As a vegan I have a love hate relationship with farmers. They grow my food; my veggies, cereals, grains and whatnot, but some have also driven at me outside slaughterhouses and are a part of the animal agriculture which I am vehemently against.
(One of the many cows I’ve said goodbye to outside a slaughterhouse)
So, although it is difficult to be unbiased in terms of wishing there was no animal agriculture, I do not wish to see a rise in unemployment or these farmers (who I acknowledge work long gruelling hours) out of work. But where my concern stems from is (and as always, this is my opinion) that animal farmers are maybe too busy fighting the growth of veganism when as a business they should be looking at the trends and adapting their business to meet them.
As a bit of background and maybe to take it away from an emotive subject so we can try and look at things objectively, let’s look at other industries.
I work for a company who manufacture, assembly and supply fluid transfer systems for the automotive trade. As a tier one supplier to many high end and prestigious brands, the likes of Bentley, McLaren, BMW, Jaguar Land Rover, Lotus etc.
(I actually went to McLaren Technology Centre (MTC) and checked some parts on this before it was unveiled!)
But as I am sure most reading this will know, electric cars are on the rise. Some of the products we manufacture are fuel lines, hydraulic lines for gear boxes etc. Things which aren’t (usually) present on full electric cars. Not only is there an upward trend in electric cars as it becomes more affordable; and better looking and performing electric cars start hitting the market (remember the god awful G-Wiz compared to what is available today?!). Also the government’s intention is to have almost every car and van in the UK to be zero emissions by 2050 and stop all sales of petrol and diesel cars in the UK by 2040.
2040 may seem a long way away but its only 22 years. I am 32 so will still be working in 22 years (tbh the way retirement age keeps rising I will still be working until I drop). You may think that as its 22 years there is no rush to panic or adapt, but imagine you are an automotive manufacturer who usually pours millions into research and development to improve fuel economy and performance from smaller internal combustion engines. You know a high volume of your vehicles are sold to the UK (or France who are also following suit). Are you going to wait those 22 years to start developing electric cars? Or do you try and lead the way by moving that budget from better performing combustion engine cars (which will be obsolete in 22 years) to electric cars? As a business it would make sense to refocus the efforts towards electric right? Yeah, maybe continue with some internal combustion stuff, but the future will be electric cars. The sooner R&D starts the more advanced they will be. Not only that, but imagine you are buying a car with one eye on this news. Car tax based on emissions will rise undoubtedly, clean air zones will be popping up more and more and not just in London but in the 42 major cities in the UK (most probably following the London way of charging those who produce xyz amount of CO2/NO2) within the next few years. What are you going to opt for? Electric cars are improving constantly, the likes of Tesla leading the way with incredible stats, performance and range and let’s be honest, not a bad price tag (still out of my range sadly).
So taking all that into consideration, and I am not a business owner or high level manager or anything like that, this is just from snippets on the news and a Google here and there, it’s clear that the business I work for will need to adapt to the current trend towards alternative fuel vehicles, which has steadily risen from 2010, year on year. The comparison from Jan 2017 to Jan 2018 for example, shows that the number of “Plug-in Other Electric Vehicles” registered has risen by 61.2%. From 1,010 to 1,632.
Petrol-Electric Hybrids have risen by 25.4% in the same comparison. As an overall percentage growth, the number of Alternative Fuel Vehicles (AFV) has grown by 23.9% (this takes into account the drop in the number of diesel hybrid’s which was circa 30%).
The market share for AFV’s has risen from 4.2% to 5.5% of cars registered in Jan 2018. Although that doesn’t sound a lot, It is showing an upward move. It may take some time to start competing for the majority of the market share, but as diesel powered cars are dropping (from a 45.2% market share to 35.9% or as a like for like on diesels registered, a drop of 25.6%) and the slow rise of AFV combined with the clean air zones and other legislation for clean air, it would be a safe bet to assume that AFV figures will rise, especially as more funds will undoubtedly move towards research and development of electric vehicles and prices start to become more and more affordable. I am sure you have seen the infrastructure popping up around everywhere. Supermarkets and service stations with charging points. Government grants for home and work charging points etc. It shows that these places have seen the trend and want to be ahead of it. It is going to happen, the stats aren’t as high as the growth of veganism, but they are moving upwards. So those who adapt and prepare for this will prosper, sadly those who don’t will fall by the wayside and may not make it through.
Apologies there for rattling on, but that is an example with emotion taken out, of how a business needs to look at the big picture, analyse trends, take into account future legislation and consumer options and subsequently adapt.
Back to the farmers.
