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Agricultural Practices

Vegan Diet Myth Busting: All agricultural practices have adverse environmental impacts

agricultural practices

While the idea of veganism has moved away from hippies and rabbit food, vegan myths and misconceptions aren’t exactly in short supply. Researchers from the University of Oxford suggest that eating a vegan diet could be the single biggest way to reduce your environmental impact on earth, in some cases by up to 73%, however many myths circulate that put people off giving it a go. This mini-series will attempt to debunk the most off-putting myths, in hope that it will encourage readers to at least try a more plant-based diet.

Myth No.5: All agricultural practices have adverse environmental impacts

Last week we discussed that contrary to some beliefs, the production of animal-based foods causes significantly greater greenhouse-gas emissions than the production of vegan foods. However, even as a vegan, it is worth having an awareness of plant-based foods that also cause major emissions, such as avocados and almonds. This week we want to discuss whether purchasing from small scale farms is a good alternative for meat eaters, and how much of a difference it makes to the overall environmental damage, as opposed to industrial sized farming. Small-scale farming can be defined as a farming method using very little land (2 hectares or less) compared to industrial farms of the same region, manages smaller numbers of livestock, therefore uses less fossil-fuel based chemical inputs and energy. Small- scale farming usually is associated with more sustainable agricultural methods.

Even today, agriculture is an important source of income and in fact, the world’s largest business. It is therefore important to discuss the implications of encouraging a movement away from animal farming. One third of the economically active population obtains its livelihood from agriculture. Not only this, but with the global population expecting to reach 10 billion by 2050, the word would need to produce 56% more calories in 2050 than 2010 did. However, if farmers met that demand by clearing away more forests and other ecosystems for cropland and pasture, as so often done, they would end up transforming an area twice the size of India. This is because in the last few decades, agricultural policy and international institutions, as well as private and public agricultural research have often considered small-scale and subsistence farmers as backward phase-out models of a pre-industrial form of production. A recent large-scale study, from the University of British Columbia debunked this myth. They found that due to the inverse farm size-productivity relationship, smaller farms have higher yields, with yields increasing 5% per 1 hectare decrease in farm size. Not only this, but smaller farms have a higher crop species richness as well as a greater non-crop biodiversity. The primary studies reviewed by British Columbia University, suggest that this is because of more ecological management practices on smaller farms (lower pesticide use, organic management, etc.), edge effects (smaller farms having larger margins that support biodiversity), or more diverse land cover in small farming dominated landscapes.

Environmental effects of agricultural practices

As mentioned above, with the amount of food expected to be needed by 2050, and the current methods of farming still having detrimental environmental affects, it seems nearly impossible to stay below 2 degrees of global warming, which is the current international goal. Rather than unrealistically relying on major parts of this population to become vegetarian to hit this goal, it’s perhaps more realistic to encourage a majority plant-based diet and treat meat as an occasional item, that should be bought from small-scale local farmers instead of mass-producing supermarkets. There are so many benefits to purchasing meat locally from small-scale farmers, on top of the reasons mentioned above such as increases in biodiversity and crop yield:

  • Distance: cutting back on resources used to package and ship produce
  • Supports your local economy and in turn encourages a greater local produce movement. The money you spend goes directly to those growing it.
  • Local foods have a higher nutrient count
  • Small scale farms are less brazen with pesticides which are bad for your health

We hope that this mini-series has encouraged you to implement more plant-based foods into your diet, as well as think about where your food is coming from and the effects it has on the planet as well as your carbon footprint.

The series covered the below topics in detail. Refer to our previous blogs to read the whole series.

  • Protein Part 1 (adequate levels of protein)
  • Protein Part 2 (inc. amino acids + complete proteins)
  • Essential Oils and vitamins/ minerals vs Overfishing
  • Animal Farming vs Grain Farming
  • Animal Farming vs Grain Farming Part 2

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