Meat Not Bad


In my inaugural post at FtB I opened the thread to continuing any previous threads from my old blog (though still within the rules set forth here), and one such ongoing question was the application of my moral philosophy to animals, and whether we morally ought to be vegetarians owing to compassion being in fact a moral virtue. I replied to Peter Hurford’s apt questions about that, noting why being a vegetarian merely out of compassion for animals is irrational (it’s just another kind of phobia based on false associations between animals and people), but Saint Gasoline interjected that though I may be right about that, there are other reasons to be a vegetarian. But the reasons he gave were just as irrational. So I decided to blog about it. I’ll start by repeating my original reply.

Why Compassion for Animals Does Not Necessitate Vegetarianism

Peter asked about the morality of factory farming. But “factory farming” tends to be misreported. When you investigate the actual conditions on most farms, especially those vending major industries like KFC or McDonalds, you find they are not as bad as PETA videos claim. They tend to mix ancient footage with recent (thus representing as current, conditions that have long since been abandoned), overstate the frequency of outlier events (e.g. accidents), and misrepresent farms in violation of existing laws or their own contracts with vendors (farms which then went out of business or underwent severe reforms after being exposed) as being the norm (that’s where a lot of their “horrific” video comes from: gotcha investigations of criminally negligent enterprises, not statistically common farm conditions).

The industry is actually a lot smarter and cleaner than propagandists represent. In fact many of the conditions rights activists complain about are actually so bad for actual production efficiency and profit margin that no rational business would ever engage in them anyway, even if animals were vegetables. Of course stupid criminal mismanagement still occurs from time to time just as happens in any industry (think Enron or the Titanic), but at the very least that means we should support the enforcement of the laws we already have (instead of defunding the FDA like the Republicans keep gunning to do). And husbandry laws like California’s should be normalized nationwide (and even set as requirements for import, thus forcing other nations to comply as well, if they want to do business with us–although frankly we ought to do that for humans first…our foreign trade labor treaties are a bit anemic at present).

I also find that once you delete all the misrepresentations and outliers and then stick with actual, current, normal conditions, animal rights advocates often misconstrue what is “bad” for an animal, thinking animals are just like people and thus whatever we wouldn’t like they wouldn’t like, which is silly. Animals need a lot less than we do in order to be content and to experience normal stress levels or less (normal being the amount of occasional stress, highs and lows, that they would experience in the wild). Chickens, for example, are not miserable when in large crowded communities. There is a limit beyond which comfort declines (California state law, for example, now recognizes this), but their “personal boundary” space is a lot closer than it is for people, and often chickens voluntarily mass together for warmth and comfort. Thus seeing a hanger full of clucking chickens brushing against each other should not evoke tears. Animal quality of life has to be measured in terms of what is comfortable for that animal, and must recognize such facts as that animals aren’t aware of most things, and don’t aspire to be or do anything, and have no prospect of becoming anything, and thus should not be hastily anthropomorphized in these ways.

Accordingly I think being a vegetarian out of “compassion” is irrational. I mean that in the classic sense: it’s a non sequitur, and thus illogical. It’s to treat animals like people, which they are not. I’ve looked and listened far and wide and there is just no logically valid argument that proceeds from “I ought to be compassionate” to “I ought to be a vegetarian.” Farming and eating animals is simply not evil, for the reason I stated: our own overall life satisfaction depends on being compassionate, and compassion compels us not to enjoy or want pointless torment to exist, no matter what or who is experiencing it. It would cause you pain, and thus diminish your life satisfaction, to be a cruel or wholly indifferent person. But destroying an animal humanely is not cruel. And it is not destroying a person. Again, an animal’s life is indifferent to when it dies, because it does not become anything and has no awareness of being something. Thus eating animals is fine as long as you aren’t torturing them (see my brief on this as the atheist correspondent for GodContention.com).

I also find vegetarians irrational in their acceptance of non-vegetarians. Either eating meat is not all that immoral, or everyone they know is a villain, horrifically consuming the flesh of concentration camp victims. And yet they befriend us. Strange. It’s as if we were all serial child molesters, while they refused to have sex with children because it’s wrong, but then come to laugh at our dinner parties, have sex with us, and help us move. Perhaps vegetarians think taking animal lives is no more awful than flouting traffic laws or being mean to street urchins, but that would make little sense. That’s not the rhetoric I hear. The strong drive they have to maintain their lifestyle seems attached to a belief that animal lives are “only slightly less valuable” than human lives and that killing them is a revoltingly awful thing to do. And that makes no sense of their tolerating us as if we were nothing more than casual traffic violators. It would seem vegetarians don’t really believe in their own convictions. They have a violent emotional reaction to the thought of eating animals that is out of proportion to any factual basis for it, which is what we would ordinarily call a delusion, as I explain in detail in my talk last year at Skepticon III (although vegetarianism is certainly a milder delusion than conservative Christianity, since its negative social effects are minimal). So the conclusion seems unavoidable to me. Vegetarianism is just another phobia, one that has it’s own restaurants.

Why Concern for the Environment Does Not Necessitate Vegetarianism

It’s also not rational to be a vegetarian “to save the planet,” for the same reason it’s not rational to vote for third party candidates in U.S. presidential elections. It’s literally the most useless thing you can do to effect any change or prevent harm. As it happens, relying on local produce is worse for the environment. Factory farms are vastly more efficient. And there are, excuse me, but a fucking shitload of people on this planet to feed. We could not feed them without factory and industrial farming. But we’re here to talk about meat specifically…

Apart from its production meat is a highly efficient delivery vehicle for a panacea of nutrients and essential fats and proteins, likewise milk, eggs, yoghurt, lard, and cheese, while meat’s byproducts (the parts people don’t actually eat) are essential across the economy: from pet food for our carnivorous cats and dogs, to leather, wool, gelatine, glue, tallow, fatty acids used in the production of plastic and rubber, natural fertilizers (including urine and bone meal), and the ingredients in hundreds of other everyday products, from household detergents and medicines, to paint, carpet, and processed wood. We get 185 products in all just from your average pig. And the production of all these hundreds of materials is not quite as inefficient as opponents claim. In fact, since it’s an integral part of our overall recycling industry, abandoning meat production has consequences that negate most of the benefits supposed to be obtained by it (read Simon Fairlie, on whom I rely for much of the following, and Rob Lyons’ review thereof). Even its negatives can be offset with continually improving technologies if we would just care to apply them. In other words, the solution to such problems is to solve the fucking problem, instead of trying to abandon the industry altogether, which will never happen. To be rational is to be realistic, and work for changes that can actually occur. Like increasing the efficiency of an industry, which benefits everyone, business and environment alike. Game Theory, people. Learn it. Live it.

Arguments against meat production tend to be based on bad math and bad science, and confuse the wisdom of eating less meat (food supply diversity is essential to an economy and food supply stability as well as personal health), with the dogma of eating none. When we look at the actual math and facts everything changes. For what follows I’ll rely on Fairlie’s work as well as the excellent report on animal farming impact by WaterFootprint.org, and they have no pro-meat agenda, yet their data corroborates the world meat industry’s report on the Environmental Impact of Meat Production Systems, which likewise includes industry-independent data.

Water Use in Texas (That’s Right, Cattle Country)

As just one example of bad math: much is made of how much water is used to make meat. Yet almost all of that is actually the water used to grow grain. The grain used to feed cattle, for instance, amounts to 98% of the water consumption involved in beef and dairy production (or more, depending on where we are geographically). And almost all of that is rain water (over 87%) which falls naturally and would have been wasted anyway were it not put to some use–and likely we’d always be putting it to some use (whether growing grain, generating electricity, manufacturing, drinking, showering) so there would be little net effect on water consumption if we abandoned the meat industry. We’d just use that water for something else. Or not use it at all. So even at its worst (and beef production is the worst) meat production is really only negligibly more water intensive than agriculture.

So the argument then shifts to why we waste all that grain, when we could just eat it. Well, first of all, we are converting that grain into more than just meat. When we compare “per ton of product” between cattle and grain, for instance, we’re not talking about just food; and not every item that comes off a cow has the same value or importance. Per ton of fertilizer cows produce? Per ton of bone meal cows produce? Per ton of tallow cows produce? Per ton of leather cows produce? Are these things the same value or even equatable to the food that cows produce, including meat, fat, milk, cheese, whey, and yoghurt? Secondly, most of the grain we feed cows (and other farmed animals), people couldn’t eat. It’s called roughage, a waste product. Over 80% of what even factory farmed animals eat is actually recycled waste product from the production of grain humans are already eating. Whenever you see stats like “22% of [U.S. grown wheat] is used for animal feed and residuals,” that word residuals means agrowaste fed to livestock–so this is not “22% of human edible wheat product” that’s going to animals, but 22% of the wheat product sold, whether humans could eat it or not. In fact most stats you’ll see for tonnage of crops parceled by use don’t distinguish residuals from edible quantity, thus badly skewing what a naive reader might think such numbers mean. Animal farming is not taking grain away from people, but making the grain people eat more efficient, by converting its waste product into more food. And hundreds of other products besides food.

Now, in order to recycle that waste, we do have to supplement it with some quality product as well. In effect some human edible grain must be “burned” to convert grain production waste into food (and corn is worldwide the most popular supplement used), so animal farming does “consume” grains that humans could have eaten instead, but by doing so it creates more food, and many other products. In other words, we are burning a little bit of grain to run these waste recycling-plants we call animals–just as we have to burn resources to recycle plastic, metal, or paper. When you do all the math for industrial cattle farming, for example, feed conversion efficiency for non-roughage grain input is better than 4:1 (4 kg non-waste input for every 1 kg usable output), which is not bad considering what you get for it (which is again, a lot more than just food–it’s also all those other animal products that grease our economy, literally and figuratively). For industrial dairy farming this efficiency is actually 1:4, i.e. we get 4 kgs of usable product for every 1 kg of usable product we put in. Which makes industrial dairy farming one of the smartest things we ever thought of (so it’s too bad I can’t digest dairy, but even I benefit from this industry, as dairy products are in things even I and many vegetarians eat, like bread). The numbers come out a little different if you compare food energy input and output (for dairy it’s close to 1:1; yet for beef it’s 1:0.65, which is better than 2:1, either way at near parity), but that’s not a wholly apt comparison because energy is not all you get out of food (you also get a whole array of nutrients) and food isn’t all you get out of animals. On balance, we do not appear to be wasting very much food on livestock. It looks like any other efficient system of manufacturing, into which we pour a selection of resources and out of which we get hundreds of usable products of comparable value.

Any other argument you hear ends up like that: start pulling at the threads of its specious math and facts, and it unravels.

Lose the Cows, and Get Screwed by the Grass

For example, take the claim that “factory farming (specifically for meat) is one of the greatest contributors to global warming.” That’s simply not true. It’s based on an FAO report that has led websites and wonks to say things like that the “animal agriculture sector is responsible for 18%, or nearly one-fifth, of human-induced greenhouse gas emissions, greater than the share contributed by the transportation sector,” but that’s hopelessly misleading. A third of that figure is based not on the farming, but on the clearing of forests to expand ranches in developing countries, which is a one-time cost and not an actual ongoing effect of the ranch, and is not terminal (forest clearing goes on a decline as countries doing it improve economically and begin to balance their resources–they are just going through the phase we went through a hundred years ago, claiming for industry land that was effectively fallow, and gradually learning to balance that process with national preserves and biodiversity). Nor is this a significant factor in first world animal farming (no one burned down a forest to feed you Iowa beef).

Another one third of that figure consists of fertilizer production and use, most of which actually gets used in the agriculture industry (and would thus simply be replaced with some other emissions-producing fertilizer), and what gets used for animal husbandry (e.g. fertilizing pastures) would still be used if the same land were used for crops (in fact crops are more fertilizer intensive), so this is not in fact anything we’d get back if we stopped animal farming. And when you subtract that element, too, now you end up with just 6% of manmade emissions coming from actual animal farming that would go away if we stopped. But that’s including inefficient animal husbandry in third world countries. How much of total manmade emissions comes from actual modernized industrial animal farming? Less than 2%. And this is all based on that same FAO data. And BTW these numbers reflect impact, not quantity, e.g. that “less than 2%” figure is taking into account that methane is a hundred times worse than carbon dioxide. Hmm. Funny how “less than 2%” becomes “18%” with just a little accounting chicanery. So if you are worried about cow farts boiling the earth away, worry not. You are ruining the environment just as much when you shower as when you eat a hamburger. In fact, if we set an average shower’s greenhouse impact at about 2 units, a hamburger rates about 3…while the impact for a serving of winter tomatoes is 50. That’s right, vegetarians. Perspective is a bitch.

Our factory farming system can be improved greatly, like any industry can (e.g. the amount of water consumed by electricity generation and manufacturing is far more alarming than what we use to produce animal products). Thus like any industry we ought to aim at improving it. But it’s irrational to say “we should just get rid of it,” and doubly irrational to think you’re ever going to get rid of it, and triply irrational to think that a meaningless protest behavior (not eating meat) is ever going to make one whit of difference to anything. Just eat a healthy, affordable diet, that balances the pleasures of life with reasonable concern for your personal health and bank account, as well as the welfare of others, animals and people. People especially. Cabbage and berry pickers have a much shittier life than many a cow, yet vegetarians don’t refuse to eat cabbage and tomatoes because the labor that produces them is a tick above slavery. Those men and women need those jobs to live, so we don’t want to cut off their livelihood with boycotts anyway, but neither should we be indifferent to their plight and the need to improve their wages and treatment, even if that means paying more for a head of cabbage. To me this seems a vastly more important issue than how well cows have it.

And Vegetarianism Is Not “Healthier”

I’ve just gone over a few examples. But I have yet to see any rational reason to be a vegetarian, other than pure aesthetics (“I just like it”) or medical necessity (“I have heart disease”), which are idiosyncratic (i.e. not true for most people). Even basing it on anecdotes and testimonials (“I felt so much better after I went vegan!”) is irrational, because that’s just another alternative medicine mumbo placebo. Just sincerely convince yourself that eating meat will have the same effect, and you’ll be saying “I feel so much better now that I went back to eating meat!” It’s no different from “I felt so much better after I started wearing magnets on my feet!” Sure. But that’s all in your head. Get control of your perception of reality and you can turn any lifestyle change into a source of improved mood. Until you regress back to your baseline. This is not a sound basis for recommending other people placebo themselves into vegetarianism.

“But it’s healthier!” is also false. Because the data do not consistently establish this. Every diet has pros and cons, the net effect of which is zero, when any healthy diet is compared. Thus the same mathematical and factual unraveling occurs for any claimed benefit you pull at the threads of. Eating less meat is good for your heart, for example, but not as much as is claimed, and even what is claimed is not very impressive. One study is often cited as establishing 24% fewer deaths from ischemic heart disease (but, notably, no differences whatever for any other cause of death). In fact that study only established a 95% chance that the differential was somewhere between 6% and 38%…pay close attention: that means the data do not confirm a benefit any greater than only 6% fewer deaths (it could be greater, but we don’t know). A 6% edge is effectively irrelevant. Even a 24% edge is not that significant. It means for every 10 meat eaters who die of ischemic heart disease, about 8 vegetarians will likewise. Not a huge improvement. Worse, heart disease is a default: because we have cured or can prevent or treat all other diseases so well, yet people must necessarily eventually die of something, and that something is commonly heart disease (and cancer next after that). Thus heart disease is on the rise not because anything is causing more of it, but because we are living longer and dodging every other bullet. In that light, vegetarianism isn’t giving us any real advantage. We’re just going to die anyway, it will simply be of something else. Like non-ischemic heart disease, which is more common. And vegetarianism confers no benefit against that. Lo and behold, that’s what the study found: when all causes are considered, vegetarians die exactly as often as nonvegetarians do. No net benefit.

That same study also found that the difference between vegetarians and occasional meat eaters is so minimal as to be insignificant. The latter had 20% fewer deaths from ischemic heart disease (with roughly the same interval)–in other words, vegetarianism confers maybe a 4% advantage over reasonable meat consumption, which is so slight a difference it dissolves beneath the study’s own margin of error. Notably, pescetarians and lactoovovegetarians did even better, at 34% reduction in mortality for ischemic heart disease–with the same huge margin of error, but nevertheless, apparently eating fish, eggs and dairy products confers more than twice the advantage over vegetarianism than vegetarianism confers over reasonable meat eating. That this won’t move vegetarians to take up fish, eggs, and dairy is precisely why it doesn’t move rational meat eaters to give up meat. And well it shouldn’t. The difference is just too trivial to care about. Even at a real 24% edge (which, again, even this study did not actually confirm), attending to such small risk factors across your life would lead to endlessly bizarre behavior, since even things as trivial as what city you live in can have as much of an effect, which is to say, a difference of about 1 or 2 years life expectancy, which just isn’t significant enough a gain to burden yourself with eighty years of pleasure denial for.

To give you a point of comparison, while vegetarianism might give you a benefit of about 1.2 times lower mortality on one single illness, and yet still makes no difference to when you die beyond at most one or two years, not smoking definitely does give you a benefit of 10 times lower mortality rate on numerous diseases, and for some diseases it’s 20 times or more. That’s a huge change in life expectancy, amounting to 14 years on average, almost a whole decade and a half. Moreover, there are many debilitating diseases that to a disturbingly high frequency disproportionately plague a smoker for decades of their life before they die, hugely adding to their financial costs and lost quality of life. Like emphysema: my mother quit smoking in her thirties and twenty years later still came down with permanent emphysema and will live with that for several decades. And if you’ve ever seen someone afflicted with that, it’s not fun. Plus smoking causes numerous other illnesses and health problems. But to take emphysema as an example, your odds of getting it do not increase 1.06, 1.2, or 1.4 times if you smoke, but 5 to 10 times if you smoke. Thus smoking is vastly more irrational than vegetarianism (so vegetarians who smoke: you’re the biggest idiots on the planet). Vegetarianism is at least merely an inconvenience, provided you maintain a healthy diet (merely eating vegetarian does not constitute a healthy diet; in fact vegetarians have to be even more informed and careful about managing their diet precisely because they are avoiding a primary delivery vehicle for many of the vitamins and nutrients humans normally need).

Notably, early studies showing improved health and lifespan for vegetarians, when controlled for smoking (because vegetarians tend not to be smokers), showed no remaining advantage to being a vegetarian. In other words, eat a reasonable diet of meat, fish, eggs, dairy, vegetables, nuts, and fruit. And don’t fucking smoke.

Comments

  1. DR says

    About local meat and produce being less efficient: you have a point, but how does transportation factor into this? Wouldn’t the costs of shipping fruit (for example) from California to Toronto in a reasonable amount of time (which means that trucks, not trains, have to be used) outweigh the benefits of large-scale production?

  2. 1000 Needles says

    Accordingly I think being a vegetarian out of “compassion” is irrational. I mean that in the classic sense: it’s a non sequitur, and thus illogical. It’s to treat animals like people, which they are not.

    Animals such as pigs and cows have relatively advanced nervous systems. They exhibit emotional responses very similar to our own (joy, grief, fear, et cetera). Therefore it is highly probable that they are capable of feeling pain and suffering in a similar manner as humans.

    I prefer not to cause unnecessary suffering to any animal, whether human or pig, that might have the capability to experience it.

    By your own argument, laws against animal abuse are a non-sequitur.

  3. New England Bob says

    Thank you for a well reasoned article. I would like to stress that our human body requires us to eat high protein foods, including meat. Grains can often be empty calories and contribute to obesity as much or more than eating fat. See the books and other articles on the Paleo diet (which is too extreme for me)

    I tend to eat little or no grains or their processed products like bread, cereal, cake, cookies, etc. and live quite well on fish, meat, poultry, vegetables, fruits (fresh and dried) and nuts. Removing grains from my diet has made me healthier and helped me lose weight, along with exercise.

  4. Bob Harmount says

    Very interesting. Have you read “Why We Get Fat” by Gary Taubes? He digs into the science behind our current obesity epidemic. I would value any comments you might have on it.
    Bob Harmount

  5. Zhuge says

    I just want to make a point concerning “how can vegetarians possibly accept meat eaters?” segment of this article. I think you must be presuming some sort of Kantian style morality in order to make this point. Because it seems to me rather obvious that most of us are capable of making distinctions between “I think this is how to maximize the good” vs. “this is an absolute wrong” and act accordingly in our relationships.

    For example, you mention the labor situation in both agriculture and foreign sweatshops as an example of things that might be more worth our time to investigate. Yet, even if I take care to buy from non-sweatshop outlets, buy fair trade foods, etc. I certainly do not break friendships with people over their disagreement or failure to do what I think maximizes the good, i.e. who buy sweatshop made clothes. The same is true of my friends who think that lowering taxes on the rich is good. I would say such is more harmful than a great many other positions they might take, but I am not about to break my friendships over it.

    I also think that if you can show that cutting down tremendously on meat eating relative to the average American’s diet(for an American) would be better for any of the reasons given above that an argument for vegetarianism (for some) can be made. It would be based on a Parfit-like “rational irrationality” that would go along the lines: It is difficult to eat meat in moderation in the United States due to the nature of meals(which heavily favor meat), portion sizes, etc. However, it is easier-psychologically for some- to actually commit to cutting something out of one’s life instead. Hence being a vegetarian, while not rational in and of itself, might be rational for someone for whom moderation is difficult. I think this would apply to a number of people, in the same way that abstaining from alcohol might be strictly speaking worse for one’s health than drinking a glass of wine once in a while. But for one who has a hard time moderating one’s consumption, the consequences of drinking heavily far outweigh the consequences of not drinking so even though the most “rational” thing to do might be to have a glass a day, for a person with a difficult time drinking in moderation, refraining is the best course of action.

    (In general, I think that this, along with aesthetic concerns, motivates more vegetarians that you might think. Particularly if one asks about cows raised humanely on marginal land(with a carbon offset for good measure!) and slaughtered humanely. Many vegetarians will still not eat this type of meat, but will (myself included) certainly agree there is no moral injunction not to.

    Nonetheless, I am glad that your article does not hit any of the ridiculous complaints that vegetarians are oppressing meat eaters or something by existing, so thanks very much for that!

    (As a side note, you say that a meaningless protest like vegetarianism accomplishes nothing. Nonetheless a major point of your article is that the crueler factory farming of the 70’s is diminishing. I have no facts relating to it, but is it not at least possible that the rise of vegetarianism as a part of the animal welfare cause in that period and beyond might at least be partly responsible for such changes, either legally(as in the California law you site) or otherwise, by being a form of awareness raising?)

    Thanks again for the food for thought!

  6. John-Henry Beck says

    As someone pretty disgusted at the idea of being forced to vote for one repubocrat or another, I kinda wonder about that line about it being irrational to vote for 3rd parties. In theory anyway; I’m not sure there’s anything in the way of 3rd parties out there I could support either.

    Anyway, as to the actual point of the article, there’s a lot of good stuff there. I think it enlightened me, particularly on the environmental impacts, where I was accepting some of those claims of the methane and water use being excessive and that sort of thing.
    I’m no vegetarian, mind. I eat little beef, and that’s mostly preference for chicken and turkey. I’m trying to focus on more vegetables, but that’s mostly about personal health (particularly calorie reduction). I think I already understood the basics of a healthy diet.
    I certainly hope that the factory farming is better than we often hear. I knew it was hard to trust PETA reporting. But it’s also often hard to trust the ethics of businesses running the ‘factory farms’.

    To summarize my rambling – I like the article and I agree with a lot of it. It would be good to improve some areas here and there, for various reasons, but the industrial scale farming is pretty important for efficiently feeding so many people.

  7. Solon says

    Where do you get this absolutists “One True Way” silliness?

    >>our own overall life satisfaction depends on being compassionate,

    No, it doesn’t in any absolute sense.

    >>compassion compels us not to enjoy or want pointless torment to exist, no matter what or who is experiencing it.

    No, it doesn’t in any absolute sense. And especially when it could increase your satisfaction in helping those close to you.

    >>an animal’s life is indifferent to when it dies, because it does not become anything and has no awareness of being something.

    Odd to conclude animals are indifferent to dying. And especially when we’re just slightly more clever animals than all the rest.

  8. P says

    Hello Richard,
    I’ll first report that I disagree with much of what you say, though there is a lot to respond to so I won’t bother with most of it.
    Philosophers who write on this topic are almost universally agreed that factory farmed meat eating is morally wrong. I’d just suggest Peter Singer and Jim Mason’s excellent new book, which is packed with tons of empirical data:
    http://www.amazon.com/Ethics-What-We-Eat-Choices/dp/1594866872/ref=sr_1_6?ie=UTF8&qid=1323542294&sr=8-6
    I could recommend several other books to you which rely on industry data to back up the claim that factory farming is terrible for animal welfare. PETA is not the only anti-factory farming group in existence. Pointing to the irrationality of some vegetarians doesn’t generalize. Certainly some vegetarians may be relying on reading human emotions into animals, but it is hard for me to believe all vegetarians do this.
    Animals exhibit many “stress behaviors” (industry term, not animal rights activist term) in factory farming conditions which they do not exhibit under any other conditions.

    You make claims like the following, as evidence that animal welfare is not compromised in factory farming conditions:
    “often chickens voluntarily mass together for warmth and comfort.”
    This is not a good piece of reasoning. It is analogous to saying “often women voluntarily have sex with men for pleasure and comfort” as a justification of rape. (No, I’m not comparing factory farming to rape, I am just using an example to illustrate the fallacy in reasoning.)

    Anyway, I was wondering if you could give me some evidence for your claim that factory farming conditions are not poor conditions for animal welfare, because most of that aspect of your argument is just baldly stating claims without back up. I have personally read *industry* accounts of CAFO conditions and regulations, and you can make a good case, based solely on industry reports, that factory farming is bad for animal welfare. (e.g. They have to de-beak chickens, because they are so cramped that otherwise they will injure each other in response to stress–a behavior not exhibited in chickens in non-CAFO conditions. Similarly with docking the tails of pigs to prevent cannibalistic behavior–another behavior not exhibited in pigs in non-CAFO conditions.)
    If you’d like, I can point you toward some non-PETA sources to read about factory farming conditions and why you might think that it is not ideal for animal welfare or the environment. (I agree with you that it isn’t essentially healthier, though it is certainly possible to be a healthy vegetarian.) But I’ll only do that if you ask. Knowing your personality, no possible empirical information or argumentation could change your mind, so I won’t waste your time unless you prove me wrong about that.

  9. Ceteris Paribus says

    Your post provides a rich feast of ideas to respond to. Oddly, with just a few insertions here and there of terms like “manifest destiny” or “according to God’s Plan”, some of the content could be read as if it were to appear in a Dominionist tract or sermon. Possibly you are playing devil’s advocate with your readers?

    OK, so I accept your premise that humans are not animals, on many levels. One thing that does seem to distinguish rational humans from animals is that we have developed some concept of an inter generational continuum which requires that we learn from our cultural history and also take into account the needs of future generations. Except of course for those who hold that the end of times is near and they are the last generation. But we are talking here about rationality, so here is my response.

    You say in the context of industrial animal farming that “no one burned down a forest to feed you Iowa beef”. But this ignores other natural resources being lost by production of annual crops of corn on land which previously had sustained both the grasses and the meat animals that grazed on them, adequately serving limited populations of both humans and animals which coexisted with the agricultural environment.

    It happens that the perennial grasses seen on lands such as were native to Iowa are just the most visible above ground component of a community of other plants, deep roots of the grasses, and myriad micro organisms that collectively produce and store large quantities of plant nutrients in the soil and deeper into the subsoil.

    Because these nutrients can only be released back to the plants in small amounts each year there remained a reserve making it is possible for the perennial grasses to bridge over inevitable years of drought, bad weather, periodic insect infestations, and the occasional over grazing by large roaming herds of meat animals.

    Annual row crops such as the feed corn used for industrialized beef production have been selected for entirely different characteristics. They have shallow roots that minimize plant’s own needs in order to favor the needs of the crop, and so do not develop deep roots which protect the soil from erosion or support the complex of micro organisms which store nutrients in the soil. Annual crops require applications of artificial fertilizers to yield crops of sufficient economic value to justify the investment in farm machinery which unlike most capital investments is used only a few weeks of a year. In wet years excess applied fertilizer follows the river drainages producing ocean ‘dead zones’ in ocean areas which previously were important sources of sustainable marine animal protein. Most importantly, annual row crops leave much of the soil surface exposed to wind and water erosion which removes soil particles at a rate higher than new soil can form, in effect mining a finite resource.

    So while no forest has been burned in Iowa to produce meat, mining the soil to produce corn will inevitably reduce future food available for humans whether they prefer their food in the form of meat or vegetable. Somewhat counter intuitively, but given the differences in distribution of rainfall between natural forest lands and natural grass lands, burned over forests can be restored to trees long before soil mined grasslands can be restored to perennial grasslands.

    In the context of “efficiency” you say “Factory farms are vastly more efficient.” But the concept of “efficiency” of agriculture here seems incompletely stated in a culture where the measure of efficiency of factory farms is by the standard economic model. This economic efficiency really only cares about monetary return on investment, using ideas that all monetized goods are fungible, and employs electronic currencies that have no reality beyond pixels on a screen. And all of which are accounted for on a time scale which says a dollar made today is worth more than a dollar made tomorrow; and where the long future is no farther distant than the next annual, or even quarterly, profit and loss report to the stock holders.

    But food supplies are physical, not always fungible, perishable, require transport infrastructure, and operate on a time scale requiring a generation or more to fully measure the external costs which economic accounting does not address at all.

    Perhaps you do mean a different idea of efficiency, but in my view there is not any measure of efficiency which would commend using efficiency as a motivation for increasing food production to feed a population of 7 billion people. We simply need some other measure of value beyond efficiency or maximization.

    Those who have followed Dawkins are familiar with the recurrent laryngeal nerve which takes an evolutionarily inherited, but entirely inefficient, path in the mammalian body. But while not efficient the route is sufficient for the purpose of getting the nerve from the point where it originates to the point where it ends, and there is no need for evolution to go further to maximize the efficiency of routing. The existing route is satisfactory, and sufficient for the job.

    So if evolution does not demand efficiency and maximization, it might be instructive to notice that for most of human life the living population never exceeded a few hundreds of millions. The minimal required population to maintain a robust human gene pool is reported to be only in the tens of thousands. A population of that size has been satisfactory, and sufficient for the job.

    So now we come to a time in history where there is a wide spread desire to employ agricultural technologies that maximize food production efficiency in the short term, but are unsustainable on the time frame of just a few additional generations. The purpose of the program is to temporarily feed a population of 7 billion and yet still growing.

    Is that desire for maximization and short term economic efficiency of food production the result of a moral imperative, or a rational argument, or merely the product of a pervasive dominionist theology desiring to maximize the number of souls invited to participate in their end of times event?

    Thanks for your discussion of food production. It brings to mind Garret Hardin who mentioned two things often left aside in matters of natural resources and people. One was: “Like the Sorcerer’s apprentice, we learn the hard way that we can never do merely one thing.” We humans tend to see things as atomistic, and not so much as systematic.

    Another Hardin aphorism was: “In the ecolate view of the world, time has no stop: every well meant proposal must be challenged by the question, “And then what?” “

  10. Joe t says

    This just blew my mind. I’m gonna have to fact check it a bit more but if everything checks out it will definitely change the way I think about meat.

  11. jwloftus says

    Richard, there seems to be something a bit, shall I say, emotional with your argument when you say this:

    “But it’s irrational to say “we should just get rid of it,” and doubly irrational to think you’re ever going to get rid of it, and triply irrational to think that a meaningless protest behavior (not eating meat) is ever going to make one whit of difference to anything.”

    I would hope you see this statement for what it is. When you are so emotional about an argument it cause you to lose the perception of even-handedness–just a caution my friend.

    Now I can’t dispute your facts, nor do I wish to. I will continue studying this issue. I eat meat by the way. But I prefer it be grown organically and killed quickly.

    Remember, we’re dealing with sentient animals who can feel pain. It behooves us to be as sure as we can that we are not inflicting upon them needless pain. As such we should be able to agree that abuses should be discouraged.

    • questionable_things says

      I agree. I was going to send this to a vegetarian friend of mine, but it’s a bit too emotional and insulting.

    • says

      John, there is nothing wrong with being emotional. And I’m sure you agree, because you routinely get emotional on subjects you tackle as well. That’s actually entirely human. In fact, I think it is a little disingenuous to put on an air of being unemotional, since you are then only concealing from the reader what is actually motivating you. Even academic work would be better off if its emotion and biases were explicit rather than disguised behind a rhetoric of objectivity.

      The aim should not be to eliminate emotion, but to check both sides of an argument first and make sure your facts and logic are correct, and then present that case. Objectivity is then produced by the reliability of the data used and the validity of the logic applied to it. That’s in fact what logic and standards of evidence are for: as a check against emotions and biases. Not as a way to eliminate them (which can never be done), but as a way to eliminate their effects.

  12. Ray Moscow says

    I’m pretty much OK with the ethics of traditional farming and ranching. The animals generally have a better life and a less painful and stressful death than their wild counterparts would have.

    Some of the modern ‘intensive’ ranching methods, of keeping animals in crowded cages their entire lives, seem unnecessarily cruel, though.

    There’s no easy solution that would eliminate animal suffering, though. Even raising vegetables and grain necessitates the death of countless small animals.

  13. VeganPhD says

    You make many good points which should cause me to reevaluate my positions and actions. The information about water usage is interesting, as is the issue with smoking being a factor in many early studies.

    Of course I don’t agree with everything you say or imply. You express that anyone with compassion has a desire to minimize “pointless torment”, which (assuming you yourself are compassionate) implies a belief that any suffering caused by factory farming is necessary. While I’m willing to accept that factory farms aren’t necessarily as bad as the vegan propaganda suggests, I find it hard to believe that there isn’t a considerable amount of torment that occurs in them.

    As for the statement

    But it’s irrational to say “we should just get rid of it,” and doubly irrational to think you’re ever going to get rid of it, and triply irrational to think that a meaningless protest behavior (not eating meat) is ever going to make one whit of difference to anything.

    we do live in a capitalist society. A person’s money is effectively their vote, and while a single’s person’s money or vote is statistically insignificant a large number of people spending/voting the same way can effect change. (As an aside, I wonder why you felt this statement necessary, since it seems to be the only one in the post that attacks people rather than their ideas.)

    I’ll end my rambling with a question, which is a serious one even though it may come across as inflammatory: Do you believe non-human animals have any inherent worth or worth beyond how they are useful to humans?

  14. Sierra Nevada says

    So much bias masquerading as rationality. But I question in particular three assertions.

    1) “…destroying an animal humanely is not cruel.”

    Tautology. “Humane” actions by definition are not cruel. However lacking in cruelty, destruction that lacks necessity is neither “rational” nor “not cruel.” Vegetarianism, veganism, et al. assert that necessity is a precondition for the humane destruction of animal life. And they don’t just assert the un-necessity of it from an armchair, they show it by living it.

    Now you can no doubt find hypocritical, inefficient, and irrational examples of vegetarianism and veganism, but that search would just as biased an activity as vegetarians who cite examples of immoral factory farming.

    2) “…an animal’s life…has no awareness of being something.”

    Leaving aside the question of “How the hell do you know this?” (which you emphatically do not, by the way), this is a very funny reason to deny compassion to another creature. So you think that you, a contingent creature with some free archair time, can decree that a category to which you believe you belong and imagine others not to is the only criterium for compassion?

    Anthropocentrism is just as irrational as anthropomorphism.

    3)”I also find vegetarians irrational in their acceptance of non-vegetarians.”

    So our only rational and moral choices are joining you for bacon cheeseburger lunches or all out war? Can’t we try some other modes, since we have some common causes and compassion with you meat-eating types. Some of us have spent most of our lives as meat eaters, how could we rationally deny others the courtesy of coming to their senses that we ourselves were allowed?

    But since you seem to want asking for it, I will give you a little bombast and name-calling: That is the stupidist freaking false choice I have ever heard, Armcharrier.

    Does that help?

  15. says

    When you investigate the actual conditions on most farms, especially those vending major industries like KFC or McDonalds, you find they are not as bad as PETA videos claim.

    Firstly, I’m glad to hear it. Secondly, PETA is a dogmatic organization anyway, sort of like anti-abortion movements. I can’t take them seriously. Thirdly, I’m kind of glad that I make my food choices based on quality as well as type. I eat some meat but I never eat fast food.

    Americans have a huge obesity problem (and Australians do as well – I think we are catching up, but I don’t have the data). This has to do with so many factors that you can’t even start with the notion that meat is the problem. That’s crazy. However, the quality of meat that many Americans eat is not ideal, i.e. it’s grain-fed, not grass-fed.

    It’s like choosing the wrong fuel for your engine – yes, it will work for a while, even a long while, but you could either burn an exhaust valve or break a piston ring.

    Lifespan is not really the main thing I’m looking at. I’m looking at quality of life as well. The aim is to have the best of both. Hell, some drug addicts and smokers live to an average lifespan! So to talk about lifespan only is misleading (I’m not saying you are being misleading, though).

    Over here in Australia I watched on TV a chicken farmer saying, with complete reassurance, that he only feeds his chickens small amounts of antibiotics, therefore we shouldn’t worry! Oh, dear. Well, you can see that there are pragmatic reasons for not eating meat. However, we buy chickens which are not fed antibiotics.

    BTW it’s illegal here to feed animals hormones, which is worth noting because a few people take it for granted that meat has added hormones in it. Such is the side-effect of a global village: things which are not relevant to one society are perceived to be so, because we often all get our information from the same channels.

    so it’s too bad I can’t digest dairy

    You’re kind of lucky and kind of not lucky. Unlucky because you can’t eat eggs. Lucky because you can’t drink milk. You might know this, but milk is in fact good for you as long as it isn’t processed. Processed milk is bad news (the casein clogs your intestines and your body can’t extract the calcium). You see how common wisdom doesn’t always catch up with modern reality.

    It seems to me, especially after reading this piece, that when most people discuss issues like meat eating, all sorts of factors are confused with each other. If meat is unhealthy for a given person: it’s maybe because of the way it has been grown, not because of its inherent qualities; and because that person might be eating too much meat and not enough vegetables.

    • Andrew G. says

      The indiscriminate use of antibiotics in agriculture is a problem regardless of whether anyone eats the resulting meat or not.

      These are unsupported fact claims that you need to justify in order to be taken seriously:

      However, the quality of meat that many Americans eat is not ideal, i.e. it’s grain-fed, not grass-fed.

      You might know this, but milk is in fact good for you as long as it isn’t processed. Processed milk is bad news (the casein clogs your intestines and your body can’t extract the calcium). You see how common wisdom doesn’t always catch up with modern reality.

    • gwen says

      “(the casein clogs your intestines and your body can’t extract the calcium).” Wrong on both points, showing an incredible lack of understanding of simple biology. NO, your intestines don’t get ‘clogged’. Normal peristalsis ensures that what you put in one end, comes out the other, unless you have certain underlying conditions. Processing the milk protects you from pathogens which may be present in the milk despite proper preparation and handling. Consider the high number of disease outbreaks and recalls in the raw milk industry. Processing the milk does nothing to your ability to absorb the calcium. It is the biological function of your intestines to absorb nutrients from your food, and processing the food will not prevent it.

    • says

      Processed milk is bad news

      I wonder if you have a reference for that. I’ve heard the claim before, but mostly the people saying it have been nutjobs, so I’m a bit wary of it.

      What is it about processed milk that is supposedly bad for you?

    • says

      Karim, just to clarify, that I can’t consume dairy doesn’t mean I can’t eat eggs. Eggs do not contain lactose (and accordingly they do no harm to me, and I haven’t developed an aversion to them). I realize that’s a confusion one can make, though, since dairy can mean lactose products alone, or eggs as well.

  16. Alexander Kruel says

    Nice post, some new information to take into account. But I am myself mainly a preference vegetarian. Just as some people are not into naturism I don’t like the thought of eating something that was once part of a quite sophisticated machine. If one could eat books, I wouldn’t devour them either. That seems tasteless to me. And the last time I checked such preferences didn’t count as particularly irrational. Therefore you shouldn’t make it sound like all vegetarians fit into a certain category.

    And regarding your remarks about the “destruction” of animals. I think you are overconfident here that animals don’t have any awareness that would be considered morally significant by some people.

    Nevertheless, I wish you would spend your time on more important topics. For example the examination of existential risk scenarios and if it is rational to to contribute money to organisations that try to research or mitigate them. I wrote you an email about it to obtain the opinion of someone who is well-read, who has the necessary education and does possess the right mindset to examine some claims that are being made regarding that topic.

  17. says

    As a long-time fan of Dr C, I have to say I’m taken aback by this attempt at rationality…

    This article boils down to the following argument:
    premise 1: Eating meat and meat products is not so bad
    premise 2: Doing other things is just as bad.
    Conclusion A: It’s ok to torture and kill animals for pleasure.

    Even accepting the premises, the proper conclusion is to 1) not eat meat or meat products, because ‘not so bad’ is still bad. Premise two is a simple non sequitur as those other things are not mutually exclusive to a vegan lifestyle.

    This comment isn’t room for a proper item-by-item, but readers should ask themselves if the dichotomies proposed are really valid. Is there really a conflict between showering and eating hamburgers? Would rainwater really be wasted if it weren’t diverted to the meat industry? Would it be impossible to find non-meat substitutes for animal byproducts. Is grain for cattle the only produce (or activity) that land could produce?

    Also remember that all those mitigating circumstances, if true, are there only to justify a simple desire to munch on a steak. That’s not “rational” meat-eating, it’s “rationalized” meat-eating.

    And contrary to the sensational warning about “endlessly bizarre behavior,” I think opting out of meat-products for food is a pretty simple life change. It’s only made difficult by the influence of culture, tradition, and authority in forcing this ancient practice on a populace that is ready to evolve (sound familiar?).

