Archer’s dodgy claims.. mouse deaths.

In what follows, I use “veg*n” to mean vegan or vegetarian where it doesn’t make any difference.

Mike Archer claimed in an article just before Christmas 2011 that:

” … if you want to minimise animal suffering and promote more sustainable agriculture, adopting a vegetarian diet might be the worst possible thing you could do.”

His evidence related to the number of mice killed during cereal production.

Even if we was right about the number of mice killed during cereal production, his claim is still obviously false because the average Australian consumes far more grain, embodied in the bodies of their meat, than any veg*n could consume. So clearly being veg*n isn’t the worstyou can do.

But Archer didn’t get the number right. He’s out by about a factor of about 400. Read on for the details.

Mice do die during grain production … but how many?

Here’s how Archer does the calculation. Firstly he calculates that you need to kill 2.2 cattle to get 100 kg of protein. That’s his first inaccuracy. People need to eat an amount of food each day in accordance with their weight and activity level. The amount is measured in Calories (or kiloJoules) and if you eat the calculated amount, then it is almost impossible not to get adequate amount of protein. The amount of protein you need is a function of your weight and has little to do with your activity level.

Hence the proper measure of the value of a kilogram of food for most purposes is Calories, not grams of protein.

That introduces an error factor of about 2 to Archer’s calculations because beef has roughly twice as much protein as grain per kilogram.

Archer proceeds:

“Each area of grain production in Australia has a mouse plague on average every four years, with 500-1000 mice per hectare. Poisoning kills at least 80% of the mice. At least 100 mice are killed per hectare per year (500/4 × 0.8) to grow grain. Average yields are about 1.4 tonnes of wheat/hectare; 13% of the wheat is useable protein. Therefore, at least 55 sentient animals die to produce 100kg of useable plant protein: 25 times more than for the same amount of rangelands beef.”

When I first read this little description, a few alarm bells rang, but not loudly and I didn’t really think it possible that Archer could be out by a big enough factor to matter and I knew enough about mouse plagues to know they were a significant issue. Animal Liberation SA was a co-sponsor of a Conference on Fertility Control in Wildlife back in 1990. But you can’t deal with everything and we have rather lost track of the issue in the intervening years.

But, happily various people (Brett, Syd, Jane, Shirley) commenting on Archer’s article raised questions about the area of mouse plagues and eventually curiousity prompted a serious search for some data.

Archer really didn’t seem to understand the question, here’s part of one of his responses:

“No-one has asserted that mouse plagues cover ‘all of Australia’s grain growing regions on average every four years’. The assertion is that on average, each part of the eastern Australian wheat belt is subject to a plague every 4 years–on average. Plagues are numerous, generally localised and common. For example, Brown and Singleton (2002) write “Mouse plagues have been a feature in grain growing regions of Australia since the first plague in 1904. They occur somewhere in Australia once every four years on average, however since 1980 the frequency of mouse plagues in some regions appears to have increased to once every three years.”

The sentence quoted by Archer as evidence … (“They occur somewhere in Australia once every 4 years …”) means what it says and not what Archer wants it to say. Consider the following 3 analogous statements:

  1. During each four year period, there is a single day on which I break every bone in my body,
  2. During each four year period, each bone in my body is broken exactly once
  3. During each four year period, one of my bones is broken.

The number of bones broken over a 4 year period is the same in both A and B. Archer seems to think they are different. The qualitative experience is definitely different but the number of bones broken isn’t. The quote Archer gives in support of (B) clearly means (C). This was pointed out to him by Brett and Syd, but Archer simply didn’t get it.

Regardless of Archer’s logical confusion, what does the data say.

And what was the result …?

There are indeed frequent mice plagues in Australia with densities in the 500-1000 mice per hectare range, or even higher. But that’s about the only thing Archer gets right.

His thumbnail calculation implies A or B. This is wrong. It’s not even with a factor of 10. His statment that poisoning kills 80 percent of mice is also wrong because most of the time, people don’t bother to poison during plagues. It’s time consuming and expensive.

And the proof?

Australia has a Co-operative Research Centre specially set up to examing feral animal problems and it coordinates research on all manner of things, including mice plagues.

Its 2004 report, “Counting the Cost: Impact of Invasive Animals in Australia”, has a section on mouse plagues which gives annualised costs and annualised areas impacted (page 9).

