30 January 2008

From Today's New York Times

To the Editor:

Re “Rethinking the Meat-Guzzler” (Week in Review, Jan. 27):

Mark Bittman answered my prayers by writing an article exposing how the meat industry contributes to global warming, world hunger and other issues plaguing our world. But there is indeed a simple answer to these problems: Go vegan.

Elaine Sloan
New York, Jan. 28, 2008

To the Editor:

“Rethinking the Meat-Guzzler” suggests a reduction in meat consumption by every citizen as a way to reduce pollution and dependence on foreign oil and ignores the developing evidence that genetics dictate the appropriate quantities of meat consumption for healthy living for each individual and the recent evidence that dietary cholesterol may not, in fact, be the cause of disease.

The “one size fits all” diet championed by Mark Bittman is what needs more reanalysis.

All those who care about proper nutrition must look at the developing science, which may suggest that diet should be customized: some may need to decrease their consumption of grains and increase their consumption of meat.

But much more attention and discussion needs to be directed to the meat industry, particularly its barbaric treatment of the helpless animals that are in our servitude.

Brian O’Reilly
Montclair, N.J., Jan. 27, 2008

To the Editor:

The majority of people do not understand what society is causing because of our appetite for meat in every meal. Whatever happened to the Sunday supper, while every other day is potato stew or corn chowder? Having a roast or baked chicken used to be for special occasions.

We have become the pigs, and we are paying the price with our health. We reap what we sow.

Michelle Gordon
Gulfport, Miss., Jan. 27, 2008

To the Editor:

“Rethinking the Meat-Guzzler” was misguided. Raising livestock is the best use of most pasture land, not growing crops. Animals turn grass, a k a sunlight, into high-quality proteins, minerals and fats that are an ideal food for humans. Meat is an excellent source of food and far higher quality than just plants.

We are evolved to eat meat—it is right and natural. What is wrong is factory farms. Do not confuse the garbage output of confinement animal feeding operations with healthy meat. CAFOs are unsustainable, as noted in the article, but there is an excellent alternative. Buy locally raised pastured meats from farmers in your area. Ask for local foods at your stores, and when you can, deal directly with the farmers so more of your money flows into your local economy and supports local farmers.

Walter Jeffries
Orange, Vt., Jan. 27, 2008
The writer is a pig farmer.


In this New York Times story, author Paul Lukas glorifies a New Jersey custom known among the locals as a "beefsteak." As Lukas informs us, a "beefsteak" is a raucous sexist feeding frenzy where 350 (all white) men sit shoulder to shoulder at long tables and gorge themselves on beefsteak soaked in a blood and butter sauce. Harkening back to a more primitive time, the men proudly dispense with silverware and savagely compete to see who can consume the most flesh with their bare hands. This testosterone-laden spectacle would only be complete if, at the end of the melee, these sated men sat in a big circle and banged on their drums (think Iron John). Lukas also reports that these beefsteaks "are popular as political meet-and-greets, annual dinners for businesses and civic groups, and charity fundraisers." "Charming little events, really"—that's the impression one gets from Lukas's article.

Whatever happened to gluttony being one of the seven deadly sins? Did it somehow get dropped off the list without my realizing it? Is that why Americans are so fat? Is the gluttonous sexist beefsteak food orgy really the sort of tradition that should be nostalgically celebrated and encouraged in print? With 30% of Americans being morbidly obese and another 30+% being seriously overweight, with 50% of Americans suffering from coronary artery disease, with red meat increasingly linked to colorectal, esophageal, liver, and lung cancers, perhaps it's time that beefsteaks go the way of the Edsel. Self-interested health considerations aside, wouldn't it be better and fairer to celebrate and encourage "political meet-and-greet" events that are open to both men and women? (According to Lukas, about 25% of these beefsteaks remain male-only affairs.) As for charity fundraisers, they don't have to support animal cruelty on a massive scale to be effective. There are many alternative, equally effective, charity fundraisers (e.g., walkathons, bikeathons, raffles, art auctions, benefit concerts, etc.) that don't involve the callous disregard of animal interests. These latter fundraisers are the types of events that ethically-minded individuals should be celebrating and encouraging both in print and in practice. If you care about animals, refuse to support charities that support animal cruelty. A list of humane charities can be found here.

28 January 2008

Canis Lupus

Here is a New York Times editorial opinion about the gray wolf.

From Today's New York Times

To the Editor:

Both your Jan. 23 front-page article and your editorial (“Tuna Troubles,” Jan. 24) regarding the dangers of eating bluefin tuna because of high levels of mercury did not mention (as The Times has done on previous occasions) another, equally compelling reason to avoid consuming the meat of this fish: the bluefin tuna has been so overexploited that the species is on the brink of extinction.

Since the introduction of longline fishing in the 1960’s, the Atlantic bluefin population has fallen by 97 percent, and the international bodies responsible for protecting this fishery have, because of its huge profitability, failed to impose catch limits that ensure its survival.

For reasons of both health and environmental responsibility, bluefin tuna should be avoided, whether in sushi or any other form.