    To answer the specific question of why veg*ns are so tolerant towards others, it’s simply due to the weight of culture and our ability to recognize the limits of personal suggestion. 25,000 kids died in Africa today, and that’s one of many tragedies, but I do what I can to make the world a better place. That’s perspective. No amount of tearing at my eyes when someone eats a hamburger will change their heart. But I might remind them that it’s not the best life we could live, and maybe they’ll think better of it the next time.

  18. gwen says

    Richard, you neglected to mention the number of voles, mice, birds, snakes etc killed in the process of planting crops. The machine in preparing the field, digs down about a foot, killing everything in its way down to that level. If PETA were sincere about their concerns for animal, they would make sure every field is prepared and every crop planted by hand. Until they do, they have animal murder on their hands with every meal they eat…

  19. Carol Eberhard says

    Eat more venison! I am a hunter and, believe me, we hunters get a lot of grief for what we do. But, one thing is for certain, when I sit down to eat, I know an animal died so that I could have nourishment. No sanitized cello wrapped package that doesn’t remotely bring to mind a living creature. For any creature living on this planet, for you to live, something else has to die. Everyone has blood on their hands, I can just see mine.

  20. Epistaxis says

    Denialism at its most erudite but least informed.

    The industry is actually a lot smarter and cleaner than propagandists represent. In fact many of the conditions rights activists complain about are actually so bad for actual production efficiency and profit margin that no rational business would ever engage in them anyway, even if animals were vegetables.

    This is a surprising factual claim. Where are the citations? In fact, where are the explanations of what specific claims you’re even refuting here? What you’ve said is something that could take a whole series of articles to document; what series of articles did you read while researching this post?

    animal rights advocates often misconstrue what is “bad” for an animal, thinking animals are just like people and thus whatever we wouldn’t like they wouldn’t like,

    Can you make this argument without constructing a strawman? Or at least tell us which people advanced this position?

    Animals need a lot less than we do in order to be content and to experience normal stress levels or less (normal being the amount of occasional stress, highs and lows, that they would experience in the wild). Chickens, for example, are not miserable when in large crowded communities.

    [citation needed] again, even if you happen to have an advanced degree in zoology. Animal behavior is actually a huge field of scientific inquiry, not something people casually assert with a wave of the hand. Also, do they enjoy de-beaking without anesthetic?

    I’ve looked and listened far and wide and there is just no logically valid argument that proceeds from “I ought to be compassionate” to “I ought to be a vegetarian.”

    An argument from your own willful ignorance is not compelling. Which philosophers have you read? How did you refute their arguments?

    Again, an animal’s life is indifferent to when it dies, because it does not become anything and has no awareness of being something.

    Are you not aware that many animals demonstrate various degrees of self-awareness and reaction to each other’s death? Or do you not care whether the words you’re using actually mean anything in particular? Again, this requires far more citations than zero.

    It’s also not rational to be a vegetarian “to save the planet,” for the same reason it’s not rational to vote for third party candidates in U.S. presidential elections. It’s literally the most useless thing you can do to effect any change or prevent harm. As it happens, relying on local produce is worse for the environment.

    Now aside from not having done any research, it’s clear you don’t even know what issue you’re talking about anymore. Local food != vegetarianism. In fact, had you read your own citation (actually it’s just a blog post that links to more respectable sources), you’d realize most of the evidence contained therein concerns vegetables, not meat.

    Animal farming is not taking grain away from people, but making the grain people eat more efficient, by converting its waste product into more food. And hundreds of other products besides food.

    So basically you’re saying animals are a perpetual motion machine. Rather than lose 90% of the energy at each link in the food chain, we can simply hook up the waste from the top to the feeders at the bottom, and suddenly the system is more efficient than if we cut out the middleman. Take that to the patent office.

    For example, take the claim that “factory farming (specifically for meat) is one of the greatest contributors to global warming.” That’s simply not true.

    Ah, I was wondering when the global-warming denial was coming. You really like to make an argument from numbers and then stop using those numbers as soon as they’re inconvenient:

    fertilizer production and use, most of which actually gets used in the agriculture industry (and would thus simply be replaced with some other emissions-producing fertilizer)

    Oh? Which fertilizer are you talking about? How much methane and NOX does it emit? I thought this was about numbers.

    You are ruining the environment just as much when you shower as when you eat a hamburger.

    Can you back up your armchair analysis, with, you know, a [citation]? Do you think it is inconsistent with the study that found changing from a carnivorous to a vegetarian diet would confer roughly the same reduction of greenhouse gas emissions as switching from an SUV to a Prius? (Eshel & Martin 2005) Or is there something we should know about showers?

    In fact, if we set an average shower’s greenhouse impact at about 2 units, a hamburger rates about 3…while the impact for a serving of winter tomatoes is 50.

    I thought you were against local food. Now you’re for it? Pick a side on this irrelevant and distracting separate issue, please.

    triply irrational to think that a meaningless protest behavior (not eating meat) is ever going to make one whit of difference to anything.

    Are you sure you understand how industries work? They don’t just make meat because they want to; they do it because someone is going to buy it. If demand decreases, production will react. Sure, you’re just one person in a sea of millions; but by that logic, voting in a presidential election is a meaningless protest too. Except you don’t even have to leave your home to eat less meat.

    Cabbage and berry pickers have a much shittier life than many a cow, yet vegetarians don’t refuse to eat cabbage and tomatoes because the labor that produces them is a tick above slavery.

    I would like another [citation] for your claim that vegetarians do not consider workers’ rights in their buying decisions.

    In fact that study only established a 95% chance that the differential was somewhere between 6% and 38%…pay close attention: that means the data do not confirm a benefit any greater than only 6% fewer deaths (it could be greater, but we don’t know).

    I don’t want to alarm you, but every statistical finding has a confidence interval and many of them are wide. The data do not confirm a benefit lower than 38% either.

    So that was an interesting review of a single study. (Well, not really; you just got tripped up on statistical interpretations of the findings, without even going into the soundness of the methods.) Have you looked at more than one? Have you looked at a meta-analysis? The Wikipedia article on “vegetarian nutrition” has 47 sources.

    while vegetarianism might give you a benefit of about 1.2 times lower mortality on one single illness, and yet still makes no difference to when you die beyond at most one or two years, not smoking definitely does give you a benefit of 10 times lower mortality rate on numerous diseases, and for some diseases it’s 20 times or more.

    And how much do your odds improve if you stop eating red herring? (Actually, it’s probably not negligible; fish in general carry a risk of heavy-metal poisoning and smoked fish in particular raise the risk of stomach cancer, because of smoking again.)

    No conclusion? Well, I’ll write one: it’s amazing that you’re able to write at such length about so many issues having done almost no research (or in the most important cases, zero) on any of them, and with a casual disdain toward even the notion that factual claims ought to be resolved by evidence. What a sad day for skepticism.

  21. Russell Martin says

    I’ll just leave this here. Rethinking the Meat-Guzzler

    Also, it’s good to remember ‎”it is always easier to deny reality than to watch your worldview get shattered”.

    Shameful that a site about freethought would waste electrons publishing what amounts to the equivalent of religious apologetics in regards to eating tortured, environment killing, factory farmed meat.

  22. KG says

    I wonder if it has occurred to Richard Carrier that perhaps vegetarians in general do not treat meat-eaters as pariahs because they do not make the error he attributes to them of regarding non-human animals as people; and although they prefer not to eat meat, and in many cases would prefer others not to eat meat, nonetheless admit that it’s possible to disagree with their views and still be a decent human being. But no; that would be a rational, civilized attitude to a difference in ethical judgment, and Carrier assures us that vegetarians are irrational.

  23. says

    Brief response to your claim about the global warming effects:

    1. The initial debate was over whether it is ethical to become a vegetarian. If everyone in the world could and did become a vegetarian, that would significantly improve greenhouse gas emissions. You could not then arbitrarily limit your investigation only to modern factory farms and neglect meat consumption over the entire world.

    2. Your entire argument is a red herring. I claimed that eating meat contributes to global warming. You then cite a statistic that the total impact meat has on global warming is 18%, arguing that it is closer to 2% if we only include modern factory farms. Guess what? At 2%, eating meat still contributes to global warming. You have not proven your case!

    3. You say:
    “…what gets used for animal husbandry (e.g. fertilizing pastures) would still be used if the same land were used for crops (in fact crops are more fertilizer intensive), so this is not in fact anything we’d get back if we stopped animal farming. And when you subtract that element, too, now you end up with just 6% of manmade emissions coming from actual animal farming…”
    Why is it you think that if we stopped animal farming, we’d then use that land for crops? I find that a dubious assumption, because the only reason we use so much land for crops is because we use it as feed for animals. Am I misreading your argument here? It doesn’t seem to me you can just subtract this element.

    4. Finally, in regards to your point that encouraging vegetarianism and veganism wouldn’t help, and we should therefore seek other solutions that are more likely to work (i.e., when you advise us to learn game theory). You compare it to voting for a third party candidate. (I’d argue that it’s more like voting in general, as your individual vote is quite negligible and the two viable parties are practically clones of each other, but that’s an entirely separate debate!) I think the problem with your argument here is that game theory is not an ethical theory, and I think many ethical theories wouldn’t require an action to have a worldwide, far-ranging positive effect to be considered ethical. The fact is, if vegetarianism or veganism were universalized, the world would probably be a better place in terms of environmental damage, animal suffering, and so on. So yes, you argue that it is “rational” to try actions that would actually be effective. (Although, by your own admission, factory farming contributes 2% to global warming, among other environmental problems, and therefore eating less meat or no meat would be effective!) But that does not mean that the ETHICAL thing to do is something that must be realizable. It would be quite ETHICAL if everyone were to stop killing each other. The fact that this is not realizable doesn’t make it unethical.

    • says

      “If everyone in the world could and did become a vegetarian, that would significantly improve greenhouse gas emissions.”

      No, it wouldn’t. That’s my point. The data simply don’t support that conclusion, not least because not eating meat results in picking up other behaviors to replace it that causes the same or greater emissions. The net effect is simply negligible.

      This is the number one most common error committed by environmentalists with an obsession against some particular industry: they don’t stop to consider what the effect will be of ending that industry. Some behavior will replace it. Will that behavior actually produce fewer emissions? By how much?

      The number two most common error is a failure to consider the realistic prospect of ending an industry vs. improving its efficiency. Ending an industry is almost always a pipe dream. Not least because now a major consumer driving industry expansion worldwide is China, and sorry, but our influence on the populace of China is a tick above zilch. Whereas an innovation that improves efficiency pricks up everyone’s ears the world over. The Chinese are as interested in spending less and making more money as anyone. So ongoing work to derive usable energy from cattle methane production, which turns shit into cash at great reduction in emissions (compared to using that shit as fertilizer), is something you should support. Vegetarianism, not. You may as well vote for Nader in 2000. Just look what that did to us.

      The number three most common error is sucking at math. All activity produces greenhouse gases. Just your breathing does. Animals do. The earth by itself does. The very rocks produce emissions. As well as all the other things we do (from drive to shower to turning on the lights to manufacturing medical instruments to mining metal, to what have you). Thus saying “it produces emissions, therefore it’s bad” is retarded. Even cavemen produced greenhouse gas emissions…before they even invented fire! That’s why a 2% emission share is insignificant. If you want to worry about emission levels, there are far more important industries to focus on, especially the power sector (coal burning) and the transportation sector (cars and trucks and planes and ships and trains).

      Although, again, even pedestrians and bicyclists produce emissions: a bicycle is not even ten times more emissions-efficient than a high-mileage car, and a car moves far more weight than a bicycle, e.g. furniture, bags of groceries, emergency equipment, and is far faster and safer to boot, and all-weather, and more suitable for anyone tired, handicapped, injured, or ill, e.g. if you have to take someone to a hospital, you’re screwed if all you have is a bicycle. So within the “car sector” bicycles would produce 10% emissions if we replaced all transport in the U.S. with bicycles and other man-powered vehicles, and since the transport sector produces something like 27% of U.S. emissions, 10% of 27% is 2.7%, it follows that eliminating the transportation industry would produce more emissions than eating meat! Granted, that calculation assumes all transport is high-mileage, but that’s precisely why we should aim to make that so. The point is, everything produces emissions, so perspective is in order.

      “I find that a dubious assumption, because the only reason we use so much land for crops is because we use it as feed for animals.”

      Not that much land is used “to produce feed for animals” because most “feed for animals” is the waste product from land used to produce “feed for people.” If we got rid of the animals, we’d have all that waste and we’d have to dispose of it somehow and it would just produce emissions in the process (even if we just left it lying around somewhere). Moreover, while we could divert then some of the supplementary food to people, that would barely equal the food needed to replace the meat (and dairy), and yet we need the hundreds of other non-food products we get from animals (especially but not only fertilizer for human-consumption crops), which we’d have to generate agriculturally or synthetically, either way by massive emissions generation, and no doubt land cultivation. And to top it all off, unless you intend to become Stalin and shoot people who don’t comply with your wishes, land owners stuck with land they can’t grow meat on, will use that land for something else. Most likely, a cash crop. All of that is why eliminating the manure does not eliminate the emissions associated with it. By contrast, making manure more efficient (e.g. by taking unused manure and generating electrical power with it using a low emissions process) is something a landowner will readily get behind because it makes money out of stuff he otherwise already has, and in fact could make animals into an emissions sink, i.e. by replacing the high-emissions coal production of electricity, in relative effect a biomass facility subtracts emissions rather than adds them. It’s obvious what is the better plan to promote: the elimination of meat production, or the implementation of biomass power production. One of those has a chance of succeeding. The other has none. Exactly the point I made.

      …the two viable parties are practically clones of each other

      That’s another irrational myth, which is doubly irrational coming from an atheist (I’m not assuming you are an atheist, I’m just making the point “if you are”). The single most important thing a president does is appoint members to the Supreme Court. There is absolutely no sense whatever in which the two parties are clones of each other when assessing the effect of that one variable, which is huge (once a seat is filled it stays filled for fifty years, thus it’s the most powerful thing a President can ever do and the more he is in office the more he can exercise that power). The Bush administration almost took over the Supreme Court. They are just one justice away from a majority opposition to freedom of religion, separation of church and state, and free speech, among other things. Your rights hang in the balance. The second most important thing a president does is appoint people to run the many departments of the Federal government. Republicans appoint party-dogmatic incompetent cronies, because for them holding office is about power (remember Brownie?), whereas Democrats appoint competent professionals who believing in increasing efficiency and defending American liberties, because for them holding office is about competence and responsibility (although their second criterion is cronyism, they don’t let that supplant the first criterion: are they skilled and knowledgeable and experienced and care about doing a good job and not trampling American liberties). That’s why Clinton balanced the budget and Bush blew it out of the water: Clinton devoted considerable attention to trimming the federal government and decreasing its cost by increasing its efficiency; Obama has been re-implementing those same policies that Bush put a stop to. You don’t hear about this because the press doesn’t report on it. Yet it’s the second most important way a president affects us, and on this measure there is again a huge difference between the two parties. Even their attitude toward war differs substantially: compare Iraq with Libya, just in terms of American lives lost and money spent. Though both are hawks, that doesn’t make them even remotely the same in total effect. You can find similar differences almost across the board, e.g. both politic too much in writing bills and both are in the pocket of moneyed interests, and yet the Democrats still believe in compromise and negotiation, whereas the Republicans do not. The difference is that bills produced by Democrats, for all their faults, are less harmful to society overall, and more gets done by them than by Republicans. I could go on. But the point is, to say a vote doesn’t count because there is no difference between the two parties is rank bullshit.

      …game theory is not an ethical theory…

      Game theory is the foundation of all true ethical theories. This has been well understood by scientists studying the biological and cultural evolution of morality now for some time. See my selection of books on the subject, as well as (more directly): Game Theory and the Social Contract Vol. 1 (MIT Press, 1994) and Vol. 2 (MIT Press, 1998).

      The reason you should heed it is that it works. Proposals that benefit both business and the environment are the proposals most likely to be implemented and widely effected. In fact, by a large margin. The issue is also not analogous to murder, where each murder is a moral evil, because eating meat is not comparable to murder, in fact it is ethically neutral when one attends to humane treatment and efficiency. Thus advocating the elimination of meat does nothing even if realized, and also does nothing because it will never be realized. Whereas advocating improved efficiency and treatment does a lot, and not least because it will be realized, in fact it is already being realized. And we could have a lot more if we turned our advocacy to that instead of useless gestures. The analogy is thus more comparable to this: you can try to stop violence by telling them we should all just believe in peace and love, or you can stop violence by finding behaviors that mutually benefit the perpetrator and victim, e.g. solutions to conflicts that benefit both parties. In other words, actually solving their problem. One of those strategies works and thus is worth pursuing. The other doesn’t, and therefore isn’t.

  24. says

    I was glad to find this, as the morality of my own decision to eat meat has been bothering me for some time now, and it has been a source of some discussion in the Humanist community as to whether to embrace vegetarianism as an institution. I think your analyses of the nature of factory farming and the environmental costs are extremely valuable, and I look forward to using some of the data you present next time I discuss the issue.

    Where I think your response is weakest, though, is when you address the potential moral requirement to be compassionate toward animals (which, troubling for me, is the most salient issue in my mind). You argue that we should not anthropomorphize animals in ways which mislead us regarding our moral responsibilities towards them. Agreed. But you then seem to jump from that point to the idea that “being a vegetarian out of “compassion” is irrational”.

    This is a non sequitur. We may be morally required to be compassionate toward animals as animals, even understanding that they are not much like human beings. You yourself seem to accept we have some moral responsibilities toward animals when you say “eating animals is fine as long as you aren’t torturing them”. But the question is easily posed, if torturing animals is wrong, why is killing them to eat them, when it is not absolutely necessary, not wrong? Your response to the Christian on godcontention.org also fails to address this potential criticism. It seems to me many intelligent vegetarians understand that killing an animal to consume it, when you could get food from non-animal sources, is not as bad as killing a person, but still wrong (because it causes pain and unnecessary suffering, including death, to the animal).

    There are other problems in your argument (such as the establishment of a false dilemma in your discussion of vegetarian’s response to meat eaters, and a rather odd statement on godcontention.org that “unlike humans, pigs have evolved to be consumed” – what moral relevance does that have, and this seems a strange view of evolution). But the main problem I see if this failure to really grapple with the “why cause animals unnecessary suffering?” question.

    In short, why is it wrong to torture animals, as you grant, but not wrong to kill them?

  25. Stan Brooks says

    First let me say I’m so glad to see you here at FTB, what a welcome addition.

    Secondly, thanks for a rational, well thought out article. I gave up some years ago arguing with vegans (a belief that is akin to a religion for many adherents) or vegetarians (who for the most part are simply on a restricted diet) but it is really nice to have a sensible, understandable and compact resource to call upon on the rare instances I find myself in an argument about the benefits of vegetarianism. Much appreciated.

  26. Robin says

    You make it sound like clean floors and some fresh air is enough to make factory farming ethical and moral. But you conveniently leave out everything else. Animals are bred to the point where their anatomy can’t support their weight. 75% of all factory farmed chickens have walking impairment from their grotesque bodies and clearly show that they are in pain. 4% of all chickens die from sudden death syndrome, another 5% from ascites (fluids filling up the body). This doesn’t exist in wild chickens. Factory farmed chickens live their entire 42 day long lives on concrete floors and 24 hour light to maximize their growth. They are pushed to the brink of death without going over the edge and of course with the aide of medicines. Ultimately the corporation ONLY care about the profit. No one has to go on about this topic to realize factory farming is unethical and immoral. If this doesn’t convince you there is a lot more data confirming the cruelty that goes on.

    “The grain used to feed cattle, for instance, amounts to 98% of the water consumption involved in beef and dairy production ”

    Exactly. It takes a tremendous amount of water, space, and energy to make the feed for the animals we consume. For every pound of beef it takes 2,400 gallons of water. For one pound of vegetables about 2 gallons. It takes 20 times more fossil fuels to make one pound of beef compared to one pound of vegetables.

    I have yet to see a single study saying that the consumption of meat have any benefits over a vegan diet. There are tremendously many more benefits than just heart disease prevention. Vegans may only live a few more years than meat eaters, but will enjoy the last two decades of their lives more than meat eaters. It’s not only about length of life, but quality of life.

    “1.2 times lower mortality on one single illness”

    Considering heart disease is a leading cause of death in America I wouldn’t disregard the 20% lower chance of dying. If everybody were vegans we could have saved 120,000 people last year. And you forgot to mention the numerous studies that say a vegan diet can prevent and reverse many cancers.

    Anyways, I disagree with pretty much everything you blogged about.

  27. hoverfrog says

    I like to live my life on the principle of least harm. I prefer not to push old ladies into traffic, torture puppies or eat meat (not that they are in any way equivalent). I view the ethics of eating meat as being largely morally neutral. It is a personal choice. Like having sex with members of the same or a different sex it makes no difference to me but I’m not about to switch my preference.

    A lot of the common arguments for meat eating and for vegetarian\vegan diets are blown out of all proportion. The fact though (and the evidence supports this) is that most people in the west eat too much meat to have a healthy diet. Eating less meat (eating less in general) would improve their health and longevity. They should also drink plenty of water and exercise a bit more than they are. Oh and give up smoking. It’s a filthy habit.

    A lot of veggies and meat eaters spend their time arguing over the absolute value of their own preference, not admitting that it is merely a preference.

    My preference may well be irrational though I think that they are. I don’t like the smell of meat, I don’t like the idea of eating something that used to walk around (or swim around) and I don’t like the processing and storage practices even though you say they are much better than they were years ago or how PETA portray them. I figure that my irrational actions (if they are actually irrational) don’t hurt anyone, not even me, so what is the harm?

  28. progjohn says

    If we all turned vegetarian almost all farm animals would be killed, they are only alive so we can eat them. So how does turning vegetarian help animals?

    As an aside, a friend has a farm on which he keeps 16,000 chickens in a huge shed. They are free to go in or out all day onto a 40 acre area of grassland set aside for them, but almost all choose to stay inside the shed where they feel safe. Animals are not people and have completely different requirements for contentment, most farmers pander to these as it improves productivity.

  29. Teddy MD says

    I think a widely prevalent concept (albeit unspoken) throughout this post is the false equivalence between the PITA crowd and vegetarians in general. Many rational vegetarians for example are proponents for ethical animal research as well as genetically modified crops. Meanwhile, the PITA crowd is anti-science, pro-violence, and has a possible religious fanaticism for animal welfare. Those folks absolutely need to be challenged though claiming they represent all vegetarians is really more of a straw man argument. Yes, pro science vegetarians are a minority but we are likely very much so enriched on this forum and you might do well in future posts to distinguish between the two camps.

    You also have other poor rhetorical arguments in your post including red herrings (smoking), cherry picking (ignoring environmental effects of fisheries, and comparing Iowa beef to winter tomatoes), bad statistics (using the 6% lower limit of a 95% confidence range), poor epidemiology (6% of a widely prevalent disease is in fact very important!), bad medicine (heart disease elevation is caused by obesity not other diseases being cured) and overall ambiguity (what exact diet are you proposing?).

    Please ground your thread with a real recommendation that can be supported or disproven. There is a world of a difference between eating meat once a week and 2-3 times per day and between Blue Fin Tuna and Iowa beef.

    Thanks,
    Teddy MD

    PS Claiming that eating meat is ethical because animal abuse only happens occasionally may not not be as convincing of an argument as you seem to think.

  30. says

    This was a very interesting post, and I am glad to have something from you that I may disagree with. I’m not going to argue about the ethics since I don’t disagree there, and the environmental impact isn’t a large enough reason to change lifestyles (compared to, say, driving a more efficient car). But there are some things about the health benefits that do not seem quite right.

    One thing I noticed from the study you mentioned is a comparison of the body mass indices between vegetarians and omnivores; while the latter were fatter, the average BMI of those omnivores (~25) is significantly lower than it is for the average American (~28). Americans and other affluent nations have been getting fatter, and that is hard to do on a vegan diet.

    Nonetheless, the study tried to normalize for the confounding factor of BMI, and vegans/vegetarians are usually leaner. This means that when you ignore the benefits of the leaner diet, there is still that 24% improvement; compare it then to the average American with their higher weight, and it seems vegetarians are looking good.

    As for the risks of the vegan/vegetarian diet, the easy solution is variety. If you just eat fruits, you’re doomed; if you just eat carrots, you’re doomed. If you eat a variety, which all diets should include, then you are OK for the most part. The vitamin deficiencies can be a problem, though the only one that vegans cannot really get is B12. However, I have a cheap multi-vitamin that costs 2 cents a pill. Hardly a bad cost. I should note that vegans tend to fall into quackery and think vitamins up the wazoo is great, but I know that, at best, you get expensive pee. Nonetheless, with a variety of foods and a cheap multi-vitamin, the risks are avoided.

    There are some other sources I have been going through, and best I can tell it isn’t quackery. There is the diet recommended by Dr. Esselstyn in “Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease” which causes cholesterol numbers to become so low that future heart problems are significantly reduced (he claims you become heart-attack proof, but such a strong word is beyond what the evidence can really justify). Supplementing this is the book “The China Study” which is a summary of a lot of published papers examining diets in China and showing vegan lifestyles conferred notable improvements in cancer risk as well as in heart-related problems. I have not found material in the peer-review literature showing these studies to be bunk, but I am no expert. I have also talked with a dietitian about this lifestyle, and he agrees that, after addressing the risks mentioned above, this is good stuff.

    And for those vegetarians that smoke: get your nicotine from eggplants instead (though you need a lot of them).

    • says

      Gilgamesh, “getting fatter” is a diet-wide problem, not a meat problem. Eating a healthy diet with meat in it is fine. You don’t have to jump all the way to vegetarianism to get the same effect. Indeed, as you are far more likely to maintain a balanced diet than a pleasure-deprived and management-heavy vegetarian one, vegetarianism is actually a bad medical recommendation. You should advise people to take up healthy diets that they have a high probability of maintaining. If you are interested in maximum social benefit, that is. That’s just basic statistics. Moreover, it is crucial to health that you exercise. If you keep the weight off only by eating vegetarian, that is a net bad for your health. If you maintain weight by consuming healthy high energy meat as part of a balanced diet and then exercising in proportion, that is a net good for your health.

      As for the “China study” see my earlier comment and the comment it links to. Then read the critiques of China Study, which do not make it look like a credible study to me. It commits all the standard errors that make such work useless to the public, all driven by an obsessive bias against meat. See The Truth about the China Study (which notes, among other things, that the data in the study itself don’t support what it’s authors claim), The China Study: Fact or Fallacy (which is pretty thorough), Harriet Hall on The China Study (she’s a notable skeptic with an M.D.), and The China Study vs. The China Study (pretty devastating, and yet critically checks the critics, too).

  31. rork says

    I think you admitted the environment is negatively impacted, just not much as someone else said. If so, eating less is better. Not sure you admitted that. It’s not a sin to eat meat in my book, but less would help. I usually try to think of how much land I could take out of agriculture, and how much less fertilizer might be used. Dose is what matters.
    Oh, I wondered how much of the effects of cattle grazing on national forest land you have personally seen or heard of.

    Similarly for the health effects, less might be better for most people in the U.S.

    On the ethics part, I conclude it is ethical to kill and eat humans, and there’s the extra plus of gaining an evolutionary advantage. I suggest eating those less related to you. I eat meat. Three deer inhabit my freezer, along with domestic turkey, ducks, chickens and rabbits, all of which I personally killed.

  32. Matt says

    1)
    This writer is simply angered about vegetarians being different. There is very little evidence of what he is saying, it is simply bitching. He makes endless assumptions that come from nowhere
    just from his own little head. Vegetarians are delusional because they hang out with meat eaters? It doesn’t take much of a mind to think this one through. People who consume meat don’t directly kill the animals they eat (usually). Its not like hanging out with the “child molester”. It is true that I don’t want to befriend a person who kills animals directly but i understand that our culture and society has a major influence on how each of us eats and I simply treat people who eat meat as individuals who have yet to understand the true awfulness and environmental damage they support.

    2)
    His sources are simply based on blog posts and simple news articles.

    3)
    It is also a weak argument to state that corporate farming is more efficient. It might be efficient in the one sense that it distributes the food “demanded” at all times of the year better but efficiency doesn’t account for the damage done to the world, the humans and the ecosystems. Our corporatization of the world has been one of the direct cause of obesity (see Japan as a great example).

    4)
    Dogs aren’t carnivores

    5)
    vegetarians don’t necessarily DEMAND localization of food. Being vegetarian and being an environmentalist can be two completely different things, they just happent to work on similar issues at the same time on occasion.

    6)
    Even from his very own source he uses about water footprint where he said he based almost all of his research and math on….he made this article sound like it supported the consumption and expansion of this consumption of meat around the world when really, in this direct article he used, it literally has an entire paragraph in the conclusion stating: “Managing the demand for animal products by promoting a dietary shift away from a meat-rich diet will be an
    inevitable component in the environmental policy of governments”. This report is mostly about the loss of freshwater and the damage meat production has on water supply. haha

    7)
    I looked at the “study” he uses in the last section on mortality. He used one study and it is a very very flawed study. The “study” he talks about is a compilation of 5 studies from all different groups around the world. You can’t combine them all into one and say “Ta daaaaa”. They are each prospective cohort studies and very specific towards groups of people (7th day Adventists, British Vegetarian Shoppers magazine subscribers etc.) They are each very different from each other and are certainly very different from the general population of vegetarians.
    Second, doing studies on mortality disregards the entire point of my argument for vegetarianism. It isn’t about who dies first, who outlasts the other. It is about quality of life or more specifically life-years lost to the consumption of meat over time. Unfortunately, only until recently has their been studies funded by the US government on vegetarianism.

  33. sunnydale75 says

    >The strong drive they have to maintain their lifestyle seems attached to a belief that animal lives are “only slightly less valuable” than human lives and that killing them is a revoltingly awful thing to do.<

    -That's the impression I've gotten from the few vegetarians I've met. Personally, I see animal consumption as neither good nor evil (inhumane treatment and torture of animals is a far different story and I abhor both). Using logic that maintains animals having value slightly less than humans, shouldn't vegetarians argue to stop animals from consuming one another? What's the difference between my consumption of a salmon fillet and a bear consuming the same fish? Both are done for survival. Should I not eat the fish simply b/c I can consider the implications of eating an animal?

  34. says

    I’ve had this same sort of discussion so many times, and I’ve done my own entry on my blog on the subject. I’m actually one of those people who is thoroughly unimpressed by appeals to emotion and appeals to environmental concerns with regards to vegetarianism and veganism. I took a slightly different approach than you did and specifically focused more on the fact that there are ways to address those issues without having to give up those foods. For instance, even if you’re concerned about the cruelty of factory farms (and such things do exist), that’s fine… that’s reason to support better regulation thereof, purchase meat from farms which do not engage in such practices. Yes, it means having to do a lot of homework and probably having to spend a great deal more money, but it is actually a movement which could gain better traction because you’re not forcing people out of their comfort zone into an entirely new diet, but into some shift in the balance thereof.

    Most of the “health” arguments I hear are about people comparing the stereotypical American diet with vegetarian/vegan diets, and the problem here is that the stereotypical American diet would qualify as *excessive* meat consumption, which is a very good way to skew the results. If you try to do the same comparison for a variety of populations in other countries which tend to have a more balanced load of proteins, I don’t think you’d find the same trend.

    The thing that kind of surprises people whenever I get into these arguments is that they don’t expect me, of all people, to weigh in in this fashion… mainly because I’m a vegetarian myself. And my own reason for vegetarianism is pretty simple — I eat what I happen to like. I grew up in a part of the world and in a culture which has been vegetarian for a very long time, and as a result I, like most people, am pretty well conditioned to like that kind of food.

    About the only solid argument that I can’t really refute, only because I can attest to it myself is that vegetarianism is generally lower on the cost of living scale. Of course, this is only true within some boundaries. It is not as likely to be true if you go as far in your activism to include all sorts of organically or locally grown goods, or you feel the need to buy all sorts of exotic ingredients from health food shops and so on. At that point, you’re going into the realm of the unsupportable. There are better ways to handle it.

  35. Jim says

    I agree that there is nothing immoral about eating meat. I believe it was national geographic that did a documentary on what happens when predators are taken out of an environment: the herbivores over eat and ruin ecosystems. This happened at Yellowstone: what was once lush in the early 20th century had become barren by the 90s. Wolves were reintroduced. They killed the excessive deer, and the ecosystem recovered. Hence, meat eaters are necessary and herbivores shouldn’t be made into idealized animals.

    I disagree with the morality of industrial farming: it uses far too many antibiotics (increasing the number of drug resistance bacteria), it uses too many hormones (which get excreted and get into water supplies, and because of antibiotic ineffectiveness, non organic meat is flushed with ammonia to kill disease. The conditions, contrary to the post, are immoral too. Commercial farms get as many animals as possible next to one another. You know, the profit motive that drive all corporations. Overcrowding is a problem. That is why antibiotics have to be used in chicken farming. Crowding leads to epidemic disease.

    I suggest that everyone enjoy their meat. I do. But, I buy meat from pasture raised animals. It cost more, but tastes better and is more nutritious. (More nutritious because cows evolved eating grass; chickens evolved eating bugs.) For me, the quality of life of the animal is just as important. Life in a pasture is better than life in a cage. Eating pasture raised is kind of a no brainer.

  36. jt512 says

    @Richard: The pooled analysis by Key et al that you cited suffers from the inclusion of the Health Food Shoppers Study, which was of such poor quality that I’m not sure it deserves to be called a “study.” I thought that there has been a more recent pooled analysis that excluded this study, and included a recent large European cohort study, but I can’t seem to find it right now in Pubmed.

    Although not a study of vegetarians per se, Sinha et al [1] recently studied the effect of consuming red, processed, and white meat on all-cause and cause-specific mortality in a huge US cohort. Men and women in the highest vs the lowest quintile of red meat intake had, respectively, 31% and 36% percent higher risk of death from all causes combined, with a highly significant monotonic trend across quintiles. There were modest increases in risk for processed meats and modest decreases in risk for white meat.

    @Gilgamesh: The China Health Study was of dubious quality as well, being a cross-sectional ecologic study. Google “ecologic(al) fallacy” for details.

    Jay

    1. Sinha R, et al. Meat Intake and Mortality: A Prospective Study of Over Half a Million People. Arch Intern Med. 2009; 169(6):562–571.

    • says

      @jt512
      I cannot comment on your comments about one of the vegetarian studies, so I’ll skip to your quick statement about the China Study. However, I think the study you were looking for that excluded the Health Food Shoppers Study is Keys et al. Mortality in vegetarians and nonvegetarians: detailed findings from a collaborative analysis of 5 prospective studies. Am J Clin Nutr. 1999 Sep;70(3 Suppl):516S-524S.

      I agree that an ecological study is not sufficient to prove causation. It can strongly show correlations, however, and if a cause can be provided then it gains support. And in particular, before this study was done one of the researchers, T. Colin Campbell, had done rat and mice research showing a correlation between certain cancers and the protein casein (from milk) and also showed the mechanism for why it could be a promoter of the disease. Since there is a mechanism and there are the correlations from the China Study, then it does not commit the ecological fallacy.

      So, I think you are dismissing the research on this point rather hastily.

      Also, the study you cite about differences in types of meat consumption, there is the issue that high meat protein diets can also increase disease risks, so switching from higher fat to higher protein meat diets could cause a net wash, and the rather modest differences in the mortality rates of these diets would seem to suggest that that is the case.

    • says

      The problem with all these kinds of arguments is that there are disease and cancer risks associated with nearly every food. Thus shifting diet around often has no net effect, which is my point. Hence this is exactly the result we find when we look at lifetime diet effects on mortality: most studies show no effect at all, and even the most promising show only a negligible effect. Obsessing over single variables like “milk” is therefore a waste of time. Or “red meat” even. When compared to real disease factors, like smoking, it just looks ridiculous. When normal milk or moderate red meat consumption increases mortality by more than three years, be concerned. Until then, face reality: it’s just insignificant. That’s why looking at a 33% increased risk of a disease is to obsess too much. If it’s 200%, then you have a serious problem. 100%, something to ponder. But 33% washes out in the sea of random variables affecting mortality.

      That’s the result of the studies on heart attack: a 33% increase in heart attack might sound bad until you look at actual mortality and find people who avoid that factor die at basically the same age on average anyway, so the fact that their deaths are 33% more often from that kind of heart attack actually means nothing. Were it not that, it just would have been something else. Cancer risks are similar: get rid of one kind, and you just get another. That’s why you can’t obsess over single diseases like that (unless the factor is huge, hence the point of my smoking comparison). You have to look at total mortality (and life quality, although that is usually always comparable unless you are suffering from a much more severe causal agent, like processed tobacco or plutonium). When you see mortality is not significantly altered, then it just doesn’t matter whether there is a 33% increase in a certain kind of heart attack or a certain kind of cancer, because clearly removing one agent just introduces another (thus causing zero net effect in mortality).

    • says

      Jt512, see my related comment. The Sinha study only got those results for “high intake” of red meat (and processed meat, e.g. hot dogs), not moderate (normal) consumption. The latter had no appreciable effect on mortality. Which is exactly my point. Eat healthy. Then meat is irrelevant.

    • jt512 says

      Richard Carrier wrote (December 13, 2011):

      Jt512, see my related comment. The Sinha study only got those results for “high intake” of red meat (and processed meat, e.g. hot dogs), not moderate (normal) consumption. The latter had no appreciable effect on mortality. Which is exactly my point. Eat healthy. Then meat is irrelevant.

      Update: A new large-scale prospective cohort study has found that there is a significant linear positive relationship between the amount of red meat consumed and death rates from heart disease, cancer, and all causes. Compared with the lowest quintile of red meat intake, each higher quintile had a significantly higher risk of death.

      This study suggests that there is no good level of red meat intake. The less red meat one eats, the better.

    • says

      Regarding what you just cited, “Red Meat Consumption and Mortality: Results From 2 Prospective Cohort Studies” by Pan et al. (Archives of Internal Medicine, March 12, 2012):

      This only covers red meat, not all meat or animal products (in fact, the study says consumption of other meats reduced mortality, i.e. it made people live longer), and it only found a 1.07-1.20 difference in overall mortality. This is a variance I find suspicious; that looks like they are tweaking things–they chose a 95% confidence interval, which is oddly low; it means there is a 1 in 20 chance their results are false, which with a cohort in the tens of thousands is a suspicious choice for them to make. With a data-set that large, you should be able to do a 99% or higher CI. So why didn’t they? And what are the results at that CI? I suspect the answer is that no arguable difference in mortality was shown at 99% CI, so they chose 95% in order to get the number they wanted.

      At 95% they found the difference could be as low as 7%, which means, for example, if average life expectancy is 78, someone who eats a serving of red meat every day of their life (which is not advisable anyway; that is excessive), or more, will die on average at 72. That’s not exactly a huge difference. And remember, this was at 95% CI. Mathematically, this difference will shrink at 99% CI (I suspect it will shrink to near zero, or to only a one or two year difference in mortality, just as all other studies have shown).

      Worse, their control was not vegetarians, but low-red-meat consumers (people who ate one red meat serving every two days, or less). Which means in fact this study does not even attempt to show any difference in mortality between non-red-meat eaters and reasonable red-meat-eaters. That difference was probably zero.

      This is why it is important to actually read these studies, before drawing conclusions from them. Which was one of the very points in my original post.

    • jt512 says

      Regarding “Red Meat Consumption and Mortality: Results From 2 Prospective Cohort Studies” by Pan et al. (Archives of Internal Medicine, March 12, 2012), you (Richard) wrote:

      This [study] only covers red meat . . .

      Correct. As I stated, I was updating my earlier post about the findings about red meat from the Sinha study, which found a significant monotonic trend between quintile of red meat intake and mortality. Although the trend was significant, you objected that mortality was only significantly different for the 5th quintile of red meat intake vs. the first. In contrast, in the new study (Pan et al), mortality was found to be greater for every quintile of intake compared with the first. Also, the investigators convincingly demonstrated a linear does-response relationship between red meat intake and mortality.

      [I]n fact, the study says consumption of other meats reduced mortality . . .

      To be clear, the study showed that replacing red meat in the diet with other sources of protein would reduce total mortality. Although not a finding about vegetarian diets per se, it is intriguing that the greatest reduction in mortality was found for nuts. Replacing one serving per day of red meat with one serving of nuts reduces mortality by 19%, compared with 7% for fish, and 14% for poultry.

      [I]t only found a 1.07-1.20 difference in overall mortality. This is a variance I find suspicious; that looks like they are tweaking things–they chose a 95% confidence interval, which is oddly low . . .

      It’s not odd at all, nor suspicious. The .05 level of significance has become a convention in the field. It’s extremely rare to find any other level of significance used in the biomedical or epidemiologic literature. And it has become standard procedure in nutritional epidemiology to present 95% confidence intervals.

      It means there is a 1 in 20 chance their results are false . . .

      It means that there is a 1 in 20 chance that their results are false if the null hypothesis is true. On the other hand, the probability that their results are false; that is, the probability that the null hypothesis is true, given their results, depends on the prior probability of the null hypothesis and the Bayes factor. We can compute this! All we need is the Bayes factor, which can be computed from data in the paper: the point estimate of the hazard ratio, the width of the 95% confidence interval, and the total number of deaths in the cohort.

      Using the appropriate values from the paper, the Bayes factor in favor of the null hypothesis (that there is no association between the amount of unprocessed red meat consumed and total mortality) is .025. The updated odds of the null hypothesis being true are thus .025 × (prior odds), or equivalently (prior odds)/40. Whatever your prior opinion about the likelihood of red meat consumption not increasing mortality, you should now reduce that likelihood by a factor of 40.

