Friday, October 23, 2009

Sustainability: Possibly the stupidest reason for vegetarianism, ever.

Even stupider than my own reason for being a vegetarian for a few years there back in the ‘90’s, which was that it was trendy and seemed like a good idea at the time. This ended rather abruptly when I got drunk one night and my overweight, lesbian flat-mate fed me up on rump steak marinated in soy sauce. Then a few years later I was pregnant, and all pretences of cutting down on dead animal went right out the window. I would have happily called up one of those companies that live-exports animals to Saudi Arabia and asked them if they accepted cash-on-delivery.

One of my annoyingly smug classmates has for some time being pulling his own whotsit about how he’s a vegetarian “for sustainability reasons”, and relies on mostly dairy products for protein. I finally got the irrits today, as this was detracting from the mince meat party-pie I was eating, and asked him (nicely, I’m not a bitch or anything) if by “sustainability” he meant the carbon footprint? (He is also militantly AGW alarmist, so I couldn’t work out which way he was going with this.) To my surprise, he said that No, he means all the other sustainability issues.

Hmm, how to say nicely how retardedly misinformed that idea is.

Now, I’m mostly looking at an Australian context, but one suspects that people who feel this way must be fairly far removed from the realities of primary industry. (Unfortunately, this is most of the Aussie population, we have a predominantly urban population clustered around the coast). For those of you not au fait with Australian farming practices, the Aussie method of raising lamb and beef is largely to shoo them off into the bush for awhile and round them up with a helicopter later. You know that beautiful Australian lamb you buy in Los Angeles that is labeled “organic”? Its not. Or at least it didn’t intend to be, it’s just that it wound up that way by default because we don’t use feed-lots as a general rule.

If asked to pick the main non-carbon “sustainability” issue we have in Australian farming today, it would have to be water. Australia is the driest continent on the planet, put quite simply, we don’t have that much of it to go around.

According to the National Water Commission the main use of water in agriculture is by far the dairy industry, followed by irrigated pasture. “But wait a minute!” You say. “Don’t meat animals use pasture?” Apparently, most of the irrigated pasture in Australia goes right back into the dairy cows, and out of 445149000 ha of agricultural land in 2004-2005, the total irrigated was 2408200 ha. **Does maths in head** That’s, um, that’s….not much… and its dropping all the time due to farming being abandoned and loss of water usage rights.
Beef cattle farming is also the largest agricultural sector, at around 28% of all agricultural businesses, so factor this into the information from the water commission data on water use by sector and some perspective starts to be formed.

Total live-stock water consumption is less than that of grains, and about half that of dairy farming.

The CSIRO (that’s our government sponsored agricultural / science boffins) have recently calculated the water usage per kilo of beef cattle to be 50,000 litres (which is half that used in the USA), however this is calculated by taking into account all the rainfall over the pasture-land and dividing that by beef produced. This doesn’t account for run-off, tree roots etc., and if you took the cows off the land, the water usage woud actually go up, wouldn't it? This method may apply to the USA where beef is farmed in feedlots and pasture and grain must be grown for them, but doesn’t apply to Australia where most beef is farmed over extensive rangelands.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics calculates water use by the “diverted water” method. i.e. water that has to be taken out of the environment or storage to be used, water falling on pasturage is not taken into account unless its deliberately taken from the environment to irrigate it. If the Meat and Livestock Australia people are to be believed, this then gives us the figure of 60-320 litres of water per kg of beef.

Either way, it’s still less water than dairy and cereals. Alternatively, the annoying “sustainable” vegetarians could just shut the f*ck up, eat some kangaroo and do everyone a favour.

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