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How Countries Can Save Billions by Switching to A Plant-based Economy

How Countries Can Save Billions by Switching to A Plant-based Economy

There was a time when vegetarian, vegan, and plant-based diets in the Western world were part of a small subculture. It was considered the the domain of hippies and activists, than of large numbers of everyday people. Depending on the players involved, vegetarians and vegans were met with either acceptance, tolerance, or hostility when they divulged their dietary preferences. Not so much anymore. An increasing number of consumers have begun to realize the positive impact a plant based diet has on not only one’s health, but also on many other aspects of life.

Plant-based diets have gone mainstream! From prominent public figures like Ellen DeGeneres and Bill Gates to large corporations like WeWorks, there is growing support for the movement to eat more plant-based foods. Even Beyonce and JayZ have become fans of the vegan lifestyle and have invested in a vegan food company started by their personal trainer! Nestlé, the largest food company in the world, predicts that plant-based foods will continue to grow.

For some, this is a lifestyle. For me, this has been my way of life. I’m a life-long vegetarian. I was born into a vegetarian family, and have never tried meat. When I founded my company 20 years ago, one of the first policies I put in place was that we will never pay for anything that contributes to killing. It is a philosophy that we actively propagate internally to our employees, though by no means is anyone forced to convert to vegetarianism.

From promotion of animal welfare to increased sustainability, there are countless benefits to a plant-based lifestyle. It is not simply a diet, it is also a path to better health and more importantly, positive environmental impact. On an even broader scale, a plant-based economic approach could save billions of dollars for countries around the world. Evidence shows that people can be healthy and thrive without eating or using animal products. The understanding that the use of animals to source food, clothing, or any other purpose is unnecessary for our health and wellbeing can build a case for the potential savings a plant-based economy could provide.

Health benefits

Decades of research has shown that the mediterranean diet is perhaps one of the healthiest in the world. It is abundant in primarily plant-based foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes and olive oil and places an emphasis on fresh, colorful eating and shuns heavily processed ingredients. The foods in a typical Mediterranean diet help lower inflammation in your body, improve blood vessel function and reduce the risk of metabolic syndrome and diabetes. All of these benefits serve to keep your ticker ticking and your mind sharp.

Dietary professionals now agree that meat alternatives – such as nuts, seeds, legumes, beans, and tofu – can provide valuable and affordable sources of protein and other nutrients otherwise found in meats. These diets are safe for all stages in a person’s life, including pregnancy, infancy, and childhood. Research continually confirms that a balanced plant-based diet can provide all of the nutrients needed for good health. The vast majority of vegans and vegetarians in these studies meet the recommended daily amount of protein as well. Contrary to common belief, plant-based diets can contain just as much or more iron than diets containing meat.

Not only are animal products unnecessary for optimum health, but a growing number of nutritionists and health professionals are acknowledging that animal products are harmful to health. Studies on diet repeatedly show that BMI and obesity rates are lowest for people who eat a plant-based diet. Research also shows that a healthy, plant-based diet helps reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke, cancer, obesity, and diabetes – some of the top killers in many western countries.


When I was young, I asked my mother once why we didn’t eat meat like my classmates at school. She asked me if I remember what it felt like when I cut my hand a few days. I remembered bleeding and being in excruciating pain. She said, “Now imagine what an animal feels when it is being cut up so that someone can eat it.” That visual was was too horrifying to imagine.

We have come to the point in our shared human experience where, for the vast majority of people living in the world today, eating meat is no longer an important component of survival – we have evolved to a place where we no longer need to defend ourselves from animals to survive either. Therefore, given our level of sophistication and control over our world, eating living creatures has become a choice rather than a necessity.

Animals are sentient beings like us, with their own needs, desires, and interests. We now know that like us, they can experience a wide range of sensations and emotions such as joy, pain, pleasure, fear, hunger, sorrow, boredom, frustration, or contentment. They are conscious and aware of the world around them – because of this fact, self-preservation is important to animals. Their lives are valuable, and they are not simply here as resources or tools for human use. All use of animals for food, clothing, entertainment, or experimentation involves utilizing animals against their will, creating suffering, and in most cases, death. Let’s not have any more pain in the world. There’s enough pain already.

Environmentally Unsustainable

While the health and ethical benefits are undeniable, switching to a plant-based diet is healthy for the environment as well. New research suggests that switching to a plant-based diet can reduce your personal environmental footprint more than switching to a hybrid car! The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that around 30% of land on earth that is not covered by ice is either directly or indirectly used in the production of livestock. In the Amazon, for example, almost 70% of forest land has been converted to space that is primarily used as cattle pastureland. Over-grazing has resulted in the loss of biodiversity and the productive capacity of ecosystems, particularly in arid regions.

