Debunking: Does Cultivation Kill More Animals Than Livestock Farming?

Picture this: You’re a harvest mouse who lives in a wheat field. Being a mouse, you have excellent hearing and can easily pick up sounds that a human cannot hear. Thanks to your sensitive whiskers and small size, you’re acutely attuned to vibrations caused by large machines. Although your eyesight isn’t the best in the world, your eyes are situated high on your head and offer an excellent all-round view. And to top that off, you have lightning reflexes and dash about at a top speed of 8 miles an hour.

Now imagine that you’re perched idly on a stalk of wheat, your tail curled around it like a fifth limb. You’re smelling the crisp morning air and feeling the sun shining on your face. But then, the ground starts to shudder as a 3 ton, 4-cylinder diesel-engine combine harvester ominously starts heading your way – which, by the way, you can see without even turning your head. What will you do?

  1. Run like hell
  2. Humbly await your fate on a Kentish plum

In a widely shared article, paleontologist Mike Archer goes with Option 2, which makes me wonder if he should be spending more time with living animals instead of extinct ones.

Eloquence: You're doing it wrong.

This essay is not the rebuttal of any one person or article, but an exploration of a notion perpetuated repeatedly without a shred of scientific evidence: that more animals are killed cultivating food for vegans and vegetarians, and therefore eating meat is kinder because it kills fewer animals. I think that this is not a scientific debate, but a social power struggle, perhaps with the support of the meat industry. But before we debunk the “armchair experts”, let’s have look at some actual studies conducted in the field.

The best laid plans o’ mice and machines

The English study on wood mice

Tew and MacDonald studied wood mice between 1987 and 1991 to understand how the harvesting of grain affects their numbers.[1] In one study, they fitted radio collars to 33 wood mice on three different sites. They wanted to find out how many of them are killed when a combine harvester shreds a wheat field. With all the propaganda about mass extinctions caused by crop harvesting, you might think that they were bracing themselves for a mouse apocalypse. Turns out, of the 33 mice, 32 survived the combined harvester – that’s 97% of them! The act of harvesting posed virtually no threat to these mice.

Following the harvest, 17 of the remaining 32 mice were hunted by predators such as weasels and tawny owls. Clearly, the loss of cover made them more vulnerable to predators. But the mice knew that too. So they adapted. After the harvest, they became cautious in their forays, refusing to venture far unless it was safe. Many left the fields and migrated to nearby scrub. On the farms, the number of mice on the fields declined by 80%. But the point is, they had not been massacred by a combine harvester. The half who were killed made an important contribution to the ecosystem. Without wood mice, predators such as foxes, owls, stoats, martens, badgers and hawks would have a hard time surviving. Everything from a cat to a kestrel needs wood mice to thrive.

The Argentine study on Azara’s akodont

What’s an akodont, you ask? Don’t feel too bad, I had to look it up myself. Azara’s akodont is a grass mouse native to the Pampas of Paraguay, Uruguay and eastern Argentina. In 2005, a team of Argentine researchers studied the populations of the akodont in wheat and corn fields to understand the effects of harvesting.[2] They found that following harvest, the akodonts ditched the fields and moved to grassy borders between the fields. By being adaptable and moving to a different habitat, they were able to avoid the harvesting machines as well as predators. The study found no evidence to indicate that their numbers were affected in any significant manner by the harvesting process.

The German study on common voles

Jacob and Hempel studied common voles on wheat fields and pastures in central Germany in 2002 to understand how farming practices alter their behavior.[3] In this extensive study, they fitted radio collars to 85 voles and studied them before and after mulching, mowing, harvesting, harvesting and ploughing.

As expected, they found that any removal of cover, such as harvesting, mowing, or grazing cattle, decreased the spatial activity and home-range size of the voles, meaning that they didn’t travel far from their homes without the cover of vegetation. But they did not abandon the fields and did not shift their centers of activity. The voles rapidly adapted to the decrease in the height of vegetation and changed their habits, their travel routes and how far they traveled. Jacob and Hempel found that pretty much the only danger that agriculture presented to voles was an increased risk of predation. But they adapted by changing their behavior until the vegetation grew back. In this extensive, real-life field study, which used no controls, no manipulation and surveyed all agricultural activities, the data shows that actions like harvesting pose no threat to the voles. Quite the opposite of what armchair “experts” with an axe to grind claim about the impact of vegan food cultivation.

The Indonesian study on rice-field rats

In 2002, an international team of scientists studied the movement and populations of female rats before and after harvest in western Java.[4] This species of rat, rattus argentiventer, is has been creatively named the rice-field rat because it’s found in – you guessed it – rice fields! And this study again shows how intelligent and adaptable rodents are, no matter what species they are or what continent they live on. As we’ve seen, rodents in other places have been observed leaving the fields and moving to the borders of the fields or a nearby forested area. Like their cousins elsewhere, rice-field rats in Indonesia live in wild patches on the borders of farms and venture into cultivated areas for foraging. But when the rice is harvested, the rats actually shifted base into the fields. Why? Because post-harvest, there are large stacks of rice straw left in the fields to dry (they’re used as fodder for cattle). Although the home range of these rats temporarily decreased by 67% and the distance of their forays shrank by 35%, they actually relocated an average of 367 meters to exploit better opportunities available elsewhere!

