Is All Milk Inhumane? Vegan vs. Paleo: Animals, Farming and the Great Meat Debate
If you haven’t caught the news, apparently no milk is produced humanely.
More than that, those at “goveganworld.com” are allowed to tell you this fact in large cross-media campaigns. They are also allowed to advise you that precisely BECAUSE no milk is produced humanely you should actually avoid all milk – in fact ALL animal products – as a result. (Check out the Daily Mail’s version of the court verdict approving the campaign here for the background.)
We shouldn’t be too surprised by all of this, really. A Vegan organisation promoting Veganism by highlighting the deplorable way in which animals are treated is pretty standard.
In my clinic this what we call ‘ethical Veganism’. Someone with a monologue along the lines of ‘killing animals is wrong’ and ‘animals are not treated humanely’ comes into my clinic at least once a week. This is different from those who say “I just can’t stand the taste of meat” but are normally OK with things like eggs, milk and ice cream. It’s also different from those who are dairy/lactose intolerant.
I’ll be really honest – I don’t often wade into the ethical beliefs of my clients. Whilst I spend a lot of time and effort on mindset, psychology and attitude, I know where I’m on losing ground, and staunchly held ethical beliefs is one of these areas.
I therefore struggle talking to Vegans about all of this. Why? Because I personally don’t agree with their ethical stance, and I believe that my beliefs are founded in science, rather than an ideology. Even more honestly, I just haven’t had the facts and figures on the tip of my tongue to argue against their claims. Staunch Vegans have a cause that they are supporting. As such they tend to be very clued in on the data that supports their arguments (and that data does exist, because data exists to support most arguments out there). Because I don’t think about this that often (for more on the reason that I don’t often think about horrendous animal practices, keep reading) I don’t have the stats or some impressive rebuttals to hand.
When the “All Milk is Inhumane” story came across my desk yesterday I thought that once and for all I should collate all the disparate data that I know of in order to a) refute the argument that Veganism is better for the planet, b) refute the argument that Veganism is better for the human body. But more importantly c) I want to explain how futile the Vegan vs. Paleo argument really is, because, as I was pointing out in my rant about nutritional in-fighting last week, it really isn’t a helpful or accurate debate. In fact, Vegans and Paleo people have WAY more in common than you might realise. They are actually on the same side of the argument, but they combine their factoids in different ways and, in so doing, arrive at different conclusions.
So, here we go with my researched and part-observational overview of the great humans and animals debate…
The Meat & Milk We Eat – Humane or Inhumane?
I grew up on a farm… ish… I mean… we had a couple of acres of land and neighbours with animals, but it was mostly horses and cows that weren’t really an industrial proposition. So I grew up in the country really…
But there was a llama or two. And some North Ronaldsay Sheep. These North Ronaldsay Sheep taught me more about life than I thought possible.
I had to do a school project in my last year of primary school and, stuck for inspiration, I chose to do this project (which included a presentation and a picture board etc.) on these North Ronaldsay Sheep. (No, I’ve no idea why either…) Actually not only did I learn a lot about sheep during the preparation for this, I also learned a lot about rare breeds of animals. Most importantly, at age 11, I had my first cold hard lesson in the laws of supply and demand.
I was told by a farmer who bred these rare breeds of sheep that their rarity was precisely because they weren’t in demand. He wanted people to buy them – for wool OR for slaughter, for anything really – because he insisted that the breeders would only breed profitable flocks. In order to tip the balance and take the breed out of being ‘rare’ they basically needed to become popular and in order to do that you need to increase demand – however you do it.
It was an 11-year old’s introduction not only into the practices of animal rearing, the mercenary attitude of farmers who breed animals for profit and to supply food for us humans, but also into the golden secret of all sales: people have to want your product.
It was only later, as I studied animal husbandry whilst I was investigating the work and the condition of Temple Grandin I realised that there was a dark side to demand economies. When demand seriously outstrips supply those who are savvy, money-hungry and greedy will innovate in the most heinous of ways. Morals, ethics and ‘good practice’ go out the window. In place we have hardline businessmen operating businesses which are supposed to make profit – and any responsible ethics of the production line become collateral damage in the pursuit of supply. This takes a farmer’s dispassionate practice to extremes. Cruelty to animals is the result.