      The Bayes factor in favor of the null hypothesis for processed red meat is a remarkable 2 × 10^(-13). For any reasonable prior odds, the posterior odds that the null hypothesis is true is almost homeopathically small. If we could be confident that the results of the paper are free from systematic error, then this result would be conclusive, and ought to put an end to any further conversation on the subject.

      Of course the problem with observational studies of diet is that it is difficult to have that degree of confidence in the results, since systematic errors, such as residual confounding, are likely to be present.

      I can provide details of my calculations of the Bayes factor elsewhere, if you’re really interested.

      [W]hat are the results at that CI [99%]? I suspect the answer is that no arguable difference in mortality was shown at 99% CI, so they chose 95% in order to get the number they wanted.

      First of all, based on nothing more than a naive hunch, you’re impugning the integrity of the most highly regarded research group in the field of nutritional epidemiology. Sheesh, search Pubmed for “Willett w c OR Hu f b”. Willett, himself, literally wrote the book on nutritional epidemiology.

      Secondly, your suspicion is not supported by the data. We can easily calculate the 99% CI from the 95% CI. The 99% CI for unprocessed red meat is (1.05, 1.22), which is not much wider than the 95% CI, (1.07, 1.20), presented in the paper. Another simple calculation reveals that the p-value for the hazard ratio for unprocessed red meat is 0.00003, which is highly significant at the 99% level. Thus, the hazard ratio for unprocessed red meat is not a borderline significant finding by any stretch of the imagination.

      At 95% they found the difference could be as low as 7%, which means, for example, if average life expectancy is 78, someone who eats a serving of red meat every day of their life (which is not advisable anyway; that is excessive), or more, will die on average at 72. That’s not exactly a huge difference.

      Try telling that to someone who is 71.

      And remember, this was at 95% CI. Mathematically, this difference will shrink at 99% CI (I suspect it will shrink to near zero, or to only a one or two year difference in mortality, just as all other studies have shown).

      As I showed above, you were wrong about the hazard ratio shrinking to near zero at the 99% confidence level (and higher). I’m not sure how to translate that to an effect on life expectancy, but it shouldn’t shrink to “near zero” either.

      Also, when comparing this study to previous ones, you should keep in mind that this study is the highest-quality study on the subject produced to date, including Sinha et al. In the present study, the investigators updated subjects’ dietary data every four years. In contrast, all prior studies relied on a single dietary assessment at baseline. Since people’s diets change over the course of a lengthy follow-up study, repeated dietary assessment is more accurate, and hence so are the observed relationships between dietary factors and disease or mortality.

      Worse, their control was not vegetarians, but low-red-meat consumers (people who ate one red meat serving every two days, or less). Which means in fact this study does not even attempt to show any difference in mortality between non-red-meat eaters and reasonable red-meat-eaters. That difference was probably zero.

      I agree that we cannot draw conclusions from this study about the effect on mortality of eating less than a half-serving of red meat per day compared with eating no red meat at all. However, similarly, you have no good evidence to believe that a half-serving (or less) of red meat is “reasonable” consumption or that there would be no benefit to reducing intake further.

      Reliable comparisons between vegetarians and your hypothesized “reasonable” red meat eaters should be possible once the Adventist Health Study II begins to report results. This is a prospective follow-up study of a cohort of about 1 million Seventh Day Adventists, about one-third of whom are vegetarians. It has all the strengths of the present study, including repeated dietary assessment, plus the statistical advantages of a much larger cohort and, for purposes of this hypothesis, a wider range of meat intake, especially at the low end.

      Jay

    • says

      jt512:

      I was updating my earlier post about the findings about red meat from the Sinha study, which found a significant monotonic trend between quintile of red meat intake and mortality. Although the trend was significant, you objected that mortality was only significantly different for the 5th quintile of red meat intake vs. the first. In contrast, in the new study (Pan et al), mortality was found to be greater for every quintile of intake compared with the first

      Except that the first corresponds to moderate red meat consumption (for example, it matches my average rate of consumption of red meat). It therefore does not show all red meat consumption increases mortality. The study therefore has no relevance to vegetarianism.

      Replacing one serving per day of red meat with one serving of nuts reduces mortality by 19%, compared with 7% for fish, and 14% for poultry.

      Conclusion: we should eat more balanced diets. Exactly what I said in my article. And here, nuts and chicken/turkey/duck are shown to be important elements of that; likewise, our average red meat consumption should be under two thirds of a pound a week (that’s a steak a week). I quite agree.

      It’s not odd at all, nor suspicious. The .05 level of significance has become a convention in the field.

      Which has been widely criticized because it entails 1 in every 20 of these studies will be false (or in our case, what we are interested in is over-estimation, and it is 1 in 40 that will show a greater effect than actually exists).

      Compare, again, the effects of smoking. It blows these results far out of the water. That is a clear mortality agent. Red meat, by comparison is not that significant; indeed, it’s comparatively minor even when consumed in excess (and yes, in excess, there is an effect, to a very high probability; but compared to smoking, again, even that effect is small, although not insignificant; conclusion: moderate your red meat intake to reasonable levels).

      It’s extremely rare to find any other level of significance used in the biomedical or epidemiologic literature.

      Which, again, is producing hundreds of false results. Because thousands of papers are being published every year, 1 in 20 of which are false–or 1 in 40 when we’re counting only those that over-report an effect–so we get hundreds of false papers a year…so is this meat study one of them? That’s why when the CI is this close to 1, a 95% standard is no longer so reliable. It might pass the minimum bar of publication–but we already know that that bar publishes hundreds of false results every year. So it’s not exactly a standard to hold in high regard.

      Whereas, if the effect were robust, it would remain strong even on a 99% or 99.9% CI. (You do show, however, that it still holds a little at those levels, or at least the first.)

      Using the appropriate values from the paper, the Bayes factor in favor of the null hypothesis (that there is no association between the amount of unprocessed red meat consumed and total mortality) is .025. The updated odds of the null hypothesis being true are thus .025 × (prior odds), or equivalently (prior odds)/40. Whatever your prior opinion about the likelihood of red meat consumption not increasing mortality, you should now reduce that likelihood by a factor of 40.

      Please show me which values you are using to derive this result (with page numbers, so I can check what you mean).

      And explain what you mean by “not increasing mortality”; are you including even a single day or minute lost, or are you only counting a certain number of years lost as significant? And if so, at what number of years are you drawing the line of significance?

      I can provide details of my calculations of the Bayes factor elsewhere, if you’re really interested.

      I would be delighted. You can post a link here. I will find that very helpful.

      Secondly, your suspicion is not supported by the data. We can easily calculate the 99% CI from the 95% CI. The 99% CI for unprocessed red meat is (1.05, 1.22), which is not much wider than the 95% CI, (1.07, 1.20), presented in the paper. Another simple calculation reveals that the p-value for the hazard ratio for unprocessed red meat is 0.00003, which is highly significant at the 99% level. Thus, the hazard ratio for unprocessed red meat is not a borderline significant finding by any stretch of the imagination.

      A 5% difference in effect is not borderline?

      [Gaining four or five years is a small effect?] Try telling that to someone who is 71.

      And if we showed you could live a couple extra years if you starve yourself every day by eating an undercount of calories, we should do that, too? There are countless things we could do to add a mere few years to our lifespans, all of which would substantially degrade our quality of life. This includes avoiding occupational hazards (some jobs make a difference of a few years to average lifespan; therefore no one should do them?), geographic hazards (should we all move out of cities if it were shown that our lifespans there are a few years shorter owing to small amounts of inescapable air pollution?), and so on. Vegetarianism is simply not advisable if all you get out of it is a couple of years. And of course, again, this study didn’t show even that–all it shows is that you get those years (or more, depending on how dietarily immoderate you otherwise were) if you eat a healthy balanced diet of moderate levels of red meat and more fish and poultry (and veggies etc.). It didn’t even measure the effect of not eating red meat, much less the effect of eating no meat.

      As I showed above, you were wrong about the hazard ratio shrinking to near zero at the 99% confidence level (and higher). I’m not sure how to translate that to an effect on life expectancy, but it shouldn’t shrink to “near zero” either.

      You’re right, the numbers you calculated (reducing 1.07 to 1.05) were better than I expected they’d come out to be. Although this is still not a huge effect. Just four years or so. And that’s only from immoderate consumption of only red meat (so reducing this to one steak a weak is what gets you those four years; and reduction of other meats, no benefit, or possibly even a net harm; thus this paper presents no argument for vegetarianism).

      I agree that we cannot draw conclusions from this study about the effect on mortality of eating less than a half-serving of red meat per day compared with eating no red meat at all. However, similarly, you have no good evidence to believe that a half-serving (or less) of red meat is “reasonable” consumption or that there would be no benefit to reducing intake further.

      No studies show any significant difference in mortality between vegetarians and moderate meat consumers. Their mortality always comes out near the same (differing by a couple of years at best). That’s evidence enough (and the burden is always on the claimant anyway: if you claim to have an amazing new life extension drug [“not eating meat”], the burden is on you to present evidence of its powers, the burden is not on me to show it doesn’t.]

      Likewise, if reducing high red meat consumption to one steak a weak gains you only 4 years, eliminating that one steak is unlikely to gain you even that much (due to diminishing returns). Moreover, consuming other meats actually gains you years. Thus, again, the evidence shows that vegetarianism is not better for you by any significant measure made in this study.

      This is a prospective follow-up study of a cohort of about 1 million Seventh Day Adventists, about one-third of whom are vegetarians.

      Definitely report that here if you notice its publication. I’d appreciate it.

    • jt512 says

      Regarding the Red Meat and Mortality study* by Pan et al, Richard Carrier wrote:

      I wrote:

      Using the appropriate values from the paper, the Bayes factor in favor of the null hypothesis (that there is no association between the amount of unprocessed red meat consumed and total mortality) is .025.

      Please show me which values you are using to derive this result (with page numbers, so I can check what you mean).

      The figures I used to compute the Bayes factor come from Table 2 of the paper, which is on page E4 of the online version, except for the number of deaths, which is on the previous page.

      You wrote:

      I wrote:

      I can provide details of my calculations of the Bayes factor elsewhere, if you’re really interested.

      I would be delighted. You can post a link here. I will find that very helpful.

      Sorry it took me so long, but I have finally written up the methodology I used to calculate the Bayes factor, and I have posted it here. The bulk of the write-up explains the statistical rationale underlying the calculation. The specific calculation itself is at the end under the heading “Example: Red Meat and Mortality.”

      I want to address your other questions and the issues you raised, too, but, at least here’s the Bayes factor stuff for a start.

      Jay

      *It appears that the paper is now behind a paywall, but you can download a pdf of the original online version from here.

  37. Daniel Farmer says

    Richard – there’s an unfortunate and unnecessary condescension in your otherwise interesting post.

    As a scientifically minded vegan, I want to hone in on your rather cavalier treatment of animal subjectivity. Reducing all empathy with non-human animals to anthropomorphism, as you seem to do, is a bit too quick. Taking the fact of common descent seriously means taking seriously the rough similarities between human and other mammal psychology. Pigs and cows aren’t human, of course, but neither are they machines. And so while it may be possible to kill non-human animals painlessly, the question a thoughtful vegan asks is whether or not, in an ideal world, empathetic individuals would want to invest in material and economic structures that necessarily commodify sentient beings. The way I see it, if we want to build a society of decent, humane individuals, that will be harder if the very means of our ongoing subsistence involve the intentional destruction of sentient beings.

    Cows bellow for days when separated from their calves (and they have to be separated to get milk production up). My father-in-law was a dairy farmer (on an organic farm) back in the day, and he tells me that was the hardest part of his job. Why? Because he’s a decent human being.

    So it seems to me a thoughtful, empirically grounded vegan might be justified in joining a growing movement to put human treatment of non-human animals on the front burner of moral questioning, simply because it seems possible to build an empathetic society that doesn’t not rely on the systematic ‘production’ and destruction of living, breathing, feeling non-human animals.

    At least, that’s how I see it.

    Cheers.

  38. Chance says

    Deag, what are you doing swearing so much? It’s pretty funny because it seems childish and out of place especially in your lectures. I’m saying this as a 27 year old with no real quarrel with swearing in general. I just want the broadest possible audience to be reached by the content of your arguments, and not get distracted by goofy swear words =]

    <3

  39. RolliniaDeliciosa says

    Is it not also irrational to assume some perfectly compassionate state of the livestock industry? Isn’t an individual’s more moral choice the one in which they choose not to support/allow unnecessary suffering? You said it well: “…our own overall life satisfaction depends on being compassionate, and compassion compels us not to enjoy or want pointless torment to exist, no matter what or who is experiencing it.”

    “(it’s just another kind of phobia based on false associations between animals and people)” You mean like the strange association that people (humans) *are* animals, and that commonly farmed species are relatively closely related mammals? Anthropomorphism need not take place. They are sentient, and have a capacity to experience suffering. I noticed you exempt chimpanzees. Wouldn’t that be based on your false association? They’re just animals, right? They won’t grow up to become humans…

    “If pigs could expect to develop human-level consciousness, then eating them would be wrong.” Why? You never get around to explaining it, but your whole argument hinges on humans being magically “special” because of our specific, averaged cognitive abilities. At what IQ does this go into effect, and what does it have to do with digestion? This is a non-sequitur, and thus illogical.

    • says

      RolliniaDeliciosa: Is it not also irrational to assume some perfectly compassionate state of the livestock industry?

      I don’t assume, I check. What is irrational is assuming without checking. And I found that it tends to be vegetarians who are doing the latter, rather a lot.

      Isn’t an individual’s more moral choice the one in which they choose not to support/allow unnecessary suffering?

      There is no more unnecessary animal suffering under first world husbandry than there is unnecessary human suffering. In fact, a great deal less. Yet we do our best to police both. But not all suffering can be avoided, nor need it be. Just compare the suffering of people who pick the fruits and vegetables you eat, with the suffering of first world livestock, and you’ll find the animals generally better off. And yet unlike the animals, the humans can understand and appreciate what they are going through. Which makes it more of a moral concern to improve their lives than that of livestock. Yet we also have valid concern to do the latter–as I explained in my original blog entry: California husbandry law should become normative, and it is morally appropriate to advocate for that. But just because conditions can be improved does not mean we should boycott the food the current conditions produce, any more in the case of the fruit and vegetables humans labor to bring us than the meat and other products animals labor to bring us (and in relative terms they do not do much laboring at that). Rationality also requires realistic goals. Improving the status quo is a realistic goal. Ending it is not. And refraining from eating meat accomplishes neither.

      I noticed you exempt chimpanzees. Wouldn’t that be based on your false association? They’re just animals, right? They won’t grow up to become humans…

      They grow up to be self-aware and possess conceptual knowledge of their circumstances and of life and death. This is not a false association. It’s an objective, physical fact about chimpanzees that is not true of livestock. Hence it’s not about what species you are. It’s about what you can cognitively aspire to: the existence of self-awareness and conceptual knowledge of your plight, or not. (Elephants and dolphins and other apes also exhibit evidence of similar cognitive ability, in both brain anatomy and behavior.)

      At what IQ does this go into effect, and what does it have to do with digestion? This is a non-sequitur, and thus illogical.

      No, it’s fundamental. Unless your morality is wholly arbitrary, it must build on objective facts of the world. And I am talking about objective facts of the world. That is not only logical, it’s the only logical way to ascertain moral truth at all.

      First, it’s not about IQ. Desktop computers can be programmed to have higher IQs than humans, yet lack self-awareness and conceptual consciousness (though eventually that will change). Thus it’s about self-awareness and conceptual consciousness: an entity that is self-aware has personal properties (they think of themselves and others and understand the nature of their circumstances) and thus is a valuing agent and therefore valuable: it loses something valuable when it dies, something it understands as valuable. An entity that lacks self-awareness does not appreciate or understand its existence at all. Thus it does not lose anything by losing its existence. All you do by killing it is end a pain-pleasure software routine that’s running for no one’s appreciation or understanding. There is no “person” from whom you are taking life away. Though there is real pain and pleasure being experienced (which is thus a proper object of our concern). It’s just not being experienced by a person. See my earlier remarks.

  40. unbound says

    I did get a chuckle when reading a book (actually written by a scientist, not a dietitian) that strongly recommended a mostly vegetarian diet (mostly advocated in the book for benefits of getting more micro-nutrients (mostly potassium which is statistically correlated to increased hypertension if you get too little). Interestingly enough, there was a table near the end of the book which showed what the actual effect of various personal habits would be on your life expectancy.

    Since I don’t drink (just can’t stand the taste) and don’t smoke (allergies are bad enough already), my increased life expectancy from switching from my supposedly poor diet to the “superior” diet is all of…(wait for it)…3 to 6 months. Yes, I would increase my life expectancy a few months by eating the supposedly “superior” diet.

    In other words, what you are eating (as long as it isn’t drastic like eating only candy) is just fine for you.

  41. says

    Richard,

    Could you please explain your position on humans animals vs other animals? What is different about humans that grants us the right to take other animals’ lives gratuitously? Is this it?

    “must recognize such facts as that animals aren’t aware of most things, and don’t aspire to be or do anything, and have no prospect of becoming anything, and thus should not be hastily anthropomorphized in these ways.”

    thanks,
    -dave

  42. Jeff says

    The balances you list for food production (food in for food produced) need to be looked at in terms of protein or nitrogen balance. Phosphorus balance would be useful to look at too. Carbon (what makes up most of the weight of any crop) is cheap. Nitrogen is not. While I agree with many of the points in this article, and believe that meat is an important part of our diets, I have had the opportunity to work with crops and, to a lesser extent, livestock. It takes a lot of nitrogen to grow a crop, much of which is lost soon after it is applied. Much more is lost when the crop is delivered to the animal. With today’s animal production methodology much animal waste is lost — even when it is applied as fertilizer it is subject to runoff and leaching. Nitrogen efficiency is simply better (by various factors — I’ve seen as high as 12 — but I wouldn’t argue with something a bit lower since I’m sure that was from a slanted article) with a vegetarian diet. To me that is the most important reason to be a vegetarian….though I’m not one.

    Also, the argument about local food being more energy intensive is highly dependent upon the type of production being done. As an extreme example, sweet corn grown in your backyard is highly efficient, but sweet corn grown on two acres at a farm down the street isn’t efficient at all for the reasons you mention.

    • says

      Jeff: the balances you list for food production (food in for food produced) need to be looked at in terms of protein or nitrogen balance

      Except it’s not just food being output. It’s hundreds of other products besides. Don’t lose sight of that.

      Protein balance is achieved at the level of diet. So: advocate for a healthy diet, and demand will create equilibrium in the production of protein sources. That’s the most you could hope for whether anyone eats animals or not.

      The main problem with nitrogen is with human-consumed crops, in the form of fertilizer runoff. That would not change if we stopped eating animals, since then we’d just manufacture and deploy synthetic nitrate fertilizers in the same or similar quantities. Plus we’d have vast amounts of agricultural waste we’d have to figure out what to do with (once we aren’t feeding it to animals). But as to runoff, that’s a problem that won’t be affected by whether we eat animals or not, because we will always be fertilizing vast quantities of irrigated land. Thus it’s a problem we just need to solve.

      Phosphorus balance would be useful to look at too.

      One of the leading methods by which we return phosphorous to soils for growing human-consumed crops is animal bone meal fertilizer.

  43. Pete M. says

    Wow. I find the section at the beginning about the various irrationalities of vegetarians (like me) to be remarkably silly. I should explain, since that’s a pretty caustic remark. First, let me say that I think you are wrong about the methods of factory farming and their impact on animal welfare. But, I want to set that aside, and concentrate on the idea of rationality.

    Different people are vegetarians for different reasons, some of which I agree with and some of which I don’t. Some hold that animals are of more or less equal moral status as human beings, and that killing an animal for food violates that animal’s right to life. I don’t agree with this kind of line, but it is this view that would lead to intolerance of those who eat meat. And, at least in my experience, it does lead to intolerance of non-vegetarians; or, more likely, of non-vegans.

    On the other hand, there are those, like me, who think that while non-human animals do not have the same moral status that human beings do, still their ability to experience, to feel pain, pleasure, and more complex things like affection, fear, and so on, depending on the animal, must be taken into account. Their pain matters. So, the reason that I am a vegetarian is because I believe that the way most animals are raised causes them suffering, and I do not want to contribute to a system that has this effect.

    There’s really no argument that our farming practices cause suffering. We can argue about how much, and you seem to want to compare the suffering an equivalent animal would experience under factory farming conditions with the suffering it would experience in the wild. Note that for most farm animals, this comparison doesn’t make sense, because these animals have been bred to be food animals and there is no wild equivalent. But moreover, this comparison is silly, because regardless of what the animal would suffer in the wild, it is suffering something now at the hands of human beings, who are capable of the moral evaluation of their actions. Just because somebody else would hit a dog if I don’t doesn’t make it ok for me to hit the dog. I choose not to contribute, because of the value that I assign to the pain and pleasure o animals.

    As far as “tolerating” non-vegetarians, this is a non-issue for vegetarians like me. I think that this is a difficult issue, and that it isn’t entirely clear what moral weight to give to the experiences of non-persons. I recognize that people can reasonably disagree. Some people have unreasonable views, and, for instance, think that it would be ok to cause to any amount of pain and suffering to a non-human animal. I think this is obviously wrong. But there’s a lot of middle ground between that person and me, and one can occupy a reasonable position without agreeing with me. This is not uncommon with complex moral issues.

    Last comment, and sorry for the ultra-long post: what strikes me as really silly is to call someone like me irrational. My preference is to avoid as much as possible contributing to the suffering of animals and one way to do that is by avoiding consumption of meat. Given that this is my preference, it is of course rational for me to be a vegetarian. Now, I must balance the weight of that preference against others, and if I were starving I would eat meat. For someone with different preferences, it would be rational to be a vegan, or to eat meat, or whatever. But, irrational? Come on, that’s just silly.

    • says

      Pete M.: There are those, like me, who think that while non-human animals do not have the same moral status that human beings do, still their ability to experience, to feel pain, pleasure, and more complex things like affection, fear, and so on, depending on the animal, must be taken into account. Their pain matters. So, the reason that I am a vegetarian is because I believe that the way most animals are raised causes them suffering, and I do not want to contribute to a system that has this effect.

      The reason this is irrational is that the underlying belief is false, and it would easily be known to be false if you cared to investigate the true facts of the matter. Farmed animals do not experience any more suffering than they would experience in the wild.

      Otherwise I agree with the corollary premise that their pain matters. But death ends all pain and thus is unaffected by that standard of care. You cannot argue death is bad based on an opposition to pain. Death can only be bad for some other reason. That reason happens to be what is lost. But animals don’t lose anything. Because they never have a concept of life or of self to lose. This is precisely the issue: to anthropomorphize them just because they have emotions and make decisions and look like little people is not logically correct, because it is to attribute to them the same knowledge and reasons for having those emotions and making those decisions that we do. But they don’t. They have no cognitive awareness of such things. They have drives to avoid pain and fright, but they don’t “value life.” They have no concept of value or of life or what it means to be alive. Nor will they ever. Killing them thus does not subtract anything from the universe that would ever have been appreciated (except by us, hence it is not irrational to assign value to an animal and then refrain from killing it, hence there is nothing illogical about pets). It’s not like Being John Malkovich and there’s this little man stuck inside an animal’s mind who understands everything that’s going on but can’t communicate with us. There is no little man. There is no cognition of itself or its existence. Thus its death does not destroy anything of value, any more than the death of a plant does. In fact death ends pain in an animal and thus should be a net good to you: you should want animals to be eaten as quickly as possible, if really all you care about is pain.

      Your equation of animals in the wild with “hitting a dog” is inapt. It is not legal to beat livestock (beyond the limited discipline one might apply even to a dog, e.g. to train it or stop it hurting someone). Nor do you grasp the relevance of the equation of livestock to wildlife: if it is okay for wildlife to be killed and eaten (as it routinely is), it is okay for them to be killed and eaten by us. Otherwise you would have to believe that we ought to intervene in nature and prevent all animal predation because we are morally obligated to care about its hapless victims. If we are instead allowed to be indifferent to those victims, there is no logical argument that we should be any less indifferent to animals ourselves. Likewise for any argument about the pain wildlife suffer.

      Notably we do intervene to prevent egregious wildlife pain (e.g. we will give vet care to a wounded deer and re-release it, clean the oil off a bird, etc., indifferent to whether they are eaten or die from injury in the wild thereafter), but we do exactly the same for livestock. Thus that behavior is consistent. By contrast, it is unreasonable to believe we should pamper all animals as if they deserved to be free of all pain. That would entail bizarre interventionist behavior in the wild. But it also has no logical basis. For what reason should we regard animals as deserving to be free of all pain whatever? And if some is okay, how much? Now we’re just quibbling over what conditions we should keep them in. We still have no argument against eating them, not least because you can procure meat from any reasonable conditions you please: most U.S. cities provide access to free range meat, and by responsible hunting you could even cull the most free range animals of all: actual wild animals.

      Thus it seems to me vegetarians don’t really believe the things you are saying, because I doubt you’d eat hunted meat or free range meat either (I don’t know where you are on fish). So I suspect that what you are saying now are just rationalizations for your phobia, in response to my arguments and evidence. The same thing all phobics do when challenged. But your rationalizations ultimately don’t make sense. Or else require doubling down on your commitment to false beliefs.

      [But no need to apologize for your long post. I found your post very efficient in communicating a targeted series of well articulated thoughts. That’s exactly the sort of comment I appreciate the most. Even when I completely disagree with it.:-)]

  44. jt512 says

    Gilgamesh:

    I agree that an ecological study is not sufficient to prove causation. It can strongly show correlations, however. . . . and Since there is a mechanism and there are the correlations from the China Study, then it does not commit the ecological fallacy.

    It would be more accurate to say that an ecologic study can show strong correlations. However, those correlations are between population-level averages. To infer that they apply at the level of the individual is to commit the ecologic fallacy.

    Furthermore, the rodent experiments you mention do not imply that milk intake in humans causes cancer, and do not validate the ecologic-level results. Nothing can validate the ecologic-level results except for a study at the individual level in the same study population. Considered together, the China Study and the rodent experiments do not imply a relation between milk intake and cancer in humans; all they do is start a stupid internet rumor.

    Also, the study you cite about differences in types of meat consumption, there is the issue that high meat protein diets can also increase disease risks, so switching from higher fat to higher protein meat diets could cause a net wash, and the rather modest differences in the mortality rates of these diets would seem to suggest that that is the case.

    The men and women in that study did have higher risk of death from all causes combined for red and processed meat intake, on the order of 33% higher for high vs low red meat intake. That’s not what I would call a “rather modest difference.”

  45. says

    @jt512
    Tests on mice and rats are rather common in medical practice, and in may cases they are a good proxy for effects on humans. There are exceptions, and sometimes this has led agencies to issue warning labels on products that are later shown to be relatively safe. However, the mechanism found in the rat and mouse studies are not specific to these animals; the problem was a byproduct of digestion of casein that affected DNA. It’s more than an internet rumor, I would say. Now, obviously mice are not as good a proxy for humans as, well, humans, but if we go as strict as you seem to suggest we would loose the pharmaceutical industry.

    Again on the ecological fallacy: the fallacy is committed only if no mechanism is identified to show why the effect is seen. You seem to be taking a stance to strict that anything short of 10,000 case studies does not count as evidence. If we were to be so strict, again large-scale studies of any sort would be useless. But, if large-scale studies are combined with case studies and tests of mechanisms, then we are doing good science.

    On the meat study, I think you misread me. The differences between low and high consumption are significant; what I was noting was that different meats being consumed have much more modest effects. So, red vs. white meat has a small affect, and portion makes a much greater difference.

  46. jt512 says

    @#10 Richard Carrier wrote:

    The problem with all these kinds of arguments is that there are disease and cancer risks associated with nearly every food. Thus shifting diet around often has no net effect, which is my point. Hence this is exactly the result we find when we look at lifetime diet effects on mortality: most studies show no effect at all, and even the most promising show only a negligible effect. Obsessing over single variables like “milk” is therefore a waste of time. Or “red meat” even.

    If you’re referring to the Singha study, you’re misinterpreting the results. The reported hazard ratios are adjusted for numerous dietary variables (as well as lifestyle variables) that could confound the results. For instance, the model for red meat included covariates for white meat, fruit, vegetables, and total energy. So a hazard ratio of 1.36, say, for the 5th vs the 1st quintile of red meat intake, means that reduction of red meat intake from the level of consumption of the 5th quintile to that of the 1st quintile, accompanied by equicaloric substitution of whatever foods aren’t in the model (eg, fish, carbohydrates) is associated with a 36% reduction in risk of death from any cause. In other words “shifting diet around” in this specific manner is associated with a lower risk of death (per unit time).

    When compared to real disease factors, like smoking, it just looks ridiculous.

    That’s a blatant fallacy of irrelevance. The existence of a more dangerous behavior, like smoking, does not diminish the importance of less dangerous dietary behaviors.

    That’s why looking at a 33% increased risk of a disease is to obsess too much.

    I disagree. I am more than willing to make lifestyle changes that would decrease my risk of death by 36% per year. You’re what, in your 30s? It may not make much difference to you now, since your risk of death per year is low. What will you think when you’re in, say, your 60s?

    But 33% washes out in the sea of random variables affecting mortality.

    Only in badly designed studies.

    @11:

    The Sinha study only got those results for “high intake” of red meat (and processed meat, e.g. hot dogs), not moderate (normal) consumption. The latter had no appreciable effect on mortality.

    Again, you are misinterpreting the results. What the study found was a highly statistically significant, nearly linear relationship between quintile of meat intake and risk of all-cause mortality: the more red meat that was consumed, the greater the risk of death.

    Better controlled studies don’t find such sweeping effects on disease rates.

    I’m curious what studies of red meat intake you think are higher quality than this one. There are, to my knowledge, no large controlled trials of red meat intake. All the evidence is from observational studies. As such studies go, Sinha et al is pretty strong. It is prospective, has a huge cohort, and a lengthy follow-up period. Although diet was assessed by food frequency questionnaire, the questionnaire has been validated; that is, shown to adequately reflect actual dietary intake. The analysis employed a rigorous adjustment for dietary and lifestyle variables, comparable in quality to the highest quality studies in nutritional epidemiology. Just saying it did not employ adequate controls doesn’t make it so. What studies of the effect of meat intake on risk of cause-specific or all-cause mortality do you think are better controlled than this one?

    Jay

  47. oldebabe says

    Well, it’s an interesting read, and in the face of all the above statistics, rationale, references, arguments, etc., maybe it isn’t much, and admittedly, it is only anecdotal, but here goes:
    I eat meat, chicken, and fish, starches, vegetables, fruit, drink milk and wine among others, whenever and how much I please, have never been on a diet, have no disease, and I have a puff or two 3-4 times a day… I am 81 years old.

    So, it seems that when quoting statistics, one has to understand that they may (or may not) apply to some statistical average, but not necessarily to all individuals.

    • says

      Oldebabe: Well, true, but the danger of such reasoning is that you cannot recommend behavior based on your own luck. If the odds are better than 90% that you will live 14 more years by not ever smoking, it is foolish to bet on being in the other 10%. To end up in that lucky tenth and say “see, it’s perfectly fine!” is to give very bad advice. That’s why we need to look at broad averages and overall risks. Otherwise we’re acting like someone who drives drunk and recommends driving drunk because “they” have never happened to crash or hit anyone.

  48. Pep says

    Again, an animal’s life is indifferent to when it dies, because it does not become anything and has no awareness of being something.

    I don’t, for the time being, accept the assertion that an animal’s life is indifferent to when it dies. Are you sure about this?

    Animal quality of life has to be measured in terms of what is comfortable for that animal, and must recognize such facts as that animals aren’t aware of most things, and don’t aspire to be or do anything, and have no prospect of becoming anything, and thus should not be hastily anthropomorphized in these ways.

    Hypothetically speaking, if there were a species whose comprehension and understanding were far superior to ours would that permit them, morally, to kill us? I don’t mean this question to be a troll. And perhaps philosophically speaking it could be articulated better.

    • says

      Pep: I don’t, for the time being, accept the assertion that an animal’s life is indifferent to when it dies. Are you sure about this?

      Yes. As long as we’re talking about livestock. Because being aware of the concepts of death and a future and having plans for one’s life and valuing time to live one’s life in and even having a concept of a self that would be lost by dying all requires cognitive machinery that livestock animals don’t physically posses. That some animals, which we don’t eat, might, I recognize and discuss in Sense and Goodness without God V.2.2.2-4, pp. 328-31. But the present blog only concerns livestock animals.

      Hypothetically speaking, if there were a species whose comprehension and understanding were far superior to ours would that permit them, morally, to kill us? I don’t mean this question to be a troll. And perhaps philosophically speaking it could be articulated better.

      It’s a question raised by Sam Harris in his book The Moral Landscape. So it’s not out of left field. The answer is no (unless they are psychopathic monsters: see my discussion of this in The End of Christianity, pp. 354-56 and Sense and Goodness without God V.2.3.2, pp. 342-45).

      Because moral value is not about superior cognitive ability, but only the baseline ability to know of oneself and of others as selves and to understand the concepts of living and dying and of experience, knowledge, and the consequences of one’s actions (or the state of cognitively developing into such a thing). Once you reach a certain level of cognition, you have personal knowledge and thus exist as a person. Moral recognition of that fact then follows. For every entity capable of such knowledge, no matter how intelligent.

      There is a state of being in between (i.e. between that and being a mindless body in a state of assembly), when you are a cognating animal who is mentally becoming an animal capable of moral cognition, and in that state it is their future that they are building into that we recognize as of value. Thus we refrain from killing infants because of what they will become, not what they are–apart from the fact that someone already values them even as they are and thus they have assigned value as well (the same way our pets do, or an antique car or other unique object we assign value)–but in terms of value an entity possesses universally, it is an infant’s future that gives its present existence universal value. In other words an infant combines two properties: cognition (thus, like animals, they are not to be needlessly tormented) and a future of moral significance (thus, unlike animals, they are not to be needlessly killed).

      Landon Hedrick asked a different but related question in another thread: I wonder whether it would be acceptable, on your view, to cage, kill, and eat a human being who is severely mentally handicapped (to such a degree that they have the cognitive capacities of, say, an adult pig).

      The question is misconceived because even an infant has more cognitive ability than a pig. Thus you are asking how we should treat someone who had less cognitive ability than even a newborn baby, and (by your own stipulation) would never develop any further. For example, infants have an innate theory of mind (a physical system present in a brain already by its third trimester of intrauterine development) and with it can infer another’s intentions from their actions. Pigs don’t have that. Infants also have an innate brain center devoted to learning to identify tools and assigning names and functions to them. Pigs don’t have that either. In short order infants learn and recognize their own names (without having to be trained). It requires considerable effort to teach a pig to respond to a name. As soon as an infant’s brain has access to data (i.e. birth at the latest), they begin learning conceptual knowledge (and probably already had been before birth, which is why I oppose elective third trimester abortion). Pigs don’t do that. Infants have the brain instrumentation to accumulate conclusions from data that no pig ever could. As a result they become self-aware before reaching their first birthday. Something pigs definitely never do.

      So let’s play the game and assume a human is born whose brain is so physically emaciated and damaged that it never even acquires the cognitive abilities of a newborn infant and we can somehow verify it never will (those are some bizarre stipulations, so you should expect the consequences of them to be equally bizarre: one of the first rules to learn about crafting ridiculous moral thought experiments). To begin with, I believe such a baby should be euthanized. Aborted before the third trimester even, if its fate is predictable. But if for some reason its condition could only be confirmed after birth, humanely killing it would be a mercy. Otherwise all you will have is a pet, not a person. Indeed less than a pet, since they won’t even be able to take care of themselves. Ever. Nor will they ever have knowledge of being a person, or of life or death, or any of the things that give human cognition moral value. Could we cage them? We already do that even to fully developed infants (we call them cribs). Could we kill them? If they have no prospects of ever becoming more than a mental sub-infant, we not only could, we probably should. Could we eat them? It would not be immoral (any more than eating a fetus: and if you believe abortion at any stage is moral, then you must believe it is moral to eat what gets aborted), but it would be very unhealthy (human flesh is poisonous), and even apart from that I would question why anyone would want to. Someone keen to eat a baby (or a fetus for that matter) would have to be so positively ghoulish that they might not stop at sub-infants with no cognitive future. Nevertheless, humans have eaten each other in extreme survival conditions, and if a baby expired naturally and it was all you had to eat to survive, I doubt you would feel it right for us to condemn you for it. And no one should.

      But none of this has anything to do with actual human infants, for whom none of your stipulations hold.

  49. Jeff says

    Hmmmm — animals produce fertilizer for human foods? Sure, that’s true, but that fertilizer begins its life with the Haber Bosch reaction — the synthetic process which takes nitrogen from the air, and mixes it with hydrogen (usually from natural gas) under high temperatures and pressures to make ammonium. The nitrogen used for animal feed (which is mostly corn) comes, for the most part, from nitrogen fixed using the Haber Bosch reaction, and nitrogen placed back into fields via manure (which you are overestimating) still began with the Haber Bosch Reaction. You should look up the book Enriching the Earth by Smil. Agriculture loses nitrogen, and agriculture which has, as its end product, meat loses more nitrogen. Because of this it takes fewer acres of land to feed someone with a vegetarian diet than someone who eats meat.

    • says

      Jeff: You should look up the book Enriching the Earth by Smil.

      I just skimmed that and it didn’t make your point any clearer. I just don’t see its relevance. Obviously more land is used to maintain a crop-and-animal system than is used to maintain a crop-only system. I even said so in my blog. The only issue of importance is greenhouse gas emissions (land isn’t our problem), and fertilizer processes are already accounted for in the numbers I used. Likewise what happens to agrowaste when animals aren’t eating it must be accounted for, and what industry we ramp up to replace the hundreds of other products we get out of animals if we weren’t getting them out of animals must also be accounted for. In the end, I see no significant gain to be likely. But feel free to show me some math on that if you have it.

  50. Jeff says

    All I was trying to say was that meat production costs more land and more nitrogen. I recommended the Smil book because it describes how nitrogen is obtained and used — you’re right, it doesn’t have much to do with meat production as such — sorry.

    The additional nitrogen is a problem because of sustainability issues (nitrogen is produced using natural gas). Additionally, the extra nitrogen is a pollutant — it usually finds its way to the Gulf of Mexico or other locale where it creates a dead zone — or into the atmosphere as a greenhouse gas http://www.epa.gov/nitrousoxide/sources.html. On average only about 33% of applied nitrogen worldwide ever makes it to a crop — the rest is waste.

  51. says

    >I also find vegetarians irrational in their acceptance of non-vegetarians.

    This tangent is a bit troubling. I am going to give a patently ridiculous surface analogy now, so I hope nobody thinks I am presenting a straw-man of non-vegetarianism.

    Ahem. Imagine you live on a planet of mostly cannibals. Aside from this one difference, it is identical to our planet. Almost everyone is a cannibal, and you’ve been raised to think cannibalism is okay, but now you’re having second thoughts. “Maybe killing people to eat their flesh isn’t okay,” you think. You join the minority of people who don’t cannibalize, ever unnerved ever so slightly by this practice.

    Eventually, you come to the conclusion that cannibalism is barbaric and horrible, and that everybody should definitely stop doing it RIGHT NOW. What do you do? Do you form a bizarre fringe movement, telling people they’re monsters for being cannibals as they were taught? Maybe you do that, but then they will eat you. Far more effective, and far less damaging to yourself, would be to lightly criticize the practice of cannibalism just enough that you don’t get eaten and can maybe change the society from within. You also have to live on the planet, so you have to at least pretend accept the cannibalism for the time being, so you don’t get eaten, and so you can actually be effective.

    Morals of the fable:

    * Convincing people of your Noble Cause is much easier if you do not portray the people you want to convince as monsters. They will simply ostracize you. Look at PETA’s reputation! They’d surely get eaten. So for consequentialist reasons, it’s better to not go out shaming everyone whom you think is doing wrong; this is only provocative.

    * It is psychologically damaging to realize that the whole world is continually committing an atrocity (in the one’s opinion), so it’s easier to form some cognitive dissonance to “kind of” justify the behavior of others.

    * One does have to live in the society at large, regardless of whether one approves of it. That is why vegetarians will come to laugh at dinner parties, have sex with meat-eaters, and help them move.

  52. jt512 says

    @21 Richard wrote,

    [i]f you think any study is telling you that vegetarianism “would decrease my risk of death by 36% per year” then you are the one who is not reading it correctly.

    That, in fact, is not what I said. What I said was:

    [A] hazard ratio of 1.36, say, for the 5th vs the 1st quintile of red meat intake, means that reduction of red meat intake from the level of consumption of the 5th quintile to that of the 1st quintile, accompanied by equicaloric substitution of whatever foods aren’t in the model (eg, fish, carbohydrates) is associated with a 36% reduction in risk of death from any cause.

    Which doesn’t bear much resemblance to those words you put in my mouth, does it.

    You wrote:

    If you knew any math at all you’d realize that statement is wildly absurd.

    Well, I have degrees in both nutritional epidemiology and biostatistics, so I think I actually do no a little about math, and, actually, a lot about the type of math that is being done in that analysis. Aside from the fact that I wrote “36% reduction” when in fact I should have written “26% reduction” (1–1/1.36), perhaps you could explain the error in my math, or alternatively, just admit that you were attacking a straw man.

    I’ll also remind you that we’re talking about moderate meat eating, not “top quintile” meat consumption. Stop conflating the two.

