For many people, the main reason for not eating meat is a moral motivation. These people recognize all living creatures as such and grant them the same rights as other domestic animals, for example dogs and cats. They see no difference between a cow and a dog and want to prevent animals from suffering and being killed for their own food. In addition, they defend themselves against factory farming, which they consider cruel and unnecessary. Another important reason for not eating meat is the impact that the production of meat has on the climate. Meat and dairy products are one of the main drivers of climate change, as their production generates an extremely high amount of greenhouse gases and requires large areas of land.
Factory farming and suffering
People who give up meat for moral reasons cannot and will not ignore the unimaginable suffering that occurs in factory farming. They believe in the intrinsic value of every living being and are convinced that every living being has an equal right to life and freedom. These rights are systematically ignored and bypassed in factory farming. Even if many people believe that the slaughter itself would be painless due to anesthesia of the animal, they are on the one hand very often wrong, on the other hand this justification for meat consumption forgets everything that happens to the animal before slaughter. Because slaughter animals are almost always held in the narrowest space, spend their life in their own excrement, suffer from most severe inflammations of the extremities, are separated by force from their young and in the vast majority of cases treated roughly and violently.
Ethical vegans want to prevent this suffering and do not place their own enjoyment on a higher level of relevance than the integrity of living beings.
Meat consumption and climate
The biggest culprit of climate-damaging effects of meat consumption is undoubtedly animal husbandry itself. Here, there are several factors that have climate-damaging effects. Among other things, 11,568 square kilometers of forest are cleared each year to provide grazing land – and the trend is rising rapidly. This rapid deforestation is not only fatal for the biodiversity of plants and animals in the rainforests, but also threatens the global climate.
Last but not least, the clearing of forest areas also continues to displace the last remaining indigenous peoples, leading to the gradual disappearance of entire cultures and habitats. While this fact may not have a direct impact on climate change, it is an important ethical factor that calls into question the consumption of meat.
Approximately 80 percent of the virgin forests that once existed have been eliminated to date, primarily through slash-and-burn agriculture, to make way for pasture and monocultures.
Due to the lack of vegetation, these cleared areas are exposed to unprotected solar radiation, which virgin forest soil is not actually made for. Due to the very thin humus layer, the soil dries out and crusts extremely quickly. In areas with a lot of rain, the severely dried-out soil either can no longer absorb water quickly enough, leading to flooding or landslides. In other cases, the excess water is no longer absorbed by the plants that once grew there and simply flushes all the nutrients out of the now exposed soil.
The result is unusable, dead land: Deserts. Because of the lack of nutrients and water reservoirs, neither animals nor plants can thrive on these areas without human help.
But that’s not all: forests play a highly relevant role in the carbon cycle. They absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store it as plant biomass. Clearing releases the stored CO₂ and releases it into the atmosphere in large quantities.
Finally, about half of the energy that the trees absorb from the sun is additionally converted into water vapor. The release of this water vapor into the atmosphere creates a cooling effect that is eliminated when forests disappear, contributing to an unchecked rise in temperature.
Clearing for fodder farming
In many cases, land is cleared to produce feed for livestock. Soy, almost always grown in monocultures, removes all remaining nutrients from the already degraded soil. In addition, since the soil can no longer store water due to the lack of a deep root and fungal network, artificial watering is required, which washes more nutrients out of the soil. Initially, these can be replaced with artificial fertilizers, which in turn encourage weed growth, leading to the use of even more aggressive chemicals. The lack of a root system here causes these chemicals to enter the groundwater, where they cause widespread damage. It’s a cycle that only benefits the owners of the livestock. The combination of artificial fertilizers and pesticides causes a gradual poisoning of the soil, on which eventually neither monocultures nor native plants can grow anymore.
Clearing for pasture
An enormous amount of space is also needed for livestock farming itself. All these animals must of course be supplied with food and water on the one hand. On the other hand, these animals produce large amounts of methane and nitrous oxide during their digestion. Methane in particular is highly problematic, as it is 25 times more harmful to the climate than CO₂. The solid waste products from digestion also cause problems – as they leach into the bare soil, contaminating groundwater and poisoning the soil itself, making it unusable for any plant growth.
Last but not least, all of these animals must also be transported both alive and as meat products, which emits more greenhouse gases. Not to mention the cruelty of live transport and slaughter, meat and dairy products must be constantly cooled during transport and before sale, which means additional energy expended in addition to fuel for the transport vehicles and planes.
Health consequences of giving up meat
Those who choose to forgo meat and, ideally, dairy products are not only doing the planet and all future generations a great favor. Also the own health profits from a vegetarian or vegan nutrition:
This is because keeping animals usually requires the massive use of antibiotics, as conditions would otherwise not be compatible with life. These antibiotics are also found in the final meat and dairy product and can cause resistance both in the consumer and in the animal itself. In the worst case, bacterial infections that are actually harmless can thus no longer be treated and end fatally. According to the Robert Koch Institute, around 30,000 people in Europe already die each year from infections that can no longer be treated due to multi-resistant germs.
But the consumption of meat and dairy products does not only have negative effects on our body in case of illness. For example, meat and dairy products can lead to high blood pressure and elevated cholesterol levels, which in turn increases the risk of cardiovascular diseases such as heart attacks, a stroke or clogged blood vessels. The risk of developing diabetes has also been shown to be higher if meat and dairy products are not avoided.
Last but not least, processed meat such as sausage in particular is carcinogenic. Also the intestinal flora and thus the entire body and among other things also the skin appearance and the aging symptoms profit from renouncing meat, since the bacteria in the intestine suffer from a high meat consumption and are destroyed gradually – also by the contained antibiotics – which can lead to irritable bowel syndrome and similar diseases.
A balanced vegetarian or ideally vegan diet provides the body with all the necessary nutrients and trace elements needed for optimal health and long life. Only Omega 3 and B12 should be given special attention in a meat-free diet, as these substances are only found in small quantities in plant sources. For this either food auxiliary means are suitable, or one implements vegan sources of B12 and Omega 3 such as algae, fermented food such as sauerkraut or Kimchi as well as root and tuber vegetables into the nourishing plan. Common concerns that one would not consume protein or iron in sufficient amounts on a meat-free diet have now been adequately disproven. Plant-based sources of protein and iron, such as legumes, tofu or nuts, provide an adequate supply.
Disadvantages of a meat-free diet
There can only be disadvantages from a vegan diet if it is not implemented properly and it is one-sided. Therefore, if one decides to follow a vegan diet, one should not simply omit animal products and otherwise continue to eat as before. Ideally one replaces the animal products by vegan alternatives. However, this doesn’t mean substitute products like vegan steaks, but rather vegan protein sources like legumes or tofu. Perhaps the only real drawback arises when visiting a regular restaurant: many vegans know the problem when the only option on the menu that is suitable for them is a portion of fries or a salad with vinegar and oil.
Nonetheless, after a short time, many people find that giving up meat and dairy doesn’t feel like giving up, but rather like a release, and notice an improvement in many areas of their lives – from mood to energy to appearance of skin and hair.