To belabor the obvious yet again, it must be emphasized that harvesting did not kill these rats by the thousands, or hundreds, or even a handful. In fact, even though harvesting increases risk of predation (which is a natural part of the lives of rodents), none of those who were radio-collared for the study were hunted by predators. Unlike common voles, these rats actually remained in the fields for another 2 or 3 weeks – perhaps because it seemed like a better option than seeking shelter elsewhere.

And what about baby mice?

OK. But even if we concede that small wild animals remain largely unharmed by agricultural machinery and can adapt to risks created by loss of cover, what about baby mice? Oh, why don’t vegans care about baby mice? They are so tiny, and blind, and helpless! It’s ironic that the very people whose hearts bleed for infant mice do not feel the same compassion for newborn chicks who are thrown into grinders in the egg industry, or male calves who are killed for milk production. To a vegan, the death of a single baby mouse is a tragedy. What I have a problem with, however, is the meat industry and its advocates exploiting such losses to try and discredit the vegan way of life.[5] So while acknowledging that the death of even a one baby mouse is a painful loss, let me put things into perspective.

The typical lifespan of a rodent is between 12 and 36 months, depending on the species (smaller species have shorter lifespans). Baby rodents are typically weaned by the time they are 3 weeks old, at which point they leave their nests and socialize with others of their age before dispersing. Assuming a lifespan of 15 months (60 weeks), a baby rodent is dependent on her parents for food and protection for 5% of her life. Contrast this with human beings, who depend on their parents (and society) till they are 15 years old – for the first 20% of their lives, assuming a lifespan of 75 years. Or elephants, who also need maternal care and protection for 20% of their lives. Or lions, who depend on their mothers and aunts for food till they are 3 years old (16% to 20% of their lives). Which is to say, it’s pretty phenomenal that a rodent can fend for herself for 95% (!!!) of her life. And when a combine harvester menacingly heads toward a wee lil’ harvest mouse, there’s a 95% probability that he won’t be all that blind and helpless.

And I thought vegans are the 'bleeding hearts'

Fine. But still not as awesome as a pasture, right?

Simple math explains why buying meat means killing more mice and birds and whatnots.

Ask someone about how livestock are raised, and most people imagine cows grazing on idyllic meadows, munching lazily on soft, green grass and smelling edelweiss while honeybees hum drunkenly around them. People think that factory farming is an ugly reality for “some” animals – and certainly not the ones they eat. Few people have an inkling of the true scale of grain-based livestock farming. Worldwide, 91% of the world’s beef cattle are raised on a diet of grain – thus spaketh the FAO.[6] And in industrialized countries such as the United States, around 97% of all cows are fattened on grain – or almost all of them.[7] So if you eat meat, chances are high that the animal was fed grain, even if the package comes with a “free-range”, “pasture-grazed”, or any other fancy label.

And since almost all of the world’s meat is produced by cultivating grain as feed, it’s pretty obvious that almost all meat production puts wild animals at the same risks as cultivating grain for direct human consumption. Worldwide, 40% of all grain is fed to livestock. In the United States, over 70% of all grain is fed to farm animals; in some other countries, this proportion is even higher. So, even if your argument is, “Harvesting is a death sentence to innocent mice! Vegans are rodent killers!!!”, the fact remains that less than a third as many wild animals would be dying today if the demand for meat didn’t exist. Just ask a Casio calculator.

If you’re a wee mouse, idyllic pastures can be far from idyllic

Some people eat “grass fed”, “pasture-raised”, or another fancy-labeled meat, even paying premium for it, because they want to do the “right thing”. They sincerely believe that grass-fed meat is better for the environment. Let’s say that you’re one of the more conscientious meat eaters who only eats grass-fed cows. That sure means that all the mice, voles, pikas, gerbils, prairie dogs or tuco-tucos on that pasture are safe, right? Right? Meat companies would certainly like you to believe this lie. In reality, grazing does exactly what mechanized mowers or combine harvesters do – reduce tall, luxuriant grass to something resembling the head of a bipolar hedgehog. Research indicates that small animals are even more at risk of predation on a pasture, especially since, unlike cultivated areas, they have no forested areas to escape to.

A digression

In 2003, Prof. Stephen Davis wrote a paper that essentially argued that practices such as mechanized harvesting kill more animals per hectare than, say, slow grazing by cattle – therefore, eating large herbivores (he recommended cows, not elephants or horses) might be more ethical than raising crops.[A] This was music to the ears of meat industry supporters, who have shared it widely, despite the fact that it was soundly refuted the very year that it was published. For one, Davis’ assertion was not based on any field studies. He cherry-picked data that supported his point of view and did some back-of-the-hand calculations. Without conducting controlled studies, he assumed that pasture grazing kills only half as many wild animals per hectare as crop cultivation. Well, even if we assume that figure to be accurate, he is still wrong, because it takes only a tenth as much land to produce protein from soy and corn, versus grass-fed beef. In a detailed rebuttal, Gaverick Matheny explains that even using Davis’ own figures, the average vegan’s diet kills 0.3 animals a year (or one wild animal every 3 years), whereas an omnivore who eats “ethical” pasture-grazed beef causes the death of 1.5 wild animals each year.[B] Most meat eaters eat grain-fed livestock.

