DEFENDING THEIR WAY OF LIFE: Dairy farmer John Cameron and his wife Jenny say they are defending their way of life in the wake of criticism from vegans.
DEFENDING THEIR WAY OF LIFE: Dairy farmer John Cameron and his wife Jenny say they are defending their way of life in the wake of criticism from vegans. Renee Albrecht

Debate rages between farmers and vegans over diet

JOHN and Jenny Cameron sparked a war of words when they labelled veganism a cult in a letter to the editor last month, but they insist they are simply defending themselves.

"Our industry bodies won't stand up for us," John said.

"Occasionally they tell a few people (such as vegans) to come visit a farm, but they never do."


"Those vegans never go to the farms."


John, 66, and Jenny, 67, have around 120 dairy cows on their 117 acres at Lagoon Pocket, near Gympie, which they bought in 2001. John said there were around 230 dairy farmers near Gympie 40 years ago. Today there are less than 30.

John said the Australian continent is more suited to livestock agriculture over the plant based farming needed to support a vegan diet.

"History has shown what happens when you try and turn sub-par land into purely plant agriculture," John said.

"Just look at the dust bowl they created in the United States in the middle of last century.

"You won't be able to grow much in most of Australia."

Jenny said the debate needs to go back to the carbon cycle.

"Manure is our most valuable resource - it renews our soil.

"We have got to get back to the carbon cycle."

"Are we mad? Probably, but we have to fight for our rights." CONTRIBUTED

Jenny insists the couple's strong words are in their defence.

"We've been doing this for a long time, so when you're told you're cruel by somebody, it really rattles you. We have no problems with vegetarians, but it is the vegans we are wary of.

Jenny and John said their cows health and happiness is their highest priority.

"Cows respond to cruelty and pain. If they are scared or worried, they won't produce milk, so we have to treat our cows well.

"As far as I am concerned, anyone can be anyone they want to be.

"My problem is when people ram things down others throats. That's not fair and that's not right.

"Are we mad? Probably, but we have to fight for our rights.

"Our cows love being milked. They push, shove and trample each other to get into our dairy on their own each morning.

"They've been our companions for 4000 years and we want to defend them."

Regan the Vegan has shot to internet fame.
Regan the Vegan has shot to internet fame. Contributed

Hamish Caulfield, 18, is a vegan from Maroochydore as well as a student at the University of the Sunshine Coast. He believes the vegan diet is a kinder way of living on the planet.

"Veganism is the best lifestyle to lead on the planet if you do not want to contribute to the slaughter of innocent animals lives, contribute to the degradation of our environment yet still improve our health.

"With research out there it's clear that following a vegan lifestyle is healthier.

"Nobody can imagine what it's like to get their throat slit, so if someone was going to do it to a dog, a cow, cat, sheep or whatever, it's intrinsically wrong.

"As people become more aware of what they contribute to, many decide to do what's morally and ethically right and go vegan."

Mr Caulfield said veganism is not a cult.

"People who are vegan are passionate about sharing their message that when they encounter people it's only natural to inform them of the food they are consuming and what it's contributing to.

"Labelling it as a cult is misrepresentation"

University of Queensland honorary senior research fellow Dr Jane O'Sullivan is from the School of Agriculture and Food Sciences and is an expert in farming research, nutrition as well as population growth and its impacts.

Dr O'Sullivan explained the complexities of the debate in an attempt to mediate the conflict.

"Pre-agricultural humans had a largely meat-centred diet, and our guts and taste preferences are adapted to that, but we have since developed such nutrient-dense crops that we can live very well on a meatless diet. Communities in Asia have done so for many centuries.

"It's also true that arable land is much more limited than pasture land. Livestock allow humans to obtain nutrition from large areas of land that we couldn't crop. Traditionally, their manure also gave us a way of fertilising the arable land with nutrients gathered from a much wider landscape.

"Perhaps more importantly, they have provided food security in case of a bad season when crops fail. But in the modern world, we have good storage and long-distance trade to ensure supplies if there is a local failure, and we have inorganic fertilisers in place of manure.

"Those technologies do have environmental impacts, but in most cases not as great as the impacts of livestock."

Dr O'Sullivan said feeding human overpopulation is our greatest concern but a plant based agriculture is more efficient than a lifestock one.

"Do we have enough arable land to feed the global population on crops? Yes, for now. Despite there being around 2.5 times the area of pasture as crop land, it has been estimated that 90% of food calories are supplied from crop land.

"We grow a lot of crops that are fed to livestock, so we could feed more people if that land were used to grow food for people instead - although it would be a lot better for the environment and biodiversity if we just used less land and let more forests regrow.

"But we are losing arable land steadily due to soil degradation and urban encroachment, water resources for irrigation are under threat from climate change and over-extraction in a lot of areas, and the global population is still rising.

"Before the end of the century, we could well face shortages of crops to feed the world.

"We are already facing that situation in an increasing number of countries, which rely on food imports that they struggle to afford. Overpopulation is a major contributor to the conflicts and famines emerging in Africa and the Middle East.

"Minimising population growth is a better way to ensure we can meet demand, than relying on more extensive farming.

Dr O'Sullivan said One study estimated that if the world were to adopt the average Indian diet we would need half as much land used for agriculture.

"If the world were to adopt the average Indian diet, 55% less agricultural land would be needed to satisfy demand, while global consumption of the average USA diet would necessitate 178% more land."

In terms of climate change impacts Dr O'Sullivan explained meat has a high impact per calorie of food.

Beef Australia 2015 held in Rockhampton. Photo: Chris Ison / The Morning Bulletin
Beef Australia 2015 held in Rockhampton. Photo: Chris Ison / The Morning Bulletin Chris Ison

"Beef is particularly high, both because of low feed conversion ratios and because of methane emissions.

"But most of the figures quoted are based on grain-fed cattle such as in USA - in Australia, they're more likely to be range-fed for most of their life, and only finished on grain for a short time.

"There are also plenty of horticultural crops that are very demanding of energy and inputs, and have higher greenhouse gas emissions per calorie than many meat products.

"One American study found that the recommended healthy diet guidelines (which had less meat, but more fruit, vegetables and seafood) had a higher environmental impact than the average American diet (which had more meat, but also more starch and sugar - generally foods with the lowest energy input per calorie).

"There are some promising research efforts reducing the methane production from cattle, but they're unlikely to get rid of it altogether.

"Whether there is more methane coming from coal mining or coal seam gas is really irrelevant - we need to reduce all sources. That said, animals can play a very effective role in many mixed farming systems.

"In summary, there's very strong scientific consensus that eating less red meat will lower the environmental footprint of your diet. But reducing food waste and minimising processing and packaging also helps."

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