Go Vegan World Supports Plant Based Universities Initiative on Newstalk Radio
The Great Animal Agriculture Con
In June 2022, Newstalk interviewed Go Vegan World on the topic of Jane Buxton’s book titled The Great Plant Based Con. An insulting title doesn’t get the conversation off to a great start. The greatest con of all is the animal agricultural industry that has sold the myth that animal products are environmentally friendly and necessary for human health, with no regard whatsoever for the living, defenceless beings who were exploited and killed for profit.
There is a distinction between a plant-based diet and veganism. People do not go vegan for the environment. Neither do they go vegan for their personal health. Veganism is the manifestation of the belief that other animals, being sentient, are not our resources. We do not have the right to use or kill them. Being vegan is not a diet but living vegan involves eating a 100% plant diet. It so happens that this is the most sustainable and environmentally friendly diet we can eat, particularly if we reduce the amount of processed food we eat. A plant diet that is well balanced with a high intake of whole foods, is also nutritionally adequate and has health benefits.
These are the facts. They are supported by scientific evidence. Reports that are valid, reliable and credible, continue to appear in the literature in favour of a plant-based diet for many reasons. One initiative is to promote institutional change at universities by encouraging plant-based catering on campus.
Sandra Higgins was interviewed alongside Jane Buxton on Newstalk today, 18th October 2023 on the topic of Trinity College’s participation in the Plant Based University initiative.
Plant Based Universities Initiative
Trinity College, Dublin, recently ran a Meat Free Monday, offering a meat-free lunch in three of the college eateries and in the Students Union Café. The initiative is part of the Climate and Biodiversity Action Week, during which they hosted an introductory talk on the Plant Based Universities initiative.
Newstalk radio used the opportunity to invite Jane Buxton, author of The Great Plant Based Con to critique the initiative. Sandra Higgins, of Go Vegan World, was invited in a typical effort to portray Newstalk as being fair in presenting “both sides” of the debate. This false balance between one side that presents scientific fact (Go Vegan World) and the other that purports to be factual but is not (Jane Buxton), simply undermines the issue and confuses listeners. This method is said to be one of the most damaging practices in the coverage of the climate emergency. The agricultural industry has many spokespersons who plant seeds of doubt in the minds of listeners on behalf of their exploitative industry. Jane Buxton is one of them.
While Meat Free days are mere tokenism in the face of our climate emergency and devastating ecological destruction, Trinity College is to be applauded for its efforts to call for Plant Based catering on campus. We encourage them to get fully behind a plant-based campus and to follow the example of colleges that have adopted 100% plant-based diets, as part of the Plant Based Universities campaign.
Similar initiatives are happening in other universities in Ireland and in the UK, promoting institutional change away from the consumption of animal products to a more sustainable and ethical 100% plant-based diet.
Journalists and the media have a responsibility to report accurately on serious issues facing their listeners in a way that avoids confusion and helps listeners incorporate helpful change into their lives. At the current time, few issues are as serious as the climate emergency and ecological devastation that will leave young people with a planet that is uninhabitable. On 27th September 2023, six young people from Portugal took thirty two countries to trial at a hearing before the European Court of Human Rights for failing to do their part to avert climate catastrophe. A healthy planet is their right. Their action is one of several legal challenges for failure to take adequate action on climate change and environmental destruction. Indeed, Climate Case Ireland was the first case of its kind in Ireland and the second case in the World in which the highest court of law required a Government to revise its obligations on climate policy. If news coverage of climate and environmental catastrophes are not enough to raise awareness, these legal challenges illustrate that this is a very serious issue.
The science is quite clear that that phasing out animal agriculture and replacing it with plant-based production is necessary to prevent further climate and environmental chaos. Even if we stopped using fossil fuel now, our food emissions are so high that we will experience global disaster as a result of climate change.
It is disgraceful that the media would derail the student University Initiative by giving airtime to a spokesperson for the very industry that is destroying their future. Most of us in Ireland and the UK have scant experience of the effects of climate change and environmental destruction, although we will, undoubtedly and within our lifetimes, feel its effects. Our brothers and sisters in countries impacted by our Western lifestyles have personal experience of food insecurity, hunger, loss of their homes and everything familiar to them through floods and wildfire. In the face of their pain and our responsibility to them and to the children who will inherit the planet we leave behind, the Irish media have shown themselves, time and time again, to lack insight, empathy, and accountability.
