6 Apr 2015

Do Vegans Kill More Animals Than Meat-Eaters Do?


In November last year, popular news and entertainment website IFL Science posted a very controversial article. If you're a member of any online vegan groups, you've probably seen it shared around. Even if you're not - you've probably seen it anyway. It's a very popular article.

Although it was posted many months ago, the article still continues to do the rounds on social media. It'll disappear for a month or two, come back for a week, and disappear again. It seems we vegans can't avoid it. Some people love to share any anti-vegan 'propaganda' they can get their hands on.

Here's the article in question.

It's all quite silly, really, considering the article has been debunked numerous times. Scroll down to the comments section and you'll find a whole lot of well thought-out responses defending the veg* lifestyle and refuting the article's incorrect assumptions and claims.

If you don't want to gravitate over to IFL Science to take a look at what the article's all about, I'll summarise the main ideas here.

According to Mike Archer, the author of the article:

  • Vegans and vegetarians are responsible for more animal deaths than non-veg* folk
  • The article is probably applicable only to Australian vegans and vegetarians (since the author is Australian, he focuses on Australian farming practices) Note: I'm also from Australia
  • Compared with meat production, wheat and grain production kills 25 times more animals per kilo of usable protein
  • Wheat and grain production causes more environmental damage
  • The wheat and grain industry is crueller than the meat industry
  • All of this is caused by native vegetation felling
  • Most cattle slaughtered in Australia feed solely on pasture
  • In the grain industry, large numbers of mice are poisoned to combat regular mouse plagues

The main problem with Mike Archer's article is its title. Even if the content of his article was one-hundred percent factually correct, the title still wouldn't work, since the author incorrectly assumes that vegans and vegetarians automatically consume more wheat and grain than meat-eaters do. He assumes that wheat and grain is the main source of protein for vegans and vegetarians. For many of us, this simply isn't true.

"Vegans and vegetarians, if possible, will grow their own crops instead of supporting large-scale agriculture."

But that's not the only problem. There are many more.

I don't want to delve too deeply into the scientific side of this issue on my own. I don't want to try and tackle a problem I don't know enough about. I'm not an expert on farming practices, so I wouldn't want to offer my audience too many of my own opinions on this subject. They may not be factually correct. Instead, I will summarise and expand upon a few other arguments I've found online. 

'Isaac', a commenter on IFL Science's website, provides a thorough argument against Mike Archer's claims. Here's a summary of his comment:

  • Vegans and vegetarians encourage and support the implementation of better farming methods
  • The food used to raise farm animals could instead be used to feed much of the world's human population
  • There's no evidence to show that new land has been cultivated in order to serve the growing number of vegans and vegetarians
  • Vegans will buy their food from sustainable sources as much as possible
  • Vegans and vegetarians, if possible, will grow their own crops instead of supporting large-scale agriculture

Isaac's points make a lot of sense. As he states, most vegans are environmentalists, and will gladly do their bit to support sustainable farming. Many of us have our own veggie gardens. Many of us try to buy our fruits, vegetables, grains and wheat from local, smaller-scale farms. 

'Isit', another commenter on IFL Science's website, further discusses my point about the connection - or lack of - between the content of Mike Archer's article and vegan/vegetarian diets.

Isit successfully sums up their own argument with one sentence: "I planted an apple tree, and ate its fruits. How many mice were killed?"

Are vegans and vegetarians responsible for mouse death on a massive scale?

The answer to Isit's question, of course, is none, so long as all necessary "mouse-safety" precautions are taken (which isn't a difficult task). Through this question, Isit quickly and succinctly debunks at least part of Mike Archer's argument. In general, growing plants - when done properly and carefully - doesn't kill animals. At least not on a significant scale. Non-local, mass production of wheat and grain products isn't the only way to farm plants. There are other options that don't result in death.

"Meat production as we know it will always result in death. At present, there is no way to get animal meat without slaughtering an animal."

On the other hand, meat production as we know it will always result in death. At present, there is no way to get animal meat without slaughtering an animal. To expand on this point, meat production as well know it will also always result in a larger amount of plant and water consumption (since the animals must be sustained for a certain period of time before they can be slaughtered).

So, to answer my opening question: No. Vegans don't kill more animals than meat-eaters, but I suppose most of you knew that already. If anyone ever tries to use IFL Science's article in an attempt to dismiss your veganism, show them this article (or Bite Size Vegan's video on the topic - found here - which is awesome; or Your Vegan Fallacy Is's page all about it - found here). We need to stand up against this rampant spread of misinformation and let the world know just how beneficial veganism really is.