarian, not a vegan. Make no mistake about it, you can do yourself serious harm on a vegan diet which simply doesn't have enough (actually, any) vitamin B12, unless of course you take B12 supplements. I don't know about the rest of you, but I have a problem with that. Having to take supplements is an admission of a failed diet. Note that veganism is a 20th century North American invention. It is basically unheard of in India. And what the heck do 20th century North Americans know about diets? They are the folks who brought you the Big Mac. A good rule of thumb before adopting any diet is to find a really old- I mean millennia old- culture that has thrived on that diet. If there isn't one, it's probably not a good diet. Both veganism and fast food fail the test. Forget them. Indians have been perfecting vegetarianism and delicious vegetarian recipes for at least 2000 years. Not a single vegan among them. India is the land of curd and milk.
    Finally, speaking as a vegetarian and a physician, I don't think anyone should adopt vegetarianism solely on health grounds. Is it a healthy diet? Absolutely, if done right. I for one am a healthy, physically fit vegetarian. But you can be perfectly healthy on a purely carnivorous diet too. The Inuit have been doing it for millennia. If you are a Mongolian shepherd or a traditional Inuit, enjoy your meat. For the rest of us, pragmatic vegetarianism is the best choice for sustainability.

  38. #38 itsmejustme 20 Feb 11


    Sad that a magazine like newint allows meat eating apologists to spout drivel on its forum....we want compassion for animals.Thats it.

  39. #39 farmerboy 24 Feb 11

    A farmer's perspective

    Having grown up on a conventional farm in Australia (one that grows food crops and runs livestock, mostly for meat), I believe that there are a number of things that are constantly overlooked whenever this topic is broached.

    Firstly there is the idea of crop rotation for soil conservation purposes. Livestock are a vital part of this practice as they provide income to the farmer for the area of land that is being rested in the rotation cycle.

    Secondly, when crops fail or are rained out during harvest (as has happened to a large percentage of crops in Australia over the last decade), they are no longer able to be consumed by humans, thus the most effective use of these crops is to feed them to livestock.

    Obviously these are just small issues in the larger scheme of things, and do not take into account things such as polyculture, wilderness sanctuaries etc, (c'mon, we've all got to eat;), but these are still relevant points which show quite clearly that livestock has an important place in any agrarian society.

    One final thing, I find that most environmental activists tend to come from the centre of large cities. This is very strange. For those of you who don't know, farming is incredibly hard work, and has very few financial rewards (in Australia at least). A typical working week involves at least 80-90 hours of work (and during sowing and harvest even more), with average annual incomes of significantly less than $100k (which is the wage of a mid-level manager who would usually work around 50-60 hours a week). For crops, the income is largely concentrated to harvest time, whilst the expenses are incurred right throughout the growing season, meaning that the business model is inherently extremely risky (particularly when droughts, floods, fires or storms can destroy the crop completely). Conversely, livestock provides a steady income stream right throughout the year, and is significantly less prone to natural risks. Thus livestock plays an important role in making the practice of farming a viable enterprise in economies where the primary producer is at the bottom of the food chain.

  40. #40 Julie 04 Mar 11

    The role of grazing in sustainable ecosystems

    I'm another Australian and would like to support the points made by farmerboy. The situation over here is vastly different to the USA with their long periods of intensive feedlotting and feeding animals crops that are subsidised by the US government and are therefore in far greater quantity than would make it feasible anywhere else in the world to feed such food to animals in feedlots. As farmerboy mentioned, a lot of grain that is fed to animals here is that which is rain damaged (like wheat) or in some areas of poor land (or in years of poor rainfall) farmers can grow a crop of sorghum as feed for animals, but not any crop that humans would eat.

    I believe that animals are an integral part of our land management systems, and there is plenty of evidence that managed grazed land produces a far more healthy ecosystem than a locked up piece of 'conservation land'. (holisitc farming websites can provide further info for anyone who is interested).

    In Australia animal manure is the largest source of fertiliser and it is much better than synthetic fertilisers because it provides organic matter as well as nutrients. In addition, on most of the land we grow cattle and sheep rather than crops because it's not physically possible to grow crops for human consumption on that land - it's dry.

    I find it interesting to consider the carbon storage potential of grazed land. Crops tend to be C neutral because of the fuel, fertiliser and other inputs required to grow them, there's very little potential to sequester C with cropping. With grazing there can be a continual circulation of green plants growing and forming relationships with fungi and setting up the soil conditions to sequester C. We need active growth for this to occur i.e. not grasslands sitting locked up. If there was a 1% increase in soil C over 800,000ha of Australia's grazing lands, that would be equivalent to 20% of Australia's emissions.

    Like everyone else before me, I don't think factory farming is the way to go, and like many others, I think much less meat in the diet is a better way forward. But I do think that agriculture is meant to involve animals, and in particular their manure. So I would argue that no, being vegan is not the only green option. Well managed grazing systems have the potential to be very green indeed.

  41. #41 Renata jayne 06 Mar 11

    Vegan is the only solution left!

