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The Vegan vs. Omnivore Debate Part 5

Updated on November 8, 2012

Why vegans want to even think that they have the upper hand to environmental issues is, to me, completely ludicrous. Sure they're saying that their being "selfless" by not eating animals, since it is "an infringement of their rights" to slaughter, much less eat them, but it seems to me that they only do this because of the fact that they, the vegans and animal activists alike, are only doing this because they have made veganism a religion, just like Christianity or Buddhism, and because they are primarily basing their strong arguments on emotions instead of science and reality. Most of the things they try to put out to the public are only half truths. Veganism versus "omnivorism" is a question and a debate of ethics no doubt, as you have read over the last four parts of my series of this on-going debate between the two parties, and try as we might to put all the facts and fiction and myths and truths to rest, there still will be people out there too blind and too convinced about what they believe to open their minds to the other half of the story. Anyway, to finish this last part-series about vegans versus omnivores and all the things that have been argued over time and time again, I would like to conclude, as I started, about the environment. Only this time I will not be talking about just greenhouse gases, but other aspects and implications of the environment that may influence what is really the right diet to follow.

I've argued points about crop agriculture to different vegans I've cyber-talked with in comparisons with animal agriculture. And I'm not afraid to do so here. I've heard many claims that growing crops, fruits and vegetables contributes far less to environmental damage and greenhouse gases than raising livestock. Like I said before, these vegans love to tell their half-truths without seeing the other part of the story or reality, whichever you prefer. When vegans mention "animal agriculture" or any form of livestock production, they always are referring to factory farms, never to farms who raise their livestock in a more natural environment, and the main thing that comes to mind when factory farming is mentioned are cows. This is what gets me. The other thing that gets me is that 99% of the vegans I've chatted to don't even live on a farm, much less had experience with farming. Now don't get me wrong, I do understand that raising animals in a factory-farming environment carries more environmental concerns than raising crops or vegetables, with all the equipment and facilities needed to seed, fertilize, spray, and harvest crops then store them for later use for animal feed, not to mention manure disposal. But let's not go that route here. Instead, let's simplify things a bit to make it a little easier to follow and see how this argument gets going. Let's compare a beef cow-calf operation that manages cows on just grass and hay (as this is what most cattle producers are going for today now that feed prices make it just too expensive to supplement the cows with grain), with your typical grain farm that grows nothing but corn and soybeans in a rotational two-crop system.

But before I say anything further, there is just one more thing I want to bring to the table. I, personally, do not agree with factory farming, and I never will.  I believe, as I mentioned in the previous hub I posted yesterday, that factory farming is not only an endemic that has contributed to major health concerns in much of the North American population, if not the world, but also to much of the greenhouse gas concerns that the EPA and the UN's FAO are whining about.  I am a meat eater, always have and always will be, but you can bet your boots that I never ever like eating the red stuff they call "beef" that is wrapped in cellophane and served on a styrofoam platter that tastes like cardboard.  I prefer home-raised beef, particularly grass-fed, naturally-raised beef.  You can't get ANYTHING better than locally raised, home-grown beef.  Now I will continue with the comparisons of the two scenarios mentioned above.

Two Scenarios: Corn Farming vs. Traditional Cow-Calf Production

 If you look at the geography of North America, you should make note of the amount of land that is set aside for cropland and the amount of land that is not suitable, in anyway, shape or form, for growing any kind of crops.  There really is only 5 % available land for growing grains, fruit and vegetables.  The rest of it is in contention for being used for cities and suburbs to expand on, highways to be built on, and industrial plants to be built on.  Now, take a look at the amount of land that can be (and is) used for grazing and raising livestock.  The land that isn't occupied by roads and highways, national parks, industrial parks, airports, suburbs, and cities nor can be used for crops is far larger.  These lands that are used for grazing include mountainous and hilly terrain, forested areas, deserts, areas where soil quality is poor, and where native rangelands are being conserved by ranchers and federal lands set aside for grazing and wildlife habitat.  These lands are more commonly found in their natural state than those lands that have been converted by man (i.e. cropland). Livestock can easily cover these areas because they are able to: they do not have tires, nor a high center of gravity that makes it easy for them to tip over if they attempt to climb or descend a hill or mountain, nor will they break down if a rock gets in working parts of their "machine."

