We must change food production to save the world, says leaked report

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Robin Mckie

Cutting carbon from transport and energy ‘not enough’ IPCC finds

 Hereford beef cattle. The IPCC report says meat consumption should be cut to reduce methane emissions. Photograph: Australian Scenics/Getty Images

Attempts to solve the climate crisis by cutting carbon emissions from only cars, factories and power plants are doomed to failure, scientists will warn this week.

A leaked draft of a report on climate change and land use, which is now being debated in Geneva by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), states that it will be impossible to keep global temperatures at safe levels unless there is also a transformation in the way the world produces food and manages land.

Humans now exploit 72% of the planet’s ice-free surface to feed, clothe and support Earth’s growing population, the report warns. At the same time, agriculture, forestry and other land use produces almost a quarter of greenhouse gas emissions.Advertisement

In addition, about half of all emissions of methane, one of the most potent greenhouse gases, come from cattle and rice fields, while deforestation and the removal of peat lands cause further significant levels of carbon emissions. The impact of intensive agriculture – which has helped the world’s population soar from 1.9 billion a century ago to 7.7 billion – has also increased soil erosion and reduced amounts of organic material in the ground.

In future these problems are likely to get worse. “Climate change exacerbates land degradation through increases in rainfall intensity, flooding, drought frequency and severity, heat stress, wind, sea-level rise and wave action,” the report states.

It is a bleak analysis of the dangers ahead and comes when rising greenhouse gas emissions have made news after triggering a range of severe meteorological events. These include news that:

• Arctic sea-ice coverage reached near record lows for July;

• The heatwaves that hit Europe last month were between 1.5C and 3C higher because of climate change;

• Global temperatures for July were 1.2C above pre-industrial levels for the month.

This last figure is particularly alarming, as the IPCC has warned that rises greater than 1.5C risk triggering climatic destabilisation while those higher than 2C make such events even more likely. “We are now getting very close to some dangerous tipping points in the behaviour of the climate – but as this latest leaked report of the IPCC’s work reveals, it is going to be very difficult to achieve the cuts we need to make to prevent that happening,” said Bob Ward, policy director at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment.

The new IPCC report emphasises that land will have to be managed more sustainably so that it releases much less carbon than at present. Peat lands will need to be restored by halting drainage schemes; meat consumption will have to be cut to reduce methane production; while food waste will have to be reduced.

Among the measures put forward by the report is the proposal of a major shift towards vegetarian and vegan diets. “The consumption of healthy and sustainable diets, such as those based on coarse grains, pulses and vegetables, and nuts and seeds … presents major opportunities for reducing greenhouse gas emissions,” the report states.

There also needs to be a big change in how land is used, it adds. Policies need to include “improved access to markets, empowering women farmers, expanding access to agricultural services and strengthening land tenure security”, it states. “Early warning systems for weather, crop yields, and seasonal climate events are also critical.”

The chances of politicians and scientists achieving these goals are uncertain, however. Nations are scheduled to meet in late 2020, probably in the UK, at a key conference where delegates will plant how to achieve effective zero-carbon emission policies over the next few decades.

The US, the second largest emitter of greenhouse gases, will have just had its presidential elections. A new Democrat incumbent would likely be sympathetic to moves to control global heating. Re-election of Donald Trump, who has called climate change “a hoax”, would put a very different, far gloomier perspective on hope of achieving a consensus.

The one good thing about Brexit? Leaving the EU’s disgraceful farming system

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George Monbiot

The government’s plans are an improvement, but still fatally flawed. We need a proper agriculture debate @GeorgeMonbiot

I’m a remainer, but there’s one result of Brexit I can’t wait to see: leaving the EU’s common agricultural policy. This is the farm subsidy system that spends €50bn (£44bn) a year on achieving none of its objectives. It is among the most powerful drivers of environmental destruction in the northern hemisphere. Because payments are made only for land that’s in “agricultural condition”, the system creates a perverse incentive to clear wildlife habitats, even in places unsuitable for farming, to produce the empty ground that qualifies for public money. These payments have led to the destruction of hundreds of thousands of hectares of magnificent wild placesacross Europe.

It is also arguably the most regressive transfer of public money in the modern world. Farmers are paid by the hectare for owning or using land; so the more you have, the more you get. While in the UK benefits for poor people are capped at £20,000 (outside London), these benefits for the rich are uncapped. Some landowners receive £1m or more. You don’t even have to live in the EU to take this money: you just have to own land here. Among the benefit tourists sucking up public funds in the age of austerity are Russian oligarchs, Saudi princes and Texas oil barons.

