Why eliminating livestock would come with its own concerns

A radical societal shift to veganism would create a new set of moral concerns. It would reify the problematic binaries that characterize the postindustrial mindset (as in Good/Evil, Life/Death, and Nature/Culture). Rather than a shift to wholesome foods, the most likely outcome - based on the current dynamics - would be a food system centered around ultra-processed imitations and bioreactor foods. The risk is that this may lead to nutritionism, erode rural landscapes, and consolidate power in the food supply system, further undermining public health and food sovereignty.
 
Problematic conceptual binaries and worldviews
 
Given that the production of all foods (including crops) comes with a death toll due to harvesting and pest control [see elsewhere], the prevention of animal killing can only be achieved by (1) a radical fencing off of crop areas or (2) reliance on bioreactor foods [cf. Monbiot 2020; see also elsewhere]. In both cases - assuming they are realistic for the sake of the argument - the already pervasive Nature/Culture divide would become even more problematic than is already the case. Interviews with leading figures in the vegan tech startup universe indeed point to a desire to radically remodel the planet, with a preference for urban life in megacities, a food system of vertical hydroponic farming in skyscrapers, lab-grown food, and even transhumanism [Luneau 2020].
 
Implications on daily life would be overwhelming, for instance with respect to the myriad of foods (bread, wine, candy, etc.) and goods (medicine, candles, cosmetics, rubber, camera film, etc.) that usually depend on animal agriculture  [Gruen & Jones 2015]. Pets such as cats and dogs can be put on vegan feed (although it may come with health and animal welfare problems), but will still kill other animals when they get a chance. Moreover, depriving pets of their evolutionary foods and instincts is illustrative of the West's Cartesian outlook on life [Gruen & Jones 2015]: humans and their pets are put within the Culture compartment, yet predation by wild animals is seen as rooted in Nature [Plumwood 2000].
 
While failing to recognize the holistic entanglement of human and non-human animals within ecosystems, granting human-like rights to livestock animals would but enlarge the domain of life positioned outside Nature [Plumwood 2000, 2004]. Both Nature (innocent and strictly biological) and Culture (self-restrained and in control) would have to be hyper-separated and purified in their own manner [Plumwood 2000]. Endorsement of the 'Half-Earth' project, restituting 50% of the planet to Nature and wildlife (while humans move to metropolitan areas), is representative of such binary thinking [cf. Lynn 2015]. Redefining half of the planet as 'Protected area' is nonetheless discussed at the highest policy level [see elsewhere].
 
Simultaneously, the Life/Death binary would continue to undermine a more balanced outlook on existence, with death already being perceived as a 'contaminant essence' by some vegetarians and vegans [Testoni et al. 2017]. From such perspective, death invades and pollutes an imagined Garden of Eden that is both utopian and biocentric [cf. Sánchez Sábaté et al. 2016; see also elsewhere]. More concerning still, some ideologists intend to further purify the remaining Nature compartment by liberating it from sufferance. Ultimately, Nature would become a void concept while the planet is turned into a Culture-controlled 'Spaceship Earth'. 
 
The most radical and extravagant suggestions include genetic engineering to knock out the ability to feel pain [Shriver 2009], the turning of predatory carnivores into herbivores, or their 'painless killing' and elimination [Verchot 2014; MacAskill & MacAskill 2018Bramble 2020], and the sterilization (or even elimination) of animal life altogether [Moen 2016]. In a non-speciesist moral framework, humans would have a duty to protect rights-owning herbivores from their predators [Callicott 2015]. Worse, no life risks being seen as preferable to a life affected by suffering. For similar reasons, scenarios may also include a transhumanist transition into digitalized minds without bodies [Gyurko 2016] or even a voluntary human extinction [VHEMT; Rutz 2018; Dixon 2019]. A 'bioethics professor' has suggested to produce 'meat patches' (similar to nicotine patches) that trigger intolerance to beef by stimulating the immune system against common bovine proteins, to overcome cravings for red meat [Liao 2017]. 
 
Conceptualizing veganism as an act of sanctity, especially when coupled to identarian expression, also risks creating societal division into in-groups (proper vegans) and out-groups (the Others). Typically, this leads to a raising of the standards of what is considered pure and a denouncement of those that are less strict [Levy 2015], and all the feelings of resentment and scapegoating that come with such worldview [see elsewhere].

Toward a fragile food supply system and concentration of power?
 
Diets, from an ontological vegetarian perspective [see elsewhere], have become a site of domination and exclusion, so that nothing that is morally considerable could ever become food [Plumwood 2000]. Such worldview paves the way for far-reaching reductionism and degradation, with food becoming a functional nutrient-supplying entity devoid of deeper meaning. This, on its turn, opens the gates to even tighter corporate control over the food system.
 
Although the option of supplemented and/or fortified wholesome plant-only diets is conceivable, widespread 'veganization' risks to be eventually translated into a shift from ASFs to engineered, ultra-processed foods mimicking the latter. Given the current industrial, economic, and social constellations that dominate the global food systems discourse at the highest policy levels [see elsewhere], this would be the most likely outcome indeed. Moreover, substituting an entire category of foods, which is displaying a vast amount of variability and coming from a rich cultural legacy [Leroy & Praet 2015], would require the production of 'plant-based' imitation products to meet market demands. This is looked upon as a major business opportunity by many of the large food corporations and likely explains their assertive endorsement of anti-ASF policies [see elsewhere]. 
 
The unfortunate result of a transition to near-vegetarianism [see elsewhere], if successful, would thus represent a further loss of food sovereignty due to an increased consolidation of control over the food supply system by megacorporations, as well as a trend towards more nutritionism [Scrinis 2015]. Both are expected to undermine food security and public health. Additionally, such radical change would further erode the role of farming in food supply, landscape management, and the generation of prosperity, and widen the already troublesome urban/rural disconnect (another manifestation of the Culture/Nature binary), thereby further increasing the alienation of our food heritage (in its multiple manifestations).

Repercussions on public health and societal well-being
 
As discussed in the Health section [see elsewhere], widespread veganization may come with ethical problems related to health issues in vulnerable populations, especially among the young [see  elsewhere]. This is not only the case in low/middle-income countries [Adesogan et al. 2020], but also risks harming 'both the physical and the social well-being of children' in the West [Hunt 2019] because of ideological choices rather than socio-economic necessity [Giannini et al. 2006]. 
 
In addition to the risk on impoverished nutrition, a radical transition would undermine many other societal benefits currently generated by animal husbandry worldwide. These include but are not limited to livelihoods, poverty reduction, education, empowerment of women, especially in low- and middle-income countries, and recovery of by-products for medicine (and other use), etc. [Smith et al. 2013; FAO 2018; Baltenweck et al. 2020; Paul et al. 2021]. Cultural benefits (e.g., self-esteem, ceremonial functions, indigenous knowledge, and cultural heritage, identity, and bequest) and ecosystem services (e.g., biorecycling, weed control, and moderation of rangeland fires) are numerous [Mapiye et al. 2020]. 
 
Crusading versions of veganism and vegetarianism demand universal adherence by being aggressively ethnocentric and dismissive of alternative indigenous dietary practices; the assumption of universal choice being an expression of Western middle-class privilege [Plumwood 2000]. We argue that an integration of the best practices of animal and plant agriculture are our best chance for a resilient food system and that failing to do so would be unethical on its own.

Translate content