Gil Kulick
New York, Jan. 24, 2008

The Economics of Meat

Someone sent a link to this blog post, which shows why economics is known as "the dismal science." It also lends credence to the dictum that economists know the cost of everything and the value of nothing.

Michael Fox on Concern for Animals

Though I do not wish to digress too far here, it might be argued (and a Marxist surely would) that almost all the benefits which North Americans enjoy routinely, as part of their exorbitantly high standard of living relative to the rest of the world, depend upon the correlated and disproportionate suffering and deprivation caused others elsewhere in the world (e.g., in those countries which supply the raw materials that North American industry and consumerism devour at a staggering rate). From this perspective, the animal-rights debate seems considerably less urgent and a relatively "safe" area of controversy. One wonders why here (as elsewhere) there is so much concern for the plight of animals and evidently so little for that of humans.

(Michael Fox, "'Animal Liberation': A Critique," Ethics 88 [January 1978]: 106-18, at 109 n. 4)

27 January 2008


My friend Peg Kaplan brought this blog to my attention. It's run by her friend Roxane, whom she has known since first grade. I will add a link to the blogroll.

Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) on Animals

[I]t is not Prudence that distinguisheth man from beast. There be beasts, that at a year old observe more, and pursue that which is for their good, more prudently, than a child can do at ten.

(Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, rev. student ed., ed. Richard Tuck, Cambridge Texts in the History of Political Thought, ed. Raymond Geuss and Quentin Skinner [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996], chap. 3, p. 23 [first published in 1651])

24 January 2008

Deliciously Vegan!

Not all meat eaters are cold, cruel, selfish individuals insensitive to animal suffering. Many, if not most, of the meat eaters I know are deeply concerned about the fact that the animals they eat are raised in factory farm conditions. They realize that factory farming is inhumane. They don't want to contribute to the unnecessary pain, suffering, and death of the animals they eat, but they simply can't imagine life without meat. When they think of a meatless meal, they see an otherwise empty plate with a small side dish of vegetables, and that's it. Life without meat seems unbearable to them.

Meat eaters (and even some lacto-ovo-vegetarians) think this way because they mistakenly think that vegans eat an austere, bland diet consisting mostly of twigs and seeds with occasionally some plain tasteless tofu thrown in. Nothing could be further from the truth. Vegan food can be every bit as succulent as your favorite meat-based or cheese-based dish, only the vegan dish won't be loaded with artery-clogging saturated fat and cholesterol. Granted, making the change to a vegan diet requires creativity and imagination, since most people aren't used to cooking exclusively with whole grains, vegetables, legumes and fruits. Fortunately, that creativity and imagination has already been done for you. If you want to see just how delectable vegan food can be, check out the Walking the Vegan Line blog. Be prepared. One look, and you'll be hungry.

Bon Appetit!

23 January 2008

A Question for Animal Ethics Readers

Please read the post by Megan McArdle that Keith linked to in his post from yesterday. Then, click on "Comments" below to answer the question that Keith posed on his personal blog:
Has anyone out there met someone who was persuaded to give up eating meat as a result of an argument?
I'd love to know whether philosophical reflection and argumentation has had an impact on your moral attitudes toward animals or on the moral attitudes towards animals of someone you know. Let us hear from you. Thanks.


Please describe your favorite meatless meal. If possible, supply the recipe.


Here is a New York Times column by Verlyn Klinkenborg.

From Today's New York Times

To the Editor:

Re “In Europe, the Catch of the Day Is Often Illegal” (“Empty Seas” series, front page, Jan. 15):

The appalling commercial demand for seafood will soon exhaust the oceans.

Only a vigorous, internationally enforced, decades-long general moratorium on commercial fishing can bring us back from this brink. We must not assume that it’s too late and do nothing.

Why this reality has no traction in the global halls of power escapes me.

Garrett Simpson
Glendale, Ariz., Jan. 15, 2008

22 January 2008

Eating Right

One of my blog readers sent a link to this snarky post by Megan McArdle.

21 January 2008

From Today's New York Times

To the Editor:

It is deeply troubling that a legally mandated and urgently needed decision to protect polar bears under the Endangered Species Act has been delayed by one agency of the Interior Department even as another agency rushes ahead with plans to sell oil and gas leases across a huge expanse of critical polar bear habitat in Alaska’s Chukchi Sea (“Regulatory Games and the Polar Bear,” editorial, Jan. 15).

Critics in and out of Congress have been quick to question the motives for the delay. Of course, the critics could be wrong, but if so, the responsibility for setting them right rests with one man: Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne.

He can do so in one of two ways: either by heeding the advice of scientists calling for the polar bear to be listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act; or, at the very least, by delaying the lease sale while the complexities of the proposed listing are sorted out.

It’s worth recalling that 10 years ago, the then-Senator Kempthorne risked the wrath of his leadership by reaching across party lines to help reform the Endangered Species Act. He did so and won the support of the Clinton administration and Senate Democrats by maintaining the underpinnings of sound science as the basis for all E.S.A. decisions.

He also pushed the idea that listing decisions must move quickly, and not be delayed by bureaucracy, so that businesses and people can plan their actions accordingly.

