1 Why vegan-organics?
1.1 Also called stock-free farming, vegan-organics is a system which avoids all artificial chemical products (synthetic fertiliser, pesticides, growth regulators), genetically modified organisms, animal manures and slaughterhouse by-products (blood, fish meal, bone meal, etc).
1.2 To preserve soil fertility, vegan-organic growers insist on green manures, composts made of plant-based materials, mulches made from plant-based materials, and every other long-term method which is ecologically viable and which does not rely on any form of animal exploitation.
1.3 Generally it is inspired by principles which favour biodiversity, reduced working of the soil, and the use of perennial and native plants. The aim of increasing energy efficiency while reducing environmental impact is reflected in the importance of buying and selling produce locally and thus reducing the use of machinery for transport.
1.4 Prevention is the cornerstone of the fight against competing organisms (‘pests’). The idea is to seek an equilibrium between cultivated and wild areas, by developing favourable habitats for natural predators, such as hedges for wind-breaks and ponds. So competing organisms are viewed as indicators and not as enemies that should be fought. The system focuses explicitly on tolerance and accepts as a first principle that part of the harvest goes to nature. Repellents may nevertheless in some circumstances be used: in the Stockfree Organic Standards, their use is restriced to cases of economic necessity.
1.5 The vegan-organic system is therefore not completely animal-free!. On the contrary, by nourishing the soil and reducing the amount it is worked, an active fauna enriches and improves the soil: above all the earthworm.
1.6 The Stockfree Organic Standards, produced by VOT [the Vegan Organic Trust], are the definitive guide to all aspects of vegan-organic growing. These apply strictly only to those who wish to become registered organic growers, while others may use them as a guide. Why vegan-organic?
2.1 Lack of animal manure
Some farms have no nearby source of sufficient manure and so opt for a plant-based alternative. If the organic standards were more restrictive and only allowed the use of manure from organic farms, then there would be an even greater scarcity of suitable manure; yet this would encourage the development of plant-based alternatives.
2.2 Organic from start to finish
Many organic farms use manure from non-organic farms. Although generally composted, traces of hormones, antibiotics, genetically modified organisms or other contaminants could still be present. As for fertilisers originating in abattoirs, many growers are uncomfortable with their use, and some scientists have reservations as to the possible transmission of prions (the agent in the disease BSE and its human form, vCJD) when using these fertilisers (eg by inhalation).
2.3 No more dependence on conventional agriculture
Whether it is the manure from conventional dairy farmers, or the powdered feathers from the industrial-scale chicken farmers, the use of these fertilisers seems to legitimise and support conventional farming.
2.4 Increased self-sufficiency in fertilisers
Many farms try to minimise inputs by using above all green manures and compost which they make themselves.
2.5 Eliminate intermediaries
Standard organic fertilisers rely on the transformation of plants into compost by the manure produced by animals. At each stage there are nevertheless losses, from volatilisation (ammoniacal nitrogen), from leaching, or from the energy required for the biological functions of the animal. Since all manure ultimately comes from plants (apart from mineral fertilisers) some prefer to shorten the chain by eliminating the stage of transformation by animals, instead composting the plants directly. In the case of green manures, mulching and chipped branch wood (also known as ramal), even the stage of composting itself is eliminated.
2.6 Aiming for efficiency rather than for productivity
Productivity is a measure of the yield per hectare, which does not take into account the energy required to produce and transport the inputs. The environmental impact of farming depends on an assessment of the total energy required to produce a given quantity of food.
3 Ethical and health
3.1 Vegetarians and vegans
Those who choose not to eat animal products also would like to choose to have their food grown in a way which does not rely on the farming of animals.
3.2 Health concerns
Vegan-organic methods avoid the hazards associated with food production involving animal wastes, aggressive chemicals, genetic engineering and other environmentally damaging systems, so will be of interest to all those concerned with sustainable healthy living whether or not they are vegan or vegetarian.
4.1 Reduce the environmental impact
The use of alternatives to animal manure (compost, green manures, mulching and chipped branch wood) improves the soil and avoids the necessity of raising animals. Raising animals demands high inputs in terms of water, fodder and land, and so leads towards monoculture and the use of heavy machinery and thus to the degradation of the soil (compaction, erosion, loss of biodiversity, and leaching). Land liberated from grazing and fodder production could be used to produce renewable fuels, organic soil improvers, natural fibres and construction materials, thus reducing dependence on fossil fuels and clear-felling of forests.
4.2 Nature as model
Biodiversity and the use of decomposing plant matter to feed new plants are the very basis of natural growth. The best example is the forest where fertility comes from the accumulation of plants on the surface, without working the soil and (almost) without the addition of animal manure.
5 World peace and justice
5.1 Fighting world hunger
Worldwide, 38% of total grain production is fed to animals. Developed nations import vast quantities of grain to feed animals, often from very poor countries where people do not have enough to eat. So avoiding animal products favours the economical use of land, which can be used directly for growing food to feed people.
5.2 World peace and environmental justice
If agriculture continues its present course across the planet, it is predicted that there will be wars over water resources, conflict over land rights, farmers increasingly dispossessed and marginalised, a widening of the gap between affluent and poor, increasing intensification of animal farming, depletion of the quality of soils, damage to the oceans, devastation of rain forests and many other negative factors. Vegan-organics points a way out of these problems. It is not just an alternative eco-friendly agricultural method, it is an holistic system, marrying ethics and pragmatic solutions for tackling world hunger, animal exploitation and environmental degradation; it spells hope for the lessening of conflict and for making a better world…
Extract from the Vegan Organic Network web-site at http://www.veganorganic.net/
See also ‘vegan farming’ on Viva! web-site in their campaigns, at http://www.viva.org.uk/campaigns/other/veganfarming.html
There is an introduction to vegan organic growing on the Vegan Society web-site at http://www.vegansociety.com/people/lifestyle/home_and_garden/veganic_gardening.php