As with my other FAQ articles, this page consists of a series of actual, serious questions and arguments I have heard from people on the given topic. Most of them have been paraphrased to correct for grammar and to convey the argument’s point in a shorter space.
I will begin by providing an explanation of why I think this issue is so important, followed by a summary of my views on the ethics of using animal products so that you can have a context for the rest of the content on the page. Then the remainder of this page will consist of various arguments stated by other people on this matter with whom I disagree on certain points, and under which I address each one.
Also, with many of my replies I have also included a comic by Vegan Sidekick that pertains to the subject of that question/answer combination. Check out their page or website for more comics.
Why this is so important
Delusion and violence. Our cultures may be severely deluded about the nature of non-human animals and our treatment of them; and a result of that delusion we may be committing acts of serious, actual mental and physical violence on non-human creatures as a matter of common institutionalized practice and daily use. So we need to seriously consider the issue of what non-humans are and what they experience, because it can break irrational thinking and inspire us to change our behavior and demand an end to terribly immoral acts that perhaps we are currently supporting.
People do not consider animals to really be aware, living beings. The bias is built into and reinforced by our very language. We use the term “human” and “human being” to imply inherent moral value and sentience, but for no logical reason we use “animal” to connote a thing that has little or no worth and no “true” mind, and that his or her experience is somehow not acute or meaningful. Most of us have – though few admit it – thought that other animals’ experience is somehow “distant”or vague or not actually “there”. We make the very grave mistake of considering non-human animals as if they are essentially non-sentient objects. This delusion built deeply into our language makes it incredibly hard to even convey the true nature of the issue and express how severity of the appalling it is – and hard for people to understand and care.
But we are animals ourselves. And when we consider that fact logically and honestly with ourselves, then we must accept the reality that other creatures actually feel like we feel; they have minds like we have minds; they are are like we are aware; and feel terror, stress, boredom, depression, loss, and anger just like we do. We are apes, just like others are rabbits, dogs, or birds. Consider that a mouse can die from fear alone!
It may one day sink into your mind that other animals feel and are persons in the unbiased philosophical meaning of the term; you may recognize that they are all individual selves with personalities and awareness just like us, and we just like them. Then you will see the way non-human beings are treated and used for what it really is: absolute horror.
It is deeply disturbing to consider what incredible bias and self-delusion we have been living under, every day without a serious thought, thinking that we are of a different “kind” from “animals”, acting as if we are all deluded followers of holy books and religious faith!
So then, we need to ask ourselves: What makes an act morally abominable and repulsive, and demands a vehement response to stop it? What qualities must the victim possess? Must they be aware and experience fear and pain just like us? Or must they also be able to solve calculus problems or be able to learn English? (Why not say that they must be able to use echolocation, or other abilities humans lack?)
If you insist that animals can be used without the necessity of personal survival then you must declare a standard for what makes a being deserving of what our societies subject non-human creatures to. Then consider the implications: who would be safe under your moral standards?
Summary of my view on the ethics of the killing and exploitation of non-humans
As with many philosophical/ethical positions, there is a lot more detail that needs to be discussed, and some aspects that are quite clear while other aspects enter a more gray area morally-speaking. But this summary will explain my overall view of the matter and provide a sufficient context to begin reading my responses on this page.
I think that what is moral and what all people should strive for is to make an earnest attempt to reduce suffering, reduce beings’ core biological desires for joy and life being violated, and increase happiness for all individuals – including ourselves; and to do all this to the maximum extent that we can achieve given our possible options and awareness of the impact ofo ur actions. These options are affected by factors such as wealth, ability to move to different locations, and available technology, etc.
To act contrary to these goals is my definition of harm. The concept of harm is of course imprecise, as in any worldview (including your own), but the concept is clear enough to provide a general sense of what sort of behaviors we should adopt and establish a context for debating how much harm is caused in different situations.
These principles must also be applied to our treatment of non-human beings because, in my view, ethical principles rightfully apply on the basis of a subject of an act possessing sentience and feeling, not on the arbitrary basis of bodily shape (i.e. species). Species or level of a subject’s intelligence are factors unrelated to the point of ethics which, in my vew, is to reduce misery and conflicting choices as much as possible. I think that the arguments used to justify harming and exploiting non-humans are logically unsound, and in addition, are often inconsistent with other ethical positions held by the people who make those arguments.
Amounts and Degrees of Harm
I agree with the conception of the issue of non-harming in Jainism, which is this: In the process of living, you cannot avoid causing any harm whatsoever. Therefore we should make choices that we have good reason to believe results in the least harm possible (which also takes your own well-being into account). This also means that we must account for how much suffering we can expect that different entities (e.g. humans, pigs, dogs, wheat, rocks) experience in different cases.
Also, not all uses of animal products are equally harmful, and these degrees of harm must be recognized so that we can determine how to reduce harm most effectively when we must establish priorities and for aiding people in the transition to a lifestyle of doing minimal harm. However, bear in mind that the fact there are different degrees of harm among different actions does not make any wrong thing right.
And – as should be obvious, but apparently needs to be stated judging by my past discussion – the greater extent to which we can reduce harm, the better; the less, the worse. Causing great amounts of suffering is not morally equal to causing lesser amounts.
I think that harm is justifiable, i.e. morally acceptable/neutral, to give preference to your own self if an unavoidable conflict arises such as when attacked by another person or when there is a lack of other food sources available to you. So I argue that it is acceptable to cause some suffering and kill insofar as it is necessary for you to survive and to be sufficiently healthy so as to not be miserable. But to be clear, when harm is necessary, we should choose the option which causes the least harm, not justify anything.
Common problems with anti-veganism arguments (Please read before trying to debate anything on this page)
There are numerous tendencies that many people have when arguing against my positions on these issues, so I want to describe some of them in the hope that at least some people will avoid making these mistakes. My annoyances are as follows:
1. Put actual thought and effort into thinking about this issue and try to actually care about non-humans. What I am most critical of is not inherently the fact of someone not eating a vegan diet, but that they do not actually care about the well-being of non-human creatures and they put in no effort to actually considering how to solve the perceived obstacles to animal liberation.
All they focus on are the reasons they think it would not work and trying to justify continuing their current behavior. And as a result, vegans constantly have to do everyone else’s thinking for them and give answers that other people should have been perfectly capable of coming up with on their own. This uses up a lot of time unnecessarily. For many, many people, their only actual concern is to justify what they are already doing. They simply want to eat animal products and they have no intention of adjusting their behavior regardless of what points or information and logical points they are presented with.
I can see that mindset evidenced by its effect on their behavior and arguments. These people are those who make the most ridiculously irrational arguments and are blatantly inconsistent with their other ethical beliefs. When the debate is about the serious rights and justice for humans, moral people do not focus on arguing that any efforts to solve the problem won’t work and be contented with selectively finding articles that try to justify the harmful behavior and favor inaction (the only information they even pretend to care about is that which they think refutes the vegan’s choices and absolves the non-vegan of guilt, even when none of the information or arguments actually factor into the non-vegan’s own beliefs and choices anyway), or base opinions on bizarre assumptions that favor the harmful behavior despite being contrary to logic and the evidence, or come up with so many other weak excuses for why we should not bother making any changes.
When you genuinely care about an effort to fight oppression and suffering, the debate for you is about how to make it work, because allowing the injustice is unacceptable.
2. Please avoid using non sequiturs, because they waste a lot of time. For example, even if you think you have found an argument for using animal products in one context or in a certain necessary amount, that does not logically mean it is moral to use animal products in any ways and in any amount. Make sure that when you present an argument in favor of your conclusion (e.g. eating meat), the premises you use are the actual reasons you support that conclusion.
3. Being unsure of the right choice in a morally complex and difficult scenario does not justify any choice in a scenario that is quite clear. In some situations, significant benefit and harm results from any choice, so it can be difficult to decide what the best course of action is. For example, there are situations where people are unsure whether stealing would be morally acceptable or not. But the existence of such scenarios does not justify stealing in other scenarios with different conditions, especially where the benefit and harm is much more lopsided and the right choice is much clearer.
4. People often try to act offended at extreme comparisons that vegans make regarding the use of animals. They seem to think that by trumping up this charge of the vegan being insulting to a victimized group (be it murder victims, holocaust victims, etc) that the point of the comparison is averted and the non-vegan does not have to admit the faulty logic employed by his position. So please understand the point of extreme comparisons. The purpose of using reductio ad absurdum arguments and extreme-sounding analogies and comparisons (like questioning whether you would support a particular treatment being applied to humans) when challenging moral arguments is not necessarily, as it is often misunderstood, to say that the degree of goodness or harm in both all cases are equivalent (although sometimes it may be). The purpose is to expose the actual validity of the particular reason given for supporting a certain choice. And since extreme examples are ones that people tend to agree on, they provide the best basis for clarifying the logic of an argument between the parties debating the issue.
So before you respond to anything I have written on this page, please seriously consider where you’re coming from mentally and logically.
“What is veganism?”
“Do you think there is a connection between atheism and veganism?”
That is ambiguous phrasing so the answer is ‘yes’ or ‘no’ depending on what sort of ‘connection’ you mean:
No, nothing about atheism as an opinion in and of itself would necessarily, logically also require or imply being vegan.
