Australia is famous for unique wildlife, and one of the most recognizable animals is the koala. But they face a less obvious threat: farming other animals for meat kills koalas. Their homes beneath their paws are being cut down to make room for breeding and feeding cattle and sheep. Koalas – left without a habitat and often injured from a violent deforestation process – have little hope for survival.
An Appetite for Destruction
Every beef burger, steak, or minced-meat meal creates a crisis for biodiversity. Australian farmers use around 54% of land– a huge 4 million square kilometers – to graze animals for their flesh, skin, and secretions. Only 23% of our land is earmarked for conservation.
Preparing land for farming animals is not as simple as it may sound – it often involves razing native forestry, which destroys the habitats of animals who live there, like koalas. A report by the World Wildlife Fund and RSPCA Queensland found that Australia ranks among the world’s worst deforestation hotspots, largely because of the creation of pastureland for sheep and other animals who are then exported to the UAE and elsewhere in the Middle East for human consumption.
No matter where we look, the lethal impact of meat is crystal clear. In Queensland between 1988 and 2009, an average of 410,000 hectares were cleared per year. Less than 2% of trees cleared during this period were used for timber, and 93% of the clearing was to establish pasture for grazing animals. The Queensland government’s Statewide Landcover and Trees Study Summary Report: 2016–17 and 2017–18 found that over 90% of the clearing recorded between 2016 and 2018 was for “pasture”. The destruction in our Sunshine State also affects the beleaguered Great Barrier Reef catchment: the Wilderness Society found that 90% of the land clearing in the region was attributable to the beef industry.
In New South Wales, a 2020 report commissioned by the government found that local land clearing – described as “thinning for pasture expansion” – is putting biodiversity at risk.
Every year, Australia exports millions of live cows and sheep to the Middle East, forcing them to endure a grueling trip across thousands of kilometers – sometimes in the searing heat – that may take weeks. More than 200 million animals have been crammed onto filthy cargo ships over the last 30 years, and more than 2.5 million of them have been trampled to death or have died from dehydration, starvation, or disease. Once they reach their destinations, the survivors’ throats are slit, typically while they’re still conscious.
Food Becomes Feed for Farmed Animals
Australian farms are large operations that take a heavy toll on the environment. Gone are the days when cows and sheep were raised on pasture alone. Instead, almost two-thirds of domestic market grains – including wheat, barley, and sorghum – are commandeered by animal feed producers. Crops that are fit for human consumption or grown on land that could otherwise produce human-grade crops are sent to cattle feedlots, dairies, piggeries, and poultry producers or fed to pasture-raised animals during winter and times of drought.
In order to meet the demand for meat, cattle feedlots are becoming ever more common in Australia: 80% of beef sold in major domestic supermarkets is sourced from the feedlot sector. There, the animals are constrained to muddy, feces-filled yards, where their restricted movement and constant access to fodder mean they put on weight quickly.
Smart, thoughtful cows languish in these bleak feedlots and often develop health conditions such as footrot, botulism, respiratory disease, and liver abscesses from unhygienic conditions. We could end all this suffering by using the same land to grow crops which could more than adequately feed us, without treating cows – and koalas – as collateral damage.
There’s Nothing Right About Biodiversity Destruction
Koalas are hardly the only animals losing their homes and lives to land clearing. Since colonization, Australia has seen more loss of biodiversity than any other continent and still has one of the highest rates globally, according to the Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute.
Tree clearing in Queensland alone is estimated to kill 34 million animals each year, including 900,000 mammals, 2.6 million birds, and 30.6 million reptiles. Australia is a richly bio-diverse continent populated by koalas, possums, gliders, cockatoos, goannas, dragons, skinks, and geckos, but it’s now just a fading memory, obscured by scores of destructive farming practices.
We must not forget that cows and sheep don’t want to be raised on this deforested land. Instead of living with their families in social groups, these sensitive animals are deprived of meaningful relationships throughout their short lives. Most are just babies when they’re trucked to the slaughterhouse to be dismembered piece by piece and packaged into neatly cling-wrapped parcels for sale.
Killing Animals Is Killing Our Planet
We Animals Media
Animal agriculture is the leading cause of land clearing, but its impact is much wider. Farming animals for food is one of the leading contributors of greenhouse-gas emissions and plays a major role in climate change. Ruminant animals release potent greenhouse gases like methane and nitrous oxide, which have many times the planet-heating potential of carbon. Climate change is also influencing the frequency and severity of dangerous bushfire conditions in Australia, as seen in early 2020 when more than 17 million hectares of land burned and more than one billion animals were killed.
Scientists agree that we must urgently move away from animal agriculture to avoid disastrous climate change – Oxford University has declared that going vegan is the “single biggest way” to reduce an individual’s environmental impact on the Earth. The research found that if we were to reject meat and dairy, global land used for farming could be reduced by more than 75% and still feed the world.
Help Koalas (and Other Animals) Three Meals per Day
Recently, politicians in New South Wales battled over a piece of legislation that focused on koala habitats. The leader of the National Party argued that the new guidelines, which make it more difficult to clear land, are “a nail in the coffin for farmers”.
Whenever animals stand between businesses and profits, they suffer. For so long as there is demand for meat, vulnerable koalas – along with scores of other animals – will be killed or left to languish without suitable food or homes.
We don’t have to wait for protective legislation to help koalas. We can act to save them and their homes three times a day, when we sit down to eat.
Eating meat and other animal-derived food is often considered a “personal choice” – but this choice forces all of us to face a devastating future. Eating meat kills billions of sentient beings and devastates the planet we call home. We can and must pave the way towards a greener, kinder future.