Farming Animals Vs. Farming Plants – A Comparison
The fact that animal agriculture is much more resource intensive than plant agriculture has become fairly well known among animal advocates. And it is considered a useful message during advocacy. Faunalytics has looked into this phenomenon through many lenses including water use, and protein production. Many more studies exist on the topic than we are even able to cover. Nevertheless, resource use in animal agriculture remains a key topic for animal advocates to keep tabs on. This helps with reporting their findings to each other and the public.
One group that has dived into the topic, and that is now delivering a thorough analysis, is the Humane Party. For this particular publication, the Humane Party gathered together current USDA reports and censuses to present “a comparison between the economic profitability of the animal-based agricultural industries and that of the plant-based agricultural industries.” For advocates looking for an approach that takes into account animal welfare or ethics, this is not it. Instead, the analysis focuses on “pounds created, number of acres used, sales, expenses, and profits generated,” to give a focused economic picture. This is not to say that the Humane Party doesn’t care about animal welfare or ethics—as discussed below, their mission is an ethical one—but instead, that the focus is simply on economic efficiency. This can, in turn, reinforce an ethical point.
What they find in their analysis is hard to debate: plant-based agriculture generates around 1.5 trillion more pounds of “product” than animal agriculture. And it does so more efficiently. This is because plant-based agriculture uses 115 million acres less land. While animal agriculture generates about $35 billion more than plant agriculture, the expenses generated by animal agriculture are considerably higher—about $55.8 billion more than in plant farming. Based on these numbers, the report concludes that “plant-based agriculture grows 512% more pounds of food than animal-based agriculture on 69% of the mass of land that animal-based agriculture uses.”
For animal advocates, the information contained in the study may confirm what many already know. But, the numbers represent the most up-to-date data from the most official sources available (the USDA). And it’s always a good thing when advocates can use the most recent information possible. The Humane Party does note their bias and that their party “aims and fights to free all animals from abuse, exploitation, and property status.” Despite a potential bias, the numbers from the USDA and related organizations don’t lie. There are many creative ways that advocates can employ this information in their work.