Published by William Morrow/HarperCollins on April 19, 2016
Genres/Lists: Economic, Food, Non-Fiction
Length: 12 hours, 17 minutes
Read synopsis on Goodreads
Buy the book: Amazon/Audible (this post includes affiliate links)
I’m a vegetarian. I wasn’t always and I admit I still miss beef jerky and roast beef, but after reading Eating Animals and The Food Revolution, I knew I couldn’t do it anymore. I could give you a list of emotional arguments about why I made this choice but as a fan of the mantra facts, not feelings, I’ll encourage you to read The Humane Economy, instead. Because The Humane Economy isn’t a book about why you should or should not eat meat based on morals or personal feelings – it’s about why our treatment of animals is currently economically unsustainable and offers solutions. While the author his vegan, his reasons for transforming how we treat animals circles back their economic impact. So if you’re a fan of facts over feelings, too, then keep reading.
Fact 1: Animals within the “system” are treated horribly and you can make a difference with how you spend your dollars
Regardless of whether you devour a juicy burger on a daily basis or not, there’s no denying that the meat industry is loosely regulated and harms animals. From the tiny boxes chickens are raised in to the fact that animals are scalded, skinned, and dismembered while alive is horrendous. Most meat-eaters I know agree that these practices are unacceptable, yet they feel that they can’t do anything about it and focus their efforts elsewhere. I understand this – there are a lot of horrible things happening in the world and we can’t all focus on everything, so while I take issue with those who deny these things happen at all, I understand that not everyone is going to choose animal welfare as their cause, nor should they be required to. But inaction doesn’t mean remaining unaware, and awareness and acceptance is key.
That said, there’s a little economic principal called supply and demand. Basically, as demand for something increases, the supply decreases, which drives up prices. As demand decreases, supply increases, which drives prices down. With meat, there’s a lot of demand, but rather than allowing prices to get too high, suppliers increase their supply. This is why we have factory farms and hormone-filled animal products, and of course government subsidies help foot the bill.
So, if you start buying more meat from local, sustainable farms (or not at all) rather than from big industry, you shift the demand, which affects the supply. Consider this: the average hen produces 264 eggs a year, which is roughly how many eggs the average American consumed in 2014. This means that each egg-eater, myself included, is responsible for caging one hen for an entire year. Also, chickens aren’t covered under federal law and many workers on chicken farms suffer the health consequences, which means we spend even more money on healthcare for workers with shorter work lives so that we can enjoy a few omelettes. Imagine what would happen to the industry and its workers if we all cut our egg consumption by 25%.
Fact 2: Eating meat is incredibly expensive and exacts unnecessary economic tolls
Did you know taxpayers spend $60 million each year on wildlife services programs (such as “population control”) to protect just 2% of the meat industry’s ranchers? That’s a lot of money out our our pockets to help subsidize a small number of companies that would provide the product, regardless. Population control is big business, but there are ways to implement it that don’t include actually killing animals, such as controlling fertility. Wolves are particularly susceptible to these practices, even though there are “no documented fatal attacks by healthy wild wolves on people in the lower 48 states in the last century,” and do a lot to naturally control deer populations, which we also spend a lot of money on. It’s all really quite cyclical.
The Humane Economy dives deeply into the ins-and-outs of population control, including the various options, and it raises a lot of questions. For example, if we didn’t have factory farms, would we be spending this money on population control? And if we didn’t spend this money on population control, what could we spend it on, instead? And this $60 million is small change compared to the total economic impact of factory farms. For example, if we didn’t have factory farms, how much money could we save? And what good could we do with it? (More on that later).
The author also goes into the economics of big game hunting and what I learned is that this practice is more about ego and culture than anything else. The world roared when Cecil the Lion was killed but turns a blind eye to the atrocities committed against the “less-desirable” animals (such as pigs and chickens). And yet, it isn’t Cecil that affects the economy, it’s the animals we choose to ignore who do. In fact, trophy hunting tourism is responsible for only .2% GDP in Zimbabwe, while nature-based tourism comprises 6.4% (this means Cecil was worth a million dollars).
Fact 3: Second-order effects are very real
Setting aside the amount of money the animal industry takes and makes, it also leaves a trail of economic burdens in the form of second-order effects, or indirect effects. In addition to climate change, which is an issue with both big meat and big plant-based farming (a relevant but separate subject), there’s the health costs. According to Meatonomics, which is mentioned in the book, “U.S. taxpayers spend nearly $415 billion annually on negative externalities from animal agriculture, including health and environmental costs.” And that’s not even including this tidbit from the book: “…the healthcare costs associated with heart disease and cancer are in the hundreds of billions a year, to say nothing of the emotional costs to family.” Imagine what we could do with that money. Body cams for police officers? Education reform? Improved access to healthcare? Prison reform? Better police training? The possibilities are endless.Learn why caring about animals is smart economics in @waynepacelle's #TheHumaneEconomy. Click To Tweet
Fact 4: Nearly every animal is in the “system”
Horses, chickens, elephants, dogs, orcas – they’re all part of the industry. Euthanizing dogs is incredibly expensive, yet we live in a culture that values purebreds and “designer” dogs over rescues even though they tend to have more health problems and shorter lifespans (Petfinder did a lot to help shift this attitude, though). What happens to puppy mill dogs is horrifying and as someone who owns a dog that was very likely a puppy mill breeding dog, it breaks my heart. Like most puppy mill dogs, she had gnawed down teeth from trying to escape and numerous health problems that were, fortunately, treatable.