  1. Plagues affect 100,000 to 500,000 hectares of grain crops every year.This confirms that we are dealing with situation C.Given that we generally plant in excess of 20 million hectares of grain every year, then plagues affect between 1 in 200 and 1 in 40 hectares each year.
  2. The report gives a break down of costs. They include grain losses, managment and research. There is simply no section called baiting or poisoning. However, a figure of $24.4 million is quoted as the annual cost of plagues with $22.79 million being production losses. This leaves at most $1.61 million for other expenses, including baiting. At $15/ha (a 1996 figure), this is enough to bait at most 100,000 hectares.So the area poisoned is at most 1/200 of the total area planted and in that area, 80 percent of the mice may well be killed.
  3. Lastly, I won’t try to quantify it, but most mouse plagues occur in the eastern wheat belt, where yields are lowest and not in the WA wheat belt where yields are highest.
  4. Reading the literature, it seems that most of the deliberate killing of mice associated with grain production is done to prevent plagues, not during plagues. The poisoning during the 1993 plague is mentioned frequently and seems to have been exceptional. If people were poisoning half a million hectares annually, you can bet the costs would appear in that CRC report.

Summary and conclusion

In summary, Archer’s estimate of the poisoning deaths associated with mice plagues is out by at least a factor of about 400. 200 for the number killed multiplied by another 2 for considering grams of protein rather than Calories.

While individual death free lunches are certainly possible, the provision of any kind of food for 22 million people (or globally for 7 billion) will impact other species adversely. But overall, Archer hasn’t given any convincing evidence that a vegan diet isn’t the best way to reduce both total suffering and environmental impact.

Sometimes things that look obviously true, remain true, even after the best efforts of sloppy thinkers to muddy the water with a mish mash of dodgy statistics.

Postscript … food for thought

I thought I might add a couple of points people might like to think about.

  • Archer seems to think that since mouse are killed to protect grain output, their deaths can be attributed to people who eat grain. Fair enough. Does this imply that since rabbits are frequently killed to protect grazing areas, those deliberate deaths are attributable to people who eat sheep and cattle? If so then the number of deaths to produce a kilo of meat will be rather more than in Archer’s calculations.
  • At one point (Jan 4, 11:19), Archer waxes lyrical about the number of sentient lives never allowed to be lived because of grain production. Is he serious? If so, then this allows vegans to feel immense pride for all those mice who would otherwise have never been born.

Debunking “Ordering the vegetarian meal? There’s more animal blood on your hands.”

mouse water

Many people have certainly come across the article: “Ordering the vegetarian meal? There’s more animal blood on your hands.” by Mike Archer.

Professor Archer is an Australian paleontologist and Professor at the University of New South Wales.
The huge popularity of the piece is more likely because it allows those who don’t care or think about animals at all to superficially stick it to vegetarians and claim they were right all along (by pure luck presumably), rather than because its claim really stands up to scrutiny.
In the disclosure statement that precedes his article, he states that he does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from the article, and has no relevant affiliations. Strangely enough, though, the article has been published on The Conversation journal, mainly funded by CSIRO (Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation) which is an agency that researches farm management including pastures and livestock to improve production: this doesn’t seem to guarantee independence, does it?

First of all Mike Archer seems to deliberately skip one major issue: the quality of animal deaths, not the quantity. Animal farming demeans the dignity of non-human animals (who can never escape from the final murder). It’s true that harvests can kill insect, lizards, snails and mice. Elephants, buffaloes and other animals do the same while they walk and feed on plants, but they haven’t built a whole system of torture, slavery and exploitation of other animals.

We’ll examine Archer’s points and his claims about numbers and compare them to our answers. Before we start, we should point out that he talks about “vegetarians” (not even “vegans”), thus ignoring the billions of male chicks destroyed by the egg industry, the millions of calves and cows killed by the dairy industry and the thousands of organisms contaminated by the waste of the milk and egg industry…

We’ll also avoid to judge Professor Mike Archer on one remarkable weakness: while concentrating on non-human animals and biased data in order to justify his barbecue, he forgot to mention the human victims of animal farming: those who die of several types of food-related cancers and diseases.


Mike Archer:
” Published figures suggest that, in Australia, producing wheat and other grains results in: at least 25 times more sentient animals being killed per kilogram of useable protein, more environmental damage, and a great deal more animal cruelty than does farming red meat.”