But yes, views on religion, including atheism, are morally relevant to veganism in that many religions include clear conceptions that humans and other creatures are a strict dichotomy of two immensely different categories wherein the latter group presumably almost entirely lacks sentience, feeling, and moral value, and include explicit endorsements and theologically-based justifications for exploiting animals and eating animal products (be it in rituals or general principles).
Without those superstitions, a person does not have those particular reasons to use as a basis for justifying harm to animals. This can help bring them closer to facing a realistic conception of the nature of humans, non-humans, and the ethics of how we treat other beings.And the evidence bears this out as having a real impact on people’s choices. A 2013 survey of atheists worldwide on social media revealed that 43% of vegans are atheist or agnostic, and 45% are ‘spiritual’ but not religious. Only 11% follow a major religion (the remaining 1% are fractions of percentage points of the other figures).
There can also be positive connections between veganism and certain religious ideologies, such as Jainism and Buddhism which view souls as not being linked to particular species but rather as cycling among and inhabiting any sentient creatures from one life to the next. However even these religions have the potential for justifying wrongdoing. In Buddhism for example, harming animals – and humans – can be justified by arguing that you are helping the animal be reborn as a “higher” life form, or preventing a human from accumulating more “bad karma” from the way they choose to conduct their life.
Note: Whether a person is morally consistent or not depends on what their moral ideology is specifically, so an atheist does not necessarily have to adopt of lifestyle of avoiding as much harm to animals as possible in order to maintain a consistent moral ideology. A person may adhere to a moral ideology that simply retains the arbitrary exceptions and immorality commonly found in religions.
“Why do you believe that animals have sentience and experience pain and suffering?”
Often accompanied with claim that we’re assuming based on no evidence and that we’re acting like religious people taking it on faith.
Let’s look at the various issues involved in this single question/accusation:
Humans are evidence. Humans are animals, and we know that we experience sentience, feel physical pain, emotional suffering, and loss, etc. So why would you assume that other animals do not? Where in the process of evolution did an ape suddenly become an aware “human being”? What specifically about its biological structure made it able to experience? Without sufficiently drastic differences in fundamental physiological structure, the most logical conclusion is that other animals also experience sentience and similar emotions.
And sentience may be even more prevalent in nature than we even imagine, but the best evidence we have on which to base our judgments are human functions. By that I mean that we can observe from our own experience and in others, that loss or damage of certain body parts has no effect on our mental awareness, while damage or chemicals that affect the brain results in behavioral changes or lack of consciousness; and of course we can observe that our nervous system triggers pain when operating normally but can fail to function due to various physical changes.
We, as a species, just need to make the difficult transition away from our ingrained biases and blind spots regarding the nature of sentience. Once you begin thinking rationally, rather than with irrational bias, the seriousness and severity of the issue becomes shockingly clear.
Evolution. Many other animals have the same general evolutionary reasons for why they would feel pain and suffering, such as avoidance of things that harm their bodies or trying to care for their children. Since our human physiology – and thus also sentience and feelings – are the result of evolutionary factors, this similarity in evolutionary pressures is further reason to thin kthat other animals experience similar general emotions.
Behavior. Related to the above point, many non-human animals exhibit social communication and other similarities to human behavior which, in absence of sound reasons to disbelieve it, implies that they also will be subject to forms of suffering related to negative impacts on their preferred social behavior (such as caging them, taking away their children, etc). Also, many animals exhibit similar or even identical reactions to both physical pain and emotional stress that humans do. For example, many animals appear to experience insanity or depression from captivity; and creatures like elephants, lions, chimpanzees, and whales show the signs of depression and misery very reminiscent of human behavior when their children are taken or die. They moan, scream, lose interest in mating, are assaulted physically with prods, gnaw on their cages (like humans hitting cages), they try to escape from people hitting them and trying to kill them when they can tell that they are threatened, share similar signs as humans of traumatic stress after being mistreated earlier in life (such as paranoia, being usually quiet and drawn-in, lashing out angrily at times others would not), and we can obviously infer that treatment such as being cut open, thrown, or having their tails pulled would inflict pain and severe emotional stress in the same way that similar actions would affect humans since we share similar nervous systems.
Consistent Standards For Sufficient Evidence. If you are going to logically argue that other entities do not have sentience, then you must be consistent in your reasoning. So when you demand evidence, consider this challenge: Provide evidence to me that other humans beings besides myself experience pain and suffering – and which only applies to humans, since that is what your position requires (For example, if you claim that an animal can just appear to exhibit emotions while not actually experiencing anything, then the same could be said of humans).
Falsifiability. As a continuation from the previous point, consider this: What would you accept as sufficient evidence that another being experiences sentience and suffering? I have given an overview of my basis for believing that certain beings do while other entities like rocks likely do not. If there is actually nothing that you would accept as sufficient evidence, then you are the one holding to a position based on faith.
Links relating to evidence of sentience in non-humans:
“Do you think it is wrong for poor people to eat meat and use animals for food if they would otherwise starve or lack warm clothing?”
1. Harm is never desirable. But when there is direct conflict between the possibility of different beings to survive, we cannot fault either being for choosing to kill the other to save themselves. In a simple scenario, either both beings will die from starvation or lack of warmth (if neither harms the other), or only one of will die (if either succeeds in killing the other).
(Note: However, there can be some moral ambiguity where the number of dead becomes increasingly lopsided or involves more severe pain for one side than the other. But as a general rule it applies in most situations that people seem to have in mind when they ask this question)
So I think that people who live in situations where they would die without eating meat and using animal products are justified in giving priority to themselves (but note that this is not moral exception), since sentient beings are going to suffer in that situation either way, and we humans are also animals whose well-being must also be considered in moral judgments. However, what would still make such killing and use of animals immoral would be if the person did not endeavor to reasonably prevent unnecessary suffering as best they can.
We should work as a global community to help all people possible out of these impoverished, desperate situations – for both their own sake and that of the sentient beings they would be in moral conflict with.
2. Also, remember that just because an act is justified in certain scenarios, that does not mean it is justified in all scenarios.
“Do you think that hunting animals is as bad as raising animals on farms to be eaten?”
No. It is true that hunting when you do not need to eat that meat to survive and be reasonably healthy is immoral and causes unnecessary harm to others, but if a person is going to eat meat then it is less harmful to get it from the process of hunting than factory farming.
I say this because an animal that has been hunted and shot with a rifle lived out the rest of its life free as it desired and often receives a fairly quick death, but animals in factory farms are treated in sickening ways their entire lives and endure more horror immediately before their actual death than hunted animals.
Some smaller farms may be far better than factory farms but the morality of purchasing products from them is likely to be still worse than hunting animals in the wild since even small farms tend to engage in practices incentivized by the nature of using animals as commodities (such as sending older animals to slaughter, taking newborn calves away from mothers, using male calves for veal, still overly confining animals to pens and keeping them indoors, killing male chicks, etc).
Lastly, some people defend their habit of eating the meat of animals raised on factory farms by arguing that hunters take pleasure in killing, taking pictures with corpses, and cutting them up. But while that is indeed disturbing (and at best, extremely careless for sentient life), what actually matters is the effect on the victim themselves.
“You shouldn’t tell others how to live!”
“Vegans are judgmental [about other people eating animal products]!”
1. And you’re pushing your views on animals about how they should live. Why do you not have a problem with that? Be consistent.
2. There is nothing inherently wrong with criticizing the actions of others and attempting to convert them to your position. That is how moral progress is always made – people need to debate and criticize different ideas and actions to determine what is true and what is ethical. So we should not silence these debates altogether under the absurd principle that criticism itself is wrong.
What determines if such attempts should be encouraged or frowned upon as right or wrong are whether the ideas or actions you are condemning are genuinely harmful or not (and whether it is necessary for certain purposes, which also must be debated).
You do not live in an isolated reality where your choices never affect anyone else. Eating animal products affects others in significant ways (to put it incredibly lightly) so your choice to engage in that behavior is everyone’s business. This woman’s rant about the issue also explains this well.
Ask yourself which is actually morally wrong: A) Committing harmful acts on other beings, or B) criticizing harmful acts and trying to convince people to stop?
Would you refrain from criticizing someone’s lifestyle that involved them knowingly choosing to act in ways that caused serious harm to others – such as if you commit murders, kidnap children, or support assault against oppressed groups – simply because any criticism would constitute “telling others how to live”?
If not, then “telling others how to live” is clearly not the actual reason that you oppose people criticizing your use of animal products. Be consistent, and be honest. If you think that my position is wrong or flawed, then that is fine – but make your case using the actual reasons you believe I am wrong.
“I’m vegetarian because I think it is wrong to produce and raise sentient beings like products to eat, but I don’t condemn other people for eating meat.”
If something is genuinely morally wrong and harmful, then it should be condemned. We have the right and even duty to advocate for animal rights and make people face the ethical reality of eating meat and using animals.
Why is it that when it comes to any other issues like murder, slavery, opposing gay marriage and civil rights, etc, we say that these things are wrong and we can indeed condemn others for doing it and even try to force them to not do it. But when it comes to non-humans, for no objective reason we act as if it’s purely subjective and doesn’t matter if someone else commits (or participates in committing) harm or not.
“Religious people always push their opinion on others about how they should live. You’re just acting like religious fundamentalists.”