The largest proportion of animal production globally is done in societies with high demands on the meat, milk and fat from cows, sheep and pigs (and chickens but that’s a whole other world of crazy depravity). High demand means that industry has found a way to provide a lot of these meat products to us. The result aint pretty.
You will have seen images of what the Americans call “feed-lots” and the minimal space, infection potential, minimal contact with offspring etc. that occurs. This is the point that the vegan poster in the above mentioned article is making. Modern meat is made with only care for the output, not for the lives going through the supply chain.
On top of this, the animals are often artificially fattened using a combination of hormones and protected against infection using a variety of antibiotics. The milking process referred to specially by the vegans is literally like a cattle-market – with hectic jostling, shuffling and sometimes brutal treatment of very scared animals.
The woeful part of all of this is that these practices produce poor quality meat and milk… so it almost negates the point of producing the supply in the first place.
There are two bits of news that might shock the vegans. First is the fact that even the most diehard carnivore who respects meat’s role in the food chain (see below) does not condone animal cruelty or the inhumane treatment of their potential food. Eating meat does not mean that you are approving of the acts of brutality perpetrated by some in the food-production industry who engage in such deplorable conduct.
And here’s possibly the second surprising thing… not all animals are reared in this way. Yes there are massive industries (often not farmers themselves but those who ‘control’ the farmers) who insist on high volume outputs of farm (and pay a pittance for it – I’m looking at you, supermarkets). Such low trade prices can, and does, create a pinch in the production line where economies must be made and animals are treated appallingly.
But on the other side of the fence (quite literally) those cows you see on the fields of England, the calves lolloping around in spring – they’re your food supply too. The sheep roaming hillsides with their baby lambs – they’re in your food chain too. It isn’t simply that all milk is humane, and a lot depends on your definition of humane practice. It is certainly true that no single cow is milked by hand with a bucket any more. Industrialisation has replaced manual labour with machinery at every level. Does that make it cruel? Not really – it makes it efficient (much like the invention of the plough to reduce manual field labour producing crops).
Does the rubber suction of the milking tools feel different to human hands? Heck, maybe – but I’ve never actually been able to ask a cow. And as the work of Temple Grandin (linked above) will attest, cows don’t hate the things humans think they’ll hate. They are animals with very base instincts and four stomachs. They love grass (so yes, they should be allowed to roam in it and eat it) and hate bright lights, load noises and being confused (so no, brutality is not acceptable). What they don’t hate is being milked.
Beyond the milk question is the fact that we do kill the animals for their meat. Vegans would say that this is cruelty – but is it?
Is Consuming Meat Bad for the Planet?
Those who are anti-meat make several key claims about the data which indicates that consuming meat is damaging for the planet.
The first is land usage – stating that animals graze lands that could be better served by growing crops on them because that would feed more people. The maths is not the problem here – the facts of land usage are. If you want the recent study on the usage of land and which way to eat to make it most preserved, that’s here – an overview is below.
Not all land is created equal, which means that not all fields are suitable for planting crops. Pasture and crops are actually different and require different soil nutrients – not to mention the act of actually reaping the harvest which requires relatively flat stretches of fields. Animals can graze on much more imperfect terrain that simply couldn’t be ploughed. And, according to some figures, up to two-thirds of the global land is unsuitable for crop or vegetable production. That means that this is ok as pastureland… and realistically, we’re not even using all of that land to sustain our animals.
And then there’s the water question: it is impossible in some areas to provide adequate irrigation to provide rich crops. Animals, however, just need the grass and a water trough somewhere.
Basically, the ravaging effects on our planet are undoubtedly different between crops and animals. But there are practical considerations which mean that the demands being different is absolutely perfect for the variable land available across the globe.