    I’m not conflating anything, and I’m not making any direct statements about vegetarianism per se. High-quality studies with good statistical power that directly compare vegetarians and non-vegetarians are scarce to non-existent. I’m also not sure how useful they would be since those diet styles are heterogeneous. Therefore, I’m discussing the results of a study on meat consumption as a surrogate (and arguably better) dietary factor that showed red meat consumption to be associated with higher risk of mortality on a dose-response basis (after control for numerous potentially confounding variables).

    Furthermore, I’m not just talking about 5th quintile. I was just trying to minimize the number of statistics in the post. I would have thought that “5th vs 1st quintile” plus “highly significant linear trend across quintiles” would have adequately communicated the point. I guess not. What the study suggests is the less red meat you eat—at least down to the first quintile—the better off you are. I don’t know what you mean by “moderate” meat consumption. Third quintile red meat consumption is better than fifth quintile, but first quintile is better than third. Is there any further benefit to reducing red meat consumption to zero, or eliminating meat consumption entirely? We can’t say, at least not from this study.

    When we look at moderate meat consumption the Sinha study does not get results much different from the Key study which combines five different prospective studies.

    Moderate meat consumption compared with what? In Sinha, 3rd vs 5th quintile red meat consumption was associated with an 11% and a 14% reduction in risk of death for males and females, respectively. 1st vs 3rd quintiles was associated with an additional 15% reduction in of risk of death in both males and females. In contrast, Key et al compared vegetarians and non-vegetarians and found no significant difference in total mortality.

    However, as I previously said, the validity of Key et al is in question because it included the Health Food Shoppers Study, whose validity is not in question—it was an extremely poor study. Furthermore Key et al, despite being a pooled analysis, was a much smaller, less-powerful study than Sinha. Key included 76,000 subjects and 800,000 person-years of follow-up. Sinha included 546,000 subjects for 5.5 million person-years of follow-up. By either measure, Sinha et al was approximately 7 times larger than the Key study, and it wasn’t contaminated by data from junk studies.

    And as for the China Study I’ve already linked to critics taking that apart. I consider that moot.

    Yeah, I wasn’t planning to respond further to gilgamesh about that either.

    Jay

  53. Jeremiah says

    Richard,

    I don’t think I am sold on the ethics part. I would agree that a lot of the stuff about the horrors of factory farming are probably isolated incidents and dealt with accordingly but…

    ” animal rights advocates often misconstrue what is “bad” for an animal, thinking animals are just like people and thus whatever we wouldn’t like they wouldn’t like, which is silly.”

    This is true to a degree but there are instances in which I don’t think it is silly. Animals can quite obviously feel pain, I think you would concede that yourself given your comment that killing animals is okay as long as they are not tortured. If pain and suffering did not enter the equation then torture should be permissible as well. (in theory) Humane killing doesn’t really seem relevant here as we wouldn’t be too sympathetic to a murderer who happened to kill his victims in a humane way. The crucial point isn’t how humane the killing was but that he was taking the life of someone against their will which leads us into this statement:

    “It would cause you pain, and thus diminish your life satisfaction, to be a cruel or wholly indifferent person. But destroying an animal humanely is not cruel. And it is not destroying a person. Again, an animal’s life is indifferent to when it dies, because it does not become anything and has no awareness of being something.”

    For starters, I don’t know what you mean by it “does not become anything”. Animals like ourselves break down into our contingent elements upon death so neither ‘become’ anything, or everything depending on how you want to view things. I think it is also questionable to claim that animals are indifferent to when they die. Animals have survival instincts. They avoid situations that cause pain or threaten death. This does not seem like indifference to me. You could claim that it is merely instinct and not some sort of higher cognitive awareness of wanting to avoid death but not knowing the inner mental life of cats (or whatever) this can’t be much more than speculation. Secondly would that even be relevant? Surely we would not condone the humane killing of a mentally disabled person purely on the criteria that they are unable to articulate their desire to live? The crucial criteria here seems to be a desire to live, not an ability to articulate it, which animals by all appearances possess.

    Also given your position as a naturalistic materialist I would think that you would concede that our own interest in avoiding death is simply biological adaptations no different than that of other animals. Also I think it is fair to say that death would diminish an animal’s life satisfaction. My logical reason for not wanting to die (other than purely instinctual) is that it would do exactly this, that I would no longer be able to enjoy things that give me pleasure. An animal may not be able to communicate this feeling the way we can but I think it is mistaken to say that is not their desire. Just via observation I can see that my cat seeks out pleasure, it does things that it thinks will lead to it getting a treat or a rub behind the ears. It obviously is displaying the same attempts at self-satisfaction that people engage in and to deny it of that opportunity would seem wrong in the same way that killing is deemed immoral because it thwarts the desires of a living person.

    I had some more, but I’ll just leave it at that for now, since the comment is getting kind of long.

  54. Jeff says

    Just a few problems with your answer.

    Synthetic nitrate fertilizers — producers tend to use urea and ammonium as much as or more than they use nitrate.

    Figuring out what to do with agricultural waste isn’t nearly as much of a problem as you make it appear. In fact it isn’t a problem at all. This waste is full of organic material which can be used for a wide variety of things, not the least of which is to place it back into a field to enrich the soil. This is quite common and in some regions a preferred practice.

    Most of the corn crop in the US is used to feed animals — well over 50 percent. The bulk of the feed given to animals is corn – not agricultural waste (which you didn’t say explicitly, but seem to be implying).

    If we ate fewer animals there would be less demand for the type of corn that is currently grown — so we would expect it to be produced less on less land with less fertilizer which would be be good. Of course some government subsidies would need to go away, but that’s a different story — and is entirely possible with a sustained reduction in demand. The idea that a reduction in the use of animals for meat wouldn’t eventually cause a reduction in the use of feed corn makes no sense.

    You keep talking about other products from animals, and I understand that, but once you get past fertilizer products like poop, bone meal and blood meal you’re not left with much — and I would contend that we could get what we needed for these other things while killing a much smaller number of animals.

    To take it a step further, the nutrition in most of the fertilizer products, like the phosphorus in bone meal, comes from phosphorus mines in Florida originally — bone meal is just an inefficient way of repackaging it. We will deplete our phosphorus mines within the next 100 years if we don’t slow down.

    Extra nutrition is not just run-off, it’s also N2O which can have global warming effects similar to or worse than methane depending on how you measure effects (it lasts longer).

    In short — less animals for meat, less fertilizer used, less land used, less environmental problems. Period

  55. RolliniaDeliciosa says

    “…refraining from eating meat accomplishes neither.”

    Except that it does. Millions of vegetarians (in the US alone) equals less suffering than zero vegetarians. That is an improved status quo. You might just find a vegetarian or two among husbandry legislation advocates as well. A perfect industry (which would aspire to resemble no industry at all, with regard to suffering) is also an unrealistic goal. But you seem to think it’s worth working towards. Kind of like a perfectly secular society, free of theocratic threat.

  56. says

    I don’t assume, I check. What is irrational is assuming without checking. And I found that it tends to be vegetarians who are doing the latter, rather a lot.

    What sources would you cite to back up the claim that “[f]armed animals do not experience any more suffering than they would experience in the wild”?

    Or, put more clearly, what is it you check?

  57. RolliniaDeliciosa says

    In a humorously ironic restatement of one of my previous points, you’re essentially saying that an invisible 3-omni system is more reasonable than the the absence of a system :)

  58. Jeremiah says

    “Thus it’s about self-awareness and conceptual consciousness: an entity that is self-aware has personal properties (they think of themselves and others and understand the nature of their circumstances) and thus is a valuing agent and therefore valuable”

    These all seem to be rather vaguely defined terms. Lacking the ability to communicate how do we determine one’s self awareness? If for instance I lacked speech and writing, how would I go about displaying my self-awareness to you? If an animal recognizes itself, say in a mirror, rather than thinking it is another animal would that qualify as self-awareness? If it is not, then what is it? I am just trying to pin down the criteria here since it is supposed to be the defining demarcation where killing becomes unacceptable. And what does it mean to ‘understand their circumstances’? Does a severely mentally handicapped person understand their circumstances? This seems extremely fuzzy, as I have a hard time seeing how a new born baby would display an ‘understanding of their circumstances’ at any level higher than your average dog, yet killing of babies because of this fact is certainly not condoned.

    Often the debate about eating meat is defined in black and white, it is either okay or not okay but if we use things like we have discussing then I think the line of demarcation clearly falls somewhere in between. Like killing of for example pigs, or most mammals would not be okay but the killing of a trout probably would be. It is not so much about meat/not meat, but whether the animals being killed possesses certain characteristics.

    Honestly it just seems like a sort of species-ism. Killing people is not okay, anything else is fair game. The wrangling about self-awareness and so on just seems to be cover. Like the idea that a business should be allowed to serve (or not) whomever they please. This can be a legitimate cause, but despite it’s legitimacy it was often used as cover by racists to justify them not wanting to serve people that weren’t white. Here notions of the ability to fulfill desires and consciousness and such are all legitimate but I wonder if they are not simply being used as cover for a position of pure species-ism.

  59. says

    @Richard
    Thank you for the links to the criticisms for the China Study in post 18. I had seen the one from Dr. Hall before, and the very long post as well. However, from some review of the third and fourth links do not reach the conclusion you seem to hold strongly.

    The first link is half-dedicated to the very extensive critique by Denise Minger and his thought process before reading the book, so I will jump over that to talk about the authors review of the book. Unfortunately, every single point looks like psychological projection. For example, he claims Campbell (author of the book, “The China Study”) is deceptive in making people think that the experiments Campbell ran were on people rather than rats. This is simply wrong as both before and after the passage in question Campbell is clear that his experiment was on rats. The context of the study was placed well in the chapter, and this is even admitted by the blogger. So his statements that Campbell was committing obfuscation was itself an example of the very thing. The blogger also speculations about how rats may have to special evolutionary advantage concerning their diet and cancer, but not only is it speculative but it fails to account for the data from the China Study and the human cancer study from the Philippines also conducted by Campbell. Add to this the obvious quote-mine from p. 107 of Campbell’s book, a few personal insults, and more obfuscation and the post is worthless.

    The post by Dr. Hall is very balanced, and her work is in other places is excellent and extensive (like most all posts at Science Based Medicine). However, here she brings up things that undercut her points. For example, she talks about a bad source used by Campbell, but not only is Campbell not sourcing the author in question for his bad protocol; after all, if I cite your work on Hitler’s Table Talk, and they criticize me because you got something wrong unrelated to the matter, then my citation is crap, you would agree that that is not proper method but the “baggage fallacy” (this is your 12th axiom of historical investigations, after all). Besides, Hall points to other studies that give the same conclusion Campbell had, so this “poor citation” didn’t even undercut the argument at all. Dr. Hall also points out that other studies contradict Campbell’s conclusions, but Hall also agrees with Campbell on how these other studies (such as the Nurses’ Study) are problematic. Again, the only studies Hall provided she agrees does not have the strength to overturn Campbell’s studies. Dr. Hall does point to interesting exceptions, but could this be committing a logical fallacy, of having an anomaly override a larger trend? I agree that the China Study does not prove the case for veganism/vegetarianism, but the evidence is not so undermined by Dr. Hall’s post.

    Now, I have not reviewed the amazingly long post by Minger, and it’s longer than a critique of a Kent Hovind lecture, so I will not say if it is weak or not. All the more to explore. Nonetheless, from what I have seen in the other posts, it seems unwise to throw Campbell’s book under the bus. It’s also telling that the fourth blog post you linked to said that he accepted Minger’s out of confirmation bias, but that hardly means anything. I have more to explore. I just think these posts that I have gone over deserve more critical appraisal than you seem to have given them.

  60. says

    @jt512
    You said you would not respond further to me about the China Study. I don’t understand why; if I am deluded, please help me! If I am making a decent point, please acknowledge it. I don’t pretend to be a medical expert, and you have a strong background in this area. Please hit me with knowledge!

  61. says

    Thanks for those links Richard. I’m still trying to catch up here. Doesn’t another animal, regardless of its awareness of its own life, still value that life even if not anthropomorphically?

  62. Jason Goertzen says

    Instinctively avoiding threats and recoiling from pain is not the same thing as having a concept of ‘life’ that is contrasted with the concept of ‘death.’ Farm animals do not conceptualize like this. Imagining that farm animals understand morality and prefer to live long lives rather than short lives is anthropomorphism.

    It’s a function of the human brain that we have developed concepts of the self, that we project ourselves into hypothetical futures, and have preferences relating to these futures. Animals don’t do this: they simply aren’t capable of understanding that their lives are going to be shorter than they might have been, and of finding that objectionable.

    Honestly, as non-human animals go, being fed and sheltered, kept free of parasites, and given quick deaths is a relatively comfortable life. It’s not quite on par with our pets–but it’s certainly better than wild animals.

    Richard:

    Where do you draw the line? I can say for sure that I wouldn’t eat a chimpanzee (unless circumstances were pretty dire), and that I would eat a cow. I understand pigs are relatively intelligent–possibly more intelligent than dogs: should that factor in?

  63. Alecthar says

    DaveD (#46):

    I suppose you could assert that any living thing “values” its life if you considered the basic, instinctual drive to survive and reproduce to be the “valuing” of their own life.

    But even that doesn’t necessarily hold water. Some species (lemmings, for example) engage in self-destructive behavior, and many species engage in mass migration and spawning through areas where predators exist (salmon swimming upstream past bears) and play a numbers game, disdaining to ensure the survival of any particular individual (including themselves) in favor of making sure enough of their number reproduce and perpetuate the species.

    It seems to me that most animals exhibit none of the care for life (both their own and that of the fellows) that even a human being suffering from mental retardation (used here in the clinical sense)would.

    Speaking of, I do have to take issue with Mr. Carrier’s use of “retarded” as a perjorative in these comments. It’s a clinical diagnoses with some clearly negative stigma attached to it, describing an argument as “retarded” rather than more descriptive and (potentially) accurate terms like “illogical” or “irrational” (words Mr. Carrier clearly has no issue with using) is unnecessary and, frankly, somewhat offensive.

  64. jt512 says

    @gilgamesh, regarding the ecologic fallacy, I’ll try one more time.

    It is impossible to draw conclusions about an association between two variables at the individual level from the association between the average level of those variables at the population level. This is because there is no mathematical relationship between the two. For example, a strong positive correlation at the population level is consistent with any conceivable correlation at the individual level; the individual-level correlation could be anything from a strong positive correlation to zero correlation to a strong negative correlation. The population-level correlation is simply uninformative about the individual-level correlation.

    This is not a specific criticism of the China Health Study. It applies to every ecologic study that attempts to attribute the ecologic-level correlation to individuals in the population. Once you understand this fact, you don’t have to read lengthy criticisms of the China Study. In fact, I suspect, that anyone who has written a lengthy criticism of the China Study doesn’t, themselves, understand this, because, if they did, then then would only have written a criticism as long as this post.

    All you need to understand, in order to throw the China Study and every other ecologic study that attempts to apply its findings at the individual level, under the bus is this graph.

    What that graph shows is the actual prevalence of obesity in the US vs. the actual per capita chicken consumption in the US using official USDA data from 1971 to 2006. These data are represented by the black triangles. These are ecologic (ie, population-level) data, similar to typical China study data in the sense that they are data on prevalence of some disease or condition vs per capita consumption of a dietary factor. As the graph suggests, the ecologic-level correlation is strongly positive. In fact, it is 0.99.

    However, no one really thinks that chicken is the cause of the US obesity epidemic. White meats, like chicken, are generally lower in fat than red meats, and tend to be preferred by health-conscious individuals; so it is plausible that, on the individual level, chicken consumption could be negatively correlated with BMI, perhaps even strongly.

    To illustrate that such a strong negative correlation is perfectly compatible with a strong positive population-level correlation, I superimposed on the graph hypothetical data representing chicken intake and BMI of a random sample of individuals from the population at each time point. The mean chicken intake of the individuals at each time point is exactly equal to the per capita intake (ie, the black triangle) at that time point. Therefore these individual data are completely compatible with the population-level data.

    Of course, the true correlation between individual-level chicken intake and BMI could be different; although it could be negative, as pictured, it could also be positive or neutral. The point is that the population-level correlation is completely uninformative about what is going on at the individual level.

    Once you understand this, then you can safely ignore the results of any ecologic study that claims that the results can be applied to the individuals in the study. Modern epidemiologists understand this well, and essentially never make this sort of claim. Campbell, whose background is nutrition, not epidemiology, does not understand this—at least he didn’t 10 years ago when I had a rather heated argument with him about it. It’s too bad for him and his unfortunate students, because they could have invested their energies into investigating their hypotheses by using valid methodologies, and actually learned something from their data.

    Jay

  65. Johnny P says

    Richard

    My friend recently became a vegan, and being something of a philosopher myself, I tested her newfound evangelism and found it wanting, since she started with a conclusion and assumed the arguments towards it. I tried to put her right on a few points.

    However, on reflection, and since i am a meat eater and have studied morality, I have a feeling meat eaters ARE less ethical than vegetarians. I think on consequentialist and utilitarian ethics, meat-eaters cause more issues than vegetarians, and I am fairly sure this is quite easy to support philosophically. i know Peter Singer is hot on this.

    Interestingly, I have come to the conclusion that when I argued against vegetarianism, it was a knee-jerk reaction of cognitive dissonance. I think recognising one’s own cognitive dissonance is really important, since we spend an awful lot of time accusing Christians of committing to it on a regular basis!

    So, and with the greatest respect, I wonder whether the foundation for your defence of meat eating is cognitive dissonance and the disharmony of your enjoyment of eating meat, the effort of changing over, and your not wanting to admit you are morally less ethical than you could be.

    When I understood my position, I reconciled this with simply admitting that I am lazy and not perfect, though my partner and I have switched to being vege two days a week: flexitarian!

    Obviously it depends on your ethics, but given what you espouse in SAGWG (an excellent book, mind), it seems odd that you would not extend much of the philosophy to animals. Surely a world with animal pain is worse than one without? And the environmental arguments seem to be very strongly in favour of vegetarianism.

    Do you adhere to any kind of pluralistic consequentialism, such as there might be some other kind of end goal that as well as happiness?

  66. Johnny P says

    To put it in a more simplistic sense:
    Do you really and honestly think that a world which was vegetarian be no better than the present world / a world which ate meat?

    Ie, a world where billions of animals died to feed us, but that is not necessary that they die (ie we can live as vegetarians).

    You can even break that down from the world to your local state to avoid confusing the matter with practical logistics.

  67. says

    Note on comment posting and response delays: please see my recent post on current status. If your comment hasn’t posted yet, and you can’t think why it wouldn’t, that’s probably why: I just haven’t gotten to it yet. There are at least sixty now still waiting my approval, for this thread alone. It will take me time to get to them, for the reasons explained in the above link.

  68. paulhoward says

    I just added this blog to my rss today, and this first post I see is so contradictory to my understanding of environmental science (this issue has been my chief concern for almost 20 years) that it’s hard to read without feeling a little ill. I’ll have to come back to this later, when time permits.

  69. sc_8e94374b3d8851374960ec62312f0cb2 says

    Richard,

    Following up on my quick message this afternoon, I have a few comments. It was meant to be in order, but I took quick notes on stickies and they got mixed up.

    1. The essay begins with accusations of fraud by animal welfare interests, but you provide no evidence whatsoever. If your idea is true, one might expect agribusiness operators to be happy to show their farm practices to reporters instead of pushing for recording of images and sound on farms to become illegal without consent of the agribusiness operator. http://www.greenisthenewred.com/blog/florida-photography-undercover-investigator-bill-chris-lagergren/5383/

    2. I just noticed the graphic you posted comparing cow methane emissions to grass methane emissions. The grass emissions are produced by anaerobic digester. Is that realistic? How often do you think grass decomposition in nature is anaerobic? I’m sorry but that’s just stupid.

    3. Your portrayal of animals in extreme confinement as not suffering is ridiculous. I recall reading a study of hermit crabs a few years ago that demonstrated that they exhibit signs of feeling pain, suffering, and retaining a memory of the event.

    4. Another confinement issue, even if you deny animals’ ability to suffer, is antibiotic resistance evolving in pathogens, which is becoming a serious problem for human health. Did you know about that?

    5. Since you accuse vegetarians of being inconsistent by having friendships with meat eaters while seeing it as evil, I’ll just come out and say that I am have been so upset and disgusted for so long with people eating so much meat despite its horrors, that if I did not have responsibility to my wife and children I would have killed myself already and offered my dead body for the “population is the problem” meat eaters to feast upon. If I could move to a reasonably habitable vegetarian planet, I would do it immediately.

    6. The method of pretending that water used to grow livestock feed is not under the livestock sector but under the agricultural crops sector is like saying that we humans are only responsible for the water that we drink and use to wash, etc., but not what we use to grow food. This magical wand-waving, if applied consistently, can make the whole problem go away, on paper. In reality, since you can’t grow animals without water used to grow their food, the water to produce their food must be counted under the livestock sector. It’s also worth mention that the Ogallala Aquifer, which provides nearly 1/3 of the nation’s irrigation water will become unproductive over the next few more decades, so water is going to be a big problem.

    7. The virtually permanent loss of forest to feed production is a one-time cost? Seriously, WTF? You’re writing off the loss of Brazilian rain forest as insignificant.

    8. You call avoiding meat useless, and it looks like you studied this issue for about a day or so. I’ve been studying it for 19 years and am convinced that it is the best thing an ordinary individual can do for the environment, by a long shot. Still I’m practically nobody, but what authority do you have to challenge the FAO with your amateur estimations and obvious bias?

    9. You call it irrational to work for change that cannot occur. I assert that it is irrational to not work for change that must occur to avoid catastrophe, regardless of the non-zero odds of success. I do not expect everyone to become vegetarian, and I even admit that meat consumption under specific circumstances is helpful for the environment (such as eating fresh roadkill). I expect I would be just about satisfied with the changes that would quickly occur if the USA stopped subsidizing agricultural meat production, though I cannot imagine how this can be done politically.

    10. You call meat production highly efficient, which is an extreme stretch. It is efficient at concentrating nutrients and pollutants, but very inefficient at conserving energy. I don’t know if you took anything resembling Ecology 101, but I seem to remember that about 90% of the energy stored in plants consumed by animals is used by the animal or lost to the environment.

    11. You claim that water is not wasted by meat production, but a poster I have (not in front of me at the moment) from National Geographic, I believe from this year, indicates that to produce a pound of beef requires about 1845 gallons of water, whereas to produce a pound of corn (for example) for human consumption requires only about 109 gallons of water. Most vegetable foods on the chart require less water than corn.

    12. Cows on factory farms don’t produce fertilizer in the sense of it being useful. Their overabundance of manure is a waste, which often becomes a serious pollutant. I actually have a small farm sanctuary with one cow, a few sheep and goats, etc., and they produce fertilizer. It’s radically different, practically, depending on the ratio of manure to the land available for spreading it upon.

    I’m out of time for now, but that’s most of what I wanted to say.

  70. says

    @jt512
    That was very informative. Thank you for taking the time to explain this.

    However, I already did believe you that an ecological study alone is not sufficient to make the sorts of conclusions Campbell et al. have. In fact even Campbell knows that (see Carrier’s fourth critical link about the China Study which has a quote from him on this very point). All an ecological study should be able to do is direct research–you see a promising correlation, try to see if there is something causing that correlation. Nonetheless, Campbell had done the sorts of studies that finds mechanisms for this, that, and the other. If those lines of research are not done, then the ecological fallacy is committed, but at least in his book Campbell tries finding reasons for the correlations.

    Now, I cannot say yet how good Campbell’s other studies are, and I will need to see the critique of Minger and others to see what undercuts his hypotheses. Nonetheless, it seems that Campbell does avoid at least this one fallacy.

  71. says

    LykeX:

    I wonder if you have a reference for that. I’ve heard the claim before, but mostly the people saying it have been nutjobs, so I’m a bit wary of it.

    What is it about processed milk that is supposedly bad for you?

    I first read it in Fit for Life by Harvey and Marilyn Diamond. I have had it affirmed by several other persons, at least one of which was on friendly terms with a physiologist.

    The problem is that processing does two things: it causes the casein protein to effectively clog the inner surface of the intestines. IIRC this prevents the villi (which are found only in the small intestine I think – gosh, my anatomical knowledge needs improvement) from operating efficiently. And it prevents the absorption of calcium – which is still present, but it can’t be accessed.

    In sum: processing makes milk a junk food. (Got Milk? Like hell I do.)

    I do have it sometimes in coffee though. And sometimes I have cheese simply because it tastes good, not because of pretensions of nutrition.

    In Australia you can by non-homogenized milk. In the USA you can buy raw milk in some places.

  72. jt512 says

    @Gilgamesh #49:

    All an ecological study should be able to do is direct research–you see a promising correlation, try to see if there is something causing that correlation. Nonetheless, Campbell had done the sorts of studies that finds mechanisms for this, that, and the other.

    Well, for the third time you don’t get and just repeat your same argument.

    Since the correlation at the ecologic level is mathematically unrelated to the correlation at the individual level, then how can the correlation at the ecologic level be promising? And even if you think it is promising, since it is mathematically unrelated to the correlation at the individual level, then the only way to verify it would be to do research at the individual level in that population. Rat studies cannot confirm the results of an ecologic correlation study.

    There’s also some confusion about what the term “The China Study” refers. The actual China Study was an ecologic correlation study among 65 counties in China conducted in the 1980s. It’s relevance was blown all out of proportion by the media (NYT, I think), which dubbed it “The Grand Prix of Nutritional Epidemiology.” Well, the “Grand Prix” generated 31 papers in peer review journals, per a search for “China and Campbell TC” in Pubmed. To put the “Grand Prix” in perspective, a Pubmed search for “Nurses Health Study and Willett WC” returns 445 papers. In other words, compared to a high-quality nutritional epidemiology study, very little deemed worth publishing in a peer review journal came out of the China Study.

    Physicist Sean Carroll has said (paraphrasing) that “when physicists learn something important, they publish a paper on it and get it peer reviewed; when they don’t, they write a whole book about it.” Apparently, the same can be said of nutritionists, since Campbell wrote an 800+ page book called Diet, Life-Style, and Mortality in China detailing the methodology and the findings of the China Study.

    Now, apparently, Campbell has written a popular-level book also called The China Study that isn’t specifically about the original China Study, but rather, according to Micheal Eades, MD, is nothing more than “a book-length argument for a personal opinion masquerading as hard science.”

    So, when I talk about the China Study, I’m talking about the actual China Study, not the popular book with the misleading title, or other research that Campbell may have done.

    Jay

  73. sc_8f2575c39c8ebd3a1d1ca7483a41191c says

    …the industry is actually a lot smarter and cleaner than propagandists represent.

    Granted. I think we all agree that PETA is a bunch of lying whiny bitches with warped views of morality. But clean killing is still killing. I don’t murder my son and then say “I had a right to, I treated him nice his whole life”. To kill humanely is still to kill, which brings us right unto the topic of suffering:

    an animal’s life is indifferent to when it dies, because it does not become anything and has no awareness of being something”

    That claim is, as far as I know, completely without scientific basis. Neuroscience is at it, and one of the things they did confirm is that a grown cow has more awareness of self and surroundings than a two year old human child.
    Awareness is a difference of degree, not of kind. I don’t have a problem with the killing of a fly, but I do see an ethical problem with killing a being as far up the complexity scale of life as a grown mammal. Cows are definitely capable of suffering, and that’s the entire point. Sure, they suffer less than a human would being subjected to the same treatment, but that can also be said of many mentally handicapped people, as well as comatose patients.
    I don’t see how you can uphold that argument without destroying the basis to the right for life for anything else than a fully capable human being.

    It’s to treat animals like people, which they are not.

    No, it is not. Classic Utilitarianism as much as all its variations uphold SUFFERING as the key element by which to judge the morality of an action. You simply claim that animals have no interest in living (and since no right not to be killed), which is baseless at best, and proven to be outright wrong in the case of complex mammals.

    Concerning the various environmental claims you make, I am not knowledgable enough to debunk them. I’ll do my best to check, though. One thing I can tell for sure is complete bullshit (pun intended?):

    Lose the Cows, and Get Screwed by the Grass

    Right, because of course we have no other options of but to let grass grow wild and “screw” us all. How could we possibly utilize unused pasture? It’s not like land was one of the scarcest commodities there is.
    Also, the environmental argument argument does not rely on cow-farts as the primary source of meat-caused greenhouse gases. The enormous infrastructure behind the meat industry is a much more important point. Vast transport routes between all the intermediate points in the production, all for an industry that does not serve our survival, but merely our taste.
    I doubt that you can deny that growing plants (and fertilzer and and and) and transporting them to humans for consumption is more efficient than growing all that shit, transporting it to animals, killing them, transporting them, processing them, THEN transport them to the humans.
    I’m not sure your “it’s all waste!” claim is up to date, either. Modern factories like to feed their stock high protein food: Soy and fish flour. The latter is a waste product, but also needs to be processed and transported. And there is an entire industry farming high-yield-low-quality grains specifically for cattle feed, failing to utilize the land for the production of plants fit for human nourishment.

    I agree that there are a number of bullshit claims out there. Many of yours are as bad and as misleading as those made by PETA.
    In the end, we live on a planet with a huge population of starving humans, but chose to feed, shelter and maintain an obscenely huge population of kattle instead, which only exists in the first place because we bred them for the sole reason that we like the taste of steak. I find that grotesque to the highest degree.

  74. Andrew G. says

    I first read it in Fit for Life by Harvey and Marilyn Diamond. I have had it affirmed by several other persons, at least one of which was on friendly terms with a physiologist.

    You read it in a crank book and had it affirmed via chinese whispers from an unspecified physiologist at two removes? This is not a reliable source.

  75. Singh76 says

    This has been an informative debate to read about and is a important issue to discuss, with many implications and consequences. I have yet to see a comprehensive counter argument from an individual advocating vegetarianism addressing Richard’s many points. With the exception of Jay, who explaining his credentials as a nutritional epidemiologist, and biostatistician, and clearly breaking down the importance of the Sinha study compared to the flaws in Richard’s Key study, presents a more sound argument why meat consumption is associated with an increase in mortality on a dose- response basis. So unless Richard can explain why Jay in his last post addressing these issues he brought up, I will would tentatively say, until more good quality studies are produced, the scientific evidence seems to show vegetarianism does have health benefits.
    As much as I would like to add my own thoughts to this debate, after reading the most comprehensive article in favor of vegetarianism I have read yet, I think it best to just give link to the article. And save myself years of research to produce an argument that may barley resemble the article I will reference. This article covers all of Richard’s main points and gives counter arguments in detail with references. It is written by a scholar, Dr. William O. Stephens, who has a P.h.D in philosophy. Here is the link: http://puffin.creighton.edu/phil/stephens/fiveargumentsforvegetarianism.htm

    It would be pointless to for me to find research and arguments in favor of vegetarianism, when there is already in existence a detailed, and referenced paper on the topic. Which articulates the counter-argument far better than I could create, to be honest. So I think it is best to have a real debate on the topic to go to sources, like the one it just mentioned, written by scholars who are some the leading “experts” or voices on the topic. Then we can get to the heart of the main issues like Richard has covered so comprehensively. I hope this paper when read, will lead to cover topics and perspectives not yet discussed, and thereby further the debate, and others understanding on this important issue.

  76. eeeeee says

    A lot of bullshit in the comments. I want to explain one thing:

    If cows are corn-fed, they are not grain-fed. If you grow corn for feeding cows, you cut and feed the whole plant. And corn is a type grass. So you are actually feeding them grass, it’s just grass that grows higher, which makes it possible to feed more cows with less soil.

    And that’s another aspect you have to have in mind if you compare human-consumable grain with corn feed, because if you would grow crops for human food, you would let the plant grow until you have only a little grain and tons of (unfeedable) straw instead of tons of feedable corn feed.

  77. Scotlyn says

    This is an excellent post and discussion thread. Thank you for opening up this discussion to rational debate.

    I would like to comment, not from a researchers point of view, but from the point of view of an “insider” observer. I am myself a pasture-based livestock farmer. I read a lot, but am a scientific layperson and stand to be corrected on points of fact or of logical fallacy.

    I have long been frustrated with the easy assumption that vegetarianism will lead to more sustainability and less environmental degradation. It is my view, based on my practical understanding of farming and food production, that the opposite may be true.

    Firstly, true long-term sustainability in agriculture requires the intelligent replication of complex, biodiverse ecosystems. We humans cannot exist in a vacuum of our own making, and we deplete the soil that is essential to growing our food, and destroy the biodiversity that is essential to the biological resilience of all living things, including ourselves, at our peril.

    Here’s what I know, in this context, about the sustainability of pastured livestock keeping vs. grain-growing (whether for human or animal consumption).

    Pasturing livestock replicates an ancient, sustainable and complex ecosystem – that between grazers and perennial multispecies grasses – seen, for example in the teeming herds that once roamed the grasslands of Europe, Asia, Africa and America (copiously burping and farting, I might add, the gases produced by their cohabiting methanogens, some of the most ancient inhabitants of this planet). These herds ate richly of, and tramped their manure into, a form of plantlife that had evolved not only to withstand, but to thrive under this treatment. High level predators were always a part of this ecosystem also, keeping herds bunched together for safety (which maximised footfall impact), and keeping the on the move (which maximised rest periods between “treatments”). Our modern livestock herds lack predators and freedom of movement, but, using methods that replicate the effects of these can improve the quality of soil, grass, water, local biodiversity, local crop fertility, human health and wealth, and the size of the herd itself, as has been demonstrated by 2010 Buckminster Fuller winner, Allan Savory.

    In contrast, growing grain requires biocide on a large scale. Land must be cleared of all “weeds” and “vermin” (many of which are as cute and furry as any lamb) before planting a mono-crop of an annual grass – whose natural ecosystem function was to be a forerunner in the re-population of species in the aftermath of any natural disaster – fire, flood, earthquake – that left the earth bare and sterile. Instead of allowing these annual grasses to perform that function and be quickly followed in succession by more diverse perennial species (“weeds”) and exploited by animals (“vermin”), which would heal and rebuild the soil substrate, we replicate the emergency, and ensure the ongoing sterility such a crop requires, year on year. The extent of soil destruction this entails can be witnessed in the current state of the original “Fertile Crescent” – still largely sterile five to ten thousand years after the first domestication of annual grasses.

    It should be noted in passing, that it simply would not be an option for this farm to switch to growing crops of any vegetable kind, apart from some horticultural crops, such as fruit trees, fruit bushes, and potatoes (which have a place on our farm already), because of the hilliness of the land, which precludes the use of tractors. Thus, our livestock could not, by any stretch, be accused of using land or crops that would otherwise be “people food.” Instead, they are able to make efficient use of marginal land, which easily grows grass and stones in plenty, eat this inedible grass, and recycle it into “people food.” However, in a bigger picture, our farm also builds soils year on year (itself a huge carbon sink – I wonder is this accounted for in the carbon footprint figures cited?), supports a diversity of wildlife – all sorts of trees, shrubs and other herbage in hedgerows, etc. Badgers, foxes, herons, etc all make their homes here undisturbed.

    Also, we recently bore witness to the side effects of the EU’s long term farm policies aimed at reducing livestock numbers. Large parts of our neighbouring lands are carrying less than 10% of the livestock numbers that formerly roamed rather freely, under an ancient “commonage” system. Undergrazing has its own hazards – among others the failure of dead grasses to be trodden into the soil to decay – instead standing proud in the field, dead and weathering and becoming a fire hazard. Also the overgrowth of inflammable gorse and other species. The inevitable happened early this year when the weather conspired to be dry and breezy – massive gorse fires, which also destroyed adjacent forests on hundreds of acres.

    There are many more points that could be made, but the central point is that you cannot have a sustainable ecosystem without animals, plants and microbes, all working together. And no food supply that depends on ecosystem and soil destruction can be sustainable in the long term.

  78. Scotlyn says

    PS. There should be no such thing as surplus manure. Manure (including our own) is the number one resource we have for replenishing and rebuilding the soil. And soil is our only guarantee of food security into the future. (Petroleum derived fertilizers supply nutrients that make plant growth possible on depleted soils, but do litte to replenish or rebuild those soils. Also, as petroleum is a finite resource, they are unlikely to be available to us in the long-term.)

    Manure is most efficiently applied directly to the soild by the animals themselves, but when this is not possible, then manure should be immediately captured into an organic bedding/biolitter system (straw, old hay, etc). I am not familiar with the detail of the chemical processes described above which can turn some of the nitrogen in urine into ammonia, but I do know that the urine of properly bedded animals does not ever produce ammonia smells. My understanding is that urine and feces which are immediately absorbed and incorporated into an organic bedding begin to aerobically compost by means of the activity of thermophilic bacteria (farmers round here call this process “heatin'”) and by-pass the ammonia-producing step). Animals that are housed with a proper thickness of organic bedding/biolitter never produce any unpleasant smells, and their manure immediately stops being waste (something useless and potentially polluting), as it begins to become compost (something useful and non-polluting) immediately.

  79. says

    @jt512
    I fear we may be talking past each other to some degree, but let me say that I do see your point. To be clearer, an ecological study can be useful for further research such as by conduct of a cohort study. I see your point that rats studies are not sufficient to explain an ecological analysis, and you are certainly correct.

    I also want to clarify that the “China Study” I had been referring to is the book by Campbell from 2005. Your criticisms of the actual China Study are spot-on, so I will also take them into consideration when they are used to prop up dietary claims. I read the blog by Dr. Eades you mentioned, and Carrier had linked to it before. I also noted that his criticisms of the book seemed sub-par at best. Nonetheless, I wish to continue to explore the subject matter and not dismiss it because it is in a book. (Besides, Campbell has written journal articles for his position as well.)

  80. says

    Richard, forgive me, but your arguments are completely ludicrous, and they assume a false dichotomy between supporting vegetarianism/veganism and supporting other environmental efforts. When I say that if everyone were to become vegan/vegetarian it would improve emissions, that is 100% truth, and you know it. The ONLY way you can argue otherwise is to then tack on some bullshit that I would also disagree with. That is, you have to argue that, provided everyone adopted a diet without meat, they’d take up other behaviors that harm the environment. But you know what? I’d say we should regulate THOSE behaviors as well! You seem to think that those of us who incorporate environmental reasons into our veganism/vegetarianism think that this diet choice is the SOLE and ONLY answer to environmental problems, and your entire criticism is rooted in that quite false belief. So if you want to talk about who’s being irrational here, let’s remember who is the one straw-manning the other position here! In effect, what I’m saying is “Eating less meat results in fewer emissions,” and your response is “Eating less meat DOESN’T result in fewer emissions, assuming that the meat-eating behavior is replaced with behaviors like driving Hummers 200 miles every day, shooting puppies with gas-guzzling flamethrowers, and raping grandmothers with winter tomatoes.” Guess what? Most people who are vegetarian/vegan for environmental reasons would ALSO be working to prevent emissions that would come from those additional sources you’d tack on as “replacement behaviors.” It’s obviously a straw man and I’m amazed you commit to it so strongly all the while insinuating that it is the other side being irrational and making false assumptions…

    In regards to animal feed, sure, some of it may be from waste from human crops, but A LOT of it is from feed crops, which uses a lot of land and creates a lot of unnecessary emissions. And like I said, the ONLY way you can argue that universalizing vegetarianism wouldn’t produce fewer emissions would be to tack on a completely baseless assumption that other behaviors would be worse for the environment. Do you really think those who change their diet for environmental reasons would then advocate and support practices that harm the environment more? Do you really think we also advocate abandoning technological research into energy alternatives and other ways to mitigate climate change? Don’t be silly. You are assuming that vegetarianism equates with an all-or-nothing worldview that sees reducing meat intake as the ONLY source to a better world. That’s not the case.

    My point is simple, and it isn’t about what is practical or what would work in a prisoner’s dilemma. It’s about what is ethical. And no one can deny that it is more ethical to eat less meat or to try to mitigate harm to the environment. If we lived in a world where people did not eat so much meat and where we took those steps as well as others to reduce environmental impacts, the world would be a better place. There would be less animal suffering. There would be less environmental damage. The only point in which you can make your case is whether seeking these goals is realizable or practical. But simply because something isn’t practical doesn’t mean it isn’t ethical. Again, I think you are completely wrong to equate whether something would work with whether it would be ethical. Someone who advocates not killing is ethical. Someone who advocates killing a few minorities because some authoritarian power will only be appeased in that way is not ethical. They may be the most practical in that scenario, but certainly not the most ethical.

    (As for your digression about politics, while I agree that Supreme Court justice selection is important, certainly it hasn’t escaped your notice that Executive powers are continually increasing, rendering the “checks” of the courts and other legislative bodies increasingly superficial, especially when it comes to foreign policy. Obama has a record almost as bad as Bush’s, and worse in some respects, when it comes to abuses of Executive powers [his abuse of the state secrets privilege has been especially frightening and telling]. Give it more time. I fear the Executive branch will one day be able to detain or imprison anyone they like without having to give any reason, and the courts and legislative bodies will dutifully defer to the President because we’re in a war with a concept rather than an actual nation. For the record, I do not think the answer is voting for a third party. I am not sure what the answer is, to be frank, but I certainly don’t see voting for Democrats ending this problem, only prolonging our descent into this sort of insane police state rather than plunging us into it quickly. I’d almost prefer a quick plunge, as that at least would wake up people who are indifferent. At any rate, my greater point with that comment, though, was that an individual vote is quite pointless and worthless, and hence you’d think a game theorist would have no problem advocating against voting and instead opting for a more direct route to change, like say lobbying your representatives or throwing a molotov cocktail through their windows.)

