Veganism may be unsustainable
in the future,
according to new research
Veganism reduces the demand for meat and helps save animals' lives, but it's less sustainable than vegetarianism, according to new research. Shutterstock
In the future, the current amount of land suitable for agriculture on Earth will be nowhere near enough to supply everyone with sufficient food.
Universities in the US researched which types of diets were the most sustainable, in terms of the land we currently have available.
The study made some surprising finds about veganism, vegetarianism, and meat-based diets.
The ever-growing global population poses serious problems, one of which is agriculture. In the long term, the amount of agricultural land currently on Earth will be nowhere near enough to supply everyone with sufficient food.
It's clear that, as a result, we need to change our eating habits. If we chose to cultivate foods that required less land, we'd be able to feed more people with less land.
That's why researchers from six US universities including Cornell have developed a biophysical simulation model that represents the US as a closed food system, in order to determine the land requirements per capita of human diets and the potential population fed by the agricultural land there.
Through their research, they managed to establish which diet is most sustainable and which would most improve the prospects for sustaining human life on Earth.
10 diets under the microscope
Within the simulation, 10 different diet types were held up to one another, including those of vegetarians, vegans and meat-eaters.
One would assume the vegan diet is, all-round, the best of the three but, while it may come out on top when it comes to animal rights, it's actually not as sustainable as you might think. Diets with small amounts of meat, as well as lacto-vegetarianism and ovo-lacto-vegetarianism, can feed more people, therefore making them more environmentally sustainable.
The reason for this is simple: the vegan diet leaves too many resources unused. Different crops require different types of land for an adequate yield. Very often nothing can be cultivated on standard pastureland due to the fact that the soil doesn't provide the necessary nutrients.
Vegetarianism is more environmentally sustainable than veganism
While veganism may not be the most sustainable option, that doesn't mean rethinking your diet isn't beneficial for the environment: the widespread abandonment of animal products does, indeed, push up the number of people who can be fed on existing farmland.
The most sustainable diets according to the study were vegetarian diets, with lacto-vegetarianism occupying first place.
The researchers' overall conclusion? Altering our consumption habits as a global population will significantly improve our chances of providing future generations across the globe with adequate nutrition. While both veganism and regular, substantial meat consumption would lead to severe food shortages, a lacto-vegetarian diet may be the most efficient way to maintain sufficient nutrition across the globe in the long run.
This Business Insider article validates the importance of the cows and oxen (cattle) in an agricultural system and highlights the weakness of a vegan diet in agriculture.
Did you know that livestock excrete 70-80 percent of the nitrogen, 60-85 percent of the phosphorus, and 80-90 percent of the potassium fed to them?...
"Did you know that livestock excrete 70-80 percent of the nitrogen, 60-85 percent of the phosphorus, and 80-90 percent of the potassium fed to them? For example, if you feed 100 acres of corn to your livestock and collect all of the manure, there may be enough phosphorus and potassium to fertilize 75 acres (depending on your soil test phosphorus and potassium levels). Although the availability of manure nitrogen depends on several uncontrollable factors, the availability of manure phosphorus and potassium do not. Most of the fertilizer value of manure comes from phosphorus and potassium, not nitrogen…"[i]
So, these nutrients are not lost but are redistributed onto the land in the form of manure or compost, preferably compost. A vegan diet cannot provide these results to society.
This illustrates part of the magic of a lacto-vegetarian diet. In this sense, even if the dry cows are not producing milk, they are able to recycle the nutrients found in their feed and pasture. This highlights the animals’ important role in a farming ecosystem, for both milkers and non-milkers.
Within our tradition of cattle protection, the claim that a vegan diet is more ethical and humane becomes redundant. The weakness of our cattle protection programs is the reluctance of the market to pay the true cost of “protected” milk, estimated by a previous Iskcon Minister of Agriculture, of $20 per gallon.