Should Animal Rights Advocates Start Promoting Beef?

Earlier this week I mentioned that I though the veggie burger being offered by Burger King was doomed to failure — despite claims by some overenthusiastic vegans and vegetarians, there is no great movement among the general population to foreswear meat. This is confirmed, ironically, by statistics from animal rights activists themselves.

Alex Hershaft, who had posted to an animal rights e-mail list about the importance of Burger King veggie burger, also recently posted statistics to the same e-mail list demonstrating why the veggie burger will fail.

In 1980, per capita consumption of meat in the United Stats was 196 pounds. By 1990, that had risen to 201 pounds, and in 2001 hit 209 pounds, according to the USDA Economic Research Service.

Consumption in beef and pork products are expected to decline somewhat over the next 10 years, but largely because people are expected to eat more chicken and turkey.

Hershaft tries to spin the change as also being due to increased vegetarian/vegan options,

Consumption is now leveling off, reflecting market saturation and increase consumer interest in meat alternatives like veggie burgers, soy dogs, and soy lunch ‘meats.’

The reality is, however, that after 20 years of trying to convince Americans to adopt vegetarian lifestyles, the animal rights movement hasn’t even made a small dent in meat consumption, with the biggest consumer change being eating more chicken and turkey rather than beef and pork.

Ironically, the switch to chicken and turkey will mean a massive increase in the total number of animals killed. Assuming the USDA is correct in its estimates here is how the numbers would change over the next ten years (these are very rough estimates intended only to show the magnitude of change):

Cows killed: -4.2 million
Pigs killed: -4.7 million
Chickens killed: +639 million
Turkeys killed: +31 million
Net: +661.1 million animals

If the animal rights movement really wants to minimize the total number of animals killed for meat, it should start with a campaign addressed to American consumers to the effect that if they are going to eat meat, the most humane option is beef. Just don’t hold your breath waiting.


2002 Death Statistics (PDF). Farm USA, Winter/Spring 2002.

More than 10 billion animals killed for food in the U.S. Alex Hershaft e-mail, accessed April 24, 2002.

US animal flesh consumption at 209 lbs. Alex Hershaft, e-mail, Accessed April 24, 2002.

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