An American study on gray-tailed voles living on pasture land showed that their numbers were reduced by more than 50% when the pasture was mowed or grazed.[8] That’s a lot of dead and missing voles!!! Those who didn’t die suffered from “disrupted social organizations” and forced pregnant females to abandon homes and territories. Other studies also suggest that grazing causes widespread devastation on seemingly peaceful pastures. But don’t believe it because I say so; here’s what some field studies say:

“Large herbivores consume the same vegetation as many rodents and they therefore have the potential to compete for food resources. They also reduce vegetation height and cover through trampling and grazing, which may damage nests and increase the exposure of small mammals to predation. The factors mentioned can all lower species richness.”

Froeschke and Matthee, 2014[9]

“Although owls seem to search for areas in which vegetation is sparse, transforming an entire pasture through intensive grazing would decimate small mammal numbers.”

Marsh et al., 2014[10]

“The [ungrazed area] supported 45% more grass cover, a comparatively heterogeneous grass community, and significantly more herb cover than the grazed pasture. … Various studies have shown that livestock exclusion may even accelerate woody plant growth in Southwestern rangelands. … Several of the species more abundant in the grazed area may be valuable indicators of desertification. … Collectively, grazing appeared to favor birds over rodents.”

Bock et al., 1984[11]

“Despite the relatively recent cattle grazing history in the study region, cattle appear already to have altered vegetation composition in areas where they have grazed more heavily. Total vegetation cover showed a tendency to remain higher in areas where grazing intensity had been historically light.”

Frank et al., 2013[12]

Livestock farmers actively kill wildlife

Okay, so you shouldn’t read this section if you’re particularly sensitive, in a bad mood, or prone to nausea. I’m sure you already know what happens when a special interest group lobbies the government to use public funds – your tax money – to advance their interests. I’m sure you’re aware of what bank bailouts have done to the world economy. And how oil companies get no more than a rap on the knuckles when they destroy a marine ecosystem. Or how the conventional auto industry stalled progress on electric vehicle technology, or industrial lobbies have spent billions (on media and politicians) to confusing the public about the undeniable reality of climate change.

But you probably do not know about all the wild animals that are massacred on behalf of livestock farmers. Many of us know about the cruel reality of factory farming and slaughterhouses, the damage caused to the Amazon rainforest by ranchers, and even all the oceanic fish that are killed to support livestock farming. But I’m talking about wild animals specifically killed at the behest of livestock farmers. Even if they never attacked livestock. With your tax money.

This happens all around the world. In America and Canada, wolves and coyotes are routinely poisoned, trapped or shot from helicopters for eating into farmers’ profits, prairie dogs for eating grass, geese for nesting or pooping, or competing with grazing livestock. It’s not too different in the UK, which also culls animals like badgers for supposedly hurting the profits of dairy farmers. Australia has killed almost 90 million kangaroos and wallabies in the past 20 years under the excuse that they’re at “plague proportions” (and I thought that sheep and cows are the non-native invasive species there). Individual incidents like these make the news if someone creates a petition, or organizes a protest, or speaks out on social media. What is not apparent, however, is the mind-boggling scale of killing carried out, often by government agencies, covertly, using your tax money, on behalf of private businesses and individuals, just so that livestock farmers can make a little extra profit. These include techniques such as gassing, trapping animals in steel snares and letting them starve and die from mutilation, using dogs to rip open live victims, burying them alive in their own dens, shooting them from helicopters, and even using phosphorous bombs to kill helpless cubs. By the hundreds.

But don’t take my word for it. Here’s what publicly available data from the ironically-named Wildlife Services unit says about wild animals killed in 2014. At the behest of the livestock farming lobby, the USDA killed around 322 wolves, 580 black bears, 800 bobcats, 61700 coyotes (also destroyed 425 homes), 5500 deer, 300 badgers, 2950 foxes, 8600 gophers (with 1162 homes destroyed) and 16,000 prairie dogs (with 73,560 homes destroyed). In addition to these massacres, they also systematically killed 22,500 beavers, 325,000 blackbirds, 4000 cardinals, 730 feral cats, 2090 coots, 16,560 cormorants, 542,231 cowbirds, 20,600 crows and ravens, 112,200 doves and pigeons, 6400 francolins, 21,400 geese, 100,730 grackles, 800 hares, 2560 marmots (with 1600 homes destroyed), 5500 skunks (and 30 nests) and 5000 vultures. All in all, they killed 2,713,570 wild animals, destroyed 79,845 homes, and rendered over 27,632,200 animals without territories or home ranges. All this in just one year.

And livestock industry minions complain about all the mice supposedly killed for vegan food production.

Final Thoughts

In many ways, the controversy over the ethical cost of the vegan diet is similar to the controversy over climate change. Almost all evidence from field studies and controlled experiments clearly shows that climate change is significant and caused by human activity. And yet, industrial groups have orchestrated a controversy using ads, paid articles, hired “experts” and blog posts that double as press releases. They do not care to be right; their intention is to build an alternative narrative sow seeds of doubt in the mind of their customer, the average person. And so to the average person, climate change is unproven or beneficial, evolution is “just a theory”, and vegans are arrogant hypocrites.

