Responding Effectively to 13 Frequently Asked Questions
Food, Fiber, Farm Animals, and the Ethics of Diet
1. What about plants? Don't plants have feelings too?
It is very possible that plants have sensitivities that we do not yet
Because plants do not have nervous systems and cannot run away from
predators, it has generally been assumed that they do not experience
and suffering. Recent scientific evidence suggests that this assumption
be incorrect. However, we do know that birds and other nonhuman verte-
brates have well-developed nervous systems and pain receptors the same
as humans. Like us, they show pleasure and pain and they present
comparable evidence of fear and well-being. Animals cry out in pain,
nurse wounded body parts, and they seek to avoid those who have hurt
them in the past.
In order to live, one has to eat. However, when we eat
animal products, we
consume many more plants indirectly than if we ate those plants
because the animals we eat are fed huge quantities of grasses, grains,
seeds to be converted into meat, milk, and eggs. As a vegan (one who
no animal products) you cause fewer beings to suffer and die for you.
2. What will we do with all the animals if we stop
Won't they overrun the earth?
Farm animals will not overrun the earth if we stop eating them because
will no longer intentionally breed them as we do now. Parent flocks and
herds are deliberately maintained by artificial insemination, genetic
tion, bizarre lighting schedules and other manipulations to force them
produce billions of offspring each year. This inflated population will
people stop eating animal products. In time, as David Gabbe states in
Do Vegetarians Eat Like That?, "Farm animals could be left to fend for
themselves; some would make out fine, others would struggle to keep from
becoming extinct. But, like all animals (except humans), they would
their numbers in accordance with the conditions around them."
In the meantime, we have to remember that we, not they,
for their predicament. We have an obligation to find ways to ease the
transitional period for these animals.
3. Farm animals have been bred for domestication.
Haven't they lost
their natural instincts? They can't survive on their own, can they?
If we stop providing for them, won't they die of starvation and failure
On the one hand we're afraid that farm animals will overrun the earth.
other hand we worry that they'll become extinct. Feral chickens, pigs,
other farm animals ("feral" refers to domesticated animals who have
self-sustaining again) successfully resume their natural activities
chance: they forage, graze, mate, raise their young, socialize and get
very well without humans. Farm animals are much more autonomous and
resilient than is commonly supposed. Otherwise, it is better for
afflicted with human-created defects not to be born. People who think it
all right to imprison animals in genetically-impaired bodies and who
testy about their becoming extinct, are indulging in cynicism and
tality. Call their bluff and move on to other issues.
4. Is confinement so terrible? After all, farmers
protect their animals
from bad weather and predators and provide them with food, water
and shelter. Isn't that better than being in the wild?
Slave traders and slaveholders argued that it was better to be a slave
"civilized, Christian" society than to be at liberty in a heathen
same rationalization is used to justify expropriating and subjugating
species. Producers tell the public that farm animals prefer "three meals
day" to a life in the wild. In fact, the "wild" is a human projection
of the earth and modes of being that are alien and inhospitable to our
species. The wild isn't "wild" to the animals who live there. It is
Animals in wall-to-wall confinement are forced to live in a situation
expresses human nature, not theirs. If they preferred to be packed
without contact with the world outside, then we would not need intensive
physical confinement facilities, since they would voluntarily cram
and save us money.
It is illogical to argue that humans protect farm
animals from "predators."
We are their predator. Moreover, by confining them we subject them to
many more nonhuman predators in the form of parasites and other disease
organisms than they would otherwise encounter. By locking them up, we
prevent them from using their natural flight/fight abilities, so that
predator (such as the farmer) comes along, they cannot escape. Millions
more animals die of heat stress and other climactic conditions in
confinement facilities than they would in nature. The inability of
farm animals to exercise their natural defenses and self-assertion
pathological stress leading to immune-system breakdown. Only by twisted
standards can apathy and atrophy be regarded as benefiting an animal.
5. If farm animals are treated as badly as you say, why
are they so
productive? Wouldn't they stop producing meat, milk and eggs if
they were treated inhumanely?
Farm animals can be profoundly mistreated and still "produce," in the
way that profoundly mistreated humans can be overweight, sexually active
and able to produce offspring. Like humans, farm animals can "adapt," up
to a point, to living in slums and concentration camp conditions. Is
argument for slums and concentration camps? Farm animals do not gain
weight, lay eggs, and produce milk because they are comfortable,
or well-cared for, but because they have been manipulated specifically
these things through genetics, medications, and management techniques.
