Archives for posts with tag: animal agriculture

A recent initiative of Terrastendo has been the creation of the global slaughter index.

Across 194 countries for which relevant data is available, the index shows the number of land animals slaughtered per member of the human population in a single year.  The index was prepared using the most recent (2014) livestock data from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and human population data from the World Bank for the same year.

Although it also shows the total number of animals slaughtered in each country, the rankings are not based on that measure.

Here are results for the “top twenty” nations:

The full listing can downloaded here.

Israel’s position at the top of the list may surprise some readers given the recent prominence of veganism in the country, with (for example) animal rights marches and significant media coverage devoted to the work of  activist Gary Yourofsky, amongst others. However, the country’s vegan population was still a small percentage of the total during the period covered by the index, and is unlikely to have grown sufficiently to alter the country’s position on the table.

The ratings of the top twenty countries (ranging from 53.5 to 22.1) are significant given the median figure of 6.3. This indicates that the top twenty have ratings that are at least three times those of half the covered countries.

A key purpose of the index is to highlight the enormous scale of the global livestock sector and provide a meaningful comparison of each country’s contribution to mass slaughter.

For any meat-eater concerned about their cruelty footprint, it can also potentially indicate (after allowing for the animal-bodies-equivalent of cross-border meat sales) how many animals are consumed by a typical individual in their home country. They could also use life expectancy figures to estimate their potential lifetime consumption in the absence of change.

For example, the current life expectancy in Australia is around 82 years. Assuming constant consumption levels, and allowing for the fact that domestic consumption is responsible for around 92 per cent of slaughtered animals, a typical Australian would be responsible for the slaughter of over 2,000 land animals in their lifetime.

The actual figure could be much higher if past trends continue. The overall number of animals slaughtered in Australia in 2014 was 8.4 times the 1961 figure, while the number of chickens was 16 times. By way of comparison, the size of the human population in 2014 was only 2.2 times that of the 1961 level. Here’s a snapshot:

A similar trend has occurred globally:

A critical factor in the increase has been a growing preference for chicken meat over (for example) beef. However, if you replace beef with chicken meat for perceived health or environmental benefits, or for other reasons, then you are massively increasing your cruelty footprint. This chart shows the number of chickens required to replace one cow in the top per capita beef-eating countries:

Here is another way to view the comparison for the United States:

In addition to showing the number of animals slaughtered per person, the global slaughter index shows the number of animals slaughtered per second and per minute in each country. The “leaders” are China with around 350 per second, the United States with nearly 300, and Brazil with nearly 200. Globally, the figure is over 2,200 per second or nearly 134,000 per minute.


The numbers presented in this article may seem astonishing. A general transition to a vegan lifestyle would avoid the horrendous cost and suffering created by the consumption of animal-based foods, which are a grossly and inherently inefficient way to obtain our nutritional requirements.

If you would like to learn more, please visit the not-for-profit campaign sites, veganeasy and whyveg.


Paul Mahony


Main image: Aussie Farms |

Other images: Shutterstock | | Cow | ID 159146585; and Shutterstock | yevgeniy11 | Hen | ID 154817177


Minor text amendments on 1st and 2nd October 2017.




I have recently become aware of social media discussions supporting misleading interpretations of the 2016 study “Carrying capacity of U.S. agricultural land: Ten diet scenarios” by Peters, et al., which was published in the journal Elementa: Science of the Anthropocene.

As I reported in my article, “Livestock chief gets it wrong on the vegan diet“, the purpose of the study was to compare, firstly, per capita land requirements and secondly, potential carrying capacity as measured by the number of people fed.

The study found that the vegan diet (which excludes all animal products) was the most efficient of the ten diet scenarios studied, in that it required the least amount of land per person fed. It was also extremely effective in terms of the overall number fed.

The study’s key findings are summarised in this chart:

Figure 1: Carrying capacity of US agricultural land: Ten diet scenarios

An article from August 2016 on the Quartz website focused on the fact that four of the ten diet scenarios could feed more people than the vegan diet. But at what cost in terms of human health, planetary health, biodiversity loss and impacts on food production animals themselves?

The author of the Quartz article, Chase Purdy, lost his way when he used the finding regarding carrying capacity to question the sustainability of the vegan diet scenario.

In any event, why isn’t the reported ability of the vegan diet scenario to feed 2.4 times the 2010 US population considered adequate? How many more people do we want in the US? Even the best performing scenario on that score was only marginally ahead of the vegan diet, at 2.6 times the population.

To their credit, the authors of the original study raised the possibility of the US sharing excess food production with other nations, noting that future work would be required to determine the best way of doing so.

Their findings indicate that the three diets that excluded meat were between 7.5 and 8.3 times more efficient (in terms of land area per person fed), and between 1.8 and 2 times more effective (in terms of number of persons fed), than the contemporary US diet. They were at least 77% more efficient than the best-performing diet containing meat.

My “livestock chief gets it wrong” article referred to an article by the director general of the International Livestock Research Institute, Dr Jimmy Smith in The Guardian. Although the authors of the Elementa study reported that the vegan diet required the least amount of land (per person fed and in absolute terms) out of ten alternative dietary scenarios, Smith erroneously claimed that the researchers had found that the it fell behind certain other diets (including some containing meat) on that measure. It seems The Guardian needs to vet material from guest contributors more closely, as Smith’s effort was very poor.


The Elementa study once again highlighted the ability of the vegan diet scenario to efficiently supply our dietary needs. It is time for more people to review the available evidence objectively, as our ability to overcome climate change and other existential threats may depend on it.


Paul Mahony


Smith, J., “Veganism is not the key to sustainable development – natural resources are vital”, The Guardian, 16th August 2016,

Purdy, C., “Being vegan isn’t as good for humanity as you think”, Quartz, 4th August 2016,

Peters, C.J., Picardy, J., Darrouzet-Nardi, A.F., Wilkins, J.L., Griffin, T.S., Fick, G.W., “Carrying capacity of U.S. agricultural land: Ten diet scenarios”, Elementa, July 2016,


Indigo Skies Photography | Panorama | Flickr | Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)


Minor additional comments added on 21st September 2017, and the third and fourth last paragraphs added on 22nd September 2017, along with a sentence concerning the overall number of people fed.



I recently created a two-page infographic containing charts and images I had used in various articles and papers. The infographic highlights the following issues:

  • Livestock-related land clearing in Australia
  • Livestock production’s impact on the Great Barrier Reef
  • Greenhouse gas emissions intensity of animal-based foods
  • Livestock production’s share of Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions
  • The relative nutritional value of plant-based and animal-based foods

The infographic can be seen and downloaded here:

Related articles

Meat Eaters vs the Great Barrier Reef

Beef, the reef and rugby: We have a problem

Eating for a safe climate: Protein and other nutrients

Less Meat Less Heat: Falling short of what’s required


Paul Mahony

It’s a little frightening that a diet containing animal products can be considered “plant-based”. But that’s what Katherine Livingstone from the School of Exercise and Nutrition Sciences at Deakin University in Melbourne contends in a recent article in The Conversation.

Is this a form of doublespeak that might cause those in the livestock sector to rub their hands in glee at the prospect of confusing consumers?

Another concern is that some of the health evidence presented by Livingstone seems extremely selective. For example, she suggests that consumption of unprocessed red meat is not linked to heart disease or diabetes. There is strong evidence to the contrary.

The findings of a study by Pan et al., using data from two longitudinal studies involving 121,342 participants over a 26-year period, were published in Archives of Internal Medicine in 2012.

The researchers, from Harvard Medical School, Harvard School of Public Health, German Institute of Human Nutrition and elsewhere, reported that each daily increase of 85 grams (three ounces) of unprocessed red meat was associated with a 16 per cent increase in the risk of death from cardiovascular disease. For processed meat, the figure was 21 per cent.

A related study by Pan et al., using data from three longitudinal studies dealing with diabetes risk among 204,157 participants over periods ranging from 14 to 28 years, was published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2011.

The researchers reported that daily consumption of 100 grams of unprocessed red meat increased the risk of type 2 diabetes by 19 per cent. Processed meat was even worse, with a daily 50 gram serve increasing the risk by 51 per cent.

These are just two examples of damning health evidence against consumption of processed and unprocessed meat and other animal products. (Processed meat includes meat that is cured, smoked, salted or treated with nitrates or nitrites. Examples include ham, bacon and smallgoods.)

With the community’s health at stake, along with the plight of billions of animals and the environment on which we all depend, a supposedly reputable website like The Conversation needs to be more accurate and thorough than it appears to be in informing the community about the relevant issues.


Paul Mahony


Livingstone, K., “Why you should eat a plant-based diet, but that doesn’t mean being a vegetarian”, 13 July 2017,

Pan A, Sun Q, Bernstein AM, Schulze MB, Manson JE, Stampfer MJ, Willett WC, Hu FB. Red Meat Consumption and MortalityResults From 2 Prospective Cohort Studies. Arch Intern Med. 2012;172(7):555-563. doi:10.1001/archinternmed.2011.2287,

Bakalar, N., “Risks: More Red Meat, More Mortality”, The New York Times, 12 March, 2012,

Pan A, Sun Q, Bernstein AM, Schulze MB, Manson JE, Willett WC, Hu FB, Red meat consumption and risk of type 2 diabetes: 3 cohorts of US adults and an updated meta-analysis, Am J Clin Nutr

Shaw, J., A diabetes link to meat, Harvard Magazine, Jan-Feb 2012,

Dwyer, M., Red meat linked to increased risk of type 2 diabetes, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, 10 Aug 2011,


zi3000, “Vegetarian skewers”, Shutterstock

The City of Darebin (pronounced Darr-e-bin) encompasses various suburbs to the north of Melbourne, Australia from Northcote to Bundoora and from Coburg to Alphington. It recently invited community feedback to its draft climate emergency plan for the period 2017-2022.

If you are interested in seeing my response, it can be accessed by clicking the image below. This version contains a supplement with additional comments on pig meat, poultry, fish, egg and dairy products.

The city’s draft plan covered the following topics:

  1. Climate Emergency mobilisation and leadership
  2. Energy efficiency
  3. Renewable energy and fuel switching
  4. Zero emissions transport
  5. Waste minimisation
  6. Fossil fuel divestment
  7. Adaptation and resilience
  8. Engaging the community
  9. Darebin Energy Foundation

A glaring omission from my point of view was the issue of food choices.

I covered the following issues in my response:

  1. Food-related emissions
  2. Land clearing
  3. The Great Barrier Reef
  4. Links between climate change and the consumption of sea animals
  5. Health and nutrition
  6. Social justice
  7. Engaging with the community and advocating to state and federal governments

In relation to food-related emissions, my submission included the latest emissions intensity estimates for beef from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). Figure 1 below compares the beef figures to those for aluminium (regarded as extremely emissions intensive and at one stage responsible for 16 per cent of Australia’s electricity consumption with a lower tonnage than beef production) and soy beans (as reported by researchers from Oxford University). [1] [2] [3] [4]

The figures have been updated from estimates the FAO published in 2013, which utilised a 2005 reference period and an earlier version of its Global Livestock Environmental Assessment Model (GLEAM 1.0). [5]

The FAO’s latest reference period is 2010, using its updated model, GLEAM 2.0.

It used the IPCC’s 2013 100-year global warming potentials (GWPs), and I have calculated 20-year GWPs for the chart, using IPCC estimates and the FAO’s apportionment of the various greenhouse gases for each product. (The IPCC’s 20-year GWPs are more conservative than estimates from NASA researchers, who have allowed for aerosol interactions.) [6]

Figure 1: Emissions intensity of various products based on product weight (2010 reference period for animal-based products) [Footnote]

A pleasing aspect of responding to the city’s plan was pointing out that some high-profile, mainstream climate scientists have stressed the need to address the issue of animal-based food consumption. Here are some relevant extracts:


“In a 2013 paper, [James] Hansen and co-authors argued that it was feasible to draw down 100 gigatonnes of carbon through reforestation between 2031 and 2080. They noted: (a) because of extensive deforestation in earlier decades, there is a large amount of land suitable for reforestation; and (b) although reforestation competes with agricultural land use; land needs could decline by reducing use of animal products, as livestock now consume more than half of all crops.” [7]


“[Hansen, et al.] estimated a maximum sequestration potential of 1.6 gigatonnes of carbon per year through reforestation. With a conversion factor of 3.67, the estimate equates to around 5.9 gigatonnes of CO2 per year.

That exceeds the annual drawdown target of 5 gigatonnes of CO2 established in a “carbon law” articulated by a group of leading climate scientists in early 2017, which they indicated would provide a 50 per cent chance of limiting global warming to 1.5°C by 2100 and a 66 per cent chance of limiting it to 2°C.

The authors (Johan Rockström, Owen Gaffney, Joeri Rogelj, Malte Meinshausen, Nebojsa Nakicenovic and Hans Joachim Schellnhuber) stated:

‘Agro-industries, farms, and civil society should develop a worldwide strategy for sustainable food systems to drive healthier, low-meat diets and reduce food waste.'” [8]

Another important aspect of the exercise is that the City of Darebin intends to actively engage with state and federal governments in relation to its aims. It has said, “a key part of our program is to take action to accelerate the process of getting these governments to declare a climate emergency and commit to programs of the necessary scope, scale and speed”.

Such action will provide additional leverage for the plan, including any feedback incorporated in the final version.


With no time to waste if we are to have any chance of overcoming the climate crisis, it is imperative that we use all tools at our disposal in our efforts to do so. The issue of food consumption and production offers one such tool, with some elements providing rapid benefits that would increase our chances of avoiding tipping points and runaway climate change.

I trust the City of Darebin includes the issue in the final version of its emergency plan, ultimately improving our ability to respond to the existential threat of climate change.


Paul Mahony


The chart appeared as Figure 2 in the submission.


[1]      UNFAO email correspondence of 21st April, 2nd May and 27th June 2017

[2]      Australian Aluminium Council Ltd, “Climate Change: Aluminium Smelting Greenhouse Performance”,

[3]     Hamilton, C, “Scorcher: The Dirty Politics of Climate Change”, (2007) Black Inc Agenda, p. 40

[4]     Scarborough, P., Appleby, P.N., Mizdrak, A., Briggs, A.D.M., Travis, R.C., Bradbury, K.E., & Key, T.J., “Dietary greenhouse gas emissions of meat-eaters, fish-eaters, vegetarians and vegans in the UK”, Climatic Change, DOI 10.1007/s10584-014-1169-1

[5]      Gerber, P.J., Steinfeld, H., Henderson, B., Mottet, A., Opio, C., Dijkman, J., Falcucci, A. & Tempio, G., 2013, “Tackling climate change through livestock – A global assessment of emissions and mitigation opportunities”, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), Rome, Table 5, p. 24, ;

[6]      Shindell, D.T.; Faluvegi, G.; Koch, D.M.; Schmidt, G.A.; Unger, N.; Bauer, S.E. “Improved Attribution of Climate Forcing to Emissions”, Science, 30 October 2009; Vol. 326 no. 5953 pp. 716-718; DOI: 10.1126/science.1174760,

[7]      Hansen J, Kharecha P, Sato M, Masson-Delmotte V, Ackerman F, Beerling DJ, et al. (2013) Assessing “Dangerous Climate Change”: Required Reduction of Carbon Emissions to Protect Young People, Future Generations and Nature. PLoS ONE 8(12): e81648.

