Is veganism becoming counter productive to the environmental movement?
As a cow, sheep, pig, bee and chicken farmer, who enjoys wild meats my perspective is skewed. If you are fundamentally against all use of anything animal based on moral ‘exploitation’ grounds, then that’s fair enough. My issue is how veganism is becoming part of the identity politics of the environmental movement. Extinction Rebellion is spreading the ‘get rid of animals’ message, Ecotricity is now providing ‘Vegan energy’ and using graphic bloodied animal pictures in their marketing.
For those of us in the agricultural industry, regenerative farming, sustainable land management and permaculture movement there is a very strong argument to be made that animals are fundamental to sustainable food production. Not only this but animal agriculture helps to support a healthy, regenerative, sustainable and biodiverse landscape and contributes positively as a solution to the world's climate crisis.
There are many people that need to be convinced that more action is needed, radical action, in order to avert a climate catastrophe. The main polluting sectors which contribute towards it are energy generation and transport. Agriculture is the only industry which has the capability to be a net sink; in order for that to happen animals are key to the system. It is at the moment an emitter and that is due to industrial ‘factory farming’ type practices, across all the food groups, not just animal agriculture. Consider palm oil; growing on a tree it could be integrated into a diverse perennial system, but if you create a monoculture of it it’s environmentally damaging.
In playing identity politics around veganism and environmentalism some people will be switched off to the environment movement. I would personally consider switching away from ecotricity because they are actively campaigning against my business; but I support paying more for my energy if it’s promoting renewable technologies. If animals are essential, then I support the idea of producing energy from slurry (cow manure) instead of allowing it to be environmentally damaging through overspreading.
Making use of animal byproducts can also be a solution to the plastic problem. Some of the original glues and lubricants were animal based. Wool and leather are fantastic textiles, wool can be used in insulation and to produce award winning compost (rather than mining peat). If we value these byproducts and the money can be channelled back to the producer it means they don’t have to work fine profit margins and can take the liberty to make more environmentally positive decisions
The food production system needs all of its components to be scrutinised. To pick just animal agriculture and oppose it is to not see the complexity at play. Organic fertility is found through the use of animals; otherwise you need to produce it chemically, an inherently polluting process. Animals in agriculture drive biodiversity which gives cropping systems pollinators and natural resistance to pests. A complex food web and biologically active soils is what gives nutrient density to plant based foods.
A sustainable healthy food system is centered around fresh, local produce. In the UK we produce some of the highest quality, most sustainable - particularly - beef and sheep in the world. Obviously there are elements of animal agriculture that need to be challenged; alongside farming practices surrounding arable, fruit and vegetable systems. Factory farming is damaging.
Veganism could let people think they’ve made their environmentally responsible food decision and be blind to all the other environmental aspects of food systems. Seek out high quality meat, support your local community of producers, get interested in their production systems. Campaign on particular elements of food production, not just write off animal agriculture. Don’t fear complexity.
Animal ‘exploitation’ is a moral question, of which the answer on both sides is justifiable and anyone’s decision is to be respected. It is not an environmental question.