  81. Raptor says

    Here’s another reason to eat animals. Many various of animals are currently in danger of extinction because we stopped eating them. Here is a list http://albc-usa.org/cpl/wtchlist.html from the the american livestock breeds conservancy.

    I have to wonder what PETA and the rest propose we do with all these animals once we stop eating them. And how, exactly, we go about persevering the genetic diversity of the breeds. Though, I suspect some people who simply not care if all long horns (for example) went extinct because they aren’t ‘real’ animals. (As a side note, I realize that a breed is not the same thing as a species.)

    On top of that, I often seriously wonder if any vegetarian has actually seen the mass harvest of crops before. Those 100+ birds aren’t following the tractor to catch seeds. I grew up in Texas, which has rice fields. The sheer mass of small animals on the land is staggering. And anything not fast enough or lucky enough gets chopped and spit out with the other waste.

    It also seems that we have been farming for so long that there are many species of animal (birds, mice, ect) that depend on farming animals. Especially in Europe. I can’t find this paper atm, but it was awhile back and that was what struck me as interesting. Mostly because it seems with some people they care about the big animals. The cow, the horse, the pig. And totally forget the smaller ones.

    And then, we would have to clear out more land, cut down more forest, to plant more crops (as you pointed out, we are feeding the animals waste product from food production), in order to feed all the people we are now. And we’re not even talking third world.. who don’t exactly have a megamart with five different kinds of tomato to pick from year round.

    It does not make logical sense to demand that everyone not eat meat. The negative impact on diversity, land, and people would be great.

  82. says

    First of all you have made a mistake, Ovo-Lacto Vegetarians do no eat fish. Perhaps the study you used defines it differently but either way it is incorrect:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ovo-lacto_vegetarianism

    Infact conventional vegetarianism is Ovo-lacto, beyond that is Vegan.

    While I understand you offhandedly addressed personal preference you did so in a manner that ignored a few words I would like to share.

    I do not eat meat because my subjective experience of eating meat is not worth the value of animal life to me.
    Yes this is aesthetic, and on a broad scale unrealistic, meaning I wish to impose it on no one. Because of this I have no problem helping your lactose intolerant ass move your couch to your new house, or sharing dinner with those who eat meat, Their subjective experience is different than mine
    Apparently their equation for net gain for life lost is different than mine, maybe meat is just that tasty to them.
    There is nothing irrational about this, and it does not require I judge them as having devalued animal life, nor does it require an inflated value of animal life on my part.

    I realize this is not an argument to convert people to Vegetarianism, thus requires no counter argument, however it is a rational and moral lifestyle / dietary preference.

    And its certainly more polite than calling people stupid.

  83. says

    Richard it seems like you’ve cherry-picked your data a bit. You claim that animals aren’t treated as cruelly as PETA claims, but that doesn’t mean they don’t suffer more than in the wild. Limiting pig and cattle mobility surely do cause suffering because larger animals like those do have a preference for more mobility. Chickens may demonstrate crowding behavior, but that does not show that keeping them crowded for the duration they are in farms does not cause them suffering. In fact, crowded chickens show a high propensity for cannibalism and thus have to be de-beaked. De-beaking has shown to cause chronic pain in a significant percentage of chickens. Even if you concede this point and advocate laws like California Prop 2, it leads to less efficiency. Less efficiency means more land use, more land degradation, and more deforestation for farms.

    Even if it were sustainable to do this; efficiency still costs much more and you are setting up a system in which corporations make more money breaking laws and torturing animals. Criminal mismanagement DOES happen in every industry, but in livestock it leads to the torture of animals IN ADDITION to the human costs of sub standard product quality and working conditions for farm workers. Regulation can’t eliminate mismanagement, other industries are necessary; whereas eating animals instead of plants isn’t. Also, mismanagement in livestock industries cause harm in both the process of raising animals and the consequences of sub-standard products.

    Your citation of the book “How Bad Are Bananas” doesn’t match up with the article it leads to. I’m assuming the book itself contains the claim that the greenhouse impacts of a burger and shower are 3 and 2 respectively. That sounds like accounting chicanery. Given how much heated water is used to process meat, how much water is used for animals to drink, the energy required to maintain a slaughterhouse, etc. It seems unlikely that the same factors were considered to reach those two numbers. You also gloss over the fact that Berners-Lee’s conclusion is that eating less meat and dairy is an effective way to lower your footprint. Either his analysis is accurate and you are overlooking other factors that make meat inefficient, or his analysis is incorrect and your points about greenhouse impact are false.

    You claim that we have to consider how the water would be used if not for livestock, but ignore how inedible crop yields could be used for bio-fuels. The point is water used for other things could have a greater benefit (like generating electricity so we could use less coal).

    You’re right that the industry could be made less harmful to the environment, but more efficiency makes animal conditions worse.

    It doesn’t take the consideration of animals as equivalent to humans to be a vegetarian. Thus it is not irrational to still associate with meat eaters. Stop straw-manning

  84. ceph says

    It was very disappointing to see this disastrous post on Freethought blogs – it’s almost as if you’re deliberately trying to drive a wedge between vegetarian humanists and the rest of the atheist community. Some people can’t stand animal cruelty for very sound philosophical reasons that you don’t bother to mention, and very simply put, the best way to avoid harming animals is not to eat them.

    You seem to deny the fact that animals suffer in factory farms, which an extraordinary thing to say! Perhaps you should visit a hog factory in Ohio and watch piglets getting their testicles pulled out without anaesthetics, or watch the sows who are unable to move in any direction chewing miserably on the bars of their ‘gestation’ crates. Animal abuse a is systematic and routine part of factory farming (I’ve worked on a battery egg farm, so I know) and if you want to apologize for that then that’s your business, but don’t castigate vegetarians for making the humane decision to abstain from eating animal products.

    You don’t even mention slaughterhouses (probably because you don’t know anything about them), and proceed to project the most bizarrely offensive motives onto vegetarians – whom, you suggest, all regard meat-eaters as paedophiles?? You say that the welfare of animals is a top priority for agribusiness, when in fact the welfare of any individual animal makes no difference to the economics of the operation as a whole. They are only concerned about suffering to the extent that it affects their profits and agribusinesses lobby the govenment every year to hold back reforms in animal welfare. In fact, every reputable scientist who studies animal health agrees that factory farming is far from ideal for the well-being of those animals. If everyone, let’s say, replaced two meals out of ten with a vegetarian alternative then we’d need to produce a fifth less meat, which would undeniably have an impact. Please do some serious research next time.

  85. Guest says

    I am a vegetarian. I have been for 15 years now. I stopped eating meat because I learned how meat was produced (mass production, in europe animals are transported for 30h before killed incl. broken limps and dehydration along the way)I wouldn’t mind eating meat if..I could afford locally produced free range and I didn’t have to explain every time I refuse meat (because I don’t know where the meat is coming from) and potentially offend the chef.So it’s money and lazyness. The market is driven by demand so I am demanding free range or nothing. If you feel ok with eating mass farmed unethical meat, go for it. I made my choice, you made yours. (I don’t like proselytizing, I can’t stand militant vegans or vegetarians)

  86. Adam says

    I’m amazed that someone declaring the “irrationality” of all of his opponents would settle for making broad, sweeping claims about how factory farming “doesn’t really cause much suffering,” without providing a shred of evidence. What is the factual basis for this grand declaration? Why are you so convinced that the propaganda of the meat industry (whose livelihood depends on their public image) is wholly true but the propaganda of animal welfare activists is false?

    You suggest that most of the claims that factory farms are inhumane comes from “gotcha” videos. Do you know why this is the case? I would say that it has a lot to do with the fact that the meat industry fights tooth and nail to *prevent* the public from seeing the actual conditions at the plants. They actively fight for laws that would turn taking a photo of a factory farm from a public road into an act of “ecoterrorism.” In the absence of any public access to the farms other than staged press events, how is the public able to come to an informed opinion about whether or not they are inhumane?

    If you are serious about people actually being informed on the issue, and I assume you are since you are so enthusiastic about declaring who is and isn’t “rational,” then you should be advocating for full transparency about what the conditions of factory farms actually are. And no, mere statistics about “compliance with the law” are not enough because (even assuming that the inspectors are doing their jobs perfectly and without bias), the laws are not designed to prevent cruelty; they’re designed to protect human health.

  87. says

    Wrong on both points, showing an incredible lack of understanding of simple biology. NO, your intestines don’t get ‘clogged’. Normal peristalsis ensures that what you put in one end, comes out the other

    Do you mean textbook biology or real-world biology? I have seen a few comments on web forums etc. which assume that the real world follows textbooks. But you are right to object – there isn’t a consensus on some of these details.

    Are you perhaps suggesting that intestinal congestion does not occur, or are you limiting your response to my comment about milk?

    It is the biological function of your intestines to absorb nutrients from your food, and processing the food will not prevent it.

    I get the feeling that you are implying that refined foods are just as healthy as unrefined foods; or that processing conserves all the nutrients in the raw food. In any case I refer you to a physiologist if you want further details.

  88. says

    Richard Carrier wrote that:

    All activity produces greenhouse gases. Just your breathing does. Animals do. The earth by itself does. The very rocks produce emissions. As well as all the other things we do (from drive to shower to turning on the lights to manufacturing medical instruments to mining metal, to what have you). Thus saying “it produces emissions, therefore it’s bad” is retarded. Even cavemen produced greenhouse gas emissions…before they even invented fire! That’s why a 2% emission share is insignificant.

    There is a lot of food for thought in this blog entry, and I changed my mind about many things. I found it a great defense of meat eating, and I intend to use these arguments in the future to defend my meat eating.

    However, I think it is important to keep in mind that in the absence emission of GHGs from human activities, the amount of carbon dioxide that gets into the atmosphere balances the amount that is taken out by other natural processes, such as plants and the oceans. This is simply due to the establishment of a rough equilibrium.

    However, when we additional carbon dioxide into the atmosphere from human activities, the concentration increases(and reaches equilibrium again, but only in a geological time-scale), which is why we are concerned with an increase if the emission of GHGs.

    So we want to focus on net emission, not the total amount (because this does not address the process that removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere). It is this net emission that is problematic from the perspective of climate change.

    Compare this with being on a diet. If you take in more than you eat, you cannot say that this will not lead to weight gain because the net intake is negligible compared with what you take in in total. Clearly, the net intake will have a large influence of weight gain/loss.

    For a reference, please see the critique of the “argument 33″ at skepticalscience(dot)com(slash)argument(dot)php called “Human CO2 is a tiny % of CO2 emissions”.

    Now, I do not mean to imply that Dr. Carrier rejects the science of climate change; it is just an unfortunate formulation of the argument in the comment I cite because he is right in the original argument in the blog entry that it could very well be replaced by production and use of fertilizers that contribute equally or more to GHGs emissions from the burning of fossil fuels. So Dr. Carrier is right in this version of the argument. The error is in the problematic comparison between man-made and natural emissions.

    Dr. Carrier is also right in the comparison of the relative low emissions of GHGs from the meat industry compared with other industries such as coal burning and transport. Here he is correctly comparing apples to apples.

    Maybe I am misrepresenting Dr. Carrier’s position here. Perhaps the emphasis is only on the fact that it constitutes a small percentage of human emission of GHGs, therefore not a significant contribution to the problem. This, I think, is reasonable correct.

    It is unfortunate that Dr. Carrier made the invalid comparison between human and non-human emissions of GHGs in the comment i quote above.

  89. Tyrant of Skepsis says

    I have trouble finding words adequate for this post. Rather than buying the silly comparison of vegetarianism to evangelical religion, yet again I take something else away from it, namely that meat eaters invariably tend to display an unthinking defense mechanism for their behaviors that is much more akin to religions apologetics than vegetarianism, as the OP casually claims. Red herrings, sloppy accusations, straw men, carefully keeping the own level of discourse just shallow enough to comfortably justify ones own behavior, while throwing many values under the bus that I consider imperative. Laughing at compassion for other animals? Splendid. The chauvinist distinction between us and other animals which is celebrated in this text is so 19th century, so unworthy of a modern ethical discussion of animal and human rights, that it leaves me dumbfounded. It harkens back to darker days, as it has been written before many times to justify cruelty of another sort.

  90. aspidoscelis says

    Hm. Having just now come across this post (after reading some of your more recent posts and thinking well of them), I think this is something I’ll have to think about and revisit later.

    However, for the moment, a couple of brief comments.

    “And almost all of that is rain water (over 87%) which falls naturally and would have been wasted anyway were it not put to some use”

    That’s just the old Bureau of Reclamation line. “If we ain’t using it for people, it’s being wasted.” I’m not sure even BuRec advocates that view any more and, more to the point, if you’re hoping to convince environmentalists–they aren’t going to buy it. The alternative to rainfall watering a crop (some or all of which will be used to feed livestock) isn’t “waste”, it’s a natural ecosystem that we value.

    Also, as an enviro-type in the western U.S., over-grazing for me is the great big hulking issue with livestock, and one you’ve ignored completely. Grazing on lands in the western U.S. isn’t a big deal in terms of meat production (it just isn’t very efficient), but it is a huge component of destructive land use by the livestock industry in the U.S. Personally, on the environmental front I’m not much concerned by cattle raised mostly on corn byproducts from Iowa (in part because, admittedly, I consider Iowa a lost cause)… but grazing in the west is a whole different ballgame. FWIW, I do eat meat, but not a whole lot of it compared to the average American; however, if it came with handy labels indicating such, I’d avoid anything from western grazing entirely (with, I suppose, rare exceptions for people like Ted Turner who, despite being an obnoxious wealthy SOB from Back East, does quite a good job of not screwing over the lands he owns).

  91. Liz says

    It is interesting that you seemingly claim animals have very little awareness of anything around them (or their own interior states) when many animals (especially other mammals) have nervous systems that are remarkably similar to ours and are even used by scientists in biopsychology experiments concerning phenomena such as memory, learning, emotional attachments and so on.

    If you are going to make such statements about awareness, please base them in a sound interpretation of comparative neurobiology, psychology, evolutionary/genetic relationships and so forth. Do not clump other animals in a group that is somehow distinct from our species yet includes every animal from sponges and coral to chimpanzees and pigs – this is remarkably reminiscent of the religious view that a higher power created humans as entirely distinct and unique beings.

    As for it being wrong to torture animals – what constitutes torture? Cutting an animal’s testicles/tail off without painkillers? Placing animals in crowded trucks and taking them on long journeys, including on hot summer days? Taking them into a slaughterhouse where they can often see other members of their species being killed or smell their blood? Selectively breeding them so they become so heavy so quickly their legs are buckling underneath them and contorting by the time they are considered ready for slaughter? Taking a calf which is a few days old away from its mother, who is psychologically and hormonally primed to care for her young and to look for her missing calf?

    These things are routine and legal. Do we really have a moral justification for eating animal products if they are not necessary?

    • says

      Liz: It is interesting that you seemingly claim animals have very little awareness of anything around them (or their own interior states)

      Since I never said that, it’s not interesting at all.

      What I did say was far more nuanced and particular, and even agrees with all the science and distinctions you referred to. Which is interesting.

      I can only conclude you didn’t actually read my post and just posted a kneejerk comment from a casual skim.

      As for it being wrong to torture animals – what constitutes torture? Cutting an animal’s testicles/tail off without painkillers?

      People have cut human foreskins off without painkillers. Minor surgeries like that at infancy are not torture, just uncomfortable. Nevertheless, I believe anesthetic should be used in all surgical procedures, including castration, simply because otherwise you are causing unnecessary pain, and there is no good reason to do that. This is an example of how the problem is solved by solving it, not by abandoning meat consumption (which will not prevent a single castration, and thus is a useless gesture).

      Placing animals in crowded trucks and taking them on long journeys, including on hot summer days?

      We do that to people. It’s not considered torture anywhere on earth that I know. Apart from in a trivial way (“this commute is torture!”).

      In fact, it is contrary to industry interests to overstress animals with heat or excess proximity, so they take measures to ensure the animals are reasonably comfortable by the animal’s own standards of natural living. (Westerners are overly pampered when it comes to amenities like air conditioning; most humans on earth do without them.)

      Taking them into a slaughterhouse where they can often see other members of their species being killed or smell their blood?

      Since they don’t know what “killing” is or what “blood” is, no, this is not even stressing for them, much less torture.

      Selectively breeding them so they become so heavy so quickly their legs are buckling underneath them and contorting by the time they are considered ready for slaughter?

      This is nonsense. You are obviously buying into propaganda. It is contrary to industry interests to have deformed cows, likewise cows that (from chronic pain) are at risk of loss from stress or violence.

      Taking a calf which is a few days old away from its mother, who is psychologically and hormonally primed to care for her young and to look for her missing calf?

      We do this to cats and dogs, routinely. Human mothers do it all the time (it’s called adoption). And nature does it to a very high frequency (e.g. nature will kill on average half or more of a cow’s calves within a year of birth; it is only human intervention and medicine and care that prevents this). Nevertheless, studies show [w.g. AABS 70.4 and AABS 110.1] that calves removed immediately are not as much noticed by the mother (who only intensifies searching behavior after socializing with her young; in effect, cows aren’t sure they have calves until they interact with them). Moreover, no study shows any of this rises to the level of pain, anguish, or torture for the mother, at any stage of removal. Indeed, the purpose of removal is to improve the life and welfare of the calf (who, along with their mother, is more prone to fatal or debilitating disease when left with its mother, and who is more prone to injury if milking processes are practiced with the calf present or having to be corralled each time); it is not, as one might think, to save the milk, since the calves have to be fed milk anyway (so there is zero net gain from removal).

      These things are routine and legal. Do we really have a moral justification for eating animal products if they are not necessary?

      What about fruit picked by migrant workers for minimum wage? Eating store-bought fruit is not necessary. Yet the lives of migrant workers are difficult. So is eating fruit immoral? (And thus we should take away the income of migrant workers?) It is illogical to assume that anything consumed must be completely free of all possible pain in its production. Nothing could ever be produced on that standard, since all labor entails some measure of human pain, discomfort, and loss (e.g. muscle fatigue and occupational injuries; parents who work spend whole days away from their kids; kids who go to school spend whole days away from their parents). The goal cannot be the elimination of all of this, but the economically feasible reduction of it to tolerable levels. We ought to treat animals likewise. Thus I support efforts to improve animal welfare. But I don’t support unreasonable or irrational efforts to do so. And when we compare how animals would fare in the wild, with how they fare in human industry, there is no contest for which set of animals is better off in terms of health, welfare, and stress.

  92. joetait says

    Every diet has pros and cons, the net effect of which is zero, when any healthy diet is compared

    The diet of the average American compared to the average French person.
    LOL – point disproven

  93. Bob Wahler says

    “Again, an animal’s life is indifferent to when it dies, because it does not become anything and has no awareness of being something.”

    You need to take down this post, Richard. That’s despicable arrogance. Have you never looked a dying animal in the eye? It want’s to live, just like we do. You have no soul, that’s your problem. You’ve shown me here that I’m wasting my time telling you about the spiritual path.

    • says

      No one has souls. Souls are an ancient superstition with no basis in fact. There are only minds, which are generated by brains.

      And animal brains (with the exception of certain ones we don’t eat, like apes, etc., as I explain in the article) do not have the physical computational architecture we know is required to “know” what the sentence “I want to live” even means. They do not even have the capacity to comprehend any of those words: what “I” means or “want” means or “live” means. Animals do not construct self-identities like we do. They do not possess metacognition (they do not think about what they want, they just have desires). And they do not know what “life” is (they just experience it).

      All such animals have the desire to avoid pain and escape distress. But they have no conception of death. And they cannot have a desire to avoid what they do not even know exists.

    • says

      Funny. Bob Wahler is off the deep end with the soul and spirituality talk. Richard is still unable to give weight to the mutually-agreed upon fact that animals do suffer.

      In my longer response to the article (above), I boiled the whole thing down to:
      premise 1: Eating meat and meat products is not so bad,
      premise 2: Doing other things is just as bad.

      This idea that animals can’t grasp death is just a subset of premise 1. It could be worse, but that’s no justification to torture and kill animals for human convenience and (macabre) enjoyment.
      Mitigating circumstances are not justifications.

    • says

      False equivalence. Killing an animal is not torturing them.

      A valid question to ask is whether our food industry tortures animals. I found no evidence of that normally being the case. We could have a system that did, but then the solution would be to humanize the system (as we have done, and continue to do), not abolish it.

      It’s just the same as with government: the solution to bad government is better government, not the abolition of government. Likewise animal husbandry.

      Moreover, as I also explain in the original article, refusing to eat meat is literally the least effective thing you could ever do to abolish the system (apart from literally doing nothing at all, like praying). If you really believed animals were being tortured for pleasure by the millions every day, you should be bombing butcher shops and assassinating agro-company executives. You should be at war, as you would be if these were people being tortured for pleasure. Unless, of course, you’re a total Quaker and would collaborate even with the Nazi holocaust for fear of causing harm even to the murderers. But that only exposes the absurdity of pacifism as an unlivable social ideal. It is inherently self-defeating.

      The question then is why vegans “come to laugh at our dinner parties, have sex with us, and help us move.” Why they chum around with us (who must be to them) Nazis. It’s really inexplicable. Must we conclude moral veganism is just an ego-pump for sustaining a pleasurable feeling of self-righteousness and not really an honest conviction? Or that it is just an aesthetic choice and not in fact a moral one at all? What other explanations for its self-contradictory behaviors is there?

      It does no good to claim it’s a difference of degree, since if “torturing animals for pleasure” is immoral enough to compel you to abstain from eating all meat and dairy, it clearly is not trivial–you have to believe eating meat and dairy is a serious moral failure (and not comparable to driving a little over the speed limit or exploiting a tax loophole), yet that is not how you treat the people who do eat meat and dairy. If they are seriously morally defective, it would make no sense whatsoever to make friends of them; whereas if they are not seriously morally defective, it makes little sense to punish yourself by abstaining from meat and dairy, for something that isn’t really all that bad.

      And if abstaining from meat and dairy is not punishment to you but something you actually like and prefer, then this is all just aesthetics, which cannot be recommended to anyone else for whom abstaining from meat and dairy would be punishment. And of course, if it’s all just aesthetics, then talk of “torture” being your motivation is just bullshit. As I’m sure you’d agree.

      I suspect the reality is that vegans have delusional beliefs about animals that cause them to feel “oogy” about killing and eating them (or even treating them in certain ways, which would be intolerable to humans but are not so, or much less so, to animals), and this displeasurable feeling causes them to avoid the source of their displeasure. But that’s aesthetics, not morality (since this displeasure is not universal and its being universal would serve no social function). It’s also a mild form of insanity, since it depends on holding a strong belief out of all proportion to the evidence and in denial of all counter-evidence.

      None of this means there are not objectively true beliefs about the wrongness animal torture, or that there is not a valid moral (and not merely aesthetic) displeasure at it. It’s just that American animal husbandry generally does not produce that kind of harm. Nor does any system of animal husbandry have to produce any. Thus even when there is a problem, the problem is not with consuming meat, it’s with producing it. So fix the production end. Problem solved.

  94. RolliniaDeliciosa says

    @Richard

    “A valid question to ask is whether our food industry tortures animals. I found no evidence of that normally being the case.”

    Nice qualifier. You have, however, found and provided evidence that it occurs with some regularity. It doesn’t disappear because you sweep it under the “outlier” rug.

    “It’s just the same as with government: the solution to bad government is better government, not the abolition of government. Likewise animal husbandry.”

    Surely you’ve been paying attention to global events. The solution to dictatorial governments that torture and kill (not all the time, just every so often) is the abolition of such regimes, and the rise of completely different governmental systems.

    “Moreover, as I also explain in the original article, refusing to eat meat is literally the least effective thing you could ever do to abolish the system (apart from literally doing nothing at all, like praying).”

    When did you turn your back on Bayesianism and game theory? What happens to the probability of abuse events when the number of potential consumers is reduced by millions?

    “If you really believed animals were being tortured for pleasure by the millions every day, you should be bombing butcher shops and assassinating agro-company executives.”

    1. Priorities. Locations with the most egregious violations are bombed. Activists engaged in such actions are considered terrorists for such property destruction.
    2. Assassination, really? Hasn’t the ethics of this issue been settled for quite a while? Perhaps you think the murder of doctors who perform abortions are “logical” actions for all “pro-lifers”.

    “Unless, of course, you’re a total Quaker and would collaborate even with the Nazi holocaust…”

    Howdy, Godwin.

    “The question then is why vegans ‘come to laugh at our dinner parties, have sex with us, and help us move.'”

    Vegans prefer the company of vegans, and of course, would prefer that everyone were vegan. Do you have any Christian friends?

    Last time I checked, there was a  distinction between willful moral infraction and moral ignorance, as well as the responses to each.

    “And if abstaining from meat and dairy is not punishment to you but something you actually like and prefer, then this is all just aesthetics…”

    Yeah, you’re right, a person can’t prefer something that’s also morally correct.

    “It’s just that American animal husbandry generally does not produce that kind of harm. Nor does any system of animal husbandry have to produce any.”

    1. Another qualifier, used in the same way. Peculiar.
    2. Evidence? The only evidence provided thus far shows that if a husbandry industry exists, intolerable abuse exists within it. You’ve given up on facts about the real world.

    • says

      RolliniaDeliciosa:


      Nice qualifier. You have, however, found and provided evidence that it occurs with some regularity. It doesn’t disappear because you sweep it under the “outlier” rug.

      Notice I didn’t sweep it under any rug, but specifically called it out as something we should all fight. So, nice try attempting to change what I said.

      By the same token, the fact that there are abuses in the agriculture industry (including slavery and torture), entails we should abstain from eating vegetables, too.

      Or should we instead act like sane people and make and enforce laws to police such abuses, thus greatly reducing their occurrence?

      Sane? Crazy? Sane? Crazy? Which behavior should we engage in?

      Your call.


      [Carrier:] “It’s just the same as with government: the solution to bad government is better government, not the abolition of government. Likewise animal husbandry.”

      [RolliniaDeliciosa:] Surely you’ve been paying attention to global events. The solution to dictatorial governments that torture and kill (not all the time, just every so often) is the abolition of such regimes, and the rise of completely different governmental systems.

      OMG. This is the fucking funniest rebuttal I’ve ever read.

      You just said what I said, and actually think you contradicted me.


      [Carrier:] “Moreover, as I also explain in the original article, refusing to eat meat is literally the least effective thing you could ever do to abolish the system (apart from literally doing nothing at all, like praying).”

      [RolliniaDeliciosa:] When did you turn your back on Bayesianism and game theory? What happens to the probability of abuse events when the number of potential consumers is reduced by millions?

      Nothing of any statistical note.

      Apparently your idea of winning WWII would be to not buy German products, in the hope that the Germans, with slightly less income, could only kill a few million Jews instead of all of them.

      Right. Because that works.

      Not.


      Locations with the most egregious violations are bombed. Activists engaged in such actions are considered terrorists for such property destruction.

      It’s unclear to me whether you are saying you endorse and/or do or would fund their efforts. That’s the question. Are you going to act on the strength of your convictions, or just act like a self-righteous hipster dufus?

      The reason this matters is because acting on those convictions is so obviously insane (and if acted upon, unconscionably immoral–in precisely the way eating animals is not). Thus your belief system, which entails acting on those convictions, is necessarily just as insane (and if acted upon, would be just as unconscionably immoral).

      Cognitive dissonance thus has you locked in its vice. Either we are Nazi Germany collaborating in the holocaust. Or eating meat is not all that evil. You know the first proposition is ridiculous, but can’t bring yourself to affirm its alternative. Such is the folly of a delusion.


      Perhaps you think the murder of doctors who perform abortions are “logical” actions for all “pro-lifers”.

      It is as logical as killing Nazis in WWII. The problem is that being logical is not sufficient. Your beliefs also have to be true. And since the premise (abortion is murder) is false, killing to stop it is simply insane. It is, in actual fact, grossly immoral. It would only really be moral if the premise were demonstrably true. And the fact that there is no evidence of it being so, is precisely why religion is so dangerous: anyone who actually acts on their convictions, will do horrible things in the service of a delusion.


      Vegans prefer the company of vegans, and of course, would prefer that everyone were vegan. Do you have any Christian friends?

      Yes. But not ones that do grossly immoral things (like kill abortion doctors or torture Jews–or who actually torture animals, for that matter). You are the one likening me to a mass murderer, torturing animals for fun. Or else you have no rational basis for your moral self-righteousness in this matter. You are either just pretending an aesthetic choice is a gravely moral one, or you are a happy collaborator with the modern equivalent of the SS.

      Pick a lane. Or be irrational. Your choice.


      Last time I checked, there was a  distinction between willful moral infraction and moral ignorance, as well as the responses to each.

      How can we be morally ignorant, when we know all the facts? Are you saying you would buddy up to Nazis and abortion clinic bombers, because they are merely “morally ignorant” in thinking abortion is murder and Jews are vermin?

      The only evidence provided thus far shows that if a husbandry industry exists, intolerable abuse exists within it. You’ve given up on facts about the real world.

      I have presented (and found) no evidence of “intolerable abuses” in our food industry. If you mean occasional abuses, criminal and extraordinary, those are no different from society having criminals who rob and kill, and cars that sometimes accidentally crash and kill people. We do not shut down the streets because some criminals occasionally use them or cars occasionally malfunction. No, we police the criminals, and the car manufacturing industry. As in society, so in animal husbandry and auto manufacturing.

      By exactly the same token, there are “intolerable abuses” in the fruit picking and agricultural industries, but they are not typical but criminal or extraordinary outliers that we do all within our power to police. Again, if you think occasional abuses like that mean we should not patronize the whole industry at all, then you should be abstaining from buying fruit and vegetables as well.

      But you won’t. Because your belief system is irrational, and you are too deluded ever to admit it.

      BTW, I thank you for demonstrating how irrational vegans can be. This intolerable abuse of logic you repeatedly engage in, and your indefensibly self-contradictory attitudes and behavior, are really just proving my point.

    • sc_8e94374b3d8851374960ec62312f0cb2 says

      Richard, I’m still getting updates on this in my email (by choice), but your views on this are so … It’s tempting to use vulgarities in frustration at all your absurd assertions. Your reasoning appears entirely self serving with little objectivity. Yet you deny in veg*ns the tiniest self serving rationality of not becoming terrorists. Just because I live among meat eaters doesn’t mean I don’t hate it and fantasize about suicide bombing a big meat joint, but I have kids who need their dad alive and out of jail, and I prefer it that way too.

      The will to live seems to me like it would be a privative development, and animal behaviors suggest it is widely shared. Animals should not need human cognition to feel a self preservation interest. But I know how heartless meat eaters can be, so I prefer to argue against meat more from a humanist perspective.

      I’ll not a vegan, but I quit eating meat in January 1993 because I recognized as an environmental studies student in college that meat production was too costly on the environment to be sustainable. My concerns were echoed in a 2006 paper published by the FAO (_Livestock’s Long Shadow), and the Worldwatch Institute later claimed they underestimated livestock greenhouse gas contributions which were better figured at 51% of the human contribution.

      I don’t know how someone can have a reasonable understanding of the related scientific fields and not think meat farming is a big problem. It seems to me it’s because meat provides concentrated fuel and nutrients, and reason evolved to make that happen. Now I propose that our survival threats have somewhat changed from what influenced our ancestors, and we need to evolve intelligently with scientific foresight instead of letting the stomache control the brain as you seem to be doing.

    • says

      All of which was refuted in my article above.

      Once again, vegans can’t even listen to an argument. They just repeat the same fallacies and falsehoods, as if they had never been refuted.

      Oh well.

    • sc_8e94374b3d8851374960ec62312f0cb2 says

      Richard,

      Your article is nonsense as I already addressed with numbered points on December 15, 2011, at 4:42 pm, but you had no comment.

      Also, you look like a hypocritical idiot for accusing me of being another non-listening vegan when I explicitly said in the comment you replied to, “I’m not a vegan…”

      I did not quit eating meat because of vegan propaganda but because I was an Environmental Studies B.S. student at SUNY Buffalo and understood the science myself. Predictably the meat industry has paid scientists generating their own propaganda that meat lovers can cite to “refute” studies published by the FAO or the Worldwatch Institute, but that is politics and wishful thinking more than science.

  95. RolliniaDeliciosa says

    Richard:

    Well then, I guess I’ll keep demonstrating for you.

    “By the same token, the fact that there are abuses in the agriculture industry (including slavery and torture), entails we should abstain from eating vegetables, too.”

    Only if you think humans don’t require food to live.

    “Or should we instead act like sane people and make and enforce laws to police such abuses, thus greatly reducing their occurrence?”

    We do. You’ll likely notice a disproportionate number of vegetarians among fair-trade and human rights activists.

    “You just said what I said, and actually think you contradicted me.”

    No, I know I contradicted you. The offending system is abolished, and replaced by one that doesn’t allow for the previous abuses, fundamentally.

    “Cognitive dissonance thus has you locked in its vice. Either we are Nazi Germany collaborating in the holocaust. Or eating meat is not all that evil. You know the first proposition is ridiculous, but can’t bring yourself to affirm its alternative. Such is the folly of a delusion.”

    … Or, you’re not as opposed to false equivalences as you pretend.   Meat-eating is a part of a system that can, in some ways, be called evil. 1930s German citizens may have been a “part of the problem”, but you seem to think that they all should have been killed at Nuremberg. Not such a “sane” conclusion.

    “And since the premise (abortion is murder) is false, killing to stop it is simply insane. It is, in actual fact, grossly immoral. It would only really be moral if the premise were demonstrably true.”

    Even if the premise were true, legal and philosophical opinion would be against your claim that premeditated murder would be moral. If you think someone has killed in the past, and believe they will in the future, from what I understand, you have a moral obligation to notify law enforcement, and would be acting immorally if you shot them at the grocery store.

    “You are the one likening me to a mass murderer, torturing animals for fun.”

    I never did that.

    “Again, if you think occasional abuses like that mean we should not patronize the whole industry at all, then you should be abstaining from buying fruit and vegetables as well.

    But you won’t. Because your belief system is irrational, and you are too deluded ever to admit it.”

    What ever happened to feasible solutions? Until everyone is growing all their own food, we all rely on farm workers. For some “crazy” reason, people find that keeping a vegetarian diet is a more practical action. And again, as they have eliminated their contribution to livestock suffering, they are focused on improving plant agriculture as well.

    Your incessant demand that vegetarians should want to kill you is not sane or logical, but you are too deluded to admit it.

    • says

      Nothing in your reply validly rebuts me on any point. Obviously you are the one too far gone in your delusional bubble even to know how to rationally engage what I said.

  96. says

    I have to be brief – but straight off the bat – you make a classic ‘Tu Quoque’ ad hominem fallacy, which goes: “You argue proposition A, but you do not behave consistently with A – therefore, A is invalid.”

    The merit of the argument doesn’t depend on the non-hypocrisy of the person making it.

    And as to activism – how do you feel about starving kids orphaned by AIDS in Africa? And what are you doing about it? 

    How do you feel about street kids in South America who sleep rough, sniff glue, prostitute themselves, get frequently raped and assaulted, and never know a proper education? And what have you been doing about it?

    How do you feel about slavery? 

    Hold that opinion while you at least try to comprehend that it was not only once mundanely acceptable – but men actually waged civil war, determined to continue the practice. They thought the economy depended on it. They thought it was inevitable. They thought, as Thomas Huxley said, that: “No rational man, cognizant of the facts, believes the negro is the equal of the white man.” No rational man. Strong words…

    Now, if you lived in a culture where slavery was banal, and involved >90% of the population, and you were an abolitionist – do you sincerely believe that you would find yourself confronting every slaveowner you met, shunning all your slaveowning family and friends, and dedicating your life to the treacherous work of freeing slaves?

    I congratulate you if you do think you would – and also add that you would have gone one better than Abe Lincoln himself – who simply watched the proceedings of slave markets with passive disgust, and didn’t intervene…

    I think you’ll find that it’s not just vegetarians who fall into passivity and comfortable mediocrity, when it comes to their opinions on ethics and what is wrong in the world.

    • says

      I do not use a tu quoque fallacy, because the conclusion you are referring to is not based on that premise. I only state that premise as evidence that vegans are irrational. That they are wrong I proved in the main article, with very different arguments.

      By contrast, none of your examples (but one) are even relevant. That’s more what a fallacy looks like. There is nothing I can abstain from doing that will help any of those situations improve. Thus, they are neither analogous to eating meat, nor even to the irrational defenses of veganism here being given.

      As to your one relevant hypothetical: yes, I would be taking up arms against a slaveholding society if I found myself in one. As many people did. And if for any reason I could not, I would certainly not be making friends of slaveholders, attending their parties, having sex with them, or helping them move. And if for some reason I were compelled to (and now we are really talking about extremely contrived and bizarre scenarios not at all comparable to a Western democracy), it would still be loathsome. And probably, ultimately, intolerable. Hence the taking up arms.

      But thanks for confirming that vegans think the rest of us are as morally reprehensible as slaveholders and mass murderers. I so often meet with denials of it, I am glad to have many proofs of it.

  97. says

    “A valid question to ask is whether our food industry tortures animals. I found no evidence of that normally being the case.”
    This sounds like “There are no transitional fossils.” You’re simply not paying attention.
    “The National Pork Producers Council, for example, worries that if chickens are given the right to more space in their cages, then so too will pigs. “So our animals can’t turn around for the 2.5 years that they are in the stalls producing piglets,” said Dave Warner, a spokesman for NPPC. “I don’t know who asked the sow if she wanted to turn around…. The only real measure of their well-being we have is the number of piglets per birth, and that’s at an all-time high.””
    citation: “http://influencealley.nationaljournal.com/2012/07/why-an-egg-amendment-in-farm-b.php”

    The above quote, among many others, show an obvious disregard for animal welfare. “Who asked the sow” is a nonsense question. Look at the sow in the cage and you will see suffering. Even the chickens are evolved enough to appreciate the pain they feel in tiny wire cages (sometimes on faltbed trucks on the interstate).

    “If you really believed animals were being tortured for pleasure by the millions every day, you should be bombing butcher shops and assassinating agro-company executives.”
    That would just have me dead or in jail instantly, creating no change in the system. Changing minds is the hardest form of warfare.
    In Paradise Lost, Satan justifies his ongoing guerrilla warfare against heaven by saying, “Who overcomes by force, hath overcome but half his foe.”

    “I suspect the reality is that vegans have delusional beliefs about animals that cause them to feel “oogy” about killing and eating them”
    Your attempts to reduce the argument to aesthetics are rhetoric and not rational argument. I don’t feel a bit “oogy” about eating a steak. I feel “sad” because the poor cow was killed and butchered. There’s also the argument from health and the environment. But your ‘not so bad’ and ‘other things are worse’ argument address your personal justification for doing it anyway.

    The problem here is that you so easily shrug off killing animals and so easily turn a blind eye to slaughterhouses. Let’s say all animal products are culled from wild herds a gentle sleeping poison. Gentle, almost natural death after a shortened but generally full and free life. Now let’s look at reality and understand that there is in fact suffering and violent death as well as industrial waste inherent in modern animal food production. Maybe you would have a better argument advocating for meat industry reform than trying to argue it doesn’t need reform. I still see the easiest and most effective reform to be shutting down the industry altogether.

    • says

      This is a very good example of my point:

      The solution to gestation crates for sows is to get rid of them. And that is what we are doing (already done in California and numerous other states, and in the UK and EU; MacDonald’s is phasing them out across the board; etc.).

      Instead, you irrationally leap all the way to “never eat pigs” (even, apparently, California pigs who aren’t raised in gestation crates).

      I don’t feel a bit “oogy” about eating a steak. I feel “sad” because the poor cow was killed and butchered.

      That’s precisely what I meant when I said “oogy.” You have an irrationally extreme reaction to the event, derived from false beliefs about what cows experienced, and false beliefs about a cow dying being “sad.” You get oogy. So you do not enjoy the experience. Aesthetics. If those beliefs weren’t false, then you’d be talking about morality.

    • says

      I’m glad we’re in agreement that there are terrible things going on in the meat industry. I hope you’ll avoid denying that fact in the future.

      A desire to avoid associating with such suffering is no ‘oogy’ reaction. Your condescending tone is punditry rather than argumentation. Is it ‘oogy’ to look at a human child missing an arm or to see obese children being fed fast food by their parents? Certainly the feeling is bad, but that feeling is entirely justified by the ethical failures we see in the world. Bad feelings are a para-rational response to suffering and the reduced well-being of living things. Opting out of an inherently cruel activity like the meat industry is an equally rational response. Even if you deny that the meat industry is inherently cruel, you should recognize that it is cruel in current practice.

      Then you may return to the ‘it’s not so bad’ and ‘other things are worse’ conclusions of your original post.

    • says


      Is it ‘oogy’ to look at a human child missing an arm or to see obese children being fed fast food by their parents? Certainly the feeling is bad, but that feeling is entirely justified by the ethical failures we see in the world.

      This is a nice example of your irrationality. Neither armless children nor fast food have anything to do with whether eating meat as such is in any way bad.

      The solution to children receiving too much of a bad diet is to promote their eating a better diet. That does not entail that “a better diet” will be vegetarian. There are reasons in fact why we should conclude it does not (as I explained in my article).

      I don’t know what relevance you imagined an armless child has to eating meat, but even supposing you are imagining some sort of immorality behind a child missing an arm, that suggests you are narrow mindedly assuming that only immoral actions can result in a child losing an arm. Medically necessary amputation and genetic mutation are evidently not in your worldview.


      Bad feelings are a para-rational response to suffering and the reduced well-being of living things.

      That is a fallacy. Abortion and surgery can also evoke bad feelings (fetuses look just like little babies; and cutting into someone’s chest is horrific) yet that in no way corresponds to a valid moral objection to either.

