30 December 2009

A Self-Interested Reason to Not Eat Meat

Here’s another self-interested reason to not eat meat: Drug-resistant bacteria are routinely found in beef, chicken, and pork sold in supermarkets. Drug-resistant infections are by no means rare. Twenty percent of people who get salmonella have a drug-resistant strain. To find out more of what the meat industry and pharmaceutical companies don't want you to know, read this Associated Press column by Margie Mason and Martha Mendoza.

Here are just a few facts drawn from the column:

  • Drug-resistant infections killed more than 65,000 people in the U.S. last year—more than prostate and breast cancer combined.
  • 70% of the antibiotics used in the U.S. last year—28 million pounds—went to pigs, chickens, and cows, which in turn creates a perfect breeding ground for antibiotic-resistant super germs.
  • Many of these antibiotics are routinely added to the feed of healthy animals to promote rapid weight gain.
  • The FDA, the CDC, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture have all declared drug-resistant diseases stemming from antibiotic use in animals a "serious emerging concern."
  • The problem is not new. In the 1970s, the FDA proposed a ban on penicillin and tetracycline in animal feed, but the proposal was defeated after criticism from interest groups.
  • In 2008, the FDA issued its second limit on the use of cephalosporins in cows, pigs, and chickens, citing the importance of cephalosporin drugs for treating disease in humans. But the Bush Administration reversed that decision five days before it was going to take effect after receiving several hundred letters from drug companies and farm animal trade groups.
The Bottom Line: If history is any guide, you can't count on the federal government to do the right thing and ban the routine nontherapeutic use of antibiotics in farm-animal feed, but here are two things that you can do: First, nudge Congress in that direction. Contact your U.S. Representative and urge her/him to support Representative Louise M. Slaughter’s bill banning the routine use of antibiotics in animal feed. Second, and most importantly, refuse to support the meat industry’s unsafe practice of adding antibiotics to animal feed by refusing to purchase their products. Make a conscious choice to not eat meat. Protect your own health and the future effectiveness of antibiotics: Go vegetarian in 2010!

16 December 2009

14 December 2009


Raw-Meat-1 I foresee a day, perhaps not far in the future, in which it is illegal to raise cows, pigs, and other animals for food. The ground for this will not be animal welfare, as you might expect, but environmentalism. Lawmakers, perhaps as a result of an international treaty, will prohibit the intensive rearing of at least large hoofed animals for food, on the ground that it is damaging to the natural environment. It will be said that animal husbandry is one of the most inefficient and destructive industries on the planet, and that the planet cannot survive unless humans change their diets. Since diets change only slowly, if at all, it will be thought justifiable to coerce people into changing.

I object to this for two reasons, one conditional and one unconditional. First, the ground is improper. The natural environment, unlike individual animals, is inanimate, unconscious, and insentient. This is not to say that we may do whatever we please to the environment. Obviously, if the environment is polluted, then everything that depends on the environment is adversely affected. But the environment has no intrinsic value; it is valuable only for the sake of sentient beings who depend on it. It has, in other words, extrinsic or instrumental value only. Individual animals, qua sentient beings, have intrinsic value. They are valuable for their own sakes, not merely because they are valued by (or useful to) others. So if animal husbandry is to be prohibited, it should be on animal-welfare grounds, not environmental grounds.

My second objection, unlike the first, is unconditional, and therefore more sweeping. It is that coercion (via legal prohibition) is not a proper method of protecting animals, at least if the aim is to protect animals. The reason is that it has a backlash effect. The best thing that one can do for animals, in the long run, is to persuade people to stop eating them. Of all the ways of influencing behavior, rational persuasion is the most effective, the most secure (in the sense of long-lasting), and the most defensible from a moral point of view. Force, coercion, and manipulation, by comparison, are inferior on each score.

I believe that as time passes, humans will, for various reasons, change their diets. Some will reduce their consumption of meat for the sake of the animals. Others will do so for the sake of the environment. Others will do so for health reasons. Still others will do so because they believe, rightly or wrongly, that vegetarianism (or demi-vegetarianism) is good for human beings. Nobody will be forced, coerced, or manipulated, so nobody can complain about being disrespected.

10 December 2009

Robert Young on Killing Animals

Robert Young Does my proposal as to what makes killing another human being generally a major moral wrong in any way help us with deciding what, if anything, is wrong with killing non-human animals and foetuses?

I believe it does help. It seems reasonable to believe that many animals share in common with us that they have things they want to do in and with their lives or which they may come to want (either again or for the first time). Certain of our killings of them clearly maximally unjustly prevent their realization of such life-purposes (or if this appears too grandiose a term, with the desires to do things which they experience). For instance, to kill animals which have these similarities to human beings in the course of pointless or duplicative experimentation, in the course of providing cosmetics, furs and other items readily producible without such killings, or merely for sport, is morally wrong according to the account I have proposed. Indeed to kill for food animals which it is reasonable to believe have such desires (and not merely interests) will be justifiable only where no adequate alternative food supply is available and the food is needful either immediately or for some reasonable future period if stocking up is required by the exigencies of one's situation. Where there is no reason to believe of some living being (say a mosquito or a tree) that it possesses the characteristic I have been concentrating on there will on my account be nothing intrinsically wrong in killing it. This is not to say that other instrumentalist considerations (e.g. to do with ecological effects) will not be relevant. Similarly, should anyone doubt that the animals human beings typically eat for food have life-purposes (even in a rudimentary form), this will not show that questions of morality have no relevance to our treatment of them, since other principles such as those advocated by Peter Singer in Animal Liberation (New York: New York Review, 1975) here assume relevance (e.g. ones to do with the painfulness of the methods of rearing and killing.) It is worth noticing that my proposal does not rule out killings which have the effect overall of fostering the wants of the largest subset of some group like a wild herd where otherwise the wants of an even larger subset will be thwarted. Systematic cullings in the absence of feasible alternatives, therefore, may be morally permissible.

(Robert Young, "What Is So Wrong with Killing People?" Philosophy 54 [October 1979]: 515-28, at 526-7)

Adopt a Chimp

See here.

06 December 2009

Moral Vegetarianism, Part 13 of 13

For an explanation of this feature, click on “Moral Vegetarianism” at the bottom of this post.


There is no doubt that moral vegetarianism will continue to be a position that attracts people concerned with the plight of animals and with humanitarian goals. If the conclusions of this paper are correct, however, moral vegetarianism cannot be separated from a number of ethical issues and questions, issues that need to be settled and questions that need to be answered if a comprehensive and considered moral vegetarianism is to be maintained: the problem of carnivorous animals; the moral status of eating microorganisms, consenting animals, and genetically engineered animals; the difficulty of distinguishing animal parts and animal products.

Although I have found no compelling moral arguments for vegetarianism, there still may be reasons why morally sensitive people would wish to become vegetarians. As I have suggested above, vegetarianism may have a protest or symbolic function. Nevertheless there is, as far as I can determine, no moral duty not to eat meat, and one who eats meat is not thereby committing any moral error.

One final point. It might be suggested that although becoming a vegetarian as a protest against animal suffering or a way of committing oneself to helping the hungry people of the world is not a moral duty, it is still a moral act; it is a supererogatory act. This view is not implausible, but it needs to be qualified in certain ways. A supererogatory act, whatever else it is, is an act that is good but not obligatory. The question is whether becoming a vegetarian in order to protest animal suffering or as a way of committing oneself to feeding the hungry people of the world is good but not obligatory.

Suppose first that there is a moral obligation to protest cruelty to animals or to commit onself [sic] to feeding the hungry people of the world. Becoming a vegetarian in this case would not be a supererogatory act; nor would it be an obligatory act. It would be one way of fulfilling one’s moral obligation, although not necessarily the best way.

Second, suppose that there is no moral obligation to so protest or commit onself [sic]. It is not implausible to suppose that doing so would nevertheless be a good thing. Then becoming a vegetarian would be a supererogatory act. If becoming a vegetarian is not the best way to do so, however, moral vegetarians would deserve some praise but not as much praise as some other people who protest cruelty to animals and commit themselves to feeding the hungry people of the world. Indeed, it is not implausible to claim that moral vegetarians deserve some criticism. Their moral idealism is in a sense wasted or at least used badly. One is inclined to say: “If you really want to protest animal suffering or commit yourself to helping hungry people, instead of not eating meat you should . . .” (see above for various suggestions).

There is, I believe, nothing paradoxical about the idea that a supererogatory act can be blameworthy. Jumping in a swift river and saving a drowning man when you are only a fair swimmer is a paradigm case of a supererogatory act and deserves praise. But such an act may deserve some criticism as well if the drowning man could have been easily saved by tossing him a life buoy.
KBJ: This completes the task of quoting and discussing Martin's essay. I hope you enjoyed it.