    You don't need to be an expert to see that the vegan diet is the most efficient one for humans. There is simply not all that wasted water, fuel, grain, medicines and land needed for the vegan diet. Everyone knows if they were to watch an animal being even 'organically' slaughtered that it just looks wrong. So go vegan world and stop ruining our planet as we are all connected...for better or for worse, till death do us part...which is getting closer for all of us! The end

  42. #42 Rebecca Kneen 06 May 11

    The argument for not grass-feeding livestock is based on a single study which took conventional (grain-fed) livestock and turned them onto grass. Much the same as a person who doesn't eat beans, it takes animals a while to adjust to a new food. I would be very interested to see this study re-done with more appropriate livestock. As a farmer, I am very aware that breeds of livestock bred for intensive grain production do not thrive on pasture alone. Traditional breeds, on the other hand, forage more widely thrive on pasture. I've seen this in the real world many times - the only thing we didn't measure was how much they farted. However, knowing that the digestive systems of ruminants are designed for using forage, it seems wildly unreasonable to seriously consider that they would not be able to digest it without side effects. And just as with humans or any other animal, gas is a side effect of poor digestion. Every vet knows this (it's called bloat), but the economists who promulgated the study seem not to.

    Pasture livestock on my farm make use of land that produces grasses very well, but which is entirely unsuitable for vegetable or grain production. It could be forest, true, but I am not destroying ecosystems by pasturing livestock. There are examples of livestock production destroying ecosystems, but there are also plenty of examples of careful livestock pasturage working with an enhancing ecosystems. In fact, since we are planting hedgerows of mixed local species, we are creating a natural landscape with plenty of mixed meadowland which provides valuable habitat for many species.

    I can't grow the proteins I would need to eat a vegan diet, and I do not want to contribute to the mono-crop madness of large scale soy farms. My vegetable and fruit production also depends on the manure created by my livestock - as most vegetable farmers will attest, it's damned hard to create healthy soil without the right microbe mix and sufficient manure. Every veg farmer I've ever met uses manure. Even the most ideological vegan farmers eventually realize that they are depleting their soils.

    It would be really nice to have an actual agriculturalist debate this issue with Wayne, instead of a very much non-agricultural activist. Too many of the arguments are not based in a knowledge of soil, microbiology, organic agriculture, or even the digestive systems of ruminants and all the other livestock.

    By the way, chickens kept in small flocks for the home can successfully forage on waste - just like the home pig used to do - taking our by-products and adding agricultural (by which I mean soil health) value to it. Composted manure is more ’alive’ and valuable in soil terms that composted veg scraps, and then we also have a nutritionally valuable by-product: meat. There are plenty of ways to grow and eat meat responsibly. When adhered to (and yes, this means not a lot of meat in the diet, but a definite agricultural presence), it's a lot more sustainable than high-input mono-cropped and GMO soy. (To continue the trend of comparing responsible agriculture to non-responsible agriculture.)

    I'm sorry that you set up a reasonable, thoughtful and knowledgeable person against a reactionary person with no links to or knowledge of agriculture.

  43. #43 Rebecca Kneen 06 May 11

    Typical Western Problems

    Wait, here's an idea: instead of indulging in typical Western, urban-centred one-upmanship (’I'm greener than you’), how about we try to actually grow our food ourselves and eat sustainably: local, organic food. If we genuinely eat local, seasonal and organic foods with a bare minimum of outsourced inputs (spices, coffee, tea... and I'm sure other exceptions), we will genuinely shift our diets and our agricultural production to more sustainable methods. Organic livestock fed local grass, organic dairy, locally-grown and organic soy products, seasonal fruit and vegetables or the same thing locally processed (so you're not in Canada eating Brazilian frozen beans), locally grown beans and pulses. Our diets become more suitable to our location, we reduce the amount of processed foods, we stop eating either GMO foods or factory-farmed/mono-cropped foods. We suddenly discover that we have more in common than we thought, and start learning from indigenous cultures the world over about how to eat according to the land you're on. And yes, this goes for city-dwellers too. Farm your balcony, if you can't do anything else. Guess what? we all learn about agriculture, we gain a stronger relationship with the world around us, and we might even stop yelling at each other from our very privileged positions of Western wealth and choice.

  44. #44 DanT 09 May 11

    Wayne Roberts in his second comment gives a totally vegan-friendly argument! There's little genuine environmental disagreement after that (the non-vegan basically admits that you should go vegan unless you live in a hunter-gatherer tribe), they just skirt the issue of needlessly hurting other beings.

  45. #45 Geoff 08 Jun 11

    Some parts of the world have an infertile soil and are not adequate for growing crops. Some bushes and grasses, however, may grow there, which can be eaten by cattle and goats. In these areas the consumption of meat is actually a good thing.

    If you'd really like to know the opinion of a lot of people, why don't you conduct a survey? <a href=’’ title=’Free online survey tool for students’>Survey Prof</a> is a very good survey tool I always use.

  46. #47 Ann 03 Oct 11

    With increasing evidence from professionals in the Medical,and Environmental fields we now know that being and or adopting a Vegan lifestyle is the only 'green' option. Someone once said, 'you can't eat meat and still be an environmentalist' how true this is. This applies to what we wear as well, leather, feathers, furs etc. procured by violence from several species is not ethical nor is the factory farms in which they suffer upon are environmentally friendly.

  47. #48 Jan Stinger 21 Jan 12

    Im thinking of going towards Vegan from Vegetarian due to milk farming industries policies of removing calves from theire mother within minutes of being born so cruel and also the killing of the male calves. The mother then straight back to work clip i saw wasnt even washed down. Why cant they be allowed to stay with calves for couple months at least so barbaric

  48. #49 Cetvies 09 Jul 13


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This article was originally published in issue 439

New Internationalist Magazine issue 439
Issue 439

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