Number of Animals Killed to Produce One Million Calories

Animal Visuals, maintained by Mark Middleton, creates powerful visual graphics to help all of us better understand the world nonhuman animals on farms endure.

People are such visual creatures, a species of doubting Thomas' that must apparently see proof to believe the truth.

Some have argued, often with a serious expression, that vegans manage to kill more animals (or similar number of animals) because of crop harvesting and tilling that kills wildlife. Their argument follows that veganism is not as compassionate a diet as once implied and perhaps, we should just eat pigs and cows and be done with it. Certainly anyone who is vegan for ethical reasons would find that logic a bit unsound. (Admittedly, I laughed when it was seriously suggested, which I guess is generally frowned upon when the person is sitting right in front of you arguing their point in earnest).

Anyway, Animal Visuals took on the large task of ascertaining whether this argument was true. Did vegans contribute to more suffering because of the wildlife who certainly do die during the harvesting of crops? Should we just eat meat, eggs and drink milk because it harms the wildlife and environment less? Balderdash!

Using as much information as is currently accessible regarding estimated number of animals killed during the harvesting of crops for human consumption and the number of animals killed for human consumption (along with the secondary killing of animals during the harvesting of crops to feed livestock), Animal Visuals created a graph of the number of animals killed to produce one million calories.

See for yourself:

As you can see, the number of animals killed during the harvesting of crops is highest on land used to feed "beef" cattle, followed by chickens in the meat industry, pigs in the pork industry, hens in the egg-industry, dairy cows in the milk industry. At the end of the pack is vegetables, grains and fruits raised for human consumption.

When you add in the slaughter of the cattle, pigs and chickens, the disparity becomes even more glaring. To produce one million usable calories to maintain a standard american diet nearly 400 million cattle, pigs, egg-laying hens, chickens, and wildlife must die. To produce one million usable calories to sustain a vegan diet 5.93 million wild animals die.

To be certain, it is tragic that nearly 6 million wild animals die during the harvesting of grains, vegetables and fruit. There is no question that those deaths are sad and heart-breaking, as much as it is sad and heart-breaking for a piglet, lamb or chicken to die for human consumption.

But there is also no question that the magnitude of death is fantastically larger if we are discussing animal agriculture than if we are discussing the crops needed to sustain a vegan's diet. Sixty-seven times larger, to be precise. That is, on an omnivorous diet, you are creating a market for 67 times more dead animals than if you selected a vegan diet. And since this study did not include turkeys, that number can only be larger (270 million are slaughtered annually, raised similarly to chickens and fed more than chickens).

I think we can put to rest the inane notion that a vegan diet somehow contributes to more death and suffering than a diet that is results in the death of 10 billion animals for consumption and an additional 65 million during the harvesting of the crops fed to those animals.

We can do better. We must do better. And the easiest way to do better is to transition to veganism. Purity, in the sense that no sentient being is harmed, is an impossibility in almost any society. That should not stop all of us from significantly reducing the negative and harmful impact we have upon other species.