With those things in mind, let's now take a look at the inputs that goes into a grain operation versus a grass/hay only cow-calf operation.   In comparisons, a grain operation takes more inputs per unit and more labour to accomplish the end product than a cow-calf operation with good cows and good grazing practices do.  And here's why.  A grain operation involves many types of machinery, including often more than one tractor, augers, grain bins, combines/harvesters, swathers/windrowers, tillage machinery, a herbicide sprayer, and seeding equipment.  With this amount of equipment, and lots of operation time it takes to run these pieces of machinery over the fields, there is more fuel (derived from non-renewable petroleum resources) that is used over the corn-growing season, and hence lots of greenhouse gas emissions.  When corn is being seeded, fertilization is necessary.  Fertilizers involve use of more petroleum-based products, infused with the naturally-"made" nutrients that would be found in the soils if they weren't mined for their nutrients by crops so much.  Many farmers are too lazy to send in a soil test every year to see what nutrients their soils are lacking, so they just overdo on the fertilizer just in case the corn plants need a little more this year, so to speak.  And when the corn plants reach a certain height, or other grain plants, herbicide, pesticide, fungicide and/or insecticide has to be used to dispel any sort of maladies and pests that come with growing a monoculture crop.  This is also petroleum-based.  As the corn plants grow and put their growth into seed, they take all the nutrients that still remain in the soil that haven't leached away with any hard rains or wind, essentially "mining" the soil of most essential nutrients.  When those corn plants are harvested, the kernels that are taken away take with them the nutrients they have taken away from the soil, never to be given back until the next spring, when the farmer sows in more fertilizer with the next corn or soy crop.  These costs add up in not only environmental concerns, but also in terms of monetary value. 

A cow-calf operation, on the other hand, uses far less fuel and fertilizer inputs than the corn farmer above, and virtually no pesticides or fungicides nor herbicides of any nature.  Most of the fertilizer that is "put on" the pastures and fields come from the cows and calves themselves, in the form of manure.  Fuel is only used to check on the pasture and the fence-line by a pick-up truck or ATV, and in the tractor when it's time to cut hay and bale it up.  A good grazing management operation involves little time spent on the tractor feeding hay during the winter months.  The cows and calves "harvest" the grasses and forbs themselves, and put back into the earth what they don't need for their bodies and for raising their calves.  Much of the pasture and range that is used for grazing isn't even tilled over, because of the way it has been properly grazed.  Carbon that would be emitted by the tonne by a corn farmer on his tractor is put back into the soil by the very thing that makes rangelands and prairie habitat what it is: Grass. Legumes that grow along side the grasses help put nitrogen into the soil helping the grasses grow more thicker and fuller. Waste from the cows in the form of urine and feces also help in this natural process.  Methane and nitrous oxide emissions from cows at this point is immaterial, because this more natural way of raising cattle is obviously more healthy for the environment than operations that grow crops of grain and vegetables.

Grasses not only help hold the soil together, it also deters from soil and water erosion which commonly results in many nutrients being blown or washed away if the soils were laid bare.  Trees to contribute to reductions in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, but so does grass.  And to a larger extent, grass sequesters more carbon from the atmosphere than trees do.

The thing is, of all else, is that we should be responsible for what we eat, no matter what kind of diet we follow or who we are.  We should be more aware of what we put into our mouths than we are today, and not get caught up in the extremities that we tend to see a lot more of.  Sure a vegan diet is more healthier, but I've shown you that it is no healthier than trying to follow a junk-food diet, though slightly moreso. Therefore I leave you with this: If you do not want to support factory farmed animals, buy your meat from the farmer's market or from a local producer. And to all of you meat eaters out there, don't be discouraged by the propaganda put out by those vegans who want to change the world.  And don't ever buy into the ludicrousy put out by HSUS, PeTA and the EPA. They'll do anything to try to get the general population on their side, even if it means through false advertising and manipulative bribery, in a manner of speaking, to ban anything to do with the use of animals. Finally, try to look past the factory farming, and look more into the efforts put out by family farms and small-time farmers who raise livestock in their more natural conditions, and see if you think that those farms are better at raising their animals than what the animal activists make them out to be.


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    • WildRoseBeef profile imageAUTHOR


      3 years ago from Alberta, Canada


      Check out the studies by Dr. David Pimentel, he's got some great studies on land use equivalencies and other information on vegetarian versus meat-based diets.

      Another good one:

      Note that Arpitme wasn't basing on energy or nutritional value equivalencies, rather comparing how little land is needed for growing veggies versus grazing cattle. I hope you also take into context what I've said above most recently here.