05 December 2009

Jeffrey Burton Russell on Might and Right

Jeffrey Burton Russell It may also now be time for humanity to consider that its responsibilities go beyond humankind and extend to other beings as well—to animals and even to plants. What is the basis of the assumption that I have the right to cut down trees that were growing before I was born? What gives me the right to deprive animals who live in the forest of their sustenance? The Judeo-Christian tradition says that God gave the creatures of the world into Adam's hands for his use; but other traditions have viewed God's purposes differently. At any rate, the continued exploitation of nature by those who have ceased to believe in God or in the Book of Genesis reveals the real basis for this human "right." It is might, sheer might and might alone. Because we have the power to exploit other beings to slake our greed, we do it, and until very recently we have done it without thought or consideration.

(Jeffrey Burton Russell, The Devil: Perceptions of Evil from Antiquity to Primitive Christianity [Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1977], 24-5)

04 December 2009

Philip E. Devine on the Deontological Stop

Philip E. Devine A second vegetarian strategy is simply to reject as immoral the balancing of animal pains against human pleasures. Thus John Harris's reply to the Benthamite defence of meat-eating is quite simply: 'Those who use it are saying that they think more about their stomach than their morals, and so a moral argument will probably not affect them'. We can call this move the deontological stop.

Deontological stops are not uncommon in philosophical discussions of moral questions. Perhaps the best known is in G. E. M. Anscombe's outburst: 'If anyone really thinks, in advance, that it is open to question whether such an action as procuring the judicial execution of the innocent should be excluded from consideration—I do not want to argue with him; he shows a corrupt mind'. And it may not be possible to avoid them without giving up the discussion of practical issues altogether or claiming, implausibly, that our arguments could have convinced Hitler or Stalin. But Anscombe could at least count on a certain aversion to judicial murder on the part of her audience. For a vegetarian to employ a deontological stop against those who defend the eating of meat would be to guarantee that vegetarian views will remain, and deserve to remain, the exclusive property of a sect.

(Philip E. Devine, "The Moral Basis of Vegetarianism," Philosophy 53 [October 1978]: 481-505, at 487 [italics in original; footnotes omitted])

Note from KBJ: Devine is a good philosopher, but here he conflates two issues. The first issue concerns the grounds of one's abstention from meat. There are absolutist deontologists who believe that certain acts are not only intrinsically wrong (i.e., wrong in and of themselves, independently of their consequences), but absolutely forbidden. In other words, no amount of good procured or evil prevented can justify those acts. Fiat justitia, ruat cœlum. Someone might hold that it's absolutely wrong to eat meat, just as someone might hold that it's absolutely wrong to torture, lie, or kill the innocent. This is an eminently respectable position, though it is far from universally held. The second issue concerns the persuadability of those who are not absolutist deontologists. If I, an absolutist deontologist, am trying to persuade you, a consequentialist or a moderate deontologist, to stop eating meat, I will have to show you that the consequences of eating meat are worse than the consequences of not eating meat (and significantly so, if you are a moderate deontologist). In short, Devine conflates (1) having grounds for one's own belief and (2) being able to persuade others to share that belief. I can have grounds for my belief even though those grounds won't persuade someone who endorses a different normative ethical theory. To persuade X, one must use only premises that are accepted by X. One need not oneself accept those premises.

01 December 2009


There were 3,783 visits to this blog during November. That's an average of 126.1 visits per day. November was the fifth-best month in the blog's six-year (72-month) history.

28 November 2009

Sixth Anniversary

I started this blog six years ago today, on 28 November 2003. Where has the time gone? Three years ago on this date, there had been 42,820 visits, which is an average of 39.0 visits per day. During the past three years, there have been 101,807 visits, which is an average of 92.8 visits per day. Overall, in six years, there have been 144,627 visits, which is an average of 65.9 visits per day. As you may have noticed, I recently changed the blog's appearance. I hope you like it. If you have something to which I should link, please send it. I do not like being used as a mere means to other people's ends, so please don't try to use this blog to get publicity for some product or service you are selling. I do, however, enjoy publicizing things that are designed to benefit animals.

25 November 2009


Here is an essay about industrial farming.

24 November 2009

From Today's New York Times

To the Editor:

Re “Animal, Vegetable, Miserable,” by Gary Steiner (Op-Ed, Nov. 22):

Mr. Steiner might feel less lonely as an ethical vegan—he says he has just five vegan friends—if he recognized that he has allies in mere vegetarians (like me), ethical omnivores and even carnivores. Some of us agree with his outlook, but just don’t have the fortitude to make every sacrifice he makes.

In fact, a whole lot of semi-vegans can do much more for animals than the tiny number of people who are willing to give up all animal products and scrupulously read labels. Farm animals also benefit from the humane farming movement, even if the animal welfare changes it effects are not all that we should hope and work for.

If the goal is not moral perfection for ourselves, but the maximum benefit for animals, half-measures ought to be encouraged and appreciated.

Go vegan, go vegetarian, go humane or just eat less meat. It’s all good advice from the point of view of doing better by animals.

Jean Kazez
Dallas, Nov. 22, 2009
The writer teaches philosophy at Southern Methodist University and is the author of the forthcoming “Animalkind: What We Owe to Animals.”

To the Editor:

Soon after I read Gary Steiner’s article, my wife asked me to kill a spider, which I did. This made me feel guilty. Spiders are living creatures, too; perhaps I should have gently caught it and carried it outdoors?

It is hard to imagine where a line can be drawn. We kill so many living creatures when we build a house, construct a road, drive down that road or just walk on a path. How far do we go in protecting them?

When we plant and harvest crops that vegans would find acceptable to eat, many animals are killed and their habitats are destroyed.

If we all decide to consider animals as precious as humans, the only logical place for us is back in the jungle. But even then if we were to survive we would have to kill some animals in self-defense.

Alexander Mauskop
New York, Nov. 22, 2009

To the Editor:

I am an ethical vegan. Gary Steiner perfectly articulates my feelings, and particularly my frustration, as so many around me obsess about the preparation of their turkeys.

When one “goes vegan,” what seems obvious to that person is ridiculed by a large part of society. Mr. Steiner illustrates the disconnect within our culture about eating animals and the righteousness with which people will defend that disconnect.

Alice Walker once said: “The animals of the world exist for their own reasons. They were not made for humans any more than black people were made for white, or women created for men.”

I hope that Mr. Steiner’s essay will result in people at least stopping for a moment, before carving the birds on their tables, and giving these ideas some serious critical thought.

Chris Taylor
Lawrence, Kan., Nov. 22, 2009

To the Editor:

Gary Steiner’s case for veganism founders on the facts. First, the human digestive system has evolved to accommodate an omnivorous diet, not a purely vegetable one.

Indeed, many paleoanthropologists maintain that the evolution of the large, energy-hungry human brains depended on a transition of our ancestors’ diets to include meat.

And vegans must tread a very narrow line to avoid all sorts of deficiency diseases, while omnivores have very broad latitude in diet, as a survey of world cuisines makes evident.

Second, our food animals have co-evolved with us. Cows, domestic sheep, chickens and many others would not survive if they were not raised for human consumption, protected from malnutrition, disease and predators.

Professor Steiner is entitled to his beliefs and his tofurkey; most of the rest of us will enjoy our turkey without guilt (but with vegetable stuffing).

Lawrence S. Lerner
Woodside, Calif., Nov. 22, 2009
The writer is professor emeritus at the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics at California State University, Long Beach.

To the Editor:

Gary Steiner recognizes that many of us justify eating animals because we believe we are superior to them. Mr. Steiner rightly rejects this view as morally flawed.

Humans can acceptably consume animals precisely because we are not superior to them at all. Wolves eat sheep. Tuna eat mackerel. We are animals ourselves—and are no more (or less) than the animals we consume, or than the predators that would otherwise consume them.

If we are not justified in eating mackerel ourselves, are we not also morally obligated to stop the slaughter brought on by the tuna?

Such an obligation would make us the protectors of all species, and the destroyers of every ecosystem on earth.

L. David Peters
New York, Nov. 22, 2009

To the Editor:

As a vegetarian for 18 years, I have been confronted with the same questions that Gary Steiner faces from those challenging his dietary habits. I learned an effective response long ago that has benefited both my blood pressure and friendships.

I say with a big smile: “My vegetarianism is a personal choice that I usually don’t discuss in detail. I’m happy to eat with nonvegetarians.” And then I’m quiet.

That has pleasantly ended many potentially uncomfortable exchanges. Being vegetarian, as with being a member of a political party or a religious denomination, does not bestow license to convert others to one’s own way of thinking.

On my deathbed, I’ll be happy to have lived life as a vegetarian and also (I hope) comforted by many who were not alienated through heated discussions about my dietary choices.

