Insanity over plant-based food labeling in Australia

Here we go again…

Today, the Regional Services Minister Bridget McKenzie of the National Party willask a food regulation forum to back her bid to have Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) review terminology and crack down on imitation and so-called fake foods“. Fake foods as opposed to, what, real foods?

Laws are taking hold in France and Missouri, USA, which restrict the use of labels such as ‘meat’ and ‘milk’ to describe plant-based foods, even when they are clearly labelled as plant-based. For example, no more ‘plant-based meat’ or ‘soy milk’.

I’ve written about this before, and I’m frustrated that I need to write about it again. Apparently Australian Federal Government ministers don’t read my blog, because if they did, they’d surely see how their argument doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. Let me go through a few key points in response.

[Senator McKenzie] said farmers feared their businesses were at risk because shoppers often did not realise they were buying plant-based products, rather than products from animals.

The products are very clearly labelled as plant-based. Below is a picture of the plant-based mince available in Australia that kicked up a fuss earlier in the year. For Senator McKenzie or farmers to suggest that a consumer might get confused and accidentally buy this instead of meat from an animal is an insult to their intelligence.

Senator McKenzie is also missing the point. People are buying these products not because they are confused, but because they are concerned about their health, the environment, and the suffering of innocent non-humans.

[Senator McKenzie] said as an increasing number of consumers were not eating animal products because of allergies or philosophical beliefs, “that’s their decision but we need to be careful [we] don’t confuse the marketplace and we still protect the reputation, hard earned by our clean, green farmers”.

Somewhere along the way we seem to have romanticised animal farmers – they can do no wrong. What exactly do you mean by clean and green, Senator McKenzie? Clean as in lack of disease and animal suffering? To dissuade you of this notion which I am sure you have zero risk of being biased in, please watch this recently released documentary which shows exactly how animals are being farmed in Australia.

Green, as in animal agriculture being one of the leading causes of anthropogenic global warming? This UN report is over a decade old but has gone largely unnoticed by governments and traditional environmental charities.

Federal National Party politicians have been vocal critics of plant-based protein products being labelled as mince.

This is the most ridiculous claim out of them all. The word ‘mince’ refers to the production process, not what the product is made from. To mince means ‘to cut up into very small pieces’. One can mince plants just as they can mince animal products. The fact that the National Party has been comfortable with the existence of fruit mince pies for years and have made no comment on them recently reveals their true motive.

Please sign the petition here to demand that such a law is never passed in Australia.

Would Australians starve if we stopped farming animals?

An objection to not farming non-human animals that is common in Australia is that most Australian farm animals are raised in pasture land or arid land that would otherwise not be suitable for growing crops. Therefore, if everyone in Australia was vegan, we would starve. Or something like that.

When people think of Australian farmed animals, they usually think of cattle, sheep and goats, which are more likely to be pasture raised (but not always). People rarely think about the chickens and pigs, which are much more commonly kept in factory farms and fed a diet of grain and other farmed plant food. Using the average from 1994-2016 from FAO, in Australia there are 27.4 million beef cattle, 95.3 million sheep, and 2.7 million goats. For animals mostly raised in factory farms and fed grain, there were 2.5 million pigs, 1.1 million turkeys, and 87 million chickens (although note 551 million chickens were slaughtered in 2012 – this dichotomy is due to their short lifespans). Once we examine the statistics, Australia doesn’t quite seem like the land of pasture farming anymore.

One might reasonably suppose that it is no mistake that the type of farmed animal Australians are most familiar with are cows and sheep. If Australians knew what happened in chicken/pig farms (even free range, which are usually as bad), and all slaughterhouses, they might not eat animals. The pasture raised animals are the ones we see in advertisements of struggling farmers, not the chickens stepping over the decaying bodies of their fellow species in ‘free range’ farms.

