Guest Post: Why isn’t the world going vegan?

Written by Catia Faria

Universitat Pompeu Fabra

Last month, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, one of the world’s most influential organizations in its field, published an updated version of a paper concluding that animal-free diets are absolutely healthy (Cullum-Dugan & Pawlak 2015). The article presents the official position of the Academy on this topic, according to which, when well designed, vegetarian and vegan diets provide adequate nutrition for all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood and adolescence.

 It would be reasonable to expect that such conclusion had a significant impact on people’s dietary choices. If adopting a vegan diet imposed great costs on the health of human beings, then doing it might not be what we are required to do. Yet the health argument has been, again, debunked. So, why aren’t people going massively vegan?

Ignorance

The first answer to this question might be that people just don’t know. Or, at least, people ignore to a large extent the relevant facts of animal exploitation. It is estimated that over sixty billion land animals and one to three trillion marine animals are bred, or captured, and killed every year so that they can be processed into food (FAO 2015; Mood & Brooke 2010). Going vegan implies abstaining from participating in this scenario by ceasing to consume all animal-derived products. Of course, veganism is not all about diet. It’s about rejecting any practice that involves the infliction of unjustified harms to nonhuman animals, and these practices extend well beyond the food industry. Similarly large numbers of animals are fished and hunted for sport. Hundreds of millions are killed in the clothing and the so called “pet” industries, as well as in worldwide experiments, after enduring painful and distressful experiences, such as incarceration and vivisection. Many others are in agony or desolation, confined, forced – and often, killed – to entertain human populations. Thus, adopting veganism means refusing to take part or support animal exploitation in any of its forms and working towards its abolition.

Speciesism

Ignorance may partly explain the widespread consumption of animal products. However, some people are clearly aware of the reality of animal exploitation and yet do not adopt veganism. A plausible explanation for this might be that they can’t get rid of speciesist attitudes. That is, they hold the belief that because animals do not belong to the human species, their interests are morally irrelevant or, at least, they are relevant to a much lesser extent than human interests. If that were the case, then benefits to human beings should always (or almost always) be favored over benefits to nonhumans. Thus, it would be justified to satisfy human interests over the interests of nonhuman animals. But animals are sentient beings. Accordingly, they have an interest not to suffer and in enjoying their lives.

These fundamental interests are systematically frustrated for the sake of even the most trivial human interests, such as experiencing a pleasant flavor. As it has been extensively argued in the literature, whatever normative position one may endorse, no sound reasons can be provided to consider similar human and nonhuman interests differently. There is no justification for this harmful treatment of nonhuman animals, as there wouldn’t be one if human interests were at stake. Speciesism must be rejected.

Some might say that even if we should abolish factory farming, there are other more “humane” ways of raising animals for food which do not imply a disregard of their interests not to suffer. Such would be the case of the so-called “free-range” animal products (e.g., meat, eggs, milk). Thus, the consumption of these products would be justified. However, this view doesn’t stand up to the facts. First, most of the animals consumed for food are fished and suffer terrible deaths by, for example, suffocation or decompression. Second, even land animals who are raised for food products without being caused significant suffering eventually end up undergoing terrifying deaths in slaughterhouses. Finally, it is economically impossible to meet the current demand for animal products in ways that do not inflict substantial suffering on animals.

But most importantly, the argument for “humane” exploitation assumes a particular view about the badness of death which many would find unacceptable (e.g., Nagel 1970, Kamm 1993, Broome 2004, Lazari-Radek & Singer 2014). According to most contemporary philosophers, what makes our lives more or less valuable are the positive and negative experiences that occur in it. Thus, all beings with the capacity to harbor such experiences (human and nonhuman) can be harmed by death, insofar as death deprives them of the good things they would have otherwise experienced if they had remained alive. From this it follows that we should abstain from consuming animals not only because exploitation causes animals to suffer, but also because it causes their death. And this applies to both so-called “humane” and inhumane forms of animal exploitation.

