It’s a common objection to the environmental movement, the reducetarian movement, and, last but not least, the vegan movement, the latter of which will be the focus of this article.
If the demand for animal products suddenly plunged, those who make a living from animal agriculture would be without work, a genuine concern.
Then again, if everyone quit smoking, those in the tobacco industry would also lose their jobs. Come to think of it, if humanity ever reached a state of world peace, those in the weapons industry would also lose their jobs.
Is this a valid excuse for people to continue smoking and for wars to keep happening?
In all reality, the likelihood of everyone on Earth suddenly going vegan, from one day to the next, is close to nil. This is a gradual process, but one that should not be delayed nevertheless, especially considering the ethical, environmental and health implications put into play by the animal agriculture industry.
Livestock systems take up nearly half of the Earth’s surface and are the leading cause of species extinction, rainforest deforestation, soil depletion, etc. The industry also uses up 33% of the earth’s freshwater and contributes more to climate change than the entire global transportation industry, not to mentioned the cruelty that often takes place inside slaughterhouses.
In the US, slaughterhouse workers have the “highest rates of occupational injury and illness,” according to Human Rights Watch, and some of the worst outbreaks of Covid-19 have been in slaughterhouses and meat processing plants around the world.
As a result of the factors stated above, the meat industry is in decline in most developed countries, and many other parts of the world may soon follow suit.
Considering how almost 50% of all the grains on the planet are used to feed livestock instead of humans, farmers could potentially dedicate themselves to producing food for people and not animals destined for slaughter. In some areas, soils aren’t suitable for growing crops and vegetables for human consumption. This problem could be solved with vertical farming.
Animal farms are often portrayed as these wonderful places in children’s cartoons and movies. With pigs and cows happily roaming free, providing people around the world with stable jobs, which makes everyone happy and prosperous. But if we look at the big picture, the reality is quite different. Farmers in poor countries are often victims of the global meat industry.
About 85% of the total grains on Earth that are fed to livestock are fed to those destined to be killed and eaten in wealthier countries, and the majority of the world’s beef, pork, poultry, turkey, soybeans and corn (the last two are mostly used to feed the animals in mention) are in the hands of four companies. This concentration of buyers forces farmers to accept lower prices, contributing to more inequality.
Many people don’t realize that the only reason many farmers are able to turn a profit from exploiting and killing animals is because the industry is, for the most part, heavily subsidized. Annually, the US government spends $38 billion subsidizing the livestock industry, and the European Union dishes out a good 20% of its yearly budget for the same purpose.
All this taxpayer money could be redirected to help farmers produce plant foods for humans, which would significantly lower the environmental cost as well.
The idea that such a relentlessly destructive and cruel industry should continue to operate on the sole premise that people rely on it for jobs is irrational.
Fear about job losses is a legitimate concern in all areas of today’s world, especially as artificial intelligence systems become increasingly sophisticated, replacing workers on different levels. We should agree on the importance of preserving certain jobs in certain industries, unless the industry itself is pervasively destructive to the planet, the animals that live on it, and to ourselves.
I have personally heard the jobs argument against veganism from environmentalists, who passionately advocate for the replacement of fossil fuels by renewable energy without a glint of concern for those employed by the coal industry, who would also lose their jobs. Yet when the idea of ditching meat comes into mention, they are fierce defenders of the economic status quo.
The good news is today there are countless alternatives to our favorite foods, without the cruelty or environmental devastation. The plant-based foods industry is among the fastest growing in the world, and has created over 55,000 high-wage jobs (as of August 2019) in the US alone.
As intelligent beings, our collective mentality is shifting, along with our value system. Newfound awareness of the impact of our decisions is leading the way in how we spend our money.
Fear of change should not get in the way of this magnificent move in the right direction.
Written by Roberto Guerra
Follow me on Twitter: @bebo2781