Lisa Dinhofer
Frederick, Md., Nov. 22, 2009

To the Editor:

I will rise to the challenge Gary Steiner presents. He’s right: I don’t care deeply about the suffering of animals I eat, wear or otherwise benefit from. Suffering and injustice are inherent in life, and time is short.

Moreover, I find no way to shine a moral spotlight on one corner without letting shadows fall on another. I radically limit my conscious sphere of concern (just as Mr. Steiner must).

My moral boundaries may be rational or reflexive, expansive or selfish—who can judge?

I also recognize that alleviating suffering in one area may cause pain elsewhere. My mind and spirit are continually tested by outrages, from the countless dead innocents in current wars to the limited life prospects of my son’s first-grade classmates with drug dealers for parents.

Were I also to internalize the pain experienced by animals, I’d simply shut down. Whose lot could that possibly help?

Sandy Asirvatham
Baltimore, Md., Nov. 22, 2009

To the Editor:

I was shocked to read that Gary Steiner thinks his cat can’t appreciate Schubert’s late symphonies. It’s not the feline lack of musical discernment that I found disturbing (I don’t “get” Schubert’s symphonies either), but rather that Mr. Steiner owns a pet.

If he wishes to make no distinction between animal and human life and rights, how does he justify keeping an animal in what amounts to captivity?

And where does he draw the line between keeping a cow for milk and keeping a cat or dog for comfort or gratification?

Alice Desaulniers
Irvington, N.Y., Nov. 23, 2009

Note from KBJ: Every letter except the first (by an analytic philosopher with whom I attended graduate school) is confused. Several of them commit flagrant fallacies. Sometimes I despair over the quality of thought in this country. When even educated, intelligent people make elementary mistakes, there is no hope.

22 November 2009

"A Meat-Crazed Society"

Here is a New York Times op-ed column by philosopher Gary Steiner.

19 November 2009

The True Costs of Eating Meat

In this Washington Post column, James E. McWilliams highlights the true environmental costs of eating meat:

  • The livestock industry as a result of its reliance on corn and soy-based feed accounts for over half the synthetic fertilizer used in the United States, contributing more than any other sector to marine dead zones.
  • Livestock production consumes 70 percent of the water in the American West—water so heavily subsidized that if irrigation supports were removed, ground beef would cost $35 a pound.
  • Livestock accounts for at least 21 percent of greenhouse-gas emissions globally—more than all forms of transportation combined.
  • Nearly 70 percent of all the antibiotics produced are fed to farmed animals to prevent (not treat) disease. Undigested antibiotics leach from manure into freshwater systems and impair the sex organs of fish.
McWilliams’s column reminds us of the scientific findings documented in Livestock’s Long Shadow, the Food and Agricultural Organization’s 390-page report on the environmental impact of meat production. According to the Executive Summary of that FAO report:
The livestock sector emerges as one of the top two or three most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global. The findings of this report suggest that it should be a major policy focus when dealing with problems of land degradation, climate change and air pollution, water shortage and water pollution and loss of biodiversity.
Livestock’s contribution to environmental problems is on a massive scale.

To put the point in perspective, McWilliams ask us to consider how we would react if someone told us "that a particular corporation was trashing the air, water and soil; causing more global warming than the transportation industry; consuming massive amounts of fossil fuel; unleashing the cruelest sort of suffering on innocent and sentient beings; failing to recycle its waste; and clogging our arteries in the process." He thinks we would rightly "frame the matter as a dire political issue."

Such a dire political issue requires a political response. McWilliams insists that vegetarianism is "the most powerful political response we can make to industrialized food. It's a necessary prerequisite to reforming it. To quit eating meat is to dismantle the global food apparatus at its foundation."

The Bottom Line: One cannot be a meat-eating environmentalist. If you care about the planet, follow McWilliams's advice, and switch to a plant-based diet. Do it for the Earth, do it for the animals, and do it for your health. Menu suggestions and recipes for a cruelty-free, planet-friendly Thanksgiving feast are available here.

About the Washington Post columnist: James E. McWilliams is Associate Professor of History at Texas State University at San Marcos and a recent fellow in the agrarian studies program at Yale University. He is the author of Just Food.

16 November 2009

From Today's New York Times

To the Editor:

Last Act for the Bluefin” (editorial, Nov. 9) has it right. The bluefin tuna needs an immediate respite from all fishing. No wildlife species, especially a migratory one shared in common by many nations, can withstand commercial hunting without end.

In the United States, we learned this lesson just in time to rescue our migratory waterfowl and other prized game species from oblivion at the beginning of the 20th century. All commercial hunting was banned, and those species were carefully managed for sport hunting only.

Commercial hunting of wildlife was always a losing proposition on land. Though some commercial fisheries have been well managed, others have been a disaster (Atlantic halibut, Atlantic cod, Hawaiian lobster, sharks). It is now or never for the bluefin. Governments need to step up and do the right thing. Will they?

William J. Chandler
Washington, Nov. 9, 2009
The writer is vice president for government affairs, Marine Conservation Biology Institute.

15 November 2009

Manfred Kuehn on Kant's Cosmopolitanism

Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) Kant's ideas about cosmopolitanism are still hotly debated today. They are dismissed by some as a "Eurocentric illusion," and praised by others as the answer to the problem of humanity's survival. Whether they are the one or the other will be for (still) future generations to discover. Nevertheless, they make clear that Kant considered himself first and foremost not a Prussian but a citizen of the world. He was glad to be alive while momentous changes were taking place in the history of mankind, and he saw himself as rising to the challenge, addressing the important issues resulting from the changes, and trying to nurture what was good in them. However insignificant some of the occasions for these essays were, Kant succeeded in transcending them and in saying something of lasting importance.

Kant's cosmopolitan ideas were meant to form part of a civil religion similar to the kind that James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, and the other framers of the American Constitution envisaged. His transcendental idealism, at least in morality, ultimately is a political idealism, in which attaining the greatest good is not something that will be accomplished in another world but is a task to be accomplished on this earth. Kant's political writings were an attempt to show how rational (or reasonable) ideas can be substituted for religious ones, and why indeed it is necessary for the good of mankind to reinterpret religious ideas to make them fit the needs of humanity.

(Manfred Kuehn, Kant: A Biography [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001], 384-5)

Note from KBJ: I no more think of myself as a citizen of the world than I think of myself as a citizen of North America or of the Northern Hemisphere. I'm a citizen of the United States (as well as some of its subdivisions, such as Texas and Fort Worth). By the way, one answers questions and solves problems. One does not answer problems.

Note 2 from KBJ: Kant denied moral status to nonhuman animals. Our duties to them, he argued, are actually duties to particular human beings. Animals, being nonrational, have no intrinsic moral significance. Kant's dog, in other words, counts for nothing, while some Chinese peasant counts for as much as Kant himself. So much for cosmopolitanism! It sounds more like parochialism or anthropocentrism to me.

09 November 2009

Moral Vegetarianism, Part 12 of 13

For an explanation of this feature, click on “Moral Vegetarianism” at the bottom of this post.
The Argument from Brutalization

The previous argument was based on an alleged indirect effect on human beings of not eating meat. The argument from brutalization is basically of the same kind. It is argued that the killing and eating of meat indirectly tends to brutalize people. Conversely, vegetarianism, it is argued, tends to humanize people.

This argument can have a strong or weak form depending on what is meant by “brutalize” and “humanize.” In the strong form, it maintains that eating meat (indirectly) influences people to be less kind and more violent to other people; conversely, not eating meat tends to make people more kind and less violent. In the weaker form of the argument it is maintained only that eating meat tends to make people less sensitive to people’s inhumane treatment of other people and more willing to accept people’s brutality and inhumanity to other people.

Whatever form the argument takes, it is important to understand its status. I have argued that there is no incompatibility between being a nonvegetarian and advocating the painless and humane treatment of animals. Consequently, there is no logical connection between being a nonvegetarian and the cruel treatment of animals, let alone the cruel treatment of persons (human or otherwise). Similarly, there is no logical connection between eating meat and being insensitive to the inhumane treatment of animals or humans.

The argument from brutalization, however, does not appear to postulate a logical connection between vegetarianism and inhumanity but rather a psychological one. Thus the strong form of the argument seems to assume the truth of the following psychological generalization.
1. People who do not eat meat tend to be less cruel and inhumane to persons than people who do eat meat.
As far as I know, no good evidence has ever been collected to support or refute (1). Pacifists like Gandhi are often cited as examples of people who are vegetarians and who are opposed to violence. But Hitler was also a vegetarian. Indeed, Hitler’s vegetarianism is a constant source of embarrassment to vegetarians, and they sometimes attempt to explain it away. For example, the Vegetarian News Digest argued that “there is no information that indicates [Hitler] eliminated flesh food for humanitarian reasons.” But the reason Hitler did not eat meat is irrelevant to the present argument. Here we are only concerned with whether or not eating meat tends to make people less brutal.