It takes many kg of plants to make 1 kg of animal flesh (often at a 7 to 1 or greater ratio). We should be able to assume that these plants could be consumed by humans as well, but even if that is not the case, if we didn’t grow whatever plant it was, we could grow crops for humans in their place. If we assume that most of the plants fed to non-humans in factory farms in Australia are sourced in Australia (I think this is reasonable), we should still have enough food to feed Australians even if we eliminated all animal farming in Australia. We wouldn’t even need to repurpose arid land to grow crops that are suited to those climates (e.g. almonds and hemp), although we may want to do this anyway.

To put this another way, we would have so much spare land for growing crops for people if we stopped farming chickens, pigs and turkeys that it would almost certainly make up for the lost ‘food’ from farming cows, sheep and goats, and then some.

Los Angeles banning fur is great, but why not leather too?

The city of Los Angeles has banned the sale of new fur products. This is a fantastic outcome – there is no justification for the harms caused to animals raised for their fur when so many perfectly fine alternatives exist. The state of California is relatively progressive on issues relating to animals (San Francisco also banned fur sales earlier in the year), but one must wonder how best to use this momentum to have fur banned in other cities in the US and globally.

I also wonder how this momentum might be used to gain traction on related issues, such as banning the sale of leather. I have always found it interesting that the wearing of fur has been so strongly disdained by the public for so long, while the wearing of leather is seen by most (besides probably just vegans) as being benign. I’m quite unsure why this is the case, both involve the killing of a non-human to turn their bodies into clothing.

The only meaningful perceived difference I can think of is that cows, the animal leather is most commonly taken from, are also exploited for their flesh and milk, while fur animals are generally not (although I doubt most people think about it this much). However, the production of leather isn’t really a by-product, according to the documentary Dominion. Leather production is an economic factor in its own right, and thus buying leather should be expected to result in more cows being farmed.

If you have celebrated the banning of the backward practice of selling animal fur as clothing, please also consider not buying animal skin for clothing. If you’re feeling really adventurous, you can even consider not engaging in the ultimate unnecessary use of animals – using their flesh and excretions for food.

Why I support the Australian Animal Justice Party and why you should too

Ever since I got interested in politics, I had always been hesitant to align myself with a given party. My rationale was mainly that I like to update my beliefs based on evidence and rational thought, and I worried that if I became a member of a party, I would become biased. Even if I wasn’t biased, there would be an external perception that I was, and it might be harder encourage others to vote for what I thought was the best party.

Also, it would be fair to say that I don’t agree with any Australian party on all of their policies and priorities. Of course, there are some that I agree with more, but I like to vote in elections based on the current landscape, not a pre-committed allegiance.

Voting for the best party is important – more so than many might first assume. I’ve written about this before. To recap:

People often say that you’re unlikely to have any impact when voting, or that the impact of your vote is so small that it’s not worth thinking about, but this is only true if you only care about yourself. In Doing Good Better, Will MacAskill simplistically estimates that the expected value of voting for a US citizen, when spread out across all citizens in USA, is around $5,200 USD (~$7,000 AUD at the time of writing [and I believe the value for an Australian voter is quite similar]). That is to say, on average, $5,200 of the budget will be spent differently as a result of your vote (see the appendix for a more detailed explanation of why this is so). This means it’s very important to vote for the party that will spend the budget in the best way possible.

The impact of your vote on you personally, however, is worth significantly less than $1. So unless you think you’re really, really important, you should probably vote for the best party for others in general.

While many in the effective altruism and effective animal advocacy space are quite comfortable to say they believe a particular charity, intervention or career path is effective at reducing suffering and why, few are comfortable talking about why they think a given political party is effective at reducing suffering (relatively speaking), and I think that’s a shame. We need to change the culture of talking about politics to one that is truth-seeking and open to changing minds.

Part of it may be the perception of bias, and I want to talk about this. After years of consideration, I currently think that the Animal Justice Party is the party that I expect to most reduce suffering if they are successful (e.g. get more votes, funding, seats etc.). As a result, I went to AJP events, I eventually became a member, and now I am considering becoming significantly more involved with the party in to the future. My involvement follows my research. It is not the case, at least now, that I would support or promote the AJP because I am a member.