[8]      Rockström, J., O. Gaffney. J. Rogelj, M. Meinshausen, N. Nakicenovic, and H.J. Schellnhuber (2017) “A roadmap for rapid decarbonization”, Science 355: 1269-127, and cited in Dunlop, I. and Spratt, D., “Disaster Alley: Climate Change Conflict and Risk, June 2017,

Main image

Henry Patton | Active moulin | Flickr | Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

It appears we may be witnessing the tragic demise of one of the world’s natural wonders, the Great Barrier Reef (GBR). The process has justifiably been covered extensively by media outlets around the world, with much of the coverage focusing on coral bleaching, primarily caused by warming seas. However, has that been the main cause of coral loss?

It may surprise some to find that, until the past two years at least, the answer had been a resounding “no”. This article comments on the other causes. It also asks why environmental groups who campaign vigorously against the use of fossil fuels have said nothing meaningful about those other factors.

A major contributing factor has been erosion from livestock grazing (including related tree clearing), which releases sediment and nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorus) to the GBR waters via nearby streams and rivers. The sediment inhibits coral growth and promotes the excessive development of algae, while the nutrients contribute to outbreaks of crown-of-thorns starfish, which have had a devastating impact.

Before considering those issues in detail, let’s look at the extent to which live coral cover on the reef has declined.


Let’s take the 1960s as the baseline period. Professor Jon Brodie from the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University has reported that coral covered around 50 per cent of the reef at that time, compared to around 16 per cent in 2012. [1] The change represented a decline in coral extent of 68 per cent.

Estimates vary, and soon after Professor Brodie’s figure was published, Dr Glenn De’ath and fellow researchers from the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) and the University of Wollongong estimated that the extent of coral cover around the same time was only 13.8 per cent, representing a decline of 72.4 per cent (again assuming 50 per cent as the base coverage extent). [2]

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) has estimated a minimum figure of 17 per cent, followed by some recovery between 2012 and 2015, with an increase to 20 per cent. [3] On that basis, the decline from the 1960’s to 2012 (assuming that was the minimum) would have been 66 per cent, and to 2015, 60 per cent.

Two mass bleaching events in 2016 and 2017, along with other factors as referred to below, have caused further declines in live coral cover. In mid-2016, the GBRMPA’s interim assessment of the 2016 bleaching event indicated that 22 per cent of coral had died. It has since increased the estimate to 29 per cent. [4]

Although the latter figure related to shallow water corals, the authority  has said:

“Coral bleaching did extend to deeper corals beyond depths divers typically survey to, but mortality cannot be systematically assessed. . . . In 2017, further coral loss is expected from the second consecutive year of bleaching and the impacts of tropical cyclone Debbie. . . . A complete picture for 2017 won’t be available until early next year.”

Professor Terry Hughes, Director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, indicated on 21st May 2017 that the figure for 2017 is 19 per cent. [5] [Footnote 1]

If we assume that the figure of 29 per cent for 2016 applied to all GBR corals, and that the figure of 19 per cent for 2017 will be confirmed, the current extent of live coral cover (before allowing for declines caused by other factors over the past two years) would be around 11.5 per cent.

It seems reasonable to assume that estimates of percentage reductions are based on the extent of coverage that existed at the beginning of the period being assessed. If so, they are calculated on what has generally been a declining base.

On that basis, the decline from bleaching in 2016 and 2017 (to date) would equate to 17 per cent of the 1960s coverage, which is far less than indicated in much of the relevant media coverage, which indicated that around half had been lost. [6] The figures are represented in Figure 1. [Footnote 2]

The total reduction for the period from the 1960s to 2017, as represented here, is 77 per cent, with coverage of 11.5 per cent (2017) as a proportion of 50 per cent (1960s) being 23 per cent. [See update of 9 July 2017 below, along with more details on the causes in the following sections.]

Figure 1(a): Percentage of Coral Cover 1960s – 2017 (updated 25 July 2017)

Figure 1(b): Pre and Post 1985 Coral Loss (added 25 July 2017)


Ominous warnings have been issued in the recent past, including the following comment from AIMS and University of Wollongong researchers in 2012, as referred to earlier:

” . . . coral cover on the GBR is consistently declining, and without intervention, it will likely fall to 5–10 per cent within the next 10 years.”



In researching the causes of coral decline between 1985 and 2012, Dr Glenn De’ath and his co-authors (referred to earlier) assessed the relative contributions of tropical cyclones, crown-of-thorns starfish (COTS) and coral bleaching. Their results are shown in Figure 2.

Figure 2: Causes of GBR coral decline 1985 – 2012

In a profound indication of the relative impact of COTS predation, the researchers estimated that there would have been a net increase in average coral cover if such predation had not occurred, rather than their estimated reduction of 50.7 per cent.

Findings from Kate Osborne and fellow AIMS researchers in 2011 indicated there was no overall loss for the period 1995-2009, with loss in some areas and species offset by expansion in others. [7] However, in respect of those corals that did decline, they reported COTS as the major cause at 36.7 per cent compared to cyclones at 33.8 per cent, disease at 6.5 per cent, bleaching at 5.6 per cent, with the remainder comprising multiple or unknown causes.

Jon Brodie reported in 2012 that COTS were probably the major cause of coral mortality in the period from 1960 to 1985, but pointed out that available data for the period was incomplete. [8]

Water quality has also been a major factor, as it affects the frequency of COTS outbreaks in the central and southern GBR.


Many types of coral have a symbiotic relationship with marine algae known as zooxanthellae that live inside their tissue. The zooxanthellae are efficient food producers that provide up to 90 per cent of the energy corals require to grow and reproduce. They also give coral much of its colour. [9] [10]

When the relationship becomes stressed due to factors such as ocean temperature or pollution, the zooxanthellae leave the coral’s tissue. Without the zooxanthellae, the tissue of the coral animal appears transparent and its bright white skeleton is revealed.

Without the zooxanthellae as a food source, corals generally begin to starve.

If conditions return to normal, corals can regain their zooxanthellae, return to their normal colour and survive. However, this stress is likely to cause decreased coral growth and reproduction, and increased susceptibility to disease. Bleached corals often die if the stress persists.

Rising sea temperature is the main cause of coral bleaching. Other stressors can also contribute to it but generally to a smaller extent. They include: tropical cyclones; freshwater inflows from flooding events (with low salinity); sedimentation; pollution from urban or agricultural run-off; over-exposure to sunlight; and disease. [11] [12]

Major bleaching events have occurred on the GBR in 1998, 2002, 2016 and 2017.

Reefs can often recover from such events if given enough time, but two in quick succession in 2016 and 2017 may have caused permanent loss of large sections of the reef. The images in Figure 3, from the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, highlight the degree of impact of those two events.

Figure 3: Coral Bleaching Events 2016 and 2017

There is no doubt that coral bleaching is a critical, perhaps catastrophic, issue. Although De’ath et. al. highlighted the need to improve water quality and develop relevant control measures, they stressed that such measures would only succeed if climatic conditions were stabilised, as losses from bleaching and cyclones will otherwise increase.

As a result, given the lack of meaningful response from so-called world leaders to the climate change threat, and taking into account the impact of other stressors that have destroyed much of the reef and weakened the resilience of much of the remaining coral, we may have lost the opportunity to save the reef. [13]


COTS are marine invertebrates that occur naturally on reefs throughout the Indo-Pacific region, feeding exclusively on coral. Certain conditions enable them to reach plague proportions and devastate hard coral communities.

Figure 4: Crown-of-thorns starfish devouring coral off northern Queensland

Crown-of-Thorns Starfish (Acanthaster planci), Lizard Island

Crown-of-Thorns Starfish (Acanthaster planci), Lizard Island (Ryan McMinds, Flickr)


The long-term monitoring program conducted by AIMS has shown that outbreaks have begun in the north and migrated southward, generally over periods of around 15 years, with ocean currents transporting larvae between reefs. There have been four major outbreaks on the Great Barrier Reef since the 1960s: in that decade itself; the late 1970s; the early 1990s; and 2010 (which is still under way). [14]

De’ath et. al. have reported that COTS were likely to have occurred every 50-80 years before European agricultural nutrient runoff commenced.

Healthy reefs generally recover between outbreaks, taking 10 to 20 years to do so. However, recovery takes longer on reefs that are affected by additional stresses, such as coral bleaching, cyclones or poor water quality, so the coral may not fully recover before the next wave of outbreaks occurs. [15]

Jon Brodie has stated “it is now well established” that the major COTS outbreaks since 1962 were most likely caused by nutrient enrichment associated with increased discharge of nitrogen and phosphorus from the land due to soil erosion and large scale fertiliser use. The nutrients promote phytoplankton growth suitable to COTS larvae. [16]

The impact of livestock production within the reef’s catchment area is particularly relevant to the water quality issue (including sediment and nutrient discharge), as referred to later in this article.

Fishing also appears to be a major factor in relation to COTS outbreaks. In the mid-shelf region of the GBR, where most outbreaks occur, the frequency of outbreaks as of 2008 on reefs that were open to fishing had been 3.75 times higher than on those where it was prohibited. Although exploited fish species are unlikely to prey on COTS directly, changes in interactions between species at different positions in the food web may be the cause. [17]

These short videos from AIMS and Stanford University help us to better appreciate the extent of the COTS problem. The Stanford researchers state (with my underline):

“Low numbers of this starfish increase reef diversity, but large numbers can destroy reefs. Avoiding human activities that increase starfish numbers is more effective than trying to control Crown-of-Thorns outbreaks once they happen.”

Video 1: Australian Institute of Marine Science (Duration 1:23):

Video 2: Standford University (Duration 2:29)

Figure 5 shows the location, severity and areal extent of COTS outbreaks between 1982 and 2015. [18]

Figure 5: COTS outbreaks 1982 – 2015 (Animation)


AIMS has highlighted the fact that deterioration in coastal water quality has negatively affected the function, productivity and resilience of tropical marine ecosystems.

They have reported that the main coastal and marine water quality issues in northern Australia are: (a) increasing sediment, nutrients and contaminants entering coastal waters in runoff from agricultural, industrial and urban land uses (increasing five to nine fold from pre-European settlement); and (b) rising seawater temperatures and increasing seawater acidity associated with climate change. [19]

Livestock production within the reef’s catchment has been a major factor in the release of sediment and nutrients. Eroded material, including nutrients, enters streams and rivers and is then carried to the coast, and from there to the Great Barrier Reef.

The Queensland Government’s 2013 Scientific Consensus Statement confirmed that grazing landscapes, primarily in the Fitzroy and Burdekin catchments, were responsible for 75 per cent of sediment, 54 per cent of phosphorous and 40 per cent of nitrogen in the reef’s waters. [20]

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority has expressed its concern: [21]

“Most sediment entering the Great Barrier Reef comes from catchments in major pastoral areas such as the Burdekin, Herbert and Fitzroy rivers.”

“Changes in water quality affect the biodiversity and resilience of Reef systems. Higher concentrations of pollutants, such as suspended sediments, nitrogen and phosphorus, indicated by higher levels of chlorophyll and lower water clarity, leader [sic] to more algae and less coral diversity. In these conditions, algae take over and reduce the chances for new hard corals to establish and grow.”

Queensland has been Australia’s main beef production state since around 1885. [22] Trees have been extensively cleared to establish grazing areas, with the level of activity increasing after World War 2 when the technique of dragging a massive chain, linked to two bulldozers, was introduced. (The Wilderness Society has credited the innovation to a young Joh Bjelke-Petersen, who eventually became Queensland’s longest-serving premier.)

For many decades, farmers were required to clear the land as a condition of their government lease, with economic development being the driver. [23]

The Queensland government’s State Landcover and Trees Study (SLATS) has shown that, between 1988 and 2015, 90,340 square kilometres of land were cleared or re-cleared for pasture in Queensland, which is equivalent to nearly 11 million rugby fields (or nearly 17 million American football fields), with the process accelerating in recent years after a partial ban on broadscale clearing was lifted in 2013. [24] [25] [Footnote 3]

It is also equivalent to a tract of land 10 kilometres (6 miles) wide running between Melbourne and Cairns nearly four times!

Figure 6: Livestock-related land clearing in Queensland 1988-2015 expressed as 10 km-wide tracts of land equivalent on Australian continent (Arrow width not to scale)

For more context, it is also equivalent to a 10 kilometre wide tract of land running 2.3 times between Los Angeles and New York.

Figure 7: Livestock-related land clearing in Queensland 1988-2015 expressed as 10 km-wide tracts of land equivalent on contiguous states of USA (Arrow width not to scale)

A deleterious outcome of livestock-related land clearing and livestock grazing in cleared and uncleared areas is gully erosion.

The Victorian government has highlighted the role of those activities in gully erosion generally (with my underline): [26]

“Under natural conditions, run-off is moderated by vegetation which generally holds the soil together, protecting it from excessive run-off and direct rainfall.

Excessive clearing, inappropriate land use and compaction of the soil caused by grazing often means the soil is left exposed and unable to absorb excess water. Surface run-off then increases and concentrates in drainage lines, allowing gully erosion to develop in susceptible areas.”

Soils with dispersible subsoils are very common in Queensland and are vulnerable to gully erosion when the shallow layer of relatively stable top soil is disturbed. As water penetrates through early-stage erosion (referred to as rill erosion up to 30 centimetres deep), the subsoil is dispersed, leaving the topsoil unsupported. The topsoil then collapses and the process is repeated.

From that stage, even with little or no surface flow, the gully walls can become saturated, causing them to slump and the gully to expand. The Queensland government has likened the process at that point to digging a hole to the depth of the water table at the beach, with the hole expanding as the sides slump away. [27]

The underlying rock will often limit gully depth to around two metres, but they can be as deep as fifteen metres in alluvial and colluvial soils.

Figure 8: Gully erosion on cattle property in northern Queensland


© Griffith University – Andrew Brooks


The following video provides several examples of grazing-related gully erosion in Queensland’s Fitzroy Basin, which has caused massive amounts of sediment to flow to the GBR. Mitigation efforts are highlighted, but to a large extent the damage has been done and is continuing in other areas, with potential to expand elsewhere as more land is cleared for cattle.

