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 c┼ôlum. 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.