On one hand, this obfuscation of facts is driven by corporate greed, by an industry that wants to maintain status quo. On the other hand, it’s ardently supported by some meat consumers – regular people – who are defensive about their lifestyle choices. They do not want to be part of change in any form, want to be right all the time, and feel threatened by anything that challenges their assumptions, their habits and patterns of thinking.

And so you get articles like those written by Mike Archer. Strangely (or not), they are written by a scientist who makes bizarre statements without offering any citation or sources (I’m not a scientist, and yet this article lists 14 references). Their choice of words, captions and title are clearly intended to provoke a reaction from vegans, perhaps hoping that they would make an emotional mistake and say something stupid. They are written by a paleontologist who, like the physicist S. Fred Singer who lobbied for tobacco and Big Oil, is writing on topics he probably has no expertise in. One of his posts was written for The Conversation, which is funded by the CSIRO, which actively partners with livestock farming corporations. It’s hard to take their claim of “no affiliations” seriously. Ironically, his life’s work has been to bring back the thylacine through cloning, although it was the livestock farming industry that caused its extinction in the first place. It would be hilarious if it weren’t so sad.

Social change, even overwhelmingly positive change, is hard. We are emotional beings, and our consumption choices are driven by habits and culture, rather than our best interests. And yet information must be shared freely and plainly, in the hope that eventually, better sense will prevail over the egotistical need to be right all the time. And therefore, the malicious lie that vegans cause the deaths of more animals than meat eaters must be crushed whenever it crops up.

This article was republished on Free From Harm.


[1] Tew, T. E., & Macdonald, D. W. (1993). The effects of harvest on arable wood mice Apodemus sylvaticus. Biological Conservation, 65(3), pp. 279-283. Available at:
[2] Cavia, R., Villafañe, I. E. G., Cittadino, E. A., Bilenca, D. N., Miño, M. H., & Busch, M. (2005). Effects of cereal harvest on abundance and spatial distribution of the rodent Akodon azarae in central Argentina. Agriculture, ecosystems & environment, 107(1), pp. 95-99. Available at:
[3] Jacob, J., & Hempel, N. (2003). Effects of farming practices on spatial behaviour of common voles. Journal of Ethology, 21(1), pp. 45-50. Available at:
[4] Jacob, J., Nolte, D., & Hartono, R. (2003). Pre-and post-harvest movements of female rice-field rats in West Javanese rice fields. Available at:
[5] This, by the way, is a logical fallacy known as Moral Equivalence. Shame on you, Meat Industry. You’re amateurs.
[6] De Haan, C., Steinfeld, H., & Blackburn, H. (1997). Livestock & the environment: Finding a balance (p. 115). Rome,, Italy: European Commission Directorate-General for Development, Development Policy Sustainable Development and Natural Resources. Available at:
[7] Data from the National Resources Defense Council. Available at:
[8] Edge, W. D., Wolff, J. O., & Carey, R. L. (1995). Density-dependent responses of gray-tailed voles to mowing. The Journal of wildlife management, pp. 245-251. Available at:
[9] Froeschke, G., & Matthee, S. (2014). Landscape characteristics influence helminth infestations in a peri-domestic rodent-implications for possible zoonotic disease. Parasites & vectors, 7(1), pp. 1-13. Available at:
[10] Marsh, A., Wellicome, T. I., & Bayne, E. (2014). Influence of vegetation on the nocturnal foraging behaviors and vertebrate prey capture by endangered Burrowing Owls. Avian Conservation and Ecology, 9(1), 2. Available at:
[11] Bock C.E., Bock J.H., Kenney W.R. & Hawthorne V.M. (1984) Responses of birds, rodents, and vegetation to livestock exclosure in a semidesert grassland site. Journal of Range Management, 37, pp. 239-242. Available at:
[12] Frank, A. S., Dickman, C. R., Wardle, G. M., & Greenville, A. C. (2013). Interactions of grazing history, cattle removal and time since rain drive divergent short-term responses by desert biota. Available at:
[A] Davis, S. L. (2003). The least harm principle may require that humans consume a diet containing large herbivores, not a vegan diet. Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics, 16(4), pp. 387-394. Available at:
[B] Matheny, G. (2003). Least harm: A defense of vegetarianism from Steven Davis’s omnivorous proposal. Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics, 16(5), pp. 505-511. Available at:

16 thoughts on “Debunking: Does Cultivation Kill More Animals Than Livestock Farming?

Add yours

  1. I really don’t follow the logic when it comes to the notion that the mice killed by owls etc. are making a valuable and legitimate contribution to the ecosystem, while the animals killed by that well-known predator Homo sapiens for food are somehow being wrongly victimised!

    And, as someone else has already pointed out, if the mice who fall victim after harvesting are making a worthwhile contribution to the ecosystem, so are those exposed in pasture. Having said, it is a valid point to say that pasture, at least of some types, does not seem to be better protection from predation than combine harvested fields, if someone was claiming it was.

    I note that it is the mouse that is humble, not its waiting, in that picture!