Demandingness

 Another reason often put forward not to go vegan has to do with costs. Vegan diets, for example, have systematically been accused of being unhealthy, tasteless and expensive. The beginning of this post addresses the first of these concerns. Regarding the other two, it must be stressed that taste and financial costs are minimal compared with the gains in terms of nonhuman well-being. At any rate, considering the latest developments in vegan alternatives to animal products these worries seem ungrounded. Vegan food is now as affordable and tasty as its animal-based counterparts, and the advent of ‘in vitro meat’ suggests spectacular breakthroughs in the near future. The same applies to vegan clothing. Moreover, the exploitation of animals for entertainment purposes is increasingly being opposed to, and animal-free alternatives are already in place.

 Going vegan

Veganism is about refraining from inflicting animals any kind of unjustified harms. The vast majority of these harms is caused by our using animals for food. In a very conservative estimate, adopting a vegan diet amounts to around 36 animals being spared from exploitation and death each year. As we have seen, the costs of changing to an animal-free diet are absolutely trivial compared with the huge benefits for nonhuman animals. Even without factoring in the additional benefits of not participating in other instances of animal exploitation, it is clear that becoming vegan is one of the most cost-effective ways of doing good. Therefore, we have overwhelming reasons to go vegan and to urge others to do so.

 

Broome, J. (2004). Weighing Lives. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Cullum-Dugan, D. and Pawlak, R. (2015). “Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Vegetarian Diets” Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics 115 (5): 801-810.

FAO – Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (2015) “Livestock Primary”, FAO Statistical Database.

Kamm, F.M. (1993). Morality, Mortality, vol. I, Death and Whom to Save from It. Oxford : Oxford University Press.

Lazari-Radek, K. & Singer, P. (2014). The Point of View of the Universe. Sidgwick and Contemporary Ethics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Mood, A., and Brooke, P. (2010) “Estimating the Number of Fish Caught in Global Fishing Each Year”, Fishcount.org.uk.

Nagel, T. (1970). “Death”. Nous 4 (1): 73-80.

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49 Responses to Guest Post: Why isn’t the world going vegan?

  • Andrews says:

    all beings with the capacity to harbor such experiences (human and nonhuman) can be harmed by death, insofar as death deprives them of the good things they would have otherwise experienced if they had remained alive. From this it follows that we should abstain from consuming animals not only because exploitation causes animals to suffer, but also because it causes their death.

    It seems to follow that ending a sentient being’s life is always impermissible. But this seems to be plainly wrong: euthanasia seems permissible in certain cases. This suggests that ending a sentient being’s life is sometimes all-things-considered permissible. Thus the question: What would be wrong in killing food-raised animals at a point of their lives such that there is little reason to believe that they could experience positive, morally relevant experiences past this point?

    • Eo says:

      This sentence from Faria’s text hints at an answer
      “Finally, it is economically impossible to meet the current demand for animal products in ways that do not inflict substantial suffering on animals.”
      If animals are not killed until when they out of old age start to suffer so much that they have an interest to be euthanized then they would live much longer lives which means much higher production costs. Would anyone buy milk if the price increased tenfold?

      • rita says:

        Indeed, since cows, to name but one species, can live over twenty years – so can chickens, come to that,- meat would be prohibitively expensive….let’s just let some other problems drift into our heads here…

        1) what about breeding? Dairy cows are bred every year so as to give continuous unnaturally huge quantities of milk: they are “spent” or past their peak production between 2 and 4 years, when, in the course of ordinary exploitation, they are slaughtered: if they were allowed to live on, would breeding continue, with diminishing returns and thousands of surplus and uneconomic calves knocking the bottom out of the veal market?…..plus, of course, if we accept the idea of them living out a natural life span, we’d have to keep the calves alive as well……and breeding to replace stocks? How would that be dealt with?
        2)Large animals, like horses, live longer these days – the horsemeat industry is largely export in the UK, but not everywhere….the 4000 or so young racing stock horses which go to slaughter every year for minor lesions or just not running fast enough might need to be supported for 30 years before they were old enough to welcome euthanasia.
        3)Like humans, some other species need more medical care as they age…..who would pay for that? Who would even notice it, given that the average exploiter (“farmer” as they like to be known) cannot even detect the all-prevalent lameness in his or her herd (cows again)?
        4)Predators in the wild take down who they can, mostly the old or infirm: only humans breed to kill millions of young, healthy animals with a tiny fraction of what could be their lifespan accomplished….
        5)Not all humans welcome euthanasia, either (“Do not go gentle into that good night”…)….and there is considerable reluctance on the part of legislative bodies to pass that decision on to others in their case – who would decide for nonhumans?