The grain harvest fluctuates from year to year, but on average, animals consume about one-third of it. Of this amount, beef cattle consume 21%, similar to the amount eaten by broiler chickens. This is shown in the report published by the Stock Feed Manufacturers’ Council. In fact, it’s not too difficult to demonstrate that animals consume more wheat than all of Australia’s population.
In Australia, the demand for animal feed is so high that we have to import over half a million tonnes of additional soybean per year. We produce enough soybean to meet a strong local demand in the human food supply, such as tofu and flour products.
Grazing on grass is not all that cows raised for meat generally eat, and I expect it is mostly not what any additional cows we produce will eat.
Prior to entering a feedlot, cattle spend most of their life grazing on rangeland or on immature fields of grain such as green wheat pasture. Once cattle obtain an entry-level weight, about 650 pounds (300 kg), they are transferred to a feedlot to be fed a specialized diet which consists of corn by-products (derived from ethanol production), barley, and other grains as well as alfalfa. Feeds sometimes contain animal byproducts or cottonseed meal, and minerals. In a typical feedlot, a cow’s diet is roughly 95% grain. The animal may gain an additional 400 pounds (180 kg) during its 3–4 months in the feedlot.[citation needed] Once cattle are fattened up to their finished weight, the fed cattle are transported to a slaughterhouse.
So, basically, the myth about “pure” grain-free grazing is a lie: cows feed on the same wheat and grains Mike Archer mentioned…. There’s one big problem with the argument – not all, but a large share of the meat people eat in beef is just repackaged intensively farmed grains.

More than two-thirds of all agricultural land is devoted to growing feed for livestock, while only 8 percent is used to grow food for direct human consumption.
The global livestock industry uses dwindling supplies of freshwater, destroys forests and grasslands, and causes soil erosion, while pollution and the runoff of fertilizer and animal waste create dead zones in coastal areas and smother coral reefs.
“Livestock systems occupy 45% of the global surface area” (International Livestock Research Institute).
To create grazing land, trees and vegetation must be cleared, and habitats must be destroyed. Livestock trample or eat any remaining native vegetation.
read more:


Mike Archer:
“Most of Australia’s arable land is already in use. If more Australians want their nutritional needs to be met by plants, our arable land will need to be even more intensely farmed. This will require a net increase in the use of fertilisers, herbicides, pesticides and other threats to biodiversity and environmental health. Or, if existing laws are changed, more native vegetation could be cleared for agriculture (an area the size of Victoria plus Tasmania would be needed to produce the additional amount of plant-based food required).

As we’ve already said, in Australia, 58% of the land is used for agriculture and principally for grazing animals and the production of crops used in animal feed.
Overgrazing is one of the main pressures on biodiversity in Australia. Grazing and various agricultural improvement strategies have modified vast areas of grasslands and open grassy woodlands. In temperate ecosystems, less than 2% of the original grasslands remain.
Moreover, overgrazing promotes desertification and erosion.
In regard to the “use of fertilisers, herbicides, pesticides” mentioned by Mark Archer, well, he happily omits to mention organic agriculture and the fact that vegans support organic GMO-free crops…
read more:


Mike Archer:
Grazing occurs on primarily native ecosystems. These have and maintain far higher levels of native biodiversity than croplands. The rangelands can’t be used to produce crops, so production of meat here doesn’t limit production of plant foods. Grazing is the only way humans can get substantial nutrients from 70% of the continent.

Overgrazing is one of the main pressures on biodiversity in Australia. Mike Archer also seems to forget that substantial nutrients come from a plant-based diet too…
Moreover, the world’s 1.5 billion cows and billions of other grazing animals emit dozens of polluting gases, including lots of methane. Two-thirds of all ammonia comes from cows.
The livestock sector accounts for 9 per cent of CO2 deriving from human-related activities, but produces a much larger share of even more harmful greenhouse gases. It generates 65 per cent of human-related nitrous oxide, which has 296 times the Global Warming Potential (GWP) of CO2. Most of this comes from manure.
This means that the damage caused by grazing does not only affect some territories directly but also affects every part of the planet.
Archers says the rangelands can’t be used to produce crops. He has preferred not to mention and other suitable crops for arid zones…
read more:


Mike Archer:
“Archer: In Australia we can also meet part of our protein needs using sustainably wild-harvested kangaroo meat. Unlike introduced meat animals, they don’t damage native biodiversity. They are soft-footed, low methane-producing and have relatively low water requirements. They also produce an exceptionally healthy low-fat meat.”

This is really ironic, since graziers complain about kangaroos as pests… 90 million kangaroos have been killed in the last 20 years. Dangerous levels of salmonella and E.coli have been found in kangaroo meat destined for human consumption, backing up claims by a former NSW chief food inspector, Desmond Sibraa, that the industry is failing to adhere to the Australian standard which determines the conditions under which the animals are harvested, transported and stored.
”There is a big difference between animals slaughtered in an abattoir with an inspector present, and a kangaroo shot in the bush with dust and blowflies,” said Dr Sibraa.
read more:


Mike Archer:
“When cattle, kangaroos and other meat animals are harvested they are killed instantly. Mice die a slow and very painful death from poisons. From a welfare point of view, these methods are among the least acceptable modes of killing. Although joeys are sometimes killed or left to fend for themselves, only 30% of kangaroos shot are females, only some of which will have young (the industry’s code of practice says shooters should avoid shooting females with dependent young).

