The article: http://www.atlantico.fr/rdv/atlantico-g ... 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: https://www.deepl.com/translator, although it's not perfect, you still need to read the traduction for some fixes) I added comments in italic
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.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.)
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.