If you also think of soil science, on which I am not an expert but I am trained in nutrition… and they ALL tell us in school that nutrients in our foods are massively reduced now. That’s partly due (though not entirely) to over-planting crops and the soil depletion which follows. Land that is permanently used to grow crops without sufficient periods of rest to replenish becomes devoid of the nutrients which have been taken up by the plants.
Ironically, the perfect salvage operation for such soil is to shove a load of animals on there to fertilise it with their excrement. Even the arable farmers know this – for want of actual cows they are walking around with syringes injecting cow manure into their cropland when the soil becomes depleted. Seriously. They know that their soils NEED the animals in order to make healthy plants.
This is the beauty of ecosystems and ecology. In microcosm and in macrocosm we are all dependent upon one another – and the health of one species or form of life depends heavily upon the health of another. This perhaps fuels the vegetarian debate that we shouldn’t then kill the animals – but all animals die. We will all die because life has expiration dates. A cow which lives solely to fertilise soil feeds less people than the cow that fertilises soil, provides milk or meat into the food supply chain and nourishes humans in the process.
And whilst we are comparing arable to livestock farming and their relative planetary destruction it’s worth making a comment on the way the farming of crops ravages the earth in a far more extreme way than farming animals.
Whilst modern husbandry might not be great, modern agriculture is hardly impervious to criticism. The massive increase in grain consumption has forced our farming to become industrialised and as victim to mass production economising as rearing meat. This firstly means intensively planting crops which deplete soils. But it also involves the use of pesticides and bacteria-killing agents which both affect the humans who consume the plants (this article is way too long already for a discussion on glyphosate, but google it) and the plants themselves. For the crops, intensive farming and pesticide use provides plants with smaller root structures, partly due to lack of nutrients, bacteria and the other good ‘dirty’ stuff in soil which are lost when it is treated. Weaker root structures mean that the soil struggles to retain water. This causes under watering of the plants (smaller plants, lower in nutritional value) and also issues with the water running off into rivers rather than being retained with the soils.
As for bacteria and bugs, we are in our infancy in terms of understanding the symbiosis between humans and microbiology. We know, at its most basic, that not all bugs are bad. Whilst some are, we actually need the others to be healthy. We know also that antibiotic resistant superbugs are on the rise. This is coincidental to the increased use of antibiotics within our modern world. This isn’t just the ten courses of amoxycillin you had for earaches before you reached your teenage years. This is the fact that the food you eat is protected against bacterial decomposition and degradation – even when it’s in the soil. I don’t think the evidence is there to say that excessive grain consumption of sprayed crops is destructing the human microbiome, but it’s in no way farfetched.
The basic point that I’m trying to make is that inhumane meat consumption is the tip of the iceberg (lettuce). If you actually assess farming practices as a whole – arable, livestock, whatever – you are looking at industries that have evolved to make money by intensively manufacturing produce. More produce = more money. And neither Vegans nor carnivores are immune from interacting with our food supply in a way that is damaging to the planet. It is basically economies of scale which negatively influence the humans who are the customers of this supply chain. And vegetable production actually cares LESS for the planet and the ground, grass, soils and rivers (into which pesticides run off) than animal farming does.
Which brings me onto the second argument of Vegans when complaining that meat consumption is an issue…. Animals have faces. It is so easy to anthropomorphise and attribute emotion, feelings and ‘meaning’ to animals’ actions, simply because they are capable of animation and expression. Plants are not so easy to recognise as alive, but they are.
So all the vegans who choose not to eat meat because it’s taking the life of something… um, just because plants don’t have faces doesn’t mean you can annihilate the earth because you’re not eating a living thing… because you absolutely are. The whole world is alive, so the “I can’t eat things that were once alive” really doesn’t cut it as an argument.
It’s like the old physics equation – energy cannot be created or destroyed. Therefore in order to have energy you have to consume energy. You can only obtain energy from other live things. It’s called the circle of life for a reason and nobody is avoiding killing living things just by avoiding killing living things with faces.
And let’s not even get into the amount of living things destroyed in the farming of crops. If you want to see mass insect and small creature destruction on an epic scale just watch a field being ploughed.
Is Meat Bad For You?