    The particular issue of which kills more animals – a vegan or an omnivorous diet – is an extremely complicated one – to assert in either direction, from the studies in question, seems extremely rash, to say the least. And it must be an interesting question, as to whether or not the vegan philosophy would choose more animal death/killing and less animal suffering, or vice-versa? (Death isn’t actually inevitably interchangeable with killing in such contexts, I know, but how much complexity can be packed into one question all at once?)! And how does animal killing stand vs. management of the ecosystem?

    I do also want to clarify, that I don’t accept the premises that I’m conceding: I do not think the ethical be-all and end-all of a diet is how many animals it kills, or how much animal suffering it causes. I am unclear as to where that supposition comes from, or how it is justified? I feel that the vegan philosophy generally relies on the notion that it can put the burden of proof entirely on the omnivore, and I think, given the naturalness and universality of predation in the biological sense, it should really be the other way around.


    1. You seem to be unaware of the context for this post – an (unfounded) criticism of veganism is that producing plant-based food causes more deaths of animals than livestock farming, and that therefore veganism is hypocritical. This is a rhetoric-based argument that juxtaposes one extreme of farming (large-scale, mechanized) with another (traditional, idyllic, pasture-based), and associating the former with production of “vegan” food and the latter with that for meat production.

      Such critics of veganism are using Appeal to Emotion without offering supporting data. In fact, the vast majority of industrial agriculture is for meat production – either directly (CAFO / factory farming) or indirectly (farming livestock feed). Not only is pasture-based livestock farming entirely unsustainable, both in terms of efficiency and environmentally (high emissions and land / water use compared to CAFO), but as the studies linked in my post show, it also causes far more harm to native wildlife than high-efficiency modern agricultural practices (for equivalent food production).

      You also said, “vegan philosophy generally relies on the notion that it can put the burden of proof entirely on the omnivore” … this is clearly untrue – my own post here offers plenty of supporting evidence by way of multiple peer-reviewed studies from across the world, whereas those criticizing plant-based eating as causing more animal deaths than conventional diets rarely offer any, let alone peer-reviewed science. I invite you to back up your arguments with data, if you’d like.


  2. Hey man, I want to tell you that this is a really well written and well supported article. This will help me in my activism to be better prepared to deal with this reccurrent excuse non-vegans make. Thank you my friend, your work is appreciated


  3. 💚🌱🍅 Loving your mind and your blog; just referred an anti-vegan obsesser here for the same old same old regurgitation about this topic. Sincere thanks for all you do and the great info you provide. I feel for you in having to be so patient and not going ballistic (which some people do deserve). Great work, keep it up. I put you in my Liked blogs section.


  4. Love your work, came highly recommended by other avid readers. And thanks for providing info and links to all those additional studies, can’t wait to read them. Shame not everyone understands what proper research entails (you have to read actual peer-reviewed studies…from start to finish! Who would’ve thought it!). Or what sarcasm is.


  5. You seem to claim the studies aren’t great, yet you assume the best of the studies in favor of confirming your biases, and worst in the opposite direction.

    You also choose the worst opposition facts to object to, but show only the best for your side. There are studies showing high numbers of animal lives being lost in harvesting operations, yet you dismiss them, while only considering the mice. Do insects not matter? Reptiles? Etc?

    You cite claims that grazing cows are going to kill all these animals, and destroy nests, yet you hypocritically speak in favor of all these animals finding their way out of harm and to new homes when it comes to combines. You’ve cherry picked the shit out of this, and stacked the rhetoric in your favor.

    You focus on the numbers for factory farming, but this isn’t apples for apples. If we’re looking at the best possibility, we’re talking pasture raised and finished cows. This is even just from the ethical position. It’s even better if you can get that locally. That is likely a far better ethical choice than the harvesting, for several reasons:

    1) Positive sentient life is brought into the world;
    2) These animals die a far less painful death than MOST other animals ever (especially those killed in crop deaths), and even better than us humans;
    3) If it’s local, no shipping impact.
    4) Less lives lost per calorie.


    1. "you assume the best of the studies in favor of confirming your biases, and worst in the opposite direction."

      I have listed every major study on this topic that I know of, and stated their conclusions plainly. Since you disagree, please list some of the ‘best’ studies that claim that food production for plant-based foods kills more wildlife than that for animal meat & dairy, and I’ll be happy to debunk them.

      There are studies showing high numbers of animal lives being lost in harvesting operations, yet you dismiss them, while only considering the mice. Do insects not matter? Reptiles? Etc?

      Can you please list some studies on reptile deaths in agriculture?

      While I focused on rodents and birds (and also their predators, and not just mice, as you claim), it’s common sense that an agricultural practice that kills fewer rodents and birds (by using a fraction of the land, and because animals have the ability to escape farm machinery) will also kill proportionately fewer reptiles and insects.

      The 2018 study by Fisher and Lamey estimates that the total number of animals (including reptiles) killed worldwide in plant agriculture is 7.3 billion. That’s worldwide. By contrast, 9 billion chickens are killed each year in the US alone (1 species, 1 country). And since over 40% of the world’s grain (including 70-80% of US wheat and 98% of US soy) are used as animal feed, it’s clear that even those incidental deaths would be a fraction of what they are today, if animal meat consumption dropped or ended.

