I hear this one a lot. Some people seem to think that because veganism is based on nonhuman animal rights and considerations that it does not have affects that go further than this. Veganism has a lot of ‘side effects’ that are beneficial for human animals. For myself and many of the vegans I have met, our veganism as a philosophy has caused us to extend our compassion further to humans and the environment and we aim to create a better world for all the inhabitants of Earth.
Part of the reason that I went vegan to begin with was because the meat, dairy and egg industries tend to waste so many resources and I thought that instead of feeding grain and other crops such as soy to animals then eating the animals… Why not just eat the crops? We already produce enough food to feed the world but we don’t distribute it properly; inequality gets in the way and a large amount goes to feeding animals in factory farms. There are many other ways in which veganism helps humans (not to mention that humans ARE animals).
Thank you to badveganwolf on tumblr and their post ‘Vegans for Humanity' that partially inspired this post. I've tried to include a few more things and fill it with a bit more information relevant to Australia.
There are a multitude of ways in which veganism either inadvertantly (if someone is unaware of the issues) or purposefully (if someone is aware and also sometimes if someone puts in some effort) benefits human animals.
1. We currently produce enough food to feed the world. If proper redistibution practices were put into place and if we didn’t use all the grains and soy, etc to feed animals (for which much land is cleared in rainforests), then we would be able to feed the world . Currently one third of grain produced is used to feed animals. Obviously a lot of this (redistribution, grassroots efforts to get people to grow food locally and buy locally, getting rid of unequal access to food and unequal access to money, etc) is beyond the ability of the average human to influence to a large degree, but we can all play a part and work together. Hopefully as more people become vegan and more resources are freed up, more people will be able to gain access to food and we will be able to move towards a more sustainable food supply. I suggest looking into the food sovereignty movement if these sorts of issues interest you .
"A shift in eating habits towards the increase of the direct consumption of plant foods seems to be a desirable objective in this perspective. Owing to their lighter impact, confirmed also by our study, vegetarian and vegan diets could play an important role in preserving environmental resources and in reducing hunger and malnutrition in poorer nations (Gussow, 1994; Fox, 1999)." - Evaluating the environmental impact of various dietary
patterns combined with different food production systems
2. Not only does industrialised meat, egg and dairy production tend to use/waste a lot of grain and soy, but they also use a lot of water. This is because the animals require water to drink (a ‘beef’ cow drinks an average of 45L per day, a cow used for milk drinks 70L a day), water is used for cleaning and it used to grow crops for the animals to eat. Waterfootprint.org estimates that beef production uses 15,415 litre/kg, butter uses 5,553 litre/kg and chicken meat uses 4325 litre/kg. Compared to plant foods (e.g. pumpkin: 353 litre/kg, potato: 287 litre/kg and rice: 2497 litre/kg) meat and dairy are not the most water-efficient things to be eating. Considering that our water supply is at risk due to climate change increasing the severity and frequency of droughts, surely conserving water is an important thing to do.
"The meat-based food system requires more energy, land, and water resources than the lactoovovegetarian diet. In this limited sense, the lactoovovegetarian diet is more sustainable than the average American meat-based diet." - Sustainability of meat-based and plant-based diets and the environment
3. There is less manure to deal with when people aren’t eating animals that manure. Currently, it is estimated that there are over 150 billion animals killed for food annually around the world, all of whom make many kilograms of poop. In Australia it is estimated that farmed animals produce three million tonnes of manure each year. The manure has to go somewhere. Normally in a balanced ecosystem the manure is used by animals and broken down to help nourish the earth. In factory farms, there is a high concentration of animals and therefore manure (click here to see images of chickens in manure pits by Tamara Kenneally). In this factory farmed situation, the manure is typically mixed with water (usually in large ‘ponds’) and used as fertiliser on crops. Of the three million tonnes produced, 2.1 million tonnes was used as fertiliser. There is a risk that runoff from the fertilising of these crops might contaminate local waterways. Victoria has been in the news previously due to water being contaminated with cow manure. There’s so much manure that dung beetles have had to be imported to help deal with it all as the native dung beetles are used to different kinds of manure and are unable to cope with cow, pig and chicken manure. Manure also emits a variety of greenhouse gases, which help speed up climate change, something that I’ve mentioned the negative impacts of already. The gases that are released might also have a negative impact on the quality of life of people living nearby (e.g. respiratory problems from ammonia). One piggery in Australia is currently dealing with this problem by converting the manure into electricity. This is only one farm of many in Australia though and doesn’t deal with the root of the problem.
