Has veganism had an impact on farming?

Veganism is becoming increasingly popular all over the world. Whether we’re cutting out dairy, trying to eat less meat, or picking up some compost bags for growing our own fresh produce, the vegan diet is undoubtedly gaining popularity and good press. Thousands of British people have chosen to introduce some aspects of the vegan diet without going fully vegan, in fact, just 14 per cent of vegan food is eaten by full vegans.

Some people are worried that veganism could have a negative impact on the agriculture industry, but do they have a reason to be concerned?

The success of Veganuary

Veganuary achieved widespread attention on social media in 2019 and 2020. But despite the record sign-up, a report by Agriland suggested that the figures weren’t reflected in meat, fish, and poultry sales for January. In fact, these markets did not feel any noticeable impact, the outlet claims. Though the sales of plant-based products obviously increased as well, with prominent brands like Traidcraft producing vegan chocolate, and an increasing number of vegan meat alternatives being sold in supermarkets. Beef, lamb, and turkey were the only products to decline during the period, with processed meats being worst hit. Sales of fish, meanwhile, continued to enjoy overall growth.

Cutting out red meat

Studies have shown that reducing the consumption of animal products could actually be harmful. Red meat has certainly suffered a negative image in recent years, and  a number of studies have posited a link between consuming high amounts of red meat and increasing the risk of cancers of the colon. Therefore, it’s no surprise that people are looking to cut back on it. But how is this dietary shift changing the UK red meat market, and indeed, the wider agricultural sector?

Agricultural website, The Scottish Farmer, found that there are a number of different factors affecting the red meat market. One is the aforementioned health concerns, and another is the ongoing uncertainty of Brexit negotiations. There is also a push from those who are motivated by environmental concerns and see veganism as a proactive way to contribute towards reducing the impact of climate change on the world. In July 2019, the outlet reported that beef values had declined compared to this time last year, with an R3L steer valued at 353.8p per kg, whereas in 2018 it was valued at 393.5p. It may not seem like a significant figure, but as The Scottish Farmer points out, this means that a whole lorry load of finished cattle is worth £5,000 less this year than it was in 2019.

Plus, with surveys showing that around 37 per cent of consumers were actively looking to eat less red meat, it doesn’t look like this downward trend in red meat prices isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. While we might not be experiencing a universal switch to full veganism, the growing appeal of a ‘flexitarian’ diet or semi-vegetarian approach has been marked as one of the biggest issues facing the farming sector.

Plant-based food

According to some studies, most of the meat that we eat in 2040 won’t come from an animal at all. In fact, it has been suggested by the year 2040 that 60 per cent of meat consumed will be grown in vats or grown a plant-based source. This cultured meat, or plant-based ‘meats’, are touted to be more efficient, less harmful to the environment, and arguably morally sound, given that no animal would need to die for vat-grown meat. The major barrier right now is for this meat-alternative to be financially accessible to all, which is where some say the livestock-based meat industry will continue to trump lab-grown meat for the foreseeable future.

Ditching dairy

In July 2019, the Guardian reported that 25 per cent of Brits were opting for plant-based milks. Much like the Vegan Society’s note of veganism shooting up in the UK in 2018, this shift to plant-based milks also occurred during 2018, with a sales surge of 70 per cent for oat alternative milk.

While the dairy industry could hardly be described as ‘suffering’ for the switch, it is certainly falling from grace. While the over-45 age bracket is still opting for cow’s milk (92 per cent), there’s less demand amongst 16- to 24- year olds (73 per cent). Overall, the go-to health drink of the 50s is consumed far infrequently in the modern day, with the average person drinking 50 per cent less now than in the 1950s.

But while sales of cow’s milk have decreased, it is still the largest market within the dairy and dairy-alternative industry. Currently, the impact of veganism on the dairy market is deemed minimal, but if the downward trend of animal-dairy continues as veganism rises in coming years, we could yet see that impact increase. The global vegan cheese market is expected to hit $1.58 billion in Europe alone by 2023, meaning consumers are definitely expected to continue to shift away from animal-based dairy.

Currently, the impact of veganism on farming seems to be limited to a small scale, with variables such as Brexit and health matters impacting the red meat market specifically. But with the surge of people choosing to go vegan, it could very well be the case that the effects are simply still in the making.