      Also check out books on feeding the world by Vaclav Smil, and "Defending Beef" by Nichol Hahn Niman which says a lot, and a lot more, about what I'm trying to put out there.

    • WildRoseBeef profile imageAUTHOR


      3 years ago from Alberta, Canada

      @Arpitme, not all land is fungible. You cannot simply convert land that is unsuitable for crop production--and that includes vegetable production--and make it good for growing enough vegetables for an entire hypothetical vegan or vegetarian population. Only 5% of the land in North America is arable land, and even then some of that land that is considered "arable" is still equivocally poor for growing vegetables because it puts a strain on water resources. Look at the problems California is having with their water situation, not to mention other arid states that are growing vegetables (like lettuce in Arizona, almonds in California) that shouldn't even be growing vegetables. The water situation is not solely stemming from animal agriculture, but a lot of it is from growing very thirsty plants that rely on irrigation otherwise they simply will not grow.

      No, going for animals in a grass-based system will not imbalance the system, converting land that is best suited for grazing, or already is under permanent vegetative cover to that for crops and vegetables will. This is because you can't build soil or sequester carbon quite like you can with permanent vegetative cover. You also can't retain water or reduce your carbon footprint or complete the carbon cycle by having land mostly dedicated to growing vegetables. You actually disrupt the carbon, water and nitrogen cycle system by continuing on a similar path that most of agriculture is on, minus the inputs of fertilizer and herbicide, supposedly. Fungi and glomalin have created intricate networks in the soil underneath the solid mass of fibrous roots that would be disrupted with constant tilling of the soil and growing of annual, shallow-rooted vegetables or crops.

      You tried to make a point on the length of time to get beef versus vegetables, but I think you're missing the point or not seeing the entire picture. Of course it would take at least two years to get a beef steer ready for "harvest," but during that time a lot of manure is produced to be used on that small vegetable garden that has vegetables for an entire family or some of the village or town. I don't agree with your estimates on the amount of vegetables produced because that is entirely regional and subject to environmental factors like amount of precipitation, soil quality, seed quality, the growing period, climate etc. Not all areas can grow 47 types of fruits and vegetables, if that's what you're trying to get at, and most importantly, not all areas have year-round growing periods. You can't grow lettuce in the middle of January in Alberta, Canada, unless you have a well-heated and insulated greenhouse. Otherwise, all the produce that is harvested in the fall is to be preserved for the next 5 to 6 months of winter, or you go to the grocery store to get food that has been imported from distant countries that have needed to use fossil fuels to get there.

      The beef animal, meanwhile, as I mentioned, provides the manure to be added to compost for those vegetables and fruits. There is no better fertilizer than animal manure; compost just does not compare, nor does green manure nor "humanure." But here's the point you're missing: Have you estimated how long a whole cow or steer will last a family? I'll give you a hint: It's about as long as it takes for a calf to grow into a steer to be ready for slaughter. Add some chickens in there and the beef lasts a little longer. Any common sense would tell you that humans aren't going to be living off of just meat, there's going to be lots of vegetables eaten with some meat, say a quarter pound of meat a day or less.

      You listed the increase of cattle as more harms. Sorry, no, that's not true at all. Increasing cattle numbers and thereby increasing grassland acreage (which would be a result of reducing cropland like that for corn, soybeans and cane sugar) would be the exact opposite ecological and ecosystem harms to the planet. What will the the harms is what I mentioned before, continued growing of corn and other grains, continuing to till the soil and release carbon in the atmosphere, and being as heavily reliant on fossil fuels as we are now. Reduce the corn means realizing that biofuel isn't as "green" as once thought and that chickens and hogs consume a LOT of corn and soybeans, much more than cattle. Corn is the heaviest contributor to fossil fuel uses through pesticides and fertilizers thereby being the greatest harm to water systems, and too is the greatest cause of soil erosion. There is nothing sustainable by continuing to grow crops and plough under native rangelands.

      You know I will certainly disagree with your last statements. Plant-based foods is not the way to go if it means continued use of fossil fuels to grow, harvest, and ship them. That does not contribute positively to the environment. And in no way are plants designed for our digestive systems. We do not have the digestive system of a horse or a cow, meaning we can't digest plants as efficiently as a true herbivorous animal. I also don't see how consuming more energy-based foods is going to help either, as that's what's been causing the obesity epidemic, that and the over-consumption of sugar. There is nothing immoral about eating animals either. Animals do not have morals, they never have as long as I have raised them and been around them.

