Archives for posts with tag: Factory farming


Note from author:

This article first appeared on the Medium website in response to the article #NotAllVegans by Cam Fenton.

Article “Another letdown from”

I am a vegan climate activist who does not make statements along the lines of those mentioned in the article #NotAllVegans. In any event, I believe the main point of those who do is that a general transition away from animal agriculture is essential.

I argue that we must deal with fossil fuels and animal agriculture, and that there’s not much value in arguing over percentages.

A critical factor is the need to massively reforest. There is no way to achieve the required extent of reforestation without a general transition away from animal agriculture.

I expand on the issue in my article “Livestock and climate: Do percentages matter?”.

Mind you, if we measure the global warming potential of the various greenhouse gases on the basis of a 20-year time horizon, animal agriculture’s share would be well above 20 per cent.

The IPCC says that such an approach is valid. It is particularly so in the context of the small window of time available to turn the climate change juggernaut around. A reduction in livestock-related methane emissions would provide relatively rapid benefits.

If we also allow for short-lived greenhouse gases, such as tropospheric ozone, livestock’s share will increase further.

Seafood consumption is also causing huge amounts of carbon to be released from vegetated coastal habitats and other oceanic ecosystems, while also reducing the oceans’ carbon sequestration capacity. (“Seafood and climate change: The surprising link”)

Animal agribusiness is a key contributor to the “dig, burn and dump economy”, largely because of its grossly and inherently inefficient nature.

The writer assumes that vegans who call for action on animal agriculture are only “telling people not to eat meat”, rather than calling for an end to “cattle barons” clearing “massive tracts of land”. I assume most of them want both, and believe that a reduction in demand by consumers will contribute to a reduction in supply and related land clearing.

He mentions the need for “system change”. A carbon tax that included agriculture would be a great start. When its environmental cost is factored into the end price, a product such as beef would be considered a luxury, with a substantial reduction in demand and supply. A similar approach must apply to other products.

All proceeds from a carbon tax could be returned to the community through personal income tax reductions and adjustments to welfare payments (as advocated by Dr James Hansen). Its sole purpose would then be to create pricing signals that influenced purchasing decisions.

If environmental groups and governments were willing to inform the community of animal agriculture’s impacts, it would also help enormously. Efficient markets require informed participants. Guardian columnist George Monbiot recently reported findings from the Royal Institute of International Affairs, indicating that people are willing to change their diets once they become aware of the problem. However, many have no idea of the livestock sector’s adverse environmental impacts.

An end to soy production in the Amazon, most of which is feeding the 60 billion chickens and 1.4 billion pigs slaughtered each year, is also essential. (“Chickens, pigs and the Amazon tipping point”)

The writer’s comments on “Big Oil” are nothing new. Please see my article “Relax, have a cigarette and forget about climate change” from August, 2012, referring to “Merchants of Doubt” by Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway.

He says “it’s a strategic choice to fight the biggest and most powerful opponent to real climate action on the planet.”

I argue that we face a climate emergency, requiring urgent action on all fronts.

Those who can go vegan should do so. Their contribution would provide enormous benefits. Meaningful action is possible in many developing nations, including some in Africa.

The northern and southern Guinea Savanna regions have been adversely affected by livestock grazing. Large areas could be returned to forest and other wooded vegetation if given the opportunity. With 360 million head of cattle in Africa, that’s currently extremely difficult.

As an example of an alternative approach to livestock production, Gerard Wedderburn-Bisshop of the World Preservation Foundation has referred to the Kenya Hunger Halt program, administered by the World Food Program. Under the program, people have been taught to grow alternatives such as root crops. The Maasai, traditional herders, have been converting to the program, growing nutritious crops and thriving.

The writer concludes by saying that vegans who carry “go vegan to save the planet” signs are making all vegans look bad.

As stated earlier, I believe their main point is that a general transition away from animal agriculture is essential.

The PBL Netherlands Environment Assessment Authority has estimated such an approach would reduce climate change mitigation costs by 80 per cent.

The author of #NotAllVegans is a Canadian Tar Sands Organizer with (although he notes that his opinions are his own). Here are some thoughts on the organisation’s founder, Bill McKibben, relating to the animal agriculture issue: “Do the math: There are too many cows!

McKibben might be proud of his employee’s writing efforts. However, they have fallen well short of the mark, just like his own.


Paul Mahony (also on Twitter, Facebook, Scribd, Slideshare, New Matilda, Rabble and Viva la Vegan)


Animal Liberation Victoria from The People’s Climate March – Melbourne, 27th November, 2015


With recent revelations of Volkswagen fudging greenhouse gas emissions results, it seems a good time to highlight the fact that food producers are not generally required to inform authorities or consumers of the emissions embedded in their products.

If they were required to do so, the overall results of those involved in animal agriculture would compare very poorly to the results of the automotive manufacturers. That’s even if they were to base them on the most favourable factors possible. I suspect they’d be permitted to do so, as authorities and environmental groups seem reluctant to consider their emissions in a manner befitting our position on the edge of a climate change precipice.

Volkswagen faces penalties from the US Environmental Protection Agency of up to US$18 billion, while the emissions of animal-based food producers escape scrutiny.

We ignore the issue at our peril.

If you’d like to see more on this issue, you can find my articles, papers and presentations on this website’s “Climate Change and the Impact of Animal Agriculture” page.


Paul Mahony (also on Twitter, Scribd, Slideshare and Viva la Vegan)


The Age via The Canberra Times, Car maker Volkswagen pays the price for deceit“, 23rd September, 2015,

Mahony, P. Omissions of Emissions: A Critical Climate Change Issue“, Terrastendo, 9th February, 2013,

Mahony, P. On the edge of a climate change precipice, Terrastendo, 3rd March, 2015,

The Age via Reuters, Volkswagen shares plunge 20% on emissions scandal as US widens probe, 22nd September, 2015,


Volkswagen Scirocco © |


Media outlets have recently reported that a new dietary additive for livestock could significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions from beef and dairy production. [1] The reports were based on a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. [2]

The chemical methane inhibitor, known as 3-nitrooxypropanol (3NOP), has been found to reduce methane emissions from the process of enteric fermentation within a cow’s digestive system by up to 30 percent.

Despite the beneficial finding, the potential reduction still leaves overall emissions from beef production on a different paradigm to those of alternative products.

There are two key reasons.

  • Firstly, methane emissions from enteric fermentation only represent a portion of the emissions from beef production, leaving many other sources that are unaffected by the change.
  • Secondly, apart from dairy cows, it may generally only be possible to apply the additive during a relatively short portion of many cows’ lives, and possibly not at all for those raised entirely on grass. For example, in Australia, the authors of a recent peer-reviewed paper wrote that “feed manipulation mitigation has low potential, because beef feedlots produce just 3.5% of enteric fermentation emissions”. [3]

The findings are only materially relevant to ruminant animals, and would appear to have little or no impact on emissions from products such as chicken or pig meat. (The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has reported zero enteric fermentation emissions from chickens, and 3.1% from pigs). [4]

Figure 1 shows the estimated impact of the new additive on beef’s emissions intensity, assuming it were to become readily available with similar results to those found in the research study. (Emissions intensity represents the kilograms of carbon dioxide-equivalent, or CO2-e, greenhouse gases per kilogram of product.) The findings indicate that the 30 percent reduction in methane emissions achieved while consuming the inhibitor equates to a reduction of around 8.8 percent in overall emissions intensity for beef (94 kg compared to 83 kg).

Figure 1: Emissions intensity with and without 3NOP enteric methane inhibitor with GWP20 (kg CO2-e/kg product)


The results in Figure 1 are based on global average figures for:

  • the specialised beef herd;
  • the dairy herd; and
  • combined dairy and specialised beef

The figures vary by region, and are influenced by factors such as feed digestibility, livestock management practices, reproduction performance and land use.

