Activist George Monbiot admits veganism mistakes
Published:  07 September, 2010

Leading environmental activist George Monbiot has stated in a Guardian column that he no longer believes that the only ethical response to climate change is veganism.

In reviewing a new book by Simon Fairlie called In Meat: A Benign Extravagance, Monbiot has said that the book has opened his eyes to some fascinating complexities over the argument and has persuaded him that he was wrong to write in 2002: that veganism is the only ethical response to what is arguably the worlds most urgent social justice issue.

Monbiot added that he still believes that the diversion of ever wider tracts of arable land from feeding people to feeding livestock is iniquitous and grotesque but no longer believes that the only ethical response is to stop eating meat.

He said on Farlies arguments against factory farming: But these idiocies, Fairlie shows, are not arguments against all meat eating, but arguments against the current farming model. He demonstrates that weve been using the wrong comparison to judge the efficiency of meat production. Instead of citing a simple conversion rate of feed into meat, we should be comparing the amount of land required to grow meat with the land needed to grow plant products of the same nutritional value to humans. The results are radically different.

He goes on to butcher a herd of sacred cows. Like many greens I have thoughtlessly repeated the claim that it requires 100,000 litres of water to produce every kilogram of beef. Fairlie shows that this figure is wrong by around three orders of magnitude. It arose from the absurd assumption that every drop of water that falls on a pasture disappears into the animals that graze it, never to re-emerge. A ridiculous amount of fossil water is used to feed cattle on irrigated crops in California, but this is a stark exception.

Similarly daft assumptions underlie the UN Food and Agriculture Organisations famous claim that livestock are responsible for 18% of the worlds greenhouse gas emissions, a higher proportion than transport. Fairlie shows that it made a number of basic mistakes. It attributes all deforestation that culminates in cattle ranching in the Amazon to cattle: in reality it is mostly driven by land speculation and logging. It muddles up one-off emissions from deforestation with ongoing pollution. It makes similar boobs in its nitrous oxide and methane accounts, confusing gross and net production. (Conversely, the organisation greatly underestimates fossil fuel consumption by intensive farming: its report seems to have been informed by a powerful bias against extensive livestock keeping.)

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