But perhaps the psychological generalization presupposed is a little different from (1). Perhaps the argument from brutalization presupposes
2. People who do not eat meat for moral reasons tend to be less brutal than people who do eat meat.
In terms of (2) the comments of the Vegetarian News Digest are not irrelevant. The case of Hitler need not count against (2).

The truth of (2) is by no means self-evident, however, and empirical evidence is needed to support it. Although I am not aware that such evidence is available at the present time, let us suppose that (2) is well confirmed. This by itself would hardly be a strong argument for vegetarianism, since the following generalization could also be true.
3. People who eat meat after reflection on the morality of eating meat are less brutal than people who eat meat without such reflection.
The bulk of the population has given no reflection at all to the morality of eating meat. Consequently, a comparison between moral vegetarians and meat eaters at large is hardly fair. Putting it in another way, supposing (2) to be true, moral vegetarianism per se might not be responsible for humanizing people. Rather, what might be responsible for such humanizing is simply moral reflection, reflection that might lead either to the acceptance or to the rejection of moral vegetarianism.

What would be significant is if the following generalization were true.
4. People who do not eat meat after serious reflection on the morality of meat eating are less brutal than people who eat meat after such reflection.
The truth of (4) would enable us to say with some confidence that something besides moral reflection is involved in becoming less brutal. At the present time, however, there is no reason to suppose that (4) is true.

Similar considerations indicate that the weaker form of the argument from brutalization also fails. The weaker form of the argument seems to assume
5. People who don’t eat meat for moral reasons are less likely than people who do eat meat to be insensitive to people’s inhumane treatment of other people.
Whether (5) is true or not is uncertain. But in any case (5) is not terribly relevant to moral vegetarianism. A relevant comparison would not be between moral vegetarians and nonvegetarians in general but between moral vegetarians and nonvegetarians who eat meat after moral reflection, that is between moral vegetarians and what might be called moral nonvegetarians. Thus, what needs to be established is not (5) but
6. People who don’t eat meat after reflection on the morality of eating meat are less likely than people who do eat meat after such reflection to be insensitive to people’s inhumane treatment of other people.
At the present time we have no more reason to accept (6) than we have to accept (4). And we have no reason to accept (4). Thus the argument from brutalization fails.
KBJ: I agree that this argument fails. Perhaps that is why I have never heard anyone make it.

From Today's New York Times

Cattle To the Editor:

Nicolette Hahn Niman (“The Carnivore’s Dilemma,” Op-Ed, Oct. 31) is simply wrong in suggesting that grass-fed beef produces less methane than feed-lot meat. It is the other way around, with grass-fed animals producing up to three times more methane.

It may be true that in some trials scientists have found ways to reduce methane emissions from cattle, but until these methods are in widespread use, they are simply not relevant to the consumer choices we face.

In any case, globally, only 8 percent of all meat is produced in natural grazing systems, and there is little available unforested land suitable for such systems. To replace factory-farmed meat without further tropical forest destruction is impossible.

Hence the call to cut down or eliminate meat-eating, especially beef, should be supported by everyone concerned about the future of our planet.

Peter Singer
Geoff Russell
Barry Brook
New York, Nov. 3, 2009
Peter Singer is a professor of bioethics at Princeton University and the author of “The Ethics of What We Eat.” Geoff Russell is the author of “CSIRO Perfidy.” Barry Brook is a professor of climate change at the University of Adelaide, Australia.

06 November 2009

From Today's Wall Street Journal

Jonathan Safran Foer's pup-in-cheek essay "Let Them Eat Dog" (Weekend Journal, Oct. 31), while humorous enough, masks more serious issues.

Beyond the environmental impacts of meat production there is a basic ethical issue involved. So here is an even more modest proposal than roasting Fido: Try eating only what animals you are willing to kill with your own hands. I suspect that meat consumption would decline dramatically under such a code; it would certainly make many of us less hypocritical.

Steve Heilig
San Francisco

Mr. Foer misses the point of the debate completely. A decision not to eat dogs has nothing to do with our inherent hypocrisy, but with our relationship to different animals. Dogs were bred to be companion animals; pigs and cows are raised as food. To suggest that eating one and not the other represents a conflict of ethics is preposterous.

However, I agree with Mr. Foer that factory farming has to go. We carnivores have to become more benevolent. Rather than eating dogs, we all ought to eat exclusively small-farmed, free-range meat. Arguments like "Let Them Eat Dog" caricatures the antifactory farm position, which is a shame because it's an important argument to hear. I suggest that Mr. Foer stop writing about food and stick to the stories.

Sarah V. Howland
Northport, N.Y.

At one point during my year living in China, I ate dog. The fury this meal caused my friends and family back in America motivated me to examine whether eating any animal was justified. Why was a dog more worthy of not being dinner than a pig? My interactions with farm animals have been as affectionate and fun as any I've had with dogs or cats. In the name of moral consistency I became a vegetarian four years ago. The peace of mind—and the weight I've lost—have been well worth the effort.

Chantelle Wallace
Austin, Texas

The irony of this article, which is reminiscent of Irish author Jonathan Swift's suggestion of eating "excess children" to shock and awe his readers, isn't lost on an intelligent reader. Mr. Foer's book "Eating Animals" is definitely worth the reading for any individual who has the guts to face the facts of a meat-based diet and the damage it is doing to man and animal alike.

Elaine Livesey-Fassel
Los Angeles

03 November 2009

From Today's New York Times

To the Editor:

Re “The Carnivore’s Dilemma,” by Nicolette Hahn Niman (Op-Ed, Oct. 31):

Living “green” is not easy. Yes, every decision we make results in more or less of an impact on our environment. As a parent of young children, I have much to worry about regarding what my children eat—a balanced, wholesome diet, free from antibiotics, hormones or bacteria. Need we feel guilty about being carnivorous?

The best advice Ms. Niman gives us is to pay attention to the source of meat products and what our mothers always told us: clean your plate. Regardless of what we choose to eat, doing so will reduce our dietary carbon footprint by half because “about half of the food produced in the United States is thrown away.”

Jeffrey H. Toney
Union, N.J., Nov. 2, 2009
The writer is dean of the College of Natural, Applied and Health Sciences at Kean University.

To the Editor:

The claims Nicolette Hahn Niman makes for how greenhouse gases might be reduced while still eating meat may very well be true, and I do not have the expertise to challenge them. But the method she advocates for reaching those goals—raising grass-eating, pasture-foraging farm animals—would appear to be notoriously difficult to reproduce on a scale large enough to harvest enough meat, at a reasonable cost, for all the people wanting to eat meat in this country, let alone the world.

What would the cost of a hamburger at Burger King or McDonald’s be if the meat were to come from Ms. Niman’s ranch and others using comparable methods? How many people would be able to afford the price?

When I see “grass-fed” beef from the Niman Ranch and others on menus at the high-end restaurants I occasionally visit, the items offered are invariably among the most expensive on the list.

And how much land would be required to contain ranches like the one owned by Ms. Niman for pasturing the animals to provide all the beef, turkey, chicken and pork eaten in this country? Would no forests need to be cut down to create the pastures?

Lois Bloom
Easton, Conn., Nov. 1, 2009

To the Editor:

As an ethics instructor who aims to inspire my students to think about the connections between their values and daily practices, I found Nicolette Hahn Niman’s article disappointing.

Borrowing a move from the tobacco industry, Ms. Niman obscures the well-evidenced connection between veganism and environmentalism.

Contrary to Ms. Niman’s suggestion that the findings do not apply to smaller farms, the United Nations and the University of Chicago reports demonstrate the inefficiency of beef “production” because a cow must be fed to convert grass or grain calories into protein before a human can consume even “humane” or grass-fed beef.

Ms. Niman’s argument amounts to lowering an ethical standard to fit the demands of our meat-centric culture and Western privilege. Instead, we should heed the chairman of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Dr. Rajendra Pachauri, who advised giving up meat for one day a week at first, and then decreasing it from there.

Stephanie Jenkins
Highland Park, N.J., Nov. 2, 2009

To the Editor:

While Nicolette Hahn Niman’s article demonstrates our folly in oversimplifying solutions to many of our challenges and offers many viable solutions to sustaining our lifestyles in generations to come, she leaves out one very green practice: hunting and fishing.

There is little that is less polluting and less harmful to the planet than hunting wild game responsibly. What is greener than forage-fed meat? I take umbrage at the omnivores who buy grass-fed beef and call me a barbaric savage for harvesting Maine’s overpopulated deer, moose, rabbit and fowl.

