I have toyed with veganism in the past few years but I've never seen enough evidence to show that it is any healthier or better for the environment than being a meat eater.
I have to take away the whole dislike of raw meat preparation followed by the 48 hours of anxiety and wondering whether I've just sentenced everyone to a bout of food poisoning despite some OCD washing techniques before I can fairly argue this out. So, I shall just finish the third in a row thorough hand wash and then get my mind in a place of non bias.
If you haven't read my previous article which covers the vast subjects of pesticides, agriculture and food wastage, albeit in a brief manner – you might find the figures as fascinating as I did – also it is the basis to some more detailed analysis of subjects such as this one. Also, while I'm here – please note that there may be some affiliate links from which, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission should you wish to purchase via the link.
In the previous article I talked about the massive food waste before and after food leaves the farm, which means you'll also know that a large proportion of this is vegetable related ; but, demand for meat is extremely high and THIS causes several other issues.
Greenhouse gases (or GHG's) are the part that can make you blink – almost wince actually. The Food and Agriculture Organisation for the UN says that the global greenhouse emissions for livestock is around 14.5%. However, UK farms are striving to lower emissions with more efficient production systems and indeed only produce 5% of the UK's total GHG's with agriculture as a whole producing less greenhouse gases than combined households or business energy supply and transport. In fact, transport is the highest with energy supply sitting just behind (countryside online) so I don't think the vegan argument, seen a lot on social media, of emissions is necessarily a good one. Presumably, vegans are not all off grid and don't cycle or walk everywhere and so they can not be excluded from the emissions figures that far outweigh those in agriculture.
So then we must start to think about the taking of lives. Do we as humans think we have the right to take the life of any animal when we please? Is it fair to the animal to cut short its life ? (sometimes by a great deal) I suppose that this is one of the biggest arguments in support of veganism and I can certainly see how taking the life of a young animal could be unkind as I do truly believe that animals do have feelings and thoughts – and certainly for me the animals feelings must play a role in the process.
From another point of view though, we are all just part of an enormous food chain. Every living thing including plants are part of a food chain. Most animals wouldn't exist at all if they didn't kill other animals to eat. In these purely animal situations the prey must have sometimes long episodes of multiple negative emotions including utter fright with very few dying instantly or without pain at the hands of the predator. This of course doesn't make it 'right' that we as an intelligent and developed species can claim that this makes our own killing of animals acceptable – and then, is it the act of taking the animals life or the way in which it is done?
For the purpose of fair argument and my own peace of mind I have done extensive research from both the side of the vegans and the side of the meat eaters and some of it actually shocked me – in the true sense of the word shock.
I have to admit that factually animal slaughter gives for some pretty dark reading. Viva is a UK pro vegan, anti slaughter group – I wouldn't advise checking the website if you're in the slightest bit squeamish. When first read through some of their campaign material I found some of it difficult to believe, but on checking some of the facts found them to be true. It is a shame that the site doesn't use more references for their facts as I believe that would make them and their writing more credible – but I digress.
One thing that really got to me on the Viva website was the fact that pregnant animals in the third trimester are included in slaughter – they even have photographs to prove this particular point which are not for the faint hearted. I decided I needed to cross reference this to see if it was still current and to find out what the statistics were – don't get me wrong here by the way, I'm definitely with the vegans on this one!
According to the EFSA (European Food Safety Authority) there can be several reasons why animals might be sent for slaughter in pregnancy and to be honest I don't see a single point that makes it valid or acceptable. They range from lack of supervised breeding and pregnancy testing to the animal being sick anyway or that the financial gain is needed. They also state the probable scenario with a 66% + likelihood is that the foetus doesn't feel pain – which would make sense if you think about human birthing ; however we do also know that birthing complications or trauma can have a long lasting affect and so we should probably assume the same can be said for animal foetus's.
Later in the report the EFSA state that 3% of dairy cows, 1.5% of beef cattle and under 1% each of pigs, sheep and goats are slaughtered while in their third trimester – and remember these are Europe wide figures and not just in the UK. The final part of their report gives a list of 'practical measures to reduce the number of pregnant animals slaughtered'. I'm not sure this statement goes far enough and that the word 'reduce' needs to be changed for 'eliminate'. Whether you or I believe that we should or shouldn't eat animals, there is never an acceptable reason to slaughter a pregnant animal. Ever.
Aside from that, slaughter IS meant to be pain free with various methods involving a stun that renders the animal unconscious. The RSPCA and HSA both talk about trying to ensure procedures are in place to look after the animals welfare and make sure that slaughter uses 'humane' methods which are continuously being developed. I can totally see the issues here and agree that things need to monumentally change for the better to even begin to make animal slaughter remotely acceptable.
The problem is, health. On the flip side an article was published in 'New Scientist' just this week (23.11.2020) that stated that while people with a vegan lifestyle tend to have a lower risk of cancer and heart disease they have a significantly increased risk of stroke and to a lesser extent, of breaking bones, especially hips. I'm fairly certain I do remember reading somewhere that vegans also have lower 'bad' cholesterol levels, but this is something that can be solved fairly easily by adjusting diet anyway and including more fibre for example.
Where does this leave us? Where does it leave me in my quest to find out the answers to whether veganism is healthier and better for the environment? I do believe that changes need to happen to the food industry and meat demand must be reduced – somewhere here there also needs to be better protection financially for farmers so that they don't feel the need to throw every animal to slaughter, but I also don't believe that there is enough evidence to say that complete veganism is the right or most healthy direction. Also if everyone went vegan, or the proportion of vegans to meat eaters significantly changed the demand on crop production would increase meaning farmers would have to continue the upward trend of chemical pesticide usage to obtain the required high crop yields – this in turn is not healthy for the planet, for wildlife or us. So, it doesn't make sense for us all to be vegan either.
What we need is balance. I actually really enjoy cooking vegan meals and perhaps we need more education about the range of food and flavours available and change the mindset that vegan food is boring and unfulfilling. Perhaps if we all were to cut down our meat and fish consumption to pehaps four days a week in total, then mixed vegan and insect based meals on the other days we would end up with a better balance – be able to better implement humane slaughter with a guaranteed 0% pregnant animal slaughter rate, AND have an opportunity to consume a whole range of vitamins, minerals, nutrients and macro nutrients to lead to healthier bodies and lifestyles with extended longevity for both us and animals. This could lead to a reduction in aggressive farming methods – and together with ideas I put forward in the previous article have a much more balanced and economic world.
I write full time, so if you enjoyed this story, please share it with your friends and on social media, and if you really loved it please do leave a tip – I'm always eternally grateful for my supporters. Thank you.