Our history with animal exploitation stems from many pursuits that has nothing to do with food. Take the film industry. Almost 100 horses were killed in the making of Ben Hur and even the blockbuster, Life of Pi, came quietly under fire after the tiger almost drowned (not to mention the trainer was recently charged with animal cruelty). Then there is Sea world, where dorsal fin collapse happens in 100% of captive whales when it only occurs in less than 1% of male orcas in the wild. It is these facts that make The Humane Economy a tough book to read but even so, it’s worth it.
Fact 5: The industry is powerful
Meat and animals is big money and the lobbying force is powerful. After all, pizza is considered a vegetable. According to the book, Congress has tried to get involved with the humane treatment of animals, but the beef and pork industries fought back. Instead, many states, such as California, have begun passing their own laws to address the issue. There is a great section about the various lawmakers that are attempting to improve the welfare of animals, which includes many companies (McDonald’s, for example) that are shifting their approach in response to consumer demands. Why? Because money talks.
Fact 6: Companies that take a humane approach to animal welfare fare quite well
There are a lot of companies that are taking a humane approach and reaping the economic benefits. The fact is, more and more people are demanding change. Ringling Brothers had to stop using elephants because they were losing money (whole countries banned circus elephants before Ringing did). PetSmart makes a lot of money from offering free adoption services because new pet-parents spend a lot more than the average customer. Even McDonald’s is in the process of shifting to cage-free eggs which is a big deal because they are responsible for 3% of the egg market. Dunkin Donuts and Starbucks are also making efforts to use more sustainable animal products, and John Paul Mitchell threatened to ban their products in China if they didn’t cease animal testing.
While there are probably people within these companies fighting for change on the basis of animal welfare, the more likely reason for the shift is to increase profits. Put simply, people pay more for cage-free eggs, free range chickens, and grass-fed cows, even if these definitions are murky. Animal welfare advocates, who also have a very powerful voice, oftentimes laud these changes as a step in the right direction, which sends their followers flocking to these companies as opposed to the competition. These businesses want your dollars and are willing to make change to get them, and it’s up to you to allocate your resources wisely.
Fact 7: Innovation is happening right now
One great thing about this book is that highlights the unique ways that companies are capitalizing on animal welfare. Sure, it’s a means to an end, but in this case the means is more humane. So while not everyone will agree with the motives of these companies, there’s no denying they are making an impact. And there are a lot of great innovations happening right now. There are ways to use fertility treatments to control animal populations, which is a very real issue in some places. There’s also a company working on growing burgers. Yes, that’s right – growing burgers out of existing sources.
As Pacelle notes, not all actions that improve the lives of animals are intentional, but they improve them, nonetheless. Henry Ford didn’t plan to save the lives of buggy horses when he invented the car, it was an unintentional benefit. So whether it’s PetSmart, which makes a ton of money off of new dog-parents at their free adoption events, or the money Ringling Brothers lost when people realized they were abusing their elephants, companies that recognize the economic benefits of placing value on animal welfare and embrace the humane economy fare quite well.
Things to Keep In Mind
Every day, we make choices that place an undue economic burden on someone or something. When we drink a bottle of water, we take part in harming the environment, which has economic consequences. When we, as women, don’t disclose our pay to our coworkers, we inadvertently encourage the pay gap, which has economic consequences. When we support professional sports teams, we encourage government-subsidized stadiums, which has economic consequence. And in The Humane Economy by Wayne Pacelle, we learn that the economic costs of ignoring animal welfare are astronomical.
The Humane Economy has wide appeal because it’s not about the morals and ethics – it’s about the economics. Animal welfare, of course, makes appearances in hefty ways, but the main point is that things don’t have to be this way. Technology and consumer demands have evolved and the current systems are no longer maximizing their economic potentials. In other words, the status quo doesn’t mean you’re getting the best bang for your buck as a company or a consumer, and that’s just bad economics. Pacelle argues that it’s time for companies to embrace this new shift and begs the question: What good could we do with all of those savings? After all, if business is all about efficiency, then it’s time to reevaluate how we do business.
So if you don’t want to give up meat or dairy, that’s okay. Teddy Roosevelt didn’t have to give up hunting to focus on national parks and nature preserves. Henry Ford didn’t have to love horses to save them . And you don’t have to make major changes to make a difference, but you can choose how and where to spend your dollars and influence how companies do business. The Humane Economy will help you do just that.
Recommended for: Meat eaters and non-meat eaters interested in the economic costs of the industry and those who prefer facts, not feelings.