 Gove’s farming bill is more chaff than wheat

It is hard to discern any just principle behind an occupational qualification for receiving public money. Some farmers are poor, but seldom as poor as rural people who have no land, no buildings and no jobs. Why should one profession be supported when others aren’t?

Yet even farmers have been hurt by these payments. European subsidies have helped turn farmland into a speculative honeypot, making it highly attractive to City financiers. The price of land has more than doubled since payments by the hectare were introduced, pushing it out of reach of most farmers. By reinforcing economies of scale, these subsidies have driven out small farmers and accelerated the consolidation of land ownership.Advertisement

Though we have paid enough money to have bought all the farmland in this country several times over, we have not acquired any direct democratic control over the land: farming, however it might alter landscape features, remains outside the planning system. The system amounts to taxation without representation.

So you might have hoped that this would be a hot topic, surrounded by fierce debates about what should best replace this outrageous boondoggle. But, as the agriculture bill receives its second reading in the House of Commons on Wednesday, there is scarcely a murmur of either enthusiasm or dissent from the main opposition parties. The government’s proposals are a major improvement on the current system. It intends that farmers should be paid for protecting wildlife and ecosystems rather than for owning land. It wants to use subsidies to improve the health of the nation’s soils, the quality of its water and the character of its landscape. It encourages collaboration between different land managers – woefully lacking in our incoherent approach to environmental protection. But there is much to be challenged.

We Feed the World: photo stories of farmers fighting climate change in five continents

The first problem is that the government proposes to use public money as a substitute for regulation. Much of its new system amounts to payments for not mugging old ladies: rewarding people for not doing things they shouldn’t be doing anyway. Strong regulations, with proper monitoring and enforcement, would keep the soil on the land and nitrates out of the water without the need for this protection racket.

Yet, even as the government proposes to splash our money around, its regulatory agencies are collapsing. Natural England, like Natural Resources Wales, is in meltdown. A leaked document reveals that the government has abandoned even its pathetic target of protecting 50% of our sites of special scientific interest (threatened by farming, above any other industry). Nearly half have not even been inspected for six years. On the day Michael Gove, the environment secretary, announced his new payments plan, he also promised to find ways of reducing or removing farm inspections.

Nowhere is this replacement of rules with money more preposterous than when applied to farm animal welfare. The government acknowledges that standards should be raised. But instead of doing so through legislation, it proposes “targeted payments” for farmers who treat their animals well. Why should animal welfare be a matter of economic choice?

It is also hard to see how its policies would defend small farmers. The European system has been a disaster for them, but will this be any better? The question is sharpened by the government’s ambition to strike a US-UK trade deal, which is likely to sacrifice farming in return for concessions on financial services. Any US government, which has much lower food and welfare standards, will want a deal that lets it sell its disgusting farm products in the UK. If this happens, only the biggest and meanest farmers here will be able to compete.

The evidence from New Zealand, where all subsidies were stopped in 1984, is mixed. Since then, livestock farms have consolidated, but the number of small horticultural farms and vineyards has risen. I want to see opposition parties press the government to do two things. First, to promise that any US-UK trade deal will exclude food and agriculture altogether, even if this means no deal. Secondly, to ensure that supermarkets, which exercise monopsonistic power (too few buyers), pay a fair price to the farmers they currently exploit.

I would argue that payments for environmental goods should be reserved for those that didn’t exist before, while existing wildlife habitats are protected through regulation. I also believe that farmers should seek planning permission before changing a field boundary, ploughing a meadow or felling an orchard.

But I’m less clear about whether there should be a special support payment for small farmers, as some people argue. How would we distinguish between those who owe their living to farming and those who have bought their land as a hobby? Why should small farmers receive this money when small builders do not?

Perhaps we need an entirely different approach. How about expanding the stock of county farms (publicly owned land), which has been steadily shrinking as a result of government cuts? Where the land is suitable, county councils could divide up their farms and offer tenancies to small farmers at below-market rates. This might be a better way of supporting genuine farmers with public money. And how about a community right to buy land, of the kind now exercised in Scotland?

I don’t have all the answers, and I doubt anyone else does. But I do know that good policy depends on constant challenge and debate. And so far, there hasn’t been enough of either.