A two-volume report titled ‘Livestock in a Changing Landscape’ came to these key conclusions:

-More than 1.7 billion animals are used in livestock production worldwide and occupy more than one-fourth of the Earth’s land.

-Production of animal feed consumes about one-third of Earth’s total arable land.

-The animal agriculture industry, which includes feed production and transport, is responsible for about 18 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions worldwide (the beef, pork and poultry industries emit large amounts of CO2, methane and other greenhouse gases).

According to a recent study on the impact plant-based meat substitutes have on the environment, every instance of plant-based meat alternatives produced substantially lower emissions than actual meat. Specifically, these meat alternatives created ten times less greenhouse gas emission than that produced by similar meat-based products. This switch reduces the number of resources required since there are no animals that need to be fed, hydrated, and cleaned up after. Livestock production, on the other hand, leads to unsustainable water use. The animal agriculture industry demands high water usage, often depleting local supplies amidst growing concerns of climate change and ever shrinking fresh water resources.

 Producing Food for Food?

Cutting down on the production of meat and other animal products does more than just support the fight to conserve our planet and advocate for a more sustainable and ethical way of life through environmental vegetarianism. By moving away from the production of animal products, you not only significantly reduce negative effects on the environment and global warming, but you also play a role in improving the lives of people around the world – you become part of the solution.

Animal agriculture has far-reaching impacts on people throughout the world, especially the powerless and the poor. According to the World Health Organization, every year over 20 million people will die as a result of malnutrition, and approximately one billion people suffer from chronic hunger. Most of the food that is currently fed to animals could instead be used to directly feed the world’s hungry. What we often fail to realize is that the crops required to sustain livestock are fuel for a project that creates food to supplement the creation of more food. Instead of supplying the grains yielded from the crops to human beings in desperate need of it and those affected by the world food crisis, those crops are fed to livestock, exacerbating the pace of the current climate change crisis. It takes an average of 4 pounds of grain and other plant protein to produce just one-half pound of beef. 80% of starving children live in countries that actually have food surpluses; this is because the extra grains produced are fed to livestock instead of people.

Economically Responsible

The good news is that there are not only environmental and humanitarian benefits to a plant-based agricultural system, but an economic benefit as well. The additional food that would be produced as a result of a dietary shift in the United States alone could feed 350 million additional people. The value of this food surplus would also offset the loss from the decrease in livestock production. Economic studies show that animal agriculture in a majority of western economies accounts for less than two percent GDP. Some studies in the United States suggest a potential reduction in GDP of about one percent, but this would be offset by growth in other plant-based markets. In fact, in a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, research showed that if people continue to follow mainstream, animal-based dietary trends rather than shifting to a balanced plant-based diet, it could cost the United States between $197 billion and $289 billion per year. The findings also determined that the global economy stands to lose up to $1.6 trillion by 2050.

The United States stands to save more than any other nation by switching to a plant-based economy because of its high per-capita healthcare costs. If Americans simply followed recommended guidelines for healthy eating, the United States could save $180 billion in healthcare costs, and $250 billion if it switched to a plant-based economy. These are only monetary figures and don’t even take into account the estimated 320,000 lives saved per year as a result of reduced cases of chronic diseases and obesity.

According to analysts, economic activity in the United States’ plant-based foods industry alone amounts to sales of approximately $13.7 billion a year. At current growth rates, the plant-based food industry is predicted to generate $13.3 billion in tax revenues over the next 10 years. Sales of plant-based foods in the United States is increasing by an average of eight percent per year.

All of this is promising news for advocates of a plant-based lifestyle, and the wave of research touting the multiple benefits of making the switch continues to grow. Such a switch offers many pragmatic reasons for governments to implement programs that incentivize the agriculture industry to make necessary changes. The research helps confirm that, on multiple levels, plant-based economies will improve the overall health and wellness of people around the world by reducing hunger in developing countries and reducing chronic diseases in the west. All the while, planet Earth will get a bit of a break from the damage created by products based on the livestock industry. In the end, even if doing the right thing isn’t enough of a motivating factor to consider the benefits of a plant-based economy, at least the power of the almighty dollar is.



Trump has imposed tariffs on Chinese shipments of export cargo and import cargo in international trade.

There are no winners in trade wars

On the surface, President Donald Trump’s assertion, “When you are down, you can’t lose!” seems like a simple and reasonable idea. The tangled web of global trade, however, is not so straightforward.

