Wayne Hsiung

Published on:

October 7, 2013

Meat Consumption - In Decline, or Not?

Last year, at around this time, blogs and social media erupted over a Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME) report indicating that per capita meat consumption had been on the decline, since 2008, and was projected to continue to decline in 2013. There was widespread cheerleading (and even some statistical analysis) to suggest that the animal rights movement's efforts had caused this apparent decline. Conveniently ignored in this was the fact that far greater drops in meat consumption were seen during the Great Depression -- including a one-year 18% decline (citation link currently unavailable due to government shutdown).

So how have things progressed? Well, the new numbers are out. And the results are sobering: across the board increases in demand, for all species other than turkeys. The 3% increase in chicken alone will overwhelm all other numbers, and manifest in hundreds of millions more individuals forced to endure the torments of animal "husbandry" and slaughter.  

By the logic used, around this time last year, does that imply that the animal rights movement has suddenly failed, despite its successes starting in 2008? Did we match our glorious success in 2012, with abject failure in 2013? Surely not. The demand for meat is a complicated variable that can't be linked to any one factor. And there is significant year-to-year variation that has nothing to do with our work. 

The upshot? Too much of AR activism focuses on short term data that has no impact on our long-term success: small down and up ticks in meat consumption; the percentage of people who "choose vegetarian" due to x, y, or z intervention; or even the passage of a regulation that does not fundamentally alter the "fox guarding the henhouse" dynamic inside the USDA. But don't be confused by the noise. The path to liberation requires a sound strategy, grounded in historical examples of success. Taking those steps, and not obsessing over minor changes in secondary variables (with doubtful scientific accuracy), should be our focus.