      Indeed, after weighing the deaths in plant agriculture versus those in meat production (including feed production and biodiversity loss due to vast pastures) Fisher and Lamey conclude, “It’s quite difficult to find diets that include meat with a smaller harm footprint, and so many anti-vegan arguments would fall apart on empirical grounds.” They further acknowledge “trends in plant agriculture that cause little or no collateral harm to animals, trends which suggest that field animal deaths are a historically contingent problem that in future may be reduced or eliminated altogether.”

      Which reminds me, I need to update this article with Fisher & Lamey. So thank you for that! And let me reiterate my invitation for you to share the “best of the studies” that conclude the opposite – if you can find any.

      You cite claims that grazing cows are going to kill all these animals, and destroy nests, yet you hypocritically speak in favor of all these animals finding their way out of harm and to new homes when it comes to combines. You’ve cherry picked the shit out of this, and stacked the rhetoric in your favor.

      That is not what I have said. I have pointed out that while pastures look idyllic, they cause tremendous loss of biodiversity – to the extent that the wild plant and animal species that live on pastures are seen as indicators of desertification. As for animals escaping during harvest – surely you understand that an animal that finds food and shelter on a cultivated farm has a reasonable chance of surviving a threat, whereas an animal that has no habitat, no cover and no food on a pasture (deer, coyotes, foxes etc.) won’t exist at all. Why are you overlooking the fact that not having the habitat to feed, breed and hide is far more environmentally destructive than using a fraction of the land for agricultural production that also provides cover and food for wild species?

      There are many studies on this topic that I did not include in this article. For example, a 2013 study by the CIC states, “In Germany alone, the volume of wildlife losses resulting from grassland management amounts at a conservative estimate to 500,000 individuals, of which approximately 90,000 are fawns.

      You focus on the numbers for factory farming, but this isn’t apples for apples. If we’re looking at the best possibility, we’re talking pasture raised and finished cows. This is even just from the ethical position.

      This is objectively untrue, for several reasons:
      1. Beef cattle require 3 acres of land per grain-fed cow, and 9 acres of land per grass-fed cow. Over the entire production cycle, grass-fed beef requires 30% more land than grain-fed.

      1. Meat production using grass-fed cattle requires 35% more water than grain-fed cattle – which already have the highest water footprint of 1800 gallons per lb.
      2. Grass-fed cattle require 18 months to reach market weight, as opposed to 12 months (or even 8 months) for grain-fed cattle. Therefore, 30% more cattle will be required to meet existing demand – unsustainable even for a vast country like the United States, and impossible on a global scale. Plainly, replacing factory farming with pastures is a sure recipe for global famine.

      3. Because grass-fed cattle live 6 months longer, and because they are eating an inefficient diet (which is also unnatural, as wild cattle do not graze grass all day – they eat a variety of plants), grass-fed cattle emit 500% more (!!!) greenhouse gases than grain-fed cows – including 300% more methane, which is 86 times worse than CO2 over a period of 10 years.

      4. With significantly higher land use, grass-fed beef production would entail the massacres of many more wild animals by the USDA. The USDA’s Wildlife Services unit kills around 1.5 million wild animals each year at the behest of ranchers. Aside from ecologically vital predators like wolves, cougars, coyotes and bobcats, they kill any animal that can compete with livestock: rodents, blackbirds, badgers, deer, wild horses … Just because pastures look prettier than CAFO is not an excuse for you to be ignorant of the true ecological and ethical cost of meat, and the millions of wild animals actively killed on pastures to bring it to you.

      It’s even better if you can get that locally. That is likely a far better ethical choice than the harvesting, for several reasons:

      This is also incorrect. There is nothing inherently better about eating local. Global trade is a key driver of sustainability. In fact, if you were eating a plant-based diet that was exclusively sourced from as far a place as possible, it would still have a lower carbon footprint than locally sourced red meat. This 2008 study might enlighten you. And this. And this. And this. And this.

      1) Positive sentient life is brought into the world;

      So you pay someone to forcefully and repeatedly impregnante cows, separate the newborns, brand, dehorn and otherwise mutilate them, keep them captive for mere months and then slaughter them in machines as babies (at 12 months old for an animal that lives for 25 years), and destroying Earth’s land, water and air and causing the targeted killing of native wildlife in the process, because you want to bring “positive sentient life into this world”?

      And how do you measure its ‘positive’ energy, and if the animal is scalded and skinned alive, as they routinely are, is there a ‘negative’ energy created that cancels this out? Quite frankly, what are you on? Spare me your pretentious yuppie bullshit.

      2) These animals die a far less painful death than MOST other animals ever (especially those killed in crop deaths), and even better than us humans;

      If you think that slitting the throat is less painful than being killed in a harvester, I’ll bet you abhor eggs, given how billions of male chicks are put into industrial blenders minutes after being born.

      3) If it’s local, no shipping impact.

      Shipping impact is minor compared to the carbon (and land, and water, and ecological) footprint of meat production. I know ships probably look big and scary, but look at the data instead. I’ve posted plenty of links above.

      4) Less lives lost per calorie.

