I do find it surprising how worried people are that the world will be overrun with farmed animals if people go vegan. Cows on the interstate! Sheep storming the Senate! Luckily, this isn’t a likely scenario. Here are a few reasons why:
A gradual process
First of all, even the most optimistic vegans don’t think that the world will go plant-based overnight. Rather, they hope that if people decide to move away from choosing animal products, then the reduced demand will lead to reduced ‘production.’ (This process may already be underway in the US, but I haven’t had to shoo any cows out of my yard yet.)
Every farmed animal equates to a dollar figure for the farmer who bred and raised that animal. If the farmer isn’t getting great ROI, they may stop breeding as many animals, but what they definitely won’t do is just release the animals that they’ve already ‘invested resources in’ out into the wild. Rather, they’ll slaughter their current ‘stock’ and then make an assessment as to whether breeding such large herds will still be profitable going forward.
For instance: as the ‘adopt, don’t shop’ movement has gained steam, nobody is freaking out that dog breeders will start releasing all their purebred puppies, and suddenly our forests will be overrun by golden retrievers. Breeders will still sell whatever puppies they have, and if demand goes down, they may breed fewer purebred dogs in the future. Same deal with the farmed animals.
Farmed animals are here because we ‘make’ them
The crux here is the fact that farmed animals are here because we “make” them: we intentionally bring them into existence so that they can be killed and eaten. They aren’t wild creatures who have natural populations — they are animals that are created specifically to be consumed by humans.
This is where we get to an interesting aspect of this issue, which I battled with for quite a while: if everybody goes vegan, and farmers stop raising cows for slaughter, doesn’t that mean vegans will be responsible for cows going extinct? Isn’t that bad?
So here’s a mini thought experiment, to help get to the root of this:
Most people believe that it would be unethical to create and raise a clone of yourself so that, as your organs falter in old age, you would be able to harvest fresh organs from your younger clone. They see it as unethical to bring a life into this world solely as a means to an end, and to violently cut that life short for personal gain, with complete disregard for the autonomy and wishes of the person being killed. Even if the clone were fed good food and allowed to roam outside prior to its death, people would still find this practice highly unethical. (I think you see where I’m going here.)
While I might find it a fun fantasy to imagine the entire population of farmed animals being rescued overnight, to live out the rest of their lives at sanctuaries rather than being killed at a young age, this outcome isn’t feasible by any stretch of the logistical or economic imagination. Rather, each cow born today is being brought into this world specifically to be killed young for human consumption.
As with the clone situation above, I don’t find it satisfactory to justify the clone-organ industry or the cow-meat industry by pointing to the nice living conditions of these beings before their lives are artificially cut short for human consumption. So with a declining meat industry, even though I might feel a little sad that I won’t see as many cute cows around (or any of these adorable organ clones), I think that this is still the better outcome, rather than continuing to breed millions of calves who are destined to be separated from their families and killed before they reach adulthood.