Daiya, the major player in the vegan cheese market, was recently bought out by a Japanese pharmaceutical giant, Otsuka Pharmaceutical Co., Ltd (OPC). This has stirred up a great deal of controversy in the vegan community because Otsuka uses animal testing. Many have called for a boycott, small vegan grocery stores have pulled the product from their shelves and a petition with well over 6,000 signatures urged the company not to go through with the buyout. Here are 7 reasons why you should not jump on the boycott bandwagon
1. Daiya will remain the same all-vegan brand
It’s important to establish that this is not some hostile takeover from an overbearing mega-corporation. From the FAQ section of Daiya’s website:
“Daiya will remain an independently operated company under Otsuka. Our CEO, management and team members will stay the same, our headquarters will remain the same, and manufacturing in Vancouver will continue.”
2. You’ll hurt the demand for a vegan product
As a community, we are shooting ourselves in the foot if we embrace this boycott of a vegan brand with major potential growth ahead. It’s not hyperbole when I call Daiya the major player in the vegan cheese market. Whenever I go out for vegan pizza, the cheese is usually Daiya. When I go shopping, Daiya is on the short list of vegan cheeses I can even find. A boycott on Daiya doesn’t necessarily mean some other, more ethically meritorious, company rises to the fore. It may just shrink the vegan cheese market altogether. At the micro-level, that means fewer meat eaters will experience vegan cheese and fewer cheese-loving vegetarians will pursue veganism. At the macro-level, that means fewer large companies will consider vegan products a worthwhile investment.
3. You could be crippling the product just as it’s poised to do enormous good in Asian markets.
Modvegan makes this excellent point in the video posted below. Daiya is hoping to expand into Asian markets, where lactose intolerance is widespread, but demand for western-style cheese products is great. Instead of ignoring the problem of lactose intolerance and using factory farming methods to satisfy demand for dairy, vegan cheese could capture a huge market share. Modvegan notes that the buyout could “giv[e] the Asian market a chance to get some of these products early on—not getting them from cows, [but] getting them from other sources.” This is the same discussion that goes on with climate change. The goal is to start developing economies with clean energy so that they don’t even build an infrastructure around dirty energy sources. This is an extraordinary opportunity that Daiya has to stop the dairy industry from setting up shop in Asia and cashing in on demand for western style foods like pizza.
3. You’ll drive yourself crazy trying to cut all ties to animal agriculture.
The unfortunate fact is that it is deeply impractical for most vegans to avoid supporting industries that profit from animal exploitation in some form. Choosing a vegan option in a restaurant where most dishes are non-vegan—or shopping at a non-vegan grocery store—is ethically no different. These are businesses that purchase large quantities of meat and dairy. In fact, buying Daiya probably less of a concern than those examples. At a huge multinational corporation like Otsuka, there is some wall between the two. Profits from Daiya products may be reinvested back into Daiya. If profits are large enough that likely means new product lines and better marketing for vegan products. On the other hand, when you’re eating oatmeal at the local diner, that money will almost certainly be funneled into the purchase of more eggs, sausage, bacon and milk. It takes a lot for restaurants and grocery stores to change their menu layout or product line to meet increasing demand from vegans. With Daiya, there’s at least fighting chance that increased sales could prompt a decision to bolster investment in vegan products.
Furthermore, where does this sort of purity testing end? If you’re worried about Daiya, you should be worried about having any financial relationship with non-vegans. Unless you’re kept up at night wondering if your non-vegan landlord is using the rent money to buy meat, than you have higher priorites than Daiya.
4. You may look crazy to outsiders (i.e. anyone who is not an animal liberationist)
I hasten to add that this only applies to the loudest voices in support of the boycott and this is not a majority. That being said, here’s a comment left on a Vegan Trade Journal article on the topic.
“So much for Daiya. How could any vegan buy products from a company whose other company profits from the torture first and then the killing of animals. I have purchased many of their products in the past. Never again. Spread the word about EVIL DAIYA.”
Any non-vegan looking into this controversy would probably be pretty turned off. Veganism should not look like some arduous quest for ethical purity.
5. Your actions have little to no effect on lab animals.
This controversy stems from a concern that the dollars you put into Daiya products may become dollars that support animal testing. However, this boycott will have a hard time effectively isolating its target. There are simply a ton of places your money could go, only one of which is in support of animal testing. Firstly, the vendor you purchase the cheese from takes a significant cut. Then, Daiya will likely be able to reinvest much of their revenue back into the company directly. From there, Otsuka Pharmaceutical’s expenses are mostly unrelated to animal testing. Some are boring, like building maintenance, and some are exciting, like clinical trials for life-saving drugs. Finally, Otsuka corporation is an umbrella corporation, of which Otsuka Pharmaceutical is just one branch. They own a huge range of companies, many of which focus on IT. The money you spend on Daiya is tenuously connected to animal testing.
6. There’s no evidence that Otsuka deserves to be singled out for scorn
It’s easy to cynically assume that “big pharma” translates to “evil,” but we can’t take for granted the advancements of medical technology. For instance, Otsuka has the rights to some very promising targeted therapies for Leukemia. In order for them to bring new drugs to market they are required to test on animals. Modvegan makes this point as well. We may not like this system; it may be cruel and it may not make sense, but under current regulation, their hands are tied.
They’ve also published a statement that looks completely reasonable. Here’s an excerpt:
The Animal Experiment Committee evaluates whether each proposed animal experiment plan is appropriate based on the 3Rs principles. These are Replacement/avoidance or replacement of animal use, Reduction/minimization in the number of animals used, and Refinement/minimization of animal suffering. Based on these, we conduct researcher education and internal inspections and evaluations of the implementation of experiments involving animals.
7. Effectiveness is more important than purity.
We need to be realistic about the unintended consequences of this boycott. The logical slippery slope is not: if I purchase from Daiya, with their indirect ties to animal testing, what’s to stop me from purchasing from a meat company? This slope is actually not so slippery. The link between the purchase of meat and the factory farm system is very close—one requires the other. The link between Daiya and animal testing is distant and tenuous. The slippery slope actually cuts the other way: if you boycott the purchase of products with any ties to animal exploitation, what are you able to buy? Vegan products, from vegan companies with vegan owners? There’s simply no logical end to this sort of purity testing. Veganism will remain a fringe movement if we refuse to pick our battles and remain practical. Purity is not an end goal—reduction of suffering is. It’s hard to see how this boycott accomplishes that end.