      If you are relying on emotion and not evaluating whether those emotions are validly generated or even relevant to the moral content of the issue, then you are acting irrationally. Emotions are often wrong; and even when correct, do not always entail moral conclusions.


      Opting out of an inherently cruel activity like the meat industry is an equally rational response. Even if you deny that the meat industry is inherently cruel, you should recognize that it is cruel in current practice.

      I have repeatedly denied, and demonstrated, that it is not any more cruel than human agricultural work, and therefore no more a reason to abstain from eating its product than theirs.

      Even where minor cruelties persist, the solution is their elimination, which only meat eaters can accomplish, as vegetarians have renounced their vote and can no longer influence the market (as I’ve explained elsewhere in this thread).

    • says

      You seem to have missed entirely the point of my response.
      I agree with you that feelings are not rational arguments.
      I am debunking your implication that bad feelings invalidate rational arguments. That I am sad and angry at a lost arm or a fast-food-obese child correlates to my feelings about the many animals maimed or made obese for food. It degrades their quality of life and by extension degrades our humanity.

      You say, “Even where minor cruelties persist, the solution is their elimination, which only meat eaters can accomplish”

      Absolutely. Only meat eaters can stop eating meat. You claim that the meat industry is no more cruel than plant-based agriculture. Even if we accept your claims about current practice, your argument still fails. Your failure in this respect is that the meat industry is inherently cruel, and the improvements can only go to a certain extent. Animals are still being bred for captivity and slaughter. Furthermore, we can live without meat but we cannot live without plants.

      Given the same dietary needs and the same labor force, plant-based agriculture offers a more sustainable and more ethical end-state. Given the same time, money, and brain-power to improve the efficiency and ethics of our food supply, we should end the meat industry and focus on the plant-based food industry.

    • says


      I am debunking your implication that bad feelings invalidate rational arguments.

      Since that’s not what I argued, you would be debunking a straw man.


      Your failure in this respect is that the meat industry is inherently cruel

      No it isn’t. And constantly repeating a claim does not make it true.


      And the improvements can only go to a certain extent.

      Ditto the agro industry.


      Animals are still being bred for captivity and slaughter.

      Neither of which is an evil. If captivity is evil, then keeping pets is immoral. And since death ends all pain and misery, “slaughter” in and of itself does animals no harm whatever. Death is only a loss to those who comprehend the value of life (or who one day will): only for them is life something of value in itself. Animals don’t appreciate or comprehend life. They just “are.” Adding a year to an animal’s life adds nothing of worth to the world (apart from what it may add to the animal’s keeper, hence pets).


      Furthermore, we can live without meat but we cannot live without plants.

      Actually, we could. We could manufacture all our food any number of ways, it would just be more expensive, and reiterate the problems of the hardships caused the workers. Thus, there is no escaping “hardships caused the workers,” whether those workers be people or animals. Therefore the mere existence of hardships is no argument against abstaining from an industry. Were it such, then we should abstain from all industries whatever, and each of us arrange to produce our own food and manufactures. In other words, we should live like cave men. Which is silly.


      Given the same dietary needs and the same labor force, plant-based agriculture offers a more sustainable and more ethical end-state.

      Neither is true. That was the point of my original article.

      So now we’ve gone full circle into repeating dogmas and mantras, as if no argument had taken place anywhere in between.

      Nice.

  98. Rob says

    Hi Richard,

    Apologies if I misstate your argument, but you seem to be setting up the following:

    A) Not eating meat is an extreme form of behaviour, which can only be brought about by very strong convictions.

    B) People holding such strong convictions should follow them to their logical ends and refuse to fraternize with meat-eaters, or even kill those responsible for meat production.

    C) If they refuse to do this, they are being hypocritical and should just eat meat.

    I was just wondering what you’d make of my position. I think eating meat is probably wrong, but there seem to be reasonable arguments on both sides, and I’ve read well-informed people arguing both positions. I try not to be dogmatic in my reasoning, and leave open the possibility that I could be wrong, especially on an issue where there is so much disagreement.

    As such (and relating this to your argument, as stated above) abstaining from eating meat and not spurning or hurting people over it seems reasonable to me because:

    A) It doesn’t have a strong impact on my life (thus is not extreme behaviour brought about by strong convictions).

    B) It avoids some potential harm to animals that may be caused if the arguments made by one side of the debate are correct.

    C) If I am wrong (and I may well be), the action of hurting or killing a person would be extremely immoral. I wouldn’t be prepared to do that until I was sure I was right.

    So:

    If I’m wrong – No additional animals or humans are hurt as a result of my actions.

    If I’m right – No additional animals or humans are hurt as a result of my actions.

    Until I’m completely certain on the issue, this seems to be a reasonable course of action to take. I’d be interested in getting your thoughts on this though. Enjoying Proving History by the way!

    • says

      A) Not eating meat is an extreme form of behaviour, which can only be brought about by very strong convictions.

      I stated that there can be ordinary aesthetic reasons (“I don’t like meat”) and medical reasons (“I can’t eat meat”), so A is not strictly my argument. It’s what’s left after you rule out the others.

      B) People holding such strong convictions should follow them to their logical ends and refuse to fraternize with meat-eaters, or even kill those responsible for meat production.

      Or else realize their convictions are absurd, precisely because what living consistently by them would entail.

      In contrast, willfully choosing to just be inconsistent is a symptom of irrationality. Which, like religious belief, is a red flag for ulterior motives (example: many people are religious simply because of their fear of death, regardless of how much they deny that or are not really honestly aware of it; and the inconsistency of their beliefs and behaviors is evidence of there being such a hidden motive that is the real reason they persist in their belief).

      C) If they refuse to do this, they are being hypocritical and should just eat meat.

      Given that A is false (and there are other reasons to be a vegetarian), C does not follow.

      Moreover, there is a difference between suffering from a phobia, and insisting other people are immoral for not having the same phobia. I don’t think it’s a matter of agoraphobics just needing to get over it and go outside already. Escaping the psychological pain of their phobia is not that easily done, and we can respect that. But when agoraphobics start adducing irrational arguments and dubious facts in an attempt to argue that anyone who goes outside is a mass murderer and torturer (like some hard-core Jain)…well, what you then get is analogous to what you are seeing here.

      I was just wondering what you’d make of my position. I think eating meat is probably wrong, but there seem to be reasonable arguments on both sides, and I’ve read well-informed people arguing both positions. I try not to be dogmatic in my reasoning, and leave open the possibility that I could be wrong, especially on an issue where there is so much disagreement.

      Where the information needed to answer the matter is available, that is not a reasonable position to settle into. And there is ample information here (once you clear through the bullshit and hyperbole on both sides).

      Moral facts are a function of what harms are actually caused, in the context of what goods are produced (which are not necessarily commensurate, e.g. strict utilitarianism is false, but so is any strict deontological ethic).

      What harms does eating meat actually produce that make it “probably” immoral? And are those harms removable in more achievable ways? (e.g. as happened in this thread, “gestation crates for pigs is the harm that makes eating pigs immoral” entails “removing gestation crates in pig farming makes eating pigs moral again,” thus the actual problem was gestation crates, not eating meat.)

      Likewise any other harms one might enumerate, until you get to harms that simply aren’t great enough to have that conclusion at all, just as the harms done to reasonably-treated-and-compensated workers does not make using their products immoral–and when workers are not reasonably-treated-and-compensated, the solution is to find practical and effective ways to change that, which includes honest dissemination of the facts and political and grass roots lobbying–and when you have the numbers to be effective in making it hurt, only then boycotting, and even that only works when you will return as a customer when the targeted offender reforms, because otherwise the offender has no reason to reform, if it will not recover any new business; which is why vegetarianism actually does no good: only meat-eaters can reform the livestock industry, by voting with their dollars, whereas vegetarians are non-actors and thus have zero vote in the market, thus they can effect no reforms benefiting animals, because they provide the industry with no incentives to effect them.

      It doesn’t have a strong impact on my life (thus is not extreme behaviour brought about by strong convictions).

      Think this through. Your friends “might” be mass murderers and torturers (in fact it’s “probable,” your own words), so your uncertainty makes it okay to keep them your friends?

      B) It avoids some potential harm to animals that may be caused if the arguments made by one side of the debate are correct.

      No it doesn’t. Identify a single animal saved from “harms” by your abstention. Good luck with that. This is like saying not buying slaves rescues slaves from slavery, or your not gassing Jews would rescue Jews from the holocaust.

      It’s worse, because any real harms there may be–e.g. gestation crates–will never be eliminated if you aren’t even voting in the meat market. If two businesses are competing for customers and you will buy from neither, if one of them eliminates the gestation crates they will then suffer a net loss rather than a net gain, and are therefore de-incentivized to do that; by contrast, by my patronizing California producers, I am incentivizing the elimination of gestation crates and thus I am actually improving the welfare of pigs. Your behavior does nothing whatever for them.

      C) If I am wrong (and I may well be), the action of hurting or killing a person would be extremely immoral. I wouldn’t be prepared to do that until I was sure I was right.

      This is correct. If you weren’t sure someone was a serial killer, but only thought they “probably” were, you would not kill them (you couldn’t even convict them in a court of law). But you still would not befriend them or even hang out with them.

      Consistency is a bitch.

    • Rob says

      Thanks for the comments! I’ll think about what you’ve written. I should also have made it clear that I wasn’t trying to reproduce your whole argument, just the section which was relevant to the point I was making, so apologies there.

      My only initial quibble is with the “phobia” thing. I don’t think I have a phobia about eating meat; I only became a vegetarian last year after reading some books and articles that I found convincing, and I still maintain that I would eat artificially produced meat (or meat from an animal that had died of natural causes, in whatever scenario that might occur). I may be wrong in my reasoning, but it wouldn’t be fair to describe my stance as representative of a phobia, or as a consequence of anthropomorphism. I don’t feel particularly sad or upset about the idea of animals being killed, nor do I accord them the same moral value as human beings, but I do think it’s wrong to cause an animal suffering unneccesarily.

      You may be right that the suffering is not enough to warrant the adoption of vegetarian principles (though this is the part I’m least sold on), and you may also be right that vegetarianism is a bad way to address the issue. You made your argument well, and that’s something that I’ll have to think about.

      Thanks again for the response.

    • says

      I only became a vegetarian last year after reading some books and articles that I found convincing, and I still maintain that I would eat artificially produced meat (or meat from an animal that had died of natural causes, in whatever scenario that might occur).

      What about killing and eating animals you raise yourself, and thus can ensure live and die humanely?

      This is really the litmus test. If the thought of killing, gutting and skinning an animal to eat it is repellant, and this factors at all in your decision not to eat meat, then your decision is aesthetic and not moral. But if it really is just about uncertainties as to how the other workers are treating the animals when you aren’t doing it yourself, then you should be eating the meat of local free range farms, where you can verify their treatment of the livestock, rather than avoiding all meat.

      The only problem with that scenario is that it would establish you as an upper class elite, and thus makes meat a privilege of the rich. That’s fine, as long as we admit it, and aim to do something about it. Making meat available to more people of different class and privilege would then be a function of advocating for sustainable improvements in industrial farming.

      But industrial farming itself is irreplaceable. The population of the world is far too large and densely aggregated for local farming to provide even a fraction of what it needs to eat, much less the hundreds of non-food animal products the world requires to function. Thus we have to look for reasonable ways to produce meat that are not needlessly cruel but still highly efficient. And that requires honestly finding out what actually is and isn’t cruel. A lot of what vegetarians declare cruel is not; and most of what is, doesn’t normally happen or is even illegal, particularly in progressive states; what remains is what is to be targeted for change, especially by voting with our dollars, one thing the relatively wealthy can use to better the world.

    • says

      Did you read the actual statement? It says (emphasis mine):

      “The absence of a neocortex does not appear to preclude an organism from experiencing affective states. Convergent evidence indicates that non-human animals have the neuroanatomical, neurochemical, and neurophysiological substrates of conscious states along with the capacity to exhibit intentional behaviors. Consequently, the weight of evidence indicates that humans are not unique in possessing the neurological substrates that generate consciousness. Nonhuman animals, including all mammals and birds, and many other creatures, including octopuses, also possess these neurological substrates.”

      This actually nowhere says what the article says, that “animals are conscious and aware to the degree that humans are.” Thus, the journalism is crap. The statement itself doesn’t say that. It says animals possess affective and intentional states (i.e. emotions, intentions, and associative knowledge; I myself have affirmed this, in the very article above, and gave it as a reason to care about how animals are treated). Therefore they possess the substrates that generate consciousness, not that they, too have human-level consciousness (which is defined by self-knowledge, identity-formation, metacognition, and abstract thought, none of which are affirmed by the statement in question).

      I should also mention that as I stated upthread my article is only about the animals we eat, not ones we don’t, and shouldn’t, which includes dolphins, whales, elephants, apes, monkeys, magpies and African greys. Because those animals have the brain anatomy and demonstrated cognitive powers that come close to (even if not matching) human consciousness.

  99. Antonio says

    Again, an animal’s life is indifferent to when it dies, because it does not become anything and has no awareness of being something.

    I have difficulties with this line of reasoning.

    First, you argue that an animal does not have the mental facilities to develop a degree of desire for a continuous existence. Granted, animals do have less “hardware” for computing their consciousness. Nevertheless, I cannot see how we can derive a lack of desire for a continuous existence from that fact. What is the established neuroscientific body of knowledge that lets us come to such a conclusion with the supposed reasonable certainty that you proclaim? I would rather say that, for the moment, we have to stay skeptical about the capabilities and limitations of desires that, for instance, pigs can develop. However, we are certain that mammals in general do have the desire for well-being.

    Second, I do not see the need for an awareness of a continuous existence in order to claim that the termination of a conscious being’s life ought to be considered a significant ethical factor. Surely, the mammals we are talking about have a desire to stay alive. Otherwise, they would not avoid harm which they understand to be lethal. Why is that not enough to grant the animal the interest of continuing its existence? It seems to me that you argument basically implies “if the animal is too dumb to understand that it’s well-being is stretched out on a limited timeline and will be terminated through death, then killing it while it is unaware of that fact is morally insignificant.” I do not see how this argument can work. Why is the fact that the animal has the desire to not die enough to be ethically considered?

    I do not argue that animals are equal to humans or that animal lives ought to have the same value as human lives. I just argue that the animals desire to live is a) evident and b) ought to be considered in the ethical formula. Personally, I have no ethical problem with killing animals for greater scientific purposes in medical research or if no other food is available to me. However, I do not see how I could consistently condemn the killing of infants for no good reason other than “fun” and the killing of animals for pleasure of taste. I do not see how my desire to taste yummy food is more important than the desire of a mentally less sophisticated animal to live. As our conscious faculties have the same evolutionary background, I do not see that this basic desire to not die should be qualitatively different in animals than in humans.

    I also find vegetarians irrational in their acceptance of non-vegetarians. Either eating meat is not all that immoral, or everyone they know is a villain, horrifically consuming the flesh of concentration camp victims.

    No. How could I condemn somebody for eating meat (even if I think that eating meat for pleasure is ethically not defendable) if eating meat is so deeply rooted in our culture that an ethical reflection of this issue is never really comes to most people’s minds? In our daily lives we don’t even perceive that meat ultimately comes from animals. Almost all of us never butchered an animal, let alone visited a slaughterhouse. And even if we come to reflect on the ethical dimension of eating meat, the habit of eating meat has become so accustomed to us and so much part of our daily routine that it is psychologically hard to part with it, let alone come to a conclusion that we might have done something morally wrong for almost every day of our life and enjoyed it.

    It would be highly naive to put meat eaters on the same level with murderes.

    • says

      Granted, animals do have less “hardware” for computing their consciousness. Nevertheless, I cannot see how we can derive a lack of desire for a continuous existence from that fact.

      Knowledge of self is required for that (actual or potential). Only certain animals have demonstrated that ability or have anything like the dedicated brain architecture needed to produce it (and I mention that in the article: we don’t eat them and shouldn’t). Knowledge of abstract concepts is also required. Some of those animals exhibit indications of that ability, too. But all other animals do not.

      The bottom line is that the animals we eat do not have any conception of being a person or having a narrative self, don’t have any conception of what death is or why it would be bad, and don’t have any conception of the value of living (knowledge of which is the only thing that makes death in any way bad).

      Killing a person destroys a universe, a marvelous constructed identity called a self. No such thing exists in livestock. Thus a painless death for them does not do anything that can honestly be described as a harm to them. It can do harm to their owners or caretakers but that’s not the issue at hand.

      What is the established neuroscientific body of knowledge that lets us come to such a conclusion with the supposed reasonable certainty that you proclaim?

      Observed behavior establishes animal ignorance, just as it establishes animal knowledge and ability (self-awareness studies, metacognition studies, abstract reasoning tests). But more importantly, we know an extremely complex brain architecture is required (because we aren’t supernaturalists: the only way a complex mental ability can exist is with a correspondingly complex machine to generate it), and we know what the brain regions in animals do, and thus we know what they don’t do, what they aren’t dedicated to doing.

      For example, an octopus is one of the very few animals that has a large enough brain to produce self-awareness and abstract thought. Size here is a measure of relative mass to the animal’s body, not absolute size: because most of any brain is dedicated to running an animal’s body, there is a minimum brain-to-body mass ratio; everything above that entails additional abilities of either a quantity or a complexity proportionate to the added brain matter. But almost all of that added brain matter in an octopus we know is devoted to operating its camouflage system on its skin, which is incredibly complex. It therefore has too little brain matter left over to have a self generator. So we can know octopi, though intelligent, do not have the cognitive capabilities of, for example, an ape or a dolphin or an elephant or even a magpie.

      I would rather say that, for the moment, we have to stay skeptical about the capabilities and limitations of desires that, for instance, pigs can develop.

      No, we don’t. We know what every piece of a pig’s brain does. We’ve even known this for two thousand years (Greco-Roman anatomists tested animal brain function by cutting pieces out and seeing what functions ceased, for example; pigs were a common subject), but the 20th century has seen a tremendous advance in the detail and extent of this knowledge. Once you account for all the functions like running the body, the visual system, the auditory system, and so on, there is too little left over to run anything like a self-generator. So we no more have to be skeptical of what pigs can do than we need be skeptical of what our desktop computers can do.

      And that’s in addition to the fact that observational studies confirm this completely: pigs do not pass any tests of self-cognition, metacognition, or abstract thought, and never exhibit any behaviors concordant with them. We therefore have no more reason to think they can magically acquire these abilities (or are magically hiding them) than we have to think that of our desktop computers.

      However, we are certain that mammals in general do have the desire for well-being.

      Which entails we ought to treat them as well as we reasonably can while they are alive. Compassion demands nothing more. Because though pain is something we can empathize with, they have no self to lose in death, and thus there is no correlation between our experience of life and death, and theirs. We might anthropomorphically project such a thing on to them, but that would be objectively in error, just like confusing a fetus that looks like a baby with an actual self-aware baby, and concluding the one must be a person because the other is.

      Second, I do not see the need for an awareness of a continuous existence in order to claim that the termination of a conscious being’s life ought to be considered a significant ethical factor. Surely, the mammals we are talking about have a desire to stay alive. Otherwise, they would not avoid harm which they understand to be lethal. Why is that not enough to grant the animal the interest of continuing its existence?

      That’s the wrong question.

      What obligations does someone else’s desires place on you? You are not under any moral obligation to fulfill the every desire even of other people; much less so, animals. Thus the mere fact of having a desire is morally meaningless.

      The burden is therefore on you to prove there is any basis for universally caring about whether an animal lives another day. Of what value is it? And of what magnitude is that value, relative to competing values?

      Do not confuse an aesthetic interest in preserving an animal’s experience (like an aesthetic interest in preserving a garden) with a moral imperative to do so. Those are not the same thing.

      That’s why you have to establish first why anything at all is moral–what is the metaethical foundation for saying something is an obligation on everyone (rather than just an emotional preference of your own)?

      Once you work that out, then you can argue for why caring about an animal’s continued existence is an obligation. Then we can examine whether your foundation is defensible or not, and whether your conclusion follows from it or not.

      I’ve done this (in the final chapter of The End of Christianity). Long story short, for a number of reasons (both internal and external), our lives are better if we treat others as we would expect to be treated, and in the final, objective analysis we have no other reason to do anything than to better our lives (or avoid making them worse).

      So, would I want to be treated like a person if I was not a person? No. I would have no conception of what life even meant, no conception of who I was or what I was, no self-knowledge. I would, in effect, be effectively already dead. The part of me that is “me” would have been destroyed–completely–all that would remain is the animal brain that lacks any narrative identity or self-cognition. Killing me would therefore be of no significance to me. It therefore would be of no significance to anyone else. But hurting me would be of some significance, since even though I could not relate the pain to my person (since no person then exists), it would not be “me” in pain but a substantially degraded version of me, what was left of me would still feel it.

      Thus, to treat others as we would want to be treated entails caring a little about how animals feel, but nothing about whether animals get an extra day to live. The latter is meaningless to them. Only the former is objectively meaningful to anyone.

      I do not see how my desire to taste yummy food is more important than the desire of a mentally less sophisticated animal to live.

      Note that this is an aesthetic statement, not a moral one. What you subjectively prefer is not an obligation on me or anyone else. It’s just your taste, your preference, your own personal set of priorities.

      And that’s fine. Just don’t try to pretend your personal tastes entail moral obligations on anyone else (or that satisfying your personal tastes make you a moral person; but I am assuming your motivation is not the aesthetic pleasure of feeling self-righteousness).

      I must first remind you that pleasure is not all we get out of animals. Read my article again, especially the section concerning the vast quantity of industrial products we extract from animals, upon which almost every human industry depends, from medicine to manufacturing (and animals are vastly cheaper and cleaner sources of those materials than synthetic replacements). But let’s set that aside and assume it’s just about pleasure.

      We trade a great deal for pleasure. Just imagine a vegetarian meal: from the field laborers who harvested the food, to the workers who trucked it to the market, to the cooks and servers who labor to provide it to you, a tremendous amount of misery and hardship and loss went into that. But that’s okay. Because we believe the mutual system of trade is acceptable to all parties.

      Although that’s not entirely true: the field laborers are still getting a bad shake, and their welfare should be of far greater concern to you than the lifespan of animals–there is a vast chasm between those things in terms of overall objective significance, and should be a vast chasm between them in even your personal value system, as otherwise your compassion is all out of whack.

      This illustrates the first part of the problem: in the order of values, the welfare of actual persons is vastly more important than the lifespan of an animal that can’t even conceive of the value of a longer lifespan. (And I haven’t even gotten to pointing out that letting an animal suffer the misery of dying of old age is actually more harmful to them than killing them in their prime, since they cannot conceive of the relative benefits of still living with the pains of aging and thus they cannot make the better of it as we can.)

      And an industry in food and pleasure production is key to the welfare of actual persons. Pleasure is also key to having a life worth living. Thus, pleasure is not some trivial, base thing. It’s an essential component of the moral life. As long as it is in reasonable regulation; but that’s not the issue here.

      So why should an animal’s lifespan matter more than the employment and enjoyment of life of millions of actual people? There is no objective reason why it should. So objectively, it doesn’t.

      If animals could grasp the significance of living (like the farm laborers can who provide vegetarians with their food), then their lifespans would have meaningful value, and thus compassion would compel us to take that into account. But that just isn’t the case. There is simply no objective sense in which an animal’s living longer is of any significant value to anyone–even the animal.

      An animal’s desire to avoid harm and reduce its miseries is not the same thing as a desire to live longer. “Living longer” is an unintelligible concept to an animal, because the utility of living is an unintelligible concept to an animal, even “tomorrow” is an unintelligible concept to an animal, and likewise death is an unintelligible concept to an animal–and an animal has no narrative self-identity to lose in death.

      I do not see that this basic desire to not die should be qualitatively different in animals than in humans.

      This is a fallacy. Animals do not have a “basic desire to not die.” They have the desire to avoid pain and discomfort and things that scare them. But they do not have any comprehension of the fact that they do so in order not to die. That requires an abstract understanding of death and what it entails and why it is bad. Which in turn requires a self-conception that can relate the abstract consequences of dying to the self that would thereby be destroyed.

      No. How could I condemn somebody for eating meat (even if I think that eating meat for pleasure is ethically not defendable) if eating meat is so deeply rooted in our culture that an ethical reflection of this issue is never really comes to most people’s minds?

      Replace “eating meat” with “crucifying Jews” in that sentence and then try to answer it.

      It would be highly naive to put meat eaters on the same level with murderers.

      If they are not committing murder, then what are they doing that’s wrong?

  100. Antonio says

    Thank’s for your extensive answer. I am afraid I have not enough time to give an appropiat answer but I’d like to address the points that I find most crucial.

    Knowledge of self is required for that (actual or potential). Only certain animals have demonstrated that ability or have anything like the dedicated brain architecture needed to produce it (and I mention that in the article: we don’t eat them and shouldn’t). Knowledge of abstract concepts is also required. Some of those animals exhibit indications of that ability, too. But all other animals do not.

    I disagree that knowledge is necessary to have desires. For instance, I can have the desire to eat or have sex without actually being rationally aware of it at every particular moment. I can feel pain and the desire to be relieved of it without reflecting on my pain. In fact, when we are suffering from blinding pain we tend to not think at all but instead are driven of an intuitive desire to make it stop. I can also have the desire of existing while “living in the present” without ever reflecting about my future. We can know that because we can estimate my hypothetical reaction to an obvious lethal threat.

    It’s also not just about immediate pain. An animal that never experienced pain will understand the danger of a river with a strong current or a pack of predators and avoid it. It will show reactions of fear. If the animal can “compute” an accurate model of the implications such an situation might have without ever directly having experienced them, how can we reasonably say that “it understands that this situation will lead to pain” but not “it understands that this situation might lead to its end”?

    Hence, I grant animals the capability of having these basic, intuitive desires including the desire to exist. I derive that from their behavior in face of obvious lethal threat. I agree that animals do not necessarily reflect on these desires or do not have a concept of self but I do not see how the non-existence of a desire of existing follows from that logically. The argument of brain capability is therefore not relevant if one follows that line of reasoning. It is therefore quite rational to grant animals the same desire to exist based on their behavior in situations where they can actually understand that they are in lethal danger and not being “fooled”.

    What obligations does someone else’s desires place on you? You are not under any moral obligation to fulfill the every desire even of other people; much less so, animals. Thus the mere fact of having a desire is morally meaningless.

    It is a question of consistency. Why should I not take desires of animals into consideration when calculating my moral formula when I grant them the mentioned basic desires that I grant every other person? Of course, how I deal with humans has bigger social implications and is therefore more relevant to me. A society in which I can kill infants for pleasure would not be as stable as a society which condemns it. The same cannot be said of killing animals. However, following this argument I would argue from a position of pure self-interest. We could argue if that is a sound basis for an ethical system.

    And an industry in food and pleasure production is key to the welfare of actual persons. Pleasure is also key to having a life worth living.

    Sure. The question is not if the pleasure of eating meat is good. The question is, is it good enough to ignore the desire for existence that I grant animals? Would I suffer from not eating meat, for instance, if I never tasted it before? I think not. I would suffer from having pain even if I did not know any other condition. I do not see how the pleasure of eating meat can have a significant importance when I can have similar flavors without meat, for instance through eating vegetarian meat-like products.

    Replace “eating meat” with “crucifying Jews” in that sentence and then try to answer it.

    The problem is not the action per-se but the visibility of that action in society. The thing with meat is that you actually never really realize that that piece of stuff on your plate has been a living being. Many say that a visit to a slaughterhouse, let alone the hypothetical necessity to butcher every animal of meat that you eat yourself, would turn many people into vegetarians, given the availability of easy alternatives that other cultures did not or do not have, and I tend to agree.

    • says

      I disagree that knowledge is necessary to have desires.

      I never said it was.

      I said desires without knowledge are not conscious desires.

      I was very clear about this: having desires does not make you valuable. Knowing your desires does.

      The mere existence of desires has no value at all, any more than the mere fact of something being alive is of value (hence we have no qualms about eating living things called plants).

      I can feel pain and the desire to be relieved of it without reflecting on my pain.

      Which is exactly what I myself have consistently been saying. We ought to have concern for the pleasure and pain we cause. But death does not cause pain. So that’s irrelevant here. What of value is destroyed by killing an animal? Very little–certainly relative to destroying a person. That’s the issue.

      I can also have the desire of existing while “living in the present” without ever reflecting about my future.

      And if you never reflected on your future (or past or present self) and were incapable of reflecting on your future (or past or present self) and had no desire to reflect on your future (or past or present self) and nothing would ever change this (no development, learning, or impetus), then your life would have no value (beyond what value it may have to other people, but that’s not the issue here).

      That’s the difference between “sometimes I don’t think about my future” and “I am physically incapable of ever thinking about my future or even knowing what a future is, and I never will” (which sentence could never be uttered in honesty by any being ever, since anyone capable of forming that sentence knowing what it means would by definition not be a person physically incapable of ever thinking about their future or even knowing what a future is).

      It’s also not just about immediate pain. An animal that never experienced pain will understand the danger of a river with a strong current or a pack of predators and avoid it. It will show reactions of fear. If the animal can “compute” an accurate model of the implications such an situation might have without ever directly having experienced them, how can we reasonably say that “it understands that this situation will lead to pain” but not “it understands that this situation might lead to its end”?

      The burden of evidence is on you to draw that inference, not on me to deny it. You are claiming a non sequitur (knowledge of X entails knowledge of Y). You are the one who has to connect those two so that the claim is no longer a non sequitur. Does knowledge of X entail knowledge of Y? Not logically. So you would have to prove the connection empirically. Scientists have been trying to do that for centuries. And as I summarized, the evidence has come out against you: knowledge of X simply does not coexist with knowledge of Y for almost all animals.

      If you wish, like a creationist or climate science denier, to deny the evidence and even pretend you can draw an inference without any evidence, then you are no longer engaging in rational argument or thought.

      Why should I not take desires of animals into consideration when calculating my moral formula when I grant them the mentioned basic desires that I grant every other person?

      Again, you have the burden of evidence the wrong way around. As I said, not all desires have value or equal value. You are simply not obligated to satisfy the every desire of every living thing. To do so consistently would make your life not only absurdly unlivable, it would end it pretty quickly.

      Therefore, we must have a reason to value a desire before we modify our behavior to conform to it.

      I have said we have sufficient reason to value animals’ desires to avoid needless pain. But death does not cause them pain. And as animals do not have a desire to live (in the sense of consciously being aware of what more life means and what they can do with it and thus seeing its value), we are not satisfying any desire of theirs by letting them live. An animal continuing to live another day or year simply has no value to that animal. It indeed has no objective value at all, any more than my computer continuing to be powered on does. We ourselves can value an animal’s continued existence (e.g. a pet or a work animal) just as we can value our computer’s staying on, but as soon as we no longer value that, or value something else more, we turn it off (animal or computer, same thing–the only difference is that the range of experience and feeling in an animal is greater, but that’s why we account for their pleasure and pain, but don’t trouble ourselves over whether our computers are happy or in pain).

      The bottom line is: what value is an animal’s living another year? If you cannot answer that, then you cannot have a rational reason to care. You can have a nonrational reason (e.g. an aesthetic pleasure from it) that would be perfectly valid, but that’s not a moral reason (because it is not universal and by no rational argument can it be said it must be). Even if you can cobble together a reason to care (and I suspect you would only do so in a fallacy of post hoc rationalization: inventing reasons you never had before, in order to rationalize after the fact a position you really only held for aesthetic or irrational reasons until then), would that reason be as compelling as all the utility and pleasure we derive from animal products? Would it have greater value? I’m pretty sure not. It wouldn’t even approach it. But then, as I said, that burden is on you. Maybe you can come up with something no one has ever thought of before. It’s unlikely, but nothing is impossible.

      The question is not if the pleasure of eating meat is good. The question is, is it good enough to ignore the desire for existence that I grant animals?

      Actually, that’s not the question. If we were talking about how you yourself should live your life, and thus you appealed to your personal aesthetic likes and dislikes as grounds for you not to eat meat, there would be no debate here (so long as your premises were true and your inferences from them logically valid). So the question is not whether the benefits derived from animal products are greater than “the desire for existence that I grant animals” but whether the benefits derived from animal products are greater than “the desire for existence that we all ought to grant animals.”

      You seem lost on the distinction. The one is just a personal preference. Only the latter is a moral argument. And that requires appealing not to how you feel, but about how people ought to feel. Which is why I explained you need a ground for any and all moral imperatives in the first place, so that you have a valid way of getting from an is to an ought (contrary to common assumption, you can get from an is to an ought, and in fact that is the only way to ever get an ought at all: see The End of Christianity, pp. 334-35 and 340-45).

      Is there any sense in which everyone ought to agree that an animal’s continued existence is more valuable than the benefits of disassembling them and using their parts in various ways? Not to my knowledge. Is there any sense in which everyone ought to agree that an animal’s desire to continue to exist is more valuable than the benefits of disassembling them and using their parts in various ways? Animals are not even capable of having that desire in the only meaningful sense relevant (as in, knowing what continuing to exist means and why it’s valuable, or being able to one day know that, and thus desiring the actual object in itself for what it actually is), and in the much-more-watered-down sense of indirectly and unknowingly desiring continued existence by simply desiring to avoid pain and pursue pleasure, such a desire is objectively valueless in the grand scheme. It is no more valuable than the actual desire they have (to avoid pain and pursue pleasure), which in itself is of no value (other than insofar as it is heeded by not causing needless pain, for example).

      Would I suffer from not eating meat, for instance, if I never tasted it before? I think not.

      Not that that would be relevant. Most pleasures in life are like that. That is not an argument to avoid them, or not to value them once we realize how pleasurable they are. Oral sex, for instance.

      The premise itself is questionable. We have innate brain chemistry and taste receptors and olfactory channels and brain centers devoted to savoring and enjoying meat. I doubt someone who never enjoyed meat would not suffer some sense of deprivation, just as a virgin does sex (only less in degree). But that’s not relevant anyway, since the premise, even if true, leads to no valid conclusion regarding the utility of eating meat. Much less all the industrial products we get from animals.

      I do not see how the pleasure of eating meat can have a significant importance when I can have similar flavors without meat, for instance through eating vegetarian meat-like products.

      If that were really true for you, you are an odd duck aesthetically. But at any rate, I can affirm from direct experience that this is not even remotely true for me. And for most people I know.

      And that kills any chance you may have had of making a moral argument out this. That which is not universal, is not moral.

      [RE: Replace “eating meat” with “crucifying Jews” in that sentence and then try to answer it.] The problem is not the action per-se but the visibility of that action in society. The thing with meat is that you actually never really realize that that piece of stuff on your plate has been a living being. Many say that a visit to a slaughterhouse, let alone the hypothetical necessity to butcher every animal of meat that you eat yourself, would turn many people into vegetarians, given the availability of easy alternatives that other cultures did not or do not have, and I tend to agree.

      This is simply false. I have killed and prepped my own animals for consumption. And most people are well aware of what happens to animals from farm to plate. Indeed, the more so in families that fish. Which is a lot of families.

      It is in fact only very recently in history that the kind of separation you describe even existed for people. Yet for fifty thousand years, including ten thousand years of civilization and three thousand years of explicit discussion of the philosophy of eating meat, your prediction simply didn’t come true: only a radical fringe few ever abstained from meat after seeing what is done to make it (even in the otherwise extreme cultural outlier of Hindu culture: most Hindus are not, and have not been, vegetarians). Throughout most history, the vast majority of people actually were doing the killing and butchering themselves; and even when affluence spread to the point that a significant percentage of any population didn’t have to do that (they could afford to pay others to), they still lived amongst it being done daily.

      And even now we see the same: millions of families in this country hunt and fish and raise birds and kill and butcher their food from time to time–and they are not put off it.

      So you are just projecting your own subjective queasiness, a merely aesthetic reaction, onto all other people as if what you felt is what everyone does. It’s not.

      Worse, not only are you trying to turn a subjective preference into a universal moral rule by which to judge other people, your reasoning even for yourself is fallacious.

      I know many people who are similarly queasy and thus incapable of performing or even watching surgery, prepping the dead for burial, cleaning up sewage, changing diapers, clearing dead animals from highways, facing down gunfire, running into a burning building, and on and on. In no way is their unwillingness or inability to handle these things a reason to declare them immoral. We vomit at the sight of blood; so we hire someone else to do surgery and keep it out of our view. We think scooping the guts out of a pumpkin is gross and can’t bear to even watch it; so we ask a friend to take care of it while we are out. We would be too terrified to move in combat or a fire; so we hire people more fortified than us to defend our lives and save our neighbors. That’s how civilization works. Division of labor according to our respective talents and faults.

      I’m reminded of the anti-abortionist who plays up personal revulsion at dismembering a brainless fetus that resembles a baby in order to complete a second trimester abortion…of an entirely unconscious, effectively brainless organism less developed and aware than a comatose chicken…and even to save the life of the mother. That this makes some people queasy has nothing to do with whether it is right or wrong. Therefore, revulsion cannot be a basis for moral argument. That hacking up a mid-term fetus and sucking it out of a womb to save someone’s life is gross and icky and very few people could stomach doing it or even watching it is simply not sufficient reason to declare it criminal, or even wrong. It’s not. On the objective facts of the matter.

      Thus, please do not confuse feelings with facts. There can be a connection, but it has to be made. Not assumed.

      And for all that, this is still not a valid answer to my point anyway. Hidden factories burning up Jews would not justify treating the people paying the furnace operators the same way “meat is murder” vegetarians treat meat eaters either. My point stands.

  101. says

    Richard, this is probably one of the only times I will disagree with you. I do think a lot of your facts are accurate; for instance, your statistics on global warming from animals, but I think there is more more to animals’ lives than being kept indoors all the time or hooked up to milk machines three times a day because of the genetic engineering that makes cows produce up to 20 times the milk they should normally produce. We break up families when we mass produce animals. Pigs have their teeth routinely cut off as infants, and most animals are castrated with no anesthesia and often by the farmer grabbing and pulling. Male chicks are groud up at one day of age, because they are of no use as egg layers and are bred to be the wrong size for meat produciton. Every stage of factory farming is rife with cruelty, and slaughterhouse workers will tell that a good share of the animals make it to the cutting up of their limbs while still alive. It is just not necessary.

    I did not agree with your opinion that vegans are not really bothered by meat because we sit with meat eaters. We are surrounded by food and we are taught as vegans to be kind and accepting as most people come to their own conclusions slowly. We usually are vegan because of our own morals, but are often harrassed by others who question us and then make fun of us. I just want to eat my food.
    Some of the health studies you mention might be the ones where they compare what they call low fat diets with vegetarian diets and meat eating diets. The problem is that the medical community calls a low fat diet a diet of 37% fat. If you look at diets such as the McDougall diet (I do not eat that low in fat), you will see people with clean arteries (check out arterial reversal pictures at Dr. Esselstyn’s site), and you will see slim, active older people who do not have diabetes or a lot of degenerative conditions. Americans are not healthy, and doctors in America call cholesterol levels of 200 or below “healthy.” This is why “healthy” people get heart attacks. You must get below 150 total cholesterol to be considered heart attack free. Mine’s 120, I’m 56, and again, I eat what I consider to be delicious meals. I could say more, but I just want you to know that I think there is more to this subject that me having a “phobia.” I am proud of myself, more so than at any other time in my life, and I do not consider that a phobia. Most vegans do not think the world will be entirely vegan, but we are increasing (as are atheists), and we think the few who stick with eating meat will be far fewer and most of the abuse of animals will end.

    I hope you find my post polite as I greatly respect you and have learned so much. I just disagree with you on this topic.
    Barb Noon

    • says

      These claims ignore my arguments. You are assuming all the things you list are bad, yet give no explanation why, and when one might infer (causing pain), you skip straight over “doing it better” (e.g. using anesthesia) all the way to “not eating meat.” Which is a fallacy I address in my post at length.

      Likewise you make medical claims that are highly dubious and would not survive skeptical review. See the Rational Wiki article on Forks Over Knives, which you seem to have been duped by. Indeed, Esselin’s studies are a joke. Just look at the absurdly small sample sizes and poor completion of his studies and no controls, and indeed no good proof of statistically significant differences in outcomes (e.g. here). He also uses weird arguments, like that small isolated populations that have no medical care and half a normal lifespan, have low reported rates of a disease, therefore they have low rates of that disease (if you don’t get the fallacy there, reread the sentence; indeed, there are two fallacies in that line of thought, one of which I specifically addressed in my article you are commenting on: the lifespan issue). Worse, when he makes claims like that, his data is based on forty year old science–not more recent (and far more comprehensive) studies and data. And so on.

      I could continue, but really you should know better. You should know how to critically examine claims that seem unusually convenient and are peculiarly not adopted by the wider medical community. You should know how to tell a good study from a bad one, and a reliable claim from an unreliable one, and a fallacious argument from a valid one. And certainly, our moral beliefs should follow from sound logic and unbiased critical thinking.

  102. bobbiejames says

    I am sorry I posted on an old article of yours from 2011, and especially after you made a closing argument. I am afraid I still disagree and will try to explain why. I am rarely offended when someone criticizes me, and I do the best with the I.Q. I have been given (which my mother hid from me and said something about “effort”). Saying “I should know better” means you may have overestimated my abilities!

    You gave the example of chickens liking to cuddle close for the justification of crowding tons of chickens into a large barn, but of course, not all animals like to be crowded, such as pigs (who like to run sometimes believe it or not), so the chicken example for crowding seemed disingenuine (I may have made up a word there). But we will stick with chickens. They obviously do not want to cuddle all the time, and have no escape from others. Moreover, the din of 125,000 chickens in one barn has to be horrendous. Your comments saying we need more humane conditions are not possible if all people continue to eat meat because with all the mouths to feed, we will need even more factory farms. Our population necessitated factory farms over the small family farm in the first place.

