Another anti-vegan article in French. Your thoughts?

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Another anti-vegan article in French. Your thoughts?

Post by Canastenard » Fri Jun 29, 2018 2:55 pm

I've just found an article critical of veganism and vegetarianism in French. Because I like to challenge confirmation bias I read it to try to find potential shortcomings of veganism. After all if we want to retain intellectual honesty we need to be open to the idea of being wrong. I might translate it in its entirety a bit later, but if anyone else understands French, it might be a good idea to address som of its points.

The article: ... LmlByiZ.99

My traduction: (not manually translated, I rather used the excellent translator DeepL, if you don't know it it's worth checking it out:, although it's not perfect, you still need to read the traduction for some fixes) I added comments in italic
American agronomist Sarah Taber says vegetarian diets are not necessarily good for the environment and would therefore be suitable for particularly humid regions where "meat" diets would correspond to more desert, very cold regions or where vegetation is not edible. If tomorrow the whole planet became vegetarian, even vegan, would we run to our downfall?

Alexandre Carré:
It's a very vast subject... Bringing the evolution of diets closer to possible agricultures according to climatic conditions is particularly interesting. This makes it possible to return to the notion of being omnivorous and to the evolution of the human species as such. Today scientists agree that what differentiated the human branch from evolution is precisely its ability to adapt to changes in its environment and by extension to become omnivorous when the plant resource became scarcer.

Where other monkeys have remained vegetarian - some are omnivorous - human ancestors have had to vary their diet in this region of Africa, cradle of humanity, which was becoming increasingly desert. An omnivorous diet, mixing food of plant and animal origin is more adaptable, more flexible according to the environment and climatic variations. This diet has given a real evolutionary advantage to our species. Indeed, this argument is valid for other species, those with very specific diets are less resilient than those with diversified diets.

To return to the question, if tomorrow the planet were to consume exclusively vegan or vegetarian products would we run a risk? This question is simplistic because it omits a lot of information. Human babies are neither vegetarians nor vegans by nature. They need breast milk or a substitute made from cow's milk or other animals. To consider that all babies should be exclusively breastfed by their mothers would be to forget those who cannot or do not wish to do so. Moreover, our contemporary way of life no longer allows children to breastfeed long enough. Although breast milk is undoubtedly the best food for the baby, the possibility of being able to turn to substitute products made from cow's milk or goat's milk is essential but at the same time implies the need to practice animal husbandry. (No mention of plant-based infant formula, which is staight up lying by omission. And it goes against thet consensus about vegan diets being suitable for all ages.)

From a general point of view, and this is what I found interesting in the article you sent me, it is the fact of having a global vision of agriculture. We can't just say "produce meat pollutes more than produce plants so let's just eat plants to pollute less". This reasoning is simplistic and lacks a global vision of agriculture.

To produce plants, we need to fertilize the soil with organic matter, so to produce plant food, we need animals. (Implying that manure is the only way to fertilize the soil with organic matter. No mention of composted plant agriculture waste or spent mushroom substrate.) I met a farmer who suggested that I ask the question in a different form: Rather than asking whether or not we should breed, it is more a question of what we do with the animals we need to breed in order to have a coherent and efficient agriculture. (Basically a begging the question fallacy right?) This question has the merit of taking the problem from another angle.

There is a second approach. From a purely environmental point of view, eating meat is often seen as a polluting practice because to produce these concentrated and rich meat products it requires the upstream exploitation of a large quantity of vegetable raw materials. Seen from the tip of the spyglass, one could say to oneself that rather than feeding plants to animals with a poor energy yield, one could consume these plants directly. So we could feed more people with less pollution. This is the main argument put forward by those who oppose livestock farming. I think it is forgetting that most animals eat either a diet that we cannot digest, grass for ruminants, or co-products whose quality is insufficient for human consumption in the case of monogastric animals (chickens, pigs). (I assume seeds separated from their oil for example. But I doubt feeding them to animals in the only way to use them: they could be used for mushroom substrate, bioreactor feedstock — if we assume that specific protein-producing microorganisms will become more important in the future — or at worst composting material.) In France, grass constitutes about 60% of the cattle's ration and grassland is the first crop. It represents about 13 million hectares. In part, this land is cultivated as grassland because it is impossible to cultivate other things (floodplain, too poor or too shallow land). In other cases, grasslands are used to have a long rotation to control weeds and enrich the soil. (I guess by "enrich the soil" the person implied cows do so with their manure. If they poop out more than they take from eating grass, that means they have received supplemental feed.) In fact, it is absolutely not possible to say that tomorrow, these areas used to grow grass will all be converted back into the production of plant food for humans. This is not possible from an agronomic point of view, nor is it logical from an environmental point of view. (This argument assumes that if we stopped using these lands to produce meat, we would have less food overall available. I'm however pretty sure that grass-fed cows are rarely only fed grass, and that finishing them with high calorie grains is a common practice to fatten them up before slaughter.)