      Wrong again. See above. And speaking of lives lost per calorie, this has been calculated already using the studies I’ve listed in my article (and years before it was recently reiterated by the Fisher & Lamey study). See these charts:



      1. I’ll be back with a full comment, but your reply is filled with a ton of strawmen and assumptions. As I already pointed out, you are providing a loaded framing of these issues. You are trying to compare the worst of your opposition, with the best from your side. For one, where did I argue for large scale factory farming? You’re arguing against a strawman here.

        That study says reptiles and amphibians cannot be anywhere close to accurately accounted for, but you want to bury your head in the sand and err on the side of “nah, there aren’t any deaths there”. My point was that there are many other life-forms which aren’t even included, on top of the ones that are, which are numerous, according to that very study.

        Habitat? Again, you’re trying to take the best of your world and the worst of the opposition. You think habitats aren’t destroyed to make way for plant farms? Give me a break.

        And you instantly reply by presumptuously thinking you will just be able to debunk the studies I provide, when you acknowledged that you don’t know of any other studies. How do you know you’ll be able to debunk something you don’t know anything about? This is just more of you indicating your own confirmation bias. You’ve cherry-picked the information from the studies that you do know about, and you’re so ready to cherry-pick and misrepresent information from studies you don’t even know about yet, that you just gave that away without even thinking about it. You’re dishonest. You’re trying to confirm your biases, and not even hiding your disingenuousness.

        And I’ll be back to go through your Gish gallop of misrepresentation and cherry picking thoroughly.


        1. I did not say that I do not know of other studies on the topic. I am well aware that no peer-reviewed study claims that meat production (CAFO or grass-fed) is better for the environment (or causes fewer wildlife deaths) than plant-based food production. This is a fact, so I’ve invited you to prove me wrong by listing studies, if you know any. And I’ve also stated that if you misrepresent these studies, I am confident that I’ll call you out with ease (because facts are facts and lies are lies).

          I never claimed that no reptiles or insects die in crop production. I did focus on rodent and bird deaths because there is more reliable data for that. This in no way implies that the patterns are reversed for reptiles or insects (although you pretend, without evidence, that they are). Again, quote studies if any claim this – why are you wasting my time by saying you’ll “be back with a full comment”?

          My intent does not concern you – what matters is that I have multiple studies and data to back up every single statement I’ve made. Perhaps if you weren’t jumping the gun, you’d also see that I have in no way compared plant-based diets with factory farming, specifically. I’ve pointed out that pasture-based meat production is significantly worse than factory farming (terrible as that is) in every way.

          I hope your next comment is less reactionary, more objective and backed up with studies and data. Keep in mind that I am in no way obligated to tolerate slander or insults from you on my website.


  6. I don’t eat meat but do worry about this issue, my dad grew up working on wheat bins, and I would encourage you to look at video of mouse plagues that happen in that sort of large scale agriculture, unfortunately at that stage it’s the mice or the wheat, and the wheat tends to win with human help. I feel that you raise a straw man with your comparison to climate change. In fact myself and many others have no corporate connection, no desire to eat meat, yet do not think this a straightforward issue.

    When people like Singer and animal ethics authors the world over delve into these issues I think it’s unfair to ignore the relevant points and take it as a personal attack against you. I think the start of your argument is absurd, when a large combine harvester is heading towards an animal it will run, but normally at an angle, and will often try to hide, I feel like perhaps it is you who hasn’t spent much time around animals (or modern mechanised farming) if you don’t understand how animals die in this regard, and would encourage you to research it further and base your argument on fact rather than ideology.

    If you think going vegan is the end of the matter as far as animal ethics are concerned I would contend you are mistaken, not because I think you should eat meat, but because you have oversimplified a complex problem to suit your own approach and chosen to ignore criticism, reducing it to abuse rather than exploration, which is both unfair, and unjustified. For a well rounded ( if brief) debate on this issue, with some references for further reading, please see or even .

    Also please don’t take this as an invitation to a baseless assault on my character or accuse me of belonging to thought processes that you have no way to infer from what I have written here. That is, if you have a question, comment or point to make, please do so nicely, with civility, to encourage, not silence debate, as I won’t be drawn into a trolling match, and some of your previous replies have been overtly hostile.


    1. The start of my essay, which speaks of animals fleeing as a combined harvester approaches, is a counter to Mike Archer’s opinion piece in The Conversation, in which he is alluding to a mouse “humbly awaiting its fate on a Kentish plum”. Unlike his article (which was rather popular back when I wrote this), I have backed up my assertions with numerous peer-reviewed studies. If you’ve read this post in full, you’ll find that these studies conclude that:

      1. Some early studies had overestimated rodent deaths in agriculture by assuming that all missing rodents were dead – subsequent studies show that the majority flee and survive.
      2. Most small animals on farms flee outside harvested areas (or move deeper into farms, where harvested crops are stored. I also pointed out that unlike pasture grazing, which does not support large numbers of rodents (as there is minimal cover and they’re competing with cattle), crop farms support larger numbers of rodents, which in turn feed their predators like owls and foxes, especially around harvest time – can’t say that’s a bad thing.

