Would a sudden loss of the meat and dairy industry, and all the ripple effects, destroy the economy?


I have a vegan friend who believes that the meat and dairy industry and all its affiliates and infrastructure could be phased out of the United States economy without causing it to collapse. In one year. I vehemently disagree. I found a statistic from 2009 by the meat industry saying they essentially make up 5% of the economy. I understand that if we include the dairy industry and all industries that exploit animals, it would be much higher, but let's stick with 5%. Would a sudden loss of 5% of the total US economy, with all those people being left jobless, all those companies going under, and all the ripple effects (Who needs a grill anymore?) (Where did fast food go?) destroy the economy? This is also assuming the animals would be harvested one last time; so there wouldn't be any costs concerning the animals themselves.


Agriculture and agriculture-related industries contributed $777.0 billion to the U.S. GDP in 2012, a 4.7% share. The value of U.S. livestock production output (dairy products, milk; meat animals; miscellaneous livestock; and poultry and eggs) contributed $167.4 billion of this sum, about 1.0% of GDP. The overall contribution of the livestock sector to GDP is larger than this because sectors related to livestock that rely on agricultural inputs in order to contribute additional value to the economy.

U.S. farmers and ranchers make an important contribution to the U.S. economy by ensuring a safe and reliable food supply and supporting job growth and economic development. Farmers and ranchers invest in their operations, supporting jobs in farm machinery manufacturing and other industries, and they purchase goods and services from local businesses. High levels of farm production, in turn, improve the prospects for downstream businesses such as food processing companies. Businesses up and down the agricultural product supply chain have benefited in recent years as a result of the strong agricultural economy. In 2012, 16.5 million full- and part-time jobs were related to agriculture, about 9.2% of total U.S. employment. Direct on-farm employment provided over 2.6 million of these jobs. Employment in the related industries supported another 13.9 million jobs. In 2011, the U.S. food and beverage manufacturing sector employed about 1.5 million people, or just over 1% of all U.S. non-farm employment. Meat and poultry plants employed the largest percentage of food and beverage manufacturing workers.

Exporting is particularly important for agriculture, since growth in demand for agricultural products in the coming decades is expected to come largely from developing countries. U.S. agriculture has been successful in exporting its products, even as other industries have struggled recently in the global market. While agriculture comprised less than 5% of GDP over the 2007-2011 period, agricultural products as a share of total exports hovered around 10%.

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  • Associate Professor
Last updated on
March 9, 2018

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