Taber's argument points to the ideological springs of vegetarian currents that would not take into account the specificity of the land. Wouldn't the real ecological solution necessarily be to deprive oneself of meat but on the contrary to feed exclusively on products that are easy to grow locally?

When we talk about agriculture, we must necessarily take into consideration a global system that includes climatology and soil conditions. In arid areas or areas with alternating periods of drought and humidity, some vegetables and cereals in our diet are very difficult to produce. Sometimes, only grass can be produced in a short period of time, and only animals are able to value this resource. They therefore have an essential place in the ecosystem and the food chain. In dry areas or areas subject to severe climatic constraints, it would naturally be inept to irrigate, drain, heat or cool, work and amend the land to try to produce plants that would have great difficulty growing and produce little. Where only grass grows, the most ecological, coherent, sustainable and profitable way to produce food is to produce animals that are capable of adding value to this resource.

To oppose animal and plant food from an environmental point of view is to lack a global vision of agricultural systems and this does not allow us to propose sustainable improvement solutions to reduce the environmental impacts of these systems.

Sarah Taber denounces a form of neo-colonialism. Beyond the ideological aspect, are inappropriate agricultural methods and diets being imposed on developing countries today? Are these models being standardized?

I do not have to position myself on the author's comments, particularly those about neo-colonialism. On the other hand, I note that in our developed countries, special diets are often fashions, trends that often have California as their common birthplace. This state is quite precursor towards these ideological movements around food. We may remember the fashion of "macrobiotics", "crudivorism", the "paleolithic" diet and now the "vegan" diet, powdered meals or synthetic meat.

Carried by communications networks, these movements are spreading faster and faster and further and further.

Without any concrete information on this subject one can nevertheless speculate that these food modes can also spread in countries where the climate, the environment and the traditions rather favour breeding...

If we exclude the environmental justification of exclusive plant consumption, what is left to justify this diet? Rare medical reasons, intolerance or allergies but especially ethics and religion. For many to become vegetarian or vegan is first of all to refuse the death of farm animals. This approach is all the simpler to disseminate because today, particularly in our developed and urbanized countries, people have for one or two generations been disconnected from livestock farming and the manufacturing processes of our food. They have never seen a slaughter of chicken, rabbit, pig as many had the opportunity to see before on family farms. (So we're no longer desensitized to animal slaughter because we haven't seen it first hand. Ad hominem nonsense.) Often, the only animals we can see today for a large part of our population are pets or those we see on TV...

Yes, the argument that is heard and that everyone should be able to understand is that everyone should be able to freely choose the diet that suits them in accordance with their convictions, their vision of ethics or their religion. Elements on which we clearly cannot position ourselves and say "you are wrong" or "you are right". The environmental argument alone cannot justify choosing one plan over another.

From a nutritional point of view, vegetarianism is not a concern because we can support this diet by including foods such as eggs, milk or fish that allow us to have a balanced diet. Veganism, on the other hand, may be more problematic. Vitamin B12 is often referred to only in animal products. Our needs are low and when we newly adopt a strict vegan or vegan diet, our body has a stock of this vitamin for a few years. It is therefore theoretically possible to follow a diet deficient in this vitamin for 2 to 3 years without feeling the slightest problem. But if a deficiency is expressed, it will become very damaging. A vegan diet must therefore be supplemented with vitamin B12 of good quality and easily assimilated.

But vitamin B12 is not the only one concerned. Vitamin A can also be a problem. The precursor of this vitamin, beta-carotene is well present in foods of plant origin but some researchers have recently shown that we are not all equal to effectively convert these precursors into efficient vitamin A. Genetically, nearly 45% of the population would be ill adapted to convert the plant precursors of vitamin A into vitamin A. More clearly, we have almost half the world population for whom the vegan diet would not be suitable without vitamin A supplements (in the form of pills). (Again, this goes against the general consensus that vegan diets can be safe and appropriate. As a rule of thumbs the general consensus is more often than not right over the opinion of "some researchers", however the consensus is not set in stone: if new evidence comes and resists attempts to undermine it, then it makes sense to update the consensus. Unfortunately the article mentions no source. Besides, I'm pretty sure many products are fortified with pre-formed vitamin A, like some milk substitutes and breakfast cereals: those would be the solution rather than vitamin A pills.)