      3. Loss of life from harvesting needs to be compared to loss of life caused due to habitat degradation, wildlife culls and reduced biodiversity caused by livestock farming, on account of causes such as massive land and water use, GHG emissions, and destruction of wetlands and grasslands (in case of grass-finished cattle) and rainforests (for growing feed for factory-farmed cattle).

      You shared your opinion that climate change is “not a straightforward issue” and call it a strawman. Yet you cite no studies or show no evidence to support this. I have often seen this approach among apologists for livestock farming. My usual response is to ask for studies, which are not sponsored by livestock or fossil fuel companies, and which counter the mountains of evidence that livestock farming is currently the biggest driver of climate change. Even a recent (2018) publication by the USDA found that emissions would reduce by 28% without livestock farming. As a side note, their calculations are flawed because they assume that all existing pasture will be used for crop agriculture with use of nitrates. This is an absurd assumption because given the same demand for food, land use will decrease without livestock farming – with no need to cultivate fallow land, emissions will decrease by 49%.

      Keep in mind that this is a USDA study – an agency that actively works for livestock farmers, including killing wildlife by the millions at their behest. Let me ask again if you have any study showing that livestock farming isn’t the biggest driver of climate change – unless you do, your accusations of climate change (and the subsequent loss of biodiversity, especially in the oceans) being a “strawman” or “not straightforward” do not interest me.

      You also brought up mouse plagues. These so-called plagues occur mostly in Australia, a country ruined by invasive species – from cows and sheep, who use most of its land and fresh water (causing tragic culls of starving kangaroos) to mice, who have virtually no natural predators and eat grain, which is mostly grown as livestock feed. Mouse plagues are a consequence of an ecosystem destroyed by livestock agriculture. These rarely occur elsewhere in the world, because rodent numbers elsewhere are controlled by their natural predators. Speaking of which, I also see that you have ignored that most wheat, soy and corn cultivated in industrialized countries is grown for livestock, not plant-based human food.

      Finally, you’ve posted the article. That article is based on a 2018 study by Fisher & Lamey, estimating animal deaths in plant agriculture. It looks like you haven’t read that study – I have. (In fact, I’ll be adding it to this article soon – thanks for the reminder). The quote in the article, about veganism being implicated in more animal deaths, is from the introduction to that study, which discusses pre-existing assumptions. The actual conclusion of the study is the total opposite of that. They found that an estimate of 7.3 billion animals dying worldwide is clearly too high, and even so, pales in comparison to the 9 billion chickens (just one animal) killed in the US (just one country) each year.

      A quote from the study used in the article you shared: “It’s quite difficult to find diets that include meat with a smaller harm footprint, and so many anti-vegan arguments would fall apart on empirical grounds.” Also, from the abstract, “trends in plant agriculture that cause little or no collateral harm to animals, trends which suggest that field animal deaths are a historically contingent problem that in future may be reduced or eliminated altogether.

      This isn’t the first time that an apologist for livestock farming has:

      1. Called climate change and resulting extinctions as “strawman” (are you a climate denier?)

      2. Ignored the fact that most crop cultivation is for livestock feed, and that grass-fed cattle will not only cause massive food shortages, but also release more greenhouse gases, use more water and require more land. (now there’s a strawman if there ever was one)

      3. Shared a paper or article to refute veganism, except that the study is pro-veganism (case in point, see previous paragraph)

      4. Accused me of being “overtly hostile”. I see this as a lame attempt to put me on the defensive, not the least because my only other comment here (yet) has been to counter someone who had nothing to add – and I did so by sharing data and studies, as I always do. I’m going to ignore your baseless complaint and see if you have anything other than your opinions (or a news article, which you shared without reading the referenced paper) to share.


  7. Only a small amount of the animals are killed by harvesting equipment. What vegetation does is it take the habitat for crops and get them to flee. They then later move to habitat not suited for them and die. @least you acknowledge you know nothing. Agriculture destroys ecosystems and sucks up rivers (poor fish) and wipes out species. We all kill to eat its the circle of life. The debat is suppose to be how to stop fauna AND flora agriculture. But vegan waste to much time judging meat eaters.By the time they wakeup we already wasted to much time.


    1. If you are so concerned about “poor fish”, why do you eat meat? Raising livestock uses up over a third of the world’s fresh water. In countries with meat-heavy diets, such as the United States, growing feed for livestock consumes 56% of all fresh water annually. Producing 1 lb of beef requires 2500 gallons of water (and much more for grass-fed beef). Producing 1 lb cheese requires 900 gallons. Even the most water-intensive vegan foods require only a fraction of this. I’m not even counting the water used for cleaning, waste removal, slaughtering, leather tanning and other activities related to livestock farming.

      And speaking of fish, we have fished the oceans to the point that 80% of the world’s fisheries are on the verge of collapse. The demand for fish kills 2,700,000,000,000 fish (100 million tons) each year. 80% of these are discarded – some of which are processed into supplements for livestock farming. Raising animals is also the leading cause of oceanic dead zones. But while feigning concern for fish (without knowing these facts), you also made a lazy reference to the “circle of life”. When this ‘circle of life’ collapses, “judgmental” vegans will be the least of your concerns.


      Click to access arguments4.pdf

      Click to access Table19.pdf

      Click to access i2727e01.pdf

      Click to access fishcountstudy.pdf


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