Biodynamic farming is an alternative form of farming practice that was developed by an Austrian Philosopher, Dr Rudolf Steiner, in 1924. Biodynamics takes the ethos of organic farming but adds a number of additional practices that are not generally accepted by the scientific community as having any quantified benefits over traditional organic farming practices. Some of these additional practices include using various animal parts, such as: cow horns taken from lactating female cows and stuffed with manure and buried in the ground to be used later as compost and fertiliser, deer bladders stuffed with yarrow plants, Chamomile buried in cow intestine, oak bark buried in animal skulls, and dandelion stuffed in cow mesentery (part of the cows digestive system). Whilst one could make an argument that these animal parts would be thrown out anyway after an animal is slaughtered, you could, for example, also make that same argument for the use of leather.
Biodynamic farming is practiced on approximately 800,000 hectares of agricultural land in Australia. To put this in perspective, there are approximately 394,000,000 hectares of land used for agriculture in Australia. This means that only 0.2% of agricultural land in Australia is devoted to biodynamic farming.
In regards to the question of whether biodynamic farming practices can be considered vegan, the answer is no. Biodynamic processes, in principle, clash with the vegan principle of trying to avoid the use of animals for human use as much as possible. Given that biodynamic farming practices are most certainly not required as part of sustainable agriculture, there is absolutely no justification (from a vegan perspective) for the use of the above mentioned animal parts.
Previously, the pre-harvest practices were not considered when determining the vegan status of a product, and as we have stated recently, it would be virtually impossible to determine if animal parts such as blood and bone, are used in the pre-harvest practices for all of the products that we have in our app. Whilst one could make an argument that we may be unfairly targeting biodynamics, our view is that if we do have that information, we need to determine the vegan status with the information we have. We cannot say that biodynamics is vegan simply because we have not been able to verify all methods of farming across all farms in the world. We know that biodynamic farming is not vegan, so we will classify those products that use biodynamic practices as not vegan. Overtime, we will of course try and determine the pre-harvest practices for as many products as we can, reassessing the vegan status where needed for those products.
There are a number of wine labels that would previously have been considered vegan that we have now had to change the vegan status for. We believe that the wine labels have in good faith labelled their product as vegan as the advice they would have been given was that vegan certification was only determined based on post harvest processes. We have spoken to a few of these wine labels and explained the situation and the change of guidelines as to what what is considered vegan, at least from our perspective for our apps. We hope that those companies that will no longer be considered vegan will do the right thing and stop labelling their products as vegan. We would also like to add that as this is a new guideline, it is important to give companies that would have products no longer be considered vegan time to absorb this information and make their own determination as regards to removing the vegan label from their products.
We have also had some lengthy conversations with Vegan Australia over the past few days to try and come to an agreement on the pre-harvest use of animal products and we can confirm that "Vegan Australia Certified will not register any products where there is clear evidence that animals have been used in the pre-harvest period." So as far as biodynamic is concerned, both Fussy Vegan And Vegan Australia will not consider any products that are clearly using biodynamic processes, given the requirement to use animal parts in their pre-harvest practices. In regards to other pre harvest practices other than biodynamics, we are still in discussion with Vegan Australia about what they will consider vegan and what we will consider vegan. It is still all new and we will keep everyone updated once we have had more time to look at other pre-harvest practices.
One a final note, when the issue about pre-harvest practices came up last week with Paxton Wines, there were many comments where people stated things like “all plants are grown with blood and bone used as fertiliser, so I guess nothing is vegan then” and similar comments. Whilst we are still too early in our research to give definitive numbers, we can say that in the discussions we have had with various wine labels recently, the use of blood and bone is not that common anymore. Quite a large number of farms are using other sources for compost and fertiliser. Once we have confirmed with larger number of farms what they use for fertiliser and compost, we will do another post on just how common blood and bone actually is.