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The Amul-PETA controversy || (2021)
Author Acharya Prashant
Acharya Prashant
10 min
110 reads

Questioner (Q): Talking about this recent controversy between PETA and a dairy producer, people are saying that lakhs of people are going to lose their employment if they switched to plant-based milk. So, what do you have to say about this?

Acharya Prashant (AP): See the employment argument, I appreciate it but it is not absolute in itself. In fact, the employment argument can be extended to absurd extremes, I could say pickpockets are employed in their own industry - the pickpocketing industry. So, why are you arresting them? It's an industry, why are you arresting them? You are making several hundred if not thousands or lakhs of them lose employment.

By no means, I am saying that a dairy farmer is a pickpocket, don't take it to that level. But what I am saying is - Are all means of employment really permissible legally, ethically, whichever way you want to look at it?

If the employment argument is absolute in itself, then anything that helps a man to earn money should be permissible. Then why do we, for example, punish tax defaulters? He is just trying to make some money for himself, just as the butcher is trying to make money for himself.

So, just because something, some activity yields money to somebody, that does not mean that that activity is okay. Otherwise, there are thousands of debauched ways of earning and making money, we would have to allow each one of them. Because you see, whenever you want to take a corrective step, there is always this argument that is thrown that— this would lead to loss of livelihood.

If you want to switch to greener technology — not much to do with veganism here — but let’s say if you want to switch to a greener technology then people will say, "The old technology was manpower intensive. There were so many who were earning bread from it. Now you have switched to an automated technology, so loss of livelihood! loss of livelihood!" This kind of thing.

You do anything progressive, it is generally believed that it leads to loss of livelihood. And prima facie it does. But when you look at the complete picture, when you zoom out a little, you find that it is not leading to a loss of employment. Because it is a new technology, a better way of living, it will lead to overall efficiency in the economy.

So in many other ways, it will lead to an employment generation. The problem here is that loss of employment happens in one localized area, in one localized segment. So, for example, those who earn through dairy they may lose money, so it is very visible. And some zealous reporter can go and create a documentary and say, "You know, you look at this one, his name is", let’s say, "Mr. Pankaj Singh (imaginary name). He had 40 buffalos and he used to earn so much per month, and now he is not making that money."

So now one particular individual loses money, and that is visible. But there would have been a thousand people who would have marginally increased their incomes, which would not be visible because the overall efficiency of the system has increased. You see 1 person has lost ₹10,000 per month that is very-very visible, it becomes a localized thing, the tragedy is now given a face, the face is of Mr. Pankaj Singh. You say, "Pankaj Singh who has lost money, Pankaj Singh has lost 10k." There are 1000 others who each have gained ₹50 each, so how much is the gain? 50k. How much is the loss? 10k. But that 50k gain is distributed among 1000 people so it is not a big story, it is not sensational, it is not sensational at all.

No reporter will go and make a story out of somebody adding just 5% to his income. Just ₹50 has been added to his income it is not an exciting story. But one fellow losing 10k is a big story.

What we failed to see is, in a nutshell, in a total, there is a gain. And if there is a gain, what can be done? From all those who have gained ₹50, can ₹5 or ₹10 be not collected from them, and Mr. Pankaj Singh be subsidized? Now, what has happened? All those fellows who have gained ₹50 each, since they have gained ₹50 each, you collect ₹10 from each one of them and feed Mr. Pankaj. Now Mr. Pankaj stands at a point of no loss. And all the rest of the people stand at a point of gain of ₹40. Everybody has gained.

So, that kind of a thing can be done. But this is a classical problem in economics - losses are localized so they are very visible. The profits are scattered and long term so they are not easily visible. Be it something like GST or whatever; the trouble that you face, the pain that you face is immediate, and it has a human face, whereas the benefits that you get, are distributed and long term. They don't make for an exciting or sellable story, so they may not get popularized.

This is the trouble that governments and reformers all over the world face. Whenever they want to do something progressive, this is the argument that is hurled at them- “It would lead to loss of livelihood and unemployment”, and such things.

Q: So, even the European Union has banned the use of the term “milk” for use of plant-based milk producers in various areas of Europe. A similar trend is been seen in India also, and now I think FSSAI (Food and Safety Standards Authority of India) notification is going to come out very soon on this. So, do you think there should be some efforts from the government's side as well, to push the plant-based sector and related companies in this?

AP: If you'll have an enlightened leader, that would happen. But, even if you do not have a very enlightened leader, why do you wait for the government policies? Please tell me.

Plant-based products are anyway more economical to produce. You don't even require government subsidies. I have been very closely associated with a firm that is bringing in plant-based products, not in a commercial sense, but I have been mentoring them in a spiritual way, you could say. So, I know for sure how inexpensive it is, I know for sure, if you tell the population that what I am serving to you with fortified ingredients, has all the goodness of milk at 1/3rd the price, at 1/5th the price, people will take it! Maybe initially there will be some reluctance, some suspicion, but gradually, the thing will ease into their system.

So you do not even need positive government policy interventions, you do not even need that. All you need is willpower and the resolve to bring it to the masses and make money. It’s something that can succeed even commercially! It's a good combination where you have ethics on your side, where you have spirituality on your side, and where you also have a commercial gain on your side. so all this can be put into one, it's a fantastic opportunity for entrepreneurial advances.

Q: Okay. So, talking about this, I think soy is the most widely consumed food by vegans in different forms, and most of the soy that comes into India and other places is all GMO (Genetically Modified Organism). So, people say that it is harmful to health, and people have lots of reservations about it. What do you have to say about that?

AP: If it indeed is Genetically Modified (GM), then it is a great opportunity for someone to produce organic or natural soy without any genetic interventions in it and then market it. It need not be GM-SOYA, right?

Q: So basically Indian farmers need to tap this opportunity, and...

AP: Obviously.

I don't know whether you have done the numbers on this, but you will be surprised at how inexpensive the whole thing comes out to be. In fact, when I said I have mentored one firm, I have actually mentored two of them. One of them actually supplies tofu and dahi (curd) and lassi (buttermilk) and all of these vegan products to this place. It was just last week or sometime I was just scrolling through the conversation that we had with him on our group, the entire load that he had delivered, this much (gesturing to indicate a large quantity), was for some ₹500. Five hundred rupees, and this much stuff (gesturing large quantity)! And you taste it, it's wonderful, and you look at the minerals, vitamins, proteins, and all other stuff it has is again wonderful.

The economic argument is in favor of it, the health argument is in favor of it, the spiritual argument favors it, why would then anybody deny it? People do care for their pocket, don't they?

You know what, very silently tofu is anyway creeping into our diets. There are a lot of these eateries, where tofu is being used in large quantities. Why? Because it is cheaper compared to paneer (cottage cheese). It tastes equally good, and it is not at all differentiable; otherwise, their customers would have complained, right? The nutrition is fantastic and the taste is equally good, provided that you know how to cook it since the process is different. So that's the argument that probably will help a lot in economics.

But even for that, the entrepreneur has to ensure that the pricing is right. If you look at the biggest soy brands in the country, who sell soy milk and all, I find their pricing just not optimal. The result will be that they will be able to skim a lot of cream, make a lot of money for themselves, but they will fail in expanding the market. The market size will remain small, so they will have a small customer base, but with large margins. So in total, they will be able to make some money which I think is a bad deal, it's far better to expand the market by lowering the prices.

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