"In terms of dry solids the global production of animal manures amounted to
more than 2 billion tonnes during the late 1990s… [snipped] Inevitably,
waste generated by modern animal husbandry has become a major source
of not just local, but also regional environmental pollution.”
- Worldwide transformation of diets, burdens of meat production
and opportunities for novel food proteins
4. Antibiotic use in meat production has been linked to the rise in ‘super bugs’, which are antibiotic-resistant bacteria, found in a lot of meats available in supermarkets (at least in the U.S. but I would guess it’s not that different here in Australia). Antibiotics are used in many farms in Australia. In the chicken meat industry, there are some that are permitted to be used as preventatives to keep the chickens from getting sick to begin with (something that is necessary in factory farms considering the stress, the fact that the chickens attack each other, etc). However, some farms such as this one state on their website that they do not use drugs that are “important to humans”, while certified organic and free range chickens cannot be sold as such if they have had antibiotics. The problem with this huge use of antibiotics in the meat production industry is the creation of superbugs and the diversion of resources (e.g. antibiotics could be helping people who need them stay alive).
But disease isn’t inevitable, nor do children with these diseases need to die.
Research and experience show that six million of the almost 11 million
children who die each year could be saved by low-tech, evidence-based,
cost-effective measures such as vaccines, antibiotics, micronutrient
supplementation, insecticide-treated bed nets and improved family care
and breastfeeding practices. - UNICEF: Child Mortality
5. Human exploitation also happens in the animal exploitation and killing industries. Workers are exploited and at a high risk of injury. In 2004/5 there were 2270 injury claims made in the meat processing industry, most of which were due to falls, injuries with knives and ‘body stressing’. In 2006 exploitation of foreign workers on 457 visas by employers from the Australian Meat Industry was uncovered. Allegations are still being made in 2013. It is known that exploitation of backpackers and people on 457 visas happens regularly across many industries, so it would not be a far stretch to imagine that it happens in the agricultural industries. Yes, they could avoid these risks if we worked together to improve conditions, but by not eating meat we avoid the need for these dangerous jobs and the exploitation of people for labour altogether.
"457 visa workers are already reliant on their employer to maintain their
migration status. This makes it difficult for them to speak up about exploitation or safety breaches. If they are also paying off a massive debt
then they are left powerless.” - Australian Council of Trade Unions Secretary Dave Oliver
6. Indigenous and local land owners are driven off their land as more land is taken by large coporations to grow crops. This is known as landgrabbing. Landgrabbing basically means that people are evicted from their land, forced to sell their land to large coporations or have others sell their land when they have no right to it. This leaves people with no way of growing food to survive, no land to allow their farmed animals to graze, no way of making an income and leaves them in a much worse position than they originally were in. Landgrabbing has occurred for things like sugar, biofuels, food crops and animal feed (with about 70% of arable land being used for animal feed, this is where veganism helps). Most food crops do not help increase food security in the country they are in, but are instead exported overseas to the country that can pay the most or whose government owns the land, or where the company who owns the land is based. Again, this is a problem that can be helped along by the food sovereignty movement. If you don’t know where the food that the animals you eat is coming from please consider this.
In the past decade an area of land eight times the size of the UK has been sold off globally as land sales rapidly accelerate. This land could feed a billion people, equivalent to the number of people who go to bed hungry each night. In poor countries, foreign investors have been buying an area of land the size of London every six days. With food prices spiking for the third time in four years, interest in land could accelerate again as rich countries try to secure their food supplies and investors see land as a good long-term bet. - Oxfam: Our Land, Our Lives
7. The monocultures of soy and corn that are used for animal feed also put farmers at more risk of losing an entire crop as opposed to having a mix of things growing, and also threatens food diversity and the continuance of local foods. It also has negative impacts on local resources such as water and soil due to contamination from pesticides and herbicides, as well as the fact that these plants are not adapted to the particular conditions of the region. These monocultures can often be so big and take over so much land that it causes people to have to move (see above point). It has been said many times by many organisations that monocultures are not sustainable. It can also cause local crops to be contaminated with GMO crops, a huge issue in itself due to the legislation surrounding ownership.
