Moving to a vegan way of life is known to be one of the best things you can do to combat global warming . But are there any negative effects of veganism on the environment? Wouldn’t we need to grow many more plants? Is it actually the panacea we’ve all been told it could be?
Negative Effects Of Veganism On The EnvironmentThe biggest negative effect of veganism on the environment that we could identify is the threat posed by large mono-cropping systems and the inputs required to maintain them. However, this threat is negated by the fact that in a plant-based world, much less land would be needed to produce the same amount of nutrition as we currently do.
Watch: “Precision Agriculture” – Where AI Meets Modern Farming
( Ok, mind officially blown! This robot reduces inputs by up to 95% – you have to watch this! )
Getting Your Facts Straight
As veganism gains more and more traction across the globe there is an inevitable dilution in the understanding of what veganism actually is.
In my research for this piece, the first step was to Google the title and in doing so I came across an article from a guy whose intentions seem to be honourable but the facts leave a little bit to be desired.
It’s a website about successful sustainability and the first section of his article is entitled “What Is Veganism?” … he goes on to make a glaring mistake, stating that veganism is all about the diet.
Any vegan worth their salt will tell you the lifestyle has absolutely nothing to do with the diet and everything to do with the ethics of rejecting animal products.
The diet we follow is purely consequential.
I mean … that really is veganism 101. The very first thing you must understand about our compassionate way of life.
So already we’re not off to a great start and this webpage was actually in the number one spot when I was Googling. Just shows you, the algo over at Google HQ may be very clever but they still have some way to go before gaining that true understanding, like a human can.
Now, I realise none of this has anything to do with the negative effects of veganism on the environment, which is what we’re supposed to be addressing. So let’s look a bit further into this successful sustainability article and see what the claims are.
Three Major Negative Environmental Factors
I really don’t want to be too down on this author because, as I mentioned above, his heart does seem to be in the right place … but!
( and it’s a big but )
To kick things off he cites three major negative effects of veganism when it comes to the environmental impact … and these are:
- Concerns Around Grazing Animals
- Industrial Agricultural Processes
- Meat Alternatives
So let’s take a rational look at these concerns, one by one.
The author implies that grazing grasslands are essential for environmental sustainability but is this really true? Well … no. Unfortunately not.
Grazing animals on grasslands actually impose a massive ecological cost on the environment. It is the biggest cause of biodiversity loss in our agricultural landscape.
Clearing virgin rainforest in the Amazon to rear beef cattle causes untold damage to the environment. Then there’s the land cleared to grow (mainly) soy crops in order to feed all those cows.
Even if the author’s claim were true, a vegan future doesn’t need to exclude grazing animals. We just wouldn’t eat them and so there would be far fewer animals needed to maintain the equilibrium of life.
We could re-forest our vast managed grasslands or let them return to natural, unmanaged grasslands where appropriate and reap the environmental benefits. Restoring the soil health, sequestering more carbon and returning to a far more sustainable situation than we currently face.
Even a cursory Googling completely destroys the author’s claims that grasslands provide enough food production for the world.
If that were true, why do we need so many CAFOs? (concentrated animal feeding operations).
I think we can safely say that the effect of veganism on grazing animals is a net positive on the environment. If only because we’d need far fewer of them!
Industrial Agricultural Processes
The author devotes a large part of his article to this concern and I must admit, I came away thinking maybe he’s been commissioned by the industry to write the piece.
Why? Because this section of his post is so very misguided.
He goes through water usage, pollution from transportation, deforestation and soil degradation. The general gist of his point being that all of these things would increase if everyone switched to a vegan way of life.
The big glaring error in his claims is that meat and dairy production put huge demands on all of these things. In fact way more demand than would growing plants for the same nutritional output.
A whopping 77% of the agricultural land in use today is devoted to producing animal products which amount to only 18% of the food we eat.
