What will happen to all the animals if the world goes vegan?
You do realise that they’ll become extinct?
Will the planet be overrun with animals?
Who will pay for looking after the animals if it becomes illegal to eat them?
Where will the animals live while they re-adapt?
What industries will absorb the workers suddenly left without jobs?
Variations on these questions appear so often. This essay started out as a single paragraph for a cut-and-pasteable FAQ I plan to compile and I’ll no doubt condense the key points for the ‘in a nutshell’ series, but it turned out I had more to say than I realised. As it happens, it’s been an interesting topic to consider, so apologies in advance for the length.
You do realise they’ll become extinct?
Humans first domesticated other species about 12,000 years ago. A mere blink of an eye in evolutionary terms, it’s important to realise that the duration of the industry of exploitation that humans have created is relatively recent and does not reach back into the prehistoric mists of time as many imagine. During that time almost every breed of animal we use for any and every purpose worldwide, has been adapted by selective breeding to optimise commercial production of whichever aspect of their lives and bodies we want to utilise, regardless of the impact this has on the health and well-being of the hapless individuals themselves.
A frequent attempt to disparage veganism is that when the world becomes vegan, the breeds we currently use will become extinct. This is said as if that were a bad thing. Apparently a species bereft of conscience, humanity created the species that we use in their current forms by selective breeding for our artificial purposes. We confine them in unnatural environments, feed them substances that they would never consume without our intervention, accelerate and boost their growth / lactation / egg production far beyond what their bodies are designed to bear, and are even working to develop further grotesque mutations by genetic modification for a variety of ‘reasons’ that all boil down to maximising profit. Like ourselves, our victims are a long way from the natural animals they once were.
With many breeds manipulated in ways that inevitably shorten their lives and no environmental niche to occupy outside of our hells and prisons, the almost inevitable extinction of the pitiable creations of our unspeakable species is a totally different issue from the extinction of those wild creatures who were quietly minding their own business in the aeons before we came along, and whose habitat we have destroyed by our industrialisation and urbanisation, not to mention the usurping of their land on the industrial scale that has been necessary for us to cultivate our victims in unimaginably vast and increasing numbers.
Hens, the persecuted individuals behind what we are taught to think of as the disembodied protein source ‘chicken’, are a prime example of a species that has been developed in various directions to maximise whatever aspect of their bodies we require to exploit. Those individuals required to maximise egg production, have been bred to lay such an excessive number of eggs that they are almost guaranteed to develop prolapse (where their internal reproductive tract is pushed through the opening where their eggs leave their bodies), or cancer, Marek’s disease or any one of a number of agonising and fatal conditions at an early age. Their productive lives last less than 1.5 years before they are bundled off in crates to a slaughterhouse to face the final horror of death, making way for new victims.
Those whose corpses are sold for consumption are required to put on the maximum amount of weight in the shortest possible time. The individuals crammed into the slaughter trucks, barely able to stand or breathe under the crushing weight of their grotesquely overweight bodies are approximately 42 days old. 42 days. It’s not a typo.
Do we care about illness, discomfort and disease as it impacts the affected individuals? In a word, no. We may claim otherwise but words are cheap and our actions tell a different tale. The stark truth is that they are regarded as short-term, expendable, commercial assets; we don’t need them to get old. They are sent to be slaughtered as soon as they reach target weight or as soon as productivity declines, depending on the use we are making of them.
The weight of the law?
I’d like to address another point here. The suggestion of ‘if it becomes illegal’ is often slipped into a question with the rather unsubtle hint of adding insult to injury by potential infringement of ‘personal’ choice. I recently came across the following quote that says it all. I can attribute it only to an unknown law professor.
‘Law has no meaning or relevance outside of society. It both shapes and is shaped by the society in which it functions. Law is made by humans. It protects, controls, burdens and liberates humans, non-human animals, nature, and inanimate physical objects. Like the humans who make it, Law is biased, noble, aspirational, short-sighted, flawed, messy, unclear, brilliant, and constantly changing. ‘
In short, it is society that must change in a way that begins at the level of the individual, and as this must happen long before any legislative change can occur, the suggestion of animal use becoming illegal before then is a non-starter.
More questions than answers
There is a popular misconception of veganism as a menu option, a misconception fuelled by an increasingly sensationalist and mendacious media. It is frequently claimed that the ending and dismantling of the industries of nonhuman exploitation and use, is a massive and unnecessary inconvenience being proposed by a minority. Let us be clear here. Whilst my focus is and will always be the injustice that we perpetrate upon those who are like us in every way but species, the adoption of veganism, or at least the plant diet that is a part of the ethic, is widely proclaimed by scientists and health authorities to be the only way that humanity and planet Earth have even the remotest chance of survival into the next century. Far from being an inconvenience, it is an escape route for a species that is in dangerous denial about its catastrophically destructive path.
Setting aside for one moment the health and environmental disasters directly attributable to animal use, questions frequently seek to gloss over what everyone knows and accepts about the way the world of supply and consumer demand actually works.
Does the fact that it is convenient to do something automatically make it ethical or desirable?