        But the real deal breaker for humans would, I’m afraid, simply consist in the fact that meat from the bodies of animals past the first flush of youth is not acceptable to the palate: even attempts to reawaken our forefathers’ interest in mature sheep flesh (“mutton”) have failed.

        But these are all practical considerations: of course, euthanasia is only ever acceptable in conditions of extreme pain, suffering, inability to move and so forth. It is inapplicable as an excuse to continue the massacre for meat….indeed, no-one ever seems to be able to come up with a good one of those.

        • Andrews says:

          So the answer to my question is: Nothing is wrong with killing animals past a certain point in their life. I am all fine with that.

          Also, there is another question: If your house was burning and in the heat of action you could save either your mother or your dog but not both, which of the two ought you save?

          Intuition seems to support the answer: One’s mother. Is intuition speciesist? Not necessarily — one could argue that membership to a social community binds one with duties toward other members, whether or not the criteria for belonging to the community reduce to criteria for belonging to a certain natural kind or species.

          Also, this scenario seems to support the claim that our duties toward members of our community sometimes trump, all things considered, our duties toward non-members. But how is it possible to make sense of this result without accepting the claim that sometimes our morally relevant interests prime, all things considered, otherwise similar morally relevant interests of non-members sentient beings?

          Of course, I am not implying that the circumstances where that is the case could be circumstances where animals are turned into food at an industrial scale. I am just curious to see whether rationality also forces this second concession from vegans.

          • Ed says:

            “So the answer to my question is: Nothing is wrong with killing animals past a certain point in their life. I am all fine with that.”

            I would not accept that general claim. I do accept that euthanasia is sometimes both in someones interest and morally permissible for others to assist in. But in my reply to you I only pointed to one kind of argument about the the practical economic costs of keeping animals alive until euthanasia is in their best interest that, given other economic facts, is sufficient to establish a case for veganism. I do think there are other arguments against killing and using someone for food, be that someone a human or a non-human. But I won’t pursue them here because it is practically irrelevant and unnecssary to pursue them with regard to the point the OP is arguing.

            The other topics you bring up is well treaded ground in the animal ethics/animal rights literature. One good introductory read is Lori Gruen’s “Ethics and Animals” (Cambridge University Press).

            • Andrews says:

              Economic costs do not bear upont the question I raised, namely whether killing animals past a certain point was morally permissible. And nothing you said is incompatible with the claim that doing just this is sometimes all things considered permissible.

              I am sure somewhere in the universe the other question I brought up (the burning house dilemma) has been discussed. I am just not sure that it does not favour some claim on which members of a community X ought to get priority over non-members, if the community is properly defined, and I am not sure that this claim is consistent with veganism.

              If you don’t want to discuss it you can, but please don’t dispose of it as if it were a closed case. Others might be interested in the discussion.

              • Ed says:

                “Economic costs do not bear upont the question I raised …”

                True in the same sense that economic costs do not bear upon this principled theoretical question: What would be wrong in killing food-raised radically cognitively limited human animals at a point of their lives such that there is little reason to believe that they could experience positive, morally relevant experiences past this point?

                But since OP made a practical argument and since economic factors and many other practical factors are of relevance to practical arguments I charitably interpreted that the point of you raising those questions was that you thought they would have practical significance to the practical argument of the OP. I then merely pointed out one reason for not thinking that would they have such practical significance: even if it is in some case in the interest of some non-human animal to have its life ended it would be economically very costly to pursue large scale production of meat from non-human animals that are only killed in cases that satisfy such special criteria on killing. I have nothing against discussing the more theoretical questions but thought them off-topic for the context of OP.

                “I am sure somewhere in the universe the other question I brought up …”
                It simply appeared that you were not familiar that that question was already very much discussed in the literature so I thought it would be helpful to give a good reference to work where that discussion is overviewed.

                Re burning building cases: one reply that can be made is to point out that many also have the intuition that if faced with the choice of saving (a) your own child or (b) some strangers child in a burning building it is morally permissible to give priority to saving your own child. But that intuition is not usually taken to support the much further claim that it would be permissible to industrially rear the children of strangers only to kill and eat those children.