Because it’s so much more efficient to grow plants instead of raising animals, all the author’s points he thinks he’s making become invalid … apart from, maybe, the soil health concerns.
We do need to find more sustainable ways of growing plants which doesn’t involve endless tilling of the soils, destroying the delicate ecosystems under the surface.
… these sustainable methods do exist, by the way. Just look at Tolhurst Organic here in the UK. Veganic gardening for 20+ years and their veg is amazing!
So, again, we can conclude that moving to a more plant focussed future does not need to be a negative when considering the impact of industrial agriculture.
I mean, the mass cultivation of crops has come about, in large part, due to the inputs required by the meat and dairy industries.
It’s not difficult to understand yet this author seems to have completely missed the point. Like I say, the question has to be asked if this was intentional on his part.
So … I’m sorry, I honestly have almost no idea what the author is wanging on about in this section.
He talks about energy and water inefficiencies as well as the extra processing involved in producing meat substitutes making them no better than meat production.
It’s well known that the meat and dairy industries consume vast amounts of water. It’s the same with energy consumption.
Personally I’m not a big fan of meat replacements. I can see they have their place but I believe the future of sustainable food production is never going to involve large scale meat replacement.
Whether that be plant based or lab grown.
The other big criticism I have about this person’s article is there are no references to back up his claims … which are often utterly misguided, in my opinion. Or maybe he’s just being disingenuous.
I don’t want to link to the piece in an effort to avoid lending more weight to it. It’s already sitting at the top of Google (at the time of writing).
You should be able to find the post by a Mr Simone N. R. and make up your own mind.
Please do come back here afterwards and let me know if I’m missing something glaringly obvious!
Conclusion – Environmental Negatives Of Veganism
In a much more serious look at the topic, this 2022 study focusing specifically on the mass adoption of veganism and environmental consequences  concluded one of the big negatives of moving to a vegan world is the threat monoculture could potentially pose.
Large mono-cropping agri-systems tend to damage the health of the soil over time, depleting it of vital nutrients and minerals. Pesticides and fertilisers are used extensively in these systems which cause huge loss of biodiversity.
However, while all this is undoubtedly true, the fact remains that most mono-crop systems exist to feed the animals we eat. That conversion from plant to animal and then to the dinner plate is a hugely inefficient way to produce food.
For example, the protein conversion efficiency for beef production is about 6%, which is really poor. So you need that many more resources (17 times as much land) to produce the same amount of protein as you do simply by growing plants and eating them .
By “cutting out the middleman” ie: the animal bit, we massively reduce the burden on Mother Earth, freeing up as much as 50% of the agricultural land currently in use .
Then by moving to large scale arable rotation systems, maybe even with some grazing animals on there (which we don’t need to eat), we can maintain the soil health and easily grow enough food to feed the planet.
… something which we currently seem unable to achieve.
In all honesty I really can’t find any references to any major negative environmental effects of going vegan … but then I would say that!
If you can highlight anything which I’ve missed, I’d love to see it. Post me a comment below please.
I hope you’ve found this article valuable and it’s answered some of your questions. I always enjoy reading your opinion so please leave a comment below – I may not respond immediately but I always answer. Please also share this article far and wide using the social buttons.
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Thanks so much for reading and have a peaceful day.
 – Chai, B.C.; van der Voort, J.R.; Grofelnik, K.; Eliasdottir, H.G.; Klöss, I.; Perez-Cueto, F.J.A. Which Diet Has the Least Environmental Impact on Our Planet? A Systematic Review of Vegan, Vegetarian and Omnivorous Diets. Sustainability 2019, 11, 4110. https://doi.org/10.3390/su11154110  – Dorgbetor, I.K.; Ondrasek, G.; Kutnjak, H.; Mikuš, O. What If the World Went Vegan? A Review of the Impact on Natural Resources, Climate Change, and Economies. Agriculture 2022, 12, 1518. https://doi.org/10.3390/agriculture12101518