• George Monbiot is a Guardian columnist

Self-fertilizing gardens

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Quick intro

Self-fertilizing gardens are a way of growing fruits and vegetables through creating diverse ecosystems that rely mainly on natural processes. These gardens have permanent raised beds, with water points and trees, to create a system that largely self-regulates. Self-fertilizing gardens (SFG) are part of the wider world of permaculture, since this method of gardening minimizes human actions and management, and allows nature to play its role. 

The self-fertilizing approach is based on the synergistic garden approach from Emilia Hazelip of France, and was further developed by Rejean Roy of Quebec (learn more here). Emilia’s focus was adapting permaculture and Fukuoka’s natural farming to temperate climates, and her first inspiration was nature itself, based on how undisturbed ecosystems would work.

The self-fertilizing garden approach has been taught for years in Quebec. This article focuses on sharing the principles, techniques and influences so that others can try the same method, in complement with the instructional article How to Make a Self-Fertilizing Garden.

The basics – Do’s and don’ts

In self-fertilizing gardens, the soil is seen as a living organism that needs air, water and nourishment in order to thrive. The priority is to protect and care for the soil and the surrounding ecosystem, while also reducing the amount of time and hard work spent in the garden. Self-fertilizing gardens include:

  • Permanent raised beds
  • Permanent soil cover
  • Surface compost
  • Diversity of plants and families in each bed
  • The presence of living roots at all times in the beds (e.g. perennials plants, overlapping crops)
  • The use of the vertical plane (e.g. climbing plants in the centre of the beds)
  • Biodiversity settings (e.g. ponds, hedges, trees)

Self-fertilizing gardens work directly with natural processes to maintain fertility and equilibrium, so no inputs are used in the gardens, and we avoid interference with the natural cycles of the soil and the plants:

  • No chemicals (pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, hormones)
  • No tilling
  • No digging (aside from the first year)
  • No bare soil
  • No monoculture
  • No compaction
  • No added compost (with the possible exception of demanding transplants)
  • No treating plants (i.e. for insects, illness, etc).
  • No pulling out plants (except for root vegetables)

Interrelated elements: beds, water points, trees

The three main elements that we find in self-fertilizing gardens are the beds, the water points and the trees.

The beds are the places for plants to grow. In each bed, we find annual and perennial plants from different families with different shapes and needs. Between them, paths allow us to walk and reach the middle of the beds without compacting the growing area.

The water points attract, retain and protect a diversity of animals, including natural predators. An irregular shape increases the pond’s perimeter, creating a more productive environment from a similar area. The depth should also be irregular, offering a larger range of habitat. These small ponds (from a few centimetres deep to many meters deep) can have many positive effects: 
 Store water 
 Control competing species 
 Habitat for wildlife 
 Heat accumulator 
 Grey water treatment system 
 Reflect light for house and greenhouse 
 Can serve as a pool

Trees are another essential part in the design because of their multiple functions, not only as food, fuel and wood producers, but also for a wide range of other beneficial impacts. Here are a few of their functions:

 Bring up nutrients from deep down 
 Fertilize soil by providing organic material: leaves, branches, bark, wood and root exudates 
 Encourage soil activity (micro-organisms, myccorhizal fungi)
 Prevent soil erosion by keeping the soil together 
 Take in carbon dioxide (CO2) and give oxygen 
 Absorb atmospheric pollutants 
 Accumulate carbon 
 Host natural predators and attract natural pollinators 
 Create shade 
 Beautify the landscape 
 Act as a wind break (reduce soil erosion, reduce heat costs, allow snow accumulation to protect soil) 
 Provides food, medicinal compounds, building materials, energy, fertilizers

The interaction between these three elements (beds, water points and trees) produces a whole that is bigger than the sum of each separate part.

Creating a self-fertilizing garden

To create a self-fertilizing garden, we make permanent raised-beds and permanent pathways, as well as installing water points and planting supporting perennial plants. Check out the article Creating a self-fertilizing garden for detailed instructions with photos.

Nature’s principles

According to practitioners of self-fertilizing gardens, certain principles need to be respected, in terms of soilplants, landscape and biodiversity settings, and avoiding harm. If we have difficulties with diseases or insects, we should revisit these ideas and ask ourselves if certain principles have been neglected.

Soil principles

The soil is the most important aspect. All plants and animals originate from it. And like us, the soil breathes, drinks and eats.

Always keep the soil covered with organic material: this prevents the sun, the water and the wind from touching the ground. It prevents erosion, keeps moisture in, brings nourishment for the soil life and, as a side effect, brings nutrients to the plants.