                • Andrews says:

                  I have nothing against discussing the more theoretical questions but thought them off-topic for the context of OP.

                  Sorry, it’s not off-topic. One claim of the author is that it is morally impermissible to eat animals. Of course, it is part of a larger claim that the food-raising industry, in its current form, is not tolerable. I didn’t take up the latter and broader claim. I simply noticed that the former claim, unless qualified, was not plausible at all. On that we seem to agree.

                  It simply appeared that you were not familiar that that question was already very much discussed in the literature so I thought it would be helpful to give a good reference to work where that discussion is overviewed.

                  You are entitled to your construal of appearances. But you have spared both of us time and characters had you directly stated your thought.

                  Re burning building cases: one reply that can be made is to point out that many also have the intuition that if faced with the choice of saving (a) your own child or (b) some strangers child in a burning building it is morally permissible to give priority to saving your own child. But that intuition is not usually taken to support the much further claim that it would be permissible to industrially rear the children of strangers only to kill and eat those children.

                  I wrote above that “Of course, I am not implying that the circumstances where that is the case could be circumstances where animals are turned into food at an industrial scale. I am just curious to see whether rationality also forces this second concession from vegans.” So this commentary seems just redundant.

                  Beside, you are distorting the case the way I set it up when you write “it is morally permissible to give priority to saving your own children”. The point made in the literature you were referring me to a moment ago is that it is not only *morally permissible* to save one’s mother or any other human being and not one’s dog; rather, the point is that it is *morally impermissible not to do so*.

                  Furthermore, even if there was the intuition that it is morally impermissible not to save one’s own children over another’s, it would not necessarily undermine the claim that members of society or persons or whatever group of individuals take propriety over non-members. One simply reason, mentioned in the literature, is that in the case I presented, there is “deontic overdetermination”: not only are there moral reasons to save one’s mother over one’s dog (i.e. to put it bluntly: “members of society or persons matter more” to the point where there is an obligation to prioritize them), but also they are non-moral reasons to do so (i.e. “among members of society, affective ties make it reasonable, although not morally obligatory, to priorizie those to whom one is thus bound”).

                  • Ed says:

                    You are becoming too combative, I’ll pass on that interaction.

                    • Andrews says:

                      Sure, I’ll call people’s points off-topic, school them on literature “they apparently don’t know”, intentionally leave aside important qualifications they make to their own claims, call myself a “charitable interpret” of their view, and then, when they try to draw my attention at important distinctions, I will call them “too combative” and refuse interaction.

                      Brilliant.

                    • Ed says:

                      I apologize for any bad behaviour toward you, I do not seek a fight with you. I think the human caused suffering and harm to animals in the world as it is today is staggering and that it is most urgent to focus on that practical moral problem and on what to do about it.

    • Matt Rice says:

      It’s a good question, but morality aside, what you propose would be impossibly impractical. It would be cost prohibitive to feed and care for farmed animals for their entire lives. Currently, chickens who could live 8-10 years are killed when they are 42 days old (when they reach adult size), pigs who could live 10-13 years are killed at 5 months, cows who could live 20-25 years are killed at 1 1/2 years. The additional costs associated with feeding, sheltering and providing sufficient veterinary care for farmed animals to live out their entire lives would make the cost of meat so exorbitant that only the super rich could afford it. Secondly, how would this system be regulated to ensure that those who are exploiting the animals for profit don’t cut corners to save money and end the animals’ lives sooner? Who makes the decision as to when the animals should die? Those who profit from their deaths? It’s just unworkable. And for what? I’m all for euthanasia to alleviate needless suffering for human and non-human animals, but we should stop trying to find clever ways to “ethically” exploit other sentient beings. It’s just not possible.

      • Catia Faria, Pompeu Fabra University says:

        Hi Matt. I agree. We should stop exploiting other sentient beings altogether!

    • Stevan Harnad says:

      It is wrong to hurt or kill a sentient being except out of of vital (life-or-death) necessity (as in the conflict of vital interest between obligate carnivores and their prey).

      Felids are obligate carnivores. Humans are not.

      Euthanasia is permissible if it spares from a life of pain.

    • Catia Faria, Pompeu Fabra University says:

      Hi Andrews, thanks for your comment.