      I'm not saying there's anything wrong with eating vegetables and fruits, but I'm saying that there's nothing wrong with eating meat either, provided it's from the right sources and you know where it came from. Knowing how conventional chickens and hogs are produced, I'd sooner eat beef knowing that the part of the animal I'm eating had a much better life than the broiler chicken that could hardly walk or stand by the time it was ready to be killed, or the pork from pigs that had to live on cement and never see the sun or have the opportunity to root around.

    • profile image


      3 years ago

      Could you quote some sources that compares the land use of an plant based, and comparatively, and a meat based diet please?

      While the 2000 lb -s of vegetable has been mentioned, in one of the comments, I am not sure if these 2000 lb-s of vegetable can provide the same nutritional value / energy of 700 lbs of beef. May be they can. I would like to see some sources, if that exists.

    • arpitme profile image


      6 years ago from Raipur (C.G.) India

      I am aware that only 5 % land is available for agriculture excluding livestock farming.I actually calculated agriculture land that each person will get for feeding using population density figure of N.A which is 11.77 acres per person. Since agriculture land is 5 % in N.A. that means each person will get 5 % of that 11.77 acres for agriculture which can feed. This agriculture land what each person gets is sufficient to produce food for 4 persons which means N.A. has enough land to produce vegetables and going for animals are the choice they are making, which will actually imbalance the ecosystem as said in previous comment

    • WildRoseBeef profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Alberta, Canada

      Thanks for that and some very valid reasons too. But I as for that 5% factor I mentioned above, I believe you missed several points here: for one, the 5% is not on a per-person basis, it's in total land area of North America (Canada AND the USA). Second, that 5% did not include grains and fodder used for finishing livestock, it was just grains (cereal, oilseed and pulse), fruit and vegetables in general.

      Yes I do think that it is effective to grow crops that way like you mentioned, the unsuitable land that can't be farmed best for raising livestock on, and the suitable land for growing crops. In this world, that's about as balanced as one can get in the field of agriculture.

    • arpitme profile image


      6 years ago from Raipur (C.G.) India

      I want you to think a bit different on your own statement Carbon that would be emitted by the tonne by a corn farmer on his tractor is put back into the soil by the very thing that makes rangelands and prairie habitat what it is: Grass. Legumes that grow along side the grasses help put nitrogen into the soil helping the grasses grow more thicker and fuller. Waste from the cows in the form of urine and feces also help in this natural process. Don't you think that by this way (one of the way suggested by u)it is possible to grow crow crop in a effective way.

      One of the reason why north america has only 5 % available land for growing grains, fruit and vegetables is animal eating. If the demand of vegetable reduce then why farmer go for cultivating crop, they will also start animal farming. That is why most of land not suitable for cultivation.

      Do you ever thought how much time is spent on cow for making it ready to be slaughtered about 2 years and you will get about 700 lbs food, where as if you go for crop-by-crop average yield of 47 foods you will be getting 2660 lbs food in quarter of acre in one year for one harvesting season per year.If i go according to your fact i.e 5% agriculture land in north america, whole USA has 900 million acre agriculture land (wikipedia). population density of north america is 11.77 acre per person. Agriculture land per person will be 5% according to u. So it comes out to be .5885 acre per person .Vegetable Food that can be produces in that area will be about 17 pounds i.e. food that can be produced for each person per day. This food can become average meal of 4 person. So no problems if you go for vegetables. It totally depends upon your choice.

      Only thing left is now environment hazard. Petroleum based product that will be used in cultivating crop are much lesser and has lesser consequences compared to amount being emitted by the vehicles which is more harmful as well. so better way of contributing toward environment is to go for cycle more frequently. Avoid cars if you are going alone.

      Harms that will be caused by animal food is that it will make our ecosystem more imbalance by two ways . Firsly by reducing the agriculture lands secondly by increasing cattle population as its demands go on increasing as the majority of people go for meat eating and population is increasing day by day.

      Only way to solve this is by going for plant based food which if grown by proper and natural techniques not only contribute to the environment but are also a better option of feeding the increasing population as the frequency in which they can be produced are much faster compared to animal. It will help in making our planet green,they are designed for our digestive system, they are healthier more energy provider, and are also more appropriate option if you see situation morally as well(they have less senses, they are static and harvested in there last stage of life unlike animals which are killed when they are young and flesh full) for our survival.


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