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Pages 8 - 9

Why Veg?

For our planet’s sake

The UN’s “Livestock’s Long Shadow” report exposes the environmental devastation wreaked by animal production.

“The livestock sector emerges as one of the top two or three most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems, on every scale from local to global.

... (It) may well be the leading player in the reduction of biodiversity, since it is the major driver of  deforestation, as well as one of the leading drivers of land degradation, pollution, climate change, overfishing, sedimentation of coastal areas and facilitation of invasions by alien species.”

Livestock’s Long Shadow 2006(1)

(1)   Steinfeld H et al (2006) "Livestock's Long Shadow – Environmental Issues and Options" United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).  Source: http://www.virtualcentre.org/

“The way that we breed animals for food is a threat to the planet. It pollutes our environment while consuming huge amounts of water, grain, petroleum, pesticides and drugs. The results are disastrous.”(2),(3)

David Brubaker, PhD,
Center for a Livable Future, John Hopkins University

(2)    Attributed to Brubaker in Domini A (2001) “Socially Responsible Investing: Making a Difference and Making Money” Dearborn Trade Publishing (p 59). Preview available from http://books.google.com.au/

Also cited on Vegan Outreach site with this reference: Center for a Livable Future, Johns Hopkins University, Environmental News Network 20 September 1999

(3)   For figures on how much energy, grain, land etc is required to produce animal products, David Pimentel (Cornell University) has done a number of studies.

e.g. Table of energy input, from Pimentel D & Pimentel M (2003) "Sustainability of meat-based and plant-based diets and the environment" American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, vol 78(suppl) (660S-663S)

Ratio of energy input to protein output



Beef cattle










Broiler chickens


Grain consumption from same article:

Grain (and forage) fed to animals per kilo of animal product

Lamb 1kg

21 kg (or 30kg forage)

Beef cattle 1kg

13 kg (or 30kg forage)

Eggs 1kg


Swine 1kg

5.9 kg

Milk 1kg

0.7kg (or 1kg forage)


3.8 kg

Broiler chickens

2.3 kg

Note that in Australia it is most common for sheep, dairy cows and beef cattle to be grazed on pasture, not fed exclusively on grain as in the US.  (However pastures often need to be irrigated and fertilized etc.  When good agricultural land is used for pasture it does not yield as much food as would be produced growing plant foods, and grazing on more fragile land can cause land degradation.)

Saving water

Want to know the best way to reduce your water usage? Shorter showers? Not washing the car? How about reducing consumption of animal foods! Animal food production uses many times the amount of water used in plant food production. A simple way to save thousands of litres of water every week is to move towards a plant-based diet.

Water usage in animal and plant food production
(litres per kilogram of food)(4)


630 L


650 L


900 L


1600 L


2000 L




3500 L

Pig meat

6000 L


43000 L

(4)   Pimentel D et al (2004) “Water Resources: Agricultural and Environmental Issues” Bioscience, vol 54:10 (909-918)

There are other estimates of water usage in agriculture.  Estimates vary depending on criteria used in calculations.  The trend is for plant food production to use much less water than animal foods.  Other estimates are included below.

Figures in the following table were calculated under experimental conditions through measuring evapotranspiration.

Litres water per kilogram of food


1010 (also cited in same article at 715-750L/kg)


576 (also cited as 540-630L/kg)

Rice (paddy)


Rice (white)


Cotton (lint)


Milk from pasture


Butter from pasture




Citrus juice


Beef from irrigated pasture

50,000 (also cited as 50,000 – 100,000L/kg)

Wool from irrigated pasture



1650 to 2200

Meyer W, Professor of Irrigation, CSIRO (1997) “Water for Food: The Continuing Debate” Source: http://www.clw.csiro.au/publications/water_for_food.pdf

From a UN website:

Water to produce food (note different units)

Rice 1kg


Wheat 1kg


Hamburger quarter pounder


Milk 1L


Sugar 1 teaspoon

50 cups

Coffee 1 cup


Feed and clothe a meat eater for a year

1500 cubic metres, more than half an Olympic swimming pool

United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) (2007) “Water Wars and Peace” in The New Courier.  Source: http://portal.unesco.org/en/ev.php-URL_ID=30549&URL_DO=DO_TOPIC&URL_SECTION=201.html

The UN has more detailed information available for a wider variety of crops from: Chapagain, A.K. and Hoekstra, A.Y. (2004) ‘Water footprints of nations’, Value of Water Research Report Series No. 16, UNESCO-IHE, Delft, the Netherlands. http://www.waterfootprint.org/?page=files/Research%20data

From the book “When the Rivers Run Dry”:

Water to produce food (note different units)

Rice 1kg


Wheat 1kg


Potatoes 1kg


Beef 1kg


Milk 1L


Cheese 1kg


Sugar 1kg


Coffee 1kg


Bread in one sandwich


2-egg omelette


Mixed salad


An icecream


A pork chop


A hamburger


A small steak


Glass of wine or pint of beer


Glass of brandy


Sugar 1 teaspoon

50 cups

Coffee for 1 cup

140L or 1120 cups

Feed and clothe a meat eater for a year

1500-2000 cubic metres, or tonnes, water

Pearce F (2007) “When the Rivers Run Dry: What Happens When Our Water Runs Out?” London: Eden Project

From the book “Thirsty Planet”:

Water to produce food

Grain 1 tonne

(=> Grain 1kg...