      From what I say it only follows that we have very strong reasons not to kill a sentient being whose life is worth living. So, I agree that, all things considered, it may be sometimes permissible and (even required) to end a sentient being’s life, whenever being alive would be worse for her.

      Of course, this does justify killing animals who are so badly off that they would be better off dead, since what makes them badly off in the first place is precisely the (unjustified) harms we inflict upon them through exploitation. Would a child molester be justified in killing an abused child by saying that due to permanent future abuse “there is little reason to believe that [she] could experience positive, morally relevant experiences”?

    • Amanda says:

      Most animals we eat are killed when they are still basically babies. Cows can live to 18 years or so and we eat them around 1 year. Chickens are eaten after a few months ….

  • Jneely says:

    Or perhaps we just enjoy the taste of meat…

    • Ed says:

      That can’t in itself be an explanation because so did I and many others who still took the practical steps of becoming vegan. I suppose I would still enjoy the taste of meat in itself a lot if I were to try it again. I simply also recognized that mere taste is no weighty moral argument and that mere taste doesn’t justify imposing serious harm on others.

    • Matt Rice says:

      Because enjoying something negates the harm caused by doing it? Like enjoying rape makes that okay?

    • Catia Faria, Pompeu Fabra University says:

      Yes, Jneely, indeed.

      The question is the extent to which satisfying our trivial interest in enjoying the taste of meat may ever justifiy inflicting severe harms (suffering, death) on other sentient beings.

  • Aunt Hill says:

    I think people often anthropomorphize animals. A chicken has a much smaller number of neurons and connections between neurons than a human. So their consciousness is probably different also. Perhaps there is a common sense element to the widespread speciesism.

    But I think the real reason is that most people are just not very ethically virtuous. Most people do what they enjoy, as long as it is accepted by the moral mainstream (and often even if it isn’t). And that mainstream changes slowly. Remember that it took centuries to ween people off (human) slavery, and it still exists inofficially. Women can now vote and children cannot be hit in school. It didn’t used to be this way.

    I now see vegan products openly marketed as a customer benefit, where vegans were much ridiculed just a few years ago. Every discounter now has cheap soy milk and chili sin carne. So things are in fact changing, at the pace you would expect from the mostly-selfish habitual creatures that are people.

    • Ed says:

      “I think people often anthropomorphize animals. A chicken has a much smaller number of neurons and connections between neurons than a human”

      The number of neurons and the quantity and quality of mental features more generally varies between different individual humans and between different individual non-human animals. If some argument says that there is this threshold of X number of neurons or of having the set of cognitive capacities Y that makes a big moral difference for how individuals may be treated then that argument must also face this fact: there will be many individual humans who score lower in the relevant metric than many non-human animals. That is discussed in the animal ethics literature often under the heading the argument from marginal cases or (with a better term) the argument from species overlap.

      • Aunt Hill says:

        Yes, I don’t mind switching the life support off for human vegetables, to save costs.

        I’m all for developing ways to prevent pain in farmed animals (and human fetuses…), but to ascribe a right to live to something that has the brain size of a chicken is obviously a mistake.

        • Ed says:

          I think it is very much too hasty to call say that that is “obviously a mistake”.

          As for “human vegetable” (I don’t like that term but I think I understand what you meant) if you think of humans that completely and irreversibly lack any capacity for consciousness then I think you underestimate the challenge posed by the fact of marginal cases / species overlap. Because there are also many humans that have consciousness and can feel pain and so on – they are not “vegetables” – but who still have fewer cognitive capacities than some non-human animals. I think human societies have, at great costs, for long times been too prone to think that individuals classified as “less intelligent” or in various other ways less cognitively capable than many other humans should have have few or no legal rights and that their lives do not matter. The human history of treatment of human individuals with less cognitive capacity is not something to be proud of, to say the least.

          As for the individual chicken, what is the problem with claiming that the fact that the chicken has a life with wellbeing that could continue grounds a right to not be killed by humans only in order to satisfy non-vital human interests?

