This argument is often used as a justification for continuing to support animal agriculture, and so for continuing to consume animal products. By boycotting animal products, it is argued, we are taking away the jobs of farmers and potentially putting the whole economy at risk, since it relies so heavily on animal agriculture.
It must be acknowledged that to some extent, this argument is based on truth. In the short term, by boycotting animal products vegans may have an impact on the profits of farmers, and indeed, given the harm farmers inflict upon animals and the environment, many vegans see this as a positive result. However, even the most optimistic vegan does not believe that the whole world will go vegan overnight and that we will be in a position where farmers are suddenly out of work. As demand for animal products decreases, demand in other areas of the market increases, after-all, people will be replacing animal products with other foods. As with any market shift, it is up to suppliers of the no longer required products to adapt.
We see examples of this taking place already, with dairy farms responding to demand by shifting away from dairy and towards plant milks and well known dairy brands diversifying into plant based, vegan products. These individuals and corporations are recognising demand is shifting and adapting accordingly, as all members of a free market must. Give that animal based farmers are already heavily subsidised by tax money, there is no reason to suppose they should be protected from market forces any more than any other industry. This would be good news not only for consumers, but for entire nations, with the growing spectre of climate change, food security becomes a more pervasive issue than ever. The key to food security is, first, to grow as much food as possible at home on mixed, low-input farms and, second, to keep food chains as simple and short as possible. The lower down the food chain we eat, the more secure the food source is. Thus, eating crops directly is a great deal more economically secure than eating an end product which requires other inputs such as soy, corn, wheat, and more often than not, antibiotics and growth hormones.
The implication of the economic argument seems to be that just because a particular product gives people jobs, that means we should continue to support it. We could make an equally convincing argument for supporting war and guns on this basis, since the arms industry is a multi-billion dollar enterprise employing millions of people. The same could be said about large pharmaceutical companies, or the tobacco industry which keeps many farmers, packers and sellers in jobs. While it may be true that much of our economy is built on animal agriculture, it is important to note that the economy of the western world was in no small part built on the backs of slaves. That is not to say that animal agriculture and slavery are the same or even comparable, but it is at the very least noteworthy that this very same argument was used against slavery abolitionists at the time. It goes without saying that these warnings proved false; it is an economic fallacy to assume that because this is how the economy is now, that any alteration will have negative consequences.
Ours is the generation who have witnessed the digitisation of the workplace, the widespread adoption of mobile phones and Internet and the rapid move away from analogue to digital. To suppose that the market economy can adapt to these vast and profound changes, but could not do the same for a move away from animal agriculture, has little justification. Those who oppose the boycotting of unethical practices often point to the status quo, and argue that “this is how things are so that is how they must remain.” This is simply untrue. The market should be forced to adapt to our ethics, not the other way around.