About five years ago, I had a long and agonizing debate with Gary Francione, who asserted that cruelty bans don’t decrease the consumption of animal products, but rather increase it. He said:
Just this very moment at 7:12pm, I got an e-mail from someone forwarding me a response from Vegan Outreach saying that Francione’s wrong, that animal welfare reforms don’t increase animal consumption. Well, sorry, the empirical evidence is to the contrary. Isn’t it interesting?
Well, five years later, we’re starting to see all sorts of cruelty bans enacted around the world. Germany has more or less gotten rid of battery cages, and the UK is now completing its phase out of barren cages, too. And guess what? Egg prices in the UK have doubled since a year ago, and shops are having a tough time finding enough eggs to make the popular British lunch, a mayonnaise and egg sandwich. As a result, some of these shops are replacing egg sandwiches with other offerings.
Could the same happen in the US? Numerous animal groups are now lobbying for an EU-style laying hen protection law based on last year’s HSUS-United Egg Producers deal. Francione’s response to the deal?
What HSUS is doing is applying the meaningless concept of “humane” exploitation as it has been applied for the past 200 years.
Putting aside the fact that neither HSUS—nor any of the other animal groups supporting the bill—called the production system described in the bill as “humane” (I guess Francione finds it easier to tear down straw men), the dynamic here is very simple. The primary reason that animal products are cost-competitive with vegan foods is that the parsimonious conditions of factory farms wring production costs to the absolute minimum. Once you start improving animal welfare in significant ways, say by halving the number of animals kept in each building, production costs—surprise surprise!—go up. Some players leave the business entirely, while those that remain end up producing a much higher-cost product.
At that point, popular foods like burritos and Subway sandwiches will see an upward pricing shift. Right now, it costs either the same price or pennies more to get a burrito or sub with meat rather than choosing a vegan option. What we’re seeing in the UK suggests that as the worst factory farming cruelties are eradicated, the price of animal products will rise—perhaps dramatically. A great many people would choose a $4 vegan burrito over a $6 chicken burrito, but most people would doubtless choose the chicken option every time if the price is the same.
Now none of this is intended to downplay the importance of vegan education, which is of course paramount. But the argument for vegan eating gets a heck of a lot more persuasive once a vegan diet gains a substantial cost advantage. And cruelty bans like those now being enacted are key to making this happen. Link.