The Queensland government’s most recent Reef Water Quality Protection Plan report card scored graziers’ response to the calamity a “D” for “poor”. [28]

In any event, it is estimated that expenditure ranging from $5.3 billion to $18.4 billion (most likely $7.8 billion) would be required to reduce sediment flow by 50 per cent, which is a target established under the Australian and Queensland governments’ Reef 2050 Long-Term Sustainability Plan. [29]

Video 3: Gully erosion in the Fitzroy Basin (Duration 11.55)

Stream bank erosion has also significantly increased sediment discharge to the reef. Here are some thoughts from the Queensland government on that issue (with my underline): [30]

“The major cause of stream bank erosion is the destruction of vegetation on river banks (generally by clearing, overgrazing, cultivation, vehicle traffic up and down banks or fire) and the removal of sand and gravel from the stream bed.”

In commenting on the need to improve water quality, journalist Calla Walqhuist recently indicated in The Guardian that Jon Brodie had recommended a shift from sugar cane production in the reef’s catchment to cattle grazing. [31]

She neglected to say that it is only in the areas where sugarcane is grown that beef grazing would have little impact. Erosion is low in those areas due to high rainfall and extensive vegetation cover, with minimal use of fertilisers and pesticides. Cattle grazing on the large, low rangelands in the Burdekin and Fitzroy catchments, with variable rainfall, is responsible for greatly increased erosion and sediment delivery to the GBR. [32]

Professor Brodie has previously reported that cattle grazing for beef production is the largest single land use in the reef’s catchment area, with cropping (mainly of sugarcane) and urban/residential development “considerably less in areal extent”. [33] As a result, the scope for transitioning from sugarcane production to cattle grazing may be limited.


The following slideshow includes: Adam Bandt of The Greens political party; Kirsty Albion of Australian Youth Climate Coalition (AYCC); Paul Sinclair of Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF); Charlie Wood of; and Tim Flannery of Climate Council Australia. [Footnote 4]

What do these people have in common?


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One answer is that their organisations have all campaigned to save the Great Barrier Reef from the ravages of climate change and the related activities of coal mining, dredging and shipping, but have ignored or understated: (a) livestock production’s direct reef impacts; and/or (b) livestock production’s climate change impacts. The Greens’ statement on protecting the reef is an example. [34]

To the extent the groups have mentioned COTS outbreaks and water quality issues, they appear to have avoided commenting on the contribution of diet, which is ultimately responsible for livestock production within the reef’s catchment.

How can they and their organisations justify their assumed roles as defenders of the environment, while effectively choosing to ignore such a critical contributor to the ongoing environmental catastrophe?

It is ironic that Tim Flannery implores us to “start talking about the reef”, including around the dinner table, but fails to meaningfully highlight the role of diet in its demise. [35]

I have previously highlighted links between the livestock sector and ACF, AYCC, Climate Council Australia and others. The links include the fact that ACF’s high-tech headquarters in inner Melbourne, in which AYCC and a Greens member of the Victorian parliament are tenants, were donated to it by livestock interests. [36] I am not in a position to comment on the links (details of which are publicly available), other than to say they exist.

Other scientists are ahead of the pack on this issue, leaving Flannery and his Climate Council colleagues in their wake.

Professor Terry Hughes (referred to earlier) and co-authors of a paper that appeared in the June 2017 issue of Nature, have pointed out that scientists have often ignored human behaviour as the ultimate driver of environmental change. [37] For example, they may focus on pollution or climate change, without acknowledging that factors such as human population growth, socio-economic development, and culture and values are the ultimate cause.

Hughes and his co-authors have argued that governments, non-government organisations and social movements “can actively encourage changes in social norms that lead to improved environmental behaviours” through the use of taxes, incentives, subsidies, education and communication. Governments and the groups mentioned here are failing miserably in that regard.

In Australia, criticising the traditional meat-based barbecue may be considered a form of heresy, despite meat consumption being a key factor in the destruction of a global treasure and critical economic asset in the form of the GBR. Indeed, even without climate change, the reef’s demise may have been assured due to decades of relentless sediment and nutrient pollution from grazing and other properties within the reef’s catchment.

Using the phrase “death by a thousand cuts”, the authors also highlighted the need to consider the interaction between multiple factors contributing to the deterioration of coral reefs. They referred to models indicating that “synergistic human impacts can reduce resilience and cause unexpected ecological collapse, even when individual drivers or stressors remain at levels that are considered to be safe”.

Even if we focus solely on climate change, the livestock sector is a key driver. For example, researchers from the Sustainable Society Institute at the University of Melbourne and climate change advocacy group Beyond Zero Emissions (BZE) have estimated that the livestock sector is responsible for around fifty per cent of Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions. [38] The findings were reinforced in a subsequent peer-reviewed journal article, which had two co-authors in common with the BZE paper. [39]

The authors focused on factors that are ignored, under-stated or attributed to non-livestock categories in the national greenhouse gas inventory.


Two-thirds of Australia’s beef was exported in 2012-2013, with the figure likely to have grown since then due to an expansion of the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement (ChAFTA).  [40] [41] As a result, modification of diet by the nation’s residents will not be enough to adequately reduce beef production’s negative impacts.

At present, the environmental cost of beef production is not adequately allowed for in the price paid by the end user. Consequently, beef producers are effectively subsidised, while consumers in Australia, China and elsewhere are paying artificially low prices with no effective price signal encouraging them to purchase products with less environmental impact.

The words of CSIRO researcher, Dr Barney Foran, come to mind: [42]

“We should be paying more for products that have a high environmental account balance. The consumer should be expected to pay a realistic price for food so that we play a part in fixing up the bush, instead of sitting in town and wringing our hands about it.”

The current, low-price arrangements may soon come at the expense of the tourism industry as the GBR deteriorates further. In Queensland alone, the industry generates revenues of nearly $23 billion and supports nearly 220,000 jobs directly and indirectly. With 42 per cent of international visitors ranking the reef as the most appealing tourist attraction in Australia, it is also a significant factor in the tourism industry nationally, for which the corresponding figures are $98 billion and 922,000. [43] [44] [45]

By comparison, the beef industry generated less than $18 billion in revenues nationally in 2015/16 (less than tourism in Queensland alone), including $10 billion of exports, with 200,000 people employed (also less than tourism in Queensland), including on-farm production, processing and retail. [46]


To the extent that we have any chance of saving the Great Barrier Reef, it is critical that prominent individuals and groups campaigning for that purpose communicate honestly about the factors that are contributing to its parlous state. If it is too late to save it, then we must ask how and why those individuals and groups have failed to address key issues.

It may be easy to feign concern and diligence while conveniently overlooking essential contributing factors, but such abrogation of responsibility will undoubtedly result in catastrophic outcomes unless others can successfully convey the truth to the point that meaningful action is taken.

With that aim in mind, I hope you will help to inform others of the message conveyed in this article.


Paul Mahony


  1. Professor Hughes also indicated a figure of 30 per cent for 2016. I have assumed he was rounding up the official figure of 29 per cent, and I have used the latter.
  2. A reduction in areal extent from 20 per cent to 14.2 per cent represents a reduction of 5.8 percentage points, and from 14.2 per cent to 11.5 per cent a further 2.7 percentage points, i.e. a total of 8.5 percentage points for those two years. The reduction of 8.5 per cent represents 17 per cent of the 1960s coverage, which was 50 per cent of the reef.
    Due to their close proximity in terms of timing, it is possible that the 2016 and 2017 declines were both expressed as a percentage of the 2015 areal extent. That approach would accentuate the reduction, leaving 10.4 per cent in 2017 rather than the figure of 11.5 per cent indicated here, and the pre-1985 reduction being 54 per cent rather than 57 per cent. The figures will be amended if my assumptions are found to be incorrect. Either way, they would appear to represent reasonable approximations.
    On the other hand, media outlets have reported that half the coral has been lost in the past two years. Clearly, a 50 per cent reduction using the 1960s base figure would not be possible when around 80 per cent of that base figure had already been lost by 2015.
  3. The area represents original clearing and re-clearing, demonstrating the ability of wooded vegetation to regenerate if given the opportunity.
  4. All photos in the slideshow, other than Tim Flannery’s, are from the “Reef not coal snap action”, held in Melbourne on 5th December, 2016, and arranged by ACF, AYCC and Tim Flannery’s image is from a video recorded on the reef, where he spoke solely about climate change.


9 July 2017:

The GBRMPA has reported that, in addition to bleaching, corals during 2017 have been affected by: (a) tropical cyclone Debbie (late March 2017); (b) subsequent flooding of the Burdekin and Fitzroy Rivers and resultant flood plumes; (c) ongoing outbreaks of coral disease; and (d) crown-of-thorns starfish. [47] Those factors may have resulted in current coral coverage being below 11.5 per cent. Animal agriculture is relevant to each, including: (i) the flood plumes resulting from eroded soils in the Burekin and Fitzroy catchments; and (ii) tropical cyclones which are affected by the sector’s global warming impact.

Even if we attributed all the coral loss in 2016 and 2017 to bleaching (which was not the case), its contribution since the 1960s is likely to have been well below that of cyclones and COTS.

As mentioned within the article, Jon Brodie of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies believes COTS were probably the major cause of coral mortality in the period from 1960 to 1985. A major COTS outbreak occurred in the 1960s, while the first major bleaching event occurred in 1998, so bleaching may have had no impact during that period.

5 August 2017:

One paragraph has been amended to clarify the fact that erosion from cattle grazing occurs on uncleared, as well as cleared, land (consistent with many of my previous articles).


[1] Brodie, J., “Great Barrier Reef dying beneath its crown of thorns”, The Conversation, 16th April, 2012,

[2] De’ath, G., Katharina Fabricius, K.E., Sweatman, H., Puotinen, M., “The 27–year decline of coral cover on the Great Barrier Reef and its causes”, PNAS 2012 109 (44) 17995-17999; published ahead of print October 1, 2012, doi:10.1073/pnas.1208909109,

[3] Stella, J., Pears, R., Wachenfeld, D., “Interim Report: 2016 Coral Bleaching Event on the Great Barrier Reef”, Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, September 2016,

[4] Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, Reef Health, 29 May 2017,

[5] Professor Terry Hughes on Twitter, 20th and 21st May 2017,

[6] Chang, C. and AAP, “Half the Great Barrier Reef may have died in last two years”, 23 May 2017,

[7] Osborne, K., Dolman, A. M., Burgess, S. C., & Johns, K. A. (2011). Disturbance and the Dynamics of Coral Cover on the Great Barrier Reef (1995–2009). PLoS ONE, 6(3), e17516. and

[8] Brodie, J., op. cit.

[9] National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Ocean Service, “What is coral bleaching?”, revised 17 March 2016,

[10] Australian Government, Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, “Managing the reef – Coral bleaching” (undated),

[11] Australian Government, Bureau of Meteorology (undated),

[12] The Nature Conservancy, Ocean and Coasts, “Coral bleaching: What you need to know” (undated),

[13] Dunlop, I., “Time for honesty on climate and energy policy”, The Sydney Morning Herald, 12 December 2016,

[14] Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, “History of crown-of-thorns outbreaks on the Great Barrier Reef”, (accessed 11 June 2017)

[15] Australian Institute of Marine Science, “Crown-of-thorns starfish” (undated), (accessed 11 June 2017)

[16] Brodie, J., op. cit.

[17] Sweatman, H., “No-take reserves protect coral reefs from predatory starfish”, Current Biology, Volume 18, Issue 14, pR598–R599, 22 July 2008, and

[18] Australian Institute of Marine Science, “Crown-of-Thorns Starfish distribution” (undated), (Accessed 11 June 2017)

[19] Australian Institute of Marine Science, “Water Quality” (undated),

[20] Kroon, F., Turner, R., Smith, R., Warne, M., Hunter, H., Bartley, R., Wilkinson, S., Lewis, S., Waters, D., Caroll, C., 2013 “Scientific Consensus Statement: Sources of sediment, nutrients, pesticides and other pollutants in the Great Barrier Reef Catchment”, Ch. 4, p. 12, The State of Queensland, Reef Water Quality Protection Plan Secretariat, July, 2013,

[21] Australian Government, Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, “Managing the reef”, undated,

[22] May, D., “The North Queensland beef cattle industry: an historical overview“, from Lectures on North Queensland history. No. 4 chapter 6 pp. 121-159, Edited by Dalton, B. J.. Townsville. James Cook University of North Queensland, 1984,

[23] The Wilderness Society, “Land Clearing in Queensland” (undated) (Accessed 12 June 2017)

[24] Queensland Department of Science, Information Technology and Innovation. 2016. Land cover change in Queensland 2014–15: a Statewide Landcover and Trees Study (SLATS) report. DSITI, Brisbane

[25] Mahony, P., “Beef, the reef and rugby: We have a problem”, Terrastendo, 26 March 2017,

[26] Agriculture Victoria, “Gully Erosion”, Nov 1999, (Accessed 13 June 2017)

[27] Carey, B., Queensland Government, Natural Resources and Water, “Gully Erosion”, March 2006,

[28] Queensland Government, “Great Barrier Reef Report Card 2015: Reef water quality protection plan”, and

[29] Australian Government, Department of Environment and Energy, Reef 2050 Long-Term Sustainability Plan – Progress on Implementation Review by Great Barrier Reef Independent Review Group, February 2017, p. 50,

[30] Queensland Government, “Types of erosion”, Last updated 18 December 2013, last reviewed 14 October 2015, (Accessed 13 June 2017)

[31] Wahlquist, C., “Great Barrier Reef: Australia must act urgently on water quality, says Unesco”, The Guardian, 3 June 2017,

[32] Brodie, J., Email correspondence, 9 June 2017

[33] Brodie, J., Christie, C., Devlin, M., Haynes, D., Morris, S., Ramsay, M., Waterhouse, J., and Yorkston, H., “Catchment management and the Great Barrier Reef”, pp. 203 & 205, Water Science and Technology Vol 43 No 9 pp 203–211 © IWA Publishing 200, May 2001,

[34] The Greens, “Protecting the Great Barrier Reef” (undated),

[35] The Climate Council of Australia, “Raise the reef”, 13th October 2016,

[36] Mahony, P., “The link that too many ignore”, Terrastendo, 26 August 2016,

[37] Hughes, Terry P., Barnes, Michele L., Bellwood, David R., Cinner, Joshua E., Cumming, Graeme S., Jackson, Jeremy B.C., Kleypas, Joanie, van de Leemput, Ingrid A., Lough, Janice M., Morrison, Tiffany H.,  Palumbi, Stephen R., van Nes, Egbert H., Scheffer, Marten, “Coral reefs in the Anthropocene”, Nature, 546, 82–90, 1 June 2017 (published online 31 May 2017), doi:10.1038/nature22901,