The emissions intensity of beef from the dairy herd is lower than that of specialised beef. The main reason is that a large portion of the dairy herd’s emissions are attributed to dairy products, such as milk and cheese. The emissions from a dairy cow may be similar to those from a cow raised solely for beef, but the emissions per kilogram of product from a dairy cow are spread across a broader range of products than those from a cow in the specialised beef herd.

The emissions intensity of cow’s milk would reduce 18.5 percent, from 5.7 kilograms to 4.7 kilograms CO2-e per kilogram of product.

The figures are based on a twenty-year time horizon for determining the “global warming potential” (GWP) of the various greenhouse gases. Such a time frame, which more accurately reflects the shorter-term impacts of methane emissions, is critical when considering climate change tipping points, with potentially catastrophic and irreversible impacts.

For the purpose of the calculations, it is assumed it would be possible, using the 3NOP inhibitor, to influence the following percentages of the enteric fermentation emissions that would otherwise have applied:

  • Specialised beef (mixed feeding systems): 50 percent
  • Specialised beef (grazing systems): Nil
  • Dairy beef (mixed feeding systems): 100 percent
  • Dairy beef (grazing systems): Nil

The extent of the inhibitor’s influence was determined to be the product of the 30 percent figure reported by the researchers, and the relevant percentages shown above, weighted by production levels.

Although cows in mixed feeding systems within the specialised beef herd generally only spend the final 10 to 25 percent of their lives in feedlots, they reach their maximum size (and greenhouse gas-emitting capacity) during that period.

The figure of 50 percent has been arrived at after considering typical weights and feeding periods from North American production systems, where the use of feedlots is more prominent than in a country such as Australia. [5] [6] Even then, the figure of 50 percent is at the high end of the likely range, thereby potentially overstating the benefit of the inhibitor. That is a conservative approach in the context of this article’s message, which is that the inhibitor’s benefits are not as significant as may have been assumed from initial media reports. On the other hand, the inhibitor was found to increase body weight gain, which would contribute to a reduction in emissions intensity.

As indicated, a figure of 100 percent has been assumed for cows in mixed feeding systems within the dairy herd, where production infrastructure may provide greater opportunities than in the specialised beef herd to apply the inhibitor. That assumes that the animals can receive mainly non-grain feed such as hay and alfalfa for extended periods, as they have not evolved to eat grains, and would only survive on them for a limited time. The researchers have reported that the inhibitor needs to be delivered continuously into the cow’s rumen in order to be effective, meaning it would need to be mixed with the daily allotment of feed. The researchers stated: “If delivered as a pulse-dose, the inhibitory effect will likely be transient.”

The figures have been adapted from emissions intensity and production figures published by the FAO in 2013. [7] The emissions intensity figures are based on the global average percentage apportionment of the various contributing factors, and are intended to be approximations only.

Figure 2 indicates how different types of beef, with the benefit of the 3NOP inhibitor, compare to some plant-based alternatives. The emissions intensity figures for the latter are from a 2014 Oxford University study. [8] Of note is the fact that soy beans contain nearly 50 percent more protein than beef per kilogram. [9]

Figure 2: Emissions intensity of beef with 3NOP enteric methane inhibitor relative to plant-based options with GWP20 (kg CO2-e/kg product)


Figures 3 and 4 show the kilograms of carbon dioxide-equivalent greenhouse gas emissions from 1 kilogram of beef, with and without the 3NOP enteric methane inhibitor. Firstly, without the inhibitor:

Figure 3: kg of CO2-e emissions per kg of beef without 3NOP enteric methane inhibitor (global ave. incl. dairy herd beef based on 20-year GWP)


Secondly, with the inhibitor:

Figure 4: kg of CO2-e emissions per kg of beef with 3NOP enteric methane inhibitor (global ave. incl. dairy herd beef based on 20-year GWP)



Attempts at reducing methane emissions from livestock receive significant attention, but little is said by mainstream media or environmental groups about the far more effective option of reducing meat consumption. If we are serious about addressing climate change, then that is an essential measure.


Paul Mahony (also on Twitter, Scribd, Slideshare and Viva la Vegan)


[1] Gray, D., “Diet change cuts methane emissions in cow burps”, The Age, 4th August, 2015,

[2] Hristov, A.N., Oh, J., Giallongo, F., Frederick, T.W., Harper, M.T., Weeks, H.L., Branco, A.F., Moate, P.J., Deighton, M.H., Williams, S.R.O., Kindermann, M., Duval, S., An inhibitor persistently decreased enteric methane emission from dairy cows with no negative effect on milk production“, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, PNAS 2015 ; published ahead of print July 30, 2015, doi:10.1073/pnas.1504124112,

[3] 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,

[4] Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, “Tackling climate change through livestock: A global assessment of  emissions and mitigation opportunities”, Nov 2013, Figure 18, p. 35 and Figure 20, p. 37,;

[5] Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, “Typical Beef Feedlot and Background Diets – Factsheet”, March, 2006,

[6] Goodman, R., Agriculture Proud, “Ask A Farmer: What do feedlot cattle eat?”, 9th October, 2012,

[7] Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, op cit., Figure 7 and Table 5, p. 24

[8] 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,

[9] USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference at via Nutrition Data at


Dairy Cows Photo © Nengloveyou |


So, it took an anonymous whistleblower to tell the world that 500 pigs died two weeks earlier from heat stress when an air cooling system failed at Grong Grong Piggery in New South Wales, Australia. [1]

The CEO of the company that owns the piggery subsequently said:

The welfare of our animals is our highest priority at all times

Sure, sure, higher than earning profits.

He also said:

Losses like this cut deep emotionally for all staff.

But only after he had said:

These animals are their livelihoods and they care for them every day.

So, they care for them every day because they are their livelihood?

Besides, how well do they really care for them?

Here’s what animal rights group Aussie Farms has reported in respect of this piggery [2]:

The piggery features the largest sow stall shed we’ve ever received footage from, with 8 rows of tiny metal cages stretching far into the distance, confining hundreds and hundreds of pregnant sows for up to 16 weeks at a time.

Several piglets were found in pieces – some in the farrowing crates, some in the aisles of the farrowing crates, and some outside. One piglet had been ripped in half with his legs nearby. Another piglet’s head was found in the aisle near his legs. The back half of a piglet was found in a farrowing crate. Several buckets of dead piglets were found inside and outside the farrowing sheds. It is unclear what is causing the pigs to be severed into pieces and scattered throughout the facility – most likely a combination of cannibalism and worker mistreatment.

Trolleys full of rotting piglet tails were found in the farrowing crate sheds.

Many sows were found with pressure sores and other injuries.

Of course, the producer-owned organisation that administers the quality audit program (including animal welfare), Australian Pork Ltd, defended the producer in respect of Aussie Farms’ revelations. [3]

What hope do the pigs have?


Paul Mahony (also on Twitter, Scribd, Slideshare and Viva la Vegan)


[1] Pearson, A. and Jacobs, S., “500 pigs die from heat stress at NSW piggery”, Sydney Morning Herald, 13th March, 2015,

[2] Aussie Farms, “Grong Grong Piggery”, May 2014,

[3] Pearson, A. and Jacobs, S., op cit.


Aussie Farms


This article first appeared on the website of Melbourne Pig Save on 14th March, 2015.

Like me, you might be accustomed to seeing percentage figures on posters and elsewhere, indicating livestock’s share of greenhouse gas emissions.

Here’s an image showing a poster from the People’s Climate March in New York in September, 2014.


I’m not keen on quoting figures indicating livestock’s climate change impacts, unless I can try to explain them. Posters are not a great way to do that.

One problem is that, while environmental processes are dynamic, the figures are often portrayed as if they’re set in stone.