To conclude, choosing a vegetarian and especially vegan diet for environmental reasons is a bad reason. To choose these diets for ethical reasons why not, in the same respect of the choice of the others that one expects for oneself and by being particularly attentive to the food that one consumes and especially to the food supplements that one must add to these diets. (To be completely fair from an utilitarian viewpoint it doesn't really make sense to be vegan for ethical reasons if plant agriculture can't be decoupled from animal agriculture as this person is suggesting.)
The main point of this article is that a vegan food system cannot use some land and that we're already optimizing animal feed to not have opportunity cost on human-grade plant agriculture, therefore animal agriculture improves food security for everyone. From what I know this is not accurate, as we're growing not just hay but also corn and soy mainly for animal feed, and unlike hay I doubt that those grow well in fields where human food doesn't. The interviewed person says that animal agriculture is explicitly or implicitly the only way to: give babies nutrition when their mothers can't breastfeed; amend the soil with organic fertilizers; make use of co-products like canola meal. No mention of plant-based baby formula, compost or mushroom substrate.

I'm open to the idea of learning about real-life challenges the scaling-up of veganism has to face as long as it's more sensible than common low-level nonsense like "lions eat meat so it's fine for us to do so" or "plants have feelings", but at least when it comes to first-world countries this article failed to meet the burden of proof that would make me seriously reconsider the scaling-up of veganism as possible at all, and it's not like there's no valid argument, like fetal bovine serum being used to grow cell cultures on which are cultivated viruses for vaccine manufacturing (of course I am not advocating not taking those vaccines when there's no alternative, but hopefully the development of growth medium for cultured meat will be able to be transfered to the field of vaccine manufacturing so it can eventually be decoupled from the slaughter of pregnant cows).

While I'm not convinced of the superiority of a plant + animal system over a vegan one in first world countries, there's probably an argument to be made in developing countries that combine dry and hot conditions with low level of development. Raising animals for food security in these conditions probably makes sense, but with better infrastructure allowing food transportation (probably the best way to achieve diet diversification) and modern fertilizers, I could imagine those areas eventually not needing animal farming for food security anymore.
Appeal to nature: the strange belief that what is perceived as "natural" is necessarily safer, more effective or morally superior compared to what isn't.

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Post by cornivore » Sat Jun 30, 2018 9:47 am

Your thoughts? Uh, that's what she said... well I don't know about that, but there's a story going around about butchers asking for protection from vegans over there. Okay then (everyone's crazy), but as far as the argument that there might be less food available, how about all the food that is wasted or contributes to over eating, and the diseases from it? Veganism is known to have health benefits, and people in first world countries are known to be gluttons, so I don't see how having too much food available is any better (except I guess it sells more drugs, so there you go).

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Post by brimstoneSalad » Sun Jul 01, 2018 4:20 pm

I didn't get to read all of it (I read through most), but your comments look good.

"co-products whose quality is insufficient for human consumption in the case of monogastric animals"

Untrue. These are nutrient rich products which can be processed into human food, we just don't have a tradition of doing that.
I seem to remember somebody recently experimenting with manufacturing chips from sunflower cake (or was it something else?). The point is that it can be done, and there's no reason we could not eat most of this. For defatted soy flour we already do in TVP.

They're also parroting (not offense to any parrots present) the nonsense about agricultural land being unable to be used for human food, and as you noted the idea that grazing improves those lands (which it doesn't).

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Post by Canastenard » Mon Oct 15, 2018 1:00 pm

I've found a Twitter discussion with many claims similar to those in my first post here and it raised so many red flags that I'd like to use it as an example of dubious pro-animal agriculture claims. Link: ... 1199469568
cows, ruminants in gen’l, are a key part of the sol’n- it’s not whether to have them as a keystone of agriculture, it’s how to have them. They sequester carbon, reverse desertification, regenerate soils, use parts of plants we can’t eat & provide the most nourishing food on earth
Notice the part "it's how to have them" which is used in a similar way to the article translated above. Without rigorously proving that indeed you need animals in the food system it is mere rethoric (begging the question) without value. But rather I'll investigate other claims:
sequester carbon
The idea that cows can change the local environment to not only sequester enough carbon to actually offsets their methane emissions but also be better for climate than a plant agriculture or uncultivated soil is an extraordinary claim. Considering it's generally accepted that the huge amount of cows we have contributes to global warming because of said methane it obviously can't be true for the most part, and while I'm highly dubious alternative agricultural practices can make cows carbon negative I'd like to see if there are studies that compare the impact of the amount of carbon sequestrated to methane emissions.

