meat farmers jobs The world is paying more attention to plant-based food - what does that mean for farmers working in the meat industry? - Media Credit: Adobe. Do not use without permission.

How Livestock Farmers Are Responding To The Rise Of Veganism

More than ever, people are turning away from animal products and toward plant-based food

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5 Minutes Read

For decades, vegan lifestyles have been relatively niche in the US. Veganism rarely appeared in the media and compared to today, many people were just not that interested in plant-based food.

But a rise in conscious consumerism has seen more people ditching animal products – citing health, environmental, and ethical motivations. 

In the US, the number of vegans increased by 600 percent between 2014 and 2017, according to GlobalData. 

And retailers are paying attention. Ninety-five percent of US grocery stores offer plant-based meat, Forbes reported in 2018.

Interest in vegan living is still going strong; the plant-based food market increased by 27 percent in 2020. In comparison, the total US retail food market increased by just 15 percent.

Moreover, the plant-based meat category grew twice as fast as animal-based meat, signaling a significant upheaval of the food industry.

Effects of reduced meat consumption

Many experts around the world agree that lowered consumption of meat, dairy, and eggs can benefit the planet – especially when it comes to tackling the climate crisis

In fact, when researchers conducted the most comprehensive analysis of farming’s impact on the planet to date, they concluded that: “A vegan diet is probably the single biggest way to reduce your impact on planet Earth, not just greenhouse gases, but global acidification, eutrophication, land use and water use.” 

Additionally, many health professionals encourage plant-based eating to lower the risk of disease. Earlier this year, a team at the University of Oxford found that eating red meat and processed meat leads to a higher risk of ischaemic heart disease, pneumonia, and diabetes. 

Poultry consumption, on the other hand, was linked to a higher risk of gastro-oesophageal reflux disease, gastritis, duodenitis, diverticular disease, gallbladder disease, and diabetes.

Workers in the meat industry

The meat industry provides jobs for hundreds of thousands of people. Credit: Adobe. Do not use without permission.

But the decline of meat hasn’t benefited everyone – namely, those working in the farming and meat processing industries. 

According to IBISWorld, there are currently just under half a million (499,638) people employed in the US meat processing industry. Meat processors sort, clean, grind, and package meat for human consumption.

It’s the top ranked manufacturing industry by employment in the US.

The number of farmers raising animals for meat is less clear, especially considering the increase in factory farms. According to an analysis undertaken by Sentience Institute, around 99 percent of farmed animals in the US live on factory farms. 
Still, animal agriculture is undeniably the source of livelihood for millions of people worldwide. It’s a concept Vox explored in an article earlier this month. It begged the question: what does a meatless future look like for farmers?

Farmers and a meat-free future

Unsurprisingly, many people working in the animal-based food system have voiced their disapproval of the vegan movement. But it’s not the first time changes like this have happened.

Vox highlights similarities between the public’s wavering interest in meat and the decline of coal and oil. 

“[Farmers’] position is not unlike what coal miners and oil workers faced a couple of decades ago before natural gas, wind energy, and solar power took over a big chunk of the market. In recent years, some have trained to become wind farm technicians or to install solar panels, while others have been unable to find work in the renewable energy sector,” the publication wrote.

“Just as with the shift to green energy, there are potential opportunities for sectors of the meat industry.”

For instance, some meatpackers could move on to packing plant-based products, Vox says. And in the farming world, a growing number of people have pivoted their businesses to move away from animal-based food. 

Non-profit organisation Free From Harm has a dedicated section on its website for such people. It features meat, dairy, and egg farmers who have overhauled their businesses to focus on growing plant-based food. 

For instance, Jennifer Barrett and her husband Rodney had raised cattle and chickens for 18 years. Health complications spurred Barrett to try out a plant-based diet. “I felt like a whole new person. My mind was so sharp and clear. In addition to that, I was sleeping like a baby. I had so much vitality and energy and JOY,” she wrote.

She also revealed that taking the chickens to slaughter had her ‘feeling so heavy with grief that they were all going to die… and for what?’

“I started to see the chickens differently. I’d never really looked at them as individuals before, but my heart started to break when I would see their terror and suffering. Suddenly I saw them as birds, not products!”

growing plant-based food, vegetables
Adobe. Do not use without permission. Some farms have adapted to the rise in plant-based food by ditching animal rearing altogether

And so, the couple canceled their poultry production contract and stopped breeding and selling cattle. Now they’ve transitioned to mushroom farming. 

