Let’s first consider the dangerous effects of conventional, or chemical agriculture. This type of farming practice relies on synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides. These poisons remain in the soil, leading to a loss in soil quality, erosion, desertification and water pollution. They also cause grievous damage to wildlife and pollinators, which are indispensable for growing crops and maintaining ecosystems. As well, they require fossil fuels for their creation and transportation, which contributes to greenhouse gases and climate change. Furthermore, they jeopardize human health because the crops produced contain pesticide residues and high concentrations of heavy metals, and low levels of antioxidants and overall nutritional content (not to mention the toll they take on farmers’ health due to manipulating and applying such lethal substances). Lastly, with the advent of conventional agriculture we’ve seen the rise of industrial agriculture and all its woes, such as GMO’s (genetically modified organisms), concentrated mono-culture production, intensive tillage, excessive irrigation and factory farms, otherwise known as CAFO’s (concentrated animal feeding operation). The union of these two devastatingly dangerous agricultural tendencies has created an ultra-toxic cocktail that is contaminating our water, our soil and our air, and threatens all forms of life on Earth.
Organic farming has thus been heralded as the healthy and sustainable alternative to conventional agriculture, for instead of relying on chemical intervention, it relies on natural principles like composting and biodiversity, for example, to produce healthy, abundant food. Organic farming has a smaller carbon footprint, conserves and builds soil health, replenishes natural ecosystems resulting in cleaner water and air, all without toxic synthetic pesticide residues. It’s certainly a step in the right direction, but there is a major pitfall: to avoid using chemical fertilizing agents, organic farmers depend on fertilizers consisting of large quantities of animal products such as manure, blood, ground fish and bone meal.
The systematic and routine use of animal products in organic farming is problematic for a number of reasons, among which are: 1) Organic foods tend to have higher levels of potential pathogens, like E. Coli and Salmonella, likely due to the use of manure instead of artificial fertilizers, as many pathogens are spread through fecal contamination; 2) Animal manure used in organic agriculture is often contaminated by undesirable elements such as heavy metals, antibiotics, veterinary medicines or pesticides; 3) The use of animal manure in soils often leads to a surplus of nitrogen and phosphorus, which stays in the soil or flows into neighbouring waterways. In particular, nitrogen from these wastes is converted into ammonia and nitrates which leach into ground and surface water causing contamination of wells, rivers and streams, and often leading to eutrophication, extreme algae growth which in turn deteriorates the water quality, making it difficult and sometimes impossible for fish and other animals to live in that environment; 4) The raising of animals and the resulting manure that those animals produce release methane, a greenhouse gas which is 87% more potent than CO2.
Historically in India, manure and urine have been readily available in rural communities for free or low cost. But the exploding population of animals used for food has resulted in intensive animal farms, which have a disastrous impact on the environment and a parallel massive increase in animal waste. This excess manure is a tremendous problem, as are all the other animal products derived from animal slaughter that are ultimately used as fertilizers, such as blood, bone meal, feathers, etc. In fact, all of these products are waste materials (and often dangerous ones at that) and by purchasing them, not only do the slaughterhouses and factory farms profit financially, but they are absolved from the economic burden of the ground, water, and air pollution that they create. Small-scale or large-scale, these industries are some of the most environmentally damaging ones that exist, and by foregoing purchasing or even using animal byproducts, we oblige them to bear the full cost of their destruction.
Veganic farming is an approach to growing plant foods that embraces a respect for animals, the environment, and human health. Like organic farmers, veganic farmers abstain from using synthetic pesticides, artificial fertilizers and GMOs, but they go one step further by abstaining from the use of animal byproducts (manures or slaughterhouse byproducts).
Known also as “vegan-organic,” veganic agriculture is based on the belief that having animals exploited or killed is not a prerequisite to growing nutritious, abundant food. In rejecting the use of farmed animal wastes, veganic agriculture breaks the link between plant farming and the systematic exploitation of animals for food.
Ethical concerns aside, passing materials through animals to enrich the soil is a totally unnecessary process and only came into use when we began exploiting animals for food, in order to transform their waste into something less wasteful. In reality, the only thing this process accomplishes is to waste energy and resources. Soil fertility does not originate from animals; it comes from plants at the bottom of the food chain. In fact, there is nothing more in manure than the grains or grass already growing on the farm, simply passed through the animal’s digestive system, which hinders its efficiency and sustainability as a food producing method. Putting the grass and grains that feed animals directly into compost yields more organic matter than manure, and subsequently more fertilizer. Thus, not only does veganic agriculture minimize soil loss, it stimulates the formation of permanent humus, thereby protecting the soil from dehydration and improving the soil’s carbon dioxide sequestration potential.
Indeed, although the term “veganic” is relatively new as applied to farming, the practice of it is not. Pre-colonial agriculture in North and Central America did not rely on domesticated animals, as cattle, pigs, goats, and chickens were brought to the Americas by European colonialists. Native American agriculture relies on the three sister crops—corn, beans, and squash—that symbiotically keep the soil fertile, discourage predators, and complement each other nutritionally. Veganic farming was also practiced in ancient Greece, China and…India!
In general, veganic farmers produce their sources of fertility directly on the farm. The veganic adage is that by feeding the soil, the soil will feed the plants. Adding organic plant-based materials, often called “green manure,” to the soil produces rich living soil that is bountiful with microorganisms, which in turn feed the plants and create long-term fertility. Veganic techniques aim to enhance biodiversity of plants, animals and useful organisms, and veganic farms are complex systems where native animals, birds and insects are not driven away but instead cohabitate as they would in the wild. In this manner, veganic farmers are dedicated to the care of the wild ecology that surrounds and makes up their farmland.
Adopted on a large-scale, veganic farming will enable us to grow nutritious and abundant plant crops for direct human consumption while at the same time help to solve the climate crisis and the numerous environmental calamities that have come from raising animals for food. Once those animals are taken out of the equation, vast tracts of land will be freed up that can rewild and, in many cases, become forests again. Bountiful trees will draw the carbon from the atmosphere, biodiversity will flourish and wild animals will get their natural habitat back…with veganic agriculture, there are winners only: the environment, the animals and human health.