These principles are no less relevant today than they were 10 years ago. Indeed, the fate of the polar bear, whose Arctic habitat is literally melting away, may depend on them. Secretary Kempthorne needs to do the right thing by following the model of Senator Kempthorne.

Carter Roberts
President and Chief Executive
World Wildlife Fund
Washington, Jan. 17, 2008

20 January 2008

Meat, Cancer, and the Cumulative Case for Ethical Vegetarianism

Ethical vegetarianism is the thesis that killing and eating animals is morally wrong whenever equally nutritious plant-based alternatives are available. The case for ethical vegetarianism starts with several uncontroversial premises. Virtually everyone agrees that:

(1) It is wrong to cause a conscious sentient animal to suffer for no good reason.
Causing an animal to suffer for no good reason is cruel, and our ordinary commonsense morality tells us in no uncertain terms that cruelty is wrong. A brief look at the public outcry concerning Michael Vick’s dog-fighting ring shows just how widely accepted premise (1) is. It is not just a few outspoken animal rights fanatics who hold this view. We all do. Animal abuse is a crime in all fifty states, and rightly so.

Similarly, most people also agree that:

(2) It is wrong to kill a conscious sentient animal for no good reason.
Even the most ardent defenders of the morality of using animals for food and as “tools” in scientific experiments admit that premises (1) and (2) are true and acknowledge that (1) and (2) capture something central to our moral relationship to animals. For example, Carl Cohen, who has argued at length that animals don’t have rights, admits:

If animals feel pain (and certainly mammals do, . . .), we humans surely ought cause no pain to them that cannot be justified. Nor ought we kill them without reason. (Cohen, The Animal Rights Debate, p. 46) [To see Cohen’s commitment to (1) here, we need only recognize that justification proceeds in terms of reasons. We are justified in causing an animal pain if and only if we have a good reason for doing so. If there is no good reason to cause an animal pain, then causing that animal pain cannot be justified.]
Elsewhere, Cohen reiterates his commitment to (1) and (2):

Our obligations to animals arise not from their rights, I believe, but from the fact that they can feel pain and from the fact that we, as moral agents, have a general obligation to avoid imposing needless pain or death” (Cohen, The Animal Rights Debate, p. 226).
Similarly, Peter Carruthers acknowledges that sentient animals deserve moral consideration when he explicitly endorses (1):

. . . it will be useful to have a rough idea at the out-set of what our common-sense morality tells us about the status and appropriate treatment of animals. . . . Most people hold that it is wrong to cause animals unnecessary suffering. Opinions will differ as to what counts as necessary. . . . But all will agree that gratuitous suffering—suffering caused for no good reason—is wrong. (Carruthers, The Animals Issue, p. 8)
The argument for the immorality of eating meat continues with two additional, undeniable premises:

(3) The animals that become that meat are killed.
No one disputes premise (3). There is also little dispute concerning the following premise:

(4) The animals that become that meat are reared in ways that subject them to intense pain and suffering for much of their lives.
Premise (4) is widely acknowledged. It is not in dispute that, in modern factory farms, animals are raised in massively overcrowded, unnatural warehouses. In these intensive confinement facilities, the animals are forced to stand on inappropriate surfaces that cause foot and leg injuries. They are also forced to stand in their own waste. The noxious fumes from the accumulated urine and feces cause lung problems in many of the animals. In addition, the animals are subjected to excruciating mutilations – including branding, dehorning, debeaking, tooth pulling, tail docking, and castration – all performed without anesthesia. Even those actively involved in the industry typically admit that these modern animal rearing practices cause animals severe pain and stress. At the time of slaughter, these frightened animals are inhumanely loaded onto trucks and shipped long distances to the slaughterhouse without food or water or protection from the elements. No one disputes that these actions cause the animals an enormous amount of pain and distress. [For more detailed descriptions of the conditions in which farm animals are raised, see here, here, and here. Those who have doubts as to the accuracy of these descriptions can view the graphic but accurate documentary "Meet Your Meat" here or here. Running time: 12 Minutes. If you do view the documentary, I suspect that you will agree that "raising," transporting and slaughtering animals in this way is, indeed, prima facie wrong and ought not be supported, absent a very compelling reason for doing so.]

Premises (1) – (4) are true, and together they entail:

(5) Raising animals inhumanely and killing them is morally wrong, unless there is a good reason for doing so.
Premise (5) leaves open the possibility that there might be circumstances in which it is permissible to inflict pain and suffering on an animal. Nevertheless, when considering (5), it is important to realize that not just any reason will do. We accept premises (1) and (2) is because we think that (i) unnecessary suffering is intrinsically bad and (ii) unnecessary killing is prima facie wrong. So, for a reason to be good enough to justify raising animals inhumanely and killing them, it must be sufficiently weighty to override both the intrinsic badness of their suffering and the prima facie wrongness of killing them. Trivial or insignificant reasons won’t do.

