Meat: a Benign Extravagance - new book by Simon Fairlie

Alison Banville alisonbanville at
Tue Sep 21 00:09:49 BST 2010

The Knight With a Drooping Lance

Never place people on pedestals, says Tony Wardle, for the taller you build 
them, the greater the height your heroes have to defecate on you

A latter-day Don Quixote, tilting at the windmills of imaginary environmental 
and political horrors, astride his trusty steed Rocinante (aka the Guardian). 
That’s how the Right perceive George Monbiot. Truth is, he’s been a voice of 
sanity on political and environmental issues for years and has an enviable track 

record of book writing, journalism and action.

But - and it’s a big but – he never mentioned the devastating impact on the 
planet of livestock production for meat and dairy.

I once asked his ex-girlfriend (now there’s a conversation stopper) why? Her 
answer was instant: “George loves his meat too much – you’ll never get him to 
give that up!” Always one for a challenge, I started feeding information to him 
and then, in 2002, it seemed I’d struck gold as George’s column said:“Veganism 
is the only ethical response to what is arguably the world’s most urgent social 
justice issue.” 

That article has been circulated around the animal movement ever since like some 

holy grail. Then, on September 6, 2010, George quietly urinated on this burning 
admiration: “I was wrong about veganism. Let them eat meat – but farm it 
properly.” By properly he means stop feeding animals grain and give them food we 

don’t eat.   

He starts with pigs - the perfect waste-disposal systems, turning dross into 
meat. There is enough food waste and crop residues to produce 800,000 tons of 
pork annually, he says, clearly working on the claim that we waste something 
like one-third of the food we buy.

Think of the state of the stuff you throw away as being inedible. Now imagine it 

sitting in a bin for perhaps a week or more before being collected and mixed 
with other people’s putrefying, maggot-ridden meat and fish scraps. Imagine the 
logistics and fuel use of collecting these separate little parcels of 
putrefaction, boiling them up and redistributing them to individual farms as 
heavy, liquid feed - swill.

The reason swill isn’t used any more is an over-reaction to BSE and foot and 
mouth scares, he says. Truth is, there was very little swill in use even before 
this for the simple reason that pigs don’t thrive on this unbalanced, unnatural 

He claims that a pig’s natural diet includes a fair bit of meat, which is again 
untrue. Pigs are predominantly vegetarian rooters with a few invertebrates, 
worms and amphibians thrown in - a tiny proportion of the total.

The claim is made to justify the insane recommendation that pigs should be fed 
meat and bone meal “so long as it is properly rendered.” How do you render meat 
and bone, George, to ensure that prions are destroyed? You can’t because they 
can withstand virtual incineration. These organisms, at the very frontiers of 
science, have infected not just cattle with BSE but 28 other species, including 

Their discoverer, Nobel Prize winner Professor Stanley Prusiner, is currently 
researching whether they may be behind the current explosion of Alzheimer’s 
disease in meat-eating countries across the world. 

George then turns to cattle and for them recommends: “straw, stovers and grass 
from fallows and rangelands.” Stovers (dry corn leaves) and straw are 
nutritionally almost valueless and unpalatable, which is why horses don’t eat 
the straw bedding in their stables. Even on mixed animal/arable farms you can 
see growing mountains of straw bales for which farmers have no use and animals 
won’t eat.

Grass fallow land? Now there’s a blast from the past  –  it’s a distant 
agricultural memory. You won’t find enough fallow land to feed a hutch of hungry 

rabbits. And rangelands? All over the world - from the USto the Far East, South 
Americato Africaand Australia– rangelands are seriously degraded from 
overgrazing, causing species extinction and soil erosion. Some 72 per cent of 
all arid and semi-arid rangelands are on the way to becoming desert – and they 
make up one-third of the planet’s land surface. 

He then uses these grossly inaccurate claims to rewrite the well-researched 
science on conversion rates – how many kgs of vegetable protein it takes to 
produce one kg of meat protein. It magically transforms from the 17:1 in the 
case of beef, established by Loma Linda and Amsterdamuniversities, into 2:1.

It follows that all George’s other assumptions built on this false premise are 
equally nonsensical.

Next comes water, with the claim that we have stupidly included all the rain 
that falls on any given pasture in arriving at the proposition that it takes 
100,000 litres of water to produce 1kg of beef. You might have, George, but I 

My figures vary but are taken from peer-reviewed research and are based on all 
the water used in meat production; grazing, fodder growing, slaughter and 
preparation. They also include the 60 per cent of all the world’s agricultural 
land that is irrigated (it’s only Californiathat uses irrigation, according to 

Take a little aeroplane ride across the Western States, George, and you’ll see 
that every field you traverse is perfectly circular. Why? Because they are boom 
irrigated by pumping up water from the Ogallala aquifer and further South by 
extracting it from Lake Meadand other huge reservoirs – all of which are drying 
up. The bulk of these fields grow water-greedy fodder and is why 36 US States 
face severe water shortages within five years, a problem repeated all over the 

Next under attack is the UN Food & Agriculture Organisation for its “daft” claim 

that livestock produce 18 per cent of greenhouse gases. A 400 page report with 
666 references - daft it isn’t! In fact it is supported by 
CranfieldUniversitywhich has done its own research (How Low Can We Go?) and 
comes to almost exactly the same figure. They’re both wrong, according to 
George, for stupidly blaming deforestation on cattle ranching when logging is 
the true cause.

Timber taken by loggers isn’t destroyed but sawn up and used in products which 
can last for decades. The CO2 emissions come from torching the vegetation that 
remains - shrubs and low-level plants, ferns and saplings, palms, mid-level and 
non target trees, vines and epiphytes. Loggers have no need to do this; it’s 
done to make the land ready for cattle ranching. The soil eventually turns to 
near desert through the usual mechanisms of over grazing and agro chemicals.

So in fact, the true figure is higher than 18 per cent because the vital carbon 
sinks provided by new forest growth and healthy soil are both destroyed, 
reducing the planet’s ability to absorb future CO2.

And so it goes on, scientifically bereft claims which George’s grabs from a 
single book and stuffs himself with them greedily in a monstrous act of self 
justification so he can continue to eat meat. The book is Meat: A Benign 
Extravagance, by ex-beef farmer Simon Fairlie.

The most depressing aspect of Monbiot’s article is that he turns on its head the 

advice he has been proffering for years – demand, resist, act, take control, 
call to account. With a stroke of his pen, consumers are turned into supine, 
powerless bystanders waiting for global changes which are entirely out of their 
hands and require such extraordinary international co-operation that they could 
never happen. And even if they did, would not work.

Meantime, environmental catastrophes gather like huge, black clouds on the 
horizon, threatening the lives of billions. No matter how arcane George’s 
claims, the answer is extremely simple and puts you in control – distance 
yourself immediately from these disasters and refuse to consume animal products 
and proselytise your decision. And that includes you, George!

The last word has to go that Bedfordshire-based shrine of capitalist learning, 
Cranfield. On global warming it says that the Government has no hope of reaching 

its essential targets for CO2 reduction unless we adopt a vegetarian diet!

So George, dust off your armour, get back on your white charger, straighten out 
your lance, avoid the windmills and ride into battle against the real baddies 
before we all become victims of your friendly fire.      

Tony Wardle
Associate Director
tony at

8 York Court
Wilder Street
BristolBS2 8QH
0117 944 1000


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