[38] Beyond Zero Emissions and Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute of The University of Melbourne, “Zero Carbon Australia – Land Use: Agriculture and Forestry – Discussion Paper”, October, 2014,

[39] Wedderburn-Bisshop, G., Longmire, A., Rickards, L., “Neglected Transformational Responses: Implications of Excluding Short Lived Emissions and Near Term Projections in Greenhouse Gas Accounting”, International Journal of Climate Change: Impacts and Responses, Volume 7, Issue 3, September 2015, pp.11-27. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Published Online: August 17, 2015,

[40] Dept of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, “Australian Food Statistics 2012-13″, Table 2.4, p. 53,

[41] Tingle, L., “China trade deal adds $400 million to beef exports”, Australian Financial Review, 24 March 2017,

[42] Anon., “Counting the Ecological Cost”, The Canberra Times, 29 May 2005

[43] Australian Government, Austrade, Tourism Research Australia, State Tourism Satellite Accounts 2014-15, and

[44] Australian Government, Department of Environment and Energy, op. cit., p. 52

[45]  Farm Weekly, “Australian beef exports hit world top”, 30 April, 2017,

[46] Meat & Livestock Australia, Beef Fast Facts 2016,–markets/documents/trends–analysis/fast-facts–maps/mla_beef-fast-facts-2016.pdf

[47] Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, Reef Health, 29 June 2017 (relating to 29 July 2017 update),


Brian Kinney, Wonderful and beautiful underwater world with corals and tropical fish (within Figure 1(b)), Shutterstock

Ryan McMinds, Crown-of-Thorns Starfish (Acanthaster planci), Lizard Island, Flickr, Creative Commons, Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

skvoor, Australia map light blue map with shadow, Shutterstock

skvoor, United States map light blue map with shadow, Shutterstock

Slideshow images (except Tim Flannery): Takver, Photographs by: Julian Meehan, “Reef not coal snap action”, 5th Dec 2016, Flickr,  Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Tim Flannery’s image: The Climate Council of Australia, “Raise the reef”, 13th October 2016,, Creative Commons attribution 3.0 Australia license (CC By 3.0 AU) (Climate Council reports note that “Climate Council of Australia Ltd copyright material is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Australia License.”)

All photos in the slideshow, other than Tim Flannery’s, are from the “Reef not coal snap action”, held in Melbourne on 5th Dec 2016, and arranged by Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF), Australian Youth Climate Coalition (AYCC) and

Andrew Brooks, Griffith University, Gully erosion at Springvale Station, from “Research leads to Great Barrier Reef Rescue Purchase”, Griffith News, 23 June 2016 (Used with permission),

ARC Centre of Excellence, Media Release “Two-thirds of Great Barrier Reef hit by back-to-back mass coral bleaching”, 10th April 2017,

Animation (Figure 5)

Australian Institute of Marine Science, “Crown-of-Thorns Starfish distribution” (undated), (Accessed 11 June 2017)


Australian Institute of Marine Science, “Crown-of-thorns survey video”,

Stanford University, Microdocs Project, “Crown-of-thorns starfish”,

Australian Government and Fitzroy Basis Association, “Gully erosion in the Fitzroy Basin”,




Recent material from the federal and Victorian governments on the treatment of food production animals includes some disturbing examples of political doublespeak and propaganda.

We should not be surprised, as governments generally support the livestock sector at the expense of animals, arguing along the lines of the federal government’s current “jobs and growth” mantra. (The “left” and “right” divide is virtually non-existent in Australian politics.)

We are persuaded by psychoanalytical techniques

The difficulty arises when governments concurrently feign concern for animals, ignoring the fact that all animal-based food production is a form of exploitation driven by consumer demand, which in turn is largely generated by sophisticated advertising and PR (public relations) practices.

Indeed, it was “the father of PR”, Edward Bernays, who successfully applied principles of psychoanalysis that had been developed by his uncle, Sigmund Freud, to convince Americans in the 1920s that bacon and eggs should become a standard choice for breakfast. He had been commissioned by the Beech-Nut Packing Company, which specialised at that time in vacuum-packed pig meat products.

Here’s how his campaign has been described in the American Psychological Association’s Monitor on Psychology:

“But in creating the new Freudian-style campaign, Bernays asked himself, ‘Who influences what the public eats?’ His answer was to survey physicians and ask them whether they would recommend a light breakfast or a hearty breakfast. Physicians overwhelmingly recommended a hearty breakfast, paving the way for Bernays to convince Americans to swap their usual juice, toast and coffee for the now-ubiquitous, all-American ‘hearty’ breakfast of bacon and eggs.”

If interested, you can see a video here of Bernays discussing the pig meat campaign. Elsewhere, Bernays freely used the word “propaganda” (including as the title of a book), and regularly interchanged it with the term PR.

Bernays was also famous for developing the “torches of freedom” campaign that convinced women that it was acceptable to smoke in public. Decades later, he said he would not have accepted the American Tobacco Company’s assignment if he had known of smoking’s health dangers.

With subsequent warnings from the World Cancer Research Fund and the World Health Organization on the dangers of consuming pig meat, it may be reasonable to assume he would have felt the same about his assignment for Beech-Nut had he been aware of those dangers at the time. Indeed, he said in 1928 that a PR practitioner “must never accept a retainer or assume a position which puts his duty to the groups he represents above his duty to society”.

Some of the physicians surveyed by Bernays for the pork industry in the 1920s suggested bacon and eggs as a “hearty” breakfast. That may have been consistent with a tobacco industry survey of doctors in the 1940s, which portrayed cigarette smoking as a beneficial practice.

Here’s an extract concerning Edward Bernays from the BBC documentary “The Century of the Self”:

“Bernays was the first person to take Freud’s ideas about human beings and use them to manipulate the masses. He showed American corporations for the first time how they could make people want things they didn’t need by linking mass produced goods to their unconscious desires . . . It was the start of the all-consuming self which has come to dominate our world today.”

How much more beneficial for human and non-human animals would our world have been if such domination had not occurred.

Victorian Government’s Draft Action Plan

The Victorian government is currently considering responses to its Draft Action Plan 2016-2021 “Improving the Welfare of Animals in Victoria”, released in September 2016.

In the draft plan, the Minister’s Ambassador for Animal Welfare, Lizzie Blandthorn MP, states that we must protect animals, including those on farms, from cruelty. That’s a noble suggestion that most people would probably agree with, but it seems to be the type of comment that would fit neatly into a Bernays-style propaganda campaign.

The statement does not reflect our current reality, which may be unlikely to change in a meaningful way as a result of the government’s action plan process. If we fail to acknowledge an injustice, then we have little chance of removing it.

Many consumers may be blind to the fact that the livestock sector is largely exempt from complying with Victoria’s Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act and similar legislation in other states and territories, which permit acts of cruelty specified in industry codes of practice.

As an example of the injustice involved, exempted practices in relation to poultry include: life-long confinement indoors; beak “trimming” (debeaking) without anaesthetic; removing the snood of turkeys (the skin drooping from the forehead) without anaesthetic; removing segments of toes without anaesthetic; forced breeding; killing of “surplus” chicks in the egg industry through gassing with CO2 or being sent into an industrial grinder while still alive.

Despite those and other permitted practices, Agriculture Victoria remarkably claims that the exemptions do not permit cruelty to occur.

That claim is outrageous!

Whose definition of cruelty is Agriculture Victoria using?

I anticipate cruel practices continuing after the Victorian Government completes its review. I have raised the issues with the Minister for Agriculture, Jaala Pulford. However, when responding, she effectively ignored my key points, including those made in this article.

Free Range Egg Labelling

At the federal level, the government recently released its new information standard for free range egg labelling. The standard allows eggs to be labelled as free range where there is an outdoor stocking density of up to 10,000 birds per hectare. Coles and Woolworths nationally, and Aldi in New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland, had already adopted the limit of 10,000 for their home brand free range products.

To provide some perspective, the limit applying under various voluntary free range standards in Australia ranges from 750 to 2,500, while European Union and UK free range standards range from 1,000 to 2,500.

Not only is our new outdoor stocking limit exceptionally high, the standard does not specify a minimum period of time to be spent outdoors or the density of indoor areas. To make matters worse, many of the practices of mutilation, stunning and killing described earlier are permitted in respect of free range establishments under the CSIRO’s code of practice for domestic poultry, which is a voluntary standard that includes free range guidelines.

A free range animal’s final day may also be far more horrific than most people realise. For example, birds raised on free range farms are generally slaughtered alongside those raised in conventional facilities.

After being packed tightly into crates and transported without food or water, the slaughter process generally begins with birds being hung upside down on a conveyor with their legs shackled. They are supposed to be stunned by having their head dipped in electrically charged water before their throat is cut, but there is no guarantee of that happening. There is also no guarantee they’ll be dead before reaching the scalding tank, which aids the removal of feathers.

In February 2017, animal rights group Dreamer’s Hen Rescue released this undercover video, reported to be from an Australian slaughterhouse. It shows the full slaughter process, and includes chickens entering the scalding tank while still alive. [WARNING: Graphic footage]


The massive scale of the industry reflects the effectiveness of industry PR and advertising campaigns, and is demonstrated by the fact that around 580 million chickens were slaughtered in Australia during the most recent reporting period, 2014. That’s equivalent to more than eighteen per second, day and night.

Such huge numbers mask the fact that every animal is an individual, with the ability to suffer physical and psychological pain. The fact that one species is smaller than another, or perceived as less animated or sociable, does not reduce the suffering. If we treated our companion animals the way we generally treat those we use as food, we could rightfully spend time in jail.

The unconscionable avoidance of honest communication

Governments must start to communicate honestly with the community about the plight of animals, cutting through the fairy tales that they and the livestock sector have created and propagated. To do anything less would represent unconscionable behaviour.

The Victorian Labor government simply needs to adhere to the words of former party leader and premier, Steve Bracks, who said a feature that would differentiate his government from that of his predecessor was “leadership that believes in openness and accountability, that isn’t afraid of scrutiny, that credits the people of this state with the intelligence to make their own judgements”.

He also said (with my underline): “When you’re proud of what you’re doing, you don’t want it hidden; you want people to know about it. You only keep secret the things that you’re ashamed of.”

The Bracks government subsequently performed poorly in relation to openness and accountability, but surely it is not too much to ask of the current government.


Paul Mahony


Barth, J., “Beech-Nut to leave Canajoharie after 118 years”, 11 April 2009,

Held, L., “Psychoanalysis shapes consumer culture”, Monitor on Psychology, American Psychological Association, Dec 2009, Vol 40, No. 11, Print version: page 32,

The Museum of Public Relations, Edward Bernays, 1929 Torches of Freedom,

Harvard University, T.H. Chan School of Public Health, “WHO report says eating processed meat is carcinogenic: Understanding the findings”, undated, https://www.hsph.harvard.ed/nutritionsource/2015/11/03/report-says-eating-processed-meat-is-carcinogenic-understanding-the-findings/

World Cancer Research Fund / American Institute for Cancer Research, “Food, Nutrition, Physical Activity, and the Prevention of Cancer: a Global Perspective”, Washington DC: AICR, 2007, and, Chapter 12

Bernays, E., “The Business of Propaganda”, The Independent, Vol. 121, No. 4083, 1 Sep 1928, via The Library of Congress, “Prosperity and Thrift: The Coolidge Era and the Consumer Economy, 1921-1929”,

Adam Curtis, “The Century of the Self – Part 1 – Happiness Machines”, broadcast on BBC TV in 2002,

Victoria’s Draft Action Plan for animal welfare,

Agriculture Victoria, Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Legislation, Summary of Legislation,

Mahony, P., “Open letter to Jaala Pulford”, 31 Mar 2016,

FAOSTAT Production – Livestock Primary – 2014

Pearce, L., “This Is What The Government’s New ‘Free Range’ Egg Guidelines Look Like”, Huffington Post, 28 Apr 2017,

Dowling, J., “Bracks’ Secret State”, The Age, 24 Sep 2006,

Baker, R., “How Bracks is failing to honour his commitment to openness”, The Age, 16 July 2003,


Palugada, “Happy farm animal cartoon collection”, Shutterstock
(The image has not been used in government or industry PR campaigns to my knowledge, but has been used here to symbolise the world of make-believe created by those campaigns.)


Have you ever felt ill with nausea, lethargy, aching joints, loss of appetite, abdominal pain or fever? The symptoms could have resulted from many different ailments. One is hepatitis E, a largely hidden and inadequately diagnosed disease caused by the hepatitis E virus (HEV). It is usually self-limiting, in that it will disappear without treatment (there is generally none available in acute cases) after several weeks. However, far more serious outcomes can also occur, particularly in people with weakened immune systems, such as the elderly, some cancer patients, HIV patients, organ transplant patients and pregnant women.

There are four types of HEV, two of which can be transmitted between animals (primarily pigs but also others such as deer, rabbits and rats) and humans. Unlike its effect on many humans, HEV does not make the animals ill. [1] Although avian strains exist, they are not known to be transmitted to humans. [2]

Genotypes 1 and 2 are limited to humans and are generally found in countries with poor sanitation systems. Genotype 1 is common in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, while genotype 2 is more common in sub-Saharan Africa and Mexico. [3]

Genotypes 3 and 4 are the forms that can infect humans and animals. [3] Genotype 3 has been found in all developed countries where its presence has been investigated, while genotype 4 is mainly found in China, Southeast Asia, some pockets of Europe and Japan (although it does not appear to be the dominant form in that country). [4] [5]

Accordingly, genotype 3 is the key form of the virus responsible for infections within developed nations.