1. This is related to the Q/A above since the two comments are often made together. So first, I will refer you to the above reply’s point about why there is nothing inherently wrong with advocating your views.
2. The problem with many religions’ pushing their beliefs is specifically what it is that their followers are advocating, which often includes ideas that are unfounded and harmful. Do not conflate advocacy for bad ideas with all advocacy. If certain religious people were actually right, then we should adopt their views.
3. Another key difference is that religions (under the definition you appear to be using) are based upon poor or incomplete evidence and unsound reasoning. Criticism of using animal products is based on the observable, verifiable, very real fact of how animals are treated.
“Consumer choices don’t define us morally or ideologically.”
All your choices that have real effects related to the ethics and ideologies you adhere to absolutely do reflect on your morality precisely because they have those pertinent effects.
If a person has multiple options, and chooses the one that causes more harm, then they are morally responsible for that conscious decision. Whether that choice was for the purpose of buying food or anything else is ultimately irrelevant.
“Is it ok if people who don’t need to eat animal products eat animal products just once in a while?”
Not if the process involved harm. For example, it would not be morally acceptable to murder a human as long as you only did it once per month. A morally wrong act – a harmful act – does not suddenly become right or not-harmful just by being done less often than before (unless, for some reason related to the nature of that particular issue, committing that act less often actually resulted in the act causing no harm).
It is of course better if someone commits an immoral act less often than they otherwise could, but any it is still wrong and should be avoided.
“One person being vegan doesn’t make a difference.”
“Everyone in the world is not going to go vegan.”
“It doesn’t help much if only a small number of people don’t use animal products, so why should I bother going vegan?”
1. You do not know that the world will not go vegan. As The Vegan Atheist pointed out, human slaves living in antiquity may have never been able to conceive of a world without human slavery. But today it is unconscionable for anyone to practice it.
2. Regardless of whether the whole world transitions to veganism or not, you personally have an impact on reducing cruelty to animals in direct proportion to how much you personally use and thereby create consumer demand for. The items you buy don’t come from a replicator device that just creates a new copy from thin air after you buy it. Anything you buy is an item that the seller will replace in order to keep up with demand and increase profits; and the more they sell, the more they purchase from their suppliers which in turn provides them with the resources to raise more animals. And if you stop purchasing those products, then the reverse occurs.
3. Related to point 2 above: So the more people who refrain from using animal products, the greater the reduction in animal cruelty. This concept applies to any movement and efforts to create change. They grow over time and become increasingly impactful. But this only happens if people have that larger perspective and are not apathetic.
4. If you save even one person’s life, isn’t that alone a huge impact? It certainly has a tremendous impact for that person. If someone chooses to not kill someone else – even if it is only one other person, isn’t that a huge impact? Consider that if you stop eating meat and animal products, you save many lives (or rather, you stop yourself from killing).
“We eat what we hunt, so killing those animals is ethical.”
If you do not need to hunt in order to survive and live a reasonably healthy life, then whether you eat the animals you kill does not make the killing ethical.
Consider such absurd logic. If the eating of a killed being justified the killing ethically, then if a mass shooter kills innocent people then eats their bodies, then the act of consuming their bodies would render the killing morally acceptable.
People always complain about these comparisons, but they are logically sound and expose inconsistent reasoning.
“Farm animals were born and bred to be eaten, so it’s ok to eat them.”
1. That argument is a non sequitur. The premise, that one species (humans) raises another species for food, does not logically imply the conclusion that such a practice is ethical (at least according to the ethical standards that I, and probably even yourself, believe you adhere to).
2. Consider the logical implications of your argument. If that premise were really the basis on which you justify killing and eating animals for food, then that same premise can also apply to humans. It would justify keeping the children of slaves as slaves simply because they were born and raised for that purpose by others, despite the oppressed beings’ own interests.
“Those animals wouldn’t even have never lived in the first place if it weren’t for us raising them for food.”
I will reference the point about slavery again. Slaves were forced to have sex with specific other slaves when the plantation owners wanted them, so there were millions of humans who wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for the plantation owners. But you would agree that does not justify slavery.
“When you compare the treatment of animals in factory farms to slavery, you’re comparing black people to cows. That’s racist!”
1. Slavery is not only something that has happened to only one race. The argument can apply to slavery of any person orany race. The only reason you often hear comparisons made specifically to slavery in the United States is probably because the vegans you hear making that argument are Americans and therefore the enslavement of black people is the instance of slavery that is most recent and prevalent in our country’s history.
2. The comparison to slavery is a comparison of the manner of treatment of sentient beings, not that the beings subjected to it are the same in any other way.
3. Perhaps part of the reason you misunderstand the slavery accusation is that you view the value, respect, and moral rights owed to non-human life as being almost completely negligible. But our view is one of elevating non-human life to also be important, not reducing the significance of anyone’s lives.
4. FreeFromHarm.org made this comment on the offense-taking regarding these comparisons: “The taking offense, of course, stems from the prejudice itself, and is a form of knee-jerk response in order to deflect and dismiss rational discussion on a subject the person is prejudiced about and is not prepared to discuss or think deeply about.”
“Do vegetarians and vegans have lower sperm count than people who eat meat?”
Technically yes, according to a study by Loma Linda University Medical School. They found that vegetarians and vegans had an average sperm count around 50 million/milliliter whereas meat-eaters have around 70 million/milliliters.
However, the researchers state that the vegetarian and vegans’ sperm counts are still in the normal range and certainly do not make them infertile. If anything, vegetarians and vegans will just be less likely to get someone pregnant, which some people might actually consider a benefit.
“Animals do feel the pain [of being sacrificed] and we don’t deny that. But the Prophet’s intent was ‘to cause as little pain as possible.'”
(Muslim argument in defense of Eid sacrifice of goats)
1. If Muhammad wanted to cause as little pain as possible then he would have told his followers to not kill the goat instead of telling them to get a knife and cut its neck open. If you have a choice between causing harm or not causing harm to someone since you don’t need their flesh to survive, but you choose to slit their throat and cut up their corpse, then you are plainly not trying to “cause as little pain as possible”. Be honest about what you are doing.
2. It is not necessary to kill the goat. it is only done for the purpose of a ritualistic reenactment of yet another immoral act in the Abrahamic faiths: the alleged sacrifice of a ram by Abraham (who was fine with killing his son as well). This sanctioning of violence in the Abrahamic religions is one of their many problems and why such beliefs should be condemned and abandoned.
“Muslims donate a large portion of the meat from the slaughter at Eid to the poor.”
1. But is the meat necessary? Can you just give vegetarian meals to the poor directly instead of raising and feeding a goat which you then kill? Your argument neither justifies the killing nor explains why it isn’t cruel – nor why the same practice would not be morally acceptable for use on humans if we used the same justification.
2. I also notice that you specifically say that a “large portion” is donated to the poor. What about the rest? Why was that justified?
“Cows on farms get the benefit of medical treatment.”
1. Let’s not be misleading here. Cows are not taken care of medically to the extent that we take care of human beings. They are cared for to the extent that still maximizes profits and financial efficiency. Cows can be fairly expendable and not receive significant care. You can’t argue that on average cows are coming out of farms better off than they would live in the wild.
2. Cows are given drugs that cause them to overproduce milk which can lead to their udders dragging on the ground thus resulting in them needing more medical care in captivity than they would need in the wild.
3. Most importantly, how does giving some “medical care” to an animal justify exploiting and using and killing them for another’s unnecessary purposes? In my view it doesn’t. So be consistent in your view as well. Would you justify similar treatment of humans on the same grounds?
“Animals on farms get the benefit of us protecting them from predators.”
1. That is a very bizarre argument because by keeping these animals captive for our uses they are not actually being protected. They are only being protected from OTHER predators. We are predators ourselves who will harm and kill them, so “protection from predators” cannot logically justify NOT protecting them from other predators like ourselves.
2. Animals do not need to bred and eaten in order to protect them from predators. And note that because we eat them, we unnaturally breed them in huge numbers that would not exists – and therefore not need sustaining or protection – in the wild.
3. The suffering experienced by animals farmed for food vastly outweighs the experience of being killed after having lived a free life.
4. Remember that animals have been domesticated and genetically altered through selective breeding over many years to turn them into what they are today. In the wild, they would evolve back to a state better capable of surviving on their own.
“Grazing animals wouldn’t even exist in Australia if it weren’t for humans so it isn’t wrong to harvest them.”
That argument’s logic is essentially the same as arguing that justifies the God character’s immorality by saying “God made us so he can do whatever he wants to us”. But both argument’s fail because whether you enable someone to exist or not is simply a non sequitur to the claim that the “creator” can treat the “created” in harmful ways.
A child would not exist if it weren’t for their parents, but that would not justify them later killing the child. Abducting people and bringing them to another country as worker slaves or sex slaves doesn’t make it ok to treat them as property or kill them.
A person may be able to find valid reasons for eating certain animal products under certain scenarios (such as if more harm would inadvertently result from eating a plant-based product than meat) 1) the particular reason given in this Q/A is not valid, and 2) we need to be honest and scrutinize such justifications and evidence very thoroughly because we do not want to err on the side of doing harm.
“Evolution has made us omnivores and predators, so it’s morally ok to act like one and eat meat.”
1. We are omnivores but not obligate omnivores. We are omnivores in the minimally requisite sense that have evolved to be able to eat both a plant and meat based diet and are not specialized for only one or the other type of food. But we do not need to eat both in order to survive and be healthy.
