The Ethics of Eating Animal Products

I decided to think today about whether perhaps I’m wrong to think that eating a plant-based diet for ethical reasons is correct. So I sought out the arguments from the other side to see for myself if I could be convinced that my position deserves reconsideration. I will summarize below what I found to be the best arguments.

The NY Times held a contest recently for people to make their best case for either veganism or meat-eating. In it one of the authors stated his case which I paraphrase here.

The reasons not to eat meat were all ethical. The ethical reasons of why NOT to eat meat are obvious: animals are raised and killed in cruel conditions; grain that could feed hungry people is fed to animals; the need for pasture fuels deforestation; and by eating meat, one is implicated in the killing of a sentient being.

The best this author could muster is that eating meat raised in some specific circumstances is ethical just as eating vegetables raised in some circumstances is unethical.

Aldo Leopold’s summarizes his land ethic: “A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.” This argument boils down to the concept that eating a cow that is raised on grassy plains and contributes to his surroundings in a natural way and is slaughtered in a natural way could be more ethical than dedicating land to raising soybeans then packaging them and using fossil fuels to ship them to the store.

The argument is that probably 99.9% of current meat-eating is unethical that meat-eating isn’t inherently unethical. That our ancestors roaming the plains with rocks and eating meat to survive by killing animals with their own hands wasn’t unethical. It’s an interesting argument and one that I could see myself largely agreeing with if it wasn’t so obviously missing the point that it is precisely the 99.9% of unethical meat-production that the literature on ethical treatment of animals is focused on. It’s hard to even get to whether it’s ethical to slaughter a sentient being to eat when it’s so unnecessary to do so.

In fact the issue we’re really talking about in the modern world isn’t whether it’s ethical to slaughter an animal — it’s whether it’s ethical to bring an animal into the world for the sole and express purpose of slaughtering it and intentionally mistreating that animal for the entirety of its miserable life.

Personally I think the answer to that question is clear.