30 April 2008

Eat It or Lose It

Here is a New York Times story about "eater-based conservation."

27 April 2008

From Today's New York Times

To the Editor:

Re “PETA’s Latest Tactic: $1 Million for Fake Meat” (news article, April 21):

The commercial development of meat from animal tissue won’t result in “fake meat” any more than cloning sheep results in fake sheep.

Quite the contrary, lab-based techniques have the potential to yield far purer meat, uncontaminated with growth hormones, pesticides, E. coli bacteria or food additives. A more accurate name for the end result would therefore be “clean meat.”

In addition, clean meat has a key advantage not mentioned in your article: it’s much more climate-friendly than traditional meat.

More greenhouse gas emissions are generated by current methods of meat, dairy and livestock production than by driving cars, so we need to reduce meat consumption and develop alternative food production technologies just as urgently as we need to reduce driving and develop alternative fuel technologies.

Scott Plous
Middletown, Conn., April 21, 2008

To the Editor:

Re “Million-Dollar Meat” (editorial, April 23):

In vitro meat might not appeal to everyone, but I am guessing that the day PETA awards its prize money will be a happy day for the billions of land animals bound for slaughter.

We can treasure the cultural and historical bond between animals and domesticated animals only by ignoring the emotional bond. Children naturally love animals, but the many “uses we have found for them” lead us to teach our children to save their compassion for companion animals exclusively.

We encourage kids to gently pet baby lambs, cows, chickens and pigs, but we deny them this loving connection when we serve animals for dinner by surreptitiously calling them chops, hamburger, nuggets and bacon.

There is no happy ending for even the most humanely raised animal. And there is no good reason to breed, confine and kill animals for food unless we believe that economic benefit justifies killing. More and more people do not. We call ourselves vegetarians.

Patti Breitman
Fairfax, Calif., April 23, 2008

To the Editor:

You suggest that the raising of animals for food should be done “in ways that are both ethical and environmentally sound.” This is asking for the impossible.

More than nine billion chickens are slaughtered each year in the United States. When you treat animals as objects on an assembly line, it is not possible to provide for their basic needs.

You argue that we must treasure a “cultural and historical bond” between us and those we eat. But that bond is based on exploitation and abuse.

If domesticated animals “exist only because of the uses we have found for them,” let me ask you: Would you have recommended 150 years ago that we preserve and treasure the bond between whites and their black slaves—and develop a more humane slave trade?

Vadim Liberman
New York, April 23, 2008

26 April 2008


Prince Fielder of the Milwaukee Brewers is a moral vegetarian.

23 April 2008

Using Animals as Mere Means to One's Ends

The editorial board of the New York Times weighs in on in vitro meat. I can't be sure, since the editorial opinion is so jumbled, but the board seems to be arguing that people should continue to eat meat, provided the animals whose flesh they consume are not made to suffer. Would the board say the same thing about humans? Is it permissible to eat human flesh, provided the humans whose flesh one consumes are not made to suffer?

Leonard Nelson (1882-1927) on Duties and Rights

All so-called duties to oneself, in so far as they deserve the name of duties, are indirect, and as such presuppose duties to other persons. With this finding we are safeguarded against the error of fallaciously extending the scope of our duties. But an opposite error is possible, that of fallaciously restricting the scope of our duties. If we designate a being in relation to whom we have duties as an "object of duties," we may say that only other persons can be objects of duties. In addition, we assert that all other persons, in so far as we affect them by our actions, are objects of duties for us. For every person, being a subject of interests, has rights, i.e., has a claim to respect of his interests under the law of equality of persons.

Failure to understand this leads to the above-mentioned false restriction of the scope of duties—a dangerous error far more prevalent in ethics than the opposite error of fallaciously extending the scope of duties. If we assume the existence of more duties than there actually are, we at least do not directly violate any duty; but if we assume that there are fewer duties than we actually have, we are directly led to such a violation. The proposition asserting that all persons can be objects of duties is therefore of greater practical significance than the proposition asserting the nonexistence of duties to oneself.