2. Even if we were obligate omnivores, that would not justify eating more meat (and thus causing more harm) than necessary. It would only morally justify eating a minimally required amount of meat, but would not justify a lifestyle of eating however much meat, anytime, in whatever quantity your taste buds desire at the time.
3. What is your reason for exempting humans from being the targets of predatory acts? Keep the implications of your reasoning in mind.
“Do you think that animals that kill other animals are acting immorally?”
“Why don’t you have a problem with animals that kill other animals?”
Are humans who kill other humans acting immorally? It depends on the factors germane to those people and that situation, right? For example, a person who kills another in self defense would not be acting immorally in my view. All the same principles apply to any being when judging the ethical justification for an act. And to judge those cases, we need to look at the factors that define those situations – and they often differ from cases where humans kill non-humans for food in developed countries.
So the reasons that non-human animals are seldom considered to be acting immorally and seldom should be punished for their killings are as follows:
1. Necessity. Many animals are obligate carnivores and obligate omnivores. They need to eat meat in order to survive. This is an example of an ‘unavoidable conflict’ that I mentioned under the section on ‘Justifiable Harm’ in the miniature essays at the top of this page. Likewise, we do not condemn humans for eating meat – or killing humans – when they have no other options for survival.
2. Hunting. Animals in the wild tend to hunt their prey and use the only specific abilities that the process of evolution has provided them. They do not create farms and factories. In an earlier Q/A on this page, I explained the reasons that hunting is preferable – by far – to farms and factories. If a being needs to eat flesh, then the overall least harmful way of attaining it in my view is hunting.
3. Awareness of impact. As best we can figure, most animals lack awareness of the impact of their actions on their prey (This is especially important to note regarding the actions of non-obligate omnivores). We can barely get humans to accept the impact of their actions on other species – or even other humans in many cases – so it’s unlikely that other animals comprehend the effect of their actions on animals outside their own species (and in some cases, perhaps even among their own species as well). However, note that even if someone is unaware of their impact on others, there can still be justification to intervene and use force to stop them. Lacking understanding of your impact just means that you are potentially not malicious, and that can factor into what sort of intervention or punishment should be used.
Note 1: If a non-human animal is diseased or psychotic, and kills wantonly, then they too should be captured or killed because in that case the killing does not occur due to an unavoidable conflict where one creature must kill another to survive; it is purely unnecessary killing. The same concept already applies to humans under human laws – killing another human without needing to do so for your own survival is classified as murder, and mental illness (and other ways in which a person was unaware of the impact of their actions) is taken into accoutn when determining the right way to deal wth the situation and prevent further harm.
Note 2: At some point I will add an article to this site detailing my views on how to judge to morality of an action and determining what the best sort of response is to an immoral act. But for now I think my answer is sufficiently clear. Veganism is essentially just a position of ethical consistency, so with that in mind, a thoughtful person should be able to extrapolate to understand the vegan position on questions such as the one presented by this Q/A.
“Animals like lions kill other animals in nature all the time, so it is ok for us to do it too.”
1. Appeal to Nature. To argue that something is morally good just because it occurs in nature is an Appeal to Nature fallacy. The fact that something happens “in nature” does not logically mean that the behavior is also morally good. Likewise, humans also kill other humans all the time. Throughout human history, people have acted barbarically toward each others, waging wars, committing murders and rape and theft, and so on. But the fact that it happens does not make it moral or the right thing for anyone to do. Or would you argue that it does?
2. Dietary necessity. Many animals are not able to have another diet, or even another way of hunting. Likewise, I do not condemn humans for hunting and trapping animals and eating meat if that is necessary for them to survive and be healthy.
3. A point on consistency: If the Appeal to Nature line of reasoning formed a sound argument then that same reasoning would make it morally ok for us to kill any human, even if they are no threat to us, simply because many animals in nature are known to kill others of their own species. And there are myriad other behaviors that you would not support just because they occurred “in nature”, so the particular premise is clearly not your actual reason for holding that view on the ethics of killing.
4. What about herbivores? They don’t kill other animals, yet people insist on saying that we should copy the ones that do kill (and yet note that most people today do not even eat food they hunted like animals do. They eat what has been bred and killed in industrial fashion on farms which other animals, like the oft cited lions, do not do). And billions of the animals we exploit, kill, and eat are herbivores! In fact, in the western world it is essentially all of them besides fish. So the Appeal to Nature argument is not only fallacious, but also arbitrary and inconsistent.
5. The point of no longer eating animals and animal products is to reduce suffering. So just because something currently happens in some degree does not make it morally right to do more of it or to not end it. Why do you look at how much awfulness occurs in nature then think to yourself “So many terrible things happen in the world, therefore we should strive to make it even worse”? That’s absurd and contrary to the sense of morality that most people claim to hold. If that is really your position, then own up to it. And if not, then don’t make an argument that implicitly endorses that notion.
“Cows/giraffes/fish etc would eat us if it were the other way around, so it’s ok for us to do it to them.”
1. So your reasoning is that something is moral to do to a being if you think that being would do the same to you if they were able? Be consistent and consider what that would justify (from capital punishment, inhumane treatment of prisoners, to endless wars, preemptive assault, etc)
2. That is a non sequitur. The assertion that cows and giraffes would do to us what we do to them – even if assumed true – does not lead to the conclusion that it is ethical for us to enslave or kill them just because we are in power.
3. The hypothetical is a bit weird since obviously these creatures are herbivores, but the argument seems to be saying that if the animals we eat, like cows, were omnivores and as intelligent and capable as humans are, then they would enslaves and eat us. In other words, essentially if cows had human brains and the same speciesist biases but reversed against us.
So aside from the problems already mentioned in pints 1 and 2, the argument fails to account for the very people they are arguing against: vegans. Many humans have come to recognize that using and eating animals is unnecessary and wrong, and thus have stopped doing it. So if omnivorous cows were in our place then in this hypothetical, cows would also start to recognize that they were wrong to harm us and would stop.
“There are more important problems in the world that we should solve first.”
1. Supporting animals right, veganism, and promoting change does not prevent us from working on other issues as well. And in fact, it can even complement other issues since the concept of animal rights is connected to the notion of opposing cruelty in general, eating healthier foods, living more sustainably, respecting the rights and freedoms of others.
2. We never literally fix all problems. People strive to fight for rights and what they think is morally correct, and progress is made, even though it never literally fully succeeds. What we accomplish is still very great and impactful.
3. People seem to argue that the issue of animal rights is not important because they do not recognize the unimaginable severity and evil of this issue. Once you realize this, you will understand that the way animals are used by humans is one of the most serious horrors that exists in the world today.
“Eating a vegan diet is expensive.”
1. Eating a vegan diet can be more expensive, but not nearly as expensive as many people think. Part of the reason for this is that when people think of a vegan diet they tend to only conjure up images of vegetables and fruits. But if you need calories, then a vegan can eat foods like lentils, beans, rice, and potatoes which are filling and have good caloric density.
2. If you cannot become totally vegan, the right thing to do is still the same as for anyone else: do what you are able to do. Make as much of a change as you can without causing significant harm to yourself (cravings for bacon or lack of large muscles does not constitute significant harm).
3. Note that since the vegan populations of the countries we live in are currently small in comparison to the total, companies that make vegan alternatives to common foods like hamburgers and butter, cannot afford to reduce their prices as much as other companies. If the majority of people were vegan then these prices would go down.
“If everyone became vegan, countries wouldn’t have enough food and there would be chaos.”
1. I don’t see any reason to believe that the world’s population cannot be sustained on plant-based foods. Many people assert outright that it is or is not possible to do so, but having looked into the matter, I cannot find any definitive or reliable information on this. It seems to be a question that requires an accounting for such a vast and complex system of resources as the whole planet’s, and ways that existing lands would be used differently, that it’s hard to come up with a meaningful answer.
But that is really beside the point. Even if it turned out that eating meat were necessary for at least some people in “the world” as a whole to use animal products, that is not an excuse for any given individual to eat meat unnecessarily. It is immoral to do anything but reduce our consumption to the lowest levels necessary in the long run.
Remember, the issue is not “can we eliminate all suffering?”. The issue is “Let’s do what we can to reduce suffering as much as possible.” So ask yourself: If you personally went vegan, would the world be plunged into chaos?
2. There would be, and currently is, a transition underway toward veganism. People are not all going to become vegan at once, nor would they obviously stick with a vegan diet if the world were falling apart as a result.
3. As more people become vegan and value the attempt to get humanity off our reliance on using animals, new products will be created, new industries will arise, and more research will be invested into making more vegan foods and materials.
“There is no deathless diet for a human. Plants are alive too.”
“Plants are proven to react to attack and may have feelings. So there is no difference between eating meat or not.”
1. I agree that there is no deathless diet. But that isn’t really issue, is it? We are not trying to equally avoid just physically harming any entity that can be considered a life form. The issue is sentience and degree of suffering that an entity likely experiences based on the available evidence, as well as applying logically consistent moral standards.
And it is about reducing the suffering of sentient beings as much as possible. So although we can suspect that many diverse life forms are capable of experiencing some suffering, we need to consider which of our choices will likely – based on available evidence – have the least harmful, immoral effects.
This means accounting for how much a being can likely experience suffering and what kinds of treatment cause them to suffer. For example, we have reason to believe that plants can be content growing in place and receiving sunlight and water, whereas the ways animals are raised for food uses many practices that cause trauma and harm to the animals throughout their lives, not just the point of death.
So if we must use a life form for food, and we have reason to believe that a given life form does not suffer, or that it at least suffers less than our only alternatives (as in the case with the plants we use for food), then using that life form is justifiable.
2. Plants physically react to stimuli but we do not have strong evidence that they actually have sentience and experience suffering, or that at least they do not experience suffering to the same degree as animals used for food. This is because we can observe from our own experience and in others, that loss or damage of certain body parts has no effect on our mental awareness, while damage or chemicals that affect the brain results in behavioral changes or lack of consciousness. But plants seem to lack an equivalent of a brain, and this is evidence that they do not have sentient experience or endure pain as we do.
3. Even if plants do have sentient experience, it is very unlikely that the plants we use for food suffer much from being raised and killed for that purpose. Unlike animals which evolve to evade attack and must avoid being eaten in order to reproduce, many plants evolved specifically to be eaten. That is a way that they pass on their genes.
Additionally, plants do not have the same needs as animals. This has massive implications regarding the morality of using them for food. We can reasonably conclude based on their physiology and the way they exist in a natural setting, that plants can be content just by growing in one spot and getting enough sunlight and water. But animals need much more freedom to move, remain with their mothers when young, avoid fear and physical assault, etc.
4. If we eat animals then we still need to kill plants in order to feed those animals first. So by eating animal products, you’re not saving plants. You’re just doing more harm.
Note: We know that the people who try to justify using animals for food by using this “plants have feelings” argument don’t believe that plants have the same feelings and needs as animals either, because if they really believed that, they’d be as revolted by walking on grass as they would if they were walking on puppies.
“Vegan foods require cutting down tons of forest area etc and taking away tons of habitat and thereby killing many animals!”
1. If you’re eating meat and dairy, you still need grazing lands and large farms, so you are still doing that damage.
2. Destroying forested areas where animals currently live to turn it into a re-usable cropland is a one-time harmful event that impacts animals that lived out the rest of their lives free. But eating animal products results in subjecting animals to immoral conditions continually, and intentionally raising more of them that will experience that misery. By clearing fields for vegan foods to be produced, you are preventing the endless, massive cycle of suffering for those future animals. Therefore your total harm is limited and much less.
“Even if you don’t eat meat, animals die in harvesting the plants you eat (such as by using pesticides which kills insects).”
Related argument: “Which do you think is worse: the suffering of cattle who have little in the way of existence, or the full life of, say, a squirrel who is then torn to shreds by a combine or insects killed by insecticides? Terrible things happen to animals in either case so why does it matter if we raise animals for food?”
1. As mentioned in point 1 of the previous Q/A, the issue is reducing the suffering of sentient creatures as much as possible given the fact that we are also creatures who want to survive and be happy and healthy.
So while obviously a person’s actions will almost inevitably cause some harm at some point, we can make the moral choices that result in much less harm than we could otherwise cause. If the method of acquiring food causes less suffering to sentient animals than our only alternatives (as is the case with insects and animals killed accidentally by a farming machine as opposed to being enslaved on a factory farm) or humans would suffer greatly otherwise (such as mass starvation and illness) then using that method of acquiring food is justifiable.
2) In regard to the question about the difference in pain experienced by the enslaved cow or free squirrel:
I don’t know how many squirrels are torn to shreds in the process of producing grains, but a cow or other animal raised for food suffers as a captive and being harmed and exploited throughout its entire existence in various ways. But the squirrel and insects live normal lives and only suffer for a relatively short time at the end. This is also why I argue that hunting is not nearly as bad as eating food produced by factory farms.
And note that cattle and other animals need to eat a huge amount of plants in the form of grain or grass prior to being slaughtered for their flesh. By eating meat you aren’t reducing the amount of other food being produced unless the animals are mostly range fed.
“There are estimated to be 1.5 billion cows on the planet, and there are 3 chickens for every person on Earth. What happens when they breed unchecked? Now that this many animals have been raised, what are we going to do with them?”
2. As the vegan and pro-animal rights movements gain in popularity, the consumer population will – obviously – reduce their consumption of animals and animal products. And as a result, the companies will – obviously – not breed as many animals. The numbers of animals bred on factory farms will continue to decrease down to vastly lower levels than exist today until eventually the last animals are freed when the facilities shut down.
3. Even if it were necessary to reduce their populations even more quickly before reintroducing them into the wild, we can simply prevent some of them from reproducing (This would not be ideal in a perfect world, but it could be our best option and would be much better than keeping using them as we currently do).
“Your comment* seems to imply that the vegan philosophy requires that it not be immediately universally successful in order to be tenable. It only works as a slow growth ideal gently tapering away from the current model in favor of yours. That being the case, perhaps it would be a good idea to dial down the general sense of moral superiority in the movement since the rest of us are necessary to the ultimate vision.”
*[point 2 of previous Q/A]
1) The people who we condemn are those who argue for continuing eating meat in perpetuity regardless of the potential to do otherwise and who argue that it is morally ok in and of itself, and who are not trying to transition away from eating animal products. People who believe that killing is fine for petty reasons are not necessary for the goals of veganism to succeed. They are an obstacle to animal liberation as an entire concept because they oppose the process of transition entirely, and they thus prevent society from maximizing the positive change we are capable of at any given time.
The people who are necessary are those with a realistic outlook on what can be done safe and what their most ethical choices are in their given situation (for example, since obviously not everyone is becoming vegan all at once, there is plenty of safe room for you to become vegan now). For a person to not take that action and not do what they are able in the actual current situation, would mean that they are part of the problem.
2) Your argument is akin to saying that since various past societies were so heavily based on slave labor and that immediately ceasing the practice of slavery would cause major problems, that therefore abolitionists in those societies shouldn’t have had a sense of “moral superiority” over people who favored continuing the practice. Regardless of the degree of harm that you consider to be inflicted by human slavery compared with our treatment of animals, the logic you’re using is the same.
3) Everyone actually could go vegan very suddenly. If in a hypothetical scenario everyone became vegan very suddenly, then we could mandate that the companies which own the factory farms bear much of the costs of keeping their livestock alive as they lived out their natural lifespans and were not used to sell products (these costs may not even be as high as they currently are, because remember they could let animals simply graze and they would not be expending business efforts toward milking cows and transporting them, etc). And these costs could also be paid for by donations and tax dollars. If necessary for some reason, we could even harvest the meat of dead cows and donate it to charity. Then once the numbers are smaller, we could begin reintroducing the rest into the wild and to sanctuaries. It could work, but this is only a solution to a situation that is not occurring and will not possibly occur.
“The vast majority of modern cows have been bred and designed for centuries with meat production and milk production in mind. For that reason they’re generally disproportionately large in the body with comparatively fragile legs unsuited for any wild environment. It doesn’t even resemble its natural ancestor. Do we just release these bloated fragile meat sacks into the wild to die? Or perhaps care for them and direct resources toward feeding them to no use to anyone, effectively making them the most expensive pets in history?”
2. Modern cattle are oddly proportion compared to wild bovines, yes. But they’re not utterly dysfunctional or as radically warped and decrepit as you are making them out to be. They can still walk, run, fight, etc and share the same overall physical structure as their recent ancestors, the aurochs. So I see no reason why they would not be able to survive even as they are or after several decades of environmental pressures (species have been seen to adapt extremely quickly; for example, the lizards of Pon Mrcaru). Additionally, humans can use the previously mentioned sanctuaries to help reintroduce these species back into the wild by ensuring a certain degree of protection.
And just so we are clear, these are the fragile animals incapable of surviving on their own:
3. Populations of cows that are released into the wild will just evolve and re-adapt to the environment. It’s only been a few thousand years since they were domesticated, not millions. And in fact, aurochs weren’t actually eliminated until the 1600’s (yes, A.D.). And Europeans are actually working on reintroducing aurochs already (they only actually disappeared about 400 years ago). It can be done.
“Farm animals live in symbiosis with us. We breed, raise, and care for them; and in exchange we eat them and use their milk and skin and hair.”
There are several points in response to this that are each important:
1. These animals are only domesticated and appear to live symbiotically because we made them that way. So we should correct that immoral action (it is akin to brainwashing someone to be your slave then then justifying slavery arguing that now they want to be your slave). We could gradually release them to the wild and they would evolve to that environment again over time.
2. Just because they exist and may need us currently, that does not mean that we need to forcefully breed them or use them to produce food.
3. It is not actually a symbiotic relationship. The animals are not choosing to be with us or be killed. A concentration camp is not a symbiotic relationship between captors and prisoners. They are not “feeding” you. You are taking them. They are not offering themselves to be eaten like plants are evolved to do. If they were offering themselves then we wouldn’t need to hunt them or cage them.
“Cows need to be milked otherwise they get sore and can get horrible infections.”
They only need to be milked because they are constantly being impregnated then having their babies taken away who would normally drink that milk. They are also packed with hormones to make them overproduce milk that even makes their udders drag on the ground sometimes. So these risks of infection are largely the result of using them.