James Siegel
Portland, Me., Nov. 1, 2009

To the Editor:

Nicolette Hahn Niman’s otherwise fine article would have been stronger if she had not blurred an important distinction. After noting the special criticism beef receives, she treats all meat the same.

Yet the turkey she raises is a much smaller factor in advancing global warming than the cattle on her ranch because they produce meat much more efficiently. Birds need only a fraction of the food that cattle do to gain a pound of meat.

Indeed, in Ms. Niman’s natural environment they’re even more environmentally beneficial than cattle because of their diet. A “free range” bird eats insects, as well as plants, so it gets more nutrition out of the same amount of land than do her cattle, which eat only the grass. They also help with pest control.

Thus, it’s not enough to say that Americans should “cut back on consumption of animal-based foods.” Regardless of how much meat they eat, they need to switch from eating beef to poultry.

Barry Rehfeld
New York, Nov. 1, 2009
The writer is the editor of Zero Energy Intelligence.com.

To the Editor:

When Nicolette Hahn Niman refers to “a conscientious meat eater,” she is using an oxymoron. Can anyone in good conscience be complicit with the unnecessary suffering and slaughter of another sentient being?

Steven G. Kellman
San Antonio, Oct. 31, 2009

01 November 2009


There were 2,758 visits to this blog during October, which is an average of 88.9 visits per day.

31 October 2009

Henry S. Salt (1851-1939) on Moral Blindness

Henry S. Salt (1851-1939) I do not share the extreme vegetarian view that food reform is the foundation of other reforms, for I think it can be shown that all cruelties to animals, whether inflicted in the interests of the dinner-table, the laboratory, the hunting-field, or any other institution, are the outcome of one and the same error—the blindness which can see no unity and kinship, but only difference and division, between the human and the non-human race. This blindness it is—this crass denial of a common origin, a common nature, a common structure, and common pleasures and pains—that has alone hardened men in all ages of the world, civilized or barbarous, to inflict such fiendish outrages on their harmless fellow-beings; and to remove this blindness we need, it seems to me, a deeper and more radical remedy than the reform of sport, or of physiological methods, or even of diet alone. The only real cure for the evil is the growing sense that the lower animals are closely akin to us, and have Rights.

(Henry S. Salt, The Logic of Vegetarianism: Essays and Dialogues [London: The Ideal Publishing Union, 1899], 109-10 [italics in original])

28 October 2009

Pet Care Education

Here is a website for your consideration. I have added it to the blogroll.

27 October 2009

"The Carbon Footprint of Meat"

One of my students directed my attention to this news story.

23 October 2009

H. B. Acton (1908-1974) on Animal Rights

Image_2_2374 I will conclude with some remarks about the rights of animals. When it is asked whether animals have rights, and whether human beings have duties to them, the question, I think, is partly moral and partly verbal. Let us consider the moral question first. This is the question whether the wrongness of cruelty to animals depends in part upon the animals' suffering, or whether it does not depend upon that at all, but only upon the bad effects upon human beings of cruelty to animals, and upon the badness of the human states of mind that such cruelty involves. (Hominum causa omne ius constitutum.) It is this latter view, I believe, that is in the minds of some of those who deny that animals have rights. Now most people would grant that it is wrong to bring about what is bad except in order to prevent worse. If this be so, then to say that the wrongness of cruelty to animals depends solely upon the human aspects of it, is to assume that the pain of animals is not bad. This could be either because no pain is bad, or because no animal pain is bad. This is not the place to discuss these propositions, but it is important to notice that the more inclusive or the less inclusive of them must be true if the wrongness of cruelty to animals depends entirely upon human beings or human society.

The question of words is whether to talk about the rights of animals is likely to mislead. If a legal right is an interest or expectation protected by law, then it follows that, under the Protection of Animals Act (1911), domestic and captive animals in England have rights, in that they are protected against being cruelly beaten, kicked, ill-treated, over-ridden, over-driven, over-loaded, tortured, infuriated, or terrified. Yet writers on jurisprudence say that animals do not have legal rights. Their main reason, I think, for not following their own logic, is that by saying that animals have legal rights they are putting them into a class all the other members of which are persons of one sort or another. Persons are beings with rights and duties, whereas no one supposes that animals have duties. Perhaps it is feared that the association of animals with this class in one respect will lead to suggestions that they share the other characteristics of its other members. Perhaps it is feared that the admission that animals have rights will be followed by claims that animals should be treated like persons in other ways also. Similar considerations, I suggest, apply when we ask whether it is proper to say that animals have moral rights. If we say they have, we class them with beings the rest of whom are capable of duties. Even congenital idiots look like men. Furthermore, although we say that animals have rights, we also think we are justified in hunting and eating them. This puts them into such a different category from other right-owning creatures, that we hesitate to apply the same word to the immunities we consider they are morally entitled to. Here, as elsewhere, the influence of what is nuclear and typical is unduly constraining.

(H. B. Acton, "Rights," The Aristotelian Society, supplementary volume 24 [1950]: 95-110, at 108-10 [italics in original; footnotes omitted])

09 October 2009

From Today's New York Times

To the Editor:

Re “Animal Cruelty and Free Speech” (editorial, Oct. 6):

I do not agree that “anyone with an appreciation for the First Amendment” must conclude that “crush videos” or videos of vicious dogfights are protected speech and that the federal law in question should therefore be struck down.

The law speaks specifically and narrowly to the distribution for profit of videos that show illegal acts of cruelty actually being performed on live animals (my italics). Only a very narrow range of activities come under the sweep of this law, and all of them are illegal.

Yes, racists are allowed to “spew racism,” but they are not allowed to encourage criminal activities, and if they were to carry their “advocacy” to the point of distributing videos that depicted the actual maiming or killing of the people they would like to get rid of, they would not be able to claim First Amendment protection.

I am not a fan of pornography, but I find it hard to understand how we can deny First Amendment protection to some depictions of sexual acts performed by consenting adults who at the end of the day collect their paychecks and go home, but must give that protection to those who produce and sell videos that show helpless animals being illegally tortured and killed.

I was privileged to be present in the court when this case was argued. It was beyond refreshing to see a complex question debated with thoughtful intelligence and civility on all sides.

Christopher Anne Affleck
Cambridge, Mass., Oct. 7, 2009

To the Editor:

You make the argument that the First Amendment has historically protected free discourse and should, in the same spirit, protect depictions of animal cruelty. The comparison to Nazi marches and racist hate speech fails to acknowledge a critical distinction—speaking out in favor of criminal activity versus the carrying out of criminal acts.

In the case of dogfighting and “crush videos,” cruelty is not just promoted, but staged. If the Nazi marchers and racist hate mongers “augmented” their activities with videos of graphic violence against Jews and blacks, would The New York Times rush to their defense on constitutional grounds?

Fred Engelhardt
Alna, Me., Oct. 6, 2009

To the Editor:

If the First Amendment protects videos that cannot be made without torturing animals, you didn’t make much of a case for it.

Yes, as you say, the First Amendment allows Nazis to march and racists to spew. But that expression does not require the torture of Jews or African-Americans to produce. While deeply offensive, it is still only words.

The closer analogy here is child pornography. If it cannot be made without sexually abusing children, it has no First Amendment protection. Why are “crush videos” involving animals any different?

They might be different if our Constitution gives live animals no greater consideration than clay pigeons. But the capacity of animals to feel pain makes this case harder than your editorial suggested.

J. Stephen Clark
Albany, Oct. 6, 2009
The writer is a professor of constitutional law at Albany Law School.

To the Editor:

Your editorial states: “The government seems to think it is enough that the harm caused by the animal-cruelty depictions outweighs their social value, but the First Amendment does not say that Congress can restrict speech if it fails a balancing test.”

Why isn’t that your position concerning the ability of Congress to restrict campaign speech paid for with corporate treasury funds?

Lawrence A. Mandelker
New York, Oct. 6, 2009
The writer is a lawyer.

07 October 2009

From the Mailbag


On Sunday, October 4, Farm Sanctuary held the largest Walk for Farm Animals in New York City history. Nearly 700 registrants converged on Central Park, making the event quite possibly the largest gathering of people standing in solidarity with farm animals ever. Special guest Jane Velez-Mitchell, host of HLN’s “Issues with Jane Velez-Mitchell,” delivered one of the most powerful pro-vegan, pro-animal speeches I’ve ever heard. I wanted to share it with you in case you would like to share it with your readers. Please note there are two parts: here and here.