Like all forms of hepatitis, HEV involves swelling or inflammation of the liver. In addition to the symptoms mentioned earlier, jaundice is common, with yellowing of the skin and eyeballs, while other symptoms can include tingling, numbness and weakness in the arms and legs, general itching, darkened urine, and mild flu-like symptoms. [1] The virus can sometimes cause acute liver failure, which can lead to death. [6]

Serious outcomes that are not related to the liver can include: (a) neurological conditions such as Guillain–Barré syndrome, brachial neuritis, transverse myelitis, Bell’s palsy (with paralysis of facial nerves) and vestibular neuritis; (b) haematological conditions such as thrombocytopenia, lymphopenia and monoclonal immunoglobulin; and (c) other conditions such as acute pancreatitis, arthritis and autoimmune thyroiditis. [4]

HEV in Britain

In a paper published in the medical journal, The Lancet, researchers estimated there were likely to have been 80,000 – 100,000 acute HEV infections in England during 2013. The findings were based on retrospective screening of 225,000 individual blood donations. After allowing for the duration of a detectable virus in the blood, the results were extrapolated across the country’s population. [7]

In comparison, only 846 cases were reported in England and Wales combined that year, indicating the extent to which the disease is insufficiently recognised by healthcare professionals and patients. [8] One reason may be that there are sometimes no symptoms, particularly in children (although the carriers can still spread the virus to others). [6] [22] Nevertheless, the number of reported cases more than tripled from 2010 to 2015, from 368 to 1,213 (with a further increase to 1,244 in 2016). [8] [22]

The Sunday Times in London recently reported that more than 60,000 Britons per year are being infected with HEV by consuming pig meat imported from France, Holland, Germany and Denmark, often consumed in the form of bacon, saus­ages, pork pies and salami. [9]

British farms may also be a source, with a 2013 study of abattoirs finding that 92.8 per cent of pigs tested had antibodies for HEV, which indicates they had previously been exposed to the virus. 5.8 per cent were found to have HEV in their blood and were therefore likely to be infectious at the time of slaughter. [10][11] [Footnote]

However, a study led by Sylvia Grierson of the Department of Virology at the Animal and Plant Health Agency, published in 2015, indicated that imported products were likely to be the dominant source. [12]

Although the Sunday Times report indicated that 10 per cent of sausages in the UK were affected, the nation’s Food Standards Agency has said that that particular finding needs to be “interpreted with caution as the sample size was small and not representative of the UK market and the majority of the HEV positive sausages were from the same batch”. [11]

HEV in Australia

HEV was first detected in Australian pigs in 1999, with a study reporting positive findings in 17 per cent of tested wild-caught pigs and more than 90 per cent of tested commercial piglets aged up to 16 weeks (which is close to the age at which piglets are generally slaughtered).

Writing in the Medical Journal of Australia in April 2016, Yapa et al. noted that there appear to have been no subsequent studies investigating the virus within Australia’s pig population, possibly leading to (as in Britain) inadequate recognition of the problem among clinicians and laboratories, in turn possibly leading to under-diagnosis. [13]

The first outbreak of locally acquired HEV in Australia’s human population occurred in New South Wales in 2013, when a number of people were infected after eating Australian produced pork livers or products made from them, such as pork liver sausages or pork pâté. The outbreak lasted nine months, and according to Dr Joseph Doyle of St Vincent’s Hospital and Dr Alexander Thompson of the University of Melbourne, shows that transmission of the virus should be considered an ongoing risk in Australia. [14]

In mid-2016, the Australian Red Cross Blood Service commenced a study with the aim of understanding how common the virus is in Australia, thereby assisting in determining appropriate blood safety measures. [20] The results are awaited.

Blood serum tests have found a higher incidence of the virus among pig veterinarians, pig farmers and abattoir workers than in the general population, which is consistent with overseas findings. [5] [13]

Australian Pork Limited (APL), which describes itself as “the producer owned organisation supporting and promoting the Australian pork industry”, has reported that around two-thirds of Australia’s processed pork (ham, bacon and smallgoods) is imported. [27] Around 45 per cent of imported product comes from Denmark and the Netherlands (Holland), two of the countries allegedly responsible for HEV in Britain. [28]

However, Australia’s import regulations distinguish between cooked, uncooked and cured meat. [33] Only Spain and Italy are permitted to export cured meat to Australia (that is meat preserved by salting, drying or smoking), with the product range limited to Iberian ham, Iberian shoulder ham or Serrano ham from Spain and dry-cured Culatta and Parma ham from Italy. (Product from those countries may also be responsible for some cases of HEV in Britain.)

All uncooked pig meat entering Australia is required to undergo heat processing at a facility operating under a compliance agreement with the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry and managed by the entry management national coordination centre in Adelaide.

Other foods can be affected

In addition to pig meat and venison (deer), other products found to carry HEV are strawberries, green leafy vegetables and shellfish. [17] [18] [19] Contaminated irrigation water was a suspected cause in studies examining the first two products. Similarly, human sewage and runoff from a pig slaughterhouse were suspected in the case of shellfish. The fact that shellfish are generally eaten raw means there is no opportunity to inactivate the virus through cooking.

The relevant papers also noted that the products can be contaminated through various other means, including: raw manure; compost; wildlife intrusion; and handling during harvesting or post-harvest activities. Two of the papers noted the robust nature of HEV and other viruses in the environment.

Given the risk of contamination, the practice of spraying pig waste on fields, supposedly as fertiliser rather than sewage, must be brought into question. [32]

A key mitigation measure in relation to other foods such as those mentioned here would be to reduce our reliance on animal-based food products, thereby reducing the contamination risk.

Prevention and treatment

The virus is passed on through faeces and contaminated food or water, so personal hygiene is an important factor in prevention. The British Liver Trust (BLT) has reported that, unlike some other forms of hepatitis, there is no evidence of HEV being transmitted through sharing needles, bodily fluids or sexual contact. [1] (NSW Health does refer to sexual contact as a risk factor, but notes that direct person-to-person transmission is uncommon.) [6]

BLT recommends that the following actions be avoided when traveling to high risk areas: drinking tap water (drink bottled water where possible); having ice cubes in drinks; cleaning teeth with tap water; drinking unpasteurised milk; eating uncooked meat and shellfish; eating unpeeled fruit and uncooked vegetables, including salads, that you have not been prepared yourself. [1]

To reduce the risk of becoming infected in developed countries (relevant to genotypes 3 and 4 ), all meat, especially pork, should be thoroughly cooked before eating. (Please see further comments below.) Hands should also be washed after touching uncooked meat or meat products and after contact with any animals that may be infected.

People who suffer from a long-standing liver disease, are pregnant or have a suppressed immune system for other reasons, should be particularly careful with raw meats, shellfish and pork products. Dr Harry Dalton, a gastroenterologist at Exeter University and Royal Cornwall Hospital, was quoted in the Sunday Times article as recommending that pregnant women and transplant patients avoid pork products altogether (with that view likely to also apply to anyone with liver disease or a suppressed immune system).

In terms of genotypes 3 and 4, it seems the most effective prevention measure would be for others to also avoid pig meat. Such an approach would also reduce an individual’s risk in terms of cancer, diabetes and cardio-vascular disease (noting that medical researchers generally consider pig meat to be a form of red meat). [25] [26]

There is no specific treatment for acute (non-chronic) hepatitis E infection. Some patients with chronic liver problems have been treated successfully with anti-viral therapy using the drug ribavirin. [23]

A vaccine was approved in China in 2012 but is not available in other countries. Researchers from the University Hospital Hamburg say it is unclear whether or not the vaccine prevents infections with HEV genotype 3, thereby questioning its value in most industrialised nations. [23] However, Zhang, et al, while acknowledging that the vaccine’s efficacy against genotypes 1 – 3 is yet to be investigated, argue that all HEV genotypes are recognised as belonging to the same serotype and that one hepatitis E vaccine can protect against infection with any HEV genotype. [24]

Because of various uncertainties regarding the vaccine, the World Health Organization has recommended against its use in children aged under 16 years, pregnant women, people with chronic liver disease, people on organ transplant waiting lists, and travellers. [29]

To what extent should meat be cooked?

Although it appears the virus can be inactivated by cooking, there is some uncertainty about the extent required. In any event, much of the pig meat consumed is cured rather than cooked, potentially providing no opportunity to inactivate the virus if it is present.

For pig meat that is cooked, the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) has said the required extent would depend, in part, on the number of infectious virus particles present and the composition of the food. [15]

In one study, the researchers reported that it was necessary to heat infected pig liver to 71oC for twenty minutes. [16] The FSAI has also referred to other studies indicating that 71oC for 10 minutes or 70oC for 5 minutes would be sufficient.

On balance, its opinion is that it is sufficient to cook pork and products containing pork (e.g. sausages) to a minimum temperature of 75oC at the centre of the thickest segment. It has not specified the duration, but stated: “Normal grilling or frying of sausages until they are well browned and firm inside with no traces of pink meat, usually results in centre temperatures in excess of 85oC.”

It says that visual cues should not be relied upon in isolation, and recommends that a meat thermometer be used to check the temperature of cooked meat and meat products before consuming them.

In Australia, NSW Health recommends the same approach, but specifies a minimum 2 minute time period. [6]

The UK Food Standards Agency is more general, recommending all whole cuts of pork, pork products and offal be thoroughly cooked until steaming hot throughout, with the meat no longer pink, and the juices running clear. [11]

HEV during pregnancy

The immune response in pregnant women is lower than normal, causing them to be more vulnerable to infection, including from HEV. There has been a high rate of mortality among pregnant women in developing nations after infection with HEV genotype 1.

Researchers led by Dr Harry Dalton (referred to earlier) have stated: “In contrast to HEV genotype 1, excess mortality in pregnant women is not seen with genotype 3, and the few women who have been described in the literature have all survived.” [2] Nevertheless, as mentioned, Dr Dalton argues that pregnant women should not eat pork products.

Researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, who also perceive genotype 1 as the key area for concern, have cautiously stated, “the potential of genotypes 2–4 to cause adverse outcomes in pregnant women, given exposure, remains uncertain”. [30]

An increased risk of miscarriage, stillbirth and death and disease in newborn children has also been reported. [21]

Curiously, the Victorian State Government’s “Better Health” page dealing with pregnancy and diet mentions listeria and salmonella, but says nothing about HEV. It also includes pork in its “healthy eating” recommendations, although it does recommend against eating ham, salami, pate and certain other products in relation to salmonella. [31]

Product labelling

How many people know the extent of risk involved in consuming pig meat products? Product labelling laws may currently be inadequate to warn people of those dangers, particularly for those in the most vulnerable categories. Consumers have a right to be adequately informed regarding products they consider purchasing, particularly in what can literally be life and death situations. It is essential that regulators respond to the extent that current labelling laws are failing.


There appears to have been a general lack of awareness of hepatitis E risk among health care professionals and the wider community. However, preventative guidelines are available from numerous authoritative sources for anyone who is concerned.

As with so many ailments facing our planet and its human and non-human populations, a simple, effective and potentially critical mitigation measure, which is not widely communicated, is to avoid certain products. In this case, food products derived from pigs are the primary concern, and can easily be replaced by nutritious plant-based alternatives. It is time for the community to embrace such choices.


Paul Mahony


There is a slight discrepancy between the two sources in the figures indicating the prevalence of HEV in British abattoirs. The Food Standards Agency reported figures of 93 per cent and 5.7 per cent, compared to figures of 92.8 per cent and 5.8 per cent used in the article, which it also contributed to.


[1] British Liver Trust, “Hepatitis E”,

[2] Shrestha, A. C., Faddy, H. M., Flower, R. L. P., Seed, C. R., & Keller, A. J. (2015). Hepatitis E virus: do locally acquired infections in Australia necessitate laboratory testing in acute hepatitis patients with no overseas travel history? Pathology, 47(2), 97–100.,

[3] Chaudhry SA, Verma N, Koren G. “Hepatitis E infection during pregnancy”, Canadian Family Physician. 2015;61(7):607-608, and

[4] Dalton HR, Saunders M, Woolson KL. “Hepatitis E virus in developed countries: one of the most successful zoonotic viral diseases in human history?”Journal of Virus Eradication. 2015;1(1):23-29,

[5] Khuroo MS, Khuroo MS, Khuroo NS. Transmission of Hepatitis E Virus in Developing Countries. Izopet J, ed. Viruses. 2016;8(9):253. doi:10.3390/v8090253, 20 Sep 2016,

[6] NSW Health, Hepatitis E Fact Sheet, 17 September 2014,

[7] Patricia E Hewitt, FRCPath, Samreen Ijaz, PhD, Su R Brailsford, PhD, Rachel Brett, BSc, Steven Dicks, MSc, Becky Haywood, BSc, Iain T R Kennedy, MFPH, Alan Kitchen, PhD, Poorvi Patel, MSc, John Poh, PhD, Katherine Russell, MFPH, Kate I Tettmar, MBA, Joanne Tossell, RN, Ines Ushiro-Lumb, FRCPath, Richard S Tedder, FRCPath, “Hepatitis E virus in blood components: a prevalence and transmission study in southeast England”, The Lancet , Volume 384 , Issue 9956 , 1766 -1772, published 27th July, 2014,

[8] Public Health England, “Hepatitis E: symptoms, transmission, treatment and prevention”, 11th May 2017,

[9] Leake, J., “‘Brexit virus’ feared in 10% of sausages”, The Sunday Times, 21 May 2017,

[10] Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratory Agencies, Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs, Food Standards Agency, Biomedical Physics & Engineering Express (BPEX), Public Health England, Veterinary Medicines Directorate, “Study of Salmonella, Toxoplasma, Hepatitis E virus, Yersinia, Porcine Reproductive and Respiratory Syndrome virus, antimicrobial resistance in Campylobacter coli and extended spectrum beta lactamase E. coli in UK pigs at slaughter”, March 2014,

[11] Food Standards Agency (UK), “Chief Scientific Advisor’s Science Report – Issue One – Foodborne Viruses”, 2015,

[12] Grierson, S., Heaney, J., Cheney, T., Morgan, D., Wyllie, S., Powell, L., Smith, D., Ijaz, S., Steinbach, F., Choudhury, B., and Tedder, R.S., “Prevalence of Hepatitis E Virus Infection in Pigs at the Time of Slaughter, United Kingdom, 2013”, Emerging Infectious Diseases. 2015;21(8):1396-1401. doi:10.3201/eid2108.141995, Aug 2015,

[13] Chaturangi M Yapa, Catriona Furlong, Alexander Rosewell, Kate A Ward, Sheena Adamson, Craig Shadbolt, Jen Kok, Samantha L Tracy, Scott Bowden, Elizabeth J Smedley, Mark J Ferson, Vicky Sheppeard and Jeremy M McAnulty, “First reported outbreak of locally acquired hepatitis E virus infection in Australia”, Med J Aust 2016; 204 (7): 274, doi: 10.5694/mja15.00955, 18 Apr 2016,

[14] Doyle, J.S., and Thompson, A.J.V., “Local transmission of hepatitis E virus in Australia: implications for clinicians and public health”, Med J Aust 2016; 204 (7): 274, doi: 10.5694/mja16.00167, 18 Apr 2016,

[15] Food Safety Authority of Ireland, “Hepatitis E Virus and Food”, 14 Jan 2016,

[16] Barnaud, E., Rogee, S., Garry, P., Rose, N., Pavio, N., 2012. Thermal Inactivation of Infectious Hepatitis E Virus in Experimentally Contaminated Food. Appl. Environ. Microbiol. 78, 5153–5159, and