How to keep the soil covered
 Living mulch, ground cover plants (i.e. strawberries, clover)
 Mulch with dead plants (i.e. grass or meadow clippings, leaves, straw, hay) 
 The mulch needs to be produced in the surroundings of the garden.

The sun mustn’t touch the ground: otherwise, it raises the soil temperature, which increases evaporation and hardens the soil. This creates an environment less favourable for life. 
 To be useful, the sun’s light must touch the plants. Plants use the sun’s energy to create new plant material and sugars through photosynthesis.. Sunlight that touches the ground is lost.

Weeding is done manually 
 In a non-compacted soil, weeds are easier to pull out

Plant principles

A diversity of plants is essential to keep the soil alive. Each species has a different root system; each one needs and produces different compounds; and each one attracts different insects and micro-organisms.

 as opposed to monoculture, polyculture means there are a diversity of plants grown together, with no sizeable areas with only one type of crop. 
 Association (mixed cropping) with a minimum of three families of plants per bed, the best being seven per bed. 
 Density should be as dense as possible

 In a succession, we just avoid planting the same kind of plant in the same place the following year, though there is no formal multi-year crop rotation. 
 Plan the succession for each bed (yearly), as well as ensuring there are plants growing everywhere throughout the seasons (spring, summer, autumn). 
 Think in three dimensions (including the vertical plane).
Ex. A row of climbing beans in the middle of the bed, with cabbage on one side and carrots on the other, and courgettes on each end.

Keep roots permanently in the soil 
 The roots is the location in the soil where there is the most intense activity. 
 Never pull them out, apart from root crops like carrots or beetroot.


Never take the plants out of the growing area (i.e. to make compost) 
 Removing plants is time consuming 
 Taking them out means that the nutrients contained in the roots, leaves and stems are removed from the gardens 
 The micro-organisms are taken away 
 Composting these plants is less efficient and brings losses (i.e. heat, leakage). 
 To finish a crop, just cut the plants at their base and let them compost directly on the beds.

Varied types of roots 
Ensure that plants with different types of root systems are planted in the same bed. In particular, do not plant several root vegetables side by side, as there will no longer be living plants in the soil when they’re all pulled out. Plant a mixture of root systems together: nitrogen-fixers next to perennials next to root vegetables, etc.

 Pulled out (i.e. radish, carrot, potato, parsnip, beetroot) 
 Dead and kept in place (i.e. tomato, sunflower, broccoli, lettuce) 
 Nitrogen fixing plants = legume (i.e. pea, bean, lupine, alder) 
 Roots that survive through winter = perennial or biannual (i.e. trees, rhubarb, gooseberry, forget-me-not) 
 Roots of the onion family protect other crops (i.e. onion, garlic, chive, leek)

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Exemple a bed design

Introducing plants with complementary functions
(mainly on the sides, ends and outline of the bed) 
 Sweet smelling plants (herbs) 
 Medicinal plants 
 Climbing plants

Let plants finish their cycle 
 This also allows you to get seeds.

Introduce as many perennial plants as possible 
 They host wildlife, start earlier in the spring, and save time not having to restart them from seeds every year.

Permanent landscape

Start small: also keep in mind the development for the coming years.

Fill the beds with plants: these permanent beds are the space reserved for plants.

Keep pathways between the beds: these permanent pathways are the space reserved for humans.

Permanent watering systems: it’s recommended to install drip systems under the mulch.

Develop a vertical plane: install permanent props and stakes.

Recreate natural landscapes: lets nature do the work. 
 water ponds: 10% of the area 
 trees: 10% of the area 
 habitat for allies (beneficial insects and others): piles of stones, heaps of old wood, perches for birds, sacred sites for humans.

Avoid harmful action in the garden

Let the organisms do the work for which they exist.

Care for the soil 
 No compaction 
 No tilling, never work the soil 
 Don’t bury plant residues: leave them on the surface

Don’t rest the soil (no fallow) 
 Without roots, the bacteria and micro-organisms will die 
 Without micro-organisms, the soil is dead 
 Only a dead, forced-fed and unbalanced soil needs rest 
 On the contrary, we must keep the soil active, like us!

