The Guardian (London) December 24, 2002,12128,865087,00.html


Famine can only be avoided if the rich give up meat, fish and dairy


By George Monbiot


The Christians stole the winter solstice from the

pagans, and capitalism stole it from the

Christians. But one feature of the celebrations

has remained unchanged: the consumption of vast

quantities of meat. The practice used to make

sense. Livestock slaughtered in the autumn,

before the grass ran out, would be about to

decay, and fat-starved people would have to

survive a further three months. Today we face the

opposite problem: we spend the next three months

trying to work it off.


Article continues

Our seasonal excesses would be perfectly

sustainable, if we weren't doing the same thing

every other week of the year. But, because of the

rich world's disproportionate purchasing power,

many of us can feast every day. And this would

also be fine, if we did not live in a finite



By comparison to most of the animals we eat,

turkeys are relatively efficient converters: they

produce about three times as much meat per pound

of grain as feedlot cattle. But there are still

plenty of reasons to feel uncomfortable about

eating them. Most are reared in darkness, so

tightly packed that they can scarcely move. Their

beaks are removed with a hot knife to prevent

them from hurting each other. As Christmas

approaches, they become so heavy that their hips

buckle. When you see the inside of a turkey

broilerhouse, you begin to entertain grave doubts

about European civilisation.


This is one of the reasons why many people have

returned to eating red meat at Christmas. Beef

cattle appear to be happier animals. But the

improvement in animal welfare is offset by the

loss in human welfare. The world produces enough

food for its people and its livestock, though

(largely because they are so poor) some 800

million are malnourished. But as the population

rises, structural global famine will be avoided

only if the rich start to eat less meat. The

number of farm animals on earth has risen

fivefold since 1950: humans are now outnumbered

three to one. Livestock already consume half the

world's grain, and their numbers are still

growing almost exponentially.


This is why biotechnology - whose promoters claim

that it will feed the world - has been deployed

to produce not food but feed: it allows farmers

to switch from grains which keep people alive to

the production of more lucrative crops for

livestock. Within as little as 10 years, the

world will be faced with a choice: arable farming

either continues to feed the world's animals or

it continues to feed the world's people. It

cannot do both.


The impending crisis will be accelerated by the

depletion of both phosphate fertiliser and the

water used to grow crops. Every kilogram of beef

we consume, according to research by the

agronomists David Pimental and Robert Goodland,

requires around 100,000 litres of water. Aquifers

are beginning the run dry all over the world,

largely because of abstraction by farmers.


Many of those who have begun to understand the

finity of global grain production have responded

by becoming vegetarians. But vegetarians who

continue to consume milk and eggs scarcely reduce

their impact on the ecosystem. The conversion

efficiency of dairy and egg production is

generally better than meat rearing, but even if

everyone who now eats beef were to eat cheese

instead, this would merely delay the global

famine. As both dairy cattle and poultry are

often fed with fishmeal (which means that no one

can claim to eat cheese but not fish), it might,

in one respect, even accelerate it. The shift

would be accompanied too by a massive

deterioration in animal welfare: with the

possible exception of intensively reared broilers

and pigs, battery chickens and dairy cows are the

farm animals which appear to suffer most.


We could eat pheasants, many of which are dumped

in landfill after they've been shot, and whose

price, at this time of the year, falls to around

£2 a bird, but most people would feel

uncomfortable about subsidising the bloodlust of

brandy-soaked hoorays. Eating pheasants, which

are also fed on grain, is sustainable only up to

the point at which demand meets supply. We can

eat fish, but only if we are prepared to

contribute to the collapse of marine ecosystems

and - as the European fleet plunders the seas off

West Africa - the starvation of some of the

hungriest people on earth. It's impossible to

avoid the conclusion that the only sustainable

and socially just option is for the inhabitants

of the rich world to become, like most of the

earth's people, broadly vegan, eating meat only

on special occasions like Christmas.


As a meat-eater, I've long found it convenient to

categorise veganism as a response to animal

suffering or a health fad. But, faced with these

figures, it now seems plain that it's the only

ethical response to what is arguably the world's

most urgent social justice issue. We stuff

ourselves, and the poor get stuffed.


Vegan Home
to be VEGAN
vegan foods
VEGAN menus
to avoid

VEGAN recipes
keep on hand
Great Links