A similar change of heart inspired former UK beef and dairy farmer Jay Wilde to take his herd to a sanctuary and begin growing vegetables instead. 

Pig and sheep farmer Bob Comis started doubting his business model, too. “I am feeling very much that it might be wrong to eat meat, and that I might indeed be a very bad person for killing animals for a living,” he wrote on his blog. 

More than a year later, he wrote: “Truly, I cannot think of one sound ethical argument in favor of slaughtering animals for their meat.” Comis became vegan and converted his farm to grow vegetables. He also created a documentary about the journey, called The Last Pig.

Transfarmation

There are a growing number of organizations assisting farmers in transforming their businesses to vegan models. Mercy For Animals launched a project called Transfarmation to do just that. It aids animal farmers convert their business models to animal-free ones, such as growing mushroom or hemp crops, or even producing solar and wind energy. The project aims to help farmers secure debt forgiveness as well as to launch crowdfunding campaigns to financially support the shift.

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The Author

Jemima Webber

Jemima is the Head of Editorial of Plant Based News. Aside from writing about climate and animal rights issues, she studies psychology in Newcastle, Australia (where she was born).

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StrangerThingsHappen
StrangerThingsHappen
11 months ago

All good…. and for those who don’t know… veganism is a rejection of speciesism i.e. all forms of animal exploitation, not just as food. Veganism is not a diet.

Rowland Ross
Rowland Ross
11 months ago

Not to worried then about the trillions of insects, millions of small mammals, pest control etc. plus the displacement of other wildlife, not to mention the release of carbon, nitrous oxide, soil degradation, waterway pollution etc. in order to put grains, pulses, and oilseeds on your plate.

PS. I am vehemently opposed to ALL industrial agriculture (plant or animal). We just need to get things into perspective.

Rob Dexter
Rob Dexter
11 months ago
Reply to  Rowland Ross

The greater issue at the moment is animal agriculture. Once we’ve eliminated that, we can work on improving the methods of large scale plant agriculture to at least minimise if not eliminate the inevitable negative effects on animals. Feeding 9.5 million people isn’t something that can be done with a few small scale veganic farms, ya know!

Shabby Chic
Shabby Chic
11 months ago
Reply to  Rob Dexter

So, can we have slaves again then? if we eliminate the abuse, we can work on methods of large scale slavery……..blah blah blah. Seriously?

Shabby Chic
Shabby Chic
11 months ago
Reply to  Rowland Ross

If you’re so worried about the trillions of insects, small mammals etc, stay indoors!

Rowland Ross
Rowland Ross
11 months ago

Nature is very speciesist, it’s called a food chain!

Rohan
2 months ago
Reply to  Rowland Ross

Thankfully humans are conscious of the existence of the food chain and so are able to devise and act upon methods of minimising harm to others (including animals) in that food chain.

It’s simply evolution.

ericmills
ericmills
11 months ago

Here in the U.S. we annually consume some 10 BILLION animals (not counting fish), most of whom (sic) never touch foot to earth or see the light of day–a true “Crime Against Nature.”

Rowland Ross
Rowland Ross
11 months ago
Reply to  ericmills

Entirely due to the high levels of immigration since 1492. The indigenous population don’t seem to have had many problems.

ericmills
ericmills
11 months ago
Reply to  Rowland Ross

Ayn Rand (“Atlas Shrugged”) once told a graduating class of cadets at West Point that the European invaders “had the moral obligation to take the land from the Indians, since they weren’t doing anything with it, basically living in caves like animals.” The mind boggles….

ericmills
ericmills
11 months ago

By weight, Livestock are now 60 percent of mammal life on the planet, humans are 36 percent, and wild mammals are just 4 percent. Seventy percent of birds now on Earth are farmed poultry. Just 30 percent are wild birds.

Rowland Ross
Rowland Ross
11 months ago
Reply to  ericmills

From my point of view as a Biocentrist the answer is simple. Remove all livestock, poultry and monoculture and reduce the human population by 90%. You may have to relearn the art of foraging and hunting, but at least the planet would have a future.

