Official USDA figures show that from 2007 to 2014 there was a decline of 400 million animals being killed for meat in the U.S., which amounts to nearly a 5 percent reduction of the 9.5 billion animals killed annually in the animal agriculture industry. This is obviously a sign of progress, but the burning question is what is the cause of this reduction, and how can we speed it up?
It’s never easy to attribute these types of reduction to specific factors, as hard data is difficult to find, but some of the most important contributing factors include:
Meat Reduction Campaigns Are Clearly Working
There has been an onslaught of campaigns over the last decade urging people to cut their meat consumption, even if just for one day a week or one meal a day. Some of these campaigns, such as Meatless Mondays, have become internationally recognized, and are carried out en-masse in many workplaces and schools as well as on an individual basis.
The animal rights movement has largely been divided in opinion over whether they are effective or not, as they still encourage people to continue eating meat the rest of the time and almost certainly ease people’s conscience about doing so.
The conflict in opinion arises because obviously someone cutting meat out of their diet completely is reducing the number of animals being consumed by seven times more than even the most ardent Meatless Monday participants. While any reduction is good news, a system which does not promote reduction as a part of a path to cutting it out entirely is never going to produce the desired results in the long run as people are still consuming 86 percent more meat than vegans and vegetarians.
A Rise in the Number of Vegans and Vegetarians?
With increasing amounts of mainstream conversation about our responsibility to cut down on meat consumption due to health, environmental and animal rights reasons, you might expect that the number of vegetarians and vegans would have risen dramatically over the past seven years, but this does not appear to be the case.
According to Gallup, the number of vegetarians in the U.S. has remained constant at around 5-6 percent since 1999. Figures on veganism are harder to find, but the most recent Gallop poll on the issue recorded that 2 percent of Americans are vegan, with other studies suggesting similar numbers, but showing that this has risen significantly over the past three years from less than 1 percent.
The rise of veganism, even if only by 1 percent actually has a huge impact on meat consumption and is certainly playing a big role in the USDA figure reduction. One percent of the U.S. population going vegan is over three million more people not eating meat every single day, which equates to the same reduction in meat that 18-21 million participants of Meatless Monday would have.
So What Does All This Mean?
The figures highlight the fact that the popularity of Meatless Mondays and other reduction campaigns are obviously helping to reduce the number of animals being killed each year, but not nearly as significantly as those going vegetarian and vegan.
Also, the fact that the number of vegetarians has not changed over the past 16 years shows that these campaigns are not having much of an effect on the number of people choosing to eliminate meat completely. So how beneficial are these campaigns to the animals?
Even if everyone in the country joined Meatless Monday (or another similar reduction campaign) then the biggest impact it could ever have is a 14 percent reduction in total meat consumption. This would still be over 8 billion animals slaughtered for food every year, and that’s if participants’ consumption didn’t increase on the six other days when they’re not going meatless.
In contrast, people who choose to go vegan are having a 100% reduction in the amount of meat their consuming, so it would take only 14% of the country to go vegan to have the same impact as the entire country going meatless for one day a week.
Reduction is great, as long as it is the start of elimination. Even with the best intentions, we’re not going to make a dent on the amount of animal suffering and slaughter, or the environmental impacts of the animal agriculture industry unless we commit to cutting it out of our lives altogether.