Over the years, the United States has enjoyed affordable goods flowing from China, allowing the Chinese economy to expand at a rapid pace. This relationship, unfortunately, has largely been a one-way street. While China has reaped the considerable benefits of a growing economy and middle class, the US hasn’t seen comparable profits from the trade arrangement.

The trade deficit between the two nations has reached a staggering $337 billion. The causes of the deficit can be attributed to two primary reasons: (1) A lower standard of living in China, which allows China to pay lower wages to its workers than the United States; and (2) An exchange rate that is based on the US dollar.

Regardless of why, the US has established a new goal: to cut the trade deficit by $200 billion. As part of this effort, the Trump administration is threatening additional tariffs, $26 billion of which will be leveled against electronic goods.

One goal of the United States is to eliminate China’s trade-distorting practices, which include halting China’s Made in China 2025 strategy. The strategic plan has been described by the Center For Strategic and International Studies as an “initiative to comprehensively upgrade Chinese industry.” In other words, China is looking to expand its high tech electronic industry by introducing artificial intelligence and automation. If successful, according to the Council on Foreign Relations, it could be a “real existential threat to US technological leadership.” It is not that the US is seeking to stop technological advancements, but rather that they want to operate on a fair playing field in such a crucial industry of the the global economy.

But Trump is confronting the issue as a solo nation . Although the international community seeks the same open and fair markets and protection of intellectual property that the United States desires, Trump is opting to challenge China independently of US allies. In the past, the US, European Union, and Japan had agreed to work together on this issue, but these historic alliances are also being challenged by the US administration. Moreover, Trump’s unilateral action may be challenged by or through the World Trade Organization.

The potential trade war is two sided, though—China is concerned about consumer confidence and is fighting to maintain it. They’ve taken extensive steps, including limiting the reporting on the pending trade war. News outlets are reporting that Chinese media is being instructed to downplay the trade war and not to link the trade dispute with the stock market. Though China did retaliate against the Trump administration’s first wave of tariffs, Chinese state media is attempting to de-escalate the crisis and avoid personal attacks against Donald Trump. Their concerns are well founded, as loss of confidence in the Chinese market could certainly weaken China’s negotiating power in the trade dispute.

Some economists fear that if China fails to control the narrative, a worst-case scenario could create panic, sending the Chinese economy and global markets into a tailspin. Headline statistics and reporting in the US, however, tend to exaggerate China’s weaknesses and downplay that of the US. If China can maintain strong economic growth, then the trade war could be an opportunity for China to place greater emphasis on its domestic economic strengths.

Analysts argue that the US should reach out to Chinese reformers to help influence change. The US, they suggest, should not tell China to cancel its Made in China 2025 plan, since China has the right to develop its technology industry. Instead, the US could demand that China eliminate the strategy’s unfair business practices, such as forced technology transfer. The Trump administration, on the other hand, is skeptical that reformers will succeed at changing the Chinese economic model. In fact, the Trump administration has decided that China needs to suffer some economic harm before it will be compelled to change. Therefore, Trump is raising tariffs to get China’s attention and discourage their poor business practices.

Another powerful strategy China can use is to run down the clock. Trump will not be able to negotiate from a position of strength next year if voters elect a Democratic Congress. With midterm elections coming up in November, the Republicans are facing a moment of particular political vulnerability. China is capitalizing on that by targeting products such as soybeans, which are mostly produced in Midwestern states that tend to support the President. It is no coincidence that China also plans to retaliate against US whiskey exports, which come primarily from Kentucky, the home state of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. If US  voters become disfranchised, fed up, or nervous, they could vote Trump  out of office in 2020, completely reversing US-China relations. Unlike the United States with its frequent election cycles, China’s  policies don’t rely on any re-election, providing China an upper hand in terms of consistency during a trade war.

Lastly, the Chinese government can absorb the political costs of a trade war much better than the US administration can. The US experiences immediate responses from the economy when anyone lashes out at China—the US stock markets, decline, for example. Every time the market drops, there is a feeling that consumers need reassurance a negotiated solution is being sought to the trade conflict, a move that undercuts the US administration’s leverage.

China is probably a more patient and more resilient adversary than the US expected. The US administration should not  ignore or underestimate Chinese capabilities and the Chinese government should not underestimate the determination of the Trump administration.

There are no winners in trade wars. Trade-distorting practices can only be effectively and fairly dealt with by and through the WTO.

Vijay Eswaran is an entrepreneur, speaker, and philanthropist. He is the Founder and Executive Chairman of the QI Group of Companies, a multi-business conglomerate with headquarters in Hong Kong, offices in more than 25 countries, and customers in over 100 countries.  Eswaran’s new book Two Minutes From the Abyss is now available on Amazon.