Could The Rise Of Veganism Really ‘Ruin America’?


4 Minutes Read

The study said greenhouse gases would drop - but less than expected - Media Credit:

A slew of headlines this week have claimed that the rise of veganism could ruin America.

The study the headlines are based on, looked into the impact of the meat industry on greenhouse gas emissions and nutrient intake in the US. 

One author of the study works for Department of Animal and Poultry Science at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia and the other at the US Dairy Forage Research Center at the USDA Agricultural Research Service in Madison, Wisconsin.

Greenhouse gas

They said getting rid of livestock would drop total US emissions by just 2.6 per cent. 

Dr. Mario Herrero, at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation in St. Lucia in Australia, thinks the study’s estimate of reductions in greenhouse gas emissions may be low. 

Imported meat makes up a large part of the US meat market. 

If Americans went vegan, it could lead to a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions in the countries that produce the imported meat, like Brazil. 

Also, as in the UK, a large amount of US food-related greenhouse gas emissions are attributable to other countries (where grain is grown for animal feed) due to deforestation, land use and water use. 

This so-called ‘carbon leakage’ cannot not be ignored as it is a significant driver of global warming and directly attributable to livestock farming and therefore meat consumption.

Nutrient deficient?

They admit that if everyone went vegan, the amount of food available for humans would increase (by 23 percent), but say that the type of food (plant-based) would leave people short of certain nutrients. 

They overlook the fact that farmed animals are fed supplements.

The Daily Mail article says: “When animals are allowed to convert some energy-dense, micronutrient-poor crops (e.g. grains) into more micronutrient dense foods (meat, milk, and eggs), the food production system has enhanced capacity to meet the micronutrient requirements of the population.”

The opposite is true! 

Writing in the journal Nature, Dr. Jonathan Foley, Director of the Institute on the Environment at the University of Minnesota says ‘using highly productive croplands to produce animal feed, no matter how efficiently, represents a net drain on the world’s potential food supply’.

Beans not beef

Earlier this year, a team, headed by Loma Linda University researcher Dr Helen Harwatt published a landmark study showing how one simple change in American eating habits would have a huge impact on the environment: if Americans would eat beans instead of beef, the US would reach 50 to 75 per cent of its greenhouse gas reduction targets for the year 2020

That’s just swapping beef for beans!

According to Dr. Peter Scarborough at the University of Oxford, in the UK, a 50 percent reduction in meat and dairy consumption (replacing them with fruit, vegetables, pulses and wholegrain foods), could result in a 19 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and prevent over 43,000 deaths a year.

Plant protein takes less of a toll on the planet

Saving lives

On a global scale, Dr. Marco Springmann, of the Oxford Martin Programme on the Future of Food says that following government health dietary guidelines would save 5.1 million lives a year, while following a vegetarian diet would save 7.3 million but a vegan diet would save 8.1 million lives.

If animals are considered as ‘food production machines’, they turn out to be extremely polluting, to have a very high consumption and to be very inefficient. 

When vegetables are transformed into animal protein, most of the protein and energy contained in the plant foods are lost; used by the animals for their metabolic processes, as well as to build non-edible tissue like bones, cartilage, offal and faeces.

We all know how wasteful old gas-guzzling cars are – how long before livestock farming is viewed the same way?

This is irresponsible and misleading journalism given that most Americans need to eat more fruit and vegetables – and that plant-based diets have been linked with many health benefits, food sustainability and, as a huge body or research agrees, a vegan diet offers the most benefits to the environment.


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