By Greg McFarlane of Vegan Australia
The road to an ethical Australia, which fully values the interests of all animals, may be long but we can accelerate the move towards this goal if we develop an understanding of what a vegan Australia would look like and what changes would be required. This goal is achievable and by moving towards an animal-free agricultural system, Australia can become an ethical world leader.
To try to understand a future where animals are no longer exploited, Vegan Australia has explored different aspects of a vegan agricultural system for Australia. How the land use, food security, environment, the economy, employment and other areas would be affected by moving to a vegan agricultural system. The aim is to prepare a plan for this vegan agricultural transition answering questions about what Australia would look like and how this could be achieved.
The case for moving towards a vegan agricultural system is based on the understanding that the use of animals for food, clothing or any other purpose
- results in suffering and exploitation of animals;
- is unnecessary for human health and wellbeing;
- is wasteful of land and food suitable for human consumption contributing to hunger and famine; Eighty percent of starving children live in countries that actually have food surpluses – the children remain hungry because farmers feed the grain and legumes to animals instead of people.
- produces various pollutant streams (sewage, methane, anti-biotics, etc.);
- is a main driver of climate change;
- is harmful to other species and ecosystems;
- is the main user of fresh water globally; Fresh water is becoming a scarce resource and is excessively used for the production of animal products. The lack of fresh water is a major cause of disease transmission, especially amongst the world’s poor.
- is responsible for 80% of deforestation. Deforestation is often in areas occupied by indigenous people and their rights and interests are often ignored.
Vegan Australia Transition Principles
This study uses sound economics and agricultural and environmental science to outline the transition and the changes in land use and agriculture are guided by the following principles.
- There should be no negative effects on the availability of food (locally or for export) to provide for a healthy population. The changes will result in different food types being available, but the consumption levels for all essential macro and micro nutrients should be maintained or enhanced.
- The changes should maintain or improve current living standards.
- Costs, including monetary and externalities such as environmental costs, should not be deferred to future generations.
- The changes should protect the state of the environment and maintain food and water security.
- Any economic and employment impacts should be minimised and alternatives investigated.
- Where economic and employment impacts are unavoidable, the costs of these must be met by society in general and not left to landholders and workers to bear. No individual should be disadvantaged.
- Consumers respond to changes in social attitudes and economic conditions, reflecting cultural changes, changing attitudes to eating meat as well as price fluctuations.
- Rural Australians will play a crucial role in the transition to a productive, healthy, ethical, ecological land management approach and accurate valuation of ecosystem services and innovative financial incentives will be required to enable them to restore and strengthen vital ecosystem services.
Shared responsibility will be crucial to ensure fairness. Moving to an animal-free agricultural system will result in significant changes to large areas of Australia, potentially impacting the lives and livelihood of a number of people. The changes will result in major benefits to the environment and climate and these benefits will be shared by all Australians. To ensure that rural Australians are not asked to shoulder this burden by themselves, the economic costs of these changes must be shared by society.
This section looks at options for reusing land that is currently used for animal agriculture in Australia. It quantifies how much land is currently used for animal farming and then describes how this land could be reused for other purposes, that do not involve the use of animals.
Since European settlement, the Australian continent has been extensively modified by animal agriculture, with livestock (mainly cattle, sheep and dairy) grazing native or modified pastures on 56% of the continent. About 3.5% of land is used to grow plant foods for humans.
The area of the Australian continent is about 770 million hectares (Mha). Of this, 429 Mha (56%) are used to graze beef, sheep and dairy. In addition, 3 Mha are used for fodder crops to be fed to farmed animals and 4 Mha are used to grow grain to be fed to farmed animals. This compares to the 20 Mha used to grow plant foods for humans (both domestic consumption and export). About 30% of feed for dairy cattle comes from crops and up to to 90% of the food given to farmed chickens and pigs are grains fit for human consumption.
