DOES THE vegan world consider all animal life to be of equal value?

That was one of the questions posed by an Australian farmer, who has accused some plant-based diet converts of ignorance towards the death toll of small animals associated with crop production.

Southern Tasmanian farmer and former food critic, Matthew Evans, has recently released the book ‘On eating meat’, which poses many questions regarding the processes behind meat production and delves into the ethical arguments surrounding it.

Mr Evans highlights examples of farms in Australia and how their practices impact on local wildlife – and concludes that ‘the number of animals that die to produce vegan food is astonishing’.

He refers to a mixed farm in northern Tasmania where they raise livestock as well as producing around 400 tonnes of peas per season: “To protect the peas, they have some wildlife fences, but also have to shoot a lot of animals. When I was there, they had a licence to kill about 150 deer. They routinely kill about 800 to 1000 possums and 500 wallabies every year, along with a few ducks.

"So, more than 1500 animals die each year to grow about 75ha of peas for our freezers. That’s not 1500 rodents, which also die, and which some may see as collateral damage. That’s mostly warm-blooded animals of the cute kind, with a few birds thrown in.”

Looking at wheat production in Australia, a professor in the Faculty of Science at the University of New South Wales, Mike Archer, stated that roughly 25 times more sentient beings die to produce a kilo of protein from wheat than a kilo of protein from beef – which he attributed to monocultures, mice plagues and modern farming systems.

Mr Evans continued by looking at native ducks in New South Wales and explained that over a five-year period up to 2013, rice farmers in the state killed nearly 200,000 native ducks to protect their fields. He then went on to stress that ‘insects bear the brunt of all annual vegetable production’, pointing to what he called ‘the most exploited insect of all’ – the European honeybee.

Despite many vegans not eating honey due to bees dying in the process, Mr Evans explained that honeybees are heavily relied upon as pollinators to a large volume of crops in order to produce fruit: “About one-third of all crops globally benefit from direct interaction with pollinators, of which European honeybees are by far the most efficient. According to Scientific American, up to 80 billion domestic honeybees are estimated to have a hand in the Californian almond industry each year, up to half of which die during the management process and the long journeys to and from the large almond orchards,” he stressed. “And that’s the carnage from just one crop.”

Mr Evans stated: “When you eat, you are never truly vegan – food production gets unfairly singled out for killing animals, when every human activity has an effect on other living things.

“Killing an animal for food or fibre is a small effect. Bigger is the ecological footprint of livestock on the land. Bigger still, and more destructive, is the growing of plants for food, thanks to topsoil loss, the legions of animals killed to maintain monocultures, and the use of artificial fertilisers and chemicals available to the modern farmer. All of us, vegans and omnivores, are the beneficiaries of the fertiliser and compost that come from either animal waste or fossil fuels,” he concluded.