          • Aunt Hill says:

            Well, if commercial chicken killing were banned, the primary effect would be that the farms stop breeding more of them. There would still be some for their own sake, but it would not even be 1% of the chickens alive otherwise. From a pain prevention perspective, this could be a good thing, but from a “wellbeing if not killed” perspective, it makes no sense. All you achieve is preventing their existence. (All of this is a political fantasy, of course.)

            Veganism does not do better on the “wellbeing if not killed” front, nor on the “right to life” front. Because the individual chicken whose meat you can buy are already dead, you are merely paying for it after the fact. This is okay if your goal is to prevent chicken pain or zoonoses, or to set a signal against exploitation. But it’s useless otherwise.

            As for the degrees of awareness vs. speciesism problem, you are stuck between a rock and a hard place. If you don’t want speciesism, and you also don’t want humans with only minimal capacity to have less moral standing than humans with more capacity, then what are you going to do about fruit flies and wild rabbits? Clearly you are never going to act as though they had human-level rights. It’s totally counterintuitive and impractical, all it really does is reduce the value of human right to life (which perhaps may be overrated anyway).

            • Ed says:

              Philosophical arguments about non-existense are really interesting but also quickly get complex, see for example the many different arguments about the “non-identity problem”. I tend to think it would be a big improvement to decrease the number of chickens to 1% of the current quantity and then let them live out their lives not as mere resources, which chickens are treated as today. I think so partly because it fits strong intuitions I have when I think through similar cases with humans. For example if someone bred a lot of humans as slaves that were treated badly I would want to abolish that practice even if that that would also mean that overall fewer humans were born but not treated as badly and not killed. What are your intuitions about that case involving humans?

              I don’t think fruit flies are sentient and therefore have no interests or rights. Wild rabbits: I see no obvious problem with accepting that wild rabbits have a right to not be killed by humans only in order to satisfy non-vital human interests. Do you find anything in particular impractical with that?

              • Aunt Hill says:

                I agree that it would be better to reduce chickens, but not because they have a right to life or wellbeing if not killed, but because of the pain and exploitation prevented. The nonidentity problem doesn’t give you veganism, because again, the individuals you eat are already dead.

                As for the wild rabbits, if you think they should have the same rights as humans, then you should treat natural predation morally as though humans were eaten alive. Clearly, most animal rights people do not accept that, and even if they did, it would be completely impractical.

                • Ed says:

                  Just to clarify I mentioned the non-identity problem only as an example of how complex and contested issues concerning non-existence are in the literature today. That makes me cautious. I think the case I presented about human slavery yields a strong intuition and there seems to be no good reason to not extend that reasoning also to animal cases.

                  What do you mean by exploitation more precisely? I’m asking since at least one possibility is to understand a norm against exploitation as pretty close to kind of right I’ve sketched.

                  “As for the wild rabbits, if you think they should have the same rights as humans …”
                  I don’t, though I think they may have one of the rights that humans also have: a right to not be killed by humans only in order to satisfy non-vital human interests. There is a big ongoing debate in the animal ethics literature on predation and so called wild animals and I’ve heard some interesting arguments both for and against intervention, but I don’t have a firm view on those issues yet.

                  • Aunt Hill says:

                    By exploitation, I mean something much similar to your intuition against slavery, but I see it more grounded in the pain prevention goal and perhaps anti-injustice intuition and less grounded in the right to life or wellbeing, because these systems only continue to support the lives of animals because they can be killed for profit.

                    By the way, I see speciesism in the “right to not be killed by humans only in order to satisfy non-vital human interests”. Why only by humans and for human interests? That seems specifically designed to disfavor human systems of violence and pain (e.g. farming) but not other systems (e.g. rainforests and ocean food chains). I’m also not sure the distinction between vital and non-vital interests is reasonable, because we are all willing to increase our death risks for things like entertainment or taste, with some tradeoff, so it’s a continuum rather than a sharp distinction. (I would be willing to increase my death risk by 0.1% per year in order to taste chicken whenever I want).

                    • Ed says:

                      “By exploitation, I mean something much similar to your intuition against slavery, but I see it more grounded in the pain prevention goal and perhaps anti-injustice intuition and less grounded in the right to life or wellbeing, because these systems only continue to support the lives of animals because they can be killed for profit.”

                      Just to be clear how that fits into your bigger argument here, do you think the problem of exploitation in the sense you just described is a sufficient argument for both slavery abolition and for veganism?