Another problem is that the figures depend on whichever factors have been taken into account, which can vary significantly from one report to another.

I commented on that issue in my February, 2013 article Omissions of Emissions: A Critical Climate Change Issue“. [1] I stated that critical under-reporting of livestock’s impact occurs  in many “official” figures because relevant factors are omitted entirely, classified under non-livestock headings, or considered but with conservative calculations.

An example of the latter is methane’s impact based on a 100-year, rather than 20-year, global warming potential(GWP). Methane is many times more potent than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas, and more so over a 20 year time horizon than 100 years. More on that below.

So while figures are often portrayed as being absolute, they should ideally be qualified so as to explain how they have been arrived at. That might not be very practical, but the issues are complex and cannot always be conveyed appropriately with just a few words or numbers.

Some prominent claims 

Livestock reported to be responsible for 18 percent of emissions (which is more than transport)

In its 2006 “Livestock’s Long Shadow” report, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) stated that livestock’s emissions represented 18 percent of the global total in the 2005 reference period. The figure was said to be higher than transport’s share. [2]

In September 2013, the FAO reduced its estimate of livestock’s share to 14.5 percent, yet that figure seems to have received relatively little attention. [3] As with “Livestock’s Long Shadow”, the reference period was 2005, but the assessment methodology had been amended. [4] The reasoning was that the FAO had used or relied on different methods for assessing the relative emissions of livestock and transport. In other words, they had not compared “apples with apples”. [5]

Despite the amended approach, both the 2006 and 2013 reports included emissions from fertiliser and feed production, land clearing, manure management, enteric fermentation (producing methane in the animal’s digestive system) and transportation of livestock animals and their feed. Both were based on the conservative 100-year GWP for methane.

Livestock reported to be responsible for at least 51 percent of emissions

The suggestion that livestock are responsible for at least 51 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions came from a 2009 World Watch magazine article by Robert Goodland and Jeff Anhang. [6] Goodland was the lead environmental adviser to the World Bank, and Anhang is a research officer and environmental specialist at the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation.

The article was effectively a critique of “Livestock’s Long Shadow”, with amended figures reflecting the authors’ concerns over the report.  The authors took into account various factors, including: livestock respiration; 20-year GWP for livestock-related methane; and some allowance for foregone carbon sequestration on land previously cleared.

1. Livestock respiration

The authors argued that livestock respiration was overwhelming photosynthesis in absorbing carbon due to the massive human-driven increase in livestock numbers and removal of vegetation. Goodland subsequently stated, “In our assessment, reality no longer reflects the old model of the carbon cycle, in which photosynthesis balanced respiration”. [7]

Some have argued against the inclusion of respiration. Based on my calculations, by excluding that factor, the analysis would have indicated that livestock’s emissions represented 43 percent of the global total.

2. Methane

Goodland and Anhang applied a 20-year GWP to livestock-related methane emissions, which is particularly relevant to: (a) potential near-term climate change tipping points; and (b) identification of relatively rapid mitigation measures.

Methane breaks down in the atmosphere relatively quickly, with little remaining after 20 years. As a result, a 100-year GWP greatly understates its shorter-term impact.

Even methane’s near-term impacts can become long-term and irreversible to the extent that they contribute to us reaching tipping points and runaway climate change.

Comments from the IPCC, cited by respected climate change commentator, Joseph Romm, reflect the validity of using a 20-year GWP:

“There is no scientific argument for selecting 100 years compared with other choices (Fuglestvedt et al., 2003; Shine, 2009). The choice of time horizon is a value judgement since it depends on the relative weight assigned to effects at different times.” [8]

A possible cause for concern in this case is that the authors did not adopt the same approach for non-livestock methane emissions. Goodland has since stated, “Because we questioned many aspects of the FAO’s work, we were reluctant to use their figures for methane, but did so anyway for livestock methane because we couldn’t find a more reliable figure”. [9] 

Goodland has argued that the impact of such an approach would have been more than offset by the fact that the number of livestock animals they based their assessments on (being the number used in “Livestock’s Long Shadow”) was far below the figure of 56 billion that the FAO’s statistical division had reported in 2007. He and Anhang became aware of the higher figure after their article was published.

The authors used the IPCC’s GWP estimate of 72 that applied at the time of the article. The IPCC has since increased the figure to 86 (incorporating carbon cycle feedbacks), while NASA estimates a figure of 105. [10]

With the rapid increase in extraction of unconventional fossil fuels since 2005, the growth in other anthropogenic sources of methane may have caused livestock’s share of emissions to reduce from what it would otherwise have been.

3. Foregone sequestration

The FAO allowed for emissions from land clearing in the year such changes occurred, with loss of carbon from vegetation and soil. However, it did not allow for the resultant ongoing loss of carbon sequestration.

Goodland and Anhang sought to allow for that factor to some extent. They suggested the possibility of allowing land that has been cleared for livestock grazing or feed crop production to regenerate as forest, thereby mitigating “as much as half (or even more) of anthropogenic GHGs” [greenhouse gases]. They argued that the land could, alternatively, be used to grow crops for direct human consumption or crops that could be converted to biofuels, thereby reducing our reliance on coal. They used the biofuel scenario in their calculations, incorporating the greenhouse gas emissions from the coal that is continuing to be used in lieu of the biofuels.

Goodland’s response to feedback to the 2009 World Watch article can be seen in his March/April, 2010 article, ‘Livestock and Climate Change’: Critical Comments and Responses (referred to above).

Australian Emissions

Estimates of animal agriculture’s share of Australian emissions range from the official figure of around 10 percent to 49 percent.

The Australian government’s 2012 National Inventory Report used a figure of 10.9 percent, representing the aggregate of: (a) enteric fermentation in the digestive systems of ruminant animals; and (b) manure management. The figure was based on a 100-year GWP for methane. [11]

The 49 percent figure is from the land use plan released in October 2014 by Beyond Zero Emissions and Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute (The University of Melbourne). The figure allows for factors such as: a 20-year GWP; livestock related land clearing and subsequent soil carbon loss; and livestock related non-carbon dioxide warming agents such as carbon monoxide and tropospheric ozone. [12]

The overall figure for animal agriculture may actually be higher than 49 percent using BZE’s calculations, as they have reported it solely in relation to rangeland grazing. However, their figure for all agriculture is only marginally higher, at 54 percent.

Cowspiracy: some modification may be beneficial

The documentary film Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret focuses on the environmental impacts of animal agriculture. Those behind it seem to have significantly raised community  awareness of this critical issue. [13]

I am yet to see the film, but have reviewed the climate change material from its website.

At the time of writing, the site’s “facts” page shows the FAO’s 2006 figure of 18 percent for animal agriculture. A footnote has been added, confirming the FAO’s 2013 estimate of 14.5 percent, as referred to above.

The page then states (with my underline), “livestock and their byproducts actually account for . . . at least 51 percent of all worldwide greenhouse gas emissions”.

The word “actually” implies an absolute, definitive figure, with none of the qualifying comments of the type I have referred to above. I am uncomfortable with the thought of relying on the figure in that way.

The site also indicates that “methane is 25-100 times more destructive than CO2” and “methane has a global warming power 86 times that of CO2”.

Both statements appear to be referring to methane’s GWP (global warming potential).

The presentation referred to for the figure of 86 is attributed to Erika Podest of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. [14] However, it does not seem to refer to that figure, which is the IPCC’s current 20-year GWP after allowing for carbon cycle feedbacks. (Without those feedbacks, the IPCC’s current estimate is 84.)

Instead, the presentation refers to a GWP of 25 (slide 8), which is the 100-year figure from the IPCC’s 2007 Fourth Assessment Report. In its Fifth Assessment Report from 2013, the IPCC used a figure of 34.