No external inputs 
 No pesticides 
 No fertilizer (chemical, mineral, animal, compost, lime, basalt) 
 No inputs of mulch or leaves from outside the garden area (initially you can use local sources of leaves and mulch if needed, but make sure you plant perennials by the garden that will later provide mulch from your own land) 
 No wood ashes 
 No compost (except in the transplantation hole for demanding plants) 
 No purposeful additions of allies (i.e. natural predators)

Never regulate a deficiency 
 By correcting it, we create a new one

Use plants that are indicators 
 For acid soil, use for example mustard and buckwheat (cut it without burying it)

Accept intruders and some loss of plants 
 Accept certain plant losses without treating with organic pesticides, as this will help a more complex biodiversity become reinstated 
 Only treat with organic pesticides when you consider the losses significant or interruptive (e.g. when at least 10% of the crops are affected)

No sprinkled water 
 The plants should be watered with a drip-irrigation system, or by using a hose to water at the base of the plants. If we sprinkle water on the leaves and stems, this can lead to fungal growth.

Avoid buying any unnecessary materials

Source your plants and seeds 
 No use of hybrids (if you want to keep seeds) 
 No use of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO)

A few words about compost

Compost is not a direct part of the fertility in this growing system, other than the plants which decompose straight in the garden as they would in nature. But for sustainability, having a compost pile is still an important action for the environment for any organic waste you have at home. Two different types of compost could be done.

Kitchen waste compost

To avoid filling the landfill and losing these precious nutrients, keep all your kitchen waste (i.e. peelings, rotting vegetables, leftovers) and make a compost heap. Attention should be given to having one part of green (nitrogen rich, soft or slimy) for about two parts of brown (carbon rich, dry and fibrous). Straw, leaf mould and dried grass clippings are particularly good when added to kitchen waste. Mix it well and let it compost. Cover the heap with plastic or a roof to prevent nutrient lost and water clogging.

The resulting compost is perfect to start seedlings. Potting mix can be made by mixing one part compost, one part soil and one part leaf mould. Also, for highly demanding plants (i.e. brassica), a handful of this compost can be added in the hole when transplanting.

Humanure compost

In order to close the cycle of nutrients, ideally human wastes should also be composted and returned to the soil. While this may seem unappealing at first, in our current system we defecate in our drinking water supply, which brings a heavy environmental toll for the resulting sewage treatment. In home gardening, composted humanure doesn’t need to be used in the vegetable gardens: it can be used on surrounding trees and shrubs, eventually bringing nutrients back to the gardens through the leaves. To learn about the options available for composting humanure, check out the Humanure Handbook by Joseph Jenkins free online. Note that humanure must be composted using specific techniques in order to be safe, so proper research must be done ahead of time.

History and influences

At the Veganic Agriculture Network, we originally learned about self-fertilizing gardens through workshops being offered in Quebec by Rejean Roy. He was influenced by the work of Emilia Hazelip, who came to Quebec in the late 90’s to teach her method called synergistic gardens, before she passed away in 2003. Emilia’s work was inspired by permaculture principles and by Masanobu Fukuoka’s natural farming, and she aimed to adapt these ideas to temperate climates. From Emilia and Rejean’s teachings, hundreds of people have taken classes in self-fertilizing techniques, mostly in Quebec and France.

While the ideas of self-fertilizing gardens may at first seem radical, their origins are numerous and many people directly or indirectly influenced them. To give an idea of this interconnected web of knowledge and experience, here are a few of the people that stand out:

Hans Peter Rusch (Switzerland) developed a method to evaluate the soil fecundity (productivity and fertility). He found similarities between the way the soil and the human body work. He described the two main zones that we find in the soil (the decomposition area = the litter; and the assimilation zone = the rhizosphere). He also observed and introduced the idea of the cycle of living compounds (plants don’t build themselves only with mineral elements, but also with macromolecules and virus-like compounds). So he stressed the importance of doing surface compost to feed the soil and prevent soil disturbance.

Masanobu Fukuoka (Japan) developed the natural farming approach with the four do-nothing principles: no chemicals, no treatments, no compost and no till. He brought forward the importance of observing Nature.

David Holmgren and Bill Mollison (Australia) first introduced the concept of permaculture. This holistic approach for designing an integrated and sustainable environment rests on three core ethics: earthcare, peoplecare and fairshare.

John Jeavons (United States) stated the importance of a light, uncompacted and deep soil (he was using double digging) to produce more vegetables on a smaller area. He experimented with high density cropping with companion planting to increase productivity while creating a micro-climate.

Ruth Stout (United States) proved the feasibility of permanent mulches for vegetable growing and showed the efficiency in reducing time and hard work in the garden. Already in 1930, she was gardening stockfree (veganically).