In recent decades, however, criticism of this agricultural system has increased to the extent that the following negative effects of it have become evident: concentration of access and control of land, water, and natural resources consistent with the eviction of peasants and indigenous peoples from their places of origin/habitation; alarming degradation of soils and water sources, and the destruction of natural ecosystems; deforestation, and the significant production of greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change; destruction of rural economies and cultures, and the consequent forced evictions, displacement and forced migration to the cities; poor working conditions on plantations, and the intensive use of pesticides that affect the health of the workers and neighboring communities, as well as the production of food with a questionable nutritional quality, appalling sanitary conditions and the proliferation of diseases caused by this type of food. - Asian Human Rights Commission
8. Farmed animal product production creates a lot of carbon emissions due to things like transport and processing of both the feed and the animals, as well as emissions from the animals themselves. Climate change has been implicated in increasing the risk of people becoming refugees in low lying regions and in food shortages. However, Australia does have an average or lower than average carbon footprint when it comes to red meat production. This does not mean that it is better than alternatives such as plant-based foods, simply that we’re doing a littler better than some other countries when it comes to the production of red meats. It has been repeatedly found that a plant-based diet has less of an impact on the environment, even when compared to a local food diet that includes meat. Imagine if you combined a local and vegan diet!
A relevant documentary that you might find interesting is Meat the Truth.
Results show that, for the combined differential production of 11 food items
for which consumption differs among vegetarians and nonvegetarians,
the nonvegetarian diet required 2.9 times more water, 2.5 times more primary
energy, 13 times more fertilizer, and 1.4 times more pesticides than did
the vegetarian diet. The greatest contribution to the differences came from
the consumption of beef in the diet. We found that a nonvegetarian diet
exacts a higher cost on the environment relative to a vegetarian diet.
From an environmental perspective, what a person chooses to eat makes a difference. - Diet and the environment: Does what you eat matter?
9. Overfishing has caused people to turn to piracy in order to survive. The world’s ‘stock’ of fish is at a critical point. It has been predicted that all the world’s fisheries will collapse in 2048 unless something is done to stop it. Unfortunately there is still a huge demand for fish due to an uneducated and apathetic populace. Thus, many people are now fishing in places that used to be used only by locals to survive, causing the locals to be labelled pirates as they have to defend themselves.
Somalia loses $300 million worth of fish that is stolen (and slaughtered) from its coasts each year, with people turning to its own bands of pirates to keep their fish for themselves. Senegal is facing similar problems. The fact that people have to put themselves at risk and turn to piracy in order to stay alive and have something (someone) to eat is reprehensible. While many people who don’t rely on fish to survive may not miss it from their plates, those who don’t have many other options will be at a severe risk. It is estimated that overfishing threatens the food security of about 200 million people.
In 2003, a scientific report estimated that industrial fishing had reduced
the number of large ocean fish to just 10 percent of their pre-industrial population. - National Geographic
10. People working in tanneries to make leather from the skin of animals that have been killed are exposed to numerous dangerous chemicals (chromium is the worst offender from what I can find). The chemicals can cause cancer, skin diseases, respiratory illnesses while the machinery is also dangerous and can result in amputations. In India, people have died due to the exposure to these chemicals, due to unsafe working conditions. People have also died in Bangladesh and are affected by the chemicals in a multitude of ways. These chemicals can also leach into the water supply and affect the air and soil quality, which in turn causes illnesses and diseases in nearby populations. People have a tendency to discard of leather instead of recycling it, meaning that the leather ends up in landfill, where chemicals and toxins can eventually leak out and effect water and soil quality. Leather production does not just kill nonhuman animals (although that is a huge and terrible problem), it also harms and kills human animals.
I personally think that veganism is something that, to work, has to be linked to lots of other movements like food availability, food accessability, equality, workers’ rights, animal rights, land ownership, human rights and more. Everyone should care about all of these issues and aim to liberate all non-human animals and humans.
There’s a lot to be done and you can take an easy, quick step now by going vegan. Don’t stop there though.