The referenced article for the figures of 25-100 actually indicates an upper figure of 105. Perhaps ironically, it comes from NASA researchers. [10]

Please also see the postscript of 16th November, 2014 below.

The main message

Regardless of which approach is adopted, the key message must be that we will not overcome climate change without urgent action on both fossil fuels and animal agriculture.

The precise percentage share of the many contributors to greenhouse gas emissions matters little in that context.

An alternative poster

Here’s my contribution to the world of posters, which I like to believe accurately represents our current position.


Additional Comments

A large proportion of the organisations that partnered with the FAO in reviewing its methodology were major participants in the livestock sector. They included the European Feed Manufacturers’ Federation, the International Dairy Federation, the International Meat Secretariat, the International Egg Commission, and the International Poultry Council. [15]

The FAO is now indicating that meat consumption will increase by more than 70 percent by 2050, and has suggested various approaches for reducing relevant emissions. However, any improvement in the emissions intensity of production would be marginal relative to the reductions that could be achieved by a general move toward plant-based products.

The partnership also included the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), which has been accused of working with major business organisations that allegedly use the WWF brand to help improve their green credentials, while acting against the interests of the environment. [16]

As I have reported elsewhere, the partnership was chaired by Dr. Frank Mitloehner of the University of California, Davis, who has disclosed research funding from the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association. [17]

Author:  Paul Mahony (also on Twitter, Scribd, Slideshare and Viva la Vegan)

Related articles:Omissions of Emissions: a Critical Climate Change Issue” and “Cowspiracy and the Australian red meat industry

Postscript 16th November, 2014: I will comment elsewhere on other aspects of Cowspiracy’s “facts” page. However, one I will mention here is the suggestion that cows emit methane through “farting”. The cited article from the International Business Times appears to be incorrect in that regard, as the emissions primarily occur through belching, with a relatively small amount released from “manure management” (being a category specified in the National Greenhouse Accounts). It may seem a trivial issue, but I am concerned that it can appear within a page that people refer to as an authoritative resource. It also reinforces a major misconception about livestock’s emissions that causes many people to laugh them off.

Postscript 7th November 2021: The final image has been updated with one I used on my other website, Planetary Vegan.


Image from the People’s Climate March from video on the Facebook page of “Cowspiracy: The sustainability secret”,

Final poster image © Gkuna | Dreamstime.comGrazing Cows Photo


[1] Mahony, P., Omissions of Emissions: A Critical Climate Change Issue, Terrastendo, 9th February, 2013,

[2] Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2006 “Livestock’s Long Shadow – Environmental Issues and Concerns”, p. xxi, Rome, (Related FAO articles at; and

[3] Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 26th September, 2013, “Major cuts of greenhouse gas emissions from livestock within reach”,

[4] Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, “Methodology: Tackling climate change through livestock”,

[5] Brainard, C., “Meat vs Miles”, The Observatory, 29th March, 2010,

[6] Goodland, R & Anhang, J, “Livestock and Climate Change – What if the key actors in climate change are cows, pigs, and chickens?”, World Watch, Nov/Dec, 2009, pp 10-19, /pdf/Livestock%20and%20Climate%20Change.pdf

[7] Goodland, R., “Lifting lifestock’s long shadow”, Nature Climate Change 3, 2 (2013) doi:10.1038/nclimate1755, Published online 21 December 2012, and

[8] Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Fifth Assessment Report, 2014,, cited in Romm, J., “More Bad News For Fracking: IPCC Warns Methane Traps More Heat”, The Energy Collective, 7th October, 2013,

[9] Goodland, R., “‘Livestock and Climate Change’: Critical Comments and Responses”, World Watch, Mar/Apr, 2010,

[10] Schindell, 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,

[11] Australian National Greenhouse Accounts National Inventory Report 2012, Volume 1, pp. 39 and 257,

[12] Beyond Zero Emissions and Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute, The University of Melbourne, “Zero Carbon Australia, Land Use: Agriculture and Forestry Discussion Paper”, p. 68 & 97, October, 2014,

[13] “Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret”,

[14] Podest, E., “Methane: its role as a greenhouse gas”, Greenhouse Gases Professional Development Workshop, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasedena, California, 21st April, 2012,, cited in “Cowspiracy: The Facts”,

[15] Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, “New effort to harmonize measurement of livestock’s environmental impacts”, 4th July, 2012,

[16] Huismann, W., Panda Leaks: the dark side of the WWF“, cited in Vidal, J., “WWF International accused of ‘selling its soul’ to corporations”, The Guardian, 4th October, 2014,

[17] Goodland, R., FAO’s New Parternship with the Livestock Industry“, Chomping Climate Change, 20th July, 2012,


Definition of “cruel” (Oxford dictionary): Wilfully causing pain or suffering to others, or feeling no concern about it.

Many people and organisations who use animals as units of production seem to use the word “cruel” in a different way to those at the Oxford Dictionary.

Here’s an example.

Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (POCTA) Act, Victoria, Australia

This is an extract from the website of the Victorian Department of Environment and Primary Industries (with my underline): [1] [Footnote 1]

“There are a number of exemptions built into the POCTA Act for activities undertaken in accordance with other legislation, codes of practice made under this Act, and the Livestock Management Act Standards. However this does not permit cruelty to occur.”

How could the department, which is responsible for administering the local prevention of cruelty to animals legislation, justify saying that the arrangements do not permit cruelty to occur? A small sample of the “activities” it refers to are outlined below. Would they be acceptable if performed on a conventional companion animal, such as a dog or a cat?

Model Code of Practice for the Welfare of Animals: Pigs (3rd Edition) [2]

The code, like other codes, is used as the basis of legislation in various states. It permits the following practices, most of which apply routinely to the vast majority of pigs (where relevant) used for food:

  • 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.

Model Code of Practice for the Welfare of Animals: Domestic Poultry (4th Edition) [3]

The code permits:

  • life-long confinement indoors, including cages;
  • beak trimming of chickens 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;
  • 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, there is no soaking in liquid. They are sent along a conveyor belt to an industrial grinder while still alive.)

Australian Animal Welfare Standards and Guidelines for Cattle [4]

The standards 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 (see video below);
  • 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 (see video below).

Please also see comments regarding the dairy industry below.

National Animal Welfare Standards for Livestock Processing Establishments [5]

  • The standards allow stunning prior to slaughter by: pneumatic captive bolt guns; controlled atmosphere (CO2) stunning; and electrical stunning
  • They state that CO2 concentration should be greater or equal to 90% by volume, and no less than 80% when gaseous mixtures are used. (Variations are allowed following a
    monitoring and verification procedure that demonstrates effective stunning.)

Model Code of Practice for the Welfare of Animals: Livestock at Slaughtering Establishments [6]

  • Like the standard referred to above, in respect of pigs, the code allows stunning prior to slaughter by: pneumatic captive bolt guns; controlled atmosphere (CO2) stunning; and electrical stunning.
  • It notes that the CO2 concentration recommended in Europe is 70% by volume, and that the recommendation may need to be modified for Australian conditions as experience with local conditions increases.

Evidence of a standard procedure in action: CO2 stunning of pigs

Activist group, Aussie Farms, says that the great majority of pigs in Australia are stunned using the CO2 method. [7]

Many people may wrongly believe that the process is free of pain and stress for animals. They may rely on statements from people such as free range farmer, Tammi Jonas of Jonai Farms, who has said that the pigs are lowered into a carbon dioxide chamber and rendered immediately unconscious. [8] An undercover video released by Aussie Farms appears to show otherwise. It is from the Corowa, New South Wales establishment of major pig meat producer, Rivalea. Jonai Farms reported in June, 2013 that they were sending their pigs to another Rivalea facility, Diamond Valley Pork in Laverton, near Melbourne.

