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The Ethics of Eating Meat: A Fowl Dilemma

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This is a fascinating topic that I think will continue to gain prominence as a major issue confronting humanity in the twenty-first century.

It's also an emotionally loaded one. However, considering how well the Israel thread went, I feel confident that a productive discussion can be generated.

As far as I can see it, a discussion on the ethics of meat eating will largely focus on three issues: the treatment of the animals being processed for consumption, the environmental ramifications of meat consumption, and the consequent health effects meat consumption has on the society in which it's integrated.

I think a topic that would also be worth discussing is whether meat is a necessary dietary staple for a healthy human; if yes, to what extent; if no, then should meat be allowed as an occasional luxury item?

Also - how intelligent are these animals, and to what extent can we judge their suffering? Does the devaluation of the merit of other animal suffering by human stewardship have any justification?

To start things off, I'd like to throw out some data. Every year 50 billion chickens, 1.5 billion pigs, and half a billion sheep are slaughtered for consumption. The vast majority of these animals (in excess of 99%) are slaughtered through factory farming, the conditions of which - as everyone is doubtless aware - cause substantial suffering, are often unhealthy, and are a potential source of super viral or superbactetia breeding.

As far as environmental concerns go, around 15 percent of the total carbon equivalent greenhouse gases are generated through factory farming, mostly in the form of methane. Although methane has a shorter atmospheric half life than carbon dioxide, it is 28 times more potent in its warming effect per molecule. Additionally, the amount of fecal waste produced (in the billions of tons) are a major pollution concern that contaminates bodies of water extensively with high concentrations ammonia,  hydrogen sulfide, phosphorus and heavy metals, cyanide and, additional, numerous pathogens. Also, the land and water requirements that are needed to sustain factory farming are considerable (80% of cultivated land is dedicated to factory farming).

As far as human health effects go - it is strongly believed that COVID-19 emerged from a wet market, which is an unhygienic, high density environment of animals. The CDC had long been predicting that such an outbreak would occur and we would be unprepared for it. The extraordinarily unhealthy and unhygienic environment in which most livestock subsist, in addition to the vast quantities of antibiotics they are fed, promote a fertile breeding ground for treatment-resistant diseases.

Furthermore, there is an obesity epidemic that correlates with countries that develop a high meat consumption. For example, in the US over 73% of adults are considered overweight or obese. 13.4% of children 2-5 years, 20.3% of children 6-11 years, and 21.2% of young adults 12-19 years of age are considered obese. 147 billion dollars a year is spent treating health problems associated with overeating. (This is all from the CDC.)

Anyway, I'm curious what everyone thinks.

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Posted (edited)

Nestlé and similar giant corporations will crush the animal agriculture industry once vat grown meat becomes cheaper to produce than regular meat. Ethics will play no role in the end of animal agriculture imho. Unless we are talking about the ethics of greed.

Normal meat will still exist as a luxury item obviously but on a scale irrelevant to topics like global warming. 

Edited by Luzifer's right hand

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4 minutes ago, Isalie said:

Would be good, then we could all agree that making an industry of living creatures is a horrible practice.

This is not that kind of place. The world is not that kind of place.

New technologies are the only real way to reduce meat production... apart from the collapse of the biosphere which is even more likely I guess.  

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1 hour ago, Spockydog said:

I love animals. It's just a shame they're so delicious. 

 

I put off being a vegetarian for a while because I liked chicken and sausages so much. Then I found brands of the fake stuff that I liked and I can honestly say I don't miss the real stuff anymore. 

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All other concerns aside, the thing for me was honestly asking myself whether I could, say, kill a cow if I wanted a burger. And there's just no way I could do it. I have the luxury of living in a time and place where I don't have to and likely never will, so I don't have other people do it for me either. 

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Posted (edited)

Here's an article from The Guardian last year

 

For me, the main implication of this is the potential for rewilding. We use a huge amount of land to keep animals - according to Our World In Data, 40m KM^2. That's more land than all the forests in the world. 

Edit: the graph image hasn't shared here so here's the link

 

Some estimates suggest we need to rewild an area the size of China to achieve some level of sustainability, so freeing up 40M km^2 would certainly make that easier (China is just under 10M KM^2). So lab meat to me seems like a critical solution to climate change alongside the switch to green energy, assuming that we can scale effectively to a point that it can replace traditional agriculture. 

I would pay a premium right now to eat lab or plant based meat (within reason, I'm not made of money). Seems fairly reasonable to assume that we could make it cheaper in the medium term. It's frustrating that in 2021 we're moving as slowly as we are towards lab meat, but I guess given how foundational agriculture is to our global civilisation, a few decades is not that long a period of time.