People often assume that one’s motivation is biased if they promote X, but the rationale can come from the other direction. People can believe the evidence and therefore act on it, and political parties are no exception. We should be wary of someone who says the party they support is the best party because [insert evidence], but not outright distrustful.

With that preamble, I want to talk a little about why I am a supporter of the AJP, and why I think you should be too (before the perception of my bias becomes even stronger, if it’s not too late). In fact, I think you should be a supporter of the AJP even if you aren’t vegan, for similar reasons that I put forth in my post about why you should support animal charities even if you aren’t vegan.

What do I mean by supporter? I mostly mean signing up as a member ($30 AU per year*), and voting for them, but could also include other stuff. Of course, this doesn’t mean you are committing to support them for life. For a while this was a major source of reservation for me in not becoming a member. But I reserve the right to part ways with the party if I disagree with them or think supporting another party would be more effective. But I think that if you are more confident than not that a party is ‘best’, you should support it until you think otherwise.

The first political party I felt strongly about was the Greens, due to my concerns about human rights and the environment. However, I worry that the Greens don’t go anywhere near far enough for non-humans, and hold, in my view, anti-science policies around energy (e.g. they are strongly opposed to nuclear energy, and make little to no reference of the environmental harms of the livestock industry). They are ‘pretty good’, but I am confident that AJP largely addresses these concerns and then some.

One thing I find partly but not completely surprising is that many vegans, vegetarians, and others concerned largely with animal suffering, don’t vote for or support the AJP. Perhaps they think AJP doesn’t go far enough still, or that there are other important issues. But to this, I say that AJP arguably goes the furthest thus far, and that you may as well vote first preference for AJP, and second preference for the presumably larger party you believe is better informed about other issues.

So, dear reader, if you trust my judgement and impartiality (and if not at least consider and look in to it), you should sign on as an AJP member and vote for them at the state and federal level unless some valid information changes your mind. As an AJP member you will have a stronger say over their priorities, as well as increasing the strength of their influence on Australian politics. In the words of AJP themselves:

Every additional member means added strength, funds and political capital for the AJP to pursue its animal protection agenda. Your membership sends a message to the other parties that animal protection is a political force to be reckoned with – one that our members are prepared to put their vote behind.

If you want to look at some of my thinking on different parties, you can see this analysis I did with Hugo Burgin on 6 parties at the time of the last federal election in 2016, though note that it is somewhat out of date and my views have shifted somewhat.

Finally, a quick reminder that voting for a party that is relatively unlikely to gain a seat in Australia is not a wasted vote, captured perfectly by this comic.

* Even if you donate all or much of your disposable income to effective charities, as I know some of my friends and readers do, I still think this is a highly impactful use of your marginal $30.

Why do vegans talk about veganism so much?

Being a vegan, I meet many people who get on some level why I am vegan, but just don’t understand why vegans talk so much about non-human animals and how they are treated in farming. I have come up with a story which, I hope, will enable you to understand, even if you don’t agree. I want you to really try and visualise yourself in this scenario and be honest with yourself for maximum effect. My goal here is not to convince you to be a vegan, but to convince you that, if you were vegan, you would want to talk about it all the time too.

Imagine you lived in a society where 99% of the population ate humans. These humans are farmed in ways that bring about unimaginable suffering, and they are killed at very young ages. When you find out how most of your food is made, you make a decision to stop contributing to it. You stop purchasing human products.

But most of your friends and family still eat humans. You might go to dinner with friends and see them eating humans around you. They ask you why you don’t eat humans and you explain. They might crack a few jokes, or say that these humans are bred for food, so it’s ok, or that they are less intelligent, so it’s ok. They might say that it’s necessary to eat humans for survival or to be healthy, but you know it’s not.

Perhaps you would feel compelled to tell your friends what really happens in human farms, and why it is wrong to eat them. I can almost guarantee that you wouldn’t be silent. You would want to tell everyone, and wouldn’t care if people thought you were being too ‘pushy’ or ‘preachy’. When your friends listen but ignore your plea, you might start to feel helpless and dejected. You might think about the footage of humans suffering, and know that it doesn’t have to be that way. Your friends are good people, so you just can’t understand why they choose to continue eating humans.