                      Speciesism: yes that is one of the interesting arguments in the predation literature that I was thinking of. I think that challenge has some intuitive pull. Though I think human systems of violence are special in the sense that there human agents do harm that they could choose to not do. That has links to the debate over the do/allow distinction. Philosopher Will Kymlicka in his recent book Zoopolis makes some interesting arguments that make use of concepts from political philosophy about responsibilities within and between state structures to argue that there are differences in responsibilities towards animals that humans create and animals in the “wild” (he also conceptualizes some intermediate cases). I’ve seen a few other lines of argument against interventions in the wild too, but as I said I don’t yet have a firm view on them. Maybe it will turn out to be the case that a limited form of speciesism with regard to wild animals can be justified.

                      I’m also sure the vital/non-vital distinction needs more work and specification. But, however coarse, it expresses something normatively important and helps us point to clear cases where some lesser interest of one individual cannot morally justify some imposing some much greater harm on another individual.

                    • Aunt Hill says:

                      Ed, I think we’re at the end of the line, the text is getting crowded. 🙂

                      So just quickly: The do/allow distinction doesn’t explain why one would ban factory farms, but not intervene in nature. After all, vegans could allow other people to be predators.

                      I think the anti-exploitation argument, especially when combined with a realistic pain prevention goal, makes both anti-slavery (for humans) and veganism attractive. Though as I said in the beginning, the pace and thoroughness is bounded by the limited moral motivation of actual people.

                    • Ed says:

                      Ok, thank you for discussing. It itches in my fingers to reply more but all good things must come to an end I suppose 🙂

                      One thing only: on a social change level I agree that action for animals must be strategic and will take time. But as individual moral agents thinking through these issues we almost always have the power to remove animals from our daily meals immediately.

    • Catia Faria, Pompeu Fabra University says:

      Aunt Hill, I second most of your comment.

      However, I don’t see your point about anthropomorphization as a practicular relevant consideration when it comes to assessmtent of other beings’s sentience. There are objective criteria to determine whether a being is sentient. Appropriate physiology and behavior, for example, are strong indicators of sentience. ‘Animal Ethics’ section on “criteria for recognizing sentience” and Wikipedia’s article “Pain in animals” shed ligth on this issue.
      Thanks!

  • Carrie says:

    Where do we stand ethically on killing slugs and eating insects? I’m cereal!✌

    • Catia Faria, Pompeu Fabra University says:

      Hi Carrie, thanks for asking!

      All sentient animals, including invertebrates, should be object of our moral concern. That implies abstaining from killing them, whenever we can (for food or other purposes).

      I highly recomend Brian Tomasik’s “Do bugs feel pain?” at Essays on Reducing Suffering.

  • Carrie says:

    Where do we stand ethically on killing slugs and eating insects? I’m cereal!✌

  • Stevan Harnad says:

    Bravo, Catia.

    I agree completely.

    Stevan Harnad
    Editor, Animal Sentience

    As links are disabled, I post only the bibliographic references, but they are all open access and can be googled.

    Bekoff, M & Harnad, S (2015) Doing the Right Thing: An Interview With Stevan Harnad. Psychology Today Blog. January 2015.

    Desaulniers, E (2013) I Am Ashamed to Have Been a Vegetarian for 50 Years. HuffPost Living

    Harnad, S (2013) Luxe, nécessité, souffrance: Pourquoi je ne suis pas carnivore. Québec humaniste 8(1): 10-13 (Also in English: “Luxury, Necessity, Suffering…”

    ________ . (2014) Animal pain and human pleasure: ethical dilemmas outside the classroom. LSE Impact Blog 6/13 June 13 2014

    • Catia Faria, Pompeu Fabra University says:

      Thank you, Steven. You are too kind!

      Also thank you for the interesting references. I will take a closer look at them right away.

  • Joe Anonymous says:

    Statistics show that most people who try becoming vegans stop: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/animals-and-us/201412/84-vegetarians-and-vegans-return-meat-why

    This should probably increase the probability we assign to some explanations and decrease the probability we assign to others. For example, it should make us less inclined to believe speciesism explanations, because presumably anti-speciesist logic had some appeal at some point & that’s why they switched to veganism.