    You claim that animals do not have self-reflection, yet apes do have self-reflection (see tests on YouTube), and pigs have an intelligence comparable to a 3 ¾ year old child, so I would think they also have self-reflection because of their intellect. We have greatly underestimated animal intelligence and are just finding out they possess many capabilities we did not know about. There’s that language barrier problem.

    I will look into this China Study more thoroughly, but I do think the lowest fat diet is best, and when I see arteries clear up with just a very low fat diet, I find it credible. In regard to health, most “experts” do not read the China Study correctly. I have linked a rebuttal from Colin T. Campbell to critics. I think he is a little snitty myself, but I still see the value in the article and the sources at the end. It is from vegsource.com (on the right) http://www.vegsource.com/news/2010/07/china-study-author-colin-campbell-slaps-down-critic-denise-minger.html. Dr. McDougall has wonderful articles that again, make sense to me, under “medical info” and “hot topics” on his website.

    I believe your response is a bit of a defense of what you see as your right to eat what you want, because of your addition of the sentence about enjoyment. One thing I want you to learn is that tastes can change as people change. I would find milk bitter and dirty tasting now, when I used to guzzle it. I think a roast is nasty looking and the idea of eating greasy bacon and gooey cheese is, well, nasty. Truly, these foods do not sound like something I would want to put into my body now. When I first went vegan it was more of a temporary challenge that I did not think I could keep up. I did not intend to watch factory farm videos and see that I needed to protest our despicable treatment of animals on earth. It just happened.

    You say animals do not know they are being killed, but that is not what former slaughterhouse workers say. Any animal in the wild runs from danger to save its own life, and animals are petrified from the time they leave their barn on the trip to the slaughterhouse, down the chute where chickens break more bones, to the shackling upside down where they lose their bowels and urine because of fear.

    Laying an animal down calmly to kill them is deceitful. They put their trust in us, so there is no correct way to kill an animal. If you substitute your dog, would you think it is fine to kill him a year early? Sure, he may not know he has one more year, but does that make it okay? Just because we do not believe in God, it does not mean that we revere others’ lives less. In fact, that one more year of life should be even more important for us to give to animals. Atheism plus should extend our kindness to other species.

    Humane farms are not as they appear, and small farms are adopting methods of the factory farms in order to compete. The only solution to the tortured lives of animals is for most of us to give up meat and dairy. You may never see this, but I do. It will not happen in my lifetime, but I am getting in on the ground floor for future generations to stand on.

    Okay, I have said what I felt I needed to say now. Thanks for reading. I hope I do not sound too stupid to someone like you, but what I wrote makes sense to me, and that is the best I can do. I greatly appreciate you reading and responding to my comment so quickly.

    Looking forward to your upcoming book, so I will try not to respond again to you, so you don’t take up time with me when you could be working elsewhere!

    Barb Noon

    • says

      Let’s be honest. You personally do not know what chickens do or don’t like or what their life is like in the wild (birds congregate in huge noisy flocks all the time; these are not humans, so what you think is intolerable simply doesn’t apply). So projecting your feelings, desires, and tolerances on animals is simply fallacious. There are scientific ways to answer these questions. I approve of pursuing them. That was a key point in my article.

      You also ignore my statement regarding animals we don’t eat (like apes), and my concession that some of those animals have higher cognitive abilities and ought to be protected. So your remarks on that point are moot. I already addressed them in my article. Meanwhile your claim that “pigs have an intelligence comparable to a 3 ¾ year old child” is uninformed. You either don’t know what cognition is (puzzle solving is not self-consciousness; my desktop computer has the IQ of a child, too) or you’ve been duped by another huckster. Even newborn babies have cognitive faculties exceeding pigs; three year olds vastly more so (they have mastered by that age language, theory of other minds, and narrative self-reflection, three things pigs can never achieve: and yes, we do know this, it’s a scientific fact of the analysis of both behavior and neuroanatomy; and babies are already developing those three capacities even in the womb, and most definitely soon after birth, something that never happens in pigs).

      You also ignore my remarks about confusing an animal’s experiencing fear with its knowing what death is (or even what life is). You would do well to re-read my points on that. It is simply fallacious to confuse fear of harm with fear of death. It is also fallacious to think animals being scared enough to run from people is harmful. My cat gets scared of me accidentally all the time, and sometimes deliberately (as when I must corral him to take to the vet for medical care). I’m not perpetrating any evil in doing that. Animals simply can’t understand what’s occurring. The most we can do is reduce their anxiety. We can never eliminate it. As I said in the article, we are under no strong obligation to be any kinder to animals than nature already is; and yet, we already are (farm animals get medical care; animals in nature do not), which is a supererogatory good that I support.

      There is also no sense in which “deceiving animals” is evil (we have to deceive them all the time for their own good, and often for our own good, as when we scare away animals from harming others). Animals have no idea what life or death is. The mere “life” of an animal therefore has no value. More life adds nothing to an animal. Less life takes nothing away. Because it cannot ever appreciate the significance of either, not even in principle. What has value is whether animals experience joy or misery. But that only matters when they are alive. Hence, as I explain in my article, out of compassion we ought to advocate for humane animal production. But there is no logically valid step from that to being opposed to killing them.

      Finally, your description of farm practices suggests either ignorance or selection bias. It sounds like you are believing what animal rights activists tell you, rather than actually checking for yourself what the standard (and, above all, legally required) practices are, especially in the more humane countries, companies, and states (which should be the bar we aim for in pushing for reform). My article already addresses the problem of farms that violate the law (and I am fully in support of more tax dollars to increase the inspection regime for enforcing those laws, and for expanding and bettering those laws). Criminal activities can never be used to malign legal activities.

      Your comments saying we need more humane conditions are not possible if all people continue to eat meat because with all the mouths to feed, we will need even more factory farms. Our population necessitated factory farms over the small family farm in the first place.

      This is two fallacies in one.

      (1) Fallacious is the assumption that “more factory farms” = “worse conditions.” Look at the human labor industry: we can greatly magnify the number of factories while simultaneously improving the conditions in them (compare American factories c. 1910 with American factories c. 2010). And when corporations try to dodge this by putting factories in other countries, we can mobilize to shame them into improving conditions in even them (e.g. Apple, and we’re not finished with pressuring them to continue in the same direction as recent events). And so on.

      (2) Fallacious is the assumption that “fewer meat eaters” = “better conditions.” To the contrary, only meat eaters can influence the market–because only they are putting dollars into the market that meat producers are competing for. If you withdraw from the market, your dollars have zero influence. Whereas, if you state, for example, that you will only buy meat from humane producers (and/or simply just do that), then there is actual market incentive for meat producers to improve conditions in their factories and farms. Producers will go where the dollars go. They don’t care one whit for dollars they can never get no matter what they do. Thus vegans are actually harming animals by refusing to “vote” in the meat market for better treatment of animals.

  103. says

    I actually have read the welfare standards, and analyzed them in a blog; and the analysis was not pretty. Here are the standards. http://www.upc-online.org/welfare/standards_booklet_FINAL.pdf

    I do think you have some good points and some good facts, but I find the idea of meat eaters changing the welfare standards to what I would call acceptable conditions not likely. http://www.humanemyth.org/ I also do not see the connection with vegans giving up their commitment not to eat meat and eating “humanely raised meat” instead, because if everyone gave up meat and dairy, there would be no factory farms. (Yes, I remember you discussing how we need animals for all sorts of products. I do read what you write, but I sometimes have to read things three times for absorption, and often after I post, I remember something and wish I had clarified my statements.) I think humans are ingenious enough to find substitutes and continue those products. As an example, there is a lot we could do with hemp if it were allowed. I’m sure we could come up with substitutes and also do without products like leather.

    The longer we use animals, the less likely we will move away from using animals. If we cut down on our usage and demand change, our dollars will pressure them to come up with different ideas, and look at all the animals that will not be suffering from us not eating them.

    As an example, when we go to a seafood restaurant, you order humanely caught, raised, etc. fish (whatever humanely caught or raised is. I know how fish are raised and sorted). I will eat something nonanimal. Who will keep fish naturally living in our oceans (not human breeding of fish)? Who will keep shrimp from being caught and allow them to live out their lives, the person who doesn’t eat them or the person who does?

    Let’s put the cards on the table. We can still work together, as vegans are actively involved in improving factory standards, from United Poultry Concerns, to signing petitions, writing letters, to spreading conditions via the web. We already are large participants in your efforts to eat humanely raised meat, as we believe in any improvement.

    To work together more, I and other vegans will continue to eat vegan and all times,. No matter where I purchase my groceries or what restaurant I go to, I will eat vegan, and I will sit with an empty plate if no vegan food is available. You and other meat eaters can eat “humane organic meat” at every meal, no matter where you purchase your groceries or what restaurant you go to, or sit with an empty plate if it is not available. As I can only speak for myself, I will fulfill the commitment. Most vegans will sit with an empty plate (although nearly every restaurant has tomatoes, lettuce, orange juice or something vegan). Will most meat eaters refuse meat if it is not “humanely raised?” Will you, from this day forth?

    • says

      Veganism in the terms you draw is ultimately like voting for a third party: fantasies cannot govern reality. You are not ever going to convince even a small fraction of the populace to stop eating meat. So thinking that doing so will help animals is not only vain, it’s death to your whole own cause. It’s no better than thinking praying for animals will help them. By contrast, with honest effort, you have a very good shot at convincing a large enough segment of the population to make humane choices in buying meat (which actually will improve conditions for animals, as in fact has already happened, demonstrating the point–so we should continue that course) and a similarly good shot at improving humane husbandry laws and inspections (as has already happened in many countries, and in some U.S. states, so again showing it works–so one just needs to keep pushing that ball down the road to make further improvements).

      One problem I have with vegans is not only that they aren’t having any effect (by withdrawing their vote from the meat market, thus weakening its moral numbers, and thus having in fact no effect at all on the meat market) but they frequently exaggerate, misinform, or lie about the facts and thus discredit their own cause, all because of their tendency to believe (or craft) hyperbole in rationalizing their own personal choices. The worst thing you can do in lobbying for animal welfare reform is to supply legislators with claims they can easily disprove or can find no evidence confirming, or to make demands that exceed all reasonable possibility of being enacted, rather than making fact-claims that can’t be rebutted and demands that could actually be realized. The industry has a much harder time rebutting the latter. But it will seize on the former to discredit your entire enterprise. Which makes things harder for people like me who want, and advocate for, more humane animal husbandry laws.

      Reputation is key to success. You have to be known as more honest and reliable than the industry’s defenders. And that takes time, hard work, and a bitter pill of honesty and constructive self-directed skepticism. Propaganda, hyperbole, abuse of evidence, and fallacies should not be employed. That’s the path forward.

      As far as making a difference, all work is gradual. Revisit, again, my example of how we treat fruit pickers and other agricultural workers in my article. Will you shun even fruits and vegetables because of widespread injustice and mistreatment and misery in the human labor market that collects that food for you? Or will you realize you have to work slowly toward reform in those matters, and that the best way to do that is selecting which producers you buy from while working to change laws for the better at the state and federal level? To expect everything to be a utopia before you will buy any of an industry’s products is simply not logical. Or practical.

  104. says

    BTW
    Richard, as an “animal rights” advocate myself I find my views more in line with yours than with the general vegan population. One day I’ll dig into your cross references to get a better idea of where we diverge and finally prove you wrong. ;) Until then, thanks for the thoughtful continued posts and commentary.

  105. RolliniaDeliciosa says

    @Richard

    Incorrect. 5-10 percent of the US population has already stopped eating meat.

    Incorrect. Meat industry sales exceed 150 billion dollars annually. If we were ridiculously liberal, and attributed 1 billion to persons buying exclusively “humane meat”, that is 0.7 percent.

    If your argument was that only legislation has a real effect on industry, you might have a leg to stand on.

    However, I’m not deluded in the same way you are as to claim that your voting dollar “has no effect”, even though it would be rather easy to do so.

    Indeed. So, perhaps you shouldn’t suggest that these animals all currently live under the more ideal conditions that we advocate for, while representing the recent documenting of (genuinely “horrific”) legal, industry-standard operations as the opposite.

  106. says

    Richard,

    These are just a few paragraphs from the 17 pages I ended up with when I decided to carefully and thoroughly respond to your article and comments. If you want to read my article, the link is here on my blog (I am known as Barbara Noon and also Bobbie James):

    http://bobbiejamesveganatheist.blogspot.com/

    It is quite factual, but since it is so long, take parts of it to respond to, post it, or ignore it! It will be fine with me if you do not have time to read it, but I just couldn’t cut out any part of the 17 pages!

    What follows are some parts of my response:

    It is not all right to take animals’ lives unless they are causing harm to you, or it cannot be avoided. Animals nearly always kill other animals because they are hungry, or some territorial situation; but mainly because they are hungry. We have an abundance of nonanimal food, so there is no need and no rational excuse to end animal’s life. Animals were not meant to be separated and confined and genetically altered. No other animal wears the fur of another. No animal is here to be useful products.

    Some animals may never pass the test of being able to know there is a future, but what kind of a test is that for people to use against animals? Should we perhaps give a test that uses animals’ strengths instead of human characteristics? We are taking advantage of them by using a human abilities test as a justification to kill them. Pigs have a very strong sense of smell and can detect scents seven miles away and 25 feet underground. If the criterion for being allowed to live or be killed is how powerful our noses can smell, pigs would be saved and humans would be off to the slaughterhouse.

    Especially as atheists, we know the value of this one life. This is their one life; how wrong to cut it short and what a pitiful life we have created for them.

    HOW REALISTIC IS HUMANE MEAT?

    12 billion animals are killed for food in the U.S. but this is not including the 51 billion sea animals worldwide each year for American’s consumption. Does anyone really think all these animals will be humanely taken care of, inspected and respected?

    THIRD PARTY IS A MEANINGLESS LABEL TO PEOPLE WHO ALREADY HELP ANIMALS.

    Vegans are not a third party. Your claim is, because we do not buy humane meat, we are not helping the drive away from regular meat or letting meat producers know what we want. Do we really need to purchase a product to help? Let’s see:

    It is better for someone on heroin to use methadone, and methadone is an in-between for them – between heroin and drug free. I support their use of methadone and have signed petitions to have that and clean needles supplied. Yet I do not purchase methadone. It is not required that I purchase a product in order to be helpful to their cause. And the goal is not to have them be on methadone for life; it is to have them become drug free.
    Now, let’s do minor substitutions:
    It is better for someone on a factory farm to use humane farming, and humane farming is an in-between for them – between factory farming and freedom. I support their use of humane farming and have signed petitions to have that and clean conditions. Yet I do not purchase humane meat. It is not required that I purchase a product in order to be helpful to their cause. And the goal is not to have them become humane meat; it is to have them become free.

    REGARDING COMMENT THAT VEGANS WILL NEVER GROW IN NUMBERS
    Only 2% of animals carry the Certified Humane label, when factory farming has been going on since 1927. Currently, 95% of our eggs still come from battery caged hens, and nearly all sows are still in gestation crates. We stop eating meat and dairy, we get them out very quickly. We eat “humane meat” and petition for another foot of space for the pigs, and it takes years upon years and that foot of space can be taken away at any time.

    In Missouri, in November 2011, a Puppy Mill ban was enacted so the state would no longer allow puppy mills. In April, 2012, the state overturned the Puppy Mill ban. This could happen with all the laws we have so slowly been able to put into place. As the population increases or people stop paying attention and think everything is humane, the old ways could easily return as we can see from the Puppy Mill example. (In many Amish farms and puppy mills, dogs are kept stacked in cages in a barn, forced to breed over and over and then shot when they can no longer breed.)

    CERTIFIED HUMANE
    If you look at the Certified Humane standards for each animal, you will find out that pigs and chickens never see the outside of the barn. Pigs have legs, with muscles, and they love to run. How can it be called humane to keep them penned up?

    Certified Humane rules: Cows and/or pigs are castrated without anesthesia, cows are dehorned with a hot iron, prodded electrically “in emergencies only,” tails are docked with a rubber ring or hot iron. Chickens have the end of their beaks seared off with a hot machine that also cuts nerve endings and takes a month to heal, but their beaks are deformed for life. Certified Humane is about the best certification available too.

    Certified Humane still keeps the cows pregnant by artificial insemination: The mother cows are restrained in a contraption while they are impregnated by a farmer sticking his arm all the way in to the cow’s rectum and grabbing her uterus while inserting a rod with a metal hook through the uterus and artificially inseminating her. They keep her continuously pregnant in order to get milk out of her. The boys born to her become veal calves, so the people who drink milk or eat cheese support the veal industry.

    Certified Humane has the “new veal regulations,” which gives the meat a light pink flesh because they are allowed a little movement. How kind to give a youngster less than a yardstick to move in.

    Animals have no food for up to 16 hours before slaughter with Certified Humane; their maximum transport time is 12 hours; and maximum holding time at the slaughter house is 10 hours. Add up the maximum times and that is 38 hours with no food before being killed. What happened to a Last Supper?!

    The methods of slaughter must improve, as many miss the bolt and get their eye bolted or the wrong part of their brain and I have seen blood and goo flood out of cows’ noses at slaughter.
    What about the male chicks? Everyone ignores the male chicks! With egg production, boy chicks are not needed because they are not bred to be meat, so the boy chicks are either ground up, or are thrown in a huge bin to slowly crush each other to death. And the killing of male chicks happens, whether regular farming, organic farming or certified humane. UPCOnline.

    There is a lot to fix. It might be easier just to stop eating meat.

    JUST ONE YEAR OF LIFE?
    When you say an animal will not miss one year of life do you tell your readers that we are not cutting off 1 year of an animal’s life, but cutting off 10 to 20 years of its life with our factory farming?
    I cannot find Certified Humane or any Humane meat company address what age the animals are slaughtered. These are the typical ages they are killed for the typical farm animals under AHA rules:

    Broiler hens can live 10-20 years – they are killed at 6 weeks.
    Egg laying hens can live 10-20 years – they are killed at 1-2 years.
    Dairy cows live 20 years – th ey are killed at 4 years.
    Pigs can live 13 years – they are killed at 6 months.
    Male chicks can live 10-20 years. They are killed at 1 day.
    Veal cows can live 20 years – they are killed at 4 months.
    Meat eaters eat babies, toddlers and teenagers.

    Nine states have gestation crate laws to give animals a little more room than those crates, but most of the states’ laws do not go into effect until 2019 or 2025 respectively. California is ahead and will go into effect in 2015. This means 41 states use gestation crates legally, and in those 41, we have the four largest pig producing states (61% of hogs, come from Iowa, North Carolina, Minnesota and Illinois).
    Most people I know say their weight is due to genetics. I found some information interesting and am writing from memory, but you can google “Tarahumara diabetes” and find a lot on this bject.

    The Tarahumara Indians live in rural South America. They can run races up to 400 miles at once and put our ultramarathoners to shame. Their diet consists of a corn based diet; corn tortillas, beans, veges, very rarely a small amount of wild meat, fruits and a high carbohydrate low alcoholic beer. They have almost no Cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease. They are called “The people who will live forever.” Their genetic equivalents are the Pima Indians of Arizona. They have the highest diabetes rate of any group in the world. One of every two people has diabetes. They are obese with all the diseases of the typical Americans, such as osteoporosis and Cancer. They eat the high fat, Western American diet and their cholesterol levels reflect it. Yet these two groups are genetic equivalents! Further, if they take a few Tarahumara Indians and start to feed them the American high fat diet, their cholesterol levels and blood pressure rise. No, I do not think if I eat like them I will run 400 miles at once, but this shows the health of a low fat diet, and eating more than a tiny bit of meat is too much fat for the body.

    Again, if you would like to read all 17 pages and my discussion of such topics as the value of animals’ lives, Ag Gag Laws, the word Phobia, Waste production, “sustainable” fish, hunting, laws, animal intelligence, Proposition 2, Methane, Health, PETA videos and recent investigations, click on this link and the entire discussion will be there, called something like, “Response to a Meat Eater’s Response to a Vegetarian.”

    http://bobbiejamesveganatheist.blogspot.com/

    • says

      It is not all right to take animals’ lives unless they are causing harm to you, or it cannot be avoided.

      Why? You don’t present any argument for this assertion being true.

      Animals were not meant to be separated and confined and genetically altered.

      “Meant” by whom? God? I’m an atheist. Nothing in the universe was “meant” to do or be anything. We were not “meant” to fly or live with plastic hearts, either. This is simply not a valid argument for anything.

      Especially as atheists, we know the value of this one life. This is their one life; how wrong to cut it short and what a pitiful life we have created for them.

      Except that knowing the value of life is the only thing that gives life value–and animals don’t have that: they do not know the value of life, thus life has no value to them. You can’t bootstrap your way from there to treating animals the same as people. Animals just aren’t the same as people.

      It is better for someone on heroin to use methadone, and methadone is an in-between for them – between heroin and drug free. I support their use of methadone and have signed petitions to have that and clean needles supplied. Yet I do not purchase methadone.

      This is a false analogy.

      First, we are not talking about humane production of methadone. If we were, then you would certainly be advocating that people only buy methadone from factories that humanely produce it (and only if they did, would humanely produced methadone exist and eventually out-compete the alternatives). Exactly what I am advocating.

      Second, few people consume methadone–this would thus make sense as an analogy to, say, the production of wearable furs (you might not buy them but you would certainly argue people should only buy fur produced in humanely run sustainable farms, and only if they did, would humanely run sustainable farms exist and eventually out-compete the alternatives), but not meat or other animal products (like oil, tallow, leather, bone meal, etc…I list many others in my article). If you wanted the analogy to be valid, you would have to imagine a world in which nearly everyone is on heroine (since nearly everyone consumes dairy at the very least, which requires animal husbandry, and the majority of the world consumes meat and also uses animal products extensively–indeed, it is almost impossible that you have not, since animal products are in everything, from shampoo to automobiles to airplanes, even the fertilizer that grew the plants you eat). But then you’d realize my argument is correct. You ought to be voting with your dollars for more humane animal husbandry, not refusing to vote at all.

      The rest of your remarks are already addressed in my original article here, or in these remarks just above.

  107. Antonio says

    The moral question here seems to be the question for the quantitative moral value of animal life and how this value compares to the moral values of goals that imply the killing of an animal.

    For instance, if I kill a hostile animal predator in self defense, I am warranted in attributing a higher moral value to my goal of defending my own life than to the goal of sparing the predator’s life. I might also be warranted in attributing a higher moral value to the goal of saving the life of humans through medical experiments performed on animals than to the goal of not killing animals in scientific experiments. (The moral value of an animal’s life of course also depends (a fortiori) on the sophistication of that animal’s assumed mental capabilities).

    You obviously attribute a higher moral value to your goal of eating meat—the only rationally justifiable purpose being the experience of the pleasure of its taste—compared to your hypothetical goal of not killing animals without justification.

    My question to you: can you give an example of a goal you might have that does not warrant the killing of an animal, and if so, what makes it different from the goal of eating meat for its taste? Or does your argument that an animal “does not become anything and has no awareness of being something” imply that its life has no value at all and, thus, can be ended for any goal whatsoever?

    • says

      Can you give an example of a goal you might have that does not warrant the killing of an animal, and if so, what makes it different from the goal of eating meat for its taste?

      Killing for pleasure (sadism). Killing without utility (waste).

      I can similarly demarcate conditions where destroying a house or even breaking a rock are immoral or at minimum superseded by greater goals. So such considerations are not unique to animals.

    • RolliniaDeliciosa says

      @Richard:

      You’ve only answered the first part of the question you chose to quote. You’ve subsequently explained circumstances where waste might not be ideal, but if animals’ lives have no inherent moral value, then deriving psychological pleasure from killing them (sadism) becomes morally positive in the same way that deriving nutritional pleasure does.

    • says

      …deriving psychological pleasure from killing [animals] (sadism) becomes morally positive in the same way that deriving nutritional pleasure does.

      That requires having the character trait of deriving pleasure from causing suffering. That is exactly the opposite of compassion, and since compassion is necessary to any moral life (indeed, to any non-destructive pursuit of satisfaction with life), such a pursuit is not compatible with any logically defensible concept of the moral life.

      The reason you failed to see this and thus failed to draw the correct conclusion from my own viewpoint is that you have straw manned my position. I have never argued that “animals’ lives have no inherent moral value,” but that “animals’ lifespans have no inherent moral value.” You perhaps are trading on an equivocation fallacy between “lives” (as in what they experience) and “lifespans” (as in how long they experience it). But either way, your conclusion is logically invalid.

      Causing suffering is wrong. But killing does not cause suffering. Even in people. Thus even for people, killing people is not wrong because it causes suffering. It therefore must be wrong for some other reason. When you isolate what that reason is, you will find it is a reason that does not hold for (by far most other) animals.

      There is therefore no logical connection between permissability of causing death (which does not cause suffering) and permissability of causing suffering (which by definition does). The grounds for each are separate, and cannot be conflated as you have done.

    • RolliniaDeliciosa says

      Sorry Richard, the conflation and strawman seem to be yours. You wrote “killing for pleasure”, not “causing suffering for pleasure”. And as you’ve made abundantly clear, “killing does not cause suffering”. People kill animals for pleasure without necessarily having the character trait of enjoying causing suffering. In fact, this predilection would be required of your slaughterhouse workers. The conclusion is valid. Deriving psychological pleasure from killing animals becomes positive in the same way as deriving nutritional pleasure.

    • says

      No, I said:

      Killing for pleasure (sadism). Killing without utility (waste).

      That was in response to your request for “a goal you might have that does not warrant the killing of an animal.” Sadism is killing for the purpose of enjoying the suffering of the thing killed. Killing humanely for pleasure (i.e. specifically keen to reduce or avoid suffering) is wasteful.

      The latter would be, for example, a hunter who doesn’t use the animal they kill for any purpose. The former would be, for example, someone who sets kittens on fire because its fun.

      You ignored the second half of my answer, conflated it into the first half of my answer, and invented a straw man of my position. Exactly as I said.

      Don’t do that.

    • RolliniaDeliciosa says

      Killing humanely for pleasure … is wasteful.

      Well, there you have it. That is your goal, in your own words.

      A hunter not using the body of an animal they kill is not necessarily wasteful. Ecosystems have myriad uses for carcasses.

      I did not ignore the second part of your answer; I mentioned it, specifically, in the response. And, as we’ve been over, killing would not be a goal for the sadist, though it could be a completely antithetical consequence of inflicting pain. The imprecision of you phrasing here is unfortunate, and the source of any fallacies you’re imagining. Exactly as I said.

    • says

      By your reasoning, waste doesn’t exist. Since everything thrown away gets “used” by the ecosystem.

      That’s nonsense. That’s not how we gauge waste. Waste is taking something of use to people and instead of using it, throwing it away. A carcass has myriad uses to the hunter. For the hunter to not use them is wasteful. If killing an animal humanely for fun doesn’t do any good (by any human measure…and rotting is generally not doing any good by that measure), then the hunter is being wasteful.

      The bottom line is, you asked for immoral goals in killing animals for pleasure. I gave two, sadism and waste. I said sadism is an immoral goal. You agreed. I said waste is an immoral goal. You disagreed and defended throwing food away.

      So to defend your position you were reduced to the sad state of actually defending the morality of throwing away food.

      I, by contrast, did not have to resort to any such astonishing conclusion.

  108. Antonio says

    On the matter of consciousness being contingent on a neocortex (or a comparable structure), have you considered the “Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness”? However, not being an export on the topic myself and not knowing its scientific community, I cannot estimate the credentials of its proponents. It states:

    The absence of a neocortex does not appear to preclude an organism from experiencing affective states. Convergent evidence indicates that non-human animals have the neuroanatomical, neurochemical, and neurophysiological substrates of conscious states along with the capacity to exhibit intentional behaviors. Consequently, the weight of evidence indicates that humans are not unique in possessing the neurological substrates that generate consciousness. Non- human animals, including all mammals and birds, and many other creatures, including octopuses, also possess these neurological substrates.

    http://fcmconference.org

    • says

      Affective states are not self-consciousness. “Affective states” is just scientific jargon for “emotions.” Likewise even worms can exhibit intentional behaviors. That’s simply not self-consciousness either. Note how the paragraph is slyly worded: it says “humans are not unique in possessing the neurological substrates that generate consciousness,” but doesn’t say if any animal has all the substrates required for self-consciousness or even what is meant here by “consciousness” (the inclusion of “all mammals” suggests they mean any awareness of anything, which even lizards have and even snails to a limited degree; that’s simply not self-awareness and thus is not what I mean by “consciousness”).

      Note that I already responded to that paper here a year ago. See also my remarks here.

  109. Antonio says

    Richard,

    I find this topic interesting not primarily because of its implications for animal welfare but for the criteria that make a being’s existence a morally valuable thing. So apart from animals and animal welfare, I guess I do not agree with your criteria that a being has to have a reflective model of itself or desires projected into its future (like not dying) to be in itself of moral value to us.

    In Sense and Goodness without God (5.2.1.1) you write that the most basic morally valuable state of affairs is the presence of “happiness”.

    On close analysis, I believe there is only one core value: in agreement with Aristotle and Richard Taylor, I find this to be a desire for happiness.

    I agree and extend happiness to include the absence of suffering that supersedes any happiness it might return. However, I see no logical argument that would make happiness contingent on any reflective model of self or its extension into the future.

    Happiness, as we both surely agree, reduces in essence to (complex) patterns of brain states that are, fundamentally, linked to emotions: we “feel” happy or we “feel” pain. Having or achieving a certain self-image is only one cause of such patterns, and thus happiness. And I agree with you that for humans it is, in contrast to mere momentary and affective sources of happiness, the most profound source of happiness. But it is only a cause of happiness and not happiness itself.

    It does not logically follow that, thus, all other causes of happiness do not also produce genuine happiness, that is brain states that are synonymous with happiness. It also does not follow that momentary happiness is “less” happiness. Because all happiness is momentary: it is only present when we feel it, that is, when we have the right brain state. Hence, happiness is not diminished by the fact that it only exists momentarily. This is especially true for other sentient beings where other sources of happiness, like the company of others or the mere absence of suffering, might produce happiness for them as profound as the happiness that humans gain from meaning and self-development. Why should their respective brain states be fundamentally different from the brain states that we have because of satisfaction with our self image?

    If I destroy an animal, I destroy the potential for happiness in the same way as I destroy the potential for personhood when I kill an infant human. Consequently, both the existince of both beings ought to be morally relevant, although not to the same degree, scince we value happiness and personhood.

    In this comment you wrote:

    And if you never reflected on your future (or past or present self) and were incapable of reflecting on your future (or past or present self) and had no desire to reflect on your future (or past or present self) and nothing would ever change this (no development, learning, or impetus), then your life would have no value (beyond what value it may have to other people, but that’s not the issue here).

    It is true that animals cannot achieve all properties of personhood to the same degree as humans do. Hence, if we value personhood, greatly and I agree that we ought, an animal will always have less value than a human(-like) person. But that does not logically imply that an animal has no value, even to itself, since it still produces genuine happiness, and happiness ought to be the most fundamental moral good.

    Furthermore, your position would imply that we ought to kill animals for no other reason than to prevent their potential suffering. Since you value the absence of animal suffering but not the presence of animal existence, killing animals would only improve the state of affairs. Your analogy of destroying other objects, like houses, is flawed because it is not the destruction of the house in itself that is morally reprehensible but the violation of desires (e.g. economical or emotional ones) of other people attached to that house.

    You seem to commit the same fallacy that you attribute to others: you project human criteria for happiness, self-worth, self-respect, self-image (see SaGwG 5.2.1.3) to animals, thereby disregarding that the animals might have a different set of criteria for happiness but might produce happiness nonetheless.

    I do not need to argue that the value of animal life supersedes the value of the pleasure of meat. Your assesment that valuing animal existence is irrational because of a lack of self in animals seems irrational to me on the basis of your moral theory.

    • says

      If you actually read Sense and Goodness without God, then you know I define happiness in that context (it’s on the very next page from the one you quote: section V.2.1.2, pp. 316-20), and it isn’t what you are talking about. My words:

      By happiness I do not mean mere momentary pleasure or joy, but an abiding contentment, a persistent, underlying sense of reverie that makes life itself worth living, in the absence of which life becomes shallow, unsatisfying, and ultimately meaningless. As David Myers puts it, real happiness means “fulfillment, well-being, and enduring personal joy”…

      Animals can’t have that. Which is why they can’t engage in moral reasoning: they lack comprehension of the very goal that moral behavior exists to pursue. This is also why life has no value to animals. Animals cannot comprehend things like the difference between having a future and not having a future and their relative value. Adding more years to an animal’s life adds nothing to the animal (it can add to an animal’s owner’s happiness, but the animal itself is oblivious to having gained anything and could not comprehend the significance of having instead lost it, nor can it ever develop that understanding…again, exempting perhaps certain rare animals on my list of animals with higher cognition that we don’t eat, the most prominent such animal being us).

      If I destroy an animal, I destroy the potential for happiness in the same way as I destroy the potential for personhood when I kill an infant human.

      Except personhood is vastly more valuable than the only pleasures animals can experience, and infinitely more valuable than an animal’s “happiness” in the sense I define it above (the only sense that makes persons vastly more valuable than animals), since animals experience zero happiness in that sense, while persons can experience an abundant quantity of it (and any finite quality is infinitely greater than zero, since zero multiplied by any finite number is still zero, thus even infinitely immortal animals gain no benefit in this measure over other animals, much less people).

      This is what I am talking about. Mere pleasure does not make any life valuable–as if sitting in a tube, lobotomized and hopped up on heroine for eternity could ever be a valuable existence…it would have no value at all, it would be meaningless and pointless and a life no self-conscious person would rationally choose. Yet that is an animal. What makes life valuable is the awareness of life and what it can bring. Since animals neither have that nor the potential for it, their lives have no more value than a lobotomized man in a tube hopped up on heroine for eternity. But like that man, they can still be made to suffer, and that still matters. But death does not cause suffering. It can only cause loss, and only of what one comprehends (because in the domain of experience, what one does not comprehend, one never had to begin with).

      But that does not logically imply that an animal has no value, even to itself…

      Animals have no sense of self. They therefore cannot have value “to themselves.” The very idea of understanding that something has value is not available to animals (except those very few, like us). They can value a thing, in the sense of desiring it. But they cannot comprehend that a thing is valuable. And even though they can value a thing, they still cannot value that which is beyond their comprehension. And a future life, a continued existence of themselves as individual beings, is beyond their comprehension. Life thus has no value to them, in the way it has value to us. We understand what existing means and thus what continuing to exist means. We are aware of ourselves doing both. And that, and that alone, makes human life valuable. Take that away, and even the prospect of it, and human life would again have no more value than a snail’s or a tree’s (except whatever value they had to others, but that’s moot here).

      There is nothing “irrational” about this as you charge; to the contrary, any other view of the matter is irrational, in the mere sense of having no logically valid basis.

      Furthermore, your position would imply that we ought to kill animals for no other reason than to prevent their potential suffering. Since you value the absence of animal suffering but not the presence of animal existence, killing animals would only improve the state of affairs.

      That would be wasteful, and would be damaging to the ecosystem, and would deprive us of the available joys of sharing vicariously in animal pleasures (and would in turn promote wasteful, ecosystem-damaging, and pleasure-depriving behaviors and attitudes). So we only follow your reasoning when it actually applies, e.g. killing animals when necessary to put them out of their misery (as we will do en-miserated dogs, horses, cats, etc.), or when they have no more value to anyone (euthanasia, consumption) or are a threat to the environment as vermin (culling, exterminating).

      Your analogy of destroying other objects, like houses, is flawed because it is not the destruction of the house in itself that is morally reprehensible but the violation of desires (e.g. economical or emotional ones) of other people attached to that house.

      That is precisely my point. That is indeed the only reason we refrain from gratuitously killing animals. It’s just that the specific reasons we value animals can differ from houses and rocks etc., but that is not a relevant distinction. The relevant matter is that animals only have value to us. Animals cannot comprehend the value of anything, even when they value it in the crude sense of desiring. Humans, by contrast, can comprehend that something is valuable (rather than merely feeling desire for it). We thus represent the first instance in earth history of the existence of an awareness of value, which is what moral behavior is based on (and again why almost all animals, even smart ones, cannot engage in moral reasoning).

      It is thus being aware that life has value that alone gives life value. If you can never and could never be aware that life has value, your life could never have value–except to someone else who is aware of your value. That’s simply the fact of the matter. Values exist in no other sense.

  110. Antonio says

    If you actually read Sense and Goodness without God, then you know I define happiness in that context (it’s on the very next page from the one you quote: section V.2.1.2, pp. 316-20), and it isn’t what you are talking about.

    Indeed, i did. But you missed my point. I wrote:

    Happiness, as we both surely agree, reduces in essence to (complex) patterns of brain states that are, fundamentally, linked to emotions: we “feel” happy or we “feel” pain. Having or achieving a certain self-image is only one cause of such patterns, and thus happiness. And I agree with you that for humans it is, in contrast to mere momentary and affective sources of happiness, the most profound source of happiness. But it is only a cause of happiness and not happiness itself.

    In essence, meaning and self-image are not happiness itself, but mere sources of that lead to brain states that we, as naturalists, identify as synonymous with happiness; or more precisely, with the emotion of happiness. For humans, meaning and self-image are one of the most profound sources of happiness. I agree with that. But that does not imply that animals cannot achieve qualitatively equivalent brain states of happiness caused by other sources than these.

    A cat might be as “happy” when it shares the company of other cats as a human that is aware of her fully fulfilled life. Who knows? As both share comparable neurological fundaments, both might have comparable brain states of happiness in these situations. Our current body of body makes this quite probable, as it is more likely than the inverse hypothesis: that animals are not capable of sharing qualitatively equivalent emotional states, such as profound happiness (again: not necessarily from the same causes as human happiness), in spite of sharing the same atomic neurological processes (although not the same high-level brain structure and complexity).

    The question is: is it really happiness that you value most or the more complex concept of “human happiness caused by meaning and self-image”. But if that is the case and we, hence, discard happiness as a basic emotion caused by a pattern of brain states, why then bother with animal suffering? Suffering, like happiness, is an emotion associated with patterns of brain states. It is neither necessarily reflective nor a persistent concept.

    This is just inconsistent. Either basic emotions do matter for moral considerations, but then we can’t consider suffering but discard happiness (as explained abovve, or they are not in itself sufficient, but then why do we care about human suffering?

    • says

      In essence, meaning and self-image are not happiness itself, but mere sources of that lead to brain states that we, as naturalists, identify as synonymous with happiness

      Not “mere sources”; the only source. As I explained previously. At length.

      But that does not imply that animals cannot achieve qualitatively equivalent brain states of happiness caused by other sources than these.

      If those states cannot be appreciated, then the achievement of those states is meaningless. Like the “happiness” of a lobotomized man in a tube hopped up on heroin.

      …that animals are not capable of sharing qualitatively equivalent emotional states, such as profound happiness (again: not necessarily from the same causes as human happiness)

      Those other animals are not capable of achieving “profound happiness” in any sense relevant to the human recognition and appreciation of “profound happiness,” the only sense that makes life worth living and meaningful. Meaning only comes from meaning-generating minds. Those other animals don’t have meaning-generating minds. Therefore their lives are incapable of having meaning…to them. (Meaning to us, but that’s again moot here.) Therefore, there is no meaningful value to their living more days or fewer. (Apart from what we get out of it, but again that’s moot here.) Whereas we do generate meaning and thus our lives do have meaning to us, and therefore our lives do not require an exterior source of concern to be valuable.

      Suffering, like happiness, is an emotion associated with patterns of brain states. It is neither necessarily reflective nor a persistent concept.

      That makes no difference to whether suffering/joy are things we care about not causing/causing.

      Because death does not cause suffering. Therefore, that we vicariously feel the pain of animals through our compassion and thus care about whether they suffer, makes no difference to whether we should care about killing them painlessly. Killing is not wrong because it causes suffering (because it doesn’t cause suffering). Killing is wrong because it destroys something valuable…a consciously aware person, with an identity and a complex world evolving in their minds (or the emergence of same). Other animals do not have that property…the only property that can logically make killing wrong. Because it’s the only property that can ever make life worth anything. It’s the only thing that can make the difference between pursuing a life worth living, and being a lobotomized man in a tube hopped up on heroin. The latter has no value at all. And cannot. So, too, animal life. (Again, apart from what value it has to us.)

  111. says

    I disagree. Any time one animal looks at another animal, it adds interest to each animal’s life, and therefore, adds value, whether they are aware of the meaning of value or not. An animal adds value to his life and adds interest every time he smells himself or feels the air on his skin and likes the feeling, whether he knows it is himself or not.

    I understand very clearly your argument/position that animals “add no value” and do not know they are about to die because they do not have a sense of self. I do not agree that they add no value, but if they do not add value and do not understand death, it is especially devious and deceitful to cut their lives short because they do not know better. It takes advantage of them in the worst possible way; by using their innocence and their lack of intellect against them. This is not taking the high road morally and I think it makes atheists look bad when they figure out a rationale to be able to take an animal’s life and to say they have no worth. When you said, “I’m an atheist” it came off as an excuse for you to have no morals. Richard, I am an atheist too, and I know we both have morals. You have just chosen a position to justify an immoral way of life (the factory farm to mouth system) that must be changed. Of course animals have worth to each other and if we catch a glimpse of them, they have worth to us if we appreciate them. Our ability to turn off our feelings had some evolutionary benefits, but is now being used against unsuspecting, innocent, weaker beings.