I'll be fair and say I'm pretty surprised that grazed land apparently sequesters more carbon than cropland
( ... 2.00486.x#). A reason might be that grazing land doesn't need to be tilled and I'm pretty sure requires less input than cropland. For now I've not found a study comparing the climate impact of carbon sequestration in soil compared to methane emissions by cows.
reverse desertification
The most mainstream anti-desertification method I know is to plant trees, and I don't think I've heard of cows fighting desertifications outside of dubious claims like Allan Savory's. But as an anecdotal report I've personally seen grazed lands on which you can clearly see some naked ground, suggesting it had been overgrazed. Not the kind of thing I'd expect to to fight desertification if you ask me.
regenerate soil
As I said above, they do it through the fecal matter that comes from supplemental feed... which also means they degrate it somewhere else.
use parts of plants we can't eat
This seems to be a fair arguments as there are some parts of plants that are hard to valorize. They could instead be used to do compost, but their low nitrogen content makes them a bit of a liability, and they could also be used to grow mushrooms (the kind which feeds on cellulose and thrives on a high carbon substrate), but these have different nutritional value from meat, especially in protein content. But on the other hand their high cellulose content means cows must emit more methane in order to get nutrition from them, right? I suppose it's the same reason why grass-fed beef is more GHG intensive compared to feedlot beef.
provide the most nourishing food on earth
To put this in context here's the author's bio:
Living zerocarb-carnivore in a carb-crazy world. They've been wrong about so much: here's hoping they're wrong about bacon too.
... well yeah, I guess that explains it :rolleyes:

In another tweet:
yes,+pigs & chickens also can thrive on foods we can’t eat, including our food waste. Tech should be focusing on that-how to close the food waste gap, how to de-intensify large scale animal farming ops, not on energy intensive super-lean, faux-nutritious imitation or lab meat
I can't object to the point about reducing food waste which can only be a good thing. The point about monogastric animals seems similar to the point about oil production byproducts in the article above. For the "energy intensive" part I'm not convinced, I'm sure processing plant food to make meat substitutes takes energy but I don't think it takes more energy to do that than to farm live animals. I also doubt plant-based meat substitutes are low in nutrition as textured soy protein is pretty high in vitamins and minerals including calcium, and I suppose pea protein is similar. Not sure about wheat protein though (which is also commonly used in meat substitutes) as I believe what is isolated is pure gluten, unless there's a alternative way to process wheat similar to soy that conserves micronutrients as well?

Yet another tweet:
it’s not inefficient, it is a perfect use of resources— land which can’t be used for crop land. It regenerates land, reduces wildfires, sequesters carbon, and reverses desertification. massed ruminants is Nature’s own system
The "land which can't be used for crop land" part only makes sense if we don't have enough nutrition otherwise. If that's not the case then unmanaged land serves humanity better by storing more carbon and preserving biodiversity. I know it mentions "sequesters carbon" but it's the same dubious claim as before. There's also a new point about reduced wildfires, backed with this source: ... -fire-tool

The mechanism by which grazing might reduce risks of wildfire seems to be the reduction of fine fuel. It is said that "moderate" grazing can do such a thing, but I'm not sure by what they mean by that. I'd like to say we could simply relocate ruminant wildlife if their methane emissions can be offset by the reduced wildfire risks in term of GHG emissions but I prefer to not affirm such a thing with confidence.

There's also a claim that increasing the soil's carbon absorption by 2% could offset all of humanity's greenhouse gas emissions. Not sure about how true that is, but even if it's true, that seems like claiming "the Sun produces enough energy every second to power humanity for thousands of years" then saying we could massively deploy solar panels to replace all fossil fuels without the need of other low-carbon energy sources. So, we're gonna massively farm the Earth's lands to increase carbon sequestration? Likewise I've heard about advocates of no-till farming and reforestation saying we could slow down global warming thanks to the increase of sequestrated carbon, but I've never heard a claim that we could basically solve global warming with it, neither did I heard the former say that it could do it better than forests. (I believe if anyone says there's one silver bullet for global warming their advocacy should be dismissed; although particular technologies and practices will probably be necessary, none will be sufficient by themselves to solve the problem.)

And finally
Cattle or other ruminants don’t need pesticides, herbicides or nitrate fertilisers, and the food produced is our ideal nutrition, natural sources of animal fats and protein, which don’t have the negative impact of industrial oils mixed with refined carbs.
The first sentence is obviously nonsense. Cattle and other ruminants indeed need chemical inputs, as I strongly doubt grazed grassland never needs to be fertilized :rolleyes: not to mention they also need antibiotics.

There's also the mention about "regenerative agriculture". From a semantic standpoint it is quite as oxymoron as agriculture is basically about mining food (and the chemical elements that compose it) from a surface of land which is basically the reverse of "regeneration". I get the point since the idea is to transfort a sterile land into a fertile one... but I don't think you need cows to do that.
Appeal to nature: the strange belief that what is perceived as "natural" is necessarily safer, more effective or morally superior compared to what isn't.

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