An open letter to the Government of Australia

To the Australian Government and its representative members,

I write to you as a concerned member of the public about a critical issue related to the health and environment of Australians.

In the lead up to the Federal Government elections this year, the major parties are putting out campaigns about their plans to tackle climate change. However, I thought it was odd that none of the major parties have mentioned the number one leading cause of climate change – animal agriculture. If they truly cared about climate change, they’re focusing on the wrong thing.

A full 18% of global greenhouse gas emissions are produced by the livestock industry, with some estimates including related sources placing the figure at over 50%, compared to just 13% for the transport sector. In western nations it takes 2-2.5 acres of land to grow one cow in a factory farm, while free range farming is even worse, requiring 10 or more times the land usage. Farms also produce significant amounts of waste which ends up in waterways and eventually in the ocean, producing dead zones and harming marine life. Howard Lyman, a former cattle rancher from USA, has stated that “You can’t eat meat and call yourself an environmentalist.”

Further, there are boundless health reasons to adopt a plant based diet, and for a government to promote one. Most chronic health diseases such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes and obesity can be cured with a vegan diet, and the risk of cancer is significantly lower. Diet related issues in 2010 contributed to the burden of disease in USA more than smoking, high blood pressure and high blood sugar.

The NHMRC claims to be the peak body for health advice and medical research in Australia; however they are out of step with the other major organisations in the world in advocating meat and dairy consumption as part of a healthy diet. They are, willingly or otherwise, harming Australia and costing tax payer billions of dollars a year. I have written an article about the economic benefits of a government run public health campaign around diet with a focus on encouraging a vegan diet, and the low case benefits run into the billions of dollars within a few years (

Finally, supporting the livestock industry is cruel and unjust. A growing number of your electorate has decided to adopt a vegan lifestyle in order to not be a part of animal exploitation. The average human eats 7,000 animals in their lifetime. In a world where we abhor treating others because they are different (different skin colour, race, gender, sexuality, religious choices etc.), it is unacceptable to continue to treat animals the way we do simply because they are different. Cows are forcibly impregnated in order to produce milk, and their babies are often taken at birth so they don’t take their mother’s milk so that it can get to a human’s mouth. As a result, this is also a feminism issue.

“The question is not, Can they reason? nor, Can they talk? but, Can they suffer?” – Jeremy Bentham.

I appreciate that a lot of support to the major parties comes from the livestock industry, and people are concerned about jobs, however, no one could justify protecting the tobacco industry because of its support or its jobs. Here I have demonstrated that the industry is worse than tobacco and cigarettes. We must transition if we claim to respect the lives of human and non-human animals in Australia. This election, I will be urging all of my friends, family and colleagues to not vote for those parties that still support animal agriculture.

Vegan Australia has released a report demonstrating how the Australian agricultural system can be adapted to avoid the necessity for animal farming, which I encourage you to look at.

Many of the facts from this article are taken from the documentary Cowspiracy, which I urge you to watch if any of this is surprising to you.

Please feel free to call or arrange a meeting to discuss.

Yours faithfully,

Michael Dello-Iacovo

Feel free to use the material here to send to your own representative in the lead up to the Australian federal election if the issues I’ve discussed are important to you.

On veganism and morality

I believe that exploiting animals for their flesh is fundamentally wrong.

If you know me, that shouldn’t be a surprise; I’m a vegan for ethical reasons, so it logically follows that I think eating meat is wrong, and therefore that anyone who does eat meat is doing something wrong. I’m occasionally told that this view makes people feel uncomfortable, and that I should be more respective of the personal choice of others. Let’s look at what a personal choice is.

A personal choice is choosing not to exercise, or choosing to watch one movie instead of another. Physically harming and exploiting a human for pleasure is not a personal choice. If you believe, as I do, that non-human animals can feel and suffer almost as much as humans can (science believes this too – even for fish and (maybe) insects), then you should also hold the view that paying someone to physically harm and exploit animals is not actually a personal choice.

Now let’s think about discomfort. If you lived in a society of people who harm humans for pleasure, you would, presumably, feel justified in making people feel uncomfortable and telling them they are doing something wrong, and making it clear that you do not condone their actions, even if they only have slaves several days a week. Again, as animals can suffer just like humans, there should be no qualms with making it clear that harming animals for pleasure is wrong in an assertive manner. There is probably nothing to be gained by being overly aggressive, but there is also probably nothing to be gained by being overly passive (a view shared by Dr Casey Taft, who wrote Motivational methods for effective vegan advocacy: A clinical psychology perspective).

There are those who choose to remain passive for the sake of their own immediate wellbeing, and that of those around them, but I don’t believe this to be the right choice. For the same reasons we tell loved ones that they can’t sing to save them happiness in the future, despite the short term discomfort, we should be comfortable telling those close to us that their actions are not ethical. Imagine a friend or family member reaching the end of the life and realising they did something wrong for the last 80 years, despite multiple opportunities to change. Would you not prefer that you had helped them realise that earlier? Not to mention it places a very low weighting on the wellbeing of the 7,000 animals that the average human eats in their lifetime.

As recently as 150 years ago the majority of the world believed that it was acceptable to use and abuse humans who were sufficiently different to them. Presumably we are quite happy there were those who stood up and made the slave traders uncomfortable. However, today we still use and abuse other beings simply because they are different. Very little has changed – we are just a little kinder to 1 species amongst millions.