To recognize the full import of the former proposition, we must sharply distinguish between the concepts "subject of duties" and "subject of rights": for we cannot rule out a priori the possibility that some subjects of rights are not subjects of duties. Under the moral law, all beings who have interests are subjects of rights, while all those who in addition to having interests, are capable of grasping the demands of duty, are subjects of duties. Only rational beings are capable of such an understanding. Accordingly, we may classify all duties remaining after exclusion of duties to oneself into duties in relation to rational and to nonrational beings. If we designate as an animal a being that is a subject of rights, but is by its nature incapable of attaining rational self-determination, and as a man a being that is a subject of rights and at the same time potentially endowed with reason, we may state briefly that duty is always either to an animal or to a man. It is my contention that we have duties to animals, and that these duties are direct, i.e., that they are not derived from duties to men, or rational beings.

(Leonard Nelson, System of Ethics, trans. Norbert Guterman [New Haven: Yale University Press, 1956], 136-7 [italics in original] [first published in German in 1932])

Note from KBJ: Nelson's "subject of duties" is what philosophers now call a moral agent. The defining characteristic of moral agency is autonomy ("rational self-determination"). His "subject of rights" is what philosophers now call a moral patient. The defining characteristic of moral patiency is the possession of interests. To see the relation between the concepts, draw two partially overlapping circles. Let the left circle represent the class of moral agents and the right circle the class of moral patients. This creates four mutually exclusive and logically exhaustive categories: (1) things that are moral agents but not moral patients; (2) things that are both moral agents and moral patients; (3) things that are moral patients but not moral agents; and (4) things that are neither moral agents nor moral patients. Category 1 is empty. Normally functioning adult human beings are in category 2. Nonhuman animals (even apes) are in category 3. Plants, rocks, chairs, and other things are in category 4. Nelson says that we have duties to both animals and humans. Our duties to animals are grounded in their possession of interests. Our duties to humans are grounded either in their possession of interests or in their possession of autonomy. Already, by 1927, Nelson had laid the conceptual groundwork for two types of rights: interest-rights (which humans share with animals) and autonomy-rights (which only humans have).

From Today's New York Times

To the Editor:

In his past comments about protecting animals and nature, Pope Benedict XVI is building upon the Roman Catholic Church’s tradition of promoting faithful stewardship of all creatures (“A Cat Lover in the Vatican Strikes a Chord With Cat Lovers Around the World,” news article, April 20).

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Catholic catechism affirm that compassion for animals is a matter of human dignity. The Catholic Church is not alone among major religions on this issue.

The Episcopal Church embraces a resolution that specifically addresses puppy mills and factory farms. The United Methodist Church supports the humane treatment of farm animals and calls for the protection of endangered species. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America asserts that “God’s command to have dominion and subdue the earth is not a license to dominate and exploit.”

The Assemblies of God position on stewardship reflects that of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America. The Central Conference of American Rabbis “advocates the strengthening of humane legislation,” and the list goes on.

Christine Gutleben
Washington, April 21, 2008
The writer is the director of animals and religion at the Humane Society of the United States.

21 April 2008

In Vitro Meat

PETA is offering a $1,000,000 reward to anyone who creates commercially viable in vitro meat. I don't see any ethical problem with producing or consuming such meat. Do you?

Addendum: Here is a New York Times story about the reward.

18 April 2008

Are Animals Sentient?

Here is a passage from John Rodman's classic essay "The Dolphin Papers," The North American Review 259 (spring 1974): 13-26, at 24:
St. Augustine [354-430] had long ago decided that beasts were incapable of suffering pain, because otherwise God would be unjust. (Assume that beasts share neither in original sin nor in eternal life; then for them to suffer pain seems to contradict the principle that "God being just, no being suffers undeservedly"; therefore, animals must not be thought to suffer pain.)
As I interpret the argument, it goes like this:
1. If (a) animals are sentient (i.e., capable of suffering), (b) animals are innocent (i.e., not afflicted by original sin), and (c) animals lack immortal souls, then there is undeserved suffering.