Gilles Lemieux (Canada) did research on the importance of Chipped Branch Wood as a way of sustaining life in the soil, reversing the process of soil degradation (called aggradation) and ensuring long term fertility. All of our good quality soils comes first from forest land, and we can recreate this when fungus (basidiomycetes) transform this woody material into stable humus.

Robert Hart (England) presented forest gardening with the seven different layers of vegetation (canopy trees, dwarf trees, shrubs, herbaceous plants, root plants, ground cover plants, climbers).

Robert Kourik (United States) has been designing diversified landscapes that can be both aesthetic and edible, with an emphasis on the importance of varied root systems.

Allan Smith (Australia) explained the existence and the importance of the ethylene cycle and the way it works. The natural cycling between oxygen and ethylene gases in untilled soils leads to increased mobilisation of nutrients and resistance to plant pathogens. It takes three years to come back after we stop disturbing the soil.

And even if none of these people were specifically focused on veganic techniques, these are great pieces of information from here and there that fit together into the larger picture of self-fertilizing gardens.

Recommended links

Végéculture www.vegeculture.net 
 French veganic website with information and photos about self-fertilizing gardens 
 Photojournal of creating a self-fertilizing garden with instructor Rejean Roy, Quebec 2005 
 Photojournal of a self-fertilizing garden for a full season, Victoriaville Quebec 2005 
 Photojournal of creating a self-fertilizing garden, Isle-aux-Coudres, spring 2005 
 Information in French about self-fertilizing gardens


Synergistic Garden 
 Film with Emilia Hazelip (English version) about the synergistic gardening technique (this technique was the forerunner of self-fertilizing gardens; there are only minor differences between the two techniques).


 Plants for a futurewww.pfaf.org (database of all useful plants)


 Soil food web, learn more about the ecosystem within the soil

Why we are better off without animal manure

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Manure causes different kinds of pollution and other environmental problems. In this blog we discuss these problems and possible alternatives for animal manure as a fertilizer.


Greenhouse gases

According to research by the FAO, animal manure is responsible for 37 percent of the anthropogenic methane emissions. In addition, 65 percent of nitrous oxide emissions and 64 percent of ammonia emissions are caused by manure from animal agriculture. These emissions are not only a problem because of the global warming and other climate related problems they are causing. They also cause other environmental problems. For example, the ammonia emissions are an important cause of acid rain and therefore greatly contribute to the acidification of ecosystems. In addition, these gases can also cause health problems for people working in animal agriculture or living near large-scale farms.

Soil pollution 

By using manure as a fertilizer or by dumping manure on empty pieces of land, the soil does not only absorb useful nutrients. The soil also becomes polluted by harmful chemicals and the balance of different nutrients can become severely disrupted.

For example, fertilizing soil with animal manure often leads to a surplus of nitrogen and phosphate. Nitrogen from animal manure is not absorbed by plants very well compared to nitrogen from chemical fertilizer, which means much more nitrogen is left in the soil or ends up in surrounding waterways. Furthermore, in many places severe problems are caused because too much animal manure is used to fertilize a piece of land in an attempt to get rid of surplus manure. Together, this results in millions of tonnes of nitrogen from manure ending up in rivers and nature, disturbing the nutrient balance and seriously damaging ecosystems. High doses of certain nutrients can cause the soil to become less fertile.

In addition, there are also other substances in animal manure that are a threat to the environment and to human health. For example, parasites, viruses and other pathogenic bacteria are common in manure and can become a threat to human health, especially when they end up in waterways. Furthermore, part of medicines and antibiotics are also excreted by animals. About 40 to 90 percent of antibiotics are excreted and end up in manure. By using this manure as fertilizer, antibiotics are not only absorbed by plants (including vegetables we then eat), but antibiotics are also spread throughout nature and the world around us, increasing the chance of antibiotic resistant bacteria. It also pollutes waterways, which is a big problem in countries where drinking water is not filtered and cleaned very well.

Furthermore, heavy metals are often added to animal feed in small quantities to keep them healthier or help them grow faster. A big part of these heavy metals is excreted again and ends up in the environment through animal manure.

