The future’s bright, the future’s green with the growing popularity of vegan organic farming.
Food scares, health concerns, pesticide problems, environmental worries and animal welfare issues have brought farming methods into the spotlight. Most farmers are dependent on chemicals and animal by-products – and even those specialising in organic farming use animal manures and slaughterhouse by-products. This presents a difficult dilemma for vegans who refuse animal-derived food yet are still linked to the meat industry by their seemingly innocent groceries. However, despite popular beliefs, animals aren’t necessary to agriculture.
The number of farmed animals in the world has quadrupled in the last 50 years, and food production no longer nurtures the land. Both animals and soil are pushed to their limits to satisfy the West’s demand for animal products and profits. At present modern agriculture is far from sustainable and the meat industry directly contributes to all the major environmental catastrophes:
- Rainforests are still being chopped down at an alarming rate either for grazing or to grow crops to feed to animals.
- Crops (mostly grown for animal feed) are doused in pesticides and fertilisers that leach into waterways and cause massive pollution.
- The increased number of animals means more manure, which contributes to acid rain and river and lake pollution – rendering drinking water unsafe.
- Soil is pushed beyond its fertility limits, is not replenished or fallowed and becomes prone to erosion.
- Oceans are being destroyed by over-fishing, which is devastating entire marine ecosystems, while coastal fish farms are causing extensive pollution and wildlife decline.
- Growing feed for livestock requires intense use of synthetic fertilisers and thus causes the release of nitrous oxide into the atmosphere. Producing feed and heating buildings that house animals uses fossil fuels, emitting CO2. And the decomposition of liquid manure releases large amounts of methane as well as forming nitrous oxide – all of which are contributing significantly to global warming.
- Millions of consumers in the West are dying from diseases such as heart attacks, strokes, diabetes and cancer, caused by eating animal products, while the world’s poor are dying from diseases of poverty. Children in the developing world starve next to fields of fodder destined for export as animal feed, to support the rich, meat-hungry cultures. Livestock farming is generally inefficient: an area of land the size of five football pitches will grow enough meat to feed two people; or maize to feed 10; or grain to feed 24; or soya to feed 61. If everyone in the world ate the typical US meat-centred diet (where 35% of calories come from animal products), the world could support only 2.5 billion people. On a vegetarian diet all 6 billion of us could be fed healthily. The world can feed less than half its present population on a meat-based diet. In order to feed the world it is imperative that vegan organic farming becomes widespread.
But it’s not all bad news!
Recent years has seen a growth in awareness and popularity of vegan organic farming. Vegan-organics is any system of cultivation that avoids artificial chemicals and sprays, GMOs, livestock manures and animal remains from slaughterhouses or fish processing etc. Fertility is maintained by vegetable composts, green manures, crop rotation, mulches, and any other method that is sustainable, ecologically viable and not dependent upon animal exploitation. This ensures long-term fertility, and wholesome food for our and future generations.
Organic growing involves treating the soil, the growing environment, and the world environment as a resource to be husbanded for future generations, rather than exploited in the short term. The maxim of vegan organic growing is to feed the soil and the soil will feed the plants.
Instead of scattering animal manures and slaughterhouse waste products on the land the above time-honoured techniques can be used to grow over 60 different vegetables in the UK climate. Perennial crops including perennial vegetables like artichokes and asparagus, perennial soft fruit like strawberries, raspberries and currants and tree crops like apples, cherries and nuts can also be grown successfully.
The vegan organic system finally rejects the long-standing reliance on animal products. It offers a different quality of food that stands apart from the industrially produced, money-led foodstuffs available now. Even small scale ‘grow your own’ farming can help promote awareness of self-sufficiency and give something back to nature – whether it’s a multi-functional allotment, a small vegetable patch in your back garden or just a window box containing a few herbs! It’s easier than you think!
A vision for the future
“If it was up to you there’d be no animals in the fields anymore!” Vegans often hear this ignorant argument from meat-eaters who like to see their food as well as eat it. True, farmed animals are bred for people to eat and as the demand for meat falls, less animals will be bred. But instead of being the end of the countryside as we know it, like many imagine, in fact a huge toll of suffering would be eliminated and wildlife allowed to recover from the pressures of the animal industry.
The vast majority of farmed animals are kept in indoor units where they never see the light of day. Those that are outside are only kept alive for a fraction of their natural lifespans before being slaughtered for meat – often in the most barbaric manner imaginable.
Modern farmed animals have been bred and mutated over generations to produce as much meat as possible, and have become a far cry from their wild ancestors. For example birds are often so obese they can barely walk and suffer from crippling leg disorders. Dairy cows are bred to produce so much milk that their udders can become painfully swollen and infected. Sheep have been genetically manipulated to give birth earlier in the year, and as a result each year 20 per cent of new born lambs die within days of birth from sickness, exposure, malnutrition and disease.
If people ate crops directly we would need far less land for food production. In the UK, birds, butterflies and wild flowers would even start to appear. And around the world the ancestors of today’s farm animals could begin to thrive, as they would once again have space. For example:
- Wild turkeys live in North and Central America. They roost in trees and roam in woodlands, eating vegetation and insects. An adult bird can fly up to 50mph.
- Chickens are decended from the red jungle fowl (gallus gallus) in Asia. Wild hens like to move around almost ceaselessly in daylight hours. Also they lay only 20 eggs a year and need a safe, private place for laying.
- It is believed cattle originally descended from the wild auroch, of Eurasia and North Africa, a species that did not become extinct until the 17th century. Banteng are a shy species of wild South East Asian cattle found in hill forests.
- The European Wild Boar is the ancestor of the farmed pig. They live in forested areas, eating a wide variety of plants and occasionally small animals and insects. They lived wild in Britain’s woodlands until hunted to extinction in the 17th century. They can still be found in countries such as Germany and France.
- Most wild sheep and goats live in mountains but some inhabit desert grasslands, tropical forests or Arctic tundra. Habitat loss, hunting and resource competition from farmed animals have resulted in most species being classed by the IUCN (World Conservation Union) as threatened, endangered or critical.
Going veggie is a big step, going vegan is huge, and going vegan organic is even larger than that. Although the option of completely cruelty free food is available to very few of us at the moment, the ethos of animal free farming is spreading. And, due to the number of support groups setting up, anyone who wants to try it themselves will not be alone.
Another organisation that helps is the Vegan Organic Network: “Our commitment is to peace and justice for people, animals and the environment in a sustainable balance. To achieve this we must change our lifestyles and introduce a philosophy which will continue to maintain our unique planet. VON attempts to come to grips with politics and ethics in everyday living.”
They provide practical advice on how to start growing your own food, details of the issues surrounding vegan organic farming and links to other useful groups. Have a look at their website: www.veganorganic.net