And so we come to the argument that most falls within my wheelhouse. Vegetarians and vegans say that meat – especially red meat – is actually unhealthy for us, as humans, to consume.
OK, so I have a whole “Does Red Meat Really Cause Cancer” article which is in the pipeline and I might release it next week (UPDATE: this is now out at paleointheuk.com/deeper-science/does-red-meat-cause-cancer/. That saves me having to repeat the arguments here, so stay tuned for that.
But the short answer to the above question of whether meat is good for humans to eat revolves around the assimilation of nutrients, nutrient density, the variety of minerals and vitamins present in meats that are simply not present in other foods and the fact that evolutionarily we have evolved eating meat (and, yes, also eating grains – this is not an ‘anti-grain’ article).
Amino acids are the protein building blocks of our human lives. Within animals you find many of the same amino acids. Using animal meat as part of our diet empowers us, as humans, to break down the amino acids and assimilate them into our bodies as our tissues. Consuming certain meats, such as muscle meat, will give us a unique supply of amino acids. Consuming different cuts will provide different amino acids. And yes, we need a wide variety for the production and maintenance of all of our tissue as humans.
Within animals these nutrients and amino acids are relatively freely available. Some of these nutrients (not all) are available in the plant kingdom. With two caveats: 1) the sources are typically not as dense, requiring vastly more caloric consumption to obtain the same level of nutrients and 2) the sources of nutrients in the plant kingdom are typically packaged alongside anti-nutrients and plant defence mechanisms. Whilst these don’t pose a problem to all humans, they certainly make nourishing our body a more challenging process than consuming meat.
Here we come to a vital point about any carnivore, particularly those within the Paleo movement (who would seem completely counter to the Vegans). The reality is that most Paleo people (at least if they’re doing it properly) eat a ton of vegetables in any case. Paleo is about nutrient density and there are some things (phytonutrients, polyphenols, certain vitamins and fibre) that you can ONLY get in the vegetable world.
But for everything else, there’s meat. And that meat must be nutrient dense and poison free.
Which means, for those who choose to consume meat – and for those to whom I recommend the Paleo way of eating – quality of meat is paramount. This brings me back to the ‘surprising thing about Paleo meat consumption’ alluded to above. Paleo people don’t condone cruelty for more than just humane reasons. They don’t condone it because intensively reared, heavily medicated, artificially fattened, grain-fed animals produce nutritionally poor, potentially inflammatory sources of animal protein. This negates the first rule of Paleo, which is nutrient density. It also negates the second rule: low-inflammatory. It probably even negates the third rule: real, whole food.
Within the upcoming red meat article I will also include bits about how the fatty acid composition of grass-fed vs. grain-fed, intensively reared animals is vastly different. I will also make mention of the fact that red meat has been shown to cause cancer, because it has (shut up everyone from the Paleo community who disagrees with that statement – the evidence is out there and must be acknowledged). But Paleo is not Atkins and the world, including Vegans, would do well to wake up to that fact.
People say that I defend the Paleo approach a bit too much for someone who is dietarily agnostic. The reality is that I will always defend something or someone that I believe is being penalised unfairly or against whom arguments are being made which are based in misconceptions and mistruths. The reason Paleo is not Atkins is because it’s not about weight loss or mainlining fat and meat in preference to carbs. Paleo is about eating nutrients. This means that they possibly, and arguably, care MORE about their planet and their plate than the Vegans.
Avoidance as a Solution
As I referred to in last week’s article, people in the nutrition worlds are often having the wrong arguments. Nowhere is this more true than in the Paleo vs. Vegan debate. The reality, if either side bothered to stop and listen, is that both factions hate the negligent treatment of animals – both because it’s cruel and inhumane AND because it’s pointless and unnecessary. It produces an inferior and nutrient poor, possibly even toxic, end result that neither the Vegans NOR the Paleo people want to eat.
The point of divergence is simple: both sides agree that there is a problem, they just choose to do different things about this problem.
For Vegans, as is evident from the poster which I began this article by discussing, avoidance is the solution. If all milk is ‘inhumane’ Veganism’s choice is to opt out of the food supply altogether. Boycotting, if you will.
The Paleo perspective is different. Instead of exiting and abdicating and loudly lamenting the futility of protest, Paleo advocates vote with their wallets. In fact, Paleo advocates, in tune with everything we know about industry and sales, actually invoke the very laws of supply and demand which pushed industrial production in the first place. Just in reverse.
Here we are, all the way back to the art of influencing markets. I am compiling a list of resources at the moment for grass-fed, organic (preferably) meat and raw, unpasteurised, un-homogenised dairy produce. And it’s damn hard. Do you know what would make it easier? Demand. There is a slow burn but it’s definitely coming: people are starting to ask for grass-fed cows and pastured eggs. More than this, people are actually asking to eat all of the internal organs (offal) of their animals, and to boil their bones up into broth. The nose-to-tail, use the whole animal Paleo approach is growing – and in so doing it is incrementally shifting the supply chain.
Instead of avoidance, the Paleo way has been to refuse to engage in the mass market, industrial food supply and to create a stream of its own. Supporting the small, local farmer who raises animals responsibly and slaughters them humanely, the Paleo approach to righting the appalling wrongs of the nutritional system is to demand change and to do so by leading with their money. As more and more people choose to exclude poor quality meat and meat suppliers (and neglect the supermarket meats for the butchers and the farmers’ markets) the pendulum can swing back toward the midpoint of animal rearing: where technology optimises the processes without mistreating the produce. Where evolution transforms how far we can ship and deliver the end product, not how little we spend on its rearing. Where innovation comes in the way communities can become involved in farming and producing their own food, where collectives can group together to purchase whole animals and then feed families and extended families for months.
Nobody approves of inhumane treatment of animals. This doesn’t mean we must take their energy and vast array of nutritional benefit out of our diets. It means that we tackle head on the producers who think that abuse is a way to make money faster. As producers seem to follow money, if we take our cash away from the negligent ones we will change the way everyone in farming and food production behaves.
The Consumer’s Dilemma
Ultimately, where you choose to spend your money reflects your values on some level. This, to my mind, is why nutritional wars become so vituperative. Choosing to fuel your body in a certain way instantly means you belong to a certain group: a social group (both virtual and in the community), a socio-economic grouping (currently (supply and demand again) good food aint cheap) and actually ties you to an ethos and a belief system.
I am never going to convince a Vegan of the points raised in the above article because they are typically die-hard advocates, wedded to a belief system about the planet and the human body that will not change. I am never going to be able to write a book long enough to provide all the divergent arguments about meat and animal product consumption. I work on biological mechanisms and the experiential evidence of the countless people that I have worked with and witnessed whose bodies have transformed for the better when adding animal products back into their lives. Vegans typically choose their way pf eating because of a) the planet and b) the animals… but in so doing they forget about one thing: themselves (and the fact that they may be being cruel to their animal body).
There are ALWAYS going to be anomalies. I am a little bit of an anomaly myself in certain areas and I personally don’t eat masses of red meat. Those who excel on vegan diets may have genetics which make them adept at liberating the nutrients from vegetables and the rich plethora of minerals they contain. Great for them, but it’s more rare than you might think.
It is far more common to hear the stories of lives, energy levels, sanity, mental health and joy return when anyone who has been trying to be vegan brings meat onto their table. The transition isn’t easy – psychologically and physically. Support (emotionally AND digestively) is often required. But it is doable and the rewards are sometimes immeasurable.
Nobody is saying that poorly treated animals should form part of the human diet. But Veganism isn’t planet-loving and benign in its practices and avoiding the meat supply chain provides no solutions to what everyone admits is a problem.
If you are wondering how your Vegan diet is affecting you, I work regularly with Vegetarians and Vegans to either optimise their current diet or transition them to a way of eating which includes some animals products. But I categorically and mandatorily state that in the meat we all eat there should be no cruelty allowed.
Stay tuned for my Red Meat and Cancer article – and contact me today if you want any more advice on the Vegan vs. Meat debate or if you yourself are starting to wonder what way of eating is right for you and your body.