Often an argument I hear when talking about veganism is the concern for their employment. That if we all went vegan, they would be unemployed. It does strike me that people who say this are the ones who don’t want to give up meat and animal products, so either consciously or subconsciously say this as an excuse, a convenient statement to maybe deflect the attention away from animal agriculture and their part in it or to switch the debate from their consumption of animal products to a socio-economic topic.
I rarely (not yet ever) hear people defend the jobs of other industries in such a way. The people making these statements will no doubt use self checkouts at the supermarket. Where previously 6 people would be required to run 6 tills, it now takes one person to monitor 6 tills. Or shopping online where there is a growing number of “dark stores” who operate solely for online shopping (the likes of Amazon’s fulfilment centres) so less need for people to stack shelves and ring up items; just people to run around picking goods and shipping them. Lower overheads for the business, lower running costs, lower budget for recruitment, training and wages/pensions etc.
Or looking at holidays online instead of in travel agents, think of the poor printers who serviced the likes of Thomas Cook, TUI etc with brochures! (TUI for example are planning to remove all printed brochures from their stores by 2020. They currently print 4.7m brochures per year at a cost of millions of pounds)
Business’s are affected all the time by consumers.
But no other business industry gets the same defence as the farmers. And as I said, I don’t want to see anyone unemployed, unemployment can lead to serious issues to those who struggle to find work. Depression, money troubles, possible homelessness, break down of families etc. No one wants to see that, we already have too many people on the streets and living in poverty as it is, something which needs to be addressed but this isn’t the time or place for that as I am rattling on more than enough already.
The point I am trying to make is that where there is this battle between farmers and the vegan movement, the effort would be better spent looking at the trends. Looking at the growth of veganism and sales of plant based alternatives. Seeing the rise in dairy free plant milks, seeing the adoption of vegan safe meals from restaurants and fast food chains (Pizza Hut with vegan cheese, McDonalds releasing the McVegan in Scandinavia), chain’s such as Bar One, Whetherspoons etc all seeing this growth and wanting to capitalise on it. It isn’t going away. More and more people are realising the benefits and morality to a plant based vegan lifestyle. The numbers of Veganuary show this too, 2017 there were just shy of 60,000 participants. 2018 there were over 160,000 participants. You may have seen Matthew and Jane from Veganuary on Sky News and This Morning or heard them on Radio 5 Live and other places. Or seen Earthling Ed or Joey Carbstrong on other media platforms. Before, the vegan movement wasn’t really given a voice (although it has always been there) but now it is being heard much more. So, like any business should do, farmers in the animal agriculture sector of farming need to see this trend, the growth and adapt. Some may be able to continue as the world won’t go vegan overnight, but others will be left at the wayside. It isn’t exactly a sustainable model anyway, in my opinion. With supermarkets wanting to sell at lower prices they buy from the farmers at lower prices. But the cost of keeping animals, feeding them, housing them, vet treatment, membership fees for the likes of RSPCA Assured standards etc go up. The business model (to an outsider) looks to be one that is in decline. Either the cost of these products needs to go up (which could lose customers) or the cost of producing needs to go down. But as the rise of veganism keeps growing and more companies jump on board (Ben and Jerry’s ice cream dairy free, Vegan Cornetto’s, Goodfella’s pizza etc) the cost of the plant based alternatives will steadily drop. Meaning that we could see a switch in the cost of products where animal products go up and alternatives come down. We have already seen examples of plant based alternatives selling above and beyond what was expected (Sainsbury’s own vegan cheese outsold projections by 300%!!).
I know it’s not as simple as animal farmers to switch to grains, crops etc. I know there are contracts and service agreements they cannot just cancel, plant and equipment on higher purchase agreements and also the land they own not being suitable for all crops or none at all in some places. But maybe there are other options. With a lot of land there is a potential to fund another growing trend. More electric vehicles will mean a greater need for electricity. With coal power stations closing more and more due to emissions and the inability to find a financially viable method of producing “clean coal” meaning that now coal is producing less of the UK’s energy than wind and solar. So much so that in April 2017 the UK saw the first day since 1882 where no energy was produced by coal. The coal stations now serve more as a back up to the wind and solar plants. So with a need for renewable energy coupled with the possible space from farmers who may not have the soil for crops nor the sustainable business plans for animal agriculture there is a potential for something there. Maybe something the government can create grants for or help farmers get out of long term contracts with plant and equipment firms. It is in the governments interest as they have (had) an aim to reach the EU target of 30% of power to be source by renewable sources by 2020 and to shut down the remaining 16 coal power stations by 2025.
Now, I am not saying this is the answer. I am just giving an example of how maybe rather than fighting the continued growth of veganism and decline in meat and animal products (see below stats for 2016….I am still looking for 2017 but will update when I find them) that they consider adjusting their business plans and future. My 2 cents anyway.