Matt
Matt
11 months ago
Reply to  Rowland Ross

And just how do you propose we do that Rowland? How do we reduce our population by 90%? What would be the time frame and best case scenario for something like that? That’s a fantasy Rowland pure and simple.

When will you accept that a global shift to a plant based diet is the only chance that we have of averting catastrophe?

Rowland Ross
Rowland Ross
11 months ago
Reply to  Matt

Hi Matt. Yes of course it’s a tongue in cheek fantasy, ( still a nice thought though ). I’m all in favour of a shift to a plant based diet ( base = 50% + ) just don’t agree with “plant only”, and if you think you can convert the world to your ideas you can join me in cloud cuckoo land.

On a more serious note the reasons are simple: (1 A plant only diet requires a good knowledge of nutrition, I know from my own attempts that “Joe Bloggs” just ain’t interested, you can’t even get them to eat “five a day”. (2 Multi millions of people in rural communities across the globe rely on animals to retain soil fertility and provide nutrient they can’t get from the limited crops they grow. Then there are fishing communities, pastoralists plus the few remaining hunter gatherers that “ enlightened man” hasn’t yet butchered. Communities also have a strong attachment to their own culture which often includes animal foods. Are you really going to tell these people they are wrong? and if so on who’s authority. Then it comes down to food supply and the two major evils, CAFOs and MONOCULTURE. 65% of the worlds food is is supplied by small farms, most of which, particularly in the developed world, rely on chemicals to make their produce profitable, this could easily change if Governments instigated genuine agricultural reform, by removing the subsidies paid to the “meat, grain and oilseed Barons”, but it would still require animals on the land.

You may be surprised to learn that I would welcome a massive, and I mean massive, reduction in the consumption of meat but thats a long way from “plant only”.

Matt
Matt
11 months ago
Reply to  Rowland Ross

You make some good points. While universal veganism isn’t practical right now just remember that roughly 4 billion of the world’s population currently eat primarily plant-based diets. It is not nutritionally difficult to be a healthy vegan, eat whole minimally processed foods, and take a B12 once a week. That’s it. But many sources would have you believe that it’s difficult. In the West we have used industrial agriculture to make eating meat a cheap and every day experience for most people. This is the key problem.

I think people living in the West as well as first world Asian countries must reduce their consumption of meat. How do we do that? China recently issued a decree that it’s people cut their meat consumption by 50%, this had little to no effect. In 2015 the WHO stated that red meat was a likely cause of cancer. This had little to no effect. The immorality of consuming industrially raised meat and dairy needs to be exposed to the public. Younger people are in a better position to change, they are more open minded and not so set in their ways.

I agree that all farming subsidies need to go away and then taxes need to be applied so that the cost of meat represents a more appropriate amount. Where is the political will for this? When COVID shut down meat production the then US president used the defense production act to keep workers in slaughterhouses to insure the steady flow of meat despite the dangers to their safety. He didn’t do this for PPE, ventilators, or even vaccine production. Why? Because he understood that if the meat stopped flowing that would damage him politically. That tells you that a certain percentage of the population is a lost cause and should just be abandoned to their fate of cancer and cardiovascular disease.

We need to make eating industrially produced meat immoral, and organically raised meat expensive. If people want to hunt for it, fine. Then see the rates of meat and dairy drop to a sustainable level. And if we add to that the younger generation becoming vegan the world will see a much more sustainable future.

daisymomo
daisymomo
9 months ago
Reply to  Matt

??????

Rowland Ross
Rowland Ross
11 months ago
Reply to  ericmills

Break the laws of nature and you pay the penalty. Modern sophisticated man hasn’t managed to work that one out yet, he still thinks that human ingenuity can get us out of the s**t without realising that it was human ingenuity that got us there in the first place. However here’s a couple of quotes from a “savage” called Chief Seathl.

“Continue to contaminate your bed and you will one night suffocate in your own waste”

“Man does not own the earth he is part of it, what he does to the earth he does to himself”

Shabby Chic
Shabby Chic
11 months ago

Veganism is only just touching the tip of the iceberg. Those thinking, or rather hoping, it will fail are extremely mistaken. All that will do is push more to be activists & advocates for veganism.

Remember, it was once ok to have slaves……..

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