Finished a deeply flawed and though-provoking paper while procrastinating about finishing my own on academic boycotts.
Davis SL (2003). The concept of least harm may require that humans consume a diet containing large herbivores, not a vegan diet. Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics 16: 387–394.
It presented data about the number of arable field-dwelling animals (actually, just the vertebrates) which are killed, injured and displaced during human field operations such as harvesting. He calculates that at 15 animals per hectare, 1.8 billion animals would be killed annually in producing a vegan diet for the US. He proposes that if half of the land currently used for arable were used for what he calls pasture-forage-ruminant production – whereby large ruminant animals ‘harvest’ what is grown there and are then themselves killed and eaten – 0.3 billion lives would be saved. By eating the largest-possible – which he then amends to the largest acceptable – animal, the maximum number of lives would be saved.
In the US the annual figure is thought by the USDA to be more than the 8.4 billion animals intentionally killed for human consumption (incidentally chickens really are the proletariat of the farming world – 8 billion of those killed are chickens and only 37 million are cows and calves).
A depressing read in which the unit of analysis was death alone, ignoring issues about animal sentience and consequently quite grotesque in its discrimination between large and small animals, and unquestioningly accepting of the inevitability of the field animals’ deaths. Neither does he offer calculations about whether the ruminant animals on half of the arable land would feed an equivalent number of people to the other half. Feeling that this is a starkly utilitarian approach to the problem, and that the other alternatives to do with small-scale, demechanised, no-till systems of production have worrying implications for female emancipation and material security among other things, I wonder about saving the lives of the animals currently crushed by the machinery and poisoned by the pesticides. In the UK we are already paying farmers to leave the borders of their fields alone, or to create islands within them – might there be case for extending these, and explore methods of driving the animals into these – allbeit inhospitable – sanctuaries? On the pesticide front, I’m not sure about the state of symbiotic measures such as companion planting. It’s working for my dad on the small scale, for example.