Is it realistic for everyone on the planet to go vegetarian?

I hear patron numbers peaked at 115,000 at the 2016 Sydney Royal Easter Show (SRES) yesterday and there were still 100,000 people on the showground at 8pm. This year the show is not in school holidays and not surprisingly the public holidays has been busy, very busy indeed

For the next three days the crowds will reach their peak at SRES, the biggest event of its type in the southern hemisphere that attracts close to one million people over 14 days

On Thursday I had a request for names of two highly credible, articulate women in the beef and pork industries for a segment on the radio discussing what messages they would like the public to take home about farming from the 2016 Sydney Royal Easter Show (SRES).

I have been attending SRES for over fifty years and I know why I go and the take home messages I would like it to convey to city people have changed a great deal over that time.  I look forward to hearing what women from the pig and cattle industry hope the show delivers for their livestock industries

There is no doubt the show is a great opportunity for city and country to connect – how you do that effectively is not always as easy as it might sound?

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Cotton Industry advocate Laura Bennett shares her love of the cotton industry with primary school students in the Food Farm at the 2016 Sydney Royal Easter Show 

Every single person who pays to walk through the gates has their own problems and in the main want an experience that brightens their day. Farmers hope that part of that experience reminds the community of the importance of farming and farmers

In the wider press and academic community, I watch with dismay as people pitch one agricultural system against the other whether that be organic vs conventional farming, vegetable farming versus livestock farming or going vegan as the panacea to saving the planet

Too often this research and resultant media articles muddy the waters and it is paramount that farmers lobby for robust research and development for farming as a whole as ultimately; these arguments go away if research delivers a win:win solution for people and the planet.

Somehow our farmers have to find ways to work together to go beyond once a year events like the show and become active participants in the food and fibre production debate 365 days. Only in this way  can we ensure there is a balanced representation of all interested parties. A pivotal key to success is ensuring agriculture’s “bright, charismatic representatives” are equipped with sophisticated, considered, agreed and sound rebuttals to the more extreme lobby groups and unrealistic arguments.

When I saw this recent article in The Conversation Global food production threatens to coverwhelm efforts to combat climate change I put a call into Australia’s guru in this space. This is what Professor Richard Eckard had to say

I think the analysis is correct, but the simplistic conclusion is wrong “Opportunities for mitigation in this sector are plentiful, but they can only be realised with a concerted focus.” I agree there some opportunities for energy efficiency and sequestration (not much in soils however), but cost-effective net mitigation options are still a way off i.e. options that allow further growth in productivity with less total emissions.

The energy and transport sectors have viable alternatives emerging, they just need a price signal to make them fully cost-competitive. However, there are no ‘alternatives’ to food production. There is no alternative food industry that can produce the volume required. Organic agriculture certainly cannot and it typically comes with a higher carbon footprint anyway.

This does lead to a debate about livestock versus other crop sources of food, but there are some solid arguments that show:

  1. removing livestock from the world food equation just makes an impossible task that much harder;
  2. livestock are the only mechanism we have for generating food from the vast rangelands of the world that are unsuitable for other types of food production;
  3. livestock are not just for food in developing countries – they are the banking system (Africa), religious system (India and Africa), transport, power etc
  4.  it is really only the privileged minority that have the luxury of choosing a vegetarian lifestyle. The rest of the world just eats what they can afford
  5. Rising vegetarianism will not affect the growth in the livestock industries, as there is clear evidence that the worlds rising middle class (predicted to be 4.9 B by 2030) demand more animal protein with their rising affluence. Supply and demand will mean livestock continues to grow, even if  all the privileged urbanites become vegetarian.
  6. The real solution to livestock methane is continued research to develop low methane animals and livestock systems.

 

If we are going to communicate the real facts perhaps farmers need to have more conversations with each other first and ensure we have a cohesive, consistent, open and honest story to share

Perhaps some questions we could ask ourselves are:

  • Is the farming sector ready to drive the conversations required?
  • Are we ready to become part of the wider conversations that influence policy change and incentives?
  • Are we ready to partner with government and the community to get the best outcomes for farmers and the communities we support?

Back to the SRES and where the conversations about farming are taking place today

If you are going to the show here are a few tips from me

Say G’day to the Archies at the front gate

Archies at the Front Gate at SRES

If you have children under 12  the Food Farm is a must visit. You can meet a farmer at the NSWFA stand, climb a huge tractor,  make tabbouleh, have some delicious Aussie Apples,  learn how to wash your hands properly, make flour and pastry,  meet the George the Farmer team and join in their show, which runs on the hour and heaps more

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Want to learn the real facts about egg production visit the Chook Pavilion and take sit in on Greg Mill’s presentation on the hour

Greg Mills

Visit the Natural Fibre Showcase Pavilion and watch the fashion parade

Natural Fibre Showcase

Visit the Wool and Sheep Pavilion – plenty to see and buy here. A crowd favourite is always the shearing competitions

Shearing

and every-bodies favorite – the District Exhibits

District Exhibits 2016

Don’t miss the Schools’ District Exhibits – this competition was won by Hurlstone Agricultural High School with their very thought provoking take on the Wizard of OZ – Yellow Brick Road

Hursltone Agricultural High School

If you want a permanent reminder of your visit to the show and the sheer beauty of outback Australia stop in and say G’day to renowned rural photographer Fiona Lake

Fiona Lake

and a big shout out to all the farmers at the show carrying the advocacy flag on behalf of us all

 

3 thoughts on “Is it realistic for everyone on the planet to go vegetarian?