2. If there is undeserved suffering, then God is unjust.


3. If (a) animals are sentient, (b) animals are innocent, and (c) animals lack immortal souls, then God is unjust (from 1 and 2, hypothetical syllogism).

4. God is not unjust.


5. It is not the case that [(a) animals are sentient, (b) animals are innocent, and (c) animals lack immortal souls] (from 3 and 4, modus tollens).


6. Either (a) animals are not sentient, (b) animals are not innocent, or (c) animals have immortal souls (from 5, DeMorgan's theorem).

7. Animals are innocent.

8. Animals lack immortal souls.


9. Animals are not sentient (from 6, 7, and 8, disjunctive syllogism).
The argument is valid, so everybody must either reject 1, reject 2, reject 4, reject 7, reject 8, or accept 9. Augustine accepts 9. I reject 4, which falsely presupposes that God exists. How do you respond?

Addendum: I read Rodman's essay for the first time on 18 January 1981, when I was 23 years old and in my second year of law school. It has influenced me more than almost anything else I have read. If you'd like a PDF version of it, let me know.

17 April 2008


If you like chocolate, you may want to consider purchasing it from this company.

Should We Legalize Dog Meat?

Should we legalize dog meat for human consumption? For a discussion of the issue, see William Saletan’s recent post at the Human Nature Blog.

Saletan discusses some reader reactions to his first post on legalizing dog meat here.

What's next? Soylent green?

Weigh in. What do you think? Should we be eating dog meat?

16 April 2008

Henry S. Salt (1851-1939) on the Appeal of Vegetarianism

It cannot be too strongly stated that the appeal of Vegetarianism, as of all humane systems, is not to heart alone, nor to brain alone, but to brain and heart combined, and if its claims fail to win this double judgment they are necessarily void and invalid. The test of logic no less than the test of feeling is deliberately challenged by us; for it is only by those who can think as well as feel, and feel as well as think, that the diet-question, or indeed any great social question, can ever be brought to its solution.

(Henry S. Salt, The Logic of Vegetarianism: Essays and Dialogues [London: The Ideal Publishing Union, 1899], 3)

14 April 2008


Here is a New York Times story about the St Paul Stockyards.

11 April 2008

From Today's New York Times

To the Editor:

In answering the question “What should be done?” about the world food crisis, Paul Krugman doesn’t mention an obvious and important solution: Eat less meat. The 700 calories’ worth of animal feed he says it takes to produce 100 calories of beef contributes nothing to the well-being of consumers.

With a little experimentation, anyone can find satisfying substitutes for meat that will improve personal health and the health of the planet at the same time. I urge your readers to give it a try.

Nancy Dorfman
Belmont, Mass., April 8, 2008

Growing Meat vs. Going Vegetarian

In today's Dot Earth post "Can People Have Meat and a Planet, Too?," Andrew Revkin explores the brave new world of growing meat cultures in vitro as a more humane and possibly more environmentally friendly way of producing meat.

In his post, Revkin cites Jesse Ausubel, Director of the Program for the Human Environment at Rockefeller University. Ausubel expresses pessimism about the ability of humans to change their diets from environmentally destructive meat-based diets to environmentally sustainable plant-based diets on the grounds that the desire for meat is somehow hard-wired into "our little snake brains." While by no means optimistic, I'm certainly less pessimistic than Ausubel. First of all, people can change. Every day, some people switch from meat-based diets to vegetarian diets. Every day, some people make the switch to entirely plant-based vegan diets. Some people make the switch for ethical reasons, others for health reasons, others out of concern for the environment, and some for a combination of all these reasons. (As Keith and I have repeatedly pointed out, the case for plant-based diets is overdetermined.)