To derive the immorality of raising, killing, and eating animals from (1) – (5), one needs the following additional premise:

(6) The pain, suffering and killing of farm animals that inevitably results from meat production is gratuitous, i.e., it is done for no good reason.
How might one defend premise (6)? One could begin by noting that, in modern agriculture societies, no one needs to eat meat to survive, since all of our nutritional needs can easily be met with a plant-based diet. So, in support of (6), one can offer the following premise:

(7) In modern societies, meat consumption is in no way necessary for human survival.
Premise (7) is clearly true, but don’t take my word for it. Consider instead what the American Dietetic Association’s position paper on vegetarian diets has to say:

It is the position of the American Dietetic Association (ADA) that appropriately planned vegetarian diets are healthful, are nutritionally adequate, and provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. (p. 748)
This same ADA position paper points out that:

Well-planned vegan, lacto-vegetarian, and lacto-ovo-vegetarian diets are appropriate for all stages of the life cycle, including during pregnancy and lactation. Appropriately planned vegan, lacto-vegetarian, and lacto-ovo-vegetarian diets satisfy nutrient needs of infants, children, and adolescents and promote normal growth. (p. 754-5)
Perhaps, eating meat, while not strictly necessary for our survival, is necessary for us to thrive and be optimally healthy. If we needed to eat animals in order to be optimally healthy, that would constitute a good reason to raise and kill them for food. [It wouldn’t be a good reason to cause them to suffer in the process, but it would be a good reason to raise and kill them for food.] The crucial question is this: Do we need to eat animals in order to be optimally healthy? The answer, according to the ADA, is “No.” Here is what the ADA position paper finds:

Vegetarians have been reported to have lower body mass indices than nonvegetarians, as well as lower rates of death from ischemic heart disease; vegetarians also show lower blood cholesterol levels; lower blood pressure; and lower rates of hypertension, type 2 diabetes, and prostate and colon cancer. (p. 748)
Consequently, not only is premise (7) above true, so is the following premise:

(8) In modern societies, not only is meat consumption not necessary for optimal human health, meat consumption is a contributing factor to the degenerative diseases (i.e., heart disease, stroke, diabetes, obesity, and prostate and colon cancers) that are the leading causes of death in such societies.
If the diseases associated with meat consumption as identified by the ADA don't convince you that there is no good reason to raise animal inhumanely and kill them for food, perhaps a few other meat-related diseases will do the trick. A recently published peer-reviewed study conducted by Amanda J. Cross and Michael F. Leitzmann (both from the Nutritional Epidemiology Branch of the Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics, National Cancer Institute, National Institutes of Health, Department of Health and Human Services, Rockville, Maryland, United States of America) entitled “A Prospective Study of Red and Processed Meat Intake in Relation to Cancer Risk” suggests that we can now add lung cancer, esophageal cancer, and liver cancer to the list of health problems associated with meat consumption—in this case red meat (defined in the study as: beef, pork, and lamb) and processed meat (defined in the study as: bacon, red meat sausage, poultry sausage, luncheon meats [red and white meat], cold cuts [red and white meat], ham, regular hot dogs, and low-fat hot dogs made from poultry) were the culprits. The study was published in the December 2007 issue of the Public Library of Science’s journal PLOS Medicine.

The researchers analyzed data from the NIH-AARP Diet and Health study cohort which consisted of approximately 500,000 people aged 50–71 years at baseline (1995–1996), none of whom had previously had cancer at the time they entered the study. The researchers used a Cox proportional hazards regression analysis to estimate hazard ratios. Their findings:

Statistically significant elevated risks (ranging from 20% to 60%) were evident for esophageal, colorectal, liver, and lung cancer, comparing individuals in the highest with those in the lowest quintile of red meat intake. Furthermore, individuals in the highest quintile of processed meat intake had a 20% elevated risk for colorectal and a 16% elevated risk for lung cancer. (p. 1973)

According to the Editor’s Summary of the study:

These findings provide strong evidence that people who eat a lot of red and processed meats have greater risk of developing colorectal and lung cancer than do people who eat small quantities. They also indicate that a high red meat intake is associated with an increased risk of esophageal and liver cancer, and that one in ten colorectal and one in ten lung cancers could be avoided if people reduced their red and processed meat intake to the lowest quintile. (p. 1984)
One can not only meet one’s nutrition needs without eating meat, one can meet them better without eating meat. Consequently, there is no good reasonno sufficiently weighty reason – to raise animals in inhumane conditions and kill them for food. Consequently, premise (6) above is true.

Taken together, premises (1) – (8) provide a compelling argument for the conclusion that it is morally wrong to raise animals inhumanely and kill them for food, and that, as a result, vegetarianism is morally required (whenever equally nutritious plant-based alternatives are available, which in modern societies is almost always).

The Bottom Line:

The cumulative case for ethical vegetarianism is all the stronger when we realize that not only are there no good reasons to raise and kill animals for food, there are good reason not to. Keith has made the point before that the case for vegetarianism is overdetermined. He’s right. There are environmental reasons for becoming vegetarian. There are health reasons for becoming vegetarian. And there are ethical reasons for becoming vegetarian. What I have argued here is that the compelling health reasons for vegetarianism serve to strengthen the moral argument for vegetarianism by undermining the only reasons potentially good enough to override the prima facie wrongness of harming and killing animals for food. Absent such an overriding reason, the prima facie case for ethical vegetarianism provides us with an all-things-considered ultima facie reason for the immorality of eating meat. What’s good for us is good for the animals. Ethical synergy at work.