For example, cage layer producers artificially stimulate and extend egg
production by keeping the lights burning for 16 or 17 hours a day to
the hen's pituitary gland to secrete increased quantities of the hormone
activates the ovary.
Animals in production agriculture are slaughtered at
extremely young ages,
before disease and death have decimated them as would otherwise happen
even with all the drugs. Even so, many more individual animals suffer
die in intensive farming, but because the volume of animals being used
big--in the billions--the losses are economically negligible, while the
of flesh, milk and eggs is abnormally increased.
6. What difference does it make how we treat farm
animals -- they're
going to die anyway, aren't they?
The fact that giving farm animals a decent life before killing them can
seriously questioned represents an important reason to stop raising them
for food. It is not that they are going to die anyway that seems to
mistreatment of them when they are alive--we are all going to die but we
not generalize the argument--but that we are deliberately going to kill
There is a felt inconsistency in valuing a creature so little and yet
that he or she be granted a semblance of tolerable existence prior to
execution. So wanton can our disrespect for our victims become that any
churlish sentiment or behavior seems fit to exercise. It is contemptible
assert that humans have no responsibility, or that it makes no sense, to
enrich the life of a being brought into the world merely to suffer and
for us. The situation confers greater, rather than lesser, or no,
on us towards those at our mercy.
7. Yes, but didn't God give humans dominion over all the
If so, what's wrong with raising them for food and killing them as long
as we treat them humanely while they're still alive?
Some people believe that the Creator gave humanity "dominion" over other
life. Others see the idea of "dominion" as an assertion of human ego in
conflict with true spirituality and common sense. One way or other, a
God does not authorize humanity to degrade, insult, and terrorize the
creatures of the earth, any more than people are authorized to bully,
terrorize, and belittle one another. The idea of a gracious human spirit
expressed in the Christian Bible, for example, where it says, "O,
Jerusalem . . . how often I have longed to gather your children together
a hen gathers her chicks under her wings" (Matthew 23:37). Like nature,
scripture can be invoked to justify almost anything one wishes to do.
of dwelling on verses that invite us to be pompous and violent, we
focus on passages and images that instruct us to be peaceful,
members of creation.
Most world religions envision a "golden age" when humans
on earth without bloodshed. In Genesis 1:29, God gives to humans "every
herb bearing seed . . . and every tree in which is the fruit of a tree
seed." God says that, for us, these seeds and fruits "shall be meat."
Biblical image of the Garden of Eden is paralleled by the Classical
of the Golden Age and by ancient Indian depictions of a peaceable
8. Aren't humans natural meat-eaters? Aren't we
omnivores, designed to
eat plants and animals?
Arguments about the true and ancient diet of humanity are largely
tive. Opposition to flesh-eating goes back to antiquity, as shown in
Williams' history, The Ethics of Diet (1883). Records show a traditional
association between certain human cultures throughout the world and a
diet comprising, though not necessarily based on, meat. A vigorous human
lifestyle can sustain some intake of the flesh of vigorous animals.
westernized populations are not active by stone age standards, and the
mass-produced animals whose body parts and secretions they consume
are forced to live sedentary lives, in filth and confinement, because
activity expends energy that "wastes feed."
There is clear evidence that an animal-based diet causes
diseases -- actual cases can be cited and actual clogged arteries and
starved internal organs can be viewed every day in the hospital or
Where is the comparable evidence showing that people living on a varied
plant-based diet suffer, as a result, from calcium, protein, and iron
deficiencies, heart attacks and strokes? Studies currently conducted by
Dean Ornish and Dr. T. Colin Campbell in the U.S. and China show the
opposite. European travelers in the 18th and 19th centuries marveled at
vigor and longevity of peasants in Turkey, Russia, South America and
elsewhere: they were amazed that people living on such "impoverished
as rice, beans, millet and potatoes could be so hardy and long-lived.
there is no evidence that the human body needs animal products, there is
abundant evidence that the human body thrives on a nutritious
9. There is no such thing as cruelty-free food! To raise
you have to kill animals --"pests" who would otherwise eat up your
crops, like rodents and insects. What's the difference between
directly killing animals for food and killing them to protect crops
Assuming that all known methods of harmless self-protection have been
exhausted, there is still a definite difference between defending
from predators (including insects) and deliberately bringing creatures
the world to suffer and be killed for one's appetites and habits. We
bacteria to defend our teeth from decay. Only thoughtlessness considers
this the same as, or a justification for, slaughterhouses and the
surrounding them -- castration, debeaking, starvation, force-feeding,
electrical shock, etc.
