08 June 2004

From the Mailbag

I must disagree with the conclusion of this post that even People Who Think Animals Count For No More Than Rocks (hereafter referred to as PWTACFNMTR) should logically adopt a veggie diet because 1) meat-based agriculture is wasteful, 2) some people are starving, and 3) meat is bad for you. I will attempt to reason from the point of view of PWTACFNMTR.

No matter how wasteful it appears to Dr. [Peter] Singer, agriculture in a highly developed Western country is so efficient that it constitutes only one to two percent of GDP. In fact, most of these countries are net exporters of food. The cost of food is so low that it has exactly little or no bearing on whatever level of domestic starvation their populations experience. That is a political and sociological issue which would remain even if their agricultural systems were entirely crop-based. I conclude that changing to veggie diets in the Western world would not affect starvation there.

In the less developed parts of the world, in which the bulk of humanity lives, agriculture is a much higher component of GDP and in many cases is the dominant component. About half of these folks live where there are decent soils, reliable water supplies, and access to transportation, markets, and supplies. They have instituted modern agricultural techniques (the Green Revolution), and livestock agriculture is an important source of income for them they would be foolish to forgo without some very good reason. The rest of the people in the third world live in intermittently rain-fed, hilly areas far from civilization and its markets. They use a form of agriculture that is an incremental refinement of the way people have grown food and livestock for almost 10,000 years. Livestock can live on locally grown or grazed feed, their "outputs" can enrich the soil, and their very movements can till the soil. Growing livestock is a proven way out of poverty for them. They start with a few chickens, then work up to goats, and then eventually the largest animals (cow/buffalo/camel). At each stage their livestock represent capital stock in an economy which places high value on the animals because of their many uses. Again, it is foolish to expect the PWTACFNMTR among them to conclude in large numbers that becoming veggie will be best for all. It is reasonable to conclude that a large-scale adoption of the veggie lifestyle, which would devastate the market value of the capital stock of the poorest third-world people, would definitely NOT improve the quality of life in the third world.

Lastly, we have the "meat is bad for you" issue. I think you failed to demonstrate why a PWTACFNMTR would conclude that there is something fundamentally unsound with a diet consisting of, say, fruits, vegetables, nuts, grains, and lean meats in moderation. You said the PWTACFNMTR should "look it up." I don't think a PWTACFNMTR would find that this type of diet is considered a health menace.

I think the justification for the veggie lifestyle can only be found in granting moral status to animals, which a PWTACFNMTR does not.

Duluth, GA

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