You cannot use the problematic effects of using animals and making them reliant upon you to justify using animals, because the using animals is itself the problem and thus not necessary to solve that issue.
“Factory farming that harms animals isn’t cruelty. Cruelty implies intent.”
Cruelty by definition is “callous indifference to or pleasure in causing pain and suffering” or “behavior that causes pain or suffering to a person or animal.” (Oxford)
The most widespread ways that humans use animals fall under both definitions (exceptions would be perhaps things like keeping and riding horses in safe and comfortable conditions for the horses). The fact is that we are aware of the predicament of these animals and people continue to knowingly to harm them because they do not care enough to stop.
“Do you think it is ok to ‘harvest’ the body of an animal that was taken care of during its life and died of natural causes?”
On principle there is no immediate harm being done by an individual act of that sort. It is at least much less harmful than other ways of acquiring animals. But I still think it has the potential for harm and should be considered wrong for this reason:
To eat animals in this way would be still considering another being’s body as a commodity in circumstances that do not require it. And using animals’ bodies, even if they died from natural causes, can foment a harmful mindset the more it is practiced – especially if it involved selling the bodies to others – since it can create a personal or consumer desire for more meat that motivates creeping back into practices of capturing, breeding, and killing animals for food.
“I have an iron deficiency so I need to eat meat.”
However, the type of iron available in vegan foods is not as easily absorbed by the human body as one of the types of iron contained in meat. This means that a vegan may need to consume 1.8x the amount of grams of iron as someone who primarily gets their iron from meat sources. It’s not a big deal to achieve this, but you should be aware of it so that you are meeting your nutritional requirements.
But there is another option too. Vitamin C aids iron absorption so a vegan does not even need to get 1.8xas much iron as a meat-eater if they consume foods that improve iron absorption while they eat foods containing iron.
For more detailed information, check out these links:
2. Remember that the moral thing to do is to reduce harm as much as possible, so even if, for whatever reason, you cannot stop eating meat entirely (or believe that you cannot) the right thing to do would be to eat only as much meat as is truly necessary for you, and get as much of your iron as possible from plant-based sources.
“To be healthy on a vegan diet, we would need supplements for vitamins like B12!”
“The worst of factory farming is a necessary part of feeding billions of people on this planet.”
1. We do not have factory farming due to any necessity for keeping us alive. We have factory farming to meet market demand for what people are brought up eating and thinking is pleasurable food, and to meet the demand from overeating by middle and upper classes in first world countries.
We do not live in some kind of mythical socialist paradise where we each just receive exactly what we need.
2. If your argument is that factory farming and cruelty is justified on the basis that it sustains the population, then even if you were correct about the need for factory farming of animals, logically your argument would only justify doing it to the extent minimally necessary to support the world’s population. It would not justify everyone eating meat and dairy from cruel factory farms, nor would it justify eating meat and dairy in any amount beyond what you really needed.
3. If you – the person making the argument – eat meat and animal products, then your argument indicates that you believe that you personally need to eat meat or else you would starve to death. Is that in fact what you believe? And are you only eating what meat that you think you need to live, or are you eating more?
“Factory farming is the problem, not eating meat and dairy products.”
Eating meat and dairy products is also a major problem for several reasons.
1. The process of using animals for meat and their secretions, especially in a business context, involves immoral acts being forced upon the animals whether in a factory farming setting or a small local farm. In either context, what is happening is that living beings are being unjustifiably enslaved, forcefully bred (i.e. raped), and killed. How can anything that matches such a description be considered morally acceptable if it is not absolutely necessary?
And remember to be consistent in your reasoning, otherwise you are giving disingenuous reasons for you views, and you may inadvertently be morally justifying other acts which you think are not justifiable at all. So why is it ok if it isn’t necessary? And why would it not be ok to do the same to humans?
2. Animals on small farms are subjected to worse treatment than many people realize. For example, calves are taken from mothers which is traumatic for both of them, and male chicks are killed because they aren’t useful. The nature of the venture is inherently immoral, and it just results in varying degrees of cruelty – not lacking it.
“Isn’t eating meat ok if the animals were treated humanely and they don’t feel pain when killed?”
1. Notice how when people talk about treating animals “humanely”, we don’t actually mean to treat them with the same kindness and respect for their rights that we mean when we say to treat humans “humanely”. Humane treatment involves much more than just not feeling pain at the exact moment of death. It involves being kind to an individual and respecting their basic desires as best you can (as well as being understanding about what that individual can comprehend the consequences of, needs to live happily, and has control over). So no, it is not ok, because they are not actually being treated humanely. To treat them humanely would mean to not enslave, breed, separate mothers and offspring, or kill them.
2. Perhaps the best response to this sort of argument is this powerful counter-example given by Gary Yourofsky in this interview, when the interviewer asked him a question 12 minutes and 40 seconds into this video:
“So if I go and meet a woman at a bar, I buy her some drinks, I bring her some flowers, I take her back and put on some soft music, and we dance, and we look in each other’s eyes and I slip her a date rape drug and rape her, is that humane? Why not? She didn’t feel a thing.”
In short, the point is this: Is this the ethical rule you are promoting: “It is ok to kill if the victim does not feel the killing.”
“The problem is abuse of farmed animals by bad people. We just need to stop that from happening and arrest them.”
2. Cruel behavior occurs as a result of authoritarian power structures. Anyone familiar with the Stanford Prison Experiment knows this. When you create and support this institution of control, power, and exploitation of others, you will get these horrific consequences.
And in the Stanford Experiment, and in real prisons, humans are put in charge of other humans – a group of people they care about far more than non-human animals. And in the prison, the human prisoners are not even there for the purpose of being used and killed to meet the demands of billions of greedy consumers (although, in some actual cases prisoners are being used for at least their labor – and what have people called it? Slavery. So what is it then, when we do it to beings who are not even criminals and who we rape and kill and cut apart?).
So it is utterly insane to think that such a system can be reformed or have its flaws removed. The power structure and its purpose are the problem. This is why it would also be absurd to say “The problem isn’t a racist fascist dictatorship. The problem is only with bad dictators!” It is ridiculous to support such a power structure and violent purpose, then be surprised and complain when it produces terrible results.
Farming of animals is a system where certain beings are placed in direct and total control of other beings, for the purpose of treating them as commercial commodities for profit to be used and killed as the consumer pleases. There can be no sufficient “reform” within such parameters – to say otherwise would be a contradiction. You do not only “reform” or regulate an institution whose very nature and purpose is inherently immoral. You reduce it, and when possible, you abolish it.
“Instead of advocating for people to go vegan, wouldn’t it be better to just to get farm animals better treatment first? Movements are slow to effect change. It’s going to take a long time to get those people off their habits of drinking milk and eating meat etc. And if you only try to get people to go vegan, then the companies won’t change their practices because the pressure won’t be coming from potential customers.”
1. We can advocate both. They are not mutually exclusive.
We definitely need to advocate for veganism because that change in a person’s lifestyle removes the demand for harming animals altogether, which is better than marginally reducing the degree of misery experienced by these creatures.
But I also think it is indeed true that we need to advocate for better treatment of animals on farms because there are so many people in first world countries who care about animals enough to ask for better conditions for the animals, but don’t care enough to actually stop supporting the industry period.
However, keep in mind that this only works if you seriously push for people to only buy products that use more “humane” practices. If you just complain, but don’t care enough to actually make a change in your buying habits, then it won’t have much of an effect because you’re not punishing those companies by taking your money elsewhere.
2. Companies have a profit incentive to run their facilities in ways that cause immense harm to animals since they want to exploit each animal as efficiently as possible and extract the most product, so it is against their financial interests to adopt meaningful genuine reforms. Thus it is very difficult to make those changes occur, unlike simply ceasing to include animal products in your diet.
3. Whether you are advocating veganism or better treatment of farm animals, both movements will take time. But due to the issue of enforcing regulations and fighting corporate interests and the difficulty of getting such wealthy and powerful companies to change radically change their established operations, it also takes a lot of time to transform the industry. But you can simply cut out that part of your diet immediately.
4. Veganism is the most important issue to advocate for because the problem with meat and using animal products is that acquiring products like dairy – on a scale to meet mass demand – and meat in general, intrinsically involves harm and incentivizes harm as a result of trying to get animals to do what you want and be more “efficient” and so on.
As I stated in the previous Q/A: When you create and support this institution of control, power, and exploitation of others, you will get these horrific consequences. It is a system of unjustifiable enslavement, treating living beings as commercial commodities for profit, and killing them. There can be no sufficient “reform” within such parameters – to say otherwise would be a contradiction. You do not only “reform” or regulate an institution whose very nature and purpose is inherently immoral. You reduce it, and when possible, you abolish it.
“Animals are resources like any other resource.”
1. Where – and on what basis – do you draw the line between what beings count as “resources” and which do not? Human beings can also be immensely valuable and effective resources as slaves and even as food too. Consider the logical implications of applying your standards consistently. For example, the Nazis made use of slave labor. Did using their victims as resources justify such treatment?
2. The fact that a particular person or race or other beings can be used as resources does not morally justify treating them as such and causing them harm. It would be a non sequitur to say otherwise.
“If I couldn’t handle the way the chicken died, then I didn’t deserve to be eating its meat.”
(context/source: Gaby from Buzzfeed video where they killed their own chicken for food despite having no need to do so)
“Someone deserves to eat meat if they can handle killing and cooking the animal themselves.”
