Jobs, Economics, And A Vegan Nation
How much is the U.S. economy dependent on the suffering of animals? Any serious proposal to shift to a plant-based society must account for the economic effects of such a transition, and this report by the Humane Party sets out to detail exactly how big that economic impact might be. By understanding exactly how much of the economy is related to animal exploitation, we can plan for the economic effects of a change to veganism. To do so, exploitative jobs are split into three categories: those which directly exploit animals, those that exist because of the exploitation of animals, and those which support the exploitation of animals.
The first category includes jobs in animal farming and ranching, as well as fishing, hunting, and trapping. There are a total of 2.5 million people employed in these sectors; the largest subcategory of directly-exploiting jobs is cattle ranching with 1.3 million jobs – this despite the fact that beef makes up less than half of America’s total meat consumption. From an environmental and resource-allocation perspective, beef is clearly the biggest offender. The smallest subcategory is fishing, hunting, and trapping, which altogether employ just 19,600 people.
The second category includes any jobs which exist as dependents of the first category, such as slaughtering, processing, and packaging, animal product manufacturing, and support activities for animal agriculture like veterinarians, trainers, and animal feed manufacturers. The category of jobs that exist because of animal exploitation is smaller than the first, with 796,000 jobs in total. The largest subcategory is animal slaughtering and processing, which employs 505,000 people. The smallest is leather product manufacturing, with 27,500 employees.
The third, and largest, category includes jobs which support animal exploitation. This includes restaurants, grocery stores, farming for animal feed, and industries that use animal products like apparel manufacturing and bakeries. Nearly 17 million Americans are employed in this category, with 10.5 million alone in the restaurant industry. The smallest subcategory is sugar and confectionary product manufacturing, with 74,000 jobs. (For those like me who were confused about this category: bone char is commonly used to bleach and filter processed cane sugar; it is not used in the production of beet sugar). It is worth noting that these jobs would likely be the least-affected by a transition to a plant-based society. There will still be a demand for restaurants and apparel, but the products would be free of animal exploitation.
The report notes that these jobs are exploitative to all animals, including many of the humans that work them. More than 1 million workers in agriculture – including plant agriculture – and related industries, are undocumented, and therefore rarely have access to healthcare, a living wage, or adequate legal protection. People who work in slaughterhouses are at increased risk of developing PTSD and related disorders, and one study has shown that slaughterhouses or abattoirs moving into communitied are often linked to a rise in violent crime.
Any society-wide transition will not be painless, but that’s a part of progress. Horseback couriers were replaced by telegraphs, which were replaced by landline telephones, which are being replaced by the internet and cellphones. At every step in this chain, some people lost their jobs. However, other jobs were created, and society saw an overall benefit from faster and easier communication. There is no reason to believe that this would not be the case with the shift to a plant-based society. The environmental and moral benefits are invaluable, and the transition has the potential to grow our economy and create better jobs for those who work in it.