10. What's wrong with eggs and milk? Eating dairy
products and eggs
is not the same as eating animals, is it?
Vegetarians do not eat animals, but, according to the traditional use of
the term, they may choose to consume dairy products and eggs, in which
case they are called lacto-ovo (milk and egg) vegetarians. These
are essentially academic, as the production of eggs and dairy products
involves enormous killing as does the production of meat. Surplus
cockerels, unwanted calves, "spent" dairy cows and laying fowl have been
slaughtered, bludgeoned, trashed, drowned and ditched through the ages.
Disposing of the "surplus" males by the dairy industry is the basis of
veal calf industry. The egg industry trashes half the population of
born--more than 25O million male chicks--every year.
In fact, dairy products and eggs are every bit as much
animal parts as
"meat" (muscle tissue) is. No less than muscles, these parts derive from
and comprise within themselves the physiological, metabolic, and
activities of an animal's body, and a magnitude of bodily expense. A
egg is a generative cell, or ovum, with a store of food and immunity for
embryo that, in nature, would normally be growing inside the egg. Milk
provision of food and immunity that is produced by the body of a female
mammal for her nursing offspring. Milk, literally, is baby food.
For thousands of years, human beings have manipulated
the bodies of
hens and cows in order to extract these body, or baby, parts for
Now as in the past, the economically "spent" fowl and cow are shipped to
the slaughterhouse when their bodies no longer pay. They endure days of
pre-slaughter starvation and long trips to the slaughterhouse because of
their low carcass value. To be a lacto-ovo vegetarian is not to wash
hands of misery and murder.
11. What about jobs? What will happen to all the jobs if
consuming animal products? Are you trying to put people out of
The fear pounded into meat-industry workers about losing their jobs if
people convert to a vegetarian diet locks them into the only fate they
As long as people exist, food will have to be produced and someone will
have to produce it for them. Imagine if all those protein-rich soybeans
other produce now fed to farm animals were harvested directly for people
and turned into everything from burgers to ice cream. Imagine all the
The huge amount of money that is now being spent to patch up human
bodies ravaged by animal-based diets and to clean up an environment
increasingly polluted by farm animal wastes could be used to retrain
and redirect food technologies. As consumers, we can use our enormous
purchasing power to speed technological conversion to the production of
all-vegetarian foods. In retooling, producers will "create their own
competition," hiring just as many workers as before in order to feed the
hungry-as-ever human population.
12. What about human problems? Why concentrate on
animals when so
many suffering people need help?
Are Mothers Against Drunk Drivers (MADD) badgered with why they are
not working instead for battered women or abused children or some other
cause? Were Americans who fought against slavery attacked for ignoring
the plight of white people? Choosing a particular issue does not mean
one is indifferent to other concerns. Animal abuse, like child abuse and
spouse abuse, is a human problem. The world that we have made for farm
animals to live in hurts people as well as the animals and offers good
evidence that hardening of the sensibilities is an even worse disease
hardening of the arteries. As human beings, we have a responsibility to
victims of our society and our species, whoever and wherever those
may be. Every social justice movement in history has been scorned by the
mainstream, which is made up ironically of people whose own freedoms
and rights were won by revolutionaries at an earlier time.
13. Forget about ethics. You'll make a better case for
you stick to health and environmental issues. Do you honestly think
most people are ever going to care about farm animals?
Some people argue that we should emphasize health, food-safety, and
environmental issues rather than the animals and their plight, because
humans are basically selfish. While it is important to combine these
whenever possible, it is a mistake to assume that people cannot or will
care about their fellow creatures. Just as we owe it to our animal
rescue them from cruel and degrading circumstances, so we owe it to them
to be their voice. To insist that most people will never care about farm
animals is to create a self-fulfilling prophecy. A little more than a
ago, most people "didn't want to hear about" human slaves, either. Many
more people will openly care and move toward change when they feel it is
socially safe. Millions of people have impulses of compassion which have
been stifled by self-doubt and fear of ridicule. Eventually, some of the
and environmental problems that are caused by an animal-based diet may
be solved or reduced by technology, at least in the short run. Only the
of diet, the pain and suffering, the shared mortality and claims of our
creatures upon us are lasting.
Go on to Job
Return to 4 April 1999 Issue
Return to Newsletters
** Fair Use Notice**
This document may contain copyrighted material, use of which has not been
specifically authorized by the copyright owners. I believe that this
not-for-profit, educational use on the Web constitutes a fair use of the
copyrighted material (as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright
Law). If you wish to use this copyrighted material for purposes of your
own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright