Veganism and human rights?

The positive impact of a plant-based diet.

A large number of people go vegan to protest against animal cruelty, because they want to tackle unnecessary suffering that has no moral justification, and/or because they believe animals are entitled to the same rights as humans and thus should not be regarded as mere commodities.

Animal rights, however, are not the only reason behind veganism. This movement can help promote sustainable agriculture, tackle social disparities, world hunger and the negative effects of climate change on vulnerable people who live in countries highly dependant on agricultural practices.

Animal industry and climate change

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions associated with livestock are responsible for 14.5% of all human-caused GHG releases per year. Although this figure is in decline – it was 18% in 2006 – it is still higher than gas emissions that come from transport (13%) every year.

Gas emissions have been directly linked to global warming, which is already affecting millions of people around the world.

“We must face up to the fact that animal agriculture, which raises more than 77 billion land animals for food globally, is one of the largest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions worldwide,” Wendy Higgins, Director of International Media at Humane Society International (HSI) UK, told Words in the Bucket (WIB).

“Individuals and governments can take action to reduce their carbon footprint simply by choosing vegetarian and vegan food options that don’t cost the earth,” she continued.  “For example, a 50% reduction in EU meat, dairy and egg consumption would cut greenhouse gas emissions by up to 40%.”

Animal feed and world hunger

In Malawi, but indeed in several other countries, lack of rains exacerbated by the El Niño effect – unusual weather patterns caused by the warming of the Pacific Ocean  – have damaged this year’s harvest of maize, a staple food in the landlocked nation. As a result, the country declared a state of emergency as nearly 3million people are facing food shortage.

Not only is this causing starvation, malnutrition and a rise in stunting and child mortality levels, but it has also a series of social repercussions that are disrupting people – mainly children’s – lives.

Food shortage has caused thousands of children, mainly girls, to drop out of school as parents are now using money for school fees to buy food, generally on the black market, where prices of maize and other essential items are skyrocketing.

Children, unable to continue their education, are usually sent on errands to earn money for food or stay at home to look after their siblings. Girls who drop out of school often engage in transactional sex in exchange for food or end up getting married.

Maize is one of the main cereals used as fodder, food given to domesticated animals by humans.
The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) estimated that alternatives to the use of cereals in animal feed, such as recycled waste and fish discards, “could sustain the energy demand for the entire projected population growth of over 3 billion people and a 50% increase in aquaculture.”

Furthermore, the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) claimed that the global meat industry “may find itself in a position of competing with poor people for cereals” and other grains used as feed stocks for farmed animal.

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Alternatives to cereals in animal feed could mean that the nearly 3 million people facing food shortage in Malawi would not have to worry about this year’s bad harvest of maize as cereals originally destined for animals could be distributed to starving families. Alternatives to cereals in the animal feed could potentially save a nation from starvation.

A decline in the demand of animal products – and eventually a complete halt in production of such foods – could mean that land used for grazing would be converted to land for crop foods for humans. Not only would this increase the amount of food available to humans, but also the number of calories per pound of food.

As explained by PETA, “for every pound of food that farmed animals are fed, only a fraction of the calories are returned in the form of edible flesh. The rest of those calories are burned away raising the animal to slaughter weight or contributing to feathers, bone, skin, blood, and other parts of the animal that aren’t eaten by humans.”

Millions of people who live below the poverty line could have access to foods that was originally destined to become fodder for livestock. Not to mention the reduction of work hazards widespread in the farmed-animal industry, which often employs migrants who are paid low wages and work in unsafe environments.

Industrial livestock production and impact on the environment

The industrial livestock production has a negative impact on the planet’s resources due to the high level of energy and resources necessary to feed and graze animals, and produce food. As estimated by HSI, confined animal feeding operations in the United States alone produce more than 500 million tons of waste annually, polluting the air, soil, and water.

2010 report by UNEP claimed that, among other things, agricultural activities contributed to “climate change, eutrophication, land use, water use and toxicity.” The research recommended that, in order to reduce environmental impacts from agriculture, people should adopt a plant-based diet “away from animal products”.

The organisation also warned that in the case of fisheries, overexploitation has led to the collapse of biotic resources, also known as living resources.  The claim followed a four-year study, published in the journal Science in 2006, which warned seafood would completely disappear by 2048 if the rate of decline in marine species continued at such a high speed.

Furthermore, as highlighted by IFPRI, land-based resources are an important asset for poor people in developing countries, as their subsistence and income often depend on land resources.
In conclusion, not only would veganism end the suffering of animals that are exploited and killed for human consumption, but it would also bring about positive changes to current economic activities that are detrimental for the environment and for social equality.

“If we care about protecting the planet – and the humans and other animals we share it with – going vegan is the logical choice. It’s never been easier to make the change,” Elisa Allen, Associate Director of PETA UK, told WIB.

“It takes more than 4,000 gallons of water per day to produce food for a meat-eater, whereas food for a vegan requires only 300 gallons,” she continued. “Then there’s the energy it takes and the matter of all the edible crops used to feed farmed animals instead of hungry, malnourished humans.”

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Ludovica Iaccino is a London-based press officer for children's charity World Vision. Previously, she worked as a foreign news reporter for the International Business Times and Newsweek, focussing on Sub-Saharan Africa. She has reported extensively on Nigeria and her work features interviews with local activists, politicians, survivors of terror attacks and analyses on terrorism and development. She is the author of “The Silence of Nyamata”, a historical novel about the 1994 Rwandan genocide.
4 Comments on this post.
  • Avatar
    Cassie Piccolo
    9 August 2016 at 2:50 am
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    It’s true- veganism has never been easier or more significant than it is today.
    Thank you for writing this.

    • Avatar
      Ludovica Iaccino
      9 August 2016 at 10:23 am
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      Thank you for reading.

  • Avatar
    Siawash NAdjimi
    2 May 2017 at 12:39 pm
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    Interesting article. Thanks for that.
    What the general discussion or argument pro “Going Vegan” is missing is a rich scientific database that links Meat-eating to socioeconomic consequences. It is is very hard to find peer-reviewed articles that make the effort to link Veganism or Vegan Activism as a sustainable diet that tackles world food crises.

  • Avatar
    4 May 2017 at 2:49 pm
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    Fair point. This apparent lack of interest towards the topic could be partially attributed to the blind eye many governments and organizations, including ones famously “active” for the environment, turn towards the meat industry and its environmental side-effects. “Cowspiracy”, a documentary from 2014, does a good job in raising awareness on the topic. However that’s about as far as a documentary can go. I agree that more attention by the scientific community and the specific weight of new publications could bring more water to the cause’s mill. That said, existing research, like that quoted in the UN reports, is being systematically ignored, so, in the age of post-truth public opinions, it makes one wonder if the messenger isn’t at least as accountable as the message…

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    Words In The Bucket is a team of global citizens with the common goal of raising awareness and information about issues related to human rights protection, social inclusion, development and environment.

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