Ethical benefits of not eating meat

What are the ethical and environmental pros and cons of veganism and vegetarianism? A definitive guide from Ethical Consumer 

Today most meat and dairy products are produced using intensive farming methods. Meat production obviously involves the slaughter of animals, which is enough for some people to give it up altogether.

But on top of this, intensive farming also often results in appalling animal cruelty up until the animals are killed - being kept in crowded and filthy conditions, injuries left untreated and with no access to outdoors are all commonplace.

While opposition to the killing of animals is a common reason cited by vegetarians, it’s often overlooked that dairy production also involves slaughter. Male calves are removed from their mother at birth and killed or exported to the continent for veal production. Female calves are kept to become the next generation of milk-producers.

Since 2010 Soil Association organic standards have specified that licensees must have a plan to end the practice of culling newborn calves within five years.

Another big reason people are going veggie or vegan is to protect the environment. Vast deforestation is taking place in Latin America to make room for soya cultivation, and 97% of the crop is being grown to feed animals for meat or dairy production. Methane from farm animals contributes to 18% of global greenhouse gas emissions alone. 

Meat production also impacts on human rights - while people in some countries are starving, one third of the world's grain production is being fed to farmed animals in rich countries.

Because of the demand for animal feed, a Western meat-based diet uses four and a half times more land than is necessary for a vegan diet and two and a quarter times more than for a vegetarian diet.

How to avoid animal products

It can be surprising which products contain animal products in today’s culture of mass production of processed food – as well as avoiding the obvious like meat, cheese and eggs, vegans have to keep an eye on what’s in their wine, beer, make up and even carpets and furniture.

You can use our product guides to see which companies use animal derived ingredients. All our best buy recommendations in our meat-free burgers and sausages guide are vegan products. 

How does Ethical Consumer rate companies on these issues?

Under our ratings system, companies receive negative marks for the following animal rights and animal welfare issues:

  • Factory farming
  • Sale of factory farmed fish, meat or eggs
  • Production or sale of leather or fur
  • Production or sale of silk
  • Supply of animal feed

When a company makes a product that is either labeled as vegetarian or vegan or approved by the Vegetarian or Vegan Society, it receives a positive mark.

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