Perhaps you disagree that non-humans should be given ethical consideration. Perhaps you think that the taste of their flesh outweighs their suffering. But through this hypothetical, you can now see why vegans talk about it so much. Because we do think non-humans are as or almost as worthy of moral consideration as humans. We know how easy it is to reduce the suffering caused by animal agriculture, and it is hard for us to live in a society where 99% of people disagree with us. If you don’t think you can understand, then you are deceiving someone, and it’s probably yourself.


Helping Aussie farmers in a drought? There are better opportunities

Lately, I feel like the motivation for me to write a post on a particular topic comes from having had a series of debates on social media about it until I get frustrated enough that I want to write out my thoughts in full so I don’t have to talk about it anymore. This post is no exception.

Some regions of rural Australia are currently experiencing their worst drought in 100 years. This surely affects all farmers (and users of water), but it seems the media has chosen to focus on how it affects animal farmers. It has sparked a lot of attention, from news articles, to it being a major talking point on political Q&A show Q&A and countless businesses pledging to give some of their profits from a certain day or item to farmers (usually through a charity called Buy a Bale which gives stock feed, money and volunteers to farmers).

This issue has also divided many vegans. Most are against the idea of helping animal farmers e.g. by donating to Buy a Bale, but some are also urging vegans to support the farmers to alleviate the suffering of the animals affected by the drought. This would be a hard pill for vegans to swallow, but I would like to argue that, even if you were open to supporting animal exploitation in some cases, to do so here would be highly irrational.

The suffering of the humans and non-humans affected by this is clearly awful. However, in thinking about supporting the farmers, vegans and non-vegans alike have completely ignored the concept of opportunity cost. That is to say, if one were to spend or donate a dollar in one way, they are forgoing other opportunities to spend or donate the dollar in other ways.

By supporting animal farmers, you are forgoing much more effective opportunities to help humans (e.g. Against Malaria Foundation where you would save a life for an average of $6,000 AU), or animals (e.g. Vegan Outreach). It seems quite hard to argue that giving stock feed, money or volunteers to animal farmers would be more effective at alleviating either human or non-human suffering than any of the current top rated giving opportunities (e.g. GiveWell for humans, and Animal Charity Evaluators for non-humans).

Even if you disagree with the research put out by either of these organisations, you must surely recognise that the chances of Buy a Bale being the best bet for reducing suffering are very low. Check your biases – are you supporting Buy a Bale because you think it is the best thing to do, or is it because it is a topical issue currently that is in the news and a lot of other people are doing it?

“Will you buy a parmy and help our farmers and animals?”
Public: Yeah!
“Will you donate to an effective international development or animal charity outside of a media cycle?”
Public (usually): Eh

Any one dollar you donate to help animal farmers is one dollar you could otherwise use to reduce suffering more effectively. Yes, the suffering of animal farmers and their animals is sad, but it’s sad because they suffer. If we care about suffering, we should be open-minded about how best to reduce it.

I also want to say that I’ve seen some quite awful things said about farmers by vegans in the context of this drought. Things have been said along the lines of ‘I’ll pay for the farmers to be shot alongside their animals’. Threats of violence are never ok, and it’s not even useful to say it, regardless of whether it is a joke or not. All suffering is bad, and that includes the suffering of humans who harm animals. We can be sad about their suffering without condoning the suffering they cause non-humans.

If you have seen any comments like these, please know that they are not representative of animal advocates in general. In any case, how a minority of people in a movement or who hold an idea act should not affect your opinion on the movement or idea itself. After all, I have also received death threats from a variety of meat eaters and farmers, but I do not in any way believe this to be representative of meat eaters or farmers as a whole.

