Veganism is not the simple solution to sustainability that George Monbiot recently argued. I wish it were that easy. While I commend those taking steps to change their diets to reduce their environmental footprints, a vegan world – where no one consumes animal-derived meat, milk and eggs – is not how we will achieve sustainable global development.
This is because more inclusive diets make optimal use of all existing land to feed people. That includes croplands and rangelands where grain and hay can be grown to feed livestock. A lot of meat and milk that would remain unproductive in a vegan context is produced on these marginal rangelands. For example, 60% of sub-Saharan Africa is covered by drylands where raising livestock is the main, and often the only, land use option available.
Decades of research have shown that medium levels of livestock grazing, rather than none at all, are better for the health, productivity and biodiversity of these rangelands. When managed well, such areas also sequester large amounts of carbon in their soils.