Here’s an edited version of the Aussie Farms video, released by Animals Australia.


Some thoughts from Professor Donald Broom, Cambridge University

Aussie Farms sought comments in relation to the video from Donald Broom, Emeritus Professor in the Department of Veterinary Medicine at Cambridge University. Some of his points [9]:

  • The use of CO2 stunning represented a major welfare problem, as the gas is very aversive to pigs.
  • The extreme reactions were typical for pigs lowered into a high concentration of CO2. The welfare of the animals was very poor for 20-40 seconds.
  • The best gas to use in the stunning chamber is argon, or a mixture of argon and up to 20% CO2. Pigs do not detect argon, so are stunned without being aware of the gas.
  • For financial reasons, efforts are generally made to reduce the time taken to unconsciousness so CO2 is often used. It is somewhat cheaper than argon.

From Professor Broom’s comments, it would appear that there are options available that would cause less stress to pigs than high concentrations of CO2, and that many in the industry may be avoiding those methods for financial reasons.

What does the industry say about another cruel process, confinement in sow stalls?

Sow stalls are cages used for pregnant pigs. They are so small that the pigs are unable to turn around. They can be confined that way, day and night, for the full term of their pregnancy, around 16.5 weeks. The Australian industry’s so-called voluntary ban on sow stalls, scheduled to commence in 2017, will still allow them to be used for up to eleven days per pregnancy, and will not be binding on individual producers. [10] The industry has not indicated any action in respect of farrowing crates, which are more restrictive than sow stalls, and can be used for weeks before and after birth.

Referring to sow stalls, Andrew Spencer, CEO of Australian Pork Ltd, has said [11]:

That’s pig heaven, sow stalls are good for pigs . . .

Sow stalls are more than okay, they’re fantastic, and sows love them.

Spencer argues that the stalls protect sows from other sows who may be aggressive. The problem is that they become aggressive due to the ongoing confined conditions. Who would enjoy spending their life indoors? The industry’s response seems to be to apply one form of cruelty in order to overcome problems created by another.

The position of a major retailer, Coles

Coles is one of Australia’s largest supermarket chains. It is part of the Wesfarmers group, which is the seventh largest company on the Australian Stock Exchange, with a market capitalisation of around $49 billion. [12]

It has gained signficant PR mileage in recent times by a decision to become “sow stall free”. However, the move only applies to “Coles Brand” fresh pork and local and imported ham and bacon. The relevant producers are still permitted by Coles to use sow stalls for up to twenty-four hours per pregnancy. (I assume they rely on the producers to act in good faith in that regard, as it’s difficult to imagine an audit program that would ensure they complied.)

On 22nd November, 2012, John Durkan, then merchandise director (now managing director) of Coles was asked the following question: [13]

In terms of animal cruelty, do you think your customers are aware  . . . of the legalised cruelty that still exists in terms of mutilation of piglets, for example, without anaesthetic? That is tail docking, ear notching, teeth clipping, castration, etc., and should consumers be made aware of those sorts of things to help their [purchasing] choices?

Extract of Durkan’s response:

What they do want to know is that there is no cruelty to animals, that they’re treated well . . .

If, as John Durkan says, customers “want to know that there is no cruelty to animals, that they’re treated well”, then why are the animals from whom Coles’ products are extracted treated cruelly as standard practice?

A basic requirement of efficient markets is fully informed buyers and sellers. Coles and other retailers should either inform their customers of the practices involved in supplying their products, or sell only cruelty-free products.

Additional comments on the dairy industry

Cows are continually impregnated in order to produce milk. However, the milk is intended for humans, so the cow and calf are separated almost immediately after birth, with the calves either going back into the dairy industry, to veal production or almost immediate slaughter. This process is an inherent component of dairy production and seems almost unimaginably cruel to the cow and calf.

Apart from the cruelty aspects, it seems bizarre that humans are the only species that consumes mammalian milk beyond a young age, and the only one to routinely consume the milk of another species. Consuming cows’ milk is natural for calves, but not for humans.

A short video on the issue of forced separation can be seen at the bottom of this page.

The RSPCA and potential mandatory reporting

The RSPCA in Australia has recently called for mandatory reporting of animal cruelty. The organisation’s Chief Executive, Heather Neil, has said: [14]

But there are some people who, by the nature of their role, are expected to know what animal cruelty is and when action should be taken. These people should have a legal obligation to report cruelty when they see it.

Although the RSPCA may not have identified the issue itself, its proposal highlights the strange dichotomy that exists between legal and non-legal cruelty. The organisation’s proposal is presumably aimed at non-legal cruelty, without seeming to acknowledge the horrific extent of the legal variety.


This article has barely scratched the surface of the cruelty that is endemic in the commercial use of animals. Double standards abound, including within the consumer population. The type of exemptions referred to here are common in other jurisdictions.

Although we like to believe that we live in a civilised society, our practices in relation to animals seem to indicate otherwise. Much of the problem arises from social, cultural and commercial conditioning, and could end with some compassionate, objective thinking.

The choice is ours.

Author: Paul Mahony (also on Twitter, Slideshare and Scribd)


At the beginning of 2015, responsibility for administering the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals legislation was transferred to the newly formed Agriculture Victoria, within the Department of Economic Development, Jobs, Transport and Resources. The reference and link were updated on 13th January, 2016.


[1] Agriculture Victoria, Department of Economic Development, Jobs, Transport and Resources, (accessed 13th January, 2016). (The link has been updated from the Department of Environment and Primary Industries, Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Legislation: Summary of Legislation, (accessed 26th August, 2014))

[2] Model Code of Practice for the Welfare of Animals: Pigs (3rd Edition),

[3] Model Code of Practice for the Welfare of Animals: Domestic Poultry (4th Edition,

[4] Australian Animal Welfare Standards and Guidelines for Cattle,

[5] Australian Meat Industry Council, “National Animal Welfare Standards for Livestock Processing Establishments”, Second Edition (2009), P6.2, p. 36 and

[6] Model Code of Practice for the Welfare of Animals: Livestock at Slaughtering Establishments (2002), –, p. 10, and

[7] Aussie Farms, Australian Pig Farming – the inside story, “Corrowa Piggery and Abbatoir”,

[8] Jonas, T., Response of 6th June, 2013 to open letter from Melbourne Pig Save,

[9] Statement by Prof. Donald Broom:

[10] Hatten, R., “Minister backflips on sow stall ban”, Sydney Morning Herald, 9th Nov 2012,

[11] 60 Minutes, Nine Network, “The Hidden Truth”, 20th November, 2009,

[12] Smart Investor, Share Tables, Securities as at 30th April, 2014, published 8th May, 2014,;jsessionid=B7AC5862FA6CEC4040C2EFCD4A587C00 (accessed 4th June, 2014)

[13] ABC Radio National Bush Telegraph and the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry AgTalks event, “Australians don’t care where their food comes from, as long as it’s cheap and looks good”, 22nd November, 2012, broadcast on 26 November, 2012.

[14] McAloon, C., and Barbour, L., “RSPCA calls for laws to make reporting of animal abuse mandatory”, ABC Rural, 25th August, 2014,

Main image: Courtesy of Aussie Farms,;

Video: Animals Australia, “World-first video: pigs being ‘put to sleep’ in ‘humane’ abattoir”, and, based on video supplied to Aussie Farms,

Additional videos:

Dehorning cattle (Animals Australia)

Branding cattle (Animals Australia)

Forced separation of cow and calf


In March and July, 2013, I posted articles on Allan Savory and Bill McKibben. I subsequently added a number of postcripts. Here’s another, posted as a stand-alone article.

