The Potential Of Vegan-Organic Agriculture
A growing body of research has shown that animal food products – mainly meat, milk, and eggs – require a vast amount of land to cultivate crops for animals to eat. But this practice is inefficient, since only a fraction of the energy from those plants goes into the growth of animal meat, milk, and eggs. What’s more, much of the land used for growing feed crops could be used to grow plants directly for humans to eat. Estimates on how much more food could be produced without animal agriculture are hard to come by.
In their latest report, the Humane Party estimated the amount of meat, dairy, and eggs produced in the U.S. and the land used for those animal-based products. The report aimed to show how much food is lost in the U.S. by growing animal feed crops instead of crops for human consumption. They compared their results for animal products with their own analysis of vegan-organic production of eleven different vegetables.
The key findings show stark differences in productivity: Vegan-organic agriculture can be 4,198% more productive than animal-based agriculture in the amount of food produced per acre. While the former can on average yield 32,331 lbs of vegetable food products per acre (this number is based on a single vegan-organic farm), the latter can on average yield 770.22 lbs of animal food products per acre.
The report is filled with statistics that reveal the vast extent of U.S. animal agriculture. In 2017, 9.6 billion cows, pigs, chicken, and turkeys were raised to produce meat, milk, and eggs. The author calculated the total space needed to grow feed and house those animals: 471.577 million acres (736,839 square miles), more than the size of Alaska. However, almost three-quarters of that are pasture land for cows raised for meat. Pigs, chicken, and turkeys are mostly given grain to eat, resulting in 77.68 billion lbs of meat and eggs. 241.63 billion lbs of grain – such as soy, corn, and wheat – are grown and fed to the animals, but could be eaten directly by humans. The author notes that this represents a net loss of 163.95 billion lbs of food. All of these numbers show that animal agriculture wastes large amount of resources and land.
However, the report has some limitations. The author compares only the weight of animal-based and plant-based food products. When making comparisons between different types of food, it would be more informative to compare them in calories, the energy humans and other animals derive when they eat food. Different food products can have a vastly different energy density, measured in calories per gram. However, even comparing different calorie counts would just give a general sense of the differences. In practice, a shift from animal-based to plant-based food needs to take specific nutritional values of these food products into account. For example, meat is a major (some would say excessive) protein source in the average U.S. diet, so protein-rich plants, like beans or peas, would likely be a prime substitute for meat, while wheat may not.
Also, the author arrives at the vast difference in productivity between animal-based and vegan-organic by comparing the average productivity of U.S. animal agriculture with the productivity of a single vegan-organic farm operating in Canada. It would be interesting to look at productivity differences between animal-based agriculture and plant-based agriculture on a larger scale with a focus on plant foods likely to replace meat, milk, and eggs.
But even with these limitations in mind, the Humane Party has once again offered a report which contains important information that can be used by animal advocates to argue against animal agriculture and to show the potential of vegan-organic agriculture.