For an anecdote, I recently attended a strategy meeting with an environmental organisation in Australia. The focus was on effective means of advocating for climate action in the lead up to the Federal election in July. I mentioned that I was seriously concerned that so many individuals and organisations claimed to care about the environment, and would actually harass people who don’t (they spent 10 minutes insulting the personal character of a local politician who was not present), and yet still don’t make the one lifestyle change which makes the biggest difference of all; going vegan. Further, the same organisations and people refuse to make vegan advocacy a priority for mitigating climate change. Everyone in the room averted their eyes. I don’t feel bad for making them uncomfortable. If I was in a room of climate change deniers I would happily tell them they are wrong about that. This exchange was different in topic, but not in theme.

This is mostly a piece on what I believe. The most effective means of advocacy, and therefore what I should do in practice, is another question entirely. To that end, I’m currently writing a review paper on the effectiveness of different actions that individuals and organisations can take to reduce and hopefully eliminate the suffering and exploitation of human and non-human animals. However, in conclusion, I don’t believe there is anything to be gained by being passive in the face of atrocities.

The standard you walk past, is the standard you accept.” Lieutenant General David Morrison

If you are reading this and thinking that you are too old to change because of habit, I’d like to dissuade you of that notion. There are more and more examples of people of all ages making the change. But even if you believe that change gets harder as you get older, that should be reason to make the change now, not to wait.

The problem with so many advocacy groups

Recently I’ve become somewhat jaded with typical advocacy groups, which are usually in the form of non-profit organisations. These organisations are very often single issue groups – they pick a side in a debate (sometimes for great reasons, sometimes not), and stick to it. In fact, they are bound to stick to it – a point I’ll return to shortly.

Take an extreme example like the Anti-Nuclear Alliance of Western Australia. They are clearly committed to being against nuclear. Without actually taking sides here and completely ignoring the science (because for this thought experiment it’s irrelevant), let’s say that we know for a fact that nuclear use is unsound – the ANAWA would therefore have very good reasons to be against nuclear in (Western) Australia. But let’s now say that the state of science has changed. We realised we were wrong, and now we’re very certain that nuclear usage is not only safe, but beneficial and necessary to tackle climate change (these scientific flips really aren’t that uncommon, even today). In this hypothetical world, we’re now more sure that nuclear is safe and beneficial than we are that smoking causes lung cancer. What happens to the Anti-Nuclear Alliance of Western Australia?

In all honestly, I dare say they would most likely stick to their policy line. Their organisational mission, strategy and vision all dictate that they fight against nuclear in Australia. They owe it to their stakeholders, the donors who are giving money to them to fight nuclear, to continue their path. I see this as a fundamental flaw of such an organisation.

I often joke about a charity called the ‘Do The Right Thing Society’, or the ‘Best Possible World Organisation’, whose mission is simply to make the world as good a place as possible. Such an organisation might not be as appealing to the majority of the public as something more punchier, even if they happen to have the same mission at the time because the science aligns with public sentiment that way. The advantage with DTRTS though is that they are committed to updating their mission and actions with new evidence. If we expect individuals to do this, why can’t we demand the same of charities, or political parties for that matter?

In essence, I do believe that Effective Altruism seeks to plug this gap. At its core, it’s a movement of people seeking to find the most effective ways to maximise well being while being neutral to individual causes.

There are some things that we can be quite confident will not change, like the fact that non-human animals, women and other groups persecuted in the past and present should not be exploited. However, society did once believe that it was right to keep slaves, right for women to not vote, and many still believe that it is right to exploit animals. People should be open to changing their minds, even on their most closely held beliefs.

I have a nightmare that historians a mere 200 years in the future will look at my actions with horror, or kindly explain to each other that my actions were a product of the time and there’s nothing I could have done about it. What do we do today that will be abhorrent in the future? I think the only thing we can do is stay open minded about morality, whilst accepting that there is a right answer out there somewhere, and we are always striving towards it.

Rate of growth of veganism

I heard a statistic right at the end of this video from 2014 by vegan advocate and psychologist Melanie Joy.

In the United States, the number of vegans and vegetarians has doubled in the past three years.

This got my attention. Even with a low starting point, if that rate of increased continued, it would quickly hit 100%. How quickly? The answer might surprise you.

Estimates of the proportion of vegans within countries vary greatly from year to year, and even between studies, probably due to small or biased samples. One only needs to look at three surveys produced by the Vegetarian Resource Group in 2011, 2012 and 2015. The number of vegetarians (including vegans) goes from 5%, to 4% to 3.4%. It seems unreasonable to believe (though I wouldn’t quite fall off my chair if I’m wrong) that the proportion of vegetarians in a developed nation is dropping over recent years. The sample sizes of these studies (and many similar ones) is around a few thousand, which might give statistically significant results, but they are still uncertain. As such, I don’t believe the number is actually decreasing, and I’m happy to take a doubling of vegans over 3 years at face value for the purpose of this estimate.

If we take a lower bound and say 0.5% (which seems highly likely to be a lower bound for USA), and model in a 100% increase in proportion every 3 years, we get this.

Years from nowProportion of vegans in USA

So we might expect to see a full population of vegans, at least in USA, barring some outliers, after around 21-24 years. We assume a constant rate of growth here, which is highly unlikely to be true. But will it get faster or slower over time? When we look at many social justice movements (e.g. black rights, abolition of slavery), they follow an exponential growth rate [do they?]. We might also expect veganism to hit a run away critical mass. We should probably also expect that there will be some people who will simply take much longer to change their underlying beliefs if not their actions, just like we still have some people who wish minority groups are still treated differently in secret. In the same way, animal exploitation will probably be illegal long before all humans disagree with it. If we’re off on the growth rate by double, as in it is only doubling every 6 years, we’d still simplistically expect to see a vegan USA within 48 years.

This is incredibly simplistic and possibly over optimistic, but it does serve to bring some hope. We might be closer to the end of exploitation than we think. We’re winning the fight, but we can’t let up.

The Vegetarian Resource Group studies for 2011, 2012 and 2015.