Water pollution 

Some types of pollution by manure, such as the emission of greenhouse gases, are unavoidable when you have billions of farm animals. Other types of pollution are mainly caused by manure being dumped in the environment and bad manure management. This is often the case with water pollution. Manure is often dumped in rivers or reaches rivers after being used as fertilizer or dumped on land and moved away by the rain. Because manure contains high concentrations of nitrogen and phosphate, the concentrations of these nutrients are also high in water that has been polluted with manure. This can lead to eutrophication. This means that high concentrations of especially nitrogen cause extreme algae growth, which in turn deteriorates the water quality, making it harder for fish and other animals to live in that environment. This can even result in waterways being almost entirely devoid of animal and most plant life. Other harmful substances, such as the ones mentioned earlier like antibiotics, also end up in water. All of this leads to a decrease in biodiversity, both in the water and in the areas surrounding it.

The deterioration of the quality of water is also worrying for our own fresh water supply. Even in a country with relatively clean water and good purification facilities such as the Netherlands, this is becoming a problem. Of the two hundred areas that are used to extract fresh water from, in 89 of them high concentrations of manure have been discovered in the last few years. These concentrations are much higher than is legally allowed, which is why 21 of them have been closed. The others are still being used but the costs to make this water safe enough are greatly increasing.

Manure policy 

To limit the pollution from manure, the EU has established rules. There are, for example, limits for the concentration of nitrogen that is allowed in soil and water. To continue to adhere to these rules, animal agriculture in for example the Netherlands can’t just expand. As the Netherlands has the highest density of farm animals, strict rules are needed to enforce environmental laws. An example of this is that dairy farmers are no longer allowed to increase the number of dairy cows since 2015. If they want more cows, they have to buy the right to have more cows from another dairy farmer who has decided to have less cows. They also have to pay a certain amount of money for every cow they own towards environmental solutions.

However, not surprisingly considering the huge number of violations in animal agriculture, many farmers do not stick to these government regulations. Farmers pay much less environmental tax for every young dairy cow that has never given birth and is therefore not giving milk yet. Recently, it was revealed that many dairy farmers register newborn calves from these young dairy cows as being calfs from older dairy cows (causing a huge rise in the registered twins and multiple births at dairy farms). Further research showed that many dairy farms used this method to evade paying for the environmental damage they are causing (and even when they do pay, it’s not anywhere near enough to cover all environmental damage caused by the dairy industry or animal agriculture more generally).

In addition, only a small part of all the manure can be used to fertilize fields, as there is just way too much manure. In the Netherlands, part of the manure is being exported. In 2015 1,7 billion euros worth of manure were exported to other EU countries. The majority has to be processed by manure processing companies. This can be done by fermentation or by burning the manure. This way the government tries to prevent too much manure ending up in the environment.

Manure fraud

Unfortunately, the processing of manure doesn’t always happen as it should, which is why manure fraud is a big problem. That shouldn’t be surprising, as correctly processing manure costs farmers, truck drivers and manure processors a lot of money. By just dumping the manure somewhere, they can save huge amounts of money and therefore make more profit. Research has shown that two thirds of people involved in transporting and processing manure in the southeast of the Netherlands is suspected of or has been convicted for manure fraud. In the first half of 2017 16 manure processing companies in the Netherlands were convicted for large scale manure fraud and on top of that, another 1316 fines were given to other companies and employees for manure fraud and false administrations. Therefore, it is not surprising that manure pollution goes beyond the limits set by EU laws.

In the UK, it’s not much better. Research by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism found that manure is regularly dumped in the UK, contributing significantly to soil and water pollution. In addition, not much action is taken against companies and farms that conduct these illegal actions. Even repeat offenders still continued to receive huge amounts of government subsidies.

Plant-based fertilizer and other animal and environmentally friendly options 

People often think that we can’t live without animal manure, or that doing so would mean we would have to use more chemical fertilizer, which is also not very environmentally friendly. However, people often forget that until about a century ago, there were never enough farm animals to solely rely on animal manure for fertilizer. Human manure was often used (and still is in some countries) to fertilize agricultural land. Of course human manure has many of the same problems as animal manure (medicines, antibiotics etc.), but if we want, it would be possible in the future to separate and process human manure to make it suitable as  for use as fertilizer.

In addition, plant-based fertilizers are also a great alternative and have been used for centuries to supplement animal and human manure. Research on plant-based manure has shown that it is possible to create a good fertilizer with the right amounts of different nutrients. This works just as well as animal manure and chemical fertilizer, but causing less pollution. After all, the important nutrients in manure originate from plants, so we might as well get them directly from the plants.