If you don’t know of them, Savory promotes intensive livestock grazing systems, and McKibben is the founder of climate change campaign group,

I was prompted to post this article by a high-profile critique of Savory’s work by Guardian columnist, George Monbiot, published on 4th August, 2014. (Monbiot covered much of the material that I had referred to in my own article.)

I was criticising Savory for the lack of scientific evidence to support claims that his form of intensive livestock grazing could reverse climate change and prevent desertification. I was similarly critical of McKibben for his lack of evidence and detail in promoting intensively grazed systems.

McKibben was supporting Savory’s approach during a 2013 visit to Australia. He also seemed to be doing so in a 2010 article in Orion Magazine, but did not specifically refer to Savory at that time.

Some time back, I became aware that supporters of Savory appear to have taken credit for much of the material used in McKibben’s article. They did so in an April, 2010 discussion within the Soil Age Google Group.

The discussion included or referred to Adam Sacks, Seth Itzkan and Jim Laurie. You can see them pictured with Savory on the Savory Institute Hubs page.

A note from Itzkan to Sacks within the Google Group discussion indicated the extent to which group members and/or acquaintances had assisted McKibben:

This article is a direct result of your [Sacks’s] interaction with him and the subsequent correspondences that you, me, and Jim [Laurie] had with him in the following weeks, both the general theme, as well as the particulars and specifically all the language about electric fences, dung beetles, predators, and of course ‘methane-loving bacteria’.  He was profoundly influenced, and grateful for our influence, and I’m thankful to you for helping to make that connection.

As explained in my article on McKibben, the research on “methane loving bacteria” that Sacks referred to in a January, 2010 Grist article was subsequently found to be out by a factor of 1,000. A seemingly inadvertent error had occurred in reporting milligrams instead of micrograms.

I’m not aware of McKibben, Orion Magazine, Sacks or Grist correcting the articles. If they have not, then perhaps they should, particularly on such a critical issue.

Author: Paul Mahony (also on Twitter, Slideshare and Sribd)


Mahony, P., Livestock and climate: Why Allan Savory is not a saviour”, Terrastendo, 26 Mar, 2013,

Mahony, P., Do the math: There are too many cows!, Terrastendo, 26th July, 2013,

Monbiot, G., Eat more meat and save the world: the latest implausible farming miracle, The Guardian, 4th August, 2014,

McKibben, Bill, The only way to have a cow, Orion Magazine, Mar/Apr 2010,

Sacks, A., The Climate Solution: Got Cows?”, Grist, 31 Jan, 2010,

Image: Cattle at sunset © Anthony Brown |


Olivers-2.1Imagine you are a meat-eating consumer who felt uneasy about the possibility of poor welfare standards at a major piggery. Would the following points help to allay your concerns?

  • The business had been supplying the giant supermarket chain, Woolworths for ten years, and at the time was supplying 20% of its fresh pork in your state.
  • The owner was appearing in Woolworth’s brochures as one of its “fresh food people”.
  • The piggery had passed a quality audit inspection just three months earlier.
  • A director and shareholder of the company that managed the piggery was also on the board of the peak industry organisation.

Based on that information, you might be willing to give the business the benefit of the doubt.

If you then found that the peak industry organisation was owned by producers and administered the quality accreditation scheme (including animal welfare aspects), some doubts might re-emerge.

All those facts applied in 2009, when animal activists entered the premises of Oliver’s Piggery in Winnaleah, Tasmania.

The activists thought conditions would be poor, but were shocked by what they found. Some key points: [1]

  • Three sows were destroyed by a vet soon after the activists gave police a copy of their video footage.
  • The sows were extremely emaciated, and unwilling or unable to stand.
  • Two had festering ulcers up to 12 centimetres in diameter, and one of that pair was unable to move because her snout was stuck under the bar of a mesh divider.
  • She could not reach food or water and her wounds were flyblown with adult and juvenile maggots.
  • Layers of faeces were deposited in group pig pens. The owner admitted the pens hadn’t been cleaned for two months.
  • More than 70 per cent of the 46 sows in farrowing crates had pressure sores on their sides needing treatment.

After the local RSPCA refused to become involved, the activists took their video to the police, who visited the piggery with the activists’ assistance. They charged the owner and the company that managed the piggery with aggravated cruelty offences, and both were eventually penalised by the courts. [2]

One of the two activists, Emma Haswell of Brightside Farm Sanctuary, appeared in numerous media outlets in relation to the matter, including “The Hidden Truth” on 60 Minutes (Nine Network). [3]

While Emma appears to have been widely regarded as a hero, her counterparts five years later are seemingly being demonised and targeted by potential “ag-gag” laws.

The animal advocacy group, Voiceless, describes ag-gag as “variety of laws which seek to hinder or ‘gag’ animal protection advocates by preventing them from recording the operations of commercial agricultural facilities.” [4]

Voiceless says that ag-gag laws generally target undercover investigators, whistleblowers and journalists, and may take the form of: (a) criminalising the undercover or covert surveillance of commercial animal facilities; (b) requiring that any footage obtained be turned over to enforcement agencies immediately rather than given to animal protection groups or the media; and (c) requiring potential employees of commercial animal facilities to disclose current or past ties to animal protection groups.

Within Australia, a relevant bill is before the Parliament of South Australia. Victoria’s Minister for Agriculture, Peter Walsh and the Minister for Primary Industries in New South Wales, Katrina Hodgkinson (with support from Federal Agriculture Minister, Barnaby Joyce) have announced that they intend introducing similar legislation. [5]

Ms Hodgkinson, has described animal activists entering commercial establishments as “akin to terrorists”. [6]

The South Australian bill includes penalties of $15,000 or 3 years imprisonment for individuals who use, communicate or publish material collected through the use of surveillance devices.

So, from a time in 2009 when the police and the courts supported an undercover investigation by animal activists, today politicians are seeking to turn the tables.

Textbox-ag-gag-sharpenedA Woolworths spokesperson said the situation at Oliver’s was unacceptable and that the activists’ tactics “obviously exposed a serious issue at the farm”. [7]

During the trial, the defence lawyer said, “What has in fact happened is that an animal activist has entered the farm without any invitation from Mr Oliver or the family and that is a concern.”

In his response, the magistrate said, “It might well have turned out to be in the public interest . . . “

It was certainly in the animals’ interests.

Shouldn’t that be the ultimate test?

Author: Paul Mahony (also on SlideshareScribd, and Twitter)


The potential move toward ag-gag laws in Australia may be a response to the relatively recent exposure of dozens of establishments by activist group Aussie Farms (including investigations by Animal Liberation ACT and Animal Liberation NSW) and the onging work of groups like Animal Liberation Victoria, responsible for dozens of investigations of its own, as shown on its “Free Range Fraud” website and elsewhere.  Here are some relevant sites:

Aussie Farms,

Aussie Pigs,

Aussie Abattoirs,

Free Range Fraud (Animal Liberation Victoria),


[1] Carter, P. “Ashamed to be a human being”, Tasmanian Times, 1st October, 2009,

[2] Stateline, ABC, “Pig Cruelty”, Presenter Airlie Ward, 8th May, 2009,

[3] 60 Minutes, Nine Network, “The Hidden Truth”, 20th November, 2009,

[4] Voiceless, “Ag-gag” (undated), (accessed 14th July, 2014)

[5] Voiceless, “Ag-gag hidden in new legislation”, 3rd July, 2014, and “Animal law in the spotlight: SA Bill acts as ‘ag-gag'”, 23rd June, 2014,

[6] ABC News, “Animal rights activists ‘akin to terrorists’, says NSW minister Katrina Hodgkinson”, 18th July, 2013,

[7] Carter, P., op. cit.

Image: Extract from “The Pig Files: Scales of Justice” (footage from Oliver’s Piggery),

Further Reading and Viewing:

The Plight of Pigs: Oliver’s Piggery, Tasmania,



That’s the number of chickens killed for human consumption.