All the best,


06 October 2009

On Trial: Animal Torture Videos vs. Free Speech

Today, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear U.S. v. Stevens. At issue in the case is the constitutionality of a decade-old law passed by Congress and signed by President Clinton in 1999. That law, U.S. Code, Title 18.48, made it a federal crime to knowingly create, sell, or possess a depiction of animal cruelty with the intention of placing that depiction in interstate or foreign commerce for commercial gain. The statute defines a depiction of animal cruelty as “any visual or auditory depiction, including any photograph, motion-picture film, video recording, electronic image, or sound recording of conduct in which a living animal is intentionally maimed, mutilated, tortured, wounded, or killed, if such conduct is illegal.”

The law was enacted to prevent the sale of videos depicting wanton cruelty to animals, such as “crush videos” in which a scantily clad woman, whose face is unseen, kills helpless animals such as rabbits and kittens by stomping on them with spike heels or her bare feet. The law also made it a crime to sell videos in which animals were tortured to death by being burned alive, as well as videos of illegal dog fights.

In 2004, Robert Stevens was convicted of violating this law and sentenced to 32 months in prison for selling videos featuring pit bulls chasing wild boars on organized hunts and depicting a pit bull attacking the lower jaw of a domestic farm pig, according to the Philadelphia-based appeals court.

In July, a divided U.S. Court of Appeals reversed the decision by a vote of 10 to 3, overturning Stevens’s conviction and striking down the law on the grounds that it violated the right to free speech guaranteed by the First Amendment.

For more about the case, see this Chicago Tribune column.

For a New York Times editorial supporting the Appeals Court's decision to declare the law unconstitutional on free speech grounds, see here.

Is the New York Times right to support striking down the law banning depictions of animal cruelty on First Amendment/free speech grounds? I don’t think so. There are legitimate limits to free speech, and almost all of these limits are justified on the basis of the harm principle. According to the harm principle, one’s liberty can be legitimately limited when doing so is necessary to prevent harm to others. We don’t have the free speech right to falsely yell “Fire” in a crowded theater because many people would likely be injured in a mad dash to the exits. Similarly, child pornography is not protected by the First Amendment. Child pornography is illegal because we know that if it were legal to make and distribute such pornography, countless innocent children would be filmed being sexually abused against their will and the abusers making these films would profit from this abuse. The 1999 law banning crush videos was enacted for similar reasons. It was enacted to prevent helpless innocent animals from being tortured to death.

This much is certain: If the Supreme Court upholds the verdict of the Appeals Court and deems U.S. Code, Title 18.48 unconstitutional, more innocent animals will be crushed and burned to death in crush videos, and more animals will be ripped to shreds by pit bulls. And the people making these videos will profit handsomely from the torture they inflict on these animals. I hope the Supreme Court will see clear to protect animals from such gratuitous harm and exploitation. Free speech has legitimate limits, and this is one of them.

From Today's New York Times

To the Editor:

Re “The Burger That Shattered Her Life: Trail of E. Coli Shows Flaws in Ground Beef Inspection System” (front page, Oct. 4):

Your article about E. coli and the young woman whose future has been irreversibly altered through the simple, all-American act of eating a hamburger is a stunning indictment of the food-processing industry in general and the specifically named corporations whose moral bankruptcy is made all the more glaring by their efforts to justify their actions behind a curtain of claims of trade confidentiality.

It also offers an equally harsh negative judgment of the federal authorities whose mandate is to protect the integrity of the public’s food supply chain but who have chosen to interpret this responsibility so lightly as to let such claims stand while ignoring repeated offenses by the industry.

Is it any wonder that cynicism with regard to the efficacy of government is at an all-time high?

A. Victoria
Bridgehampton, N.Y., Oct. 5, 2009

To the Editor:

I ate my last hamburger last night. It tasted wonderful—juicy, fragrant and meaty. Then I saw the photo of Stephanie Smith and read the accompanying article. It’s a terrible but ultimately not surprising tale, given the continued lack of self-regulation and the emphasis on profit over safety in the meat industry.

The only way the meat industry will change its ways is for people to stop buying ground beef and cause sales to plummet. Only then will these companies “do the right thing,” if only to ensure their continued survival.

Starting today, I’m no longer eating ground beef.

Ann Calandro
Flemington, N.J., Oct. 4, 2009

To the Editor:

Your otherwise impressive article did not mention irradiation, the only reliable method of eliminating E. coli O157:H7 and other disease-causing microbes from raw meat and poultry. The Food and Drug Administration approved irradiation as safe and effective for use on poultry in 1992 and on meat in 1997. But for more than 20 years, consumer groups led by Public Citizen have worked to scare the public about food irradiation and threatened to boycott companies that market irradiated products.

In 2001, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that irradiating half the meat and poultry consumed in the United States would mean 900,000 fewer cases of food-borne illness and 350 fewer deaths each year. Unfortunately, irradiated meat and poultry can’t be found on store shelves. For that you can blame a cowardly food industry and a cynical consumer movement, willing to sacrifice lives to further its antinuclear agenda.

Larry Katzenstein
Dobbs Ferry, N.Y., Oct. 5, 2009
The writer worked from 1978 to 1990 at Consumers Union as a health and science writer for Consumer Reports Magazine.

To the Editor:

As someone who has followed this issue for years, I would no sooner eat burger meat from an industrial processor than I would send a 4-year-old across Broadway alone.

While this tragedy will increase calls for sorely needed government regulation, the real answer lies in the hands of each one of us: buy your burger from a local butcher who processes his ground beef daily on the premises.

There are many of these, survivors of the industrialization of our food supply, in most cities and towns across America. You will enjoy a much better meal and can safely cook it to your preferred doneness, although it will cost more.

The consumer, in his willy-nilly race to the bottom of the price chain, is the real enabler here. I wonder if the inflated health insurance premiums we all pay, in part to account for worst-case scenarios like that of Stephanie Smith, are in effect a hidden subsidy for these food-processing giants, who, like the banks that don’t even know who actually owns the mortgage, are unable to tell where our food even comes from.

Serge Scherbatskoy
Arcata, Calif., Oct. 4, 2009

To the Editor:

I have been a strict vegetarian most of my life, and, as such, I have never lacked reasons—ethical, economic and health-related—to continue this lifestyle. But Stephanie Smith’s very tragic hamburger-induced affliction provides me with still another excuse (as if I needed one) to shun the carnivorous ways of so many of my fellow beings.

I wish Ms. Smith the very best.

Gordon Wilson
Laguna Niguel, Calif., Oct. 4, 2009

To the Editor:

Nobody on the path followed by the contaminated beef that wrecked Stephanie Smith’s life has accepted responsibility for his failures in the obligation to assure food safety. The Department of Agriculture, Cargill and all their suppliers mouth meaningless, and nonbinding, pledges to make incremental improvements while assuring us only that they will not take all the measures that are within their power to produce safe food.

The Department of Agriculture, our government, continues to compromise our health in favor of industry convenience. How many lives must be lost or horribly altered before the agencies we entrust with our well-being do their jobs and begin to look out for our interests?

Gary Paudler
Summerland, Calif., Oct. 4, 2009

To the Editor:

With regard to the tragic E. coli food poisoning of Stephanie Smith, which has probably left her paralyzed for life, as well as many others around the country ill from tainted ground beef, I find the comments of Dr. Kenneth Petersen, an assistant administrator with the Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, dreadful, appalling and alarming.

He stated that the department could demand mandatory testing, but that it had to consider what effect that would have on companies as well as consumers. He said, “I have to look at the entire industry, not just what is best for public health.”

It was my understanding that the agency’s first priority was and should be the safety of the public! Imagine if I and the rest of the medical profession said we had to look at the entire pharmaceutical and surgical supply industry’s needs, not just our patients’ health. What a potential disaster that could be for our patients’ health and well-being!

Howard Rudominer
Livingston, N.J., Oct. 4, 2009
The writer is a doctor.

01 October 2009


There were 2,015 visits to this blog during September, which is an average of 67.1 per day.

30 September 2009

Moral Vegetarianism, Part 11 of 13

For an explanation of this feature, click on “Moral Vegetarianism” at the bottom of this post.

The Argument from Human Grain Shortage

All of the clearly moral arguments for vegetarianism given so far have been in terms of animal rights and suffering. New moral vegetarianism, however, rests on moral arguments couched in terms of human welfare. It is argued that beef cattle and hogs are protein factories in reserve. In order to produce one pound of beef, cattle eat approximately sixteen pounds of grain; and in order to produce six pounds of pork or ham, hogs eat approximately six pounds of grain. It is estimated that the amount of grain fed to cattle and hogs in the United States in 1971 was twice that of U.S. exports of grain for that year and was enough to feed every human being with more than a cup of cooked grain every day for a year. Given the people in the world who are hungry or even starving, we should not eat meat, since in eating meat we are, as it were, wasting grain that could be used to feed the hungry people of the world. It only takes a little imagination to suppose that every bite of hamburger we eat is taking grain away from a hungry child in India.