[17] Brassard J, Gagné MJ, Généreux M, Côté C, “Detection of Human Food-Borne and Zoonotic Viruses on Irrigated, Field-Grown Strawberries”, Appl Environ Microbiol. 2012 May;78(10):3763-6. doi: 10.1128/AEM.00251-12. Epub 16 Mar 2012,

[18] Kokkinos P, Kozyra I, Lazic S, Bouwknegt M, Rutjes S, Willems K, Moloney R, de Roda Husman AM, Kaupke A, Legaki E, D’Agostino M, Cook N, Rzeżutka A, Petrovic T, Vantarakis A., “Harmonised investigation of the occurrence of human enteric viruses in the leafy green vegetable supply chain in three European countries.”, Food Environ Virol. 2012 Dec;4(4):179-91. doi: 10.1007/s12560-012-9087-8. Epub 21 Sep 2012, and

[19] Crossan, C., Baker, P.J., Craft, J., Yasu Takeuchi, Dalton, H.R., and Scobie, L., “Hepatitis E Virus Genotype 3 in Shellfish, United Kingdom”, Emerging Infectious Diseases. 2012;18(12):2085-2087. doi:10.3201/eid1812.120924, Dec 2012, and

[20] Australian Red Cross Blood Service, “Hepatitis E study kicks off”, 20 July 2016,

[21] Price-Hayward, M. and Hartnell, R., Centre for Environment, Fisheries & Aquaculture Science, “Summary Report of Joint Scientific Workshop on Foodborne Viruses” (Commissioned by Food Standards Agency and European Food Safety Authority), 20 Oct 2016,, and

[22] C.C. Oeser, D. Morgan, S. Ijaz, B. Said, “Characterisation of the increasing numbers of autochthonous hepatitis E infections in England and Wales 2010-2015”, International Journal of Infectious Diseases, Vol. 53, p129, December 2016, and

[23] Hartl J, Wehmeyer MH, Pischke S, “Acute Hepatitis E: Two Sides of the Same Coin”, Viruses. 2016 Nov 3;8(11). pii: E299,

[24] Jun Zhang, M., Xue-Feng Zhang, Shou-Jie Huang, Ting Wu, Yue-Mei Hu, Zhong-Ze Wang, Hua Wang, Han-Min Jiang, Yi-Jun Wang, Qiang Yan, Meng Guo, Xiao-Hui Liu, Jing-Xin Li, Chang-Lin Yang, Quan Tang, Ren-Jie Jiang, Hui-Rong Pan, Yi-Min Li, J. Wai-Kuo Shih, Mun-Hon Ng, Feng-Cai Zhu, and Ning-Shao Xia, “Long-Term Efficacy of a Hepatitis E Vaccine”, N Engl J Med 2015; 372:914-922 March 5, 2015 DOI: 10.1056/NEJMoa1406011,

[25] Pan, A., Sun, Q., Bernstein, A. M., Schulze, M. B., Manson, J. E., Stampfer, M. J., Willett, W.C., and Hu, F. B. (2012). Red Meat Consumption and Mortality: Results from Two Prospective Cohort Studies. Archives of Internal Medicine, 172(7), 555–563., and

[26] Pendick, D., “New study links L-carnitine in red meat to heart disease”, Harvard Health Publications – Harvard Medical School, 17th April, 2013,

[27] Australian Pork Limited, “Get the facts on your pork industry”, April 2015,

[28] Australian Pork Limited, “Import, Export and Domestic Production Report”, Graph 4.3 Australian Import Volume Share by Country – Financial Year Comparison, March 2017,

[29] World Health Organization, Media Centre, Hepatitis E Fact Sheet, July 2016,

[30] Krain LJ, Atwell JE, Nelson KE, Labrique AB. Fetal and Neonatal Health Consequences of Vertically Transmitted Hepatitis E Virus Infection. The American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene. 2014;90(2):365-370. doi:10.4269/ajtmh.13-0265,

[31] Victorian State Government, Better Health Channel, “Pregnancy and diet”,

[32] Strassmann, M., CBS News, “North Carolina hog farms accused of putrid pollution”, 4th July 2016,

[33] Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, “The effectiveness of controls for imported uncooked, cooked and cured pig meat – Interim inspector-general of biosecurity audit report”, June 2013,

Image | Closeup of woman dishing out grilled sausage | Shutterstock | Photo ID 283801919


29th May 2017: Additional comments and reference added in relation to Australian pig meat imports, along with additional comments in relation to the Victorian Government’s “Better Health” page.


No information in this article is intended to represent medical, health, nutritional, dietary or similar advice, and should not be relied upon as such. Please consult a medical professional if you have any queries or concerns about the issues referred to in the article.





Less Meat Less Heat (LMLH) is an Australian climate change campaign group that was created in early 2015. Its mission is “to reduce the consumption of meat most damaging to the climate by promoting a Climatarian diet”.

It describes such a diet as one that involves “. . . choosing what you eat based on the carbon footprint of different foods”, and focuses on a reduction in the consumption of cattle and sheep meat (“beef” and “lamb”). The group’s founder, Mark Pershin, has said, “the only guideline we have for the climatarian diet is cutting back beef and lamb consumption to one standard serving a week”.

This post considers some of the climate change, animal rights and health aspects of LMLH’s campaign. Much of the LMLH material referred to comes from the FAQs concerning its “Climatarian Challenge“, which LMLH describes as a challenge to eat in a carbon-conscious way . . . for 30 days. Participation occurs via a specially-prepared smartphone app.

LMLH is a relatively recent arrival on the scene of climate change campaigning, and the basis of its message is not new. In fact, Pershin has said he was inspired to take action by (in addition to some post-graduate environmental studies) the 2014 documentary “Cowspiracy”, which was also a relatively late (albeit effective) arrival with the livestock message.

The group’s approach seems to be largely marketing based (reflecting Pershin’s background), in seeking behavioural change to an extent that it considers achievable. LMLH seems to see a reduction in ruminant meat consumption as “low hanging fruit” with a “big bang for the buck” in terms of climate change mitigation, as reflected in the relative greenhouse gas emissions intensity of different products.

That might seem a reasonable approach, but there are many shortcomings, some of which I aim to highlight in this post.

The urgent need to act

It seems impossible to overstate the extent of the crisis we are facing in the form of climate change. I agree with LMLH on the urgent need to act in order to avoid a global catastrophe. Feedback mechanisms within the climate system are (by definition and in practice) accelerating, potentially leading to runaway climate change beyond the scope of any mitigation efforts we might seek to initiate.

Nevertheless, we must fight to retain a habitable planet, and I also agree with LMLH that a key plank in the required emergency action must be a general change in dietary practices. However, rather than adopting LMLH’s approach of focusing almost exclusively on certain types of meat, I argue for a general transition toward a plant-based diet. More on that below.

The danger of “bright-siding”

To support its position, LMLH cites global “high meat” and “low meat” scenarios developed by UK “think tank” Chatham House, along with its own more optimistic scenario. The scenarios utilise the “global carbon calculator” developed by the UK Department of Energy and Climate Change, the World Resources Institute and others. It has used the two low meat scenarios to argue that a reduction in beef and lamb consumption will give us a reasonable chance of staying within a 2°C temperature target.  Here’s some of what it has said.


“If we can all cut back our consumption of beef and lamb down to once a week for a standard serving size (65g) or once a month for a large portion such as a roast or steak then we can actually limit climate change to what climate scientists consider safe levels . . .

This sounds too easy, like changing light bulbs, but that is what the climate models used by world leaders tell us and hence what we are telling you. So be part of the solution, take part in The Climatarian Challenge and become a climatarian!” [LMLH, Climatarian Challenge]

RESPONSE: That is a major overstatement that masks the true danger

The first problem with LMLH’s statement is that the 2°C target is widely considered politically expedient and lacking scientific merit.

The former head of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, Dr James Hansen, has described it as “a prescription for disaster”.

Authors of “Climate Code Red: The case for emergency action”, David Spratt and Philip Sutton have said:

“A rise of 2 degrees over pre-industrial temperatures will initiate climate feedbacks in the oceans, on ice-sheets, and on the tundra, taking the Earth well past significant tipping points.”

Although LMLH understands the danger of runaway climate change and the need to stay well below 2°C, its message is inconsistent, and it appears to give challenge participants the impression that all will be well if people simply reduce their red meat consumption.

LMLH also fails to say that Chatham House’s low-meat scenario gives us less than a 50% chance of staying below 2°C. They are horrendous odds when the future of the planet (as we know it) is at stake.

It should perhaps also highlight the fact in its challenge material that an aspirational target of 1.5°C (which is also dangerous but perhaps inevitable) was established at the 2015 Paris climate summit.

Critically, Chatham House’s low meat scenario assumes: (a) global meat consumption will fall below current projections, with monogastric meats, such as chicken and pork, largely replacing ruminant meats like beef and lamb; and (b) nations will comply with pledges to limit energy-related emissions and seek to improve energy efficiency.

LMLH’s third scenario is consistent with the dietary aspects of Chatham House’s low meat scenario, but is more optimistic regarding energy-related emissions, assuming a general transition to renewables. It would almost certainly also involve a high risk of failure relative to what is at stake, and may reflect a high degree of wishful thinking.

LMLH’s notion that “we can actually limit climate change to what climate scientists consider safe levels” by reducing consumption of beef and lamb may represent a form of what David Spratt calls “bright-siding“. Spratt uses the term to describe the tendency of many environmental groups to act on the belief that only positive “good news” messages work, thereby avoiding “bad news” such as climate change impacts (or in this case, the fact that continued consumption of all animal-based foods will contribute significantly to climate catastrophe). LMLH seems to be offering a potential solution to climate change that falls well short of the mark if we want to have a reasonable chance of overcoming the crisis.

A key component of LMLH’s bright-siding approach is its aim “to drive behavioural change in the mainstream population by taking a pragmatic approach”. That approach is consistent with the fact that “pragmatism” is one of its stated values, and reflects the marketing background of its founder.

In the words of David Spratt:

“Is selling ‘good news’ and avoiding ‘bad news’ the way to engage communities in understanding how climate change will affect them and what they can do about it?   In the commercial world the answer is yes, you can sell a ‘solution’ without a real problem, because half the game is about fabricating demand (status, for example) for things people don’t need (a new car) . . .

But with climate change, the problem is not a commercial or political construct, and not fully solving the problem will be catastrophic beyond most peoples’ imaginations and current understandings.”

LMLH dangerously ignores the actual and potential impacts of animal products other than beef and lamb. With meat consumption currently increasing in developing nations such as India and China, we cannot afford to focus solely on beef and lamb in our efforts to create dietary change. Some more focus by LMLH on the impact of fossil fuels and the Catch 22 of aerosols would also be helpful.

Greenhouse gas emissions intensity

LMLH’s main concern is the high greenhouse gas emissions intensity of beef and lamb.

Per kilogram of product, the emissions intensity of those foods is high relative to that of other foods, including other animal-based and plant-based foods, and LMLH is justified in being concerned. However, if we measure the emissions per kilogram of protein, those other animal-based foods do not seem such favourable choices, as shown in Figure 1. The charts show the emissions intensity based on 100-year and 20-year time horizons for determining the global warming potential (GWP) of various greenhouse gases. [Footnote 1]

Figure 1(a): Emissions intensity (kg CO2-e/kg protein) for beef, sheep meat and cow’s milk

Figure 1(b): Emissions intensity (kg CO2-e/kg protein) for other products

Even when measured per kilogram of product, the emissions intensity figures of other animal-based foods are multiples of the figures for plant-based options, with the emissions intensity of eggs, chicken, fish and pork being between 160 and 340 per cent higher than that of soy beans. Economic rationalists may be horrified at efficiency differentials of 5 or 10 per cent, but here we have climate change inefficiencies that are up to 68 times as bad as those figures (5 per cent versus 340 per cent).

A related point is that the inherent inefficiency of all animal-based food products means we require far more resources, including land, than with plant-based options. That creates grave risks for what are currently carbon sinks, such as the Amazon rainforest. With no buffer in our need to deal with the climate crisis, we must use every mitigation opportunity available, including revegetation and avoidance of further land clearing.

The second point is highlighted by the fact that we need many kilograms of plant-based protein to produce one kilogram of the animal-based variety, as shown in Figure 2.

Figure 2: Feed conversion ratios

Some major impacts of industrial and non-industrial fishing on our climate system are not accounted for in emissions intensity figures or national greenhouse gas inventories.

The problem arises from the fact that fishing disturbs food webs, changing the way ecosystems function, and altering the ecological balance of the oceans in dangerous ways. The loss of ocean predators such as large carnivorous fish, sharks, crabs, lobsters, seals and sea lions, and the corresponding population increase of herbivores and bioturbators (creatures that disturb ocean sediment, including certain crabs) causes loss of carbon from vegetated coastal habitats and sediment. The ocean predators are either caught intentionally by fishing fleets, or as by-catch when other species are targeted.

These factors also reduce the ability of the oceans to sequester carbon. If sequestration capability was reduced by 20 per cent in only 10 per cent of vegetated coastal habitats, it would equate to a loss of forested area the size of Belgium.

In respect of emissions intensity figures generally, a major inconsistency in the approach of LMLH is that in written material it refers to methane’s GWP on a 20-year basis (e.g. methane’s warming impact is 86 times that of CO2), but figures used for the app are based on the more conservative 100-year timeframe.

Multiply your cruelty footprint with the Climatarian Challenge

LMLH expresses concern for animals, as demonstrated in the quotations below.


“Let it be clear that we are firmly against the cruel treatment of animals in the factory farming system . . . we do encourage you to understand the compassionate footprint of your food and engage with other organisations that advocate for animal rights and bravely fight against factory farming. We think that together we can work towards a safer and more compassionate world . . .”  [LMLH, Climatarian Challenge, FAQ, Other Issues, What about animal rights?]

“When we buy meat that is not free range it is factory farmed. Animals raised in factory farms are subject to intensely stressful conditions and sometimes unimaginable cruelty all in the name of cutting costs. These conditions are fuelled and passively accepted by us, the consumers who demand more for less.” [LMLH, “Why free range?”, The Animals]

RESPONSE: The expressions of compassion and concern are not consistent with other aspects of LMLH’s campaign.

If LMLH is “firmly against the cruel treatment of animals in the factory farming system“, then why is it continually encouraging people to replace beef and lamb with chicken and pig meat?

As stated by Eric Baldwin in the short 2002 documentary, “Meet your meat“, “chickens are probably the most abused animals on the face of the planet”. Pigs are not far behind.

Every animal is an individual, with the ability to suffer physical and psychological pain. The fact that one is smaller than another, or perceived as less cuddly, does not reduce the suffering.

