(short version of this)
1. We currently produce enough food to feed the world. If proper redistibution practices were put into place and if we didn’t use all the grains and soy, etc to feed animals (for which much land is cleared in rainforests), then we would be able to feed the world . Currently one third of grain produced is used to feed animals. Hopefully as more people become vegan and more resources are freed up, more people will be able to gain access to food and we will be able to move towards a more sustainable food supply. I suggest looking into the food sovereignty movement if these sorts of issues interest you .
2. Not only does industrialised meat, egg and dairy production tend to use/waste a lot of grain and soy, but they also use a lot of water. This is because the animals require water to drink (a ‘beef’ cow drinks an average of 45L per day, a cow used for milk drinks 70L a day), water is used for cleaning and it used to grow crops for the animals to eat. Waterfootprint.org estimates that beef production uses 15,415 litre/kg, butter uses 5,553 litre/kg and chicken meat uses 4325 litre/kg. Considering that our water supply is at risk due to climate change increasing the severity and frequency of droughts, surely conserving water is an important thing to do.
3. There is less manure to deal with when people aren’t eating animals that make manure. In Australia it is estimated that farmed animals produce three million tonnes of manure each year. In factory farms, there is a high concentration of animals and therefore manure (click here to see images of chickens in manure pits by Tamara Kenneally). In this factory farmed situation, the manure is typically mixed with water (usually in large ‘ponds’) and used as fertiliser on crops. Of the three million tonnes produced, 2.1 million tonnes was used as fertiliser. There is a risk that runoff from the fertilising of these crops might contaminate local waterways. Victoria has been in the news previously due to water being contaminated with cow manure. There’s so much manure that dung beetles have had to be imported to help. Manure also emits a variety of greenhouse gases, which help speed up climate change. The gases that are released might also have a negative impact on the quality of life of people living nearby (e.g. respiratory problems from ammonia).
4. Antibiotic use in meat production has been linked to the rise in ‘super bugs’, which are antibiotic-resistant bacteria, found in a lot of meats available in supermarkets (at least in the U.S. but I would guess it’s not that different here in Australia). Antibiotics are used in many farms in Australia. In the chicken meat industry, there are some that are permitted to be used as preventatives to keep the chickens from getting sick to begin with (something that is necessary in factory farms considering the stress, the fact that the chickens attack each other, etc). However, some farms such as this one state on their website that they do not use drugs that are “important to humans”, while certified organic and free range chickens cannot be sold as such if they have had antibiotics. The problem with this huge use of antibiotics in the meat production industry is the creation of superbugs and the diversion of resources (e.g. antibiotics could be helping people who need them stay alive).
5. Human exploitation also happens in the animal exploitation and killing industries. Workers are exploited and at a high risk of injury. In 2004/5 there were 2270 injury claims made in the meat processing industry, most of which were due to falls, injuries with knives and ‘body stressing’. In 2006 exploitation of foreign workers on 457 visas by employers from the Australian Meat Industry was uncovered. Allegations are still being made in 2013. It is known that exploitation of backpackers and people on 457 visas happens regularly across many industries, so it would not be a far stretch to imagine that it happens in the agricultural industries. Yes, they could avoid these risks if we worked together to improve conditions, but by not eating meat we avoid the need for these dangerous jobs and the exploitation of people for labour altogether.
6. Indigenous and local land owners are driven off their land as more land is taken by large coporations to grow crops. This is known as landgrabbing. Landgrabbing basically means that people are evicted from their land, forced to sell their land to large coporations or have others sell their land when they have no right to it. This leaves people with no way of growing food to survive, no land to allow their farmed animals to graze, no way of making an income and leaves them in a much worse position than they originally were in. Landgrabbing has occurred for things like sugar, biofuels, food crops and animal feed (with about 70% of arable land being used for animal feed, this is where veganism helps). Most food crops do not help increase food security in the country they are in, but are instead exported overseas to the country that can pay the most or whose government owns the land, or where the company who owns the land is based. Again, this is a problem that can be helped along by the food sovereignty movement.
7. The monocultures of soy and corn that are used for animal feed also put farmers at more risk of losing an entire crop as opposed to having a mix of things growing, and also threatens food diversity and the continuance of local foods. It also has negative impacts on local resources such as water and soil due to contamination from pesticides and herbicides, as well as the fact that these plants are not adapted to the particular conditions of the region. These monocultures can often be so big and take over so much land that it causes people to have to move (see above point). It has been said many times by many organisations that monocultures are not sustainable. It can also cause local crops to be contaminated with GMO crops, a huge issue in itself due to the legislation surrounding ownership.
8. Farmed animal product production creates a lot of carbon emissions due to things like transport and processing of both the feed and the animals, as well as emissions from the animals themselves. Climate change has been implicated in increasing the risk of people becoming refugees in low lying regions and in food shortages. However, Australia does have an average or lower than average carbon footprint when it comes to red meat production. This does not mean that it is better than alternatives such as plant-based foods, simply that we’re doing a littler better than some other countries when it comes to the production of red meats. It has been repeatedly found that a plant-based diet has less of an impact on the environment, even when compared to a local food diet that includes meat. A relevant documentary that you might find interesting is Meat the Truth.
9. Overfishing has caused people to turn to piracy in order to survive. The world’s ‘stock’ of fish is at a critical point. It has been predicted that all the world’s fisheries will collapse in 2048 unless something is done to stop it. Unfortunately there is still a huge demand for fish due to an uneducated and apathetic populace. Thus, many people are now fishing in places that used to be used only by locals to survive, causing the locals to be labelled pirates as they have to defend themselves. Somalia loses $300 million worth of fish that is stolen (and slaughtered) from its coasts each year, with people turning to its own bands of pirates to keep their fish for themselves. Senegal is facing similar problems. The fact that people have to put themselves at risk and turn to piracy in order to stay alive and have something (someone) to eat is reprehensible. While many people who don’t rely on fish to survive may not miss it from their plates, those who don’t have many other options will be at a severe risk. It is estimated that overfishing threatens the food security of about 200 million people.
10. People working in tanneries to make leather from the skin of animals that have been killed are exposed to numerous dangerous chemicals (chromium is the worst offender from what I can find). The chemicals can cause cancer, skin diseases, respiratory illnesses while the machinery is also dangerous and can result in amputations. In India, people have died due to the exposure to these chemicals, due to unsafe working conditions. People have also died in Bangladesh and are affected by the chemicals in a multitude of ways. These chemicals can also leach into the water supply and affect the air and soil quality, which in turn causes illnesses and diseases in nearby populations.