Of course it doesn’t and no one would realistically claim otherwise. With the wisdom that comes of hindsight we can now look back on massive institutions that at one time seemed unassailable. Opposition to them started out small and vehemently opposed, truth and rightness eventually swayed everyone to the cause and ways were found – as they always are – to cope with whatever challenges were faced in the dismantling of the institution. The slave trade was one such; so seemingly ingrained and entrenched in white culture that those who spoke against it were ridiculed and reviled. Opposition to nonhuman animal oppression and use, like opposition to human animal oppression and use, is a matter of justice and a rejection of the systemic violence that is inherent in any situation where one group dominates another by dis-empowering them and denying their inherent rights as sentient individuals.
Should progress and advancement due to technology, science and knowledge be discouraged, given that any such change is guaranteed to cause shifts in the industries that make their revenue from meeting consumer demand for currently available products?
Of course it doesn’t and no one would realistically claim otherwise. The development of the internal combustion engine in the 18th century is a prime example of a development that caused massive upheavals in industrial mechanisation, agriculture, transport and almost every other area imaginable. Although at the time there was, not surprisingly, opposition, resistance and suspicion amongst those whose livelihood depended on ‘the old ways’, development in this area continues and will continue, with the market adapting as required.
Should changes in consumer demand be restricted to ensure that workers in waning industries don’t have to seek alternative jobs?
Just in case it needs to be stated here, consumer demand is what drives industries of all kinds to supply products to meet that demand and in doing so they make money. That’s why suppliers do it – it’s not out of benevolence. To see some of the comments about existing processes and procedures – particularly those in the animal exploitation industries – that are an essential part of meeting consumer demand, one could easily be excused for thinking that propping up unsustainable industries was somehow a civic duty, regardless of the ethics of unjustly ‘farming’ and butchering billions of sentient individuals, the cost to human health or looming environmental/climate destruction.
Smoke screen and health issues
The tobacco industry, with its roots reaching back into the 1500s, presents very close parallels to the animal use industries, both supplying substances harmful to humans, one in decline and the other teetering on the brink. Despite the availability of medical evidence in the form of thousands of reports and studies, the greatly diminished tobacco industry limps on, long after the direct link was made between smoking, lung disease and cancer. At first it fought against decline by a range of strategies that we see being re-enacted in current times, where conflicted interests sow confusion and doubt. The plight of our victims is not helped by the undeniable truth that even medical professionals, just like the smoking medical professionals of the mid 20th century, are slow to acknowledge the catastrophic harm that animal substances have on the human body.
If social media had existed during the mid-late 20th century when smoking was falling from favour and people were catching on to the fact that it causes cancer, I have no doubt that exactly the same prevarications would have been presented. I grew up during the 1970s and I have memories of hearing the ‘personal choice’, ‘everything in moderation’ and other declarations of resistance to change, from my contemporaries. Many, including some who were very close to me, are now dead, having steadfastly exercised their ‘personal choice’ to early graves with lung disease, heart conditions and cancer.
Although I stopped long ago, smoking exacerbated my own undiagnosed health issues and only a transplant brought me back from the brink of certain death. Having experienced disability while juggling full-time work as a single parent with the looming prospect of leaving my children motherless, planning everything round my oxygen tanks and a grim prognosis, I learned an important lesson that few survive. Those who shrug and smile and say ‘something’s got to kill you’, who ignore the writing on the wall about their own health and take massive and avoidable risks with the health of their loved ones, have never really understood and internalised what it’s like to face imminent death.
As individuals, being reckless with our own lives is one thing but when the lives of others are at stake our responsibilities change. If we include sentient aquatic creatures, trillions (yes, trillions) of lives – both human and nonhuman – are needlessly taken or jeopardised every year due to our obsession with harming other species, unnecessarily using and consuming their corpses and secretions, and shrugging with casual apathy as we increase the risk of killer diseases for our loved ones.
The world won’t go vegan overnight
A frequent question is based on the idea of an unthinkable number of animals who will ‘suddenly’ find themselves unwanted and apparently homeless because demand for their services and body parts has dried up overnight. So let’s address that next.
The world won’t go vegan overnight.
Yes, it’s true, and it’s the mantra of everyone who seeks to excuse continuing to harm members of other species. So, as the world won’t go vegan overnight (really, it won’t), falling demand will result in a reduction in supply. That’s what happens.
The global marketplace changes all the time. The development of computers signalled the end of the road for comptometers (remember them?), typewriters and other machines but we’re not inundated with unused ones that no one needed. Air travel signalled the demise of shipping and rail for freight and intercontinental travel but the docks and train stations aren’t overflowing with unwanted trains and ocean-going vessels. Then there’s the sophisticated electronic gadgetry we all love so much. Whole industries have died as a result of consumers keenly grasping the newest technology, tiny increasingly inexpensive gadgets that do away with our need for cumbersome and frequently expensive systems. We’re not struggling to know what to do with all our old games consoles and mobile phones the size of bricks from which technology has long since moved on. That’s the way demand and supply works. People move to something new, someone spots a market and supplies that demand. Someone else goes out of business and they seek out some new way to be profitable. It’s happening every day.
