We are not living in a perfect world! We are working within a food system that has used animals for thousands of years and so it is inevitable that the lovely fresh veggies we eat may have been grown using animal fertilizer. This is far from ideal for lots of reasons.
Currently, the amount of animal-based fertilizer spread on the land is causing serious environmental problems. It is a major source of water pollution1 and ocean dead zones,2 while for those who live near farms where manure is spread, respiratory problems can make life miserable.3
But there are sustainable and productive methods available for stock-free food production. These maintain soil fertility using vegetable compost, green manures, crop rotation, mulching, and other sustainable, ecological methods.4
Rick Haney from the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service in Texas talks about the dangers of using animal manure and chemical fertilizers to pursue ever greater crop yields.5 He says that decades of agricultural abuse have taken their toll, depleting the soil of essential nutrients and killing off bacteria and fungi that create organic material essential to plants.6
We can stop pushing the soil to its limits if we all eat plant foods. That is because it takes a lot less land to grow plant foods than it does to create animal products, and so we do not need to demand quite so much from every hectare. We can ease off our soil, use natural methods, composts and manures, and we can live much more harmoniously with the natural world.
There are farms already working this way,7 and as more and more people become vegan, and the crisis in our soil increases, these will become increasingly common.
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