    Poor sheep. They can recognize at least 50 faces of other sheep, and mourn losses of other sheep, but can’t pass the mirror test. They are therefore, expendable. But what if there were one sheep that was smarter than the others and could recognize himself? Do we really think all sheep have the same intelligence? This has happened with horses. There is one horse who is quite smart and has passed the identity test. If there is one horse that has passed, there are probably others out there who have not been tested that could pass. What about sheep then? What if we just haven’t tested enough sheep? They are so close, and their brains are so similar to human beings; there might be an Einstein sheep amongst them. I think it warrants giving up lamb and horse meat, just to be sure.

    There is no way the meat and dairy industries can ever be called humane with any kind of honesty. The label “humane” is like “intelligent design.” It sounds fantastic, but right below the surface is just the opposite of the definition of the word. From family separation, to grinding up male chicks, to painful procedures, crowded quarters of pigs and calves whose legs should be allowed to run, to shackling hens upside down which is very painful to their insides due to their anatomy, to stun baths that paralyze but do not take away any pain, to the time it takes to die and the cries of the animals, right up until they get cut up alive in some cases – nearly every part of the life of a farm animal is horrendous. Asking people to partake in this fantasy that meat will ever be humane is just contributing to more deaths, both animal and human.

    On the topic of health I reiterate that only if your total cholesterol is below 150 can you be heart attack free (unless there is a defect), and if you add meat to the typical American “healthy diet” your cholesterol will most likely be above 150, and there will be risk of a heart attack. The claim that you can eat some meat and dairy and you will live into your 70s and 80s because of modern medicine does happen, but does not jibe with the obituaries of “healthy people’ dying in their 40s and 50 of clogged arteries from a lifetime accumulation of fats from their meat and dairy diets, or the countless diabetics in America. As long as doctors tell patients they have a clean bill of health with cholesterol at 200, there will be people like a woman at my work two months ago whose sister had a heart attack at a young age right after getting that clean bill of health from her doctor. It’s a crap shoot if you eat meat.

    In an earlier post you claimed that you “scared your cat all the time, by accident” and the reason for the comment was to brush off the fact that animals are frightened by the horrible treatment at farms, in being transported, falling together in crowded trucks, and then sent to watch other animals they know die while they wait in line. Your point was that animals do not fear death because they do not know they are going to die, but whether they do or not, we should put animals in such fearful conditions. Imposing fear on an animal is not kind, nor humane. I know you claim they will “streamline” slaughterhouses in the future, but I do not see any of this as ever being humane. The only reason these animal are being sent to die is because there is no one who loves them enough to keep them alive. They have no choice as they have been imprisoned and are our slaves. Tell me how that is humane. A pig is the same as a cat – the only difference in their lifestyles is that someone loves the cat and gives the captive cat a better life. If you were the animal about to be killed by a human, you would wish the human would spare your life and give you a good life. I know that is speaking in human terms, but if we say they don’t understand so they don’t value their own lives, we are doing them a disservice because if they wanted to end their own lives they would stop eating. Okay, that’s my sick humor, but truly, given the evolutionary will to live, do you really think these animals want to live dreadfully sad and painful lives and then be killed at a young age? I am wondering why it is so difficult to see and do what is best for animals and keep “what is best for humans” out of the picture. I am also wondering why this is seen as wrong, when caring for others is how all our lives improve.

    It pains me to think that others value their plate of death so much as to take a stance of killing beings not so far down the evolutionary tree and can not see the worth, value, beauty and personality of a pig, cow, sheep, chicken, turkey, fish, or goat – alive.

    • says

      Any time one animal looks at another animal, it adds interest to each animal’s life, and therefore, adds value, whether they are aware of the meaning of value or not.

      That makes no logical sense. By that logic, when my computer’s object-seeking web cam looks at another computer, it adds interest to that computer, and therefore, adds value.

      No, sorry. If you are not aware of something’s value (and can never be), it does not have any meaningful value to you. A world with just animals in it and no self-aware beings would be a meaningless world, as meaningless as a world with only plants in it. Or rocks. Except insofar as outside observers (like us) assigned it meaning, and thus value.

      …it is especially devious and deceitful to cut their lives short because they do not know better.

      How can it be deceitful when there is no knowledge to be falsely communicated to the animal about this? No false belief = no deception has occurred. An animal has no comprehension of a future for itself. So killing it cannot even in principle “deceive” it about that.

      And that is, indeed, the very distinction I’m talking about. Making a person think (note the word think) they’ll get to go on living, and then killing them, is deceitful. Precisely because they were conscious enough to have held a false belief about their future existence. And that is precisely what makes human lives valuable (and thus taking them, wrong; barring self defense etc.).

      It takes advantage of them in the worst possible way…

      Worse than what?

      There is nothing bad about it. Since their future lives have no value to them, they are not losing anything of value to them. Likewise if we employ them in labor or other functions (such as for our pleasure and entertainment, as in the case of pets), we are “taking advantage of them,” yet so long as we see reasonably to their welfare, there is nothing bad about doing that. They aren’t capable of knowing anything bad is occurring; and nothing in fact is. There is no difference between our using them, and nature using them…except we use them intelligently and can do so with care, whereas nature does neither.

      …by using their innocence and their lack of intellect against them.

      Against what? They have no interests that we are acting “against,” except to contentedly live, be fed, occasionally reproduce, and die painlessly. Interests we in fact act in favor of (or ought to, as I argue).

      And there is no intelligible sense in which they are “innocent,” since they are categorically incapable of the attributes of guilt or innocence, having no comprehension of what they are doing or what its consequences are. There are no “malevolent” cows out to kill children for fun; and such a concept is impossible, unless you bestowed on cows human-level awareness of their intentions and the consequences of their actions. Cows can no more be “innocent” than trees or rocks can.

      Things like this are what suggest to me that you are anthropomorphizing animals, attributing to them the properties of people. The very thing I warned against in the article you are responding to.

      You have just chosen a position to justify an immoral way of life (the factory farm to mouth system) that must be changed.

      To be more accurate, I am arguing that it isn’t an immoral way of life. Just like abortion isn’t immoral or eating pork or drinking alcohol or selling sex. Because there is nothing identifiably immoral about it, once we sweep away all the false or meaningless claims (like that animals are “innocent” of anything in any morally relevant sense or that they have a conscious “interest” in living longer).

      Our ability to turn off our feelings had some evolutionary benefits, but is now being used against unsuspecting, innocent, weaker beings.

      Notice how you show no respect for my arguments. I do not turn off my feelings at all and specifically argue they drive me to be morally concerned for animal welfare. I cannot have any valid feelings about killing an animal because it causes no suffering or loss to the animal. You then translate that into me turning off all my feelings and acting against what animals “want.”

      That’s a straw man, and an ad hominem. My feelings are quite intact, thank you. I care about animals and have said so repeatedly. But that does not justify caring whether they live more days or fewer, a distinction that has no meaning to them, and no value to them they can understand. Do not conflate the fact that I see no harm in painless death for an animal, with “turning off my feelings” regarding the suffering of animals.

      But what if there were one sheep that was smarter than the others and could recognize himself?

      You mean, could build a sense of self, with a narrative memory, and comprehend the value of living? Then we would assign them to the same status I have done to apes, dolphins, et al. We would then not eat them. Because that is precisely what it is that makes life worth anything, and thus makes killing any kind of wrong.

      Do we really think all sheep have the same intelligence?

      Moot point. We know they do not have the brain architecture to build a sense of self, with a narrative memory, and comprehend the value of living. And we know that no sheep do. If you ever find one, let us know. But ditto unicorns and dragons. You cannot base moral conclusions on scientifically implausible maybes. That is no more legitimate than Pythagoras morally condemning the consumption of beans because they “might” contain human souls.

      Let’s stick with real world facts, please.

      What about sheep then? What if we just haven’t tested enough sheep? They are so close, and their brains are so similar to human beings.

      Nowhere near similar enough to be relevant here.

      99% of mouse genes turn out to have analogues in humans. So similar. Yet meaningless.

      Facts have to be relevant to pertain in moral decision making.

      …there might be an Einstein sheep amongst them.

      No more likely than sheep that fly.

      Let’s stick to science, please. Not fanciful fictions.

      There is no way the meat and dairy industries can ever be called humane with any kind of honesty.

      Then either you don’t know the facts, or you have wildly unrealistic ideas of what “humane” means.

      My article already addresses this tack. You are now just ignoring what I’ve already written.

      Likewise when you start in on health arguments and so on. Already addressed in my article.

      Imposing fear on an animal is not kind, nor humane.

      Unless its necessary or unavoidable.

      All we have to do is do it less than nature would if we set them free and we’re in the moral positive column. The less we do from there then simply the better.

      If you were the animal about to be killed by a human, you would wish the human would spare your life and give you a good life. I know that is speaking in human terms, but if we say they don’t understand so they don’t value their own lives, we are doing them a disservice because if they wanted to end their own lives they would stop eating.

      Here you are definitely anthropomorphizing. Animals don’t have this knowledge and cannot. If they did then we would be treating them differently. So it makes no sense to talk about what we would do “if” they did. That only matters when they do. But they don’t. So let’s stick with reality. Please.

      It pains me to think that others value their plate of death so much as to take a stance of killing beings not so far down the evolutionary tree and can not see the worth, value, beauty and personality of a pig, cow, sheep, chicken, turkey, fish, or goat – alive.

      Which tells me this is all just about emotion for you, an emotion based not on facts but (as we have seen) anthropomorphizing fictions and false thoughts about animals. Morality cannot be based this way. If we allowed it to be, all manner of false moralities could be justified, simply because someone is “pained to think” about the awful fate of fetuses or beans or sacred trees or holy rocks or whatever it is whose destruction they want to condemn because the worldview they have cultivated in their head (without regard for reality) bestows on these things special thoughts and value they don’t objectively have.

      I happen to think keeping an animal alive because you appreciate its beauty and vicariously sharing its experiences is perfectly valid (as also for ecological and public pleasure reasons, e.g. nature preserves). But you don’t get to decide how other people feel about their animals, and you don’t own their animals. By the same logic, keeping a tree alive because you appreciate its beauty and the enjoying of its existence is perfectly valid (as also for ecological and public pleasure reasons, e.g. nature preserves). But that by no means justifies you condemning the cutting down of all trees by anyone anywhere.

      You can only break this analogy by attributing thoughts and values to animals that animals are scientifically incapable of. And that’s a religion. Not reality.

  112. says

    I know you are an advocate of animal welfare and like animals, but criticizing those who kill no animals at all makes no sense, especially since most of those who promote humane meat do not eat it all the time, and small farms are still a business with most animals on sanctuaries having been rescued from small farms.

    I used the sheep analogy simply because in the past, people have underestimated animals’ abilities to feel emotions and pain and have abused them, including vivisection to watch their innards while they screamed in pain; and people laughed it off in the usual way humans can ignore what they do not wish to feel.

    People thought the horse was dumb and underestimated its intelligence; yet a horse has passed the self-recognition test. We are still grinding horses up for animals and human consumption. I have tried to keep videos off of your page, as interested people can Google for themselves, but I will put this one. This is a video of a horse showing self-awareness. If you listen to what is being said, it will be very clear he recognizes himself in the mirror because of where he “points,” and because he does not try to protect his owner from the “other horse.” His abilities have been verified and he is in the Guinness Book of World Records. My point is, if he can self-identify, there may be other horses with the same ability, because how many are tested?

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O4WpawTb-c4

    You claim over and over that death is painless. Yes, once you are totally unconscious or once you are dead, I am sure you are right, but the process of death for animals on farms is one of a long torture. I have described some of it before. How are you killing your animals in a painless manner? The stun bath given to chickens does not take away any pain – it simply paralyzes the animals. According to Dr. Neville G. Gregory (Expert – Applied Animal Welfare Aspects, Royal Veter College, England), slicing an animal’s throat can take from 4 to 8 minutes for the animal to die. (That encompasses most slaughterhouse deaths and the killing cones on local farms advertised as “humane.”) The typical method of most animal deaths is to cut the arteries and let the animal’s own heart pump out his own blood. These animals can be fully conscious and in tremendous pain depending on whether both arteries are cut or just one, and whether one jugular is hit or both. Think about those swinging chickens in line for the blade.

    You say we only need to make their lives slightly better than they were in the wild. That is like working toward a D- grade. Truly, I know you would like more than that, and are just trying to be factual. But I cannot be satisfied with a D- and am working toward pet status, or that A grade.

    Your article, “Meat Not Bad” encourages people not to feel guilty about killing animals. I think they should watch current slaughterhouse videos and then see if they feel any guilt.

    What bothers me is your idea that animals can feel desire, but since they do not know it is them, it is fine to kill them. Next time you go up to a young dog and it runs excitedly to you, wagging his tail, jumping all around, and then sits and closes his eyes when you pet him and wants more and more, showing more emotion and enjoyment than most humans when someone comes in a room or strokes our hair, please wonder why it is fine to take away that pleasure just because that animal does not apparently know himself. This is why I mentioned the sheep recognizing 50 faces of other sheep: I do not think the self-recognition award is important in them valuing their lives, even if it is in relation to others – they’re feeling it and value those feelings.

    I will continue to donate money and my time to my local animal sanctuary, whose animals were rescued in starving conditions from local “family farms.” You and I both can work on getting animals that extra foot of space, and hopefully more, and maybe some anesthetic during castration on the farms; me from letters and petitions, you from buying humane meat hopefully every meal that you consume meat. I will continue to abstain from any meat and dairy and thereby save all those male chicks from being ground up alive that are ignored in these conversations as they often are not totally killed and have anything but a painless death, and all the cows who are hit incorrectly with the bolt gun which causes tremendous pain, and I will not be a part of any animal deaths for my own “pleasure.” I see only goodness and helpfulness in what I do, and I see only goodness and helpfulness if a person switches from regular meat to humane meat. Once again, we can work together.

    Richard, I feel I have given a full opinion yet kept most of my posts as factual as I could. I do not need to say any more, so I will end my posts on this topic. This has been a good discussion.

    Barb

    • says

      I know you are an advocate of animal welfare and like animals, but criticizing those who kill no animals at all makes no sense, especially since most of those who promote humane meat do not eat it all the time, and small farms are still a business with most animals on sanctuaries having been rescued from small farms.

      No one gets a free pass. Bad arguments deserve to be called out. The more so when they are used to criticize others themselves. The more so still when they are used in attempts to persuade people to adopt the conclusions.

      So what makes no sense is claiming it makes no sense to call out bad arguments. Not the other way around.

      And here you are again relying on anecdote and pseudoscience instead of actual science: Really? An amateur video of a single unscientific, uncontrolled experiment in a world well aware of Hans the Clever Horse? You are actually taken in by this? Let’s use real, quality science to inform our conclusions, please.

      You seem to be unaware of the limitations of the experiment even when properly conducted, e.g. almost any trainable animal can be taught to react to images of itself in a mirror any way a trainer desires; and self-recognition does not entail self-model, e.g. mammals can recognize their own scent, that is in fact the purpose of scent-marking their territory, yet it has no connection at all with self-awareness, and likewise social animals can react to self-images in ways that appear self-recognizing but are in fact attempts at social interaction, and the video you linked to looks exactly like the horse is reacting to its own image as another horse, not as itself, e.g. attempting nose-to-nose contact as a sign of friendship, the most common form of social greeting among horses.

      You claim over and over that death is painless. Yes, once you are totally unconscious or once you are dead, I am sure you are right, but the process of death for animals on farms is one of a long torture.

      No, it’s not. I’ve addressed this in the article already. You either have your facts wrong or you are using a hugely unrealistic definition of “torture.”

      The typical method of most animal deaths is to cut the arteries and let the animal’s own heart pump out his own blood.

      That’s not typical. It’s kosher and halal. I would consider voting to outlaw the practice as inhumane (only the Jewish and Muslim lobbies sustain it). But it’s not “long torture”; it’s barely even torture in the sense of agonizing. In fact, loss of blood pressure is fast and almost immediately results in unconsciousness (it results in inadequate pressure to maintain nutrient supply to cells and therefore brain function). And that’s a well-established fact of physiology.

      Again, please base your conclusions on science.

      What bothers me is your idea that animals can feel desire, but since they do not know it is them, it is fine to kill them.

      It only bothers you because you have an overly emotional attachment to animals that causes you to keep anthropomorphizing them and rationalizing your distaste for killing them by ignoring the scientific facts of animal physiology and slaughter and projecting your feelings on others.

      That is religion, not science or reality. A belief based on scientifically false superstitions, allowing emotion to trump reason, is not commendable.

      …please wonder why it is fine to take away that pleasure just because that animal does not apparently know himself.

      That’s a question for you. If you want a specific animal to continue experiencing that unreflective pleasure, you are welcome to. That produces enjoyment for you. You do it for your pleasure as much as theirs. But it does not place any obligation on you to preserve that pleasure. There is simply no logical reason to. They do not appreciate it. They are not even capable of appreciating it. And there is nothing intrinsically good about it, apart from how it makes you feel.

      Thus, wonder, for example, why it is fine to take away the pleasure of a lobotomized man in a tube hopped up on heroin just because he is not self-aware, and you’ll understand why it is fine to do the same to animals, which are in the same state: experiencing pleasure but incapable of appreciating the significance or value of that, and incapable of ever associating it with any sense of self or existence. It’s just one pointless pleasure moment after the next. Meaningless.

      Animals certainly have personalities and feelings and engage in social interactions and learn things (like who is a friend and who is a threat) but they are still not aware of the point or value of any of this, and never will be. It is literally meaningless to them. It can only have meaning to you.

      I will continue to donate money and my time to my local animal sanctuary, whose animals were rescued in starving conditions from local “family farms.”

      Which is perfectly fine. It brings you happiness and hopefully reduces active misery in the world and increases pleasure in other people besides yourself. But do not confuse this with a moral obligation. Do not confuse euthanizing or culling cats or deer (for the good of the local ecosystem, for example) with snuffing out human babies (much less adults). They simply are not the same thing. And never will be. Likewise the eating of farm animals.

      You and I both can work on getting animals that extra foot of space, and hopefully more, and maybe some anesthetic during castration on the farms; me from letters and petitions, you from buying humane meat hopefully every meal that you consume meat.

      Certainly. And I hope you do as much for the humans in the same circumstances (fruit pickers, cabbage harvesters, and other agricultural workers), whom you rely on to feed you, yet who often suffer in miserable conditions for shockingly low pay. Indeed, most animals we eat have full health care. The workers who gather the vegetables and fruit you eat don’t even have that.

  113. Antonio says

    Those other animals are not capable of achieving “profound happiness” in any sense relevant to the human recognition and appreciation of “profound happiness,” the only sense that makes life worth living and meaningful. Meaning only comes from meaning-generating minds.

    Here I simply disagree and take a more reductionist standpoint on moral ontology. The “atoms” of my moral ontology are not “meaning” but desires of conscious beings which are a class of patterns of brain states. Meaning reduces to one instance of such a pattern class exemplified by human brains. If we morally appreciate certain states of affairs over others, it is ultimately a result of fulfilled desires that are implied by those states of affairs. As humans, we desire, among other things, the perception of a meaningful life and social goodness. But there is no scientific evidence indicating, that animals cannot perceive a comparable qualia of desire fulfillment. Indeed, it is certainly more probable that they can.

    In the end, desire fulfillment caused by the perception of meaning is not different from a desire fulfillment caused by things that are more trivial by human standards. Both are momentary perceptions of positive emotions. It does not matter that you project meaning onto a “plan of life” that involves yourself, your past, present, and future. In the end, the value you attach to this reduces to the momentary positive emotion caused by your perception of that plan. In that moment, your profound desire to live a good life is being perceived as fulfilled. Hence, you feel happiness. And as you assess that this is part of human nature and thus generalizable, you declare such state of affairs morally valuable.

    If I would kill you, nothing more would be lost to you than to an animal. You as well as the animal would simply cease to perceive the emotion of desire fulfillment. The cause of that emotion of desire fulfillment does not matter. It does not matter if it is a plan of life that extends in time, because the perception of that plan is bound to the very moment in which it is perceived. I would simply have to make sure that you do not know that I am going to kill you and, thus, feel threatened. Thus, on a consequently reductionist position, the criteria of momentary perception cannot be of moral relevance. It also cannot matter if you feel a certain desire right now or not. Otherwise I would be warranted to kill you whenever you do not feel the desire to be alive. It matters that you would manifest the desire not to be harmed through the emotion of fear of harm.

    Furthermore, I do not see how your analogy of a lobotomized person adds anything to an argument. On a naturalistic, reductionist worldview, it is a fact that brain states representing qualia are “the ultimate thing” that makes up conscious desires. How an external person judges their causes does nothing to their perception by the conscious being. The lobotomized person in a tube simply is as happy as a fulfilled person, no matter what that other person thinks. The only morally relevant difference to animals is that the lobotomized person would think otherwise if it were not in that abnormal condition. But if her condition is normal, for instance if she is born with mental disabilities, her lobotomized state would not be enforced on her; it would be her very nature. And her perception of emotions would not be qualitatively different than ours.

    In sum, (a) we ultimately value actions/things that lead to brain states that represent the (momentarily perceived) emotion of desire fulfillment. (b) It is part of our empathic nature to desire the fulfillment of desires in other beings. (c) Animals can (momentarily) perceive desires and desire fulfillment. (d) Desires are morally relevant even if they are not currently perceived by a being but would be perceived if the being was aware of the current state of affairs. (e) It follows that we ought to consider the desires of animals.

    That does not imply that animal desires are equal to human desires. If both are in conflict, I would still prioritize my desires according to the circumstances and eventually to the disadvantage of the animal. But I would still have to consider them and weigh them up against my own. Hence, the moral question of whether the sensation of eating meat weighs up against the animal’s desire to continue whatever it desires to do.

    Most certainly, I cannot see how this position could be considered irrational and based on bad arguments. Indeed, it is simpler and more consistent than the double standard of accepting the moral relevance of momentary suffering while rejecting the moral relevance of momentary positive emotion to which desires and desire fulfillment ultimatly boil down to.

    PS: I like the taste of meat and I also butchered my own animals (chickens) since my grandparents ran a farm. So I do not have any problems with the aesthetics of meat. But I am sure that the decoupeled perceptions of meat as a product and meat as a killed animal simply reduces the amount of intelectual reflection people have on this topic.

    • says

      The “atoms” of my moral ontology are not “meaning” but desires of conscious beings which are a class of patterns of brain states.

      But you cannot ground that moral ontology. There is no logical step from “conscious states exist” to “I ought to preserve them.”

      In a world without meaning-generating brains, meaning doesn’t exist, moral values don’t exist, and no “ought” statement is true. Thus all moral value comes from meaning-generating brains. Those brains can assign value to non-meaning-generating brains. But that does not entail they ought to do so. To get from “they can” to “they ought to” requires some intermediary steps. When you work out what those are (as I have done, e.g. in the last chapter of The End of Christianity), you’ll find that you can connect the dots from “suffering” to “ought” but you can’t connect them from “prolonging life” to “ought” without that life having some value independent of your own personal desires (because if it’s just your own personal desire, then it’s not a moral conclusion, i.e. a conclusion that holds for everyone, but just a personal conclusion about yourself). And animal lives just don’t have that. For all the reasons I have already explained at length.

      If I would kill you, nothing more would be lost to you than to an animal.

      I would be lost. And that means literally: I would be lost to me. That’s the point. Animals don’t have an “I” to lose; they do not have a mind that values living as I do, that has a galaxy of knowledge and thoughts about the nature of myself and the world as I do. They therefore aren’t losing anything the way I am when I die. More life to them does not mean anything to them. But it means something to us.

      And that’s the bottom line.

  114. says

    [Sorry, Richard, posting again – your post leads in to what I have been trying to say and I think I figured it out.]

    First, I will start with our earlier discussion where I said animals do feel pain prior to death and during the slow death. When I mentioned the blade, you said something like, “That is Halal, that is not how it is done normally. I am against Halal.” But chickens are hung upside down, paralyzed of movement but not of pain, and a blade slices them – of they move at all and many of them do because they don’t get their head all the way in the paralyzing bath, they get hit with the blade in the eye or get one side of their throats cut only. The pain is excruciating. Cows are hung upside down and get their throats slit after a bolt gun hits them, but they are still alive because you can hear them crying. Slaughterhouse workers of other animals talk about them surviving all the way to the start of them being cut up. They have seen animals try to swim in the boiling water that is supposed to soften their skin after death. Richard, their deaths are not unpainful but extremely painful and I think all of this is being ignored. Watch the latest slaughterhouse videos. Humane farms take their animals to such slaughterhouses.

    Next, here is your closing statement: “I would be lost. And that means literally: I would be lost to me. That’s the point. Animals don’t have an “I” to lose; they do not have a mind that values living as I do, that has a galaxy of knowledge and thoughts about the nature of myself and the world as I do. They therefore aren’t losing anything the way I am when I die. More life to them does not mean anything to them. But it means something to us. And that’s the bottom line.” So, when a dog gets pet, he has no sense of himself and he thinks, “More, it wants more!” or “More, we want more” since it recognizes others and feels the sensation. “Oh ya, right there, right behind the ear, mmmmm, that’s it, it loves it!” Then, a human has a massage and thinks, “Oh ya, right there, more, I love it.” And the human might think about scheduling a massage for next week because it values the massage, while the dog is just in the moment and only aware of the fantastic sensations, but comes up to you next week for more.

    That is the difference between whether we can, guilt free, kill an animal but not a person?

    • says

      In your first paragraph you’re just repeating claims that aren’t generally true and are policed when they are proved to be. This issue I address head on in my article already. So you aren’t listening to my arguments anymore. I can present you with examples of farm laborers horribly and painfully killed by machinery. Are you going to use that as a reason to stop eating fruits and vegetables? Or as a reason to reform safety regulations and their enforcement? Guess which side I took on that question in my article. You are also making claims that are biologically false (that muscles continue to move and contract does not entail brain consciousness is present, which is why corpses can also cry out when manipulated physically). And your last paragraph simply makes no sense to me. If there is a logical argument in there, it’s not evident.

  115. Julian Clemens says

    This is the first article I read from you, that is rationally unsound and in dire need of citations. Where has your scientific rigor gone? This seems just like bad research practices and reasoning you often critisize in others. It reads more like personal agenda than criticism founded on reason and logic.

    A very dissapointing read.

  116. Julian Clemens says

    That is not the point. I don’t usually have to do any research to verify the claims you make, since you’re usually very rigorous and I can find all the sources I need within your article. Maybe I’m just spoiled.

    Again, an animal’s life is indifferent to when it dies, because it does not become anything and has no awareness of being something.

    Here you say that an animal has no awareness of being something, but you do not back that up by citing any sources. I’m sure you’re familiar with the many mirror experiments that have been performed to establish self awareness in animals. Here’s an article about self awareness in magpies, for example. It also has a lot of the research by Gallup et al. as sources, that are in the same vein.

    Mirror-Induced Behavior in the Magpie (Pica pica): Evidence of Self-Recognition

    Altogether, results show that magpies are capable of understanding that a mirror image belongs to their own body.

    Of course that doesn’t mean they are self aware in the sense that humans are

    We do not claim that the findings demonstrate a level of self-consciousness or self-reflection typical of humans.

    But the majority of the material I have read has suggested, that we can not rule out the possibility of a self awareness similar to that of humans. If you have different information or if I misunderstood your point it would be great if you could share it.

    In your blogpost you also said:

    To give you a point of comparison, while vegetarianism might give you a benefit of about 1.2 times lower mortality on one single illness, and yet still makes no difference to when you die beyond at most one or two years, not smoking definitely does give you a benefit of 10 times lower mortality rate on numerous diseases, and for some diseases it’s 20 times or more.

    (…)

    But to take emphysema as an example, your odds of getting it do not increase 1.06, 1.2, or 1.4 times if you smoke, but 5 to 10 times if you smoke. Thus smoking is vastly more irrational than vegetarianism (so vegetarians who smoke: you’re the biggest idiots on the planet).”>

    So you’re saying that vegetarianism slightly reduces mortality from a particular illness and that smoking increases the likeliness of developing an emphysema and therefore the combination of the two is even more irrational than smoking is on its own? I’m not following that logic.

    I get that smoking is vastly more irrational than vegetarianism, but what has that to do with the rationality of being a vegetarian? Smoking is more irrational than jogging as well, but that doesn’t make any statement on how rational jogging is.

    I’m not critisizing the whole conclusion of the health side of vegetarianism, but the reasoning and tone of that quote above.

    Sorry for the lengthy reply. I hope you can clear things up for me.

    • says

      I’m sure you’re familiar with the many mirror experiments that have been performed to establish self awareness in animals.

      Already answered in comments above:

      [A]s I stated upthread my article is only about the animals we eat, not ones we don’t, and shouldn’t, which includes dolphins, whales, elephants, apes, monkeys, magpies and African greys. Because those animals have the brain anatomy and demonstrated cognitive powers that come close to (even if not matching) human consciousness.

      You should also be aware that mirror tests are flawed and heavily criticized in the scientific community except when used under strict controls and only in conjunction with other tests. (See, again, comments above.)


      So you’re saying that vegetarianism slightly reduces mortality from a particular illness and that smoking increases the likeliness of developing an emphysema and therefore the combination of the two is even more irrational than smoking is on its own? I’m not following that logic.

      It’s simple: everything you do (even what city you choose to live in) affects mortality rates by a year or two, and reasonable meat consumption at most has no greater effect than that (in some cases, decidedly less: a mere choice of what neighborhood to live in can reduce mortality by some years). So unless you are going to be hyper-irrational about losing a year or two (and thus greatly restrict where you live, what elevation, what climate, what exact specific fruits and vegetables, what clothes you wear, and so on), which is irrational, there is no sense in being moved by the trivial benefits of vegetarianism which have not even actually been established in the first place (as I point out, in the article and subsequent comments, even the science that shows these trivial results is multiply flawed). By contrast, smoking has vast and abundantly proven effects on health (numerous serious debilitating illnesses, not just one, and reductions in lifespan of many years, not just one or two) that make it as patently foolish as working in a coal mine without a respirator.

      If you can’t tell the difference, I can’t help you.

      But maybe you can get up to speed by reading The Science of Fear. Then you’ll understand how much you already accept abundant life-reducing risks and would not (could not) enjoy life otherwise. It then becomes a wiser management of grave risk, rather than “just any trivial risk whatever.” Live your live. Don’t fear every enjoyment of it.

    • Julian Clemens says

      Already answered in comments above:

      Sorry, I should have read all the comments before posting.

      I’m gonna get to my main point of objection and I’ll try to keep it brief.

      What I understand you’re saying, in the article and in the comments is, that

      1. the animals we eat lack higher level cognition (self-knowledge, identity-formation, metacognition, and abstract thought)

      2. those abilities are neccessary for them to appreciate their own existence

      3. without this appreciation it doesn’t matter if they live or die

      I’m not saying that those points are untrue, but that you simply assert them without providing any sources.
      That’s the problem I have with your argument.

      And about the smoking comparison:

      If you can’t tell the difference, I can’t help you.

      I see what you’re trying to say, but still find the original passage clumsily worded and easy to misunderstand.

      And in my opinion there are bigger idiots on the planet than vegetarians who smoke. Kent Hovind, for example.

      Thank you for taking the time to respond.

      OT: My avatar looks really mean. Imagine that I’m smiling when I make those comments, … but not in a creepy way … maybe a little bit.

    • says

      I’m not saying that those points are untrue, but that you simply assert them without providing any sources.

      Moot unless you know of evidence to the contrary. The burden is on you to show animals have an attribute that all plain evidence is against their having. It is not on me to prove a negative.

      As it happens, I’ve studied this extensively. So good luck trying to find any legitimate evidence to the contrary. I already know you won’t. But I’ll allow the logical possibility you’ll find some relevant evidence I missed.

      And in my opinion there are bigger idiots on the planet than vegetarians who smoke. Kent Hovind, for example.

      It’s not a competition. ;-)

  117. bobbiejames says

    “Can you provide any realiable evidence that anything in it is incorrect?”

    How about when you claim animals’ throats are not slit, except in Halal? Look at the latest PETA undercover investigation.
    https://secure.peta.org/site/Advocacy?cmd=display&page=UserAction&id=4903
    I also have a picture of what a calf’s expression is when it is pinned in place and branded on a “humane farm,” but I can’t upload it here, and most people do not want to see anything they eat when it is in pain. But so much of an animal’s life on a farm is painful.

    Your main reasoning for killing animals if we desire to consume them is that animals do not have a sense of “I”; therefore, they can be killed at any time, according to you. Where is respect for their lives and respect for the lives of those less intelligent than we?

    Although you claim not to understand my poorly written example of the minute differences between an animal getting pet and a human getting a massage, your entire justification for your article was summed up in those few sentences. The dog loved getting pet so much, and came back for more the next week although he was only in the present each time. The person could voice that it was he who was being massaged, and scheduled an appointment for a massage the next week because he could envision the future. Hopefully, I can make it clear that this is your entire justification: the human has the concept of”I” and he knows next week is in the future. Therefore, the dog or any other animal that we do not personally know, can be killed without any guilt. This is what you are saying. If you say it does not make sense after I have explained your reasoning this second time, then you might look to your own reasoning as not making sense and not my examples of your reasoning.

    There are so many peer reviewed articles about the health dangers of meat and dairy. One recent one is “Cooking meat over a stove indoors where the fumes can be breathed can increase lung cancer.” See Dr. McGregor on vegsource.com. But rather than me spending time looking up more health sites and peer reviewed articles on the dangers of eating meat and dairy, I just wonder why you think an animal will have a humane life if all people ate “humane meat.” The humane farms would be just like overcrowded factory farms because of all the meat eaters. I can put video after video of abuse on farms here. Claiming they are all “spliced with old footage” is not true.

    Claiming they can be streamlined without giving details seems to be inaccurate if you listen to what the slaughterhouse workers say – that the machines are working too fast as it is and it is very dangerous work.

    Switching to “I love humans more” by talking about strawberry field migrant workers has nothing to do with the problem of the animals – and I already told you that I work with United Farm Workers and have helped expose the problems of the workers not being able to read labels that are in English, live in lead based paint houses and are sometimes sprayed with pesticides as they are in the field. Why should their problems be addressed but the animals ignored because you think all humans must be taken care of first? Why can’t we work on both problems at once? The migrant workers can speak up; the animals cannot and obviously, people fight against animals having the right to live! We see that here and everywhere that people think an acquired taste is more important than an animal’s life.
    The only thing to do is cut down drastically on meat and dairy and it really is not that difficult once the mind is made up.

    Barb Noon

  118. Michael Rayner says

    “Either eating meat is not all that immoral, or everyone they know is a villain, horrifically consuming the flesh of concentration camp victims.”

    There’s certainly a false dichotomy here but also a straw man here. People make choices to exclude categories of food for all sorts of reasons. Even when vegetarians eschew meat for moral they have a huge range of where meat-eating ranks in there hierarchy of what is morally or ethically acceptable behaviour. The acceptance of another persons choices isn’t necessarily irrational. In diverse societies it seems wise to accept choices people which aren’t guided by pure reason. It doesn’t seem reasonable to expect individuals or groups will always find common ground when it comes to deciding what is right. There certainly are very strong statements made by some vegetarians that equate eating animal flesh (or animal products) with activities that most of us probably find intolerable (like your examples of cannibalism, genocide and child molestation). It doesn’t follow that all vegetarians have those views. Some Christians would like to see homosexuals stoned it doesn’t mean they all do.

    Also, many people don’t eat certain foods that certainly can be healthy and advantageous on many ways for irrational reasons. There are many well reasoned arguments for eating arthropods. Lots of people do. People who eat shrimp might not eat a wood louse. Most North Americans, I assume wouldn’t feast in live grubs no matter how sensible it may be.

    I’m a vegetarian myself. I drew the line for reasons I now consider irrational. I still don’t eat meat. The idea disgusts me. I admit this isn’t rational. I don’t eat fresh tomatoes, caviar or breast milk ice cream for the same reason. That said, I’ll happily eat a sun-dried tomato and goat’s cheese omelet even though the ingredients are the same. Deciding that I should it these things because they could be included in my diet despite the fact I’d probably vomit them back up isn’t reasonable. The whole point of eating from a rational point of view is to get what nutrients you require. It’s easier to avoid foods you have a disgust reaction to than to try to modify that response.

    Despite my rejection of meat in my diet, I generally don’t hang out with many vegetarians. In fact, I get very annoyed by the arguments made by most veggies I have known when they are trying to justify their choice using fallacious reasoning. I get annoyed by similar arguments for shunning gluten or foods that are produced outside of a hundred mile radius. My annoyance comes from the practice of trying to turn a choice motivated by emotion into one ostensibly derived from a critical thought process. I applaud your use of evidence to shatter the myths vegetarians cling to. It’s kinda disappointing that your blog post is riddled with the same types of faulty reasoning and rhetorical devices..

    • says

      You are a bit late to the game. This has already been discussed in comments above. I basically gave the analysis that you just gave (only yours is not hypothetical, and is more detailed, so supplements what I said nicely).

  119. says

    An animal licks his wounds to get better; he lays down when he feels ill; so he wants to be better – he wants to live. It does not matter that animals have “no sense of the future.” It does not matter if their thought is called instinctual. Animals are often categorized as using instinct when they are actually using thought. However, instinct still shows the animal has a drive to try to live. To justify killing toddlers (because that is the age of most pigs and calves and chickens when they are killed for food), just for the “pleasure of taste” by saying “they do not know themselves” will never make sense to me. It is cruel and wrong, in my eyes. No matter how smooth the slaughterhouse operates, it will be wrong, in my eyes. No matter how atheistic you are (and I am) it is wrong, in my eyes. This is because my eyes have watched 70-100 factory farm videos, and know your excuse about “splicing old footage” does not apply to the majority of them; my eyes have read newsletters from upstanding groups such as United Poultry Concerns; and my eyes have seen hundreds of photos of slaughterhouse abuse and mistakes – and one mistake when using a bolt gun is too many. No matter how many times you use the word “fallacious” for my arguments, I see your argument to kill with a clean conscience as “cruel” and “inadequate.” It does not matter if they are grass fed on “humane farms;” raising them as a product, killing one day old male chicks, and enslaving dairy cows and then killing them (and often the fully-formed pregnant dairy cow’s babies which end up lined up on the floor after the mother cows are slaughtered) are wrong. Your opinion that all we have to do is give farm animals a short life “a little better than nature,” is one of those inadequate statements. Would you give that kind of care to a child? And yes, I have read your article – four times. And yes, I am pro-abortion (if you think differently by my disgust of baby cows being cut out of the mother so you can eat her. There’s a thing called consent in human abortions – and we don’t kill the mother. My purpose for this paragraph is to show readers of this thread that your stance it not sufficient to sway a very open-minded person/vegan in the least.

    • says

      It does not matter that animals have “no sense of the future.”

      Yes, it does.

      For the reasons I have explained. Repeatedly. An animal’s future does not have any value to it the way it does to a human conscious of what a future means and what they can do with it. An animal is not aware of what it means to be alive or what it can do with a life or what it can come to know and think about life and the world it’s in (nor can it ever become so aware…the exceptions are precisely animals we don’t eat). Death simply is not a harm to an animal the way it is to a person. And there is no factual or logical basis for thinking otherwise.

      Animals are also not comparable to children. For the reasons I have explained. Repeatedly.

      And if you think one accident is too many, then you should stop eating fruits and vegetables as well. Because people die bringing them to you, too. Or are maimed. Or suffer long-term occupational injuries. You are okay with the suffering of migrant laborers and the injustices placed upon them. Consistency demands you should be okay with as much for animals. Consistency also demands you should be okay with any suffering in animals that is less than they’d suffer in the wild (as otherwise your only options are: euthanize them all or let them go into the wild; and you are against killing them, so you have to choose the latter). Consistency further demands that if you think industry practices are causing widespread harm, you should be spending your dollars on those industries that improve at that (as well as lobbying for better government regulation, as presumably you would for farm labor), rather than taking your dollars out of the market altogether and having no effect on it at all.

      What seems apparent to me is that you are anthropomorphizing animals and basing your reactions to their treatment on that. Thus your values are based on false beliefs. Your phobia of killing and causing discomfort in others, which is turned off when it comes to farm laborers but dialed up to 11 when it comes to animals, has simply created a strong aesthetic distaste in you, which you then project onto everyone else, turning your own personal feelings into moral self-righteousness. Because it feels good, I guess. I don’t know.

  120. says

    We have also previously discussed that I have worked and continue to work with United Farm Workers and have written quite a bit about field workers and pesticides, lead in homes, language barriers, no breaks, dangerous conditions and noncaring farm owners, so I prove that people can help humans and animals at the same time and we do not need to just focus on one. I feel mentioning strawberry fields is more of a deflection away from the subject of caring about and for animals. We have also talked about how boycotting strawberries would most likely hurt migrant workers. But there are fundamental differences between boycotting strawberries and boycotting meat and dairy, besides the obvious that animals feel pain and also cannot speak for themselves. Boycotting meat and dairy works. When we started eating less meat, it hit the large scale beef farmers. Certainly there are some poor workers on those farms too, but they are so stressed some have been filmed (in several different videos at different farms) horrendously abusing chickens and turkeys. In addition to the dangers and chemicals that both field and animal farms have, factory farm workers and slaughterhouse workers also often suffer deep depression and there is a high suicide rate for slaughterhouse workers. Strawberry fields would be a great improvement. Much easier to fix the strawberry field problems.

    • says

      The way we mitigate the harms and injustices to human farm workers is the same way we should mitigate the harms and injustices to animals. Not by declining to eat their produce, but by working to improve their conditions, and voting with our dollars to support companies or farms or ranches that likewise do.

  121. kaizoku says

    killing an animal is not the same as killing a human. of course. doesn’t make it right though. i’m talking about killing. not such things as conditions under which the animals are kept etc.

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