In much of the conversation about this, people are turning to climate change and the increased likelihood and severity of droughts. Some are playing a political blame game, while others are condemning the energy industry for their part in climate change. I do find it somewhat ironic that no one seems to be talking about the role of animal agriculture in increasing climate change (it’s one of the leading contributors) which in turn affects animal agriculture (and all users of water).

In particular, I’m disappointed in Q&A for completely neglecting this in their discussion on Monday (yes, I’m calling you out Tony). It has gone on for so long that it is starting to feel like undeclared interests, rather than complete ignorance.

As a final point, if you don’t like seeing animals suffer, don’t pay people to breed them. Be vegan.

Response to criticism of Aspeys’ cruise

A recent video has accused vegan activist James Aspey of hypocrisy. From what I can gather from the video, Aspey has taken part in a cruise with a number of vegans, where he gave talks which the video accuses of ‘preaching to the choir’. The video argues that Aspey contributed to environmental damage by taking part in the cruise, and is therefore hypocritical.

It seems like the main objection here is not that Aspey spent money and time on the cruise. If they were criticising the money he spent on the travel, arguing that what he is spending it on is ineffective at reducing suffering and that there were more effective things he could be doing with it, I’d be inclined to agree. But a) that doesn’t seem to be the argument, and b) we all spend money on things we don’t need when we could be further reducing suffering.

I don’t like cruise ships either, but most people don’t donate all of the money they would spend on leisure activities on donations to the worlds most effective environmental or vegan charities (as much as I do wish people would donate more). Are we not all doing the same every time we spend money on ourselves instead of reducing environmental damage or suffering?

I didn’t see a figure for the volume of emissions per person as a result of going on the cruise, but I’d be very surprised if it were more than a few tonnes. This amount can be offset via a donation of several dollars to Cool Earth. If we ignore the money being spent on the cruise that’s could otherwise be donated (that doesn’t seem to be the objection here?), anyone spending $10 on a meal when they could spend $5 and donate $5 is causing roughly the same degree of damage, unless you don’t think that an inaction can be as morally culpable as an action. I think you probably already believe this, since many people would agree that walking past someone dying and not saving them when you could for no cost is as bad as killing them yourself.

Of course, I still think spending too much money on leisure activities is bad (I still do it more than I’m happy with) and encourage people to consider donating more to effective charities (for ones own happiness, as well as for the greater good), but if we are upset with Aspey for taking part in the cruise, we should be upset with some 90% of vegans who spend money on leisure activities.

I could steelman the video by expanding the argument to saying that Aspey would have been better off giving the money to an effective cause and doing some advocacy locally. I don’t know the content of Aspeys’ talk, and in fact the video makes no effort to address it (the creator of the video, KARen Savior, is a well known critic of Aspeys’ work), but let me also steelman his involvement. If he was using the talk to get the other vegans to become more effective advocates for animals, that may well have been a decent (still not the best) use of money.

We don’t like to think about it, but every time we spend money on ourselves, there is an opportunity cost.

As an aside, I have had some incredibly frustrating conversations about the original video here and here, including receiving ad hominem attacks and a variety of other fallacies.

How effective is the ban on single-use plastic straws and bags?

Recently, Australia has had a wave of bans on plastic straws and plastic bags from being available at many bars, restaurants and supermarkets. The main objective appears to be to reduce the amount of plastic that ends up in the ocean (the famous Great Pacific Garbage Patch comes to mind). This plastic often breaks down in to microplastic – small particles that don’t further break down and end up being eaten by small fish, thus entering the food chain. A laudable goal to be sure.

However, given what I know about the relative effectiveness of interventions, I wonder if this is the most effective (or even relatively effective) at reducing plastic relative to other things one can do. I will note that I already have pre-existing opinions on this, but will do my best to make an unbiased assessment.

There are two ways to look at this. One is to consider the actions of an individual. In other words, how effective is it for me to stop using plastic straws and bags relative to doing some other thing. The other way is to consider it from the perspective of a business or other actor such as a campaigner who is seeking to get businesses stop stocking such items. I will focus on the first one. Examining the impact of working to reduce plastic bag and straw use in general relative to reducing plastic use in other cases seems hard and not well suited for a brief examination.