Per minute.

In Australia.

In 2011/12.

That’s over 1.5 million per day.

That’s 551 million for the year.

4.5 percent of chicken meat was exported.

That left the equivalent of 526 million chickens.

To feed (at that time) around 22 million people.

That’s 24 chickens for every man, woman and child.

The industry predicts that the number will increase to 628 million in 2015/16.

Figure 1: Chicken meat production in Australia


That’s nearly 1,200 per minute.

That’s bizarre.

And obscene.

Chickens are beautiful and intelligent animals.

Not that beauty and intelligence should determine whether or not an animal is killed for food.

There is no need.

Apart from the slaughter process, chickens grown for meat suffer immense cruelty during their short lives.

Here’s a short clip of a sanctuary hen teaching and protecting her chick.

If you care to watch, perhaps think of a human mother teaching and protecting her young child.

Chickens and other animals used for food deserve much better than the horrendous lives we impose upon them. They are not here to serve humans.

Besides, by channeling grains through animals who are then killed to be eaten, we are causing other humans to starve due to the waste involved in an inherently inefficient system. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations reported in 2013 that 842 million people in 2011-13 were estimated to be suffering from chronic hunger.

After allowing for yield, 2.35 kilograms of grain needs to be fed to chickens to produce 1 kilogram of chicken meat. That’s equivalent to a loss of 57 percent.

The Australian Chicken Meat Federation has reported that chicken feed generally comprises 85-90 percent grains, such as wheat, sorghum, barley, oats, lupins, soybean meal, canola and other oilseed meals and grain legumes. The balance consists mainly of meat and bone meal and tallow.

We are also contributing massively to climate change and other environmental problems by causing far more resources (including land and fertiliser) to be used than would otherwise be required. As I have reported elsewhere, the greenhouse gas emissions intensity of chicken meat is many times that of plant-based alternatives of comparable nutritional value.

Bad for chickens.

Bad for people.

Bad for the planet.

If you haven’t done so already, isn’t it time to change?

Author: Paul Mahony (also on SlideshareScribd, and Twitter)


Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, “Australian Food Statistics 2011/12”, Table 2.4, Supply and use of Australian meats,

Chicken’s feed conversion figure: Australian Chicken Meat Federation, Industry facts and figures, “Production Efficiency”, (accessed 7th May, 2014).

Chicken meat yield from live weight: United States Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service, “Agricultural Handbook No. 697”, June, 1992 (website updated 10 September, 2013), “Weights, Measures, and Conversion Factors for Agricultural Commodities and Their Products”,

Animals Australia “Broiler Chicken Fact Sheet”, (accessed 31 May, 2014)

Australian Chicken Meat Federation, “Growing Meat Chickens – Feed”, (accessed 31 May, 2014)

Mahony, P., “The Electric Cow”, 27 May, 2014,

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, “The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2013 “,


Main image created by author.

Chicken meat production chart: Australian Chicken Meat Federation, Industry Facts and Figures, Chicken Meat Production in Australia, (accessed 31 May, 2014)


Exerpt from “Peaceable Kingdom – the journey home” by Tribe of Heart, 2009,

Postscript 2nd June, 2014: Globally in 2011, we killed a staggering 110,000 chickens per minute for human consumption, or 58 billion in total. That’s around 105 times the number killed in Australia. Here is a list of slaughter numbers by animal, from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.



Despite what many of those who advocate meat-eating would like to believe, humans do not sit at the top of the food chain. In any event, it’s a food web rather than a chain, due to the many complex interactions involved.

An article commenting on our position in the food web was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) in late 2013. [1]

According to the head of the research team, Sylvain Bonhommeau of the French Research Institute for Exploitation of the Sea in Sète, “We are closer to herbivore than carnivore. . . . It changes the preconception of being top predator.” [2]

The article considered the trophic level of different species and nations. Trophic levels “represent a synthetic metric of species’ diet, which describe the composition of food consumed and enables comparisons of diets between species”.

A species’ trophic level is calculated as the average of trophic levels of food items in its diet, weighted by quantity, plus one.

If an animal were to eat nothing but cows, its trophic level would be 3, calculated as the sum of 2 (the cow’s trophic level as referred to below) and 1. The trophic level of another animal that were to only eat that animal would be 4, and so on.

Plants and other “primary producers”, such as phytoplankton, have a trophic level of 1. A species that consumes only plants, such as a cow or elephant, has a trophic level of 2.  The trophic level of apex predators, such as polar bears and killer whales is 5.5.

The researchers reported that the global median human trophic level (HTL) in 2009 was 2.21, representing a 3 percent increase since 1961. The authors said, “In the global food web, we discover that humans are similar to anchovy or pigs and cannot be considered apex predators”.

Here’s how the rankings of a few species can be depicted, without attempting to display the complex interactions involved:

Figure 1: Some examples of trophic levels


A major concern in terms of the environment and the rights of animals is the increasing overall human trophic level, driven largely by growing levels of meat consumption in China and India. The authors stated, “With economic growth, these countries are gaining the ability to support the human preference for high meat diets”.

Figure 2: Trends in human trophic level (1961-2009)web2-Figure1A

Since 1960, we have seen a reduction in the percentage of plants in the human diet and a corresponding increase in the percentage of terrestrial and marine animals.

Figure 3: Percentage of plants and animals in the human diet




Some climate change implications

Animal agriculture is a key contributor to increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide.  Land clearing for livestock grazing and feedcrop production, in addition to releasing massive amounts of carbon, has reduced the biosphere’s ability to draw down existing carbon. According to leading climate scientist, Dr James Hansen, we must reduce atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide to around 350 ppm (parts per million) if we are to overcome the threat of climate change. Massive reforestation and restoration of soil carbon is required in order to achieve that target. [3] In April, 2014, carbon dioxide concentrations reached 401.9 ppm. [4]

It seems ironic that China is contributing to the problem by increasing its meat consumption. The Chinese leadership would surely understand the extreme dangers posed by climate change, including a potential loss of dry-season water flows into key river systems due to the potential loss of glaciers.

Climate change author, David Spratt, has stated [5]:

“Taken together with those on the neighbouring Tibetan plateau, the Himalayan–Hindu Kush glaciers represent the largest body of ice on the planet outside the polar regions, feeding Asia’s great river systems, including the Indus, Ganges, Brahmaputra, Salween, Mekong, Yangtze and Huang He. The basins of these rivers are home to over a billion people from Pakistan to China. The Himalayas supply as much as 70 per cent of the summer flow in the Ganges and 50–60 per cent of the dry-season flow in other major rivers. In China, 23 per cent of the population lives in the western regions, where glacial melt provides the principal dry season water source. The implications of the loss of the Himalayan ice sheet are global and mind numbing, but such a calamity rarely rates a mention in Australia.”

Australia seems happy to help China to satisfy its growing taste for red meat by expanding its exports. [6]

The existence of critical environmental externalities in beef production means that the Chinese and other consumers of Australian meat are paying a fraction of the product’s true cost.

Meanwhile, the Chinese maintain a population of nearly 500 million pigs, which is just under half the global population. [7]. Those pigs consume enormous amounts of soy from overseas, including soy grown in the Amazon and Cerrado regions of South America. Both regions contain massive stores of carbon, which are released through land clearing for feedcrop production (including soy) and livestock grazing. [8]

Figure 4: Soybean Production, Consumption and Imports in China 1964-2011


China’s projected soy bean imports for 2014/15 are 72 million tonnes. The second-ranked importer is the European Union, with 12.5 million tonnes. [9]

With domestic production of 12 million tonnes, China’s total consumption in 2014/15 is 84 million tonnes, up from approximately 70 million tonnes in 2011 (including imports of 59 million tonnes).

