Murphy: A Bad Trade-off

Unless you’ve spent the last couple decades living under a rock inside of a cave, are currently wearing ear plugs and a blindfold and have recently been exposed to the Blue Flash Memory Eraser from “Men in Black,” you’re aware that there’s been a veritable tsunami of activist rhetoric touting the benefits of a vegan diet.

However, a new study suggests that if the U.S. were to somehow transition to the Full Vegan, the result wouldn’t be the dream world veggie proponents always contend it would be.

Instead, the report, published by the National Academy of Sciences, suggests another “d” word: a disaster.

The study, which is titled, “Nutritional and greenhouse gas impacts of removing animals from U.S. agriculture,” modeled the potential impact that eliminating meat and dairy production would have on greenhouse gas emissions and compiled data on the likely nutritional fallout if everyone in the country embraced a meat-free diet.

Those consequences, according to the study’s authors, Robin White, assistant professor of Animal and Poultry Sciences at Virginia Tech College of Agriculture and Life Sciences; and Mary Beth Hall, research animal scientist at USDA’s Agricultural Research Service, would be disastrous for many Americans.

Messed-up Mantra
As explained in the study’s abstract, the purpose of the research was to analyze “the yearly nutritional and GHG impacts of the total removal of animals from U.S. agriculture.” In other words, the vegan paradise come true.

Now, it’s important to note that, based on current agricultural assets, a full-on switch to plants-only food production would positively impact both caloric availability and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, according to the computer modeling conducted by White and Hall.

As the authors explained, “The modeled [agricultural] system without animals increased total food production (by 23%), altered foods available for domestic consumption, and decreased agricultural GHGs (by 28%).”

That all sounds significant and quite positive, but it was also noted that although GHG emissions would be (theoretically) reduced, “The net reduction would represent a decrease in total U.S. emissions by only 2.6% percentage units.”

That’s not all that much, given the “save the planet by giving up meat” mantra activists relentlessly repeat.

The more important impact of eliminating animal agriculture, however, would not result from a less-than-dramatic decrease in GHG emissions, but rather from a more profound effect on the quality of the American diet.

Here’s what White and Hall had to say about that:

“Compared with systems with animals, diets formulated for the U.S. population in the plants-only systems had greater excess of dietary energy and resulted in a greater number of deficiencies in essential nutrients.”

That’s because USDA data confirm that animal-derived foods currently provide 24% of total energy; 48% of protein intake; anywhere from 24% to 100% of essential fatty acids; and from 34% to as much as 67% of essential amino acids available for human consumption in the U.S.

Let’s leave aside for the moment the fact that the livestock industry employs 1.6 million people, directly or indirectly, and accounts for $31.8 billion in annual exports. Or that food animals recycle more than 86.4 million tons of inedible food and fiber byproducts, converting them into edible food products, pet food and industrial products, and produce 8.2 million tons of nitrogen-rich fertilizer.

Instead, consider the NAS study’s conclusion that a plants-only agricultural and food production system would meet fewer requirements for essential nutrients.

As the authors noted, “When nutritional adequacy was evaluated by using least-cost diets produced from foods available, more nutrient deficiencies, a greater excess of energy, and a need to consume a greater amount of food solids were encountered in plants-only diets.”

Nutritional deficiencies — from which the American population already suffers — and consumption of excess calories — which is already a huge (pun intended) problem — don’t exactly make the vegan diet the cure-all veggies insist it would be.

As the authors concluded, “This assessment suggests that removing animals from U.S. agriculture would reduce agricultural GHG emissions, but would also create a food supply incapable of supporting the population’s nutritional requirements.”

Take that and stick it on top of your bean sprout salad.

Editor’s Note: The opinions in this commentary are those of Dan Murphy, a veteran journalist and commentator.

 
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