First, I will estimate the volume of plastic used in these two cases by the average Australian.

Plastic use from single-use plastic bags

Woolworths [an Australian supermarket] currently gives out more than 3.2 billion single-use HDPE plastic bags every year, and according to a 2009 study, about 1 per cent of those, or 30 to 40 million, find their way into the environment. [From here]

Woolworths isn’t the only source of plastic bags in Australia, but it’s a good start. We can probably assume that the 1% figure of these bags getting to the environment is representative of the bags as a whole. A fact sheet by Keep Queensland Beautiful states that Australians use 4 billion plastic bags each year. This doesn’t seem to agree with the previous stat, as it’s unlikely that Woolworths accounts for 80% of the plastic bag distribution.

For arguments sake, let’s assume 4 billion bags per year with 1% of those reaching the environment. That’s 40 million bags per year, or about 1.5 per Australian. Assuming you’re consuming about the average (or were before the bans and public pressure), switching from single-use plastic bags to an alternative should mean 1.5 less plastic bags in the environment per year.

I found it surprisingly hard to find a value for the weight of a single-use plastic bag. In lieu of just weighing one myself, the best I could do was this document from a website called which gave a value of 9.3 grams. This actually seems kind of high to me. This results in a value of 13.95 grams in the environment per person per year. I’m very open to revising this if someone can find a more reputable estimate.

I will also note that alternatives to single-use plastic bags aren’t necessarily better for the environment, and could actually be worse. Just one example of this is that a ban on plastic bags results in an increase in bin liner plastic sales. This is the same kind of mindless optimism I see in other areas including fair trade, organic food, and some renewable energies. Just because something sounds good, doesn’t mean it is better in all aspects.

A review of the ACT ban in 2012 found that bin liner sales had indeed increased by 31 per cent a year after the ban came into place.

But a second review in 2014 found that sales had settled back down to pre-ban levels. [from here]

Plastic use from single-use plastic straws

Australians use around 10 million plastic straws each day, or 3.65 billion per year. For lack of a figure I’ll assume 1% of these end up in the environment as well, giving a figure of 36.5 million. This gives about 1.4 straws less in the environment per person per year.

It was also hard to find an estimate of weight for plastic straws, but this paper suggests around 0.45 grams, or 0.63 grams in the environment per person per year. This gives a total of 14.58 grams in the environment per person per year from the combined sources.

We’ve examined the effectiveness of a ban on single-use plastic bags and straws. Let’s now look at two alternatives.

Alternative #1 – Veganism

A vegan lifestyle is well-known to significantly reduce ones’ impact on the environment in general (as well as farmed animal suffering), but lets’ suppose we are specifically interested in plastic. When one thinks of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, images of plastic bottles and bags probably comes to mind. However, 46% of the total trash is estimated to be fishing nets (much of which is made of plastic), with the majority of the rest being miscellaneous fishing gear, not consumer plastics.

Accepting this, it still seems hard to estimate the relative impact of purchasing fish vs consumer plastics. With consumer plastics we can easily measure volume, however to estimate the impact of fishing we would need to calculate the volume of nets used per person per year, as well as the relative rate of loss to ocean of consumer plastics vs fishing gear. Simplistically, one could argue that since the volume of plastic in the ocean is mostly from fishing gear, eliminating fish from ones’ diet should have a greater impact than eliminating consumer plastics.

One estimate suggests 640,000 tonnes of fishing gear is left in the ocean per year. That’s an average of 84 grams per person per year (globally). However Australians consume around 28 kg of fish per year as of 2013, while average consumption globally was 16.4 kg in 2005. Assuming the fish Australians consume is about as plastic-polluting as the global average, we should multiply our 84 grams per person by 1.7, giving 143 grams.

Eliminating your use of plastic straws and bags might seem easier than adopting a plant-based diet for many people (though I’d argue it’s easier than you probably think), but you’d be kidding yourself if you thought you were having a big impact by doing only the former.

