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Veggie Complications

September 22nd, 2002 · No Comments

Radley wants to know how, below, I can get my undies in a bunch about those who say eating meat’s unethical, but continue to do so, without being equally critical of pro-choice folk who aver that they’re morally uncomfortable with abortion. A few respones.

First, it’s not really a proper analogy. That would be the case in which I’m annoyed that ethical vegetarians don’t further commit to making meat eating or the meat industry illegal. But, of course, I’m not in favor of that. Animals deserve moral consideration, as do fetuses developed enough to experience pain. But my view is not that either has rights, and that’s were I draw the boundaries of enforceable obligations. Even on a personal level, though, one can think that the benefits of eating any set of several hamburgers (a cow’s-worth) aren’t worth the suffering of the animal required to produce them, and also that the burden of an unwanted pregnancy is serious enough to outweigh the pain inflicted on the fetus.

Radley then cites a study on the animal deaths brought about by crop farming, and wonders whether a vegatarian diet might not be worse in terms of animal welfare. Well, two observations. First, the major losses to animals when land is cleared for agriculture accrue once, when some are unable to find new food sources, and die out. The meat industry involves perpetual animal suffering and killing. The more important, point, though, is that the cows are eating something. All the cow biomass you eat originally came from even more plant biomass. A lot of that is going to require as much or more agricultural land as eating the veggies directly. Now, that might not be so if the cows are just grazing over large areas in ways compatible with other animals using it. Still, the best alternative if that’s the case would appear to be, not supporting the meat industry, but trying to patronize crop growers whose techniques result in fewer animal deaths. I suppose that’s something I’ll have to look into.

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