“What about people whose jobs are in the meat industry? They can’t just stop, or else they’d have no job and thus no means of surviving.”
It is true that since the world has been so entwined with the idea of consuming the meats and secretions and skins of animals that many people have jobs that require creating or using products which were obtained by harming animals.
It is similar to how some pastors and other people who have trained their whole lives to have a job in the church become atheists then have no other occupational options.
I think that what is best for these people to do is to improve their habits as best they can toward the goal of minimal harming. For example, they can adopt a vegan diet themselves; they can make sure that they do not do anything but the most absolutely necessary harm to keep their job (e.g. no kicking of the animals etc); they can seek a job that they are also qualified for but which at least causes less harm; they can explain their dilemma to their kids and teach them about a non-harming lifestyle so that when they grow up they won’t be stuck in a harmful occupation too.
“Even First World countries cannot entirely stop using animal products. Products like leather are needed for some occupations because no other material sufficiently provides the necessary properties of strength, protection against edges and heat, etc.”
My understanding is true that leather for example, is necessary for some important industrial jobs. This is an issue I need to consider more, but my current view is that we should reluctantly use these materials (in the minimum quantity necessary) in occupations where if the products that job produced ceased to exist, much harm would result and actually slow down our progress toward developing new technology and materials needed to replace harmful products like leather and industries like oil and so on.
Keep in mind though, that as a society we need to actually work on developing those new materials, otherwise we would be using animal products carelessly and not genuinely striving to alleviate the problem.
“Vegans are silent about other things that kill animals like having roads and using electricity. To be consistent, they would need to live primitively in order to avoid being part of a system that harms animals.”
(Argument used to justify eating meat and using animal products however humans desire regardless of necessity. This particular argument ironically came from an anarcho-socialist who criticizes what he perceives as the problems of class oppression and capitalism, but does not at all care about any other beings rights)
This issue comes down to the number of animals killed, the amount of suffering experienced, the effect of NOT having those things (e.g. roads, electricity), and the reasonable ability of a person to act differently. With that in mind:
1. Refraining from eating meat or animal products is an easier change to one’s lifestyle than probably anything else they can do – and probably the most impactful as well.
2. People can and do advocate for cleaner energy and using chemicals that will not harm sentient beings or the environment as much as fossil fuels, as well as for technology to make cars safer for both the passengers and any beings (human or non-human) that might be hit in the road.
3. I see no reason to believe that using electricity and driving is having the same level of impact that eating animal products does. The number of land animals that die each year as a result of raising them to produce or be food is around 60 billion (not million) – around 10 billion in the United States alone. The number of marine animals killed in the U.S. alone is estimated to be around 50 billion.(Sources: farmusa.org, freefromharm.org, countinganimals.com)
4. The sheer number of animals killed is only one part of the issue. Another primary factor is the type of suffering experienced. The suffering caused by the destruction of animal habitats, being hit by cars, or getting electrocuted is not nearly as bad as the conditions experienced by animals as a result of using them to feed people on a massive scale which involves life-long enslavement. As for oil spills and waste, many of us do indeed think that oil should be phased out and replaced with a combination of less harmful energy sources, and that we need to Personally I always recycle, cut plastic that animals could get stuck in, etc.
5. Animals that die as a result of being raised to produce or be food are intentionally, systematically bred – i.e. created – and raised specifically for that purpose which greatly adds beings to suffer. We are not even just taking from nature in that case. We are actively making the problem worse in order to satisfy unnecessary, culturally-inculcated human desires.
6. Remember that humans are also one of the sentient species that matter and must be helped. Despite non-vegan claims to the contrary, veganism is not about helping animals MORE than humans. Our world has entered a state wherein vast numbers of people need to drive (i.e. use roads) in order to survive, for example. Not using them would have major consequences on a person’s ability to live well. But many people – mainly those in the middle and upper class of first world countries – can be fine using very little or no animal products, and it is very easy for them to make that change. I do not believe that an ideal solution exists that will end all suffering on Earth. What matters is choosing to work toward the best scenario we can create.
7. Related to #6 above, the best solution cannot be for us all return to a “primitive” state of society. Advanced societies can help save many lives due to medical knowledge, large-scale production of plant foods, the ability to develop new materials and foods that can transition us away from using animal products, advanced communications that enable social progess to be made through the spread of ideas, and other factors. Also, everyone needs to remain an advanced society or else risk being crushed and dominated by other groups. If America, for example, were to become primitivist then they would likely be taken over by technologically superior invaders, and the invader countries would likely harm us and animals on a massive scale (In fact, this already happened when European came to America and replaced the native people). So from an animal rights perspective it makes more sense to modify our current civilization morally and technologically.
8. As my last point in response to this question I should mention that the non-vegans argument is a consistency argument. So even if vegans who do not criticize the use of roads etc were being inconsistent, that would not morally justify using animals for food. It would just expose inconsistent ethics and logic on the part of those vegans.
I have already addressed the question in the previous points, but I will also make a consistency argument of my own against the original accusation:
The use of roads and other modern technology does not just kill non-human animals – it also kills humans. Many thousands every year. So if you think that a vegan is inconsistent if they do not oppose such technology because it results in animal deaths, then for you to believe that you are ethically consistent, you would have to believe either that:
A) We should become a primitive society as you thought vegans should believe (for the same reason that a group of beings we care about and do not think should be unnecessarily harmed and eaten is harmed by that technology)
B) We should not bother trying to prevent unnecessary suffering and injustice to humans and it is just as morally acceptable to enslave, exploit, and kill humans for food as it is to do it to other animals.
Remember, I am basing this on your own rationale for judging vegans. But if you would defend the use of technology on the same basis that I do as a vegan, then your argument is hypocritical.
“Hitler was a vegetarian!”
1. This is a very odd point that people sometimes raise when arguing in opposition to refraining from harming animals unnecessarily.
Even if it were true, then how would it matter to whether you should adopt that particular behavior? If you raise this point about Hitler in these discussions, then you must explain what significance it has on whether we should stop eating meat. Not everything someone did in life is evil and wrong just because they also did things that actually were evil and wrong. For example, many Nazis were very loving to their own families, but such behavior is not invalidated by their treatment of Jews and other victims of the Nazis. It’s simply irrelevant. The reason we consider Hitler a terrible person was because he ordered the killing of millions of people, not because he allegedly didn’t eat meat.
2. Tons of the world’s other horrific dictators were not vegetarian. So remember to be consistent: Would you argue that we should NOT eat meat for the reason that Stalin, Mao, the Japanese leaders who murdered millions of Chinese in WWII, the Turkish leaders who arranged the genocide of Armenians, and the crusaders who massacred the inhabitants of Jerusalem in 1099, etc ate meat?
3. Note that vegetarian is not vegan. A vegan refrains from eating all animal products (and at least under the original definition of the term, meant doing so because you held a reverence for life and did not want to exploit and harm animals).
4. It seems to not even be true that Hitler was a vegetarian. This page cites clear evidence that Hitler, like many people, used the term “vegetarian” very loosely, and ate meat and other animal products. Especially note the following excerpts:
An article from May 30, 1937, ‘At Home With The Fuhrer’ says, “It is well known that Hitler is a vegetarian and does not drink or smoke. His lunch and dinner consist, therefore, for the most part of soup, eggs, vegetables and mineral water, although he occasionally relishes a slice of ham and relieves the tediousness of his diet with such delicacies as caviar …”
While it is true that Hitler’s doctors put him on a vegetarian diet to cure him of flatulence and a chronic stomach disorder, his biographers such as Albert Speer, Robert Payne, John Toland, et al, have attested to his liking for ham sausages and other cured meats. Even Spencer says that Hitler was a vegetarian from only 1931 on:
“It would be true to say that up to 1931, he preferred a vegetarian diet, but on some occasions would deviate from it.” He committed suicide in the bunker when he was 56 in 1945; that would have given him 14 years as a vegetarian, but we have the testimony to the contrary of the woman chef who was his personal cook in Hamburg during the late 1930s – Dione Lucas. In her “Gourmet Cooking School Cookbook,” she records that his favorite dish – the one that he customarily requested – was stuffed squab (pigeon). “I do not mean to spoil your appetite for stuffed squab, but you might be interested to know that it was a great favorite with Mr. Hitler, who dined in the hotel often.”
Biographical material about Hitler suggests a contradictoriness in reports about his diet. He is often described as a vegetarian who nevertheless had a special fondness for sausages and caviar, and sometimes ham.
Moreover, Hitler never promoted vegetarianism as a public policy for either health or moral reasons. His lack of policies and public support for vegetarianism is significant in a leader who rigorously enforced other health policies, such as anti-smoking and anti-pollution legislation, and pregnancy and birthing measures for women.
“The Nazis banned vivisection and advocated for animal rights!”
1. See point #1 in the previous Q/A about Hitler above.
2. The German people’s interest in animal rights (as well as in other countries) began prior to the creation and rise of the Nazi party. In other words, concern for animal welfare had begun independently of the Nazis and was not a Nazi idea based in the destructive core of their ideology.