17 January 2008

From the Mailbag

Hi Keith,

I've created an animal rights slide show for use in my own class and figure there might be someone out there who would want to use/watch/whatever. There's a link and description here, if you'd be willing to post at Animal Ethics.

Jean Kazez

Think Bush Is a Pro-Animal Environmentalist? Think Again!

According to this AP Newswire issued yesterday: "President Bush exempted the Navy from an environmental law so it can continue using sonar in its anti-submarine warfare training off the California coast — a practice critics say is harmful to whales and other marine mammals. . . . A federal judge in Los Angeles had issued a preliminary injunction earlier this month requiring the Navy to create a 12-nautical-mile, no-sonar zone along the California coast and to post trained lookouts to watch for marine mammals before and during exercises. Sonar would have to be shut down when mammals are spotted within 2,200 yards, under the order.
The court found that using mid-frequency active sonar violated the Coastal Zone Management Act and Bush exempted the Navy from a section of that act. . . . Critics contend sonar has harmful effects on whales, possibly by damaging their hearing, and other marine mammals worldwide. The National Resources Defense Council's lawsuit alleges the Navy's sonar causes whales and other mammals to beach themselves."

The NRDC's press release in response to the Bush administration's actions can be found here.
For more information about the effect of sonar on marine mammals, see the NRDC's extremely comprehensive report: “Sounding the Depths II: The Rising Toll of Sonar, Shipping and Industrial Ocean Noise on Marine Life.”

More information about Bush's decision to allow the Navy to conduct sonar exercises and the impact these exercises will have on whales and other aquatic mammals can be found in this Washington Post column and also in dot.earth's recent post "The White House and the Whales."

Last week, I linked to a dot.earth post on Japan's whaling industry which reported that, under intensifying pressure from Australia and the United States, Japan put off plans to kill 50 humpback whales this year but still intends to kill up to 935 minke whales (a small and relatively abundant species) and 50 finbacks (the second largest whale) as part of a "scientific research project". Why does the Bush administration think that it is wrong for the Japanese to kill whales but permissible for the U.S. Navy to do so? If you care about the well-being of aquatic mammals, contact your Senators and Congresspersons and urge them to outlaw the Navy's coastal sonar exercises.

Note from KBJ: I'm surprised by your title, Mylan. Whoever thought President Bush was a pro-animal environmentalist? People like Adolf Hitler are pro-animal environmentalists! The point, of course, is that there is no necessary connection between (1) a person's attitude toward animals or the environment and (2) his or her normative political theory. You and I, for example, share a concern for animals, but I'm a conservative and you're a progressive.

Want to Help Feed Homeless Animals?

The Animal Rescue Site is having trouble getting enough people to click on it daily to meet their quota of getting free food donated every day to abused and neglected animals.

It takes less than a minute to go to their site and click on the purple box "Click here to give" to fund food for animals for free.

It doesn't cost you a thing. The Animal Rescue Site's corporate sponsors/advertisers use the number of daily visits to donate food to abandoned/neglected animals inexchange for advertising. Here's the web site: http://www.theanimalrescuesite.com. Pass it along to people you know and urge them to pass it along, as well. Helping to feed animals is just a click away.

If you were wondering, Snopes.com says this is legitimate. See here for the Snopes report on the Animal Rescue Site.

16 January 2008

Cloned Meat

Here is a New York Times story about the cloning of animals for meat.

15 January 2008


Here is a New York Times story about seafood.

12 January 2008

Whale Hunting

Andrew Revkin writes the Dot Earth blog for the New York Times. You can find his recent post on the current state of whale hunting here.

About Dot Earth

By 2050 or so, the world population is expected to reach nine billion, essentially adding two Chinas to the number of people alive today. Those billions will be seeking food, water and other resources on a planet where, scientists say, humans are already shaping climate and the web of life. In Dot Earth, reporter Andrew C. Revkin examines efforts to balance human affairs with the planet’s limits. Supported in part by a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship, Mr. Revkin tracks relevant news from suburbia to Siberia, and conducts an interactive exploration of trends and ideas with readers and experts.

If you haven't already done so, check out Dot Earth.

From the Mailbag

Hey there,

Just discovered your nice blog on animals and ethics. I've touched on relevant issues off and on, but most specifically in a 2004 piece on arguments for and against whale hunts.

I've linked back to that story in my latest post on Japan v Greenpeace saga on my Dot Earth blog. www.nytimes.com/dotearth

I'm going to add Animal Ethics to my blogroll. A very under-appreciated arena.


Andrew C. Revkin
The New York Times / Science
620 Eighth Ave., NY, NY 10018

11 January 2008

Mr Ed, Trigger, and My Friend Flicka

Here is a New York Times story about horse slaughter.