  1. Hi, wondering if you have any great resources or links about food and our ecological footprint. Currently writing about cooking with pork and the Australian Curriculum has a content descrition about designing and preparing foods that use Australian pork that are low cost alternative to energy dense take-away food, that have a low ecological footprint.

  2. Hmmm…. I’m not quite sure what your main theme is here, given the title of your post and the actual content. I think you are mainly aiming to air Professor Eckard’s comments and I suspect your view is that his represents a more balanced perspective than those of “extreme lobby groups” and “unrealistic arguments”.

    However, when you raise the need for informed debate, you tackle but one side of the debate by calling for “bright, charismatic representatives” for the agricultural sector to counter those unrealistic arguments. Perhaps you might do well to consider the science and ethics behind the unrealistic arguments as well. Why shouldn’t those bright and charismatic people actually evaluate the true case against livestock farming?

    While it may indeed be unrealistic to expect the entire world to adopt a vegetarian diet any time soon, it is not so easy to dismiss the idea that countries such as the UK, the US and Australia could indeed move more strongly to a vegetarian diet.

    It surprises me that you seem so closed to a debate that suggests such an option – you are clearly ideologically enthralled by the notion that livestock should figure significantly in the food mix. And yet, this flies in the face of clear evidence that a high meat diet is simply not good for people. Science has shown us that a high meat diet causes all sorts of health issues, not the least of which is an increased risk of cancer. As well, livestock farming is a huge contributor to greenhouse emissions, as the article to which you link makes clear.

    While it might be argued that a diet with a small allowance of meat may not be harmful to health (disregarding the ethical question) the industry does NOT in any way endorse that approach. As we have noted in our discussions before, the industry works around the clock to discredit any diet that may substantially reduce or eliminate meat. This is because the industry has no interest in the health of the animals, people and the planet – it’s prime motivator is profit.

    So, let’s ignore for the moment the global issue and focus close to home where we can have most influence. This immediately removes Professor Eckhardt’s points 1 and 3. Not because they are irrelevant, but because they have little meaning when discussing Australian consumer behaviours (ie answering your post’s title question in an Australian context).

    Point 2 may have some relevance, but I’d like to see some peer reviewed science that tackles the question. If Australians adopted a vegetarian diet over the next decade, could we in fact cultivate sufficient plants (and import what we can’t grow) to feed our very small population? I should be most surprised to learn that we couldn’t. can you point me to any such evidence to the contrary?

    Point 4 is actually the central point that people such as me might raise. We in Australia, ie the privileged minority, treat eating as an entertainment and do not eat healthy diets low in meat. Instead we eat far more than we need and the industry is happy to promote this voracious demand. It is utterly irrelevant in this context to argue against Australians adopting a vegetarian or low meat lifestyle because some poorer countries will remain coupled to animal products in the short term. The truth is that we could reduce substantially our need for meat and dairy, but the industry will not view that idea sympathetically for the simple fact that it is geared to increasing demand pursuant to a strategy of commoditising food.

    I would argue that point 5 will prove inaccurate if we consider the middle class of Western nations. True, the rising middle class in China might be demanding a greater share of the meat pie, but China’s behaviours are hardly exemplars for the rest of the world to emulate. In the West, the reach of the Internet, especially through social media, is showing people the inherent cruelty in modern livestock farming. There is a steady rise in interest in vegetarian and vegan diets and I expect this trend to continue. I think this trend WILL impact the livestock industry, especially in Australia.

    Point 6 is simply wrong. The real solution to increasing methane emissions from livestock is to not farm livestock in such numbers. How could you possibly argue otherwise? In the face of the health issues of a high meat and dairy diet, the increase in emissions due to increasing demand fostered by the industry itself, and the overwhelming ethical issues, it must border on the criminal to suggest the “real solution” is to simply engineer better systems to process more animals.

    Lastly, I have yet to see you post an article that genuinely tackles the very simple ethical question. Will you ever do so? If animals suffer for the production of foods that in Australia are not part of a healthy diet but instead contribute negatively to the mix, what possible argument is there for continuing our current strategy? And why fight so hard to prevent people adopting a vegetarian diet when by almost all possible measures it would make things better?

    The answer to your post’s question is clearly yes for Australia in particular, overwhelmingly so. And it might be time for farmers to reconsider their options given the substantial health, ecological and ethical shortcomings of this industry.

    Why argue so strenuously for more suffering when you could instead lead the move to a change for the better?

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