Will Farmed Animals Become Extinct If We Don’t Eat Them?

People sometimes worry about what will happen to animals in farms if everyone in the world goes vegan, and two concerns may come to mind: first, will the animals simply be turned out to fend for themselves? And second, if nobody is eating them, will they become extinct? If we truly care about animals, neither of these arguments should give us a moment’s concern. And here’s why …

Despite our best efforts, the entire world is not going to go vegan overnight, and so we simply won’t have the ‘problem’ of what to do with all those animals currently existing inside farms. Even if we somehow managed to persuade everyone on the planet to go vegan within the next six months, farmed animals are killed so young that the vast majority of those who are currently alive would not be by then.

Society’s move towards veganism is sure and steady but a fully vegan world is not imminent. As more people transition to veganism, there will be a gradual reduction in the number of animals bred, reared and slaughtered, in line with this reduced demand. (Animals are bred in response to market demands; they are not bred anyway in the hope someone will buy the product.) Year by year, as more people stop buying meat, milk and eggs, we would expect to see fewer animals bred until one day all farmers will instead be growing beans, broccoli and beetroot. And don’t worry, farming jobs would not be lost in a vegan world since producing vegetables is more labour-intensive than farming animals, so that’s good news for everyone!

The second concern is that individual species of farmed animal would become extinct if people stopped eating them, but for many farmed species this would be a very positive outcome.

Farmed breeds are not natural. They were specifically bred into being by people who wanted certain physical traits, such as large muscles or high milk yields, even though these money-making traits also cause a lot of suffering. Commercial breeds of turkeys and broiler chickens, for example, are bred to put on a lot of weight as quickly as possible and as a result their joints are painful, their hearts are weak and they are prone to bone breakages. It is right that these poor creatures are not bred to be this way.

Image of a lame chicken on a factory farm floor
Credit: Animal Equality

While these commercial strains of poultry may die out, that does not mean an end to all poultry breeds. Plenty will survive in sanctuaries and homes where their right to life is not predicated on what humans can get out of it. And many more natural breeds would, ideally, survive in the wild. They would need the right habitat, of course, but that would be easier to provide for them as a vegan population would need a lot less land for farming.

Extinction of farmed species is not therefore a concern but the extinction of wild species is a very pressing issue. Up to one million species currently face extinction because of the activities of humans, according to the United Nations. Deforestation, habitat destruction and climate change together are driving the current “mass extinction event” and behind all three is animal agriculture.

Forests are razed to make way for grazing or to grow crops to feed animals. The oceans are decimated not just for human consumption but so that caught fish can be rendered into feed for farmed animals. And 14.5 per cent of human generated climate-changing gases comes from farming animals.

The science is clear: if we truly wish to stop animal species from becoming extinct, we should choose vegan.

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PAGE UPDATED JULY 2020

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