09 January 2008

From Today's New York Times

To the Editor:

Re “Bearing Up” (Op-Ed, Jan. 5):

In contrast to the arguments made by Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska, the scientific literature is very clear that polar bear survival is highly threatened in the wild.

Because polar bears are at the top of the marine food chain, their bodies accumulate persistent organic pollutants that disrupt their reproductive systems. They are also endangered by a loss of habitat, as energy companies encroach on more and more of their territory for oil and gas operations.

But most important, they are beginning to starve, because the sea ice they depend on for hunting seals, their main food, is melting at a very rapid rate because of global warming.

We must recognize the shortsighted nature of Governor Palin’s appeal not to list the polar bear as endangered. While Alaska is increasingly devastated by global warming—melting glaciers, permafrost and sea ice, as well as the severe impacts on wildlife, ecosystems and people—she seems to be working not to protect the polar bear or ultimately the citizens of her state, but to make sure nothing gets in the way of energy company plans for expansion.

Eric Chivian
Boston, Jan. 7, 2008
The writer is director of the Center for Health and the Global Environment, Harvard Medical School.

To the Editor:

The argument made by Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska—that the Fish and Wildlife Service should not list the polar bear as threatened under the Endangered Species Act because science doesn’t support doing so—doesn’t persuade.

While Governor Palin correctly describes bear population increases since 1973, when the circumpolar states signed a treaty in response to overhunting, she discounts the mounting evidence that these populations are nonetheless at risk.

Polar bear specialists have shown that diminishing summer sea ice has led to health risks and mortality for the bears, as well as a general population decrease. Some populations could vanish within 100 years.

Though hunting still plays a role and led to a bilateral treaty with Russia, ratified last September, climate change is the major threat to polar bears today.

Governor Palin thinks the proposed listing is a backdoor way of forcing the federal government to change course on global warming policy, but it does no such thing. Instead, it simply seeks to protect bears in the absence of a better national approach to climate change.

If Governor Palin is serious about wanting wildlife policy linked to science, she should examine the studies that her state wildlife officials seem to have ignored. They all say the same thing: polar bears need our help.

James Tierney
Brookline, Mass., Jan. 8, 2008

To the Editor:

I find it interesting that Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska does not mention that placing the polar bear on the endangered species list would trigger protections that could prevent oil drilling in one of its important habitats, as a Jan. 2 editorial pointed out.

Even at 79 years old and with an admittedly faulty memory, I remember that editorial, but apparently the governor hopes other readers won’t remember!

Jeanne M. Storm
Chester, Vt., Jan. 5, 2008

From the Mailbag

Hello, I saw your blog and thought you might be interested in visiting my new forum. I've set a spot aside for interest in animals and animal issues. It's not a vegetarian forum, but I am interested in getting all sides in the animal debates (I guess I'd be called a moderate). The site is www.globechat.org. When you visit, scroll down and you'll see a forum called critter corner. I'd like to invite you and your readers to post and join in the conversations.

— AZ

04 January 2008


Here is the gift center of the World Wildlife Fund.

02 January 2008

From Today's New York Times

To the Editor:

Re “Tiger on the Loose: Can It Happen Here?” (news article, Dec. 27):

It’s little wonder that Tatiana, the tiger that escaped from the San Francisco Zoo, longed for her freedom. An Oxford University study published in the journal Nature found that wide-ranging carnivores like tigers and other big cats “show the most evidence of stress and/or psychological dysfunction in captivity.”

Tigers are designed by nature to roam far and wide, hunt, claim territory and seek out mates. In captivity, they are denied everything that comes naturally to them and pose a serious danger to the public and keepers alike from attacks and escapes.

These acts of independence are often their last, as, like Tatiana, most animals who attempt to follow their natural instincts are killed.

How many people and animals must pay with their lives before we acknowledge that big cats don’t belong in captivity?

Jennifer O’Connor
Norfolk, Va., Dec. 28, 2007
The writer, on the staff of the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, writes for its Animals in Entertainment Campaign.

Canis Lupus

Here is a New York Times story about wolves.

Make This the Year You Do Right by Animals

As another year begins, most of us find ourselves reflecting on our lives and resolving to improve ourselves and our lives in various ways. These resolutions typically fall into one of two categories: (1) resolutions to acquire some desirable trait or better-making habit, e.g., resolving to exercise regularly; and (2) resolutions to eliminate some undesirable trait or worse-making habit, e.g., resolving to quit smoking. Sometimes resolutions from each category mirror each other, e.g., the resolution to improve one's health and the resolution to quit smoking. Most New Year's resolutions are primarily self-regarding, like resolving to get in better shape and resolving to eat fewer sweets. Some resolutions, however, are primarily other-regarding, like resolving to help others in various ways, e.g., resolving to volunteer at the local soup kitchen, or resolving to donate a certain amount of one’s paycheck each month to an organization working to curb global hunger and poverty.

