Veganuary may be expecting its biggest ever uptake this month, and the TV is currently awash with anti-meat programmes (Veganville, Apocalypse Cow), but not everyone is happy that plant-based alternatives are being positioned as a sustainable choice.
In fact, The Farming Forum says that farmers are encouraging consumers to ‘see the bigger picture’ when it comes to the environmental impact of agriculture, according to Richard Boden, member of the forum and project manager at Wye Community Farm.
In a release, he states that eating locally produced meat is more environmentally friendly than consuming vegan substitutes and their raw ingredients, which are sometimes transported across the world, and sets out to advise consumers concerned about what type of foods protect the environment.
As well as advocating buying local, he maintains that livestock play a vital role in an eco-friendly food system. “Cattle and sheep produce natural fertilizer, utilize land on which crops cannot be grown, and turn food not making the grade for human consumption into nutritious meat and milk,” Boden says.
Every time you eschew an animal-based product in favour of something synthetic for the sake of ‘saving an animals life’, you’re creating pollution and waste that won’t go away for 1000’s of years, damaging the earth and making life so much worse for countless animals and people
He also highlights that many alternatives to meat and dairy are not only highly processed but also damaging to the environment. “The production of the raw ingredients involves the destruction of natural ecosystems, the transportation of these ingredients around the planet consumes vast amounts of fuel, and the manufacturing process then consumes yet more fuel and electricity as well as generating a mountain of packaging waste.”
Boden describes the producers behind many meat alternatives as being ‘international investors with little concern for the environment’, citing profit as being their only motive, and accuses ‘animal rights extremists’ and global corporations for pushing an ‘anti-cow agenda for their own interests’.
Questioning the reasoning behind vegan ideology, he stresses that vegan ‘wool’, ‘leather’ and ‘fur’ are actually plastic and that “every time you eschew an animal-based product in favour of something synthetic for the sake of ‘saving an animals life’, you’re creating pollution and waste that won’t go away for 1000’s of years, damaging the earth and making life so much worse for countless animals and people.”
“As consumers we all have a choice; support these global corporations, or support Britain’s farmers who have a vested interest in maintaining a sustainable environment,” he concludes.
Responding to the comments, The Vegan Society’s Dominika Piasecka stresses that while shopping locally and seasonally is important, it pales in comparison to the impact made by consumers changing the types of food they eat and that an ‘off-the-shelf vegan diet is the most sustainable of all diets’.
What is arguably more important than reducing food miles is shortening the food chain, as most emissions occur on the farm during production. Eating lower in the food chain, as eating vegan does, means cutting out the ‘middle animal’ and all the associated emissions
“There are no foods exclusive to vegans,” she expands. “Everyone eats fruits, vegetables, grains, pulses, etc, so it is disingenuous to say that issues around produce being shipped from around the world is only a problem for vegans.
“In any case, tomatoes grown in Spain and shipped over may have a lower environmental footprint to tomatoes grown in a heated greenhouse around the corner from your house in an artificial environment and using up more resources.
“The bottom line is that it is a complex picture. But what is arguably more important than reducing food miles is shortening the food chain, as most emissions occur on the farm during production. Eating lower in the food chain, as eating vegan does, means cutting out the ‘middle animal’ and all the associated emissions.”