On average 1000m3


“The non-grain (fruit & vegetable) portion of the diet may require only one third as much water to produce as the grain”

1kg grain-fed beef


1kg pork


Hunt C (2004) “Thirsty Planet – Strategies for Sustainable Water Management” London: Zed Books

Land clearing and Land degradation

Large areas of Australia’s forest and woodland vegetation systems have been cleared and degraded since European settlement, predominantly for agricultural activity(5). Currently 47% of Australia’s land surface is grazed, and just 3% cropped – and much of this 3% is growing feed for livestock(5).

(5)   Australian Bureau of Statistics (2006) "Agriculture " in Year Book Australia 2006, Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra

The Year Book gives the following data for agricultural land use in Australia:

26.1 million ha were under crops at 30 June 2004, 367.6 million ha were being grazed, and 440.1 million ha were being used for agriculture in total which was 57.2% of the total Australian landmass.  This meant 3.4% of Australia was cropped and 47.8% was being grazed.  (The remainder supposedly left fallow)

The rich and the poor

Over a third of the world’s grain harvest is fed to livestock(6) in an inefficient conversion of nutritious plant-based food to animal product. Often livestock feed is grown in poor countries for the markets of the rich, while their own citizens go hungry.

(6)   Halweil B (2008) “Grain Harvest Sets Record, But Supplies Still Tight” Worldwatch Institute.  Source: http://www.worldwatch.org/node/5539

 “The West’s obsession with meat plays a direct role in starving the world’s poorest people. Meat is a killer in every sense of the word.”

TONY WARDLE, Associate Director Viva! Vegetarians International Voice for Animals

Economics of a change to veganism

For a sector that contributes just 3% to the Australian economy(7), agriculture uses much more than its fair share of resources, mainly due to livestock. Clearly we need to have food regardless of the economy, but to guarantee ourselves a future we should revise how we produce our food. Since a healthy economy relies on healthy ecosystems, soon we may find we must change.

By encouraging more low-impact plant agriculture, and discouraging inefficient and wasteful livestock industries, we would do wonders for our environment while being unlikely to harm our economy. The health crisis would probably ease too, easing another economic burden. Those currently employed in the meat industries could be retrained to work in sustainable plant food agriculture and processing. It makes sense, it could be done. The only thing stopping us is our eating habit.

(7)   Australian Bureau of Statistics (2005) "Year Book Australia 2005" Commonwealth of Australia: Canberra

Entangled in the bars of her cage, a hen is left with no access to food or water(8).

(8)   Photo from original Vegan Outreach booklet

How can we justify this?

“ ... if one person is unkind to an animal it is considered to be cruelty, but where a lot of people are unkind to animals, especially in the name of commerce, the cruelty is condoned, and once large sums of money are at stake, will be defended to the last by otherwise intelligent people.”

Ruth Harrison
Animal Machines 1964

Male chicks, of no economic value to the egg industry, are gassed or ground up alive(9). Other standard agricultural practices – almost always performed without anaesthesia – include castration, spaying, tail docking, debeaking, dehorning, tooth cutting, toe trimming, ear notching, nose ringing and branding(9),(10),(11),(12).

(9)   "Model Code of Practice for the Welfare of Animals – Domestic Poultry 4ed" (2002) by Standing Committee on Agriculture and Resource Management (SCARM). Source: http://www.publish.csiro.au/books/download.cfm?ID=3451

(10)   "Model Code of Practice for the Welfare of Animals – Pigs 2ed" (2003) by Standing Committee on Agriculture and Resource Management (SCARM).  Source: http://www.publish.csiro.au/books/download.cfm?ID=1546

(11)   "Model Code of Practice for the Welfare of Animals – Cattle 2ed" (2006) by Primary Industries Standing Committee (PISC).  Source: http://www.publish.csiro.au/books/download.cfm?ID=4831

(12)   "Model Code of Practice for the Welfare of Animals – The Sheep 2ed" (2006) by Primary Industries Standing Committee (PISC).  Source: http://www.publish.csiro.au/books/download.cfm?ID=5389

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