Who can predict the opportunities for new industries that will arise as the world shifts to veganism? We see the beginnings of this process now, with foods, clothing, toiletries, cosmetics and fabrics being aimed at the booming vegan consumer markets. We are an inventive species. We will always find ways to make money.
Just as we’re not inundated with supplies of every product that preceded the ones we currently use, the number of animals bred for our use will diminish. To suggest otherwise is a rather significant insult to those who farm the lives and bodies of sentient individuals. It implies that they would be insufficiently aware of shifting market demands to cut back on ‘production’ and diversify as demand tails away, and not for a moment would I suggest such a thing.
‘What do you think’s going to happen to them all?’
There’s a suggestion implicit in the idea of vast numbers of unwanted ‘farmed’ animals, that their reproduction is somehow a natural process and our use of their bodies for eggs, milk and body parts is some kind of fire-fighting that’s essential to keep down numbers and prevent the human population from being overwhelmed.
Unlike the cats and dogs that humans habitually abandon in their millions every year to fend for themselves, the reproductive processes of farmed animals are very tightly controlled. Unless specifically required for ‘breeding stock’, and even if they are to die at a young age, males of most species are castrated (without anaesthetic); much of insemination is done artificially, and at no time are males and females permitted to be together unless they are required to copulate to produce offspring as a new generation of commercial resources for the industry. With the advent of veganism, there would be no heroic measures needed to keep down numbers. All that would be required is to stop interfering, inseminating and controlling the reproduction of our victims whilst maintaining the segregation of males and females as numbers decline. A recent excellent and comprehensive work on the sexual exploitation of nonhuman animals by Karen Davis PhD is linked here for any who wish to explore this topic further.
Another subject that even those who are aware of the true scale of the bloodbath we create, find hard to get our heads round, is the number of individuals we slaughter every day. It’s impossible to factor in the trillions of aquatic creatures who are suffocated, clubbed, stabbed and gutted to death because statistics exist in terms of ‘weight’ rather than numbers.
However recent estimates of land animals place slaughter numbers at around 74 billion a year which is almost 9 times the entire global human population. This slaughter number represents over 203 million a day, over 8.4 million an hour, over 141,000 a minute, over 2,300 sentient individuals per second. Can you imagine? Think of how many screams of agony have been ignored while you’ve been reading this. Think how much blood has flowed, how many have begged for their lives.
Taking the numbers as a purely mathematical exercise, these tell us that in order to sustain existing numbers of individuals ‘farmed’ to meet consumer demand, 2,000 per second are being brought into the world with their dates in the slaughterhouse planned in advance. Given that the world won’t go vegan overnight, reducing this number would rapidly erode the existing ‘stock’ of victims if slaughter rates were maintained.
Sunrise on a vegan world – the survivors
A long habit of not thinking a thing wrong, gives it a superficial appearance of being right.
~ Thomas Paine
Tied into how balancing interference and slaughter numbers would rapidly decrease the number of victims in existence for us to harm and kill, is the question of how long those dwindling few would be expected to live in a world where animal use at a lesser rate was still continuing.
Once again, it must be pointed out that no one realistically would have demanded a business plan for the next few centuries at the time of the industrial revolution, and it is similarly unrealistic to expect that the shift to veganism will be mapped out fully in advance of its occurrence. It needs to happen, so a way will be found. Having said that, it does no harm to remind ourselves that the members of nonhuman species whom we currently persecute are, without exception, young; and some are extremely young.
|Species||Slaughter age||Potential lifespan of wild breeds|
|Male chicks (egg industry)||1 day||Up to 8 years|
|Veal calves||1-24 weeks||15-20 years|
|Chickens (meat breeds)||5-7 weeks||Up to 8 years|
|Ducks||7-8 weeks||6-8 years|
|Rabbits||10-12 weeks||8-12 years|
|Goats||12-20 weeks||12-14 years|
|Geese||15-20 weeks||8-15 years|
|Turkeys||4-5 months||Up to 15 years|
|Pigs||5-6 months||10-12 years|
|Lambs||6-8 months||12-14 years|
|Beef cattle||18 months||15-20 years|
|Egg laying hens||18 months||Up to 8 years|
|Pigs (breeding sows)||3-5 years||10-12 years|
|Dairy cows||4-6 years||15-20 years|
For interest, I included in this list the original potential lifespans of the wild breeds from which our current victims are descended. As discussed earlier, most of those victim breeds have been tampered with to such an extent that their ability to survive for a period much beyond the age that we habitually slaughter them is greatly in doubt, a fact that every sanctuary provider who fights so heartbreakingly for the lives of their residents, knows only too well.
Either way, it seems very unlikely that significant numbers of former victims will live to find a vegan world agonising over how best to care for them. Those who do will find they are valued for the individuals they are, rather than the cost per kilo of their secretions, eggs and body parts, and ways will be found to give sanctuary to them.
That day is the one that every vegan is living for, and come it must because if it does not, we, they, and the planet we share, are doomed.