A cautionary note

Whenever I talk about the environmental benefits of a vegan lifestyle, I feel compelled to tell my cautionary tale. I believe it is possible that advocating for the environmental benefits of veganism could actually increase farmed animal suffering. In short, this is because the primary cause of environmental damage from eating animals is from red meat. If this causes people to eat less red meat and more poultry or fish, they would be causing more sentient minds to suffer, since it takes many chickens or fish to get the same volume of food as a cow.

This case is a little different, since I’m talking about the damage of fishing, but I would still encourage anyone convinced by my argument to try veganism rather than just eat no fish*.

Alternative #2 – Reducing other plastic use

It seems likely to me that the plastic from straws and bags is only a small part of what a consumer consumes, even if we ignore fishing nets. One has to wonder whether reducing their plastic use in other areas could have a vastly greater impact.

As of 2016, Australia produces around 3 million tonnes of plastic per year. Around 130,000 tonnes of this plastic is estimated to end up in the ocean each year. Interestingly, this is 4 times the proportion of plastic from bags that ends up in the environment. This gives 5.4 kg of plastic in the ocean total per person per year. I don’t know the spread of the different sources or how easy it is to do anything about them, but we can clearly see that the amount of plastic in the environment as the result of plastic bags and straws is very small indeed (0.01458 vs 5.4

It seems reasonable to say that reducing your plastic use in general would have a greater impact than just eliminating your plastic bag and straw use.

The ableism objection to banning plastic straws

Some have claimed that the ban on plastic straws is actually ableist, because some people rely on plastic straws to be able to drink. This makes sense, and I think the ban should perhaps be a little more nuanced to allow for this case (e.g. bars/restaurants can still give someone a straw if they need it for health/safety reasons). They could also use biodegradable or reusable straws, but not all of these are safe for the consumer (can pose a choking hazard, aren’t positionable, etc.).

However, one has to wonder – if someone is relying on a straw for safety reasons, why don’t they bring their own? Not all venues stocked plastic straws to begin with, so what did people who needed them do in those cases?


I think the ban on plastic straws and bags is ineffective. Not only that, I think it is a serious waste of time and money. One might retort with something like ‘it’s surely better than doing nothing’, but it gives people a false sense of achieving something and solving the problem. Of course, you could (and should) do all three of the above.

One surprising take away of this for me was that the plastic released to the environment from fishing was still a very small part of the plastic released to the ocean in general.

Some of my peers have started putting estimates on the time it takes to write posts like these, so I’ll start doing the same. This took me around 2 hours total to research and write.

* I’d like to share my disdain for pescatarianism here. It is potentially worse than doing nothing at all, but people think they are either reducing animal suffering or environmental damage.

Edit – It has been noted to me that the issue with straws is not just the volume of plastic, but the shape. It can pose a choking hazard more easily than some other plastics. Fair enough, but fishing nets also trap marine life pretty easily.

Thoughts on the activism around a crashed chicken truck in Washington, USA

CLARK COUNTY, Wash. – A semi truck loaded with more than 5,000 chickens crashed in the Dollars Corner area of Clark County, north of Vancouver, killing many of the birds and sending others running onto the road Monday afternoon.

Hours later, an animal rights activist was in handcuffs after refusing to give up one of the chickens. The woman, Amber Canavan, was cited for obstruction of justice and theft, and released later Monday night.

What an awful tragedy. Some time after the incident, animal activists and authorities arrived on the scene. Canavan picked up one of the surviving chickens, and requested that they were allowed to keep it so they could take it to an animal sanctuary.

Foster Farms, the company responsible for the incident, would not allow it, citing that “the company was liable for the chicken and any health risks that came with it“.

I think most people who read my blog would already agree that this entire situation is a travesty, so I want to focus on the last part. Several people in my network have been rightfully upset about the chicken not being taken to a sanctuary, and the activist being detained. I so wish we lived in a world where rescuing an abused, injured non-human animal was not a crime. But it is, and so I think that, perhaps unlike some others, I can sympathise with the authorities here.