The Impact of Animal Agriculture
The Plant Based Universities initiative is supported by the academics among the university staff comprising scientists, doctors, dietitians, climatologists and lecturers, as well as by students who in some cases voted overwhelmingly in favour of plant-based food on campus. Quite simply, this action means that universities, many of which are producing scientific papers that recommend action to tackle the foods that cause the highest emissions and have the greatest impact on land use, water, air and soil quality, will operate in alignment with their own scientific research.
Let’s look at some of the research.
Irish Sectoral GHG Emissions
Agricultural emissions in Ireland account for 38.4% of total emissions, most of which emanate from animal agriculture (EPA, 2023)1.
Global Food Emissions
Global Emissions from food are between one quarter and one third of all GHG emissions. Differences in percentages depend on whether land use and deforestation are taken into consideration and whether or not non-food items from agriculture such as leather, wool, cotton etc are included. The IPCC Special Report on Climate Change and Land estimates that agricultural emissions are between 21 and 37% of total emissions2.
The Animal Agriculture Problem
Climate Change and Environmental Destruction
Agriculture and land use are major sources of GHGs but emissions differ between different types of food production. Emissions from animal-based production are significantly higher than plant-based production. A 2021 study published in Nature Food estimates that 57% of global GHG emissions from food production are attributable to animal based foods, in comparison to 29% for plant based food3.
A large-scale study conducted by Joseph Poore of Oxford University, in 2018 looked at 38,000 farms producing 40 different agricultural goods around the world to determine the environmental impact of food production. The findings revealed that animal flesh and dairy production is responsible for 60% of agriculture’s GHG emissions. The study also found that the lowest impact animal products are still significantly higher than the highest impact plant foods.
The emissions from animal agriculture are particularly damaging because of their potency, especially methane and nitrous oxide. However, GHG emissions are not the only problem emanating from animal agriculture. The study assessed the full impact of animal agriculture on land use, freshwater use and water pollution (eutrophication) and air pollution (acidification) and found that the impact of a diet containing animal products is significantly more detrimental to the environment than a plant-based diet.
Animal Agriculture is Unsustainable & Inefficient
The Oxford study cited in the previous paragraph revealed that while the impact of animal agriculture is immense, it contributes far less value to human nutrition than we imagine in the Western World. It concluded that animal flesh and dairy production is responsible for 60 per cent of agriculture’s greenhouse gas emissions, while the products themselves provide just 18 per cent of calories and 37 per cent of protein levels around the world4.
The Union of Concerned Scientists, a body of scientists from around the world, working for a healthier future, support the facts. They estimate that using cows for their flesh (“beef”) uses 60% of the world’s agricultural land but accounts for less than 2% of the calories and 5% of the protein consumed worldwide5.
The Imperative of Plant Based Production and Consumption
Joseph Poore’s conclusion from the study was that “a vegan diet is the “single biggest way” to reduce negative human impact on the planet, not just greenhouse gases, but global acidification, eutrophication, land use and water use,”
A recent study analysed the diets of 55,000 people in the UK. They included vegan, vegetarian, pescetarian and omnivore diets. It also used data from 38,000 farms in 119 countries to account for differences in the impact of particular foods that are produced in different ways and places. This makes the study very comprehensive because we need to take account of the impact of food production versus food consumption. For example, the animal agriculture industry, aided and abetted by media outlets, may claim that local emissions from food production in their country are low. But this does not account for food consumption patterns which depend on large imports of animal products from countries with very high emissions. The study found that what was eaten was far more important than where and how it was produced, with respect to its environmental impact. The lowest impact animal products were responsible for eight times more climate change than the highest impact plant foods. The study concluded that vegan diets result in 75% less emissions but also less water pollution and land use, cut destruction of wildlife by 6% and water use by 54%. Methane emissions are 93% lower on a vegan diet6.
Scientists in Standord and University of California, whose study is available on Plos Climate, state that “phasing out animal agriculture is our best and most immediate chance to reverse the trajectory of climate change.” Their study shows that the elimination of animal agriculture would be of tremendous benefit in reducing GHG emissions and environmental destruction7.