As you might expect with 66% of Americans being overweight, out of shape, and in poor physical condition, the most popular resolutions include the following:

1. Lose weight.
2. Quit smoking.
3. Exercise more.
4. Eat right.
5. Get in better shape/become more healthy.
6. Drink less alcohol.
7. Spend more time with family and friends.
8. Get out of debt.
9. Try something new or learn something new.
10. Get organized.

I suspect that many, if not most, of these resolutions are on your list of resolutions, as well. Last year, I encouraged readers to add one more resolution to their lists:

11. Stop supporting unnecessary animal cruelty in all of its forms.

Now that 2008 has arrived, I'd like once again to encourage new and old readers alike to make this the year that they stop supporting animal cruelty in all of its forms. If you currently eat meat, make a commitment to reduce your consumption of animals in January and stop eating them altogether in February. If you are already a vegetarian, make this the year that you decide to go vegan.

Below, I offer several reasons as to why you should add resolution 11 to your list of resolutions, but first a reality check. Most people who have made resolutions like 1-10 above will have failed to keep them by the end of January. One reason people generally aren't able to stick to resolutions like 1-10 is that, so stated, these resolutions are vague and imprecise with no clear objective in sight. Lose weight. How much? Quit smoking. How and by when? Exercise more. How much more? Eat right. What counts as eating right? Get in better shape. By what standards?

Since the New Year's resolutions you have made for 2008 are your resolutions, I assume that you would actually like to succeed in keeping them. To increase the likelihood of keeping your resolutions, experts recommend that you try to make your resolutions concrete and precise. For example:

1. Lose weight—I will lose 10 pounds by March 15th.

2. Quit smoking—I will join a smoking cessation program in consultation with a physician and quit smoking by the end of February.

3. Exercise more—I will walk or jog or stationary cycle or X [plug in your preferred form of aerobic exercise for X] 30 minutes a day and do strength conditioning twice a week.

4. Eat right—I will eat a diet low in fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium, and high in complex carbohydrates and fiber; and I will limit my consumption of empty calories like those found in sweets, soda pop, and trendy high-calorie coffee drinks and energy drinks.

5. Get in better shape/become more healthy—By May 1st, I will have lowered my systolic and diastolic blood pressure by 10 points each, lowered my total plasma cholesterol by 30 points, lowered my resting heart-rate by 5 beats per minute, lowered my body mass index (BMI calculator) by 2 points. [The numbers provided are just by way of illustration. Since people vary in the degree to which they are in or out of shape, individuals need to determine their own fitness and health improvement goals, in consultation with a physician.]

6. Drink less alcohol—I will not consume more than the recommended one to two alcoholic beverages per day.

7. Spend more time with family and friends—I will do X in the evening with my spouse or partner, and I will do Y with my kids on the weekend (where you and your family and friends fill in the variables appropriately).

8. Get out of debt—I will pay off some specific amount of debt by March 31st.

9. Try something new or learn something new—I will try out a new healthy habit, or I will try to learn how to do X.

10. Get organized—E.g., I will clean out one closet each weekend for the next 6 weeks, or I will spend 20 minutes each evening sorting through a pile of papers, etc.

Specific resolutions like those just listed are easier to follow; they allow you to track your success, and they can be fully accomplished.

What about resolution 11? Like the original 1-10, resolution 11 is also vague on details. Stop supporting unnecessary animal cruelty in all of its forms. How? What can I do to stop supporting unnecessary animal cruelty, and is it difficult to do so?Here are some surprisingly simple things you can do to stop supporting unnecessary animal cruelty:

(a) Stop eating animals.

(b) Stop eating animal products.

(c) Eat delicious plant-based meals centered around whole grains, fruits, vegetables, beans, and in moderation nuts, instead.

(d) Stop wearing animals—Don’t purchase or wear garments made of fur or containing fur trim; don't purchase garments advertised or labeled as "faux fur" since these garments may be made of real fur mislabeled as faux fur (for details, see my previous post on mislabeled dog fur jackets here); don’t purchase leather, and as your leather garments wear out, replace them with nonleather alternatives. Don’t wear wool.

(e) Don’t purchase cosmetics or personal care products that were tested on animals when equally effective cruelty-free products are available.

(f) Don’t purchase cosmetics or personal care products that contain animal ingredients.

(g) Purchase cruelty-free cosmetics and personal care products instead. Cruelty-free shopping guides that list companies that don't test their products on animals are available here, here and here.

(h) Don’t attend circuses that contain nonhuman animal acts.

(i) Do attend socially conscious circuses like Cirque de Soleil that exclusively feature human performers.

(j) Donate only to Humane Charities that don't test on animals. A list of Humane Charities is available here.

At first blush, the list of changes that are required in order to stop supporting unnecessary animal cruelty may seem daunting, but in reality, quite the opposite is the case. First, since there are so many things that you can do to stop supporting unnecessary animal cruelty, you can start with any one of these sub-resolutions (a)-(j) and then, once that sub-resolution has been accomplished and thoroughly ingrained in your behavior, you can move on to the next way you can stop supporting cruelty. In short, breaking resolution 11 into a number of easily accomplished specific sub-resolutions makes it more likely that you will accomplish at least part of your over-arching goal of reducing your contribution to unnecessary animal cruelty. Second, many of the things you can do to stop supporting animal cruelty—like not buying or wearing fur or fur trim—require minimal effort and no expense!