3. I question how much the Nazis really cared for animals because they did not advocate veganism. They were perfectly happy with slaughtering animals for food. Their laws only applied to the manner in which animals were slaughtered for human taste buds, which is the same sort of twisted double-standard of what compassion means for those opposed to veganism today. Additionally, it should be noted that one of the most cited “pro-animal rights” Nazis who was primarily responsible for the Nazi’s famed anti-vivisection laws, Hermann Göring, was also an avid hunter.
“Holocaust comparisons [comparing the meat industry to the Holocaust] are not valid because we need to eat to live, but the Nazis didn’t need to kill anyone.”
1. We do not need to eat animal products. It is unnecessary for survival and sufficient health.
2. Once you recognize that other animals are sentient beings like ourselves and experience misery just like we do, then the acts we commit against them on such a massive scale – the sheer numbers of which which surpass the Nazi Holocaust and all genocides in history combined – can be recognized for indeed being disturbingly akin to the Holocaust.
3. You can also read this article on FreeFromHarm.org by a Jewish man on the use of Holocaust comparisons.
“Imagine that you had a human baby and a baby animal, and you had to choose only one of them to save, which would you choose?”
Context: This argument is used to argue that it is ok to enslave and kill billions of animals each year and that comparing the killing of animals to the holocaust is invalid.
But consider, if you had your family member or friend vs someone you didn’t know, who would you choose? You would most likely choose your loved one. That is only a comment on one’s priorities. It would be a non sequitur from there to say the other person has no value or that it is ok to enslave them and kill them. (Note how absurd the logic used by people is when they want to justify harming animals. They use reasoning that they would consider utterly insane in other situations)
As I have stated before, granting priority to oneself or certain others (of any species) when there is conflict is morally neutral when generally equivalent harm is unavoidable either way.
The hypothetical posits a situation that doesn’t refute the position of veganism or animal rights because the scenario it describes is one of unavoidable conflict, not one that demonstrates that it is morally acceptable to kill one of the babies when it is not necessary to do so.
2. Note that we also must be clear about what criteria we use to value different lives. I doubt that there are many people who categorically value any human over any non-human creature. For example, I imagine that many people (I would hope, everyone) would choose to save their dog instead of Adolph Hitler if they were presented with those two options. Or to use another example, personally I would choose to save the life of a beetle over that of a human rapist.
“People are stronger and have grown taller because they eat meat.”
1. That is like saying: “Why of course I would murder your entire family if it meant I could grow 3 inches taller and add 50 pounds to my bench press.” It’s an absurdly unimportant reason compared to the act (killing) that it tries to justify. Since being slightly taller and stronger is not required for you to survive and be healthy and happy.
2. I do not know how much physical benefit a person can gain on a non-vegan diet compared to a vegan diet, but I do know that you can be plenty strong on a vegan diet. For examples, check out these links about very fit vegans:
“Is there anything wrong with using bees for their honey?”
Yes – unless you can get it from a place that you know causes no harm to the bees as a result. But I don’t know how easily or commonly this is actually done.
I used to think that using honey was fine if others chose to, and thought it was sort of ridiculous to consider bees as being enslaved, even after becoming vegan myself – until I read from vegetus.org‘s reasons for not eating honey. Then it began to look a lot more gruesome and ethically messy.
Some people make the claim that “Bees would go extinct without humans because the brood mite infests hives and kills bees then spreads to other hives. Humans prevent that by sealing and burning the infected hives.” However, if bees would all go extinct without humans controlling their hives etc, then how do they survive in nature without humans today and how did they survive up to the point prior to humans utilizing this burning practice?
“Is there anything wrong with using sheep for their wool?”
Yes. This is another use of animals that I originally thought would be fine when I began transitioning to being vegan. But you can view these links for information on why it is harmful.
“Catch and release fishing is completely fine because fish have very short memories and forget about being hooked within seconds of you letting it go. In fact, I remember many times catching the same fish with the same bait within minutes of releasing it.”
2. The fact you can catch them again does not mean they don’t remember. It could mean that they don’t know how to distinguish a lure from actual food – which is the whole point of a good lure. Being caught once before doesn’t mean fish no longer need to eat.
3. Whether someone later remembers harm committed against them is not all that matters in regard to the moral right or wrongness of an action. Of course vividly remembering an awful event and experiencing lasting stress from it is worse than forgetting it after the fact. But pointing out that a particular act is less harmful than it could otherwise be does not make it good; it just makes it a different degree of harmful from other acts.
Pain and fear would still be inflicted. You are first stabbing a metal hook into their face, and then when you bring them on shore or into your boat they begin to suffocate, and they clearly struggle to live and be let back into their home.
If you go around punching and stabbing people, then whether they remember it happening or not later doesn’t make it ok because they still felt it at the time. Nor can you justify harming anyone you want just because you suspect that they will get Alzheimer’s later in life – or because you know they will eventually die from other causes and thus of course remember nothing.
(Also, how long is required until a harmful event is forgotten on the victim for you to consider the harmful action wrong? Must it be remembered the whole rest of their life? For comparison to a human lifespan, what if they remember it 20 years, or 8 months? What is your reason for the cutoff? The fact is that a harmful act is a harmful act, even if it would be even worse if it had longer lasting effects)
4. Fish have a brain, nervous system, and pain receptors, so they likely still feel the pain of it after they have been let back into the water. They may or may not remember the hook or being dragged on shore, but they can probably still feel the pain during their present existence.
5. Consider that the whole reason you’re raising the claim that fish have short memories is to argue that they won’t remember the harm.Think about that. The very attempt to claim that fish won’t remember the event is inadvertently also an admission that it is harmful.
“[In catch and release fishing] in most cases, the hook causes no permanent injury to the fish.”
2. Similar to point 3 in the previous Q/A about catch and release: Whether someone sustains a permanent injury from an attack is not all that matters regarding the moral justification for the act. Of course sustaining a permanent injury is worse than sustaining an injury less serious which heals. But pointing out that a particular act is less harmful than it could otherwise be does not make it good; it just makes it a different degree of harmful from other acts.
If you go around punching and stabbing people, then those attacks do not swing from “wrong” to “right” based on whether or not they receive a permanently broken bone, must use a wheelchair for the rest of their life, lose an eye, or need an amputation.
(Also, how long does an injury have to leave an effect on the victim for you to consider it wrong? Must it last the whole rest of their life? For comparison to a human lifespan, what if it lasts 20 years, or 8 months? What is your reason for the cutoff? The fact is that a harmful act is a harmful act, even if it would be even worse if it had longer lasting effects)
“What do you think about killing bacteria?”
1. We do not have much reason to think that bacteria have sentience or at least are capable of experiencing much, if any, suffering so they will receive very low priority when we have to determine how to most reduce harm.
2. Bacteria can attack you and cause you harm. You have a right to defend yourself by washing your hands and taking other measures against them.
3. We also can kill inadvertently simply as a result of living, breathing, and moving about. But these are cases of unavoidable conflicts where a person is justified in choosing their own existence and well-being over another that is in direct, unavoidable conflict with you, as per the ethical standards I described at the top of this webpage.
“If you believe in animal rights, do you think that it is ok to keep pets?”
Yes. The issue I am concerned with is the suffering that living beings experience and acting contrary to their core desires – the same factors that we consider regarding humans.
Animals kept as pets should not be treated cruelly of course, and their happiness should be provided for as best possible. If someone cannot adequately care for an animal’s happiness due to their work schedule, where they live, or other factors, then it would be better for them to help find the animal a better home.
A moral relationship between humans and pets would best be described as one of guardianship rather than ownership. This is the same for how we consider the relationship of parents to young children or family members who have a debilitating condition and require care into their adult lives.
The pet can be kept under guardianship if it is a beneficial relationship for that animal, since such guardianship means that the animal receives better protection, food, warmth, medical care, and even companionship than if they lived fully independently.
An animal should be released into the wild if it would be happier in that condition overall, as if often the case with larger animals such as Big Cats, apes, whales, and so on.
“I respect vegan views, but I can’t be vegan myself because I just love [meat, cheese, fishing, etc] too much.”
1. It is obviously better to not do a harmful thing, but it is at least much better to cut many harmful choices out of your life and keep doing a few of them than to make no change at all. It is better to be entirely vegan except, for example, catch and release fishing, than to change nothing.
However, remember that is just a statement about the degree of harm; it is not an excuse to commit harm. A person should always be aware of what harmful things they are doing and they should genuinely try to stop and instead enjoy everything else that life has to offer.
2. Personally liking something does not make that act morally acceptable. It does not mean that the act of acquiring something you like does not do unnecessary harm.
As we should always do, consider the same logic applied to another morally analogous issue. For example, if someone enjoys the adrenaline and sexual arousal they feel from raping another person, then would you say that they are justified in continuing to rape people? Unlikely. So it would be logically and morally inconsistent to make the same sort of exceptions in aspects of your own life.
3. There are plenty of other things to enjoy in life that are more exhilarating, like time spent with friends and being active in various sports and games – as well as other foods you already enjoy that happen to be vegan.
4. The more you eat other kinds of foods, then the more that those foods become the ones you crave more. This eliminates that minor problem.
5. Similar to point 4 above, note that tastes are largely culturally acquired. We are raised eating meat and cheese and so we enjoy the taste of meat and cheese (at least the kinds we grow up eating. If you go to another country then you may find the meats they consume to be disgusting). If we just stop raising people to enjoy meat and cheese then this wouldn’t even be an issue.