If you have a spare couple of minutes, why not watch this short clip, demonstrating the link between a mother hen and her chick, who (unlike most) were given the opportunity to live in a natural way.


Quite apart from the horrendous conditions experienced by most chickens and pigs in the food production system, to replace the meat from one cow with chicken meat in the top beef-consuming nations would require between 101 and 360 additional chickens to be bred, raised and slaughtered. (88 per cent of the 70 billion land animals slaughtered around the world annually are chickens. In Australia, they represent 90 per cent of the 642 million slaughtered.) The number of pigs is smaller, but still a multiple of cows.

Here are the comparisons by country, determined by the relevant production yields for each product. (Yes, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) publish pig meat figures for all the countries shown here.)

Figure 3(a): Number of chickens required to replace one cow in top per capita beef-eating countries

Figure 3(b): Number of pigs required to replace one cow in top per capita beef-eating countries

Here is a statement that appears to demonstrate LMLH’s lack of concern for animals:


“Fill your plate with ethical deliciousness. Trade your centrepiece of Christmas roast beef or lamb shanks for a lower-carbon alternative. Turkey, ham, chicken, and kangaroo will be sure to satisfy the hunger of your guests with less of a heating effect on the Earth. [LMLH, “An Ethical Christmas Guide”, Dec 2016]

RESPONSE: Shouldn’t cruelty feature in a discussion on the ethics of consuming turkey, ham, chicken or kangaroo?

Here are some examples of legalised cruelty involving chickens, turkeys and pigs, enshrined in Australian livestock codes of practice and legislation (with similar arrangements in place in many other countries):

Chickens and turkeys:

  • life-long confinement indoors;
  • beak trimming without anaesthetic;
  • removing the snood of turkeys (the skin drooping from the forehead) without anaesthetic;
  • removing terminal segment of males’ inward pointing toes without anaesthetic;
  • forced breeding;
  • killing of “surplus” chicks (mainly male) in the egg industry through gassing with CO2 or by “quick maceration”. (The Oxford defines “macerate” as “soften or become softened by soaking in a liquid”. In the case of chicks, they are sent along a conveyor belt to an industrial grinder while still alive.)


  • life-long confinement indoors;
  • confinement in a sow stall, with insufficient room to turn around, for up to 16.5 weeks, day and night;
  • confinement in a farrowing crate, with insufficient room to turn around or interact with piglets, for up to 6 weeks, day and night;
  • tail docking without anaesthetic;
  • ear notching without anaesthetic;
  • teeth clipping without anaesthetic;
  • castration without anaesthetic;
  • forced breeding.

They are some of the legal forms of cruelty, and do not include brutality which has frequently been recorded with under-cover cameras.

It should go without saying that the slaughter process is also not something to be taken lightly, but that seems to be how most people consider it. According to the animal advocacy group, Aussie Farms:

Due to the high demand for meat and other animal products, abattoirs are required to kill very large quantities of animals per day, resulting in a typically rushed environment where ineffective stunning can easily occur. Animals that reach the kill floor without first being properly stunned are then ‘stuck’ and bled out while still conscious.

Regardless of the effectiveness or otherwise of different stunning methods, the sights, sounds and smells of an abattoir create a terrifying experience for animals awaiting their terrible fate.

If interested, you can see undercover footage from the Aussie Farms website here and from Animal Liberation NSW here. (Warning: Graphic footage.)

The great majority of pigs in Australia are stunned for slaughter using the CO2 method, whereby they are directed into a cage, which is then lowered into a CO2 chamber. Many people may wrongly believe that the process is free of pain and stress for animals. This video (Warning: Graphic footage) from Animal Liberation Victoria appears to indicate otherwise, a view supported by Donald Broom, Emeritus Professor in the Department of Veterinary Medicine at Cambridge University.

LMLH also overlooks the horrific suffering of fish and other aquatic animals. Like other animals, those in the oceans and other waterways feel pain. In the aquaculture industry, they spend their lives in crowded, often filthy enclosures, with many suffering from parasitic infections, diseases, and debilitating injuries. In the wild, hundreds of billions of fish and non-target “bycatch” are caught each year in nets or dragged for hours on long-lines. Most fish die slowly through suffocation, and many aquatic animals are prepared by cooks for eating while still alive or killed in horrific ways.

Please also see comments below in relation to kangaroos and free range systems.

Kangaroos: The gross injustice of our present approach

It is pleasing that LMLH recently stated that it would cease advocating the consumption of kangaroo meat as a low-carbon option. However, three items in which it does so were appearing on its website at the time of writing, and kangaroo meat was mentioned by Mark Pershin in a radio interview as recently as 10th April 2017, without reference to its negative aspects.

To the extent that it applies, the decision may have been prompted by interactions on social media with individuals who pointed out various aspects of the kangaroo meat trade, such as its extreme and inherent cruelty (including the plight of joeys who are clubbed to death or abandoned) and the fact that it is not viable as a food source on a scale anywhere near that of the cattle and sheep meat sectors.

A grave concern is that the prime targets of shooters are the largest, strongest individuals, with potentially critical impacts on the prospects of their mob (the term used to describe their group), along with the gene pool and the resilience of the species in increasingly challenging environmental conditions.

Most modern kangaroo species have evolved over a million years or more. Without human intervention on the scale imposed by Europeans commencing just over 200 years ago, they would have continued to live in harmony with the landscape to the extent that it remained habitable. Like our interaction with most non-human animals, the power balance in our favour and a lack of compassion in respect of kangaroos create an example of gross injustice, for which we should be ashamed.

In any event, we consume kangaroo meat at our peril. Parasite infestations and the role of red and processed meat in bowel cancer, heart disease and stroke are major concerns in terms of human health. The fact that kangaroo meat is relatively low in cholesterol may offer little comfort, as it is high in L-carnitine, a compound associated with increased incidence of cardio vascular disease in the form of atherosclerosis.

The folly of “free range” and “grass-fed”

LMLH is a strong advocate of “free range” and “grass-fed” production systems, but free range production methods will never be able to respond on the scale required to feed the masses.

Here are some issues to consider.

Greenhouse gases


“When selecting your beef and lamb meal for the week we recommend opting for a grass-fed option . . .”

RESPONSE: Why does LMLH recommend grass-fed when the emissions intensity is far higher than the alternative?

Meat from grass-fed animals is far more emissions intensive than that from animals fed in mixed systems. [Footnote 2]

Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) has estimated that cows fed on grass produce four times as much methane as those fed on grain. [Footnote 3]

Similarly, Professor Gidon Eshel of Bard College, New York and formerly of the Department of the Geophysical Sciences, University of Chicago, has reported, “since grazing animals eat mostly cellulose-rich roughage while their feedlot counterparts eat mostly simple sugars whose digestion requires no rumination, the grazing animals emit two to four times as much methane”.

The estimates from CSIRO and Eshel relate to the period an animal is eating grass as opposed to grain. The “mixed-fed” result allows for both feeding regimes, resulting in a comparison that is less stark. For example, the FAO has recently reported that the global average emissions intensity of “grass-fed” beef was 62 percent higher than beef from mixed systems, based on the 2010 reference period (95.1 kg vs 58.6 kg CO2-e/kg product). [Footnote 4]


Please see comments from LMLH under the earlier heading “Multiply your cruelty footprint with the Climatarian Challenge”.

There are no legally enforceable free range standards in Australia, and the systems still involve cruelty.

In respect of cattle (who generally live in free range systems for most of their lives), the livestock industry codes of practice (endorsed by legislation) permit:

  • castration without anaesthetic if under six months old or, under certain circumstances, at an older age;
  • dehorning without anaesthetic if under six months old or, under certain circumstances, at an older age;
  • disbudding (prior to horns growing) without anaesthetic. Caustic chemicals may be used for that process under certain circumstances, including an age of less than fourteen days;
  • hot iron branding without anaesthetic;
  • forced breeding.

Here is a calf, possibly “free range”, enduring the horror of hot iron branding.

Major problems have been exposed in relation to pig meat production on the “Free Range Fraud” website of Animal Liberation Victoria, involving brands accredited as free range by the RSPCA. A related point is that the RSPCA has been reported to earn a royalty equal to 2 per cent of sales from accredited producers. In any event, the RSPCA has no power in relation to the legalised forms of cruelty.

Many free range farmers send their animals to regular abattoirs for slaughter. Tammi Jonas of Jonai Farms has confirmed that her business sends the animals to Diamond Valley Pork in Laverton, Victoria, where the CO2 stunning shown in Animal Liberation Victoria’s video, referred to earlier, occurs. (Warning: Graphic footage)

In its FAQ on dairy, LMLH recommends “grass-fed cheese”. The failure to acknowledge the animals whose milk is used seems to demonstrate a lack of empathy. It also highlights a failure to recognise the immense, inherent cruelty involved in dairy production, whereby cows are impregnated in order to stimulate their mammary glands, only to have their newborn calves removed within a day of birth so that the milk that was meant for them can be consumed by supermarket customers.

LMLH erroneously uses the term “animal rights”, when in reality it means “animal welfare”. The latter assumes that animals have no rights, and must be available for our use.



“Meat is nowhere near as good for you as when the animal is raised on pasture and eats what it has evolved to eat.”

RESPONSE: Whether “grass-fed” or “grain-fed”, red meat has serious health implications.

The only health issue raised by LMLH is the fatty acid composition of meat. However, whether a cow eats grass or grain, the meat represents a serious health risk, with the detrimental impacts being well documented by the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF), the World Health Organization, and others.

A recent example was the April 2016 study by researchers from the Oxford Martin School (University of Oxford) reporting on the health and climate change benefits of changing diets, including reduced consumption of animal products. The researchers estimated that if the global population were to adopt a vegetarian diet, 7.3 million lives per year would be saved by 2050. If a vegan diet were adopted, the figure would be 8.1 million per year.

More than half the avoided deaths would be due to reduced red meat consumption. (The health organisations classify pig meat as red meat.) The results primarily reflect anticipated reductions in the rate of coronary heart disease, stroke, cancer, and type 2 diabetes.

In 2012, Harvard University released a study involving more than 120,000 participants over twenty-six years, with similarly damning results. Citing the study, the New York Time reported that “eating red meat is associated with a sharply increased risk of death from cancer and heart disease . . . and the more of it you eat, the greater the risk . . . Previous studies have linked red meat consumption and mortality, but the new results suggest a surprisingly strong link”.

Land use


“Cows provide many valuable services to the grasses that they graze on, including feeding them with nitrogen from their manure.”

RESPONSE: The impact on land of cattle grazing is overwhelmingly negative.

Much of the land on which cattle graze was once forest or other forms of wooded vegetation, with an ongoing loss of carbon sequestration on top of the impact of carbon being released at the time of clearing. Even perennial grasslands are no match for forest in terms of sequestration, with Australia’s Chief Scientist reporting that forests are typically more than ten times as effective as grasslands, per hectare, at storing carbon.

Rather than promoting the growth of healthy grass, cattle grazing generally degrades soil, with devastating impacts well beyond the pasture. For example, the erosion generated by cattle grazing is one of the largely hidden reasons behind the ongoing demise of one of the world’s natural wonders, the Great Barrier Reef. Cattle grazing is responsible for 75 per cent of sediment in the reef’s waters, along with 54 per cent of phosphorus and 40 per cent of nitrogen. The sediment blocks the sun and smothers coral. The fertilisers promote algal growth that represents a food source for crown-of-thorns starfish larvae.

Researchers from the Australian Institute of Marine Science and the University of Wollongong estimated in 2012 that the reef had lost around half of the coral cover that existed in 1985. [Footnote 5] The research attributed the loss to three main factors in the following order: cyclones (48 per cent), crown-of-thorns starfish (42 per cent) and coral bleaching (10 per cent). It is estimated that if crown-of-thorns starfish predation had not occurred during that period, there would have been a net increase in average coral cover.

The release of carbon due to soil erosion following livestock-related land clearing was a key factor in Beyond Zero Emissions and Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute (University of Melbourne) estimating that animal agriculture was responsible for around 50 per cent of Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions. Other factors included an allowance for short-lived climate forcers and a 20-year GWP.

The Pew Charitable Trusts have reported on the destructive environmental impacts of livestock grazing in remote areas of Australia, including the introduction of invasive pasture grasses, manipulation of fire regimes, tree clearing, and degradation of land and natural water sources.

According to Professor Ian Lunt of Charles Sturt University, managed grazing systems are only suitable in a small number of Australian ecosystems, particularly lowland grasslands and grassy woodlands on productive soils in areas of moderate to high rainfall.


LMLH appears to have been effective in engaging with the public and media on climate change and the impact of diet, but there is too much at stake to avoid highlighting concerns over various aspects of its campaign.

Although those involved can be proud of their efforts in many respects, they appear to be: (a) understating the true dangers; (b) ignoring or overlooking key mitigation measures; and (c) failing to adequately recognise or acknowledge the plight of food production animals.

I hope LMLH will reconsider some aspects of its current approach, potentially enhancing its effectiveness while also raising awareness of various issues that are currently largely out of public view.


Paul Mahony


  1. Greenhouse gas emissions intensity and GWP: The 100-year figures have been published by the FAO, while the 20-year figures represent an adjustment allowing for the apportionment of various greenhouse gases for each animal-based product as also reported by the FAO, along with  and the IPCC’s 2013 GWPs for methane and nitrous oxide. The GWP-20 figures are approximations, as the apportionment of greenhouse gases per product was based on results from GLEAM 1 (2005 reference period), while the latest FAO GWP100 figures are from GLEAM 2 (2010 reference period). [GLEAM is the FAO’s Global Livestock Environmental Assessment Model.] Some figures are higher than estimates I have conservatively reported elsewhere, where I chose not to adjust for yield. The beef figures include beef from the dairy herd, the emissions intensity of which is lower than that of the specialised beef herd, as emissions are also attributed to other products, such as milk and cheese.
  2. FAO reporting: A recent FAO spreadsheet using the 2005 reference period indicated the opposite result, but the organisation has confirmed that emissions from land use change for pasture expansion had inadvertently been attributed to mixed, rather than grassland, systems. The spreadsheet has been withdrawn, and correct results will be published for the 2010 reference period.
  3. Emissions from grass-fed cattle: Although the CSIRO subsequently reported a reduction of around 30 per cent in emissions from the northern Australian cattle herd, emissions from grass-fed cattle remain on a different paradigm to those of most food-based emissions. The same can be said for potential reductions in methane emissions through the use of seaweed and chemicals in animal feed, which are likely to have the added problem of being an impractical option for grass-fed animals.
  4. Feeding regimes for cattle: Cows are not fed grain exclusively. They have not evolved to consume it, and if it is used at all, they are generally only “finished” on it for up to 120 days prior to slaughter.
  5. Loss of coral from the Great Barrier Reef: The precise figure lost since 1985 was 50.7 per cent.