One of the easiest and most effective actions that individuals can take to reduce their impact on the environment, climate change, pollution, desertification, and loss of biodiversity, is to eat a plant diet. The fact that this is easy is something that should be promoted, not criticised as Ms Buxton has done. Accusing vegans of virtue signalling misses the point entirely. Vegans are not calling attention to themselves; they are, in fact, doing quite the opposite. They are attending to the very broken speciesist system we are living in and asking for it to change.
Plant Based Diets and Health
The claims made by Jayne Buxton, who is an ambassador for the Real Food Campaign UK, which promotes animal agriculture, on Newstalk and elsewhere, are astounding in their lack of credibility and supporting evidence.
All the major world dietetics associations are clear that a plant-based diet can provide all the nutrients we need for health, for all stages of life from birth to old age. A 100% plant-based diet is also associated with a lower risk of health issues such as hypertension, obesity, type II diabetes and some cancers. Like any diet, a plant-based diet needs to be well planned to ensure adequate intake of essential nutrients. It is easy to make sure your diet is healthy if you base it on wholefoods such as fruit, vegetables, wholegrains, nuts and seeds, include foods that are fortified with essential nutrients such as calcium enriched foods and plant milks that contain B12, and limit your intake of convenience or fast foods.
We always caution that listeners and readers beware of taking nutritional advice from someone who plants seeds of doubt about a vegan diet on behalf of the industries that currently profit from the consumption of animal products. If you want to know more about plant-based nutrition, please consult reliable sources of information from dietitians who specialise in plant nutrition. We provide reliable links on this website.
Last year, the UK Government launched Climate and Health: All Our Health8, encouraging health professionals to promote a plant-based diet for health and environmental reasons:
“The foods most damaging to our health are often those with the highest emissions, pollution, land and water use. A diet rich in plant-based foods, and lower in animal source foods which have a significant environmental impact, has benefits for health and the environment. Adherence to the Eatwell Guide which encourages a high consumption of fruits, vegetables, wholegrains and plant-based protein, could contribute to a 7% reduction in mortality and a 30% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.
If we, as health and care professionals, can encourage people to adopt a balanced, sustainable diet and promote wider changes to our food system, we would reduce the environmental impact of food production and supply, as well as reduce the risk of diet-related disease.”
The UK Health Alliance on Climate Change (UKHACC), a coalition of the UK’s health professions, promotes a plant based diet. The organisation includes the Royal Colleges medicine and nursing, the British Medical Association and the Lancet, representing the doctors, nurses and other professionals entrusted with caring for the country’s health. The group says the climate crisis cannot be solved without action to cut the consumption of food that causes high emissions, such as red meat and dairy products. It also says that more sustainable diets are also healthier and would reduce illness9.
Why Would Anyone be Anti-Vegan?
It is worth questioning why Jane Buxton is anti-vegan? What would it matter to her if all the staff and students at Trinity College, and other universities, went vegan, unless by doing so they threatened those who currently profit from the population remaining non-vegan.
2 IPCC, 2019: Summary for Policymakers. In: Climate Change and Land: an IPCC special report on climate change, desertification, land degradation, sustainable land management, food security, and greenhouse gas fluxes in terrestrial ecosystems [P.R. Shukla, J. Skea, E. Calvo Buendia, V. Masson-Delmotte, H.- O. Pörtner, D. C. Roberts, P. Zhai, R. Slade, S. Connors, R. van Diemen, M. Ferrat, E. Haughey, S. Luz, S. Neogi, M. Pathak, J. Petzold, J. Portugal Pereira, P. Vyas, E. Huntley, K. Kissick, M. Belkacemi, J. Malley, (eds.)]. In press.
3 Xu, X., Sharma, P., Shu, S. et al. Global greenhouse gas emissions from animal-based foods are twice those of plant-based foods. Nat Food 2, 724–732 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s43016-021-00358-x.
4 J. Poore,T. Nemecek, Reducing food’s environmental impacts through producers and consumers. Science 360,987-992 (2018). DOI:10.1126/science.aaq0216.
6 Scarborough, P., Clark, M., Cobiac, L. et al. Vegans, vegetarians, fish-eaters and meat-eaters in the UK show discrepant environmental impacts. Nat Food 4, 565–574 (2023). https://doi.org/10.1038/s43016-023-00795-w
7 Eisen MB, Brown PO (2022) Rapid global phaseout of animal agriculture has the potential to stabilize greenhouse gas levels for 30 years and offset 68 percent of CO2 emissions this century. PLOS Clim 1(2): e0000010. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pclm.0000010.