The global number of animals raised and slaughtered by humans, yearly, is on the rise (UN FAO data) despite the simultaneous rise of veganism in the western world. This fact can be called as ‘the vegan paradox’.
An example of the vegan paradox can be shown in the case of U.K where the number of vegans quadrupled between 2014 and 2019 [from 150,000 (0,25% of the population) to 600,000 (1,16% of the population) (The Vegan Society)] while almost 28.8 million farm animals were killed for meat in 2019, marking an increase of 5.4 per cent in two years, as government figures show (Parnaby, 2020).
When looking at the literature, it has been estimated that ten years ago, there were 1.5 billion vegetarians worldwide; among which, only 75 million were vegetarians of choice, which means that the rest would eat meat as soon as they could afford it (Leahy et al., 2010). A more recent suggestion is that people who follow a vegetarian diet are no more than 10% (globally), with an estimated minimum of perhaps 5% (Nezlek and Forestell, 2019).
To the best of my knowledge, no similar global estimation on vegans exists so far in the literature and the few publications encountered relevant to veganism are focusing solely on nutrition and/or are conducted at a local scale (for instance FCN expert report, 2018; Muller, 2020). This fact is showing by itself the necessity of the conduction of a thorough research on the vegan / antispeciesist movement along with the (in)effectiveness of animal advocacy.
Nevertheless, many different approaches are used by animal advocates, as a mean of activism in a worldwide level (such as street and online outreaching, occupying slaughterhouses, the animal save movement, marches, documentary screenings, direct actions of animal liberations, providing education through online platforms, talks and think tanks in festivals, campaigns through billboards etc.) and all these actions are communicated daily through social media. However, advocators fail to achieve their goal, the end of animal exploitation and the animal liberation.
The majority of the animals who are exported alive are NOT destined to Asia
One of the main causes of that failure has its roots in capitalism and overpopulation as I have already explained in another article of mine, which I wrote 2 years ago, since a high number of the animals raised in the western countries are exported alive to Asia and Africa where human reproduction rates are still high. In other words, a new target group has been created by the market in order to fill the gap that slowly emerges in the western part of the world. For instance, the Middle East is considered as a particularly key region of the live export because it has been a major importer of sheeps since records were first collected by the FAO in the 1960s. Namely, in 2017, Saudi Arabia imported 5,8 million sheeps, Kuwait 1,3 million, Qatar 590.000, Jordan 400.000 and Oman also 400,000. Furthermore, The Netherlands exported 4 million chickens to Thailand and 1 million to Uganda during the same year. In general, the numbers of other live farm animals (such as pigs, cows and goats) being exported has also grown significantly over the past fifty years, according to data from the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) and the growth has shown no signs of slowing (Levitt, 2020).
At the same time though, figures show a higher number of live animals exported from western countries to other western countries: The majority of the animals France exported in 2017 went to Italy (980,000) and Spain (490,000). European countries dominate the live chicken export market, with the Netherlands and Germany alone responsible for the export of almost 700 million chickens in 2017 while a large proportion of these countries’ export of chickens are to each other. Moreover, most of the live pig exports from Denmark and the Netherlands are to other European countries. The UK also imported 16 million chickens from the Netherlands along with 500,000 other live farm animals in 2017, most of whoms were pigs from Ireland. The US figures are mostly made up of pig imports from Canada and cow imports from Mexico (Levitt, 2020).
These figures strengthen the vegan paradox. And yes, veganism has lost its political identity and it has been sadly minimized by the majority of the activists to a lifestyle focusing mainly to diet but still, this is not explaining this figures.
What is the animal rights movement failing to see? Why are we constantly failing non-human animals? Why our advocacy is so ineffective and what the hell are we celebrating each time a dairy industry is closing and each time we get to read about the increase of vegans?
The problem of subsidies
It is well known that governments provide subsidies farmers and we often hear about dairy farmers pouring the excess milk … so surely one reason for that failure is the apolitical nature of the movement – because by changing one person at a time, you achieve nothing as long as the system continues to support the exploitation of non-human animals. Because if we do not shift the focus from individuals to governments and institutions (global and national agencies, ministries, etc.) we will never achieve anything. And this, to make it more understandable, is like thinking that spaying stray animals will one day solve the problem of strays … without having at the same time law enforcement or even worse, not even having the right law to enforce it – so that people stop abandoning pets / stop buying from breeders and pet shops. For every animal spayed, another leaves a bag of newborns in the trash. Likewise, for every new vegan that an activist succeeds their transitioning – many more are born in a country where veganism does not even exist as a concept (since they do not even have access to clean water, which veganism?). And for every new vegan who stops buying cow’s or goat’s milk, and switches into vegetable milk, there is the government to subsidize farmers to help with the losses – instead of helping them make a transition to plant milk production or agriculture (like this ex farmer), something that the new organization called Refarm’d is doing with tremendous success: helping farmers to turn their units into farm sanctuaries and to make a living onwards by producing organic oat milk which they sell in reusable glass bottles. And I must inform you that there are many farmers who approach this organization and ask for their help. But why does a private initiative always have to do the work that governments should be doing instead (rhetorical question)?
In any case, all this information does not stop me from wondering if the people who self identify as vegan, at the end of the day, are not vegan. My rational mind doesn’t allow me to think of an alternative scenario. So, please, if you have other possible explanations, you are more than welcome to share them with me because the feeling of desperation is quite tense since I discovered that the majority of live animals exported are NOT heading to Asia.
Federal Commission for Nutrition (FCN). Vegan diets: review of nutritional benefits and risks. (2018).
Expert report of the FCN. Bern: Federal Food Safety and Veterinary Office.
Leahy, E., Lyons, S. & Tol, R.S.J. (2010). An Estimate of the number of Vegetarians in the World. ESRI working paper 340.
Levitt, T. (2020). Two billion and rising: the global trade in live animals in eight charts. The Guardian.
Muller, P. (2020). Vegan Diet in Young Children. Nestle Nutrition Institute workshop series, 93, 103–110.
Nezlek, J. B. & Forestell, C.A. (2019). Vegeterianism as a social identity. Current opinion if food science, 33, 45-51.
Parnaby, L. (2019). UK slaughterhouses killing more animals despite growth of veganism. Chronicle.