The difference between this argument and the arguments considered above should not be overlooked. Whereas those arguments maintain that grain-eating animals should not be slaughtered, this argument is at least consistent with the position that they should be: grain-eating animals, it might be maintained by a new moral vegetarian, should be slaughtered to prevent them from eating more grain and producing new grain-eating offspring. This argument also differs from traditional ones in its selective and restrictive moral prohibitions against eating flesh. The eating of non-grain-eating animals, e.g., fish and wild game, is morally permissible on this view. Indeed, it might even be encouraged in order to utilize all food sources as effectively as possible.

KBJ: The first difference mentioned in the preceding paragraph betrays a misunderstanding. Nobody wants existing animals to be slaughtered. The proponent of the argument wants to stop replacing them when they die.

These differences aside, is the argument valid? Does it follow that because grain that could be used to feed hungry people is used to feed cattle, people should not eat the meat produced by feeding these cattle grain?

To see that it does not, one must be clear on what this argument assumes in order to arrive at its conclusion. First of all, it assumes that if many people in countries with surplus grain, e.g., in the United States, did not eat grain-fed meat this would cut down on the amount of grain used to feed animals that produce meat. Second, it seems to assume that not eating meat is the best way to conserve grain. Third, the argument assumes that if the grain used to feed cattle in the United States, e.g., was not fed to cattle, the grain would be used to feed the hungry people.

KBJ: The argument does not assume that “not eating meat is the best way to conserve grain.” It assumes that not eating meat is one way to conserve grain. Martin has a disturbing habit of misstating his opponents’ arguments.

None of these assumptions seems plausible. Let us take the first assumption. It is useful to remember that grain was fed to cattle and other animals in this country in order to use our surplus; it was an economic move. Given a depressed demand for meat caused by widespread vegetarianism, other economic moves could be made. More grain could be fed to fewer meat-producing animals resulting in the same consumption of grain. Or the same number of meat-producing animals could be produced and fed the same amount of grain, but new markets could be found for meat and new needs created. Or new markets could be found among the countries of the world where meat consumption is slight; more need for meat could be produced among nonvegetarians and dogs and cats.

The next assumption is no less dubious. It is doubtful that the best approach to conserving grain is to become a vegetarian. It is important to realize that beef cattle and other ruminants do not need to eat protein in order to produce protein. Indeed, beef cattle can be fed on a variety of waste materials, e.g., cocoa residue, bark, and wood pulp, and still produce quality meat. Various lobby groups, world food organizations, and consumer and environmentalist groups putting pressure on meat producers to utilize these waste products to feed animals might be a much more effective way of conserving grain than vegetarianism. If beef cattle and other meat-producing animals were fed on waste products instead of on grain, there would be no reason not to eat meat in order to feed the hungry people of the world. Indeed, one might feel that there was an obligation to eat meat. Eating meat from animals fed on waste products would be a way of saving grain that could be shipped to the hungry people of the world.

KBJ: Yes, beef cattle can be fed on waste materials, but they’re not (at least exclusively). The argument under consideration is about the real world, not some fanciful world of Martin’s imagination.

The third assumption of the argument is also dubious. It is highly unlikely, given the present policy of the United States government, that surplus grain, even if it were available, would be shipped to the most needy people. The government’s policy has been (and it is likely that it will continue to be) to sell grain to those countries that are able to pay and to those countries in whom we perceive our national security interest. In 1974 we shipped four times as much food to Cambodia and South Vietnam as to starving Bangladesh and Swahelian Africa.

To put it in a nutshell, without vast changes in the economic systems and the policies of governments with surplus grain, not eating meat in order to help the starving people of the world is an idle gesture. Such a gesture may make people happier and may make them feel less guilty, but it does no good. With vast changes in economic systems and governmental policy, however, not eating meat hardly seems necessary.

Singer also uses the argument from human grain shortage to support his provegetarian position, although he is aware of its limitations.

This does not mean that all we have to do to end famine throughout the world is to stop eating meat. We would still have to see that the grain thus saved actually got to the people who need it.

Singer is no doubt correct that the problems in getting the grain to the people who need it are not insurmountable. But the economic and political changes that would have to occur in order to do so are very extensive—more extensive than Singer wishes to admit. In any case, as we have seen, changes in how meat-producing animals are fed, together with changes in political and economic policies, would enable us to feed the starving people of the world without a vegetarian commitment.

Frances Moore Lappé, in her fine book Diet for a Small Planet, also points out the simplistic thinking that is involved in supposing that going without meat is going to help the starving people of the world. But in the end she still advocates a meatless diet.

A change in diet is a way of saying simply: I have a choice. This is the first step. For how can we take responsibility for the future unless we can make choices now that take us, personally, off the destructive path that has been set for us by our forebears.

But if Lappé is correct in the major arguments in her book, such a first step is not really necessary. There are ways to feed the starving people of the world without forgoing meat, e.g., by changing governmental policy. Indeed, Lappé, in the next section of her book, recommends a list of organizations that one can join in order to change government policy toward hungry people of the world and to educate Americans about the food problem. None of these organizations requires a vegetarian commitment.

How can we understand Lappé’s recommendation of a meatless diet as a “first step” toward changing the present situation? Perhaps in this way: Becoming a vegetarian is a very personal, symbolic act; it symbolizes one’s commitment to a cause and goal: feeding the hungry people of the world.

KBJ: This is a willful and, if I may say so, disgraceful misreading of Lappé’s argument, which has nothing to do with symbolism.

But for many people such a symbol is not necessary; they do not need a personal symbolic act in order to work for a good cause. In any case, one has no moral duty not to eat meat as a symbolic commitment to help the hungry people of the world, although one may have a duty to help the hungry people of the world. One may have a duty to be committed to some worthwhile cause without having the duty to express that commitment in some particular symbolic way.

In fact, not only is expressing one’s commitment to feeding the hungry people of the world by not eating grain-fed meat not morally necessary, it may not be the best way of expressing such a commitment. I suggest three questions that one should ask in evaluating any way W of committing oneself to some goal G.

1. How well does the regular use of W bring about G?

2. How well does W educate people to the value of G?

3. How well does W induce the person using W to continue in the pursuit of G?

Considering vegetarianism in the light of these three questions, one might suppose there are better ways of expressing one’s commitment to helping the hungry people of the world. For example, protesting the government’s food policies by wearing buttons, putting ads in the New York Times, or writing one’s congressman would seem to have greater educational value than not eating meat (question 2). Supporting organizations that are devoted to the solution of world food problems would seem to be a better way to achieve the goal of helping the hungry people of the world than going without meat (question 1). It is difficult to say whether, for example, wearing a button that says “Help Starving Bangladesh” and signing petitions supporting food relief programs will induce the people who wear the buttons and sign the petitions to continue in their humanitarian effort more than going without meat (question 3). But it is not implausible to suppose that, for many people, going without meat will have less psychological meaning and consequently strengthen their resolve less than wearing buttons and signing petitions.

KBJ: I’m speechless.

26 September 2009

From Today's New York Times

To the Editor:

Re “A Free Speech Battle Arises From Videos of Fighting Dogs” (front page, Sept. 19):

The Supreme Court should reinstate a crucial 1999 federal law banning the commercial sale of videos depicting animal cruelty.

In the 10 years that the law has been in place, it has been used only to stop people from selling videos of dogs tearing one another apart in organized dogfighting, the underlying crime now treated as a felony offense in every state.

Its greatest effect, however, has been to dry up the supply of “animal crush” videos, where women, often in high-heeled shoes, would impale and crush to death puppies, kittens and other small animals, catering to those with a fetish for this behavior.

Now that the law has been struck down, there has been a resurgence in these snuff films readily available for sale over the Internet. This is not speech. This is commercial activity of a sickening and barbaric type, and the peddlers of this smut should find no safe harbor for it in the First Amendment, just as child pornographers do not have a right to sell films involving the exploitation of children under the banner of free speech.

Wayne Pacelle
President and Chief Executive
Humane Society of the United States
Washington, Sept. 20, 2009

24 September 2009

From Today's New York Times

To the Editor:

It’s mind-boggling that in spite of overwhelming evidence that the consumption of animal products is directly responsible for a host of human diseases, greenhouse gas production and indescribable animal suffering, the general public continues to satiate its taste buds and support factory farming.

Instead of complaining about it, we need to examine and revise our own diets. A plant-based diet is better for human health, the environment and, obviously, the animals.

Rina Deych
Brooklyn, Sept. 20, 2009
The writer is a registered nurse.

Animal Welfare

The Ohio State University is hosting an Animal Welfare Symposium next month.