In the Netherlands, there are already some farmers working without animal manure or chemical fertilizer. They do this by rotating crops and using fruit, vegetable and garden waste to make a plant-based fertilizer. Unfortunately, farmers still get an extra subsidy for using animal manure, so it’s much more profitable to use that. Only organic farmers have to pay for their organic manure, so it’s mostly organic farmers who are experimenting with plant-based fertilizer to save costs.

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The Global Climate Action Summit was convened by governor Jerry Brown to tackle climate change and inspire commitments from national governments in support of the Paris Agreement. It will take place in San Francisco on Sep 12-14, and will draw decision-makers, environmental advocates and grassroots activists from around the world. As San Francisco gears up for mass mobilizations, agriculture is conspicuously absent from the conversations. Seed the Commons believes that agriculture should be a primary focus and we’re making sure that it’s on the table this September.

Agriculture is a principle contributor to greenhouse gas emissions–even conservative estimates show that animal agriculture is responsible for more emissions than all forms of transportation combined. Conversely, climate change negatively impacts our capacity to grow food, exacerbating related problems such as hunger, food injustice and forced migration. Agriculture also offers solutions to cool the planet: shifting to vegan agroecological farming practices would curb greenhouse gas emissions and sequester carbon by rebuilding soils and protecting forests.

Of the few voices in the environmental movement who focus on agriculture, most are promoting small-scale animal agriculture as a default or even a necessary feature of organic, agroecological and regenerative systems. Holistic grazing, in particular, is touted as a magic bullet. While we must move away from industrial agriculture, promoting animal agriculture as the alternative is misguided. Animal agriculture at any scale in unnecessary, requires more resources than plant-based systems, and reproduces some of the same problems that its proponents purport to solve. We must move away from both the false solutions of tech-fixes and animal agriculture, be it organic, grass-fed, holistic or any other number of trendy adjectives.

While the vegan movement is successfully shifting eating habits, it has not yet contributed much to conversations on sustainable farming. It is not enough to focus on the consumer side nor to only speak about what not to do; we must also put forth a model of ecological farming that eschews animal exploitation.

This is why Veganic For Climate is so important. Seed the Commons is part of a growing coalition of grassroots organizations planning a Climate March and other activities around the Summit, and we are the only organization that is bringing veganic farming to the forefront. The Veganic For Climate contingent will be led by small farmers from around the US – because small veganic farmers are showing the way towards a cooler planet.

We believe that veganic farming is the future: the basis of a climate-friendly food system. Help us make this vision a reality–join us in San Francisco this September as we mobilize with small farmers for a veganic food system.

#VeganicForClimate #GrowVegan


June 10 Plant-Based Planning Meeting for Climate March
Open meeting for the Bay Area vegan community to plan the vegan contingent(s) at the Climate March.

Aug 3 Veganic for Climate Panel and Reception
Mona Seymour, Nassim Nobari and Chema Hernández Gil will speak about why we should center veganics in our activism, what a veganic future would look like, and the current state of veganic farming and the veganic movement.

Aug 26 Veganic Gardening Workshop
Disconnect from Big Ag! Learn to grow your own food sustainably and compassionately at our third and last gardening workshop of 2018.

Sep 3 & 5 Veganic For Climate Art Builds
Show up to make signs and art for the climate march! Supplies and snacks provided.

Sep 8 Veganic Bloc at Rise for Climate, Jobs & Justice
Join the veganic contingent at the biggest climate march in history!

Sep 9 Rise for Climate: Food, Agriculture and the Environment
This full-day conference will explore the connections between agriculture and the environment and feature a roundtable with veganic farmers.

Sep 10 Veganic Farming: Growing the Movement for Climate-Friendly Agriculture
Seed the Commons will present a veganic panel at Soil Not Oil, a grassroots environmental conference that explores alternatives to industrial agriculture.

Sep 12-14 Global Climate Action Summit
The Veganic For Climate campaign will be in full swing – stay updated!


In addition to the above events, we are mobilizing folks to show up for veganics by tabling at events around the Bay, including the Sunday Streetsleading up to the summit.

Mobilize With Us!

We invite you to join us in San Francisco between September 8 and September 14 to put veganics on the table. Join our #VeganicForClimate contingent at the Climate March and join our other activities during that week.

Use hashtags #VeganicForClimate and #GrowVegan to mobilize and share.

Check back on this page, RSVP to the campaignfollow us on Facebook for updates, and share this information widely.


Here are just some of the ways you can support this campaign:

  • Table or leaflet with us
  • Invite STC to speak or table at an event
  • Social media and outreach
  • Organizing and logistics

More information