Edited by Leap

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Posted (edited)
3 hours ago, Spockydog said:

I love animals. It's just a shame they're so delicious. 

 

I struggle with the same problem. I've tried hard to maintain a vegan diet, and yet occasionally I will succumb to eating meat. The problem for me is that I don't particularly like fruits and vegetables (not even professionally made, restaurant quality cooked vegetables). Legumes and tubers are fine, cereal grains are also edible, but even with plant-based meat substitutes, a meat-based diet is far more delicious to me.

This is a struggle that I find interesting, because it really does beg the idea of social responsibility and personal sacrifice. This is from the perspective of one who cares for and has empathy for non-human animals: the argument would have to be different for those who are psychologically in a position to not have empathy for other animals, and are capable of viewing them as simple chattel whose suffering is a trivial matter (obviously I'm not referring to you). For that perspective, I think the global warming and public health hazard points are more persuasive.

For me, the crux of the matter is the following anecdote. When I was a kid I had three dogs. I loved these dogs. I also grew up in a family that loved meat. Anyway, there came a day when one of our dogs became extremely lethargic, even had foam at the mouth. We were alarmed and took the dog to the vet. They were unable to treat the dog, and we had to euthanize him. The vet suggested poisoning was probable. Three months later, another dog showed the exact same symptoms. The dog later had to be euthanized. The vet concluded that both dogs had been poisoned with antifreeze. Now, our neighbor was kind of a crazy person. He shouted at his wife frequently, loved getting into fights. And it turned out that the day after the second dog had been poisoned, we were able to identity tracks in the snow from the neighbor's shed to our fence where the dogs frequently roamed. There was a likely conclusion, made stronger when the neighbor started asking how our dogs were while laughing. We couldn't prove that he poisoned them, though, and so he got away with it. We had to give the last dog to a relative for safety. This was a pretty awful time.

Now my family was naturally furious. A lot of people would say that the neighbor was terrible, causing all that suffering...for what? Because it pleased him?

But I'm sure you know where I'm going with this. My dogs had a mostly good life. The end was painful, but overall the neighbor didn't cause too much suffering to them.

On the other hand, consider that it's not necessary for most people to have meat for a healthy diet. There are of course exceptions- whether from physiological problems or maybe they are in a social structure that means a non-meat diet is beyond their income. But for most, people do not need meat, and certainly not to the extent in which it is consumed. My family didn't need meat.

Pigs are intelligent creatures, with complex psychological and social needs (arguably exceeding that of dogs). The typical life of a sow will often involve gestation cages. The cage is small enough that the sow cannot turn around. This is so the sow doesn't crush its young. The sow is usually placed in an environment of manure and vomit, so powerfully odorous that most pigs will have asthma, and a lot of them will die from respiratory difficulties. The sow has been bred to have an excessive amount of piglets, and treated with hormones, so she is pregnant or delivering on a constant basis. This will often cause a prolapsed vagina, and other physical hardships. The confinement doesn't allow for roaming, so if you can envision a deep instinctual need to move around being denied since you're in basically a coffin for weeks, that is basically their state. A lot of sows die from open infections due to the cage wiring.

The piglets themselves are genetically modified. Think of the unfortunate state of pugs - it's even worse with pigs. They are confined in very close proximity to each other and the asthma inducing manure. Their bones often can't safely sustain their artificially enhanced growth. Imagine being crammed in an elevator with people so miserable they go insane - and you're stuck like that. This is common practice. A lot the pigs will die of infection and disease, or drown in the manure.

Piglets that are too weak often are executed thumper style. Thumping is when a worker picks up a piglet and bashes its head against the concrete floor. Sometimes this will immediately kill the pig. Sometimes not. It's not uncommon to have terrified, screaming pigs with their eyeball hanging out of their head. Sometimes a still living pig is tossed into manure to drown after an unsuccessful thumping.

It's not a good state, and it certainly isn't better than what my dogs endured.

My family paid money to have this done for them. It wasn't essential to our survival; it was because eating meat gave us pleasure, and we were willing to let others suffer for our pleasure.

The hypocrisy of our attitude was highly troubling to me.

Edited by IFR

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Posted (edited)

I do not have ethical qualms about eating meat*.

 

In the words of Mufasa, "we are all connected in the great circle of life."

That being said, I do have ethical qualms about the cleanliness and suffering endemic in factory farming (or in certain barbaric religious slaughterings). But I'm also not willing to spend $$$$ to get meat that claims to be from better conditions when it's not like I even have any way of knowing if that's true or not. I'd rather see regulations on factory farming than depend on individual people somehow being able to make educated enough choices with their wallets.

I also am quite concerned about the impact of livestock on the climate. For that reason alone, I'd be quite happy to see lab-grown meat become the norm ASAP. But again, this is much larger than any individual's choice to consume meat. 

Eating animals and plants (which can feel sensations and maybe even pain too) is a normal and nature part of life, IMO. I have no problem with people who choose to abstain from that for whatever reason, but that's not a choice I'm going to make for myself. Neither am I someone who Must Eat Meat at all times. I happily enjoy vegetarian and even vegan meals from time to time. But I, as a creature, am an omnivore and will continue to be so.

*FWIW, I extend this to basically any type of meat. While I may not want to eat every type of meat personally, I find it no more "wrong" to eat cats and dogs, say, than cows and pigs. I have pet bunnies and have eaten rabbit before and would again. I wouldn't eat my own bunnies, but that's different (plus they'd not be very tasty lol).

Edited by Starkess

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Posted (edited)
49 minutes ago, Starkess said:

I do not have ethical qualms about eating meat*.

 

In the words of Mufasa, "we are all connected in the great circle of life."

That being said, I do have ethical qualms about the cleanliness and suffering endemic in factory farming (or in certain barbaric religious slaughterings). But I'm also not willing to spend $$$$ to get meat that claims to be from better conditions when it's not like I even have any way of knowing if that's true or not. I'd rather see regulations on factory farming than depend on individual people somehow being able to make educated enough choices with their wallets.

I also am quite concerned about the impact of livestock on the climate. For that reason alone, I'd be quite happy to see lab-grown meat become the norm ASAP. But again, this is much larger than any individual's choice to consume meat. 

Eating animals and plants (which can feel sensations and maybe even pain too) is a normal and nature part of life, IMO. I have no problem with people who choose to abstain from that for whatever reason, but that's not a choice I'm going to make for myself. Neither am I someone who Must Eat Meat at all times. I happily enjoy vegetarian and even vegan meals from time to time. But I, as a creature, am an omnivore and will continue to be so.

*FWIW, I extend this to basically any type of meat. While I may not want to eat every type of meat personally, I find it no more "wrong" to eat cats and dogs, say, than cows and pigs. I have pet bunnies and have eaten rabbit before and would again. I wouldn't eat my own bunnies, but that's different (plus they'd not be very tasty lol).

LOL.

Humans are not part of the circle of life we are an extinction event at least as bad as the Cretaceous–Paleogene (K–Pg) extinction event and most likely far worse as things will only get worse. 

Edited by Luzifer's right hand

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10 hours ago, IFR said:

I struggle with the same problem. I've tried hard to maintain a vegan diet, and yet occasionally I will succumb to eating meat. The problem for me is that I don't particularly like fruits and vegetables (not even professionally made, restaurant quality cooked vegetables). Legumes and tubers are fine, cereal grains are also edible, but even with plant-based meat substitutes, a meat-based diet is far more delicious to me.

I used to think veganism was a weird extreme, but I have a vegan friend who made me realise that as far as animal suffering goes, it’s almost weirdly irrelevant that you literally eat the animal. It’s the suffering that bothered him, and that suffering happens regardless. Perhaps even prolongs it, but that’s a philosophical rabbit hole I’ll leave alone for  now.

However, veganism is much, much harder to adhere to than vegetarianism. You’re essentially consigning yourself to researching every restaurant you go to and hoping it has ONE vegan option, my friend has on many occasions been invited to eat with friends, researched, and been forced to decline (or enforce a different restaurant on them). And he lives in London, I’m from a much smaller town and my options here would be sweet fuck all. Going round to peoples houses for dinner is probably not worth the conversation it would entail, and your available ingredients from the supermarket diminish to a fraction of even a vegetarians.

So basically animal suffering is very real and tragic, but being a vegan looks like it really fucking sucks. I look forward to a time when that isn’t the case.

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26 minutes ago, Luzifer's right hand said:

LOL.

Humans are not part of the circle of life we are an extinction event at least as bad as the Cretaceous–Paleogene (K–Pg) extinction event and most likely far worse as things will only get worse. 

Well extinction events are part the circle of life too, you know.

Also I think you're vastly over-privileging humans by saying that.

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14 minutes ago, Starkess said:

Well extinction events are part the circle of life too, you know.

Also I think you're vastly over-privileging humans by saying that.

Not a circle of life of the Disney variety though.

Well an extinction event that could do something different(but won't because of pleasure and greed) certainly appears privileged to me. 

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Posted (edited)

Some anti-meat group should just start breeding those ticks that make people allergic to meat and spread them around the globe.  Problem solved, what could go wrong?

Edited by larrytheimp

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You might forget that the vegetable things that we eat are by no means guaranteed to be unharmful. Find things that don’t have pesticides for real.  I liked The Good Place because they postulate that nobody