I don’t believe that the law is a basis for ethics in all cases, and I don’t believe that one wanting to live an ethical life should always follow the law. There are too many examples from history (and even today) regarding human rights violations that are ‘legal’ that I don’t even need to name them. And yet, I can sympathise with the authorities, whose job it is to uphold the law, when they opt to uphold the law. I think that, if you disagree with the law, the police are not the ones to debate it with.

Regarding Foster Farms being unwilling to allow the chicken to be taken to a sanctuary, their answer actually sounds quite reasonable for two reasons. The first is in the interest of the animals themselves. Taking the chicken to a sanctuary may compromise the health of the other animals already there, given the unknown conditions it was previously in.

The second is in the interest of the company, but still seems somewhat reasonable in that context. If the chicken causes harm to other animals at the sanctuary, Foster Farms would indeed be liable for damages. Imagine you are legal advisor at the company, whose job it is to protect them from legal damages. There is no way you would advocate for the company to be put at such risk for the sake of the chicken.

Many animal advocates have given an out pour of disdain over the last day, asking questions like (paraphrased):

Why can’t Foster Farms just let the injured chicken go to a sanctuary? It won’t make them any money as they are just going to kill it.

Once you look at it from the company’s perspective, you can see there is a good reason for this.

I wish Foster Farms didn’t exploit chickens for money. I wish the truck hadn’t overturned. I wish the injured chickens were allowed to go to a sanctuary. But the world is complex, and I wanted to cover those uncovered bases.

The mince that divided the nation

Major Australian supermarket Woolworths has started stocking a new plant-based mince meat. Given the rising popularity of plant-based alternative food products, this should seem quite unsurprising. That is, until I tell you that it is being stocked in the meat section.

Having a plant-based mince meat not just alongside but among the animal flesh products is, in my opinion, a huge step forward. While some long time ethical vegans may be bothered by the fact that they have to walk in to this section to get one (a concept I’m not rather fond of, either), they are not the target audience. Rather, the target audience is the growing number of Australians that don’t identify as vegan, but want to include plant-based foods in to their diet.

The product quickly sold out from multiple locations, which appears to have attracted some negative attention as well. [below quotes are from this ABC article]

National Party senator Barry O’Sullivan has demanded Woolworths remove the product (plant-based mince) and re-label it, so the Federal Government does not have to step in.

“Woolworths need to pull it from the shelves today,” Senator Sullivan told the ABC.

Whether you eat plant-based meat or not, the senator’s request is surely ridiculous and anti-competition at the least.

Federal Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources, Mr. David Littleproud, says ““The labelling and positioning of all food products should accurately reflect what’s in the packet,”

Well, Mr. Littleproud, the labelling is quite accurate. The front label of the product clearly states ‘Minced – 100% plant-based’. ‘Mince’ refers to a process/end product, hence why we haven’t banned ‘mince’ fruit pies. The label doesn’t say meat to my knowledge, but as it is stocked in the meat aisle, I’ll say this: ‘Meat’ does not exclusively refer to animal flesh.

Deputy Prime Minister Mr McCormack “urged anyone confused to contact the ACCC.

“Mince is mince, mince is meat,” he said.

“That’s my interpretation of what mince is.”

Your personal interpretation of a word with a predefined meaning shouldn’t matter. ‘Mince’ does not mean animals. The product is clearly labelled as plant-based. You insult the Australian consumer by insinuating they don’t know that means ‘not animal flesh’.

The Australian Meat Industry Council’s Patrick Hutchinson said “”That [faux-mince] product is a heap of different plants”. How do so many powerful men not know what the word ‘mince’ means? The product isn’t faux-mince, it’s mince, by every definition of the word ‘mince’ that I am aware of. Again, we don’t call them faux-mince fruit pies.

Let’s make one thing clear, more Australians are realising they can source a healthy diet in ways that reduce animal exploitation and suffering as well as environmental impact. This mince product’s success reflects that. Assuming I can get there before the government steps in and does something bordering on insanity, I cant wait to try it.