    • Catia Faria says:

      Hi Joe,

      You’re right. A high percentage of people who adopt vegan diets stop. Many believe that those are precisely the people who adhere to veganism for health or environmental reasons and thus are not truly committed to rejecting speciesism. More data is needed though.

      Thanks!

  • Phil H says:

    I have two responses to the question posed. I’ll start by saying that I am a vegetarian, and became a veggie out of concerns similar to those expressed by the OP. I now think those concerns are misplaced, but I remain a veggie, largely for environmental reasons.

    Response 1: Why are most people not vegan? Because of social pressure (eating meat is still regarded as high status in all(?) societies); because of unwillingness to give up a (perceived) benefit; because widening the circle of concern to animals is a terrifying thing to do.

    Response 2: Your arguments for veganism – based on animal suffering – may simply be wrong. I suggest that farmed animals have better lives than non-farmed animals. For example:
    What percentage of farmed animals are killed and eaten? about 100%. What percentage of non-farmed animals are killed and eaten? about 100%.
    What percentage of farmed animals are killed at a young age? 100%. What percentage of non-farmed animals are killed at a young age? 90%?
    How many farmed animals are killed somewhat humanely? 50%, maybe. Non-farmed animals? 0%.
    What percentage of farmed animals live unpleasant, stressed lives? 80% (skewed by the chickens, I suspect most cows’ lives aren’t too bad, and in the EU there are good regulations on pigs) Non-farmed animals? 80%? (This is a complete guess, of course, but we should not imagine that life in the wild is nice. Animals in the wild are constantly stressed by the pressures of finding food and avoiding predators. Hence their much shorter lifespans than farmed animals.)
    All of the above adds up to a very muddy picture. It is simply naive nature-romanticism to imagine that natural lives are “good” and farmed lives “bad”.

    But we can choose to be better than nature, and I certainly agree that we should.

    • Catia Faria says:

      Hi Phil H,

      I totally agree with you that life in the wild is harsh for nonhuman animals. I dispute the idyllic view you mention and add that suffering and death are, in fact, the norm in nature. Contrary to what you suggest though, wild animal suffering doesn’t provide any reason to keep killing animals for food (“humanely” or otherwise). Instead, it gives us a strong reason to prevent that suffering from happening whenever it is in our power to do so.

      In case you’re interested, I have a post about the topic on this same blog “Should we intervene in nature to help animals?”

      Thanks!

      • Ionizer says:

        Instead, it gives us a strong reason to prevent that suffering from happening whenever it is in our power to do so.

        Following this logic, it would be morally required to kill as many leopard seals as possible. They are vicious hunters that can kill up to 8 penguins per hour, usually chewing into them while they are still alive. Clearly these animals do not obey the moral requirement of not inflicting harm and suffering on other species. In case a human killed 8 penguins per hour, it would be permissible to stop him, so why is this not the case with the leopard seal?

        Surely the answer is something like: in the long run that would lead to a ecological catastrophe. Sure, but what about limiting their number to the minimum to avoid this outcome, while also minimizing the suffering on penguins? Or in the very least genetically modify them so they kill their victim before eating it? Or should we defend the position that animal suffering matters only when it is caused by a human? The last option seems like a double standard in the sense that it doesn´t require us to take animal suffering very seriously. It only requires us to modify our behavior towards predated animals, not the predators and thus is not sufficient to minimize all animal suffering within our powers. Also many have argued it is permissible to defend a human from an animal attack. Fine. But in case it is not allowed to defend an innocent animal from another animals attack, we are entering into another speciest position.

  • Rachel Watford says:

    The world is changing..I am agreeing with you.

  • Kim says:

    GREAT article and wonderful feedback in the comments. I just adopted veganism about a month ago after thinking about it for several months. It’s been one of the best choices I’ve made, but has also opened me up to how “far” many people are from accepting the idea. I’m just started to read literature on it.

  • Maximilian says:

    Indeed there are overwhelming reasons to become vegan. I myself have battled with the ethics of eating meat if the consequence of doing so means the causing of death of animals. I do hope that strides will be made in lab grown meat as this would resolve quite a number of issues between omnivores and vegetarians.

  • Sylvia Terbeck says:

    Why dont vegans eat animals like insects, or seagull?

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