This is probably the most insulting lie for all those who know what really happens to kangaroos.
Non-fatal body shots are an unavoidable part of the industry, causing horrific and painful injuries. The mouth of a kangaroo can be blown off and the kangaroo can escape to die of shock and starvation. Forearms can be blown off, as can ears, eyes and noses. Stomachs can be hit expelling the contents with the kangaroo still alive. Backbones can be pulverized to an unrecognisable state etc. Hind legs can be shattered with the kangaroo desperately trying to get away on the other or without the use of either. To deny that this goes on is just an exercise in attempting to fool the public.
Dependent joeys (young kangaroos) who are not caught and killed die as a result of starvation, exposure or predation without their mothers to teach them vital survival skills such as finding food, water and shelter. A long-term average of 800,000 dependent young suffer an inhumane death each year. In-pouch joeys are killed by stomping on them or bashing them with a stick or against a vehicle. Several blows may be necessary.
read more:


Mike Archer didn’t bother to calculate the effects on groundwater, rivers and marine life of manure, waste and hormones: What about the effect of hormones on the environment?
Growth-promoting hormones not only remain in the meat people consume, but also pass through the cattle to be excreted in manure.
Scientists are increasingly concerned about the environmental impacts of this hormone residue as it leaks from manure into the environment, contaminating soil, and surface and groundwater. Aquatic ecosystems are particularly vulnerable to hormone residues.
Recent studies have demonstrated that exposure to hormones has a substantial effect on the gender and reproductive capacity of fish.
read more:


Mike Archer is suddenly so interested in mice? Mmmh… Then how could he have possibly forgotten all the mice used to test the antibiotics? Australia imports approximately 700 tonnes of antibiotics annually; of this, 550 tonnes are used for either veterinary therapy (sick animals in farms) or growth promotion (higher yields of growth of farmed animals). On farms, animals are fed large quantities of powerful antibiotics to keep them alive in conditions that would otherwise kill them: chickens are given nearly four times the amount of antibiotics as human beings, for example.
Funny how the article is published on a journal funded by all the main Australian universities where a huge number of mouse will be tortured and killed for that obsolete practice which goes under the name of animal testing.
read more:

8 )
Mike Archer:
“At least 100 mice are killed per hectare per year (500/4 × 0. to grow grain.”

This assumption is based on the article “One hundred years of eruptions of house mice in Australia – a natural biological curio”, which also mentions ” the ability of mice to increase rapidly to extreme population densities in cereal-growing areas of south-eastern Australia”. Mike Archer omits to say that density of population of mice and effectiveness of poisoning are two different things and that poisoning can be replaced by plant-based rodent repellents that works by emitting an odor that keeps mice and rats away.
read more:


Mike Archer:
“Average yields are about 1.4 tonnes of wheat/hectare; 13% of the wheat is useable protein. Therefore, at least 55 sentient animals die to produce 100kg of useable plant protein: 25 times more than for the same amount of rangelands beef.”

The article has another notable weakness in that it only denominates the number of deaths by protein production. Protein is an important macronutrient but not the only thing we care about getting from our food. Indeed protein deficiency is exceeding rare amongst those wealthy enough to contemplate eating beef. If you denominated the number of lives lost by energy content, then wheat, being mostly carbohydrate, would come out looking a lot better than the 25 mice poisonings to each cow slaughter quoted in the article. The article is also basically irrelevant when judging the treatment of poultry or pigs.
read more:


Not a directly relevant, but Mike Archer was the initiator of attempts to clone the Tasmanian Tiger, an animal extinct since 1936. Mike Archer has stated that he is obsessed with bringing the Tasmanian Tiger back to life via cloning. He has said that his obsession is going to push the research further and further until he and his team will have their first living Tasmanian Tiger clone.

How ironic is that? Intensive hunting, the introduction of farmers’ dogs and grazing into its habitat made me extinct.
Was this not enough to make Professor Mike Archer understand that humans are the main cause of destruction on this planet rather than vegans?
read more:

It’s time to stop wasting energy in finding the absolute best rebuttal to all the biased, fabricated and false data given by individual “omnivores” and by the industry.
The amount of knowledge about the benefit of a plant-based diet for the humans and the environment is enough. It only needs to be shared among those who are willing to hear it without prejudice.
An industry based on the enslavement, torture and killing of animals is losing ground.