23 September 2009

Philip E. Devine on Vegetarianism

There are two approaches a vegetarian might take in arguing that rearing and killing animals for food is morally offensive. He might argue that eating animals is morally bad because of the pain inflicted on animals in rearing and killing them to be eaten. Or he could object to the killing itself.

These two kinds of argument support rather different conclusions. A vegetarian of the first sort has no grounds for objecting to the eating of animals—molluscs for example—too rudimentary in their development to feel pain. Nor could he object to meat-eating if the slaughter were completely painless and the raising of animals at least as comfortable as life in the wild. Nor could he object to the painless killing of wild animals. Such a vegetarian will, however, object to the drinking of milk, since the production of milk requires a painful separation between cow and calf. He will also object to the eating of eggs laid by hens which did not have scope for normal activity. (He will not, however, object to the eating of fertile eggs as such.) To that extent, he will be not only a vegetarian, but also a vegan, one who abstains not only from meat but also from animal products.

One might of course defend the consumption of animal products, while opposing the eating of meat, on the ground that killing a steer, say, produces more suffering than separating a cow from her calf. The argument seems to me a chancy one, but an intermediate kind of vegetarian on this kind of ground does seem possible.

In contrast, a vegetarian who has objections only to the killing of animals will object to all forms of meat, but he will not object to milk or eggs, so long as the eggs are not fertile. For such a vegetarian, a borderline case would be the consumption of animal products not, in the ordinary course of nature, produced by the animal; for instance the drinking of cattle blood as practised by the Masai. Of course one could be a vegetarian on both grounds, and object to anything either kind of vegetarian objects to.

(Philip E. Devine, "The Moral Basis of Vegetarianism," Philosophy 53 [October 1978]: 481-505, at 482)

17 September 2009

From Today's New York Times

To the Editor:

The sentence in your Sept. 9 editorial “Justice on the Farm” describing a “visit to a duck farm in Sullivan County where workers toil through exhausting shifts to force feed poultry for foie gras” encapsulates one of the fundamental problems facing agriculture today: the perpetual chain of exploitation that occurs on many farms.

The exploitation of farm workers reverberates in the treatment of farm animals and degradation of the environment. New York’s protection of laborers should be a first step toward recognition of the other systemic abuses that occur on farms that, like the long-ignored rights of farm workers, have been constantly disregarded by legislators.

Deborah Dubow Press
Washington, Sept. 9, 2009
The writer is on the staff of the Farm Animal Program, Animal Welfare Institute.

Gene Baur's Bloggings

Here is a blog for your consideration.

08 September 2009

Canis Lupus

Here is a New York Times blog post about wolf hunting. This passage puzzles me:
Unsurprisingly, I believe it is wrong to inflict pain and death unnecessarily on a creature capable of suffering. (Peter Singer more broadly examines the moral standing of animals here.) While this belief might not compel us to be vegetarians, it does demand significant changes in the way we raise animals for food, and it forbids wolf hunting as a form of entertainment.
Why does this belief not "compel us to be vegetarians"? Is meat-eating necessary? If so, in what sense and for what purpose? How much do you want to bet that Randy Cohen eats cows and pigs?

07 September 2009

Reasons Consistently Applied

I suspect that many regular readers of Animal Ethics are already vegetarians. That's because those who read Animal Ethics with regularity know that there are many compelling reasons to adopt a vegetarian lifestyle.

There are moral reasons to go vegetarian:
  • Recognition that it is wrong to contribute to unnecessary animal suffering.
  • The injustice of exploiting animals and killing them for no good reason.
  • If human have rights, then many nonhuman animals also have rights, and confining and killing these animals for food violates these rights.
There are environmental reasons to go vegetarian:
  • The production of animal-derived foods is implicated in every major environmental problem.
  • According to the Food and Agricultural Organization's own report entitled Livestock's Long Shadow: "The livestock sector emerges as one of the top two or three most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global. . . . Livestock's contribution to environmental problems is on a massive scale."
  • This FAO report goes on to note that livestock production is a major contributor to "land degradation, climate change and air pollution, water shortage and water pollution and loss of biodiversity."
There are self-interested, health-based reasons to go vegetarian:
  • The major killers of Americans—heart disease, cancer, and stroke—are all strongly positively correlated with meat consumption.
  • Plant-based diets significantly reduce one risk of these chronic degenerative diseases.
  • According to the American Dietetics Association's Position Paper on Vegetarian Diets:
It is the position of The American Dietetic Association that appropriately planned vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthful, are nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. . . . [A] vegetarian diet is associated with a lower risk of death from ischemic heart disease. Vegetarians also appear to have lower low-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels, lower blood pressure, and lower rates of hypertension and type 2 diabetes than nonvegetarians. Furthermore, vegetarians tend to have a lower body mass index and lower overall cancer rates. [Journal of the American Dietetics Association 109(7), July 2009: 1266-1282.]
And there are religious reasons:
  • According to the Bible, the original divinely-prescribed diet was an entirely plant-based, vegan diet: "And God said, 'Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food.'" Genesis 1:29
  • The First Ethical Precept of Buddhism states: "I will be mindful and reverential with all life, I will not be violent nor will I kill." This precept is variably stated as follows:
  • Avoid killing or harming any living being.
  • I undertake the precept to refrain from destroying living creatures.
  • I shall endeavor to protect and take care of all living creatures.
Taken together, these reasons make a very compelling cumulative case for becoming a vegetarian. What might be less obvious is that each of these reasons actually gives us a reason to adopt an entirely plant-based vegan diet, devoid of animal products. One cannot produce eggs or dairy products on a large scale without the wholesale exploitation of animals. Layer hens spend their entire lives permanently confined in battery cages with 6-9 other hens and have only half a square foot of living space per bird. These birds are some of the most abused animals in agriculture. Since the male offspring of dairy cows don't produce milk, they are sold to veal farms, where they are permanently confined in veal crates that prevent them from moving or turning around. So, by purchasing dairy products, one is indirectly supporting the inherently cruel veal industry. One might think that eggs and dairy products are still preferable to meat on the grounds that "At least I am not contributing to the unnecessary killing of animals," but that too is false. After two or three laying cycles when their egg production begins to wane, the layer hens are inhumanely loaded onto trucks and sent to slaughter, where they are processed into chicken soup and pet food. After several years of confinement and continual reimpregnation on a dairy farm, spent dairy cows are sent to slaughter where they are processed into ground beef. The reality is that by purchasing eggs and dairy products, one is supporting the unjust exploitation and slaughter of hens and cows (which ipso facto violates the First Ethical Precept of Buddhism).

Eggs and dairy products also contribute to all the environmental problems listed above. Plus, vegans tend to have lower body mass indexes than lacto-ovo vegetarians and lower rates of heart disease, cancer, and stroke than their egg-and-dairy-eating vegetarian counterparts. And, as noted above, the original divinely-prescribed diet was a vegan diet.

Given all the compelling reasons to go vegan, why don't more people do it? In particular, why don't more lacto-ovo vegetarians (who are already aware of the reasons in favor of plant-based diets) go vegan? I suspect that more people don't go vegan because they mistakenly think that it must be incredibly difficult to eat vegan. I was a vegetarian for 12 years before going vegan in 1996, because I thought giving up eggs and dairy products would be incredibly difficult. But when I did make the change in 1996, I couldn't believe how easy it was to be vegan. I centered my diet around whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and beans. I replaced cow's milk with soy milk. I quit eating cheese, opting for ethnic cuisine that didn't call for cheese. I started experimenting with tofu scrambles till I found how to make ones that I like, and these are every bit as tasty as scrambled eggs and are far less likely to cause salmonella poisoning.

It really is easy to go vegan, and most people who go vegan report that they have more energy and feel better and more healthy almost immediately. But don't take my word for it. Why not try it for yourself for 21 days? Now is the perfect time to try out a vegan diet, because tomorrow marks the start of the PCRM's 21-Day Vegan Kickstart Challenge. Check out PCRM's 21-Day Vegan Kickstart Resource Page, where you will find meal planners; recipe suggestions for breakfast, lunch, and dinner; healthy snack alternatives; and tips on how to make over your diet. This 21-day program is designed for anyone who wants to explore and experience the health benefits of a vegan diet, and its free! That's right, free! During these three weeks, you will have access to:
  • Daily e-tips that will put you on the path to weight loss, better health, and greater well-being.
  • A delicious, easy, and satisfying recipe sent every day that will help you break your cravings for unhealthy foods.
  • Weekly motivational nutrition webcasts featuring Dr. Neal Barnard, President of the Physician's Committee for Responsible Medicine.
All you need to do to get these recipes and have access to the webcasts is register, which you can do here. Just click on "login" or "profile" and you'll be able to register. Then you will discover the delicious, healthful culinary world open to vegans.

Bon Appetit!