Practical Issues > Health - Index > Vegan - Index

ARE YOUR MEALS COSTING THE EARTH?Are they:
   Turning forest into desert?
   Threatening wildlife habitats?
   Poisoning the environment?

Intensive Farming

That's the name of today's agricultural game, supposedly in the cause of 'efficient' food production. But, ironically, the truth is that our dependence on animal products represents an appalling waste of resources: farm animals compete with us for land, food, water, buildings, and fuel, and their waste-matter constitutes a major source of water pollution.

Yet it would require far less land to feed our population on an animal-free, vegan diet than on a conventional one, because it is far more efficient to eat plants directly than to process them through animals and then eat animal flesh and products. At present some 90% of Britain's farmland is used either for grazing or for growing feed for animals that may never see the light of day. This system exerts tremendous pressure on our countryside and yet, in contrast, it is estimated that a vegan Britain could be self-sufficient in food on around 25% of the land currently farmed.

 

Disappearing Forests

As more land is demanded for animal farming, the world's forests are being destroyed at an alarming rate. Yet they play such a vital part in so many ecological processes that they are indispensable to life on earth.

They:

    harbor a greater variety of animal and plant life than any other habitat

    help to maintain the levels of oxygen and reduce carbon dioxide in the atmosphere

    provide a layer of insulation. Without them the land overheats in the sun and cools rapidly at night, thus disturbing air currents, with far-reaching climatic effects

    control the water cycle and water run-off

    protect the soil. These two last points deserve further explanation. Forests encourage rainfall, both by releasing water vapor and by forcing saturated air to rise over them and condense. When rain falls it is checked first by the leaves and then by the roots which regulate the rate of run-off into streams and rivers. When tree cover is removed rain attacks in torrents, washing away precious topsoil, which has taken centuries to form. Afterwards, the earth is soon baked dry again. A pattern of flood and drought becomes inevitable. IN HOT CLIMATES ONCE-FERTILE LAND IS TURNED INTO DESERT, BRINGING THE MISERY OF FAMINE.

    Nearer to home, wooded upland areas have been cleared for sheep grazing, which has increased soil erosion and reduced the variety of plant life, as new shoots are continually eaten. Lowlands face the additional pressure of intensive crop-farming, which takes more from the soil than can naturally be replaced, thus damaging its quality.

    At the root of these problems lie deforestation, overgrazing and over-cultivation.

     

    Threatened Wildlife

    Many people care about the disappearance of wildlife habitats and about pollution, but how many realize that their own eating habits are contributing to these problems?

    The worldwide destruction of forests has been described, but here in Britain half our semi-natural woodland has been lost since 1945, and much heath and downland has come under the plough. Wildlife is now living under siege conditions, and lack of space is not the only enemy; farmers, traditionally 'guardians' of the land, are systematically poisoning it. Due to over-farming, often the result of misguided and short-sighted government policies, crop yields can only be maintained by massive applications of chemical fertilizers; and by planting only one crop over large areas year after year ideal conditions are created for 'pests', to which farmers respond by spraying ever-increasing doses of pesticides. These chemicals are harmful not only to wildlife, but to each one of us consuming the food.

     

    Seeds of Hope

    The Vegan Society favors smaller-scale agriculture, using crop rotation and green manuring with shelter from food-bearing trees. In such conditions artificial fertilizers and pesticides are unnecessary. Vegan agriculture conserves the soil, and requires MUCH LESS LAND. Large areas could be freed for wildlife and recreation, and for replanting with native deciduous trees. Sensible 'farming' of timber - removing no more each year than is replaced by new growth - would drastically reduce huge imports, and so reduce the pressure on forests abroad. The Society has also funded biofuel projects such as wood-burners to generate electricity, and organic fermentation to supply gas. Such techniques will reduce on more harmful forms of energy.

    The essential message of ecology is that everything is interconnected. This obliges each of us to take responsibility for the world around us. Vegans have chosen to dispense with animal produce, and thus do something practical to reduce the damage our species is causing to the environment, our fellow animals, and ourselves. In the present ecological crisis the practicality of such a lifestyle must become common knowledge. Therein lies our hope for the future.

    a leaflet produced by
    The Vegan Society Ltd
    7 Battle Road
    St Leonards-on-Sea
    East Sussex, TN37 7AA.