Where should you begin? Obviously, since not buying and not wearing fur requires minimal effort and no expense, that's a good place to start. Of course, since that is so easily accomplished, you may have already fully succeeded in carrying out that aspect of resolution 11 long ago. What to do next?

I recommend trying to accomplish sub-resolutions (a), (b), and (c) next. Why? Because doing (a), (b), and (c) will help you accomplish many of your other resolutions. Moderately to seriously overweight people who eliminate all meat and all animal products from their diets and replace those animal-based foods with plant-based foods almost always lose 10-20 pounds with no other behavioral changes. If you are serious about losing weight and improving your health, try out a cruelty-free vegan diet for three months. [You can download a "Vegan Starter Kit" from the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine here.] If you are like most people, you will be amazed at (i) how much weight you will lose, (ii) how much better you will feel, and (iii) how much more energy you will have. One virtue of a low-fat vegan diet is that you can eat as much vegan food as you like and still lose weight. Switching to a vegan diet devoid of meat and animal products also almost always results in significantly lower plasma cholesterol levels. A vegan diet also reduces the risk of heart disease and some cancers, while lowering blood pressure, and is, thus, an extremely effective means of helping you to achieve your goal of improved health. By eating a low-fat vegan diet centered around whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and legumes, you will be eating right. And, of course, by experimenting with all sorts of new vegan dishes, you will be learning a new healthier way of cooking and eating. Free recipes can be found at The Vegan Chef and Vegan Connection. Free Fat-free vegan recipes can be found at Fatfree Vegan. So, if you are serious about losing weight, improving your health, eating right, and trying something new, switching to a cruelty-free vegan diet will single-handedly help you accomplish all of these goals.

But wait. There's more! For no extra charge, switching to a vegan diet also dramatically reduces your contribution to unnecessary animal suffering. If you are like most people, you think that it is seriously morally wrong to contribute to unnecessary animal suffering. Switching to a vegan diet will help you to live your life in accordance with your own deeply held moral values and will, thereby, help you to live an authentic life, i.e., a meaningful life of integrity. When looking for ways to better ourselves in the New Year, we should look for ways to better ourselves physically, emotionally, and ethically. Making an effort to live our lives in a manner consistent with our most deeply held moral values is one of the most important steps we can take toward being our best selves.

Like resolution 7, resolution 11 is primarily an other-regarding resolution (even though those who respect animals and refuse to eat them will experience profound health benefits as a result). Its primary focus is the well being of other sentient beings. Since other beings are affected by our other-regarding behavior, other-regarding resolutions may be easier to stick to than purely self-regarding resolutions. After dieting for a few weeks, one might rationalize as follows, "Oh well, I don't really mind carrying around 20 extra pounds. I just read that 'curviness' is in this year. Plus, if I lost weight, I'd have to buy new clothes." But if one keeps in mind the animals that one is trying to help, one might be more inclined to stick to one's resolutions. Plus, as Kathie Jenni rightly points out here, when it comes to doing right by animals, one can always take steps to reinforce one's motivation.

Suppose you find yourself about to give up on one of the sub-resolutions of resolution 11 that you have set for yourself, e.g., sub-resolution (a). Then, you can stop and remind yourself of one of the main reasons you resolved to stop eating meat in the first place, namely, your desire not to support the kinds of cruelty inherent in modern animal agriculture. If you feel yourself losing your resolve, take 12 minutes to re-view the documentary "Meet Your Meat" here or here. Or, suppose you're thinking about back-sliding on sub-resolution (d) and purchasing a fur-trimmed garment. Then, take 2 minutes and re-view this video of raccoon dogs being skinned alive. After seeing these documentary videos, I think you'll find all the strength you need to steel your resolve not to purchase such products of pain.

The Bottom Line:

Elsewhere in this blog (see here, here, and here), I have written about ethical synergy, the regularly observed phenomenon that simultaneously showing respect for persons (including oneself), animals, and the environment typically benefits all three groups (including oneself). Resolving to do right by animals and to stop supporting unnecessary animal cruelty is yet another powerful example of ethical synergy at work. As we have just seen, resolving to do right by animals is a great way to do right by oneself. By not ingesting animals you will not only not be supporting the unnecessary animal cruelty inherent in modern animal agriculture, you will also be taking positive steps toward improving your health, eating right, and losing weight, steps much more likely to result in permanent weight loss and improved cardiovascular health than unhealthful fad diets that cannot be sustained for the long haul. By not purchasing exorbitantly expensive fur coats and fur-trimmed coats, you will be actively boycotting animal cruelty while simultaneously saving money that can be applied toward resolution 8, i.e., that of getting out of debt. Doing right by animals makes us better people in countless ways, and that, of course, is the main reason we make New Year's Resolutions in the first place. Join me in resolving to do right by animals in 2008. Make this the year you go cruelty-free. Do it for the animals. Do it for yourself.

Wishing you a Happy Healthy Humane New Year!