In agricultural analysis, Australia is often divided into intensive and extensive land-use zones. The intensive zone covers eastern Australia and south-west Western Australia. The main agricultural activities in the intensive zone are cropping, pastoral production and dairying, with an average annual value of agricultural production of about $193 per hectare. The rest of the continent makes up the extensive land-use zone. The extensive zone is arid or semi-arid and is not suitable for cropping. The main agricultural activity is grazing sheep and cattle on native vegetation, with an average annual value of agricultural production of only $3.35 per hectare. In parts of Northern Australia the land is used very inefficiently by raising cattle, taking up to 50 hectares to support just one animal.
Animal agriculture uses over 430 Mha (well over half) of Australia’s land mass, consisting of about 300 Mha in the extensive zone and 100 in the intensive zone. We estimate that about 2.9 Mha would be required to grow the extra plant foods for domestic and overseas human consumption. This would leave vast areas of land available for other uses beneficial to people and wildlife. Possible uses include the following. (Note that the suggested areas are very approximate.)
- land currently used for both cropping and grazing should be used solely for cropping (35 Mha)
- extra forestry for timber logging (1-5 Mha)
- carbon farming (sequestering carbon dioxide) by regrowing vegetation, enriching the soil (100 Mha) would enable the land use sector to become a sink for emissions from other sectors, such as power generation and transport.
- biochar production from tree crops (1-5 Mha)
- restoration of rangelands (200 Mha)
- sequestering carbon dioxide in soil and vegetation
- providing native habitat for endangered species
- increasing biodiversity
- reducing erosion and soil loss
- reducing salinisation
- improve water quality
- new irrigation schemes in Northern Australia (1.5Mha)
Wooleen Case Study Western Australia
One interesting example of a change in land use in line with a vegan agricultural system is the destocking and regeneration of the rangelands at Wooleen Station in Western Australia. This land had been over-grazed for over 100 years resulting in most of the prime land being in poor or very poor condition with some of it being badly eroded and degraded to the point where it was never expected to recover. The situation at Wooleen is typical of neighbouring areas and in fact of much of the Australian rangelands.
In 2007, the leaseholders of the 200,000 hectare station “Wooleen” decided to completely destock the entire property for four years. The re-establishment of the vegetation “has progressed much better than expected”. A multitude of plants re-appeared, including the slow growing, but sturdy, saltbush. This regrowth occurred because cattle were no longer grazing and despite a long drought. Some plants returned to areas where they were never expected to grow. Plant and animal species threatened with extinction also began to return. Perennial plants, crucial to restoring the land, were among those re-established.
During the time when no farmed animals grazed, grasses were planted and infrastructure was changed to replicate the natural systems that had been lost, culminating in the Roderick River flowing clear of eroded sediment for the first time in living memory. In just four years, a red river had been turned clear by removing farmed animals from the land and restoring some of the natural systems. “Nature is bouncing back.” Please see video presentation on the regeneration at Wooleen.
The image above shows the transplanting of native grasses into flowing creek lines after good rains.
In Australia, most grazing land is owned by the state and leased to farmers. It is interesting to note that a condition of the lease is that the land must be stocked with farmed animals. The majority of income must come from grazing. Other uses, such as tourism, are not encouraged. In fact, the leaseholders of Wooleen had to wait one year for permission from the Pastoral Lands Board to remove stock from the property. These unhelpful regulations act as barriers to change and will need replacing to be more in line with present day needs of the country. The success of this case study in such a short time suggests that it may be possible to restore land quickly and without great expense in many parts of Australia.
Vegan Australia is supporting this research and are looking for funding to be able to progress this project as quickly as possible. They are also looking for other researchers to work on parts of it. If you can assist in any way, please email Greg McFarlane at email@example.com
The next issue of Vegan Sustainability will feature Part 2 of this article where Vegan Australia explore the effects of transitioning to a Vegan Agriculture System from an economic, environmental, and health perspective including what steps need to be taken to make it happen.