Only around 10 percent of the soybeans used in China are consumed directly as food by humans. The other 90 percent are crushed, separating the oil and meal, with the latter widely used in animal feed rations. [8]

Some health implications

The PNAS paper categorised countries into five groups:

  1. Low and stable HTLs (majority of sub-Saharan countries and most of Southeast Asia)
  2. Low and increasing HTLs (several countries throughout Asia, Africa, and South America, including China and India)
  3. Higher initial HTLs than group 2, with an increasing trend (Central America, Brazil, Chile, Southern Europe, several African countries and Japan)
  4. High and stable HTLs until around 1990, when they began to decrease (North America, Northern and Eastern Europe, Australia, and New Zealand)
  5. The highest overall HTLs and decreasing trends (Iceland, Scandinavia, Mongolia, and Mauritania)

Health concerns have been a key driver of HTL reductions in countries within Groups 4 and 5.

In Group 4, “the nutrition transition has reached a point where health problems associated with high fat and meat diets (i.e., high HTLs) have led to changes in policy and government-run education programs that encourage these populations to shift to more plant-based diets”.

The reductions in HTLs within Scandinavian countries (Group 5) “is due to government policies promoting healthier diets”.

Rising meat consumption in China and India is likely to lead to a marked increase in rates of diseases and conditions such as heart disease, certain cancers, obesity and diabetes. [10]

According to the American Dietetic Association, well-planned plant-based diets are appropriate for individuals during all stages of the life cycle. [11]

As such, the world’s human population could aim for a trophic level of 2, with critical environmental and health benefits, not to mention the reduction in animal exploitation and cruelty.

For Australian and New Zealand readers, you should be aware that The Medical Journal of Australia has reported: “In contrast to the United States . . .  Food Standards Australia New Zealand permits only a limited number of foods to be fortified with vitamin B12. This includes selected soy milks, yeast spread, and vegetarian meat analogues such as soy-based burgers and sausages.” [12] Vitamin B12 was once more readily available than at present to those on a plant-based diet without fortification or supplementation, in a manner that was far more natural than the forced breeding practices and ecosystem destruction that characterise the animal agriculture sector, past and present. [13]

and have previously written, in relation to B12, that (a) destroying rainforests and other natural environs; and (b) operating industrial farming systems; purely for animal food products, is hardly natural. Sadly, in Australia, fortification of food products is not permitted to the same extent as in the USA. The Medical Journal of Australia has reported: “In contrast to the United States, where foods are extensively fortified with vitamin B12, Food Standards Australia New Zealand permits only a limited number of foods to be fortified with vitamin B12. This includes selected soy milks, yeast spread, and vegetarian meat analogues such as soy-based burgers and sausages.” (Zeuschner, C.L. et al., “Vitamin B12 and vegetarian diets”, MJA Open 2012; 1 Suppl 2: 27-32, 4 June 2012, – See more at:
I agree completely with your comments on the question of what is natural, and have previously written, in relation to B12, that (a) destroying rainforests and other natural environs; and (b) operating industrial farming systems; purely for animal food products, is hardly natural. Sadly, in Australia, fortification of food products is not permitted to the same extent as in the USA. The Medical Journal of Australia has reported: “In contrast to the United States, where foods are extensively fortified with vitamin B12, Food Standards Australia New Zealand permits only a limited number of foods to be fortified with vitamin B12. This includes selected soy milks, yeast spread, and vegetarian meat analogues such as soy-based burgers and sausages.” (Zeuschner, C.L. et al., “Vitamin B12 and vegetarian diets”, MJA Open 2012; 1 Suppl 2: 27-32, 4 June 2012, – See more at:
I agree completely with your comments on the question of what is natural, and have previously written, in relation to B12, that (a) destroying rainforests and other natural environs; and (b) operating industrial farming systems; purely for animal food products, is hardly natural. Sadly, in Australia, fortification of food products is not permitted to the same extent as in the USA. The Medical Journal of Australia has reported: “In contrast to the United States, where foods are extensively fortified with vitamin B12, Food Standards Australia New Zealand permits only a limited number of foods to be fortified with vitamin B12. This includes selected soy milks, yeast spread, and vegetarian meat analogues such as soy-based burgers and sausages.” (Zeuschner, C.L. et al., “Vitamin B12 and vegetarian diets”, MJA Open 2012; 1 Suppl 2: 27-32, 4 June 2012, – See more at:


Overall global livestock production is proceeding at unsustainable levels, with no sign of slowing down. If we wish to retain a habitable planet, we must urgently address the issue of diet in addition to fossil fuels.

The time to act is now!

Footnote: None of the material contained in this article should be construed as representing medical, health, nutritional, dietary or similar advice.

Author: Paul Mahony (also on Twitter, Slideshare, and Scribd).


[1] Bonhommeau, S., Dubroca, L., Le Pape, O., Barde, J., Kaplan, D.M., Chassot, E., Nieblas, A.E., “Eating up the world’s food web and the human trophic level”, Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA (2013)

[2] Hoag, H., “Humans are becoming more carnivorous”, Nature, 2nd Dec, 2013,  doi:10.1038/nature.2013.14282,

[3] Hansen, J; Sato, M; Kharecha, P; Beerling, D; Berner, R; Masson-Delmotte, V; Pagani, M; Raymo, M; Royer, D.L.; and Zachos, J.C. “Target Atmospheric CO2: Where Should Humanity Aim?”, 2008.

[4] Earth System Research Laboratory, Global Monitoring Division, Up-to-date weekly average CO2 at Mauna Loa, Week beginning on May 4, 2014 (401.9 ppm),

[5] David Spratt,“Global Warming – No more business as usual: This is an emergency!”, Environmental Activists’ Conference 2008: Climate Emergency – No More Business as Usual, 10 October, 2008, reproduced in Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal,

[6] Binsted, T., “Australia poised to benefit from China’s beef demand”, The Age, 24 April, 2014,

[7] FAOSTAT, Live Animals, 2012,, accessed 12 May, 2014. (Actual number: 471,875,000 of a global population of 966,170,968)

[8] Brown, L.R., “Full Planet, Empty Plates: The New Geopolitics of Food Scarcity, Chapter 9, China and the Soybean Challenge”, Earth Policy Institute, 6 November, 2013,

[9] United States Department of Agriculture Foreign Agricultural Service Approved by the World Agricultural Outlook Board/USDA Circular Series, “Oilseeds: World Markets and Trade”, May 2014,

[10] Mahony, P., “If you thinks it’s healthy to eat animals, perhaps you should think again”, 12th February, 2013,

[11] Craig, W.J., Mangels, A.R., American Dietetic Association, “Position of the American Dietetic Association: vegetarian diets.”, J Am Diet Assoc. 2009 Jul;109(7):1266-82,

[12] Zeuschner, C.L. et al., “Vitamin B12 and vegetarian diets”, MJA Open 2012; 1 Suppl 2: 27-32, 4 June 2012,

[13] Capps, A., “B12: A Magic Pill, or Veganism’s Achilles Heel?”, Free from Harm, 11 April, 2014,


Figure 1 – Prepared by author

Figure 2 – Bonhommeau, S. et al., op. cit., Figure 1 (A)

Figure 3 – ibid., Supporting Information, Figure 4

Figure 4 – Brown, L.R., op. cit., Figure 9–1 based on data from USDA, Production, Supply, and Distribution, electronic database, at, updated 10 May 2012; D. H. Baker, “D.E. (Gene) Becker and the Evolution of the Corn-Soybean Meal Diet for Pigs,” Illinois Swine Research Reports (2003), pp. 101-04; Jack Cook, An Introduction to Hog Feeding Spreads (Chicago: Chicago Mercantile Exchange, 2009), p. 3.

Main Image: Animal Polar Bear © Pilipenko |

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