People formerly engaged in the livestock industry would also need assistance transitioning to a new career, whether in agriculture, helping with reforestation or producing bioenergy from crop byproducts currently used as livestock feed.
Should we fail to provide clear career alternatives and subsidies for former livestock-related employees, meanwhile, we would probably face significant unemployment and social upheaval – especially in rural communities with close ties to the industry.
“There are over 3.5 billion domestic ruminants on earth, and tens of billions of chickens produced and killed each year for food,” says Ben Phalan, who researches the balance between food demand and biodiversity at the University of Cambridge. “We’d be talking about a huge amount of economic disruption.”
But even the best-laid plans probably wouldn’t be able to offer alternative livelihoods for everyone. “Without livestock, life in certain environments would likely become impossible for some people,” Phalan says. That especially includes nomadic groups such as the Mongols and Berbers who, stripped of their livestock, would have to settle permanently in cities or towns – likely losing their cultural identity in the process.
Plus, even those whose entire livelihoods do not depend on livestock would stand to suffer. Meat is an important part of history, tradition and cultural identity. “The cultural impact of completely giving up meat would be very big, which is why efforts to reduce meat consumption have often faltered,” Phalan says.