Some minor concerns

Here are some less serious concerns with LMLH’s material:

  1. In explaining the use of “carbon points” in its climate challenge app, LMLH has linked to a 2011 article from the Guardian, explaining Global Warming Potential. The problem is that the figures are out of date, and do not represent the figures used in the app.
  2. Twice on its Climate Challenge FAQ page, LMLH refers to “The United Nations Farming and Agriculture Organisation”. The title used is incorrect, with the main problem being the use of the word “Farming” rather than “Food”.


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Comments and references concerning aquatic animals and livestock grazing expanded on 26th April 2017, along with other minor revisions to text.

The second sentence under the heading “Kangaroos: The gross injustice of our present approach” amended on 10th May 2017.

Comment on crown-of-thorns starfish modified on 26th June 2017.

The state of Queensland is the beef production capital of Australia. At last count (2015), it had 11.7 million cattle, which was more than double its human population, and nearly double the cattle population of its nearest beef-producing rival, New South Wales.

Land clearing for beef production in the two states is the reason the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) nominated eastern Australia as one of eleven global deforestation fronts for the twenty years to 2030.

The states are also fierce rivals in rugby league, and the sport provides an opportunity to highlight the extent of land clearing.

In Queensland alone, from 1988 to 2015, an area equivalent to nearly 11 million rugby fields was cleared for pasture. [Footnote] That’s a rate of three-quarters of a rugby field per minute, and represents 91 per cent of total land clearing in the state. The figures include clearing of regrowth, demonstrating the resilience of forest and other wooded vegetation if given the chance to regenerate. But it is seldom given such a chance in Queensland.

A partial ban on broadscale clearing, introduced in 2006, was overturned by the conservative Liberal National Party government in 2013, and clearing is now accelerating. The problem is illustrated by the following chart.

Figure 1: Extent of Queensland land clearing 1988-2015

In New South Wales, the Native Vegetation Act was repealed by the conservative Liberal Party government in late 2016, with an anticipated loss of biodiversity and increased land clearing.

The clearing contributes significantly to: loss of biodiversity; the release of carbon contained in the vegetation and soil; and an ongoing loss of carbon sequestration. The carbon emissions are not allocated against livestock production in official greenhouse gas inventories, causing livestock-related emissions to be understated.

Impact on the Great Barrier Reef

The clearing, along with cattle grazing in cleared and uncleared areas, causes soil to be eroded and carried by adjoining streams and rivers to the coast, significantly affecting one of the world’s natural wonders, the Great Barrier Reef.

The Queensland Government’s 2013 Scientific Consensus Statement confirmed that beef production in the surrounding catchment was responsible for 75% of sediment, 54% of phosphorus and 40% of nitrogen in the reef’s waters.

Jon Brodie is the Chief Research Scientist at the Centre for Tropical Water & Aquatic Ecosystem Research, James Cook University. He has reported that the sediment and nutrients, along with pesticides, have caused: (a) the waters of the reef to become cloudier, thereby reducing the sunlight available for the growth of corals, seagrass and marine algae; (b) increased frequency of crown of thorns starfish outbreaks, increasing the rate of coral deaths (responsible for 42 per cent of coral loss from 1985 to 2012);  (c) some reefs to become dominated by algae and other organisms, rather than coral; and (d) an increase in coral diseases.

He has said:

“These effects, together with those of climate change, have contributed to the severe decline in the overall health of the GBR.”

The government’s most recent Reef Water Quality Protection Plan report card scored graziers’ response to the calamity a “D” for “poor”.

The following image shows sediment that has been carried to the coast along the Burdekin River, where some of the highest cattle numbers are found.

Figure 2: Satellite image of heavy sediment along the Queensland coast

No word on cattle grazing’s reef impacts from the Climate Council

In late 2016, the Climate Council of Australia released a video of chairman Tim Flannery, commissioner Lesley Hughes and CEO Amanda McKenzie snorkeling in the waters of the reef. They were expressing grave concern about the reef’s condition, but said nothing about the devastating impact of beef production.

The Climate Council’s silence might not be surprising when you consider Flannery’s close association with the livestock sector, including his former contract with Meat & Livestock Australia. However, I am not in a position to say that any person or organisation has tried to influence others, or that any person or organisation has been influenced.

Figure 3: Professor Tim Flannery reporting from the Great Barrier Reef

Nevertheless, I feel it’s worth noting that a search for the word “beef” on the council’s website yields only four results, while the term “fossil fuel” yields one hundred and seventy.

Even then, three of the items on beef, and their related reports, were expressing concern over the adverse impact of climate change on its production, rather than the other way around! Could you imagine the council expressing concern over a reduction in coal production?

The one short website article (for which there was no related report) that raised some concerns about the impact of animal-based foods was not published until October 2016, more than five years after the councilors came together in the council’s predecessor organisation, the Climate Commission. In that article, the adverse impacts were conservative, and the council still couldn’t help itself; it concluded with comments not on the livestock sector, but on power generation.

At a Melbourne presentation in April 2013 by Flannery, McKenzie and fellow climate commissioner, Will Steffen, I pointed out that the then forthcoming discussion paper by climate change campaign group Beyond Zero Emissions and Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute (University of Melbourne) would indicate that animal agriculture was responsible for around 50 percent of Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions after allowing for various factors, such as: livestock-related land clearing; soil carbon losses; shorter-lived greenhouse gases; and a 20-year “global warming potential“. The response was lukewarm, and I received no meaningful response to a subsequent email on the matter.

Here are some comments from the councilors’ reef video:


“The Great Barrier Reef is telling us that we must stop burning fossil fuels if we are to have a Great Barrier Reef that our children and grandchildren can enjoy in the future.”

Terrastendo: So the reef is telling us that? Why aren’t you telling us about the impact of diet?


“So what we’re seeing today is that some of the corals in this site have recovered from the bleaching but others haven’t. And the ones that have died have started to become covered in a greeny, browny, sludgey algae. And what we’re really worried about is that if bleaching keeps happening due to warming, then there’ll be less and less time for our reefs to recover.”

Terrastendo: Could that algae be caused by the run-off from cattle farms, which also reduces the coral’s resilience?

Here’s what the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority says (consistent with Jon Brodie’s comments referred to earlier):

“Most sediment entering the Great Barrier Reef comes from catchments in major pastoral areas such as the Burdekin, Herbert and Fitzroy rivers.”

“Changes in water quality affect the biodiversity and resilience of Reef systems. Higher concentrations of pollutants, such as suspended sediments, nitrogen and phosphorus, indicated by higher levels of chlorophyll and lower water clarity, leader [sic] to more algae and less coral diversity. In these conditions, algae take over and reduce the chances for new hard corals to establish and grow.”


“Our request to you is simple; keep talking about the reef.”

Terrastendo: What, just talk about it? No need to avoid eating meat?


“It really is time to start making some noise again. So whether it’s around the dinner table, or at work or when you’re talking to your local politician, start talking about the reef. It’s too important to stay silent.”

Terrastendo: But still nothing about diet? Isn’t that important too? What are you eating at the dinner table?

The growing “tsunami” of land clearing in Queensland

As if all that’s not bad enough, land clearing in Queensland may be entering a new phase of growth, primarily driven by beef production. WWF has recently released a report with the title, “Accelerating bushland destruction in Queensland”.

It reported that the legislative changes of 2013 allow clearing of remnant bushland at unlimited scale under “self-assessable codes” for various purposes, when previously most such clearing had required a permit. One of those codes is thinning to correct supposed “thickening” of forests. WWF has stated (with my underline):

“Thinning in particular, allows the bulldozing of up to 75% of trees in a forest, leaving only a scatter of trees behind. It is merely clearing for pasture masquerading as a beneficial treatment.”

“The Queensland Government must tighten these codes as soon as possible to prevent the growing tsunami of land clearing in Queensland.”

The report includes the following map, showing notifications of 10 hectares or more under the self-assessable codes from end of July 2016 to February 2017. Those marked in purple are within the Great Barrier Reef catchment. The smaller icons indicate notifications of 1-10 hectares, while larger icons indicate notifications of more than 100 hectares. After adjusting for anomalies in the data, WWF reported that notifications jumped fifty per cent from January to February 2017.

Figure 4: Land clearing notifications in Queensland Jul 2016 – Feb 2017


Expansion of China-Australia Free Trade Agreement

In late March, 2017, Australian Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, jointly announced a major extension to the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement (ChAFTA), allowing an increase in chilled meat exports from Australia. The announcement was described as a “huge win” within the Australian beef sector, but at what cost for the country’s environment and other sectors of the economy, such as tourism?

Figure 5: Chinese Premier, Li Keqiang

The dramatic increase in livestock-related land clearing in Queensland and New South Wales, with its devastating environmental consequences, could have been strongly influenced by ChAFTA (the first phase of which was announced in November 2014) and its recent expansion. Australia’s response to the rapidly increasing demand for red meat in China could contribute significantly to the eventual demise of the Great Barrier Reef.

Queensland government helps by purchasing cattle station

The minority Labor government in Queensland, elected in 2015, had sought to reintroduce the ban on broadscale land clearing, but was unable to generate enough votes in parliament. So what else could it do?

In an effort to reduce erosion run-off from uncleared lands, it purchased the 56,000 hectare Springvale cattle station on Cape York (north-west of Port Douglas and twenty kilometres north of the Daintree National Park), with the intention of removing the cattle and rehabilitating the station’s stream and river banks and gullies. Here’s an ABC news bulletin from June 2016 (duration 2:24).

Video: ABC News: Queensland Government buys Cape York Cattle Property

As stated in the report, this one property has been responsible for forty per cent (500,000 tonnes) of sediment flowing into the Normanby River system. That system, in turn, contributes around fifty per cent of the total run off to the northern section of the reef. However, with 4,300 cattle, it has only a tiny percentage of the cattle population within the overall Great Barrier Reef catchment area, so it seems much more work is required. Environment minister, Steven Miles, has said the state may purchase additional properties that are also polluting the reef system.

A telling segment of the video shows a man walking through a massive gully (much taller than himself) created by generations of cattle grazing.


The massive extent of livestock production and its destructive environmental impacts are almost universally under-stated by environmental organisations, and conveniently ignored by governments looking to satisfy electorates with supposedly positive short-term economic news. With that sort of selective vision, the eventual outcomes may be catastrophic for our natural environment and the people and economies ultimately depending on its well-being. Any opportunity that may remain to avoid disaster is rapidly disappearing.


Paul Mahony


At 8,400 square metres, the area of a rugby field is 56 per cent larger than that of an American football field (5,363 square metres) and between 2 and 31 per cent larger than that of a FIFA soccer field (6,400 – 8,250 square metres).


Meat & Livestock Australia, “Fast Facts 2016: Australia’s Beef Industry”,–markets/documents/trends–analysis/fast-facts–maps/mla_beef-fast-facts-2016.pdf

World Wide Fund for Nature (World Wildlife Fund), “WWF Living Forests Report”, Chapter 5 and Chapter 5 Executive Summary,;

Queensland Department of Science, Information Technology and Innovation. 2015. Land cover change in Queensland 2012–13 and 2013–14: a Statewide Landcover and Trees Study (SLATS) report. DSITI, Brisbane, Table 4, p. 34

Queensland Department of Science, Information Technology and Innovation. 2016. Land cover change in Queensland 2014–15: a Statewide Landcover and Trees Study (SLATS) report. DSITI, Brisbane, Table 4, p. 21

Perry, N., “The NSW government is choosing to undermine native vegetation and biodiversity”, The Conversation, 9th May 2016,

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Kroon, F., Turner, R., Smith, R., Warne, M., Hunter, H., Bartley, R., Wilkinson, S., Lewis, S., Waters, D., Caroll, C., 2013 “Scientific Consensus Statement: Sources of sediment, nutrients, pesticides and other pollutants in the Great Barrier Reef Catchment”, Ch. 4, p. 12, The State of Queensland, Reef Water Quality Protection Plan Secretariat, July, 2013,

Queensland Government, “Great Barrier Reef Report Card 2015: Reef water quality protection plan”, and

The Climate Council of Australia, “Raise the reef”, 13th October 2016,

Manning, P., “Wrestling with a climate conundrum”, Sydney Morning Herald, 19th Feb 2011,

De’ath, G., Katharina Fabricius, K.E., Sweatman, H., Puotinen, M., “The 27–year decline of coral cover on the Great Barrier Reef and its causes”, PNAS 2012 109 (44) 17995-17999; published ahead of print October 1, 2012, doi:10.1073/pnas.1208909109 (Cited in Brodie, J. ibid.),

The Climate Council of Australia, “From farm to plate to the atmosphere: food-related emissions”, 16th October 2016,

The Climate Council of Australia, “Feeding a Hungry Nation: Climate change, Food and Farming in Australia” by Lesley Hughes, Will Steffen, Martin Rice and Alix Pearce, 7th October 2015, and

The Climate Council of Australia, “The Critical Decade: Queensland climate impacts and opportunities” by Will Steffen, Lesley Hughes, Veena Sahajwalla and Gerry Hueston, 2012, and

Beyond Zero Emissions and Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute of The University of Melbourne, “Zero Carbon Australia – Land Use: Agriculture and Forestry – Discussion Paper”, October, 2014,

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The State of Queensland, “Springvale Station”, undated,
The State of Queensland (Department of Environment and Heritage Protection) 2017, Plan of Springvale Station,

Slaney & Co, “Springvale Station, Lakeland: Largescale irrigated farming opportunity” (Property ID #1297) (accessed 24th March 2017),


NASA Goddard Space Flight Center | Heavy Sediment along the Queensland Coast | Flickr | Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

Climate Council of Australia, “Raise the Reef”, op cit., Creative Commons attribution 3.0 Australia license (CC By 3.0 AU) (Climate Council reports note that “Climate Council of Australia Ltd copyright material is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Australia License.”)

Map of landclearing notifications in Queensland, Notifications of 10 ha or more under Queensland’s Self-Assessable clearing codes from end of July 2016 to Feb 2017, by lots on plans, originally accessed at

World Economic Forum | The Global Impact of China’s Economic Transformation: Li Keqiang | Flickr | 21st January 2015 | Creative Commons NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)


WWF, “ABC News: Qld Government buys Cape York Cattle Property”, 23rd June 2016,


For clarity, the term “the overall area” has been replaced with “the figures” in the fourth paragraph.

5th August 2017: Two paragraphs have been amended to clarify the fact that erosion from cattle grazing occurs on uncleared, as well as cleared, land (consistent with many of my previous articles).

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