My impression is that the “what do we do with the leftover cows?” question-turned-argument has been increasing in popularity, so I thought I’d share an additional answer to the question that is particularly useful.
The idea is that if the world goes vegan overnight (it won’t) as anti-vegans like to think we want/demand/expect, then livestock will be abandoned. They’ll have carte blanche to wreak havoc on the planet, and this incredibly unrealistic apocalyptic scenario is somehow worse than the status quo: continuing to kill them by the hundreds of billions in perpetuity. Because vegans can’t come up with a good answer to the question (we can), the logic goes, omnivores shouldn’t feel guilty about supporting an unimaginably cruel industry.
I’ve written before about some potential solutions, including sending some to farm animal sanctuaries and releasing some in the wild, but not enough to cause a serious problem.
There is another solution, and it’s one that people putting forth the argument cannot dispute. It’s also one that you might not want to hear.
We could slaughter the remaining livestock. Maybe not all of them if we are squeamish about rendering species extinct, even if we did effectively invent them. But most. I know that’s not very appealing, but bear with me.
Consider that livestock are slaughtered by the hundreds of millions on a daily basis. Now consider that in the possibly-realistic scenario in which we are finding ourselves approaching a vegan world, the number of livestock on factory farms will be decreasing steadily over a long period of time. Eventually, it may reach a point where the number of livestock remaining on all farms around the world is comparable to the number of livestock slaughtered on a daily basis today.
If all of the potential headaches and world-ending scenarios posited by omnivores — which, of course, are overblown and often unrealistic — can be avoided by just one more day of slaughter of the magnitude we see today, it might be a defensible move.
If you’re like me, you view this option as the worst among all proposed by myself and others who have discussed this problem. I’d rather we not kill more innocent animals as we approach a vegan world. A vegan proposing such a thing strikes most people as the height of contradiction. Nonetheless, I think there is a case to be made.
If you view this option as less horrific than the status quo, you can use it to your advantage in conversations with people using the “what do we do with the leftover cows?” argument. They couldn’t possibly argue that one more day of slaughter would cause more suffering than infinite days of slaughter — the latter of which they are defending by arguing against veganism in the first place. There is no sensible response.
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