Admittedly, one is forced to ask why more people don't make such life- and planet-affirming choices. It could be "our little snake brains," as Ausubel suggests. But then again, it could be due to the fact that we are constantly bombarded with billion-dollar advertising campaigns from the meat industries, the dairy industry, and the egg industry, as well as from myriad restaurant chains that promote and sell these very animal products. These industries and corporations don't spend their huge advertising budgets for no reason. They do so because they know that doing so stimulates and reinforces demand for their health- and planet-destroying products. I suspect that such advertising has far more to do with our dietary choices than a biologically hard-wired craving for meat and diary products, especially since in other parts of the world, consumption of meat is rare to nonexistent. (Consider, e.g., the traditional low animal-protein diets in rural China and the vegetarian diets of 15 million Jains.)

Couple the fact that the average TV viewer is exposed to some sort of pro-animal-product ad every ten minutes or so, with the lack of accurate information about the genuine health and environmental benefits of plant-based diets, and it's no wonder that more people haven't switched to plant-based diets.

Why do so many people lack accurate information about the health and environmantal benefits of plant-based diets? In part, because of media obfuscation. Yes, the media who profit from these animal-industry advertising dollars are complicit in not reporting information that would potentially hurt the sales of their major advertisers. How many people know, e.g., that University of Chicago researchers have reported that by switching to a vegan diet, a person can reduce her/his carbon footprint by 1.5 metric tons per year? That's more than switching from an SUV to a Prius.

Fortunately, a growing number of blogs, like Dot Earth, Animal Ethics, and many of the other blogs linked to in our blog roll, are getting out accurate information to a wide audience, information that can help readers make informed responsible choices regarding both their and the planet's health.

I conclude with a challenge. I challenge you to try the following experiment: Turn off your TV for an entire month. Don't watch it at all. Not once. See whether your desire for meat doesn't wane in the absence of larger-than-life images of animal products flashing across the screen. At the same time, try a vegetarian diet for a month. Get a good vegetarian cookbook—preferably one with full-page enticing photos of succulent vegetarian dishes. Find a few recipes that intrigue you. See whether you enjoy the food that you are consciously choosing to prepare and eat as much as the food you've been manipulated into consuming by industry advertisements. To your health and the health of the planet!

09 April 2008

From the Mailbag

Dear Professor Burgess-Jackson,

The Michigan Law Review’s companion journal First Impressions this week published an online symposium on Agricultural Animals and Animal Law.

If you would like to post about the symposium on the Animal Ethics blog, please feel free either to link to the recent post at Concurring Opinions or to post something new, perhaps based on the content of the announcement, below. The symposium includes contributions that discuss the moral status of nonhuman animals.

Please do not hesitate to contact us if you have any questions or require additional information about the symposium.

Best regards,
Bradley Moore
Executive Editor of First Impressions
Michigan Law Review

08 April 2008

Free the WPZ Elephants

See here.

From Today's New York Times

To the Editor:

While businesses that rent dogs may be well intentioned, they’re unlikely to benefit the overall welfare of pets, and may actually do harm to the individual dogs they “rent” (“For a Temporary Best-Friend Fix, Rent a Dog (Kibble Included) for a Day,” news article, March 30).

A dog is a lifetime friend and companion—not a two-hour rental. Dogs form attachments to their families and thrive on consistency. Frequent and abrupt changes in location, routine, discipline and attention are confusing and stressful. Moving them from person to person, home to home, can induce problems such as anxiety and depression.

Dog lovers who are unable to make a lifelong commitment to a pet can volunteer with animal shelters and rescue groups, and provide foster care in their home for an animal awaiting permanent adoption.

There are better and more fulfilling options for these animals and people who need a doggie fix.

Michael Markarian
Washington, March 31, 2008
The writer is the executive vice president of the Humane Society of the United States.

04 April 2008

The Family Farm

Here is a New York Times story about traditional farming, which is a darn sight better for animals than factory farming.

01 April 2008


There were 4,200 visits to this site during March. That's an average of 135.4 visits per day, which is a record. The previous best month was November 2007 (3,836 and 127.8). I assume that many of the visitors have come here from Dot Earth. Mylan and I are grateful to Andrew Revkin for the link.