Being vegan means you think that animals are not killed in the production of what you eat.
However Matthew Evans, a former food critic who now calls himself a gourmet farmer and restauranteur, says that notion is simply untrue.
In his new book, On Eating Meat: The Truth About Its Production And The Ethics Of Eating It, Evans writes the uncomfortable truth that animals die regardless of whether we choose to eat meat or not.
“It’s quite possible that eating less meat might mean less suffering. But don’t be fooled into thinking that being vegan hurts no animal,” Evans writes.
“When you eat, you’re never truly vegan. When humans grow and process food, any food, other things die.”
He says about 40,000 ducks are killed each year to protect rice production in Australia; that a billion mice are poisoned every year to protect wheat in Western Australia alone, and apple growers can kill up to 120 possums a year to protect their orchards.
“So a duck dying to protect a rice paddy for me is not much different to a cow dying to produce a steak,” Evans told ABC News.
Evans writes about a pea farm in Tasmania that produces 400 tonnes of peas and kills thousands of animals in the process. For every 75 hectares of peas, 1,500 animals die each year, including possums, wallabies, ducks and deer, not to mention rodents.
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“The owners assure me it wouldn’t be financially viable for them to grow peas without killing animals. Which means that every time we eat peas, farmers have controlled the “pest” species on our behalf, and animals have died in our name,” Evans writes.
This process is replicated at farm after farm all around the country.
“They are both animal deaths that happen in the name of us being able to eat,” he said.
“So there is nothing that we can do that doesn’t have an impact on animals.”
A scientific analysis from the University of NSW used by Evans concludes that “25 times more sentient beings die to produce a kilo of protein from wheat than a kilo of protein from beef”.
Evans stressed he was making the point so that vegans are aware of the impact of their choices.
“If you want truly vegan agriculture, you’re going to have more fossil fuel emissions and in the process end up with more expensive food, poorer pollination and reduced variety thanks to the removal of domesticated bees,” Evans writes.
Vegan Australia spokesman Andy Faulkner told ABC News that he “fully concedes that” animals die in the production of crops.
He said it was all about scale: rearing animals requires all the impact of growing crops to feed them, with the added impact of then killing the animal for meat as well.
“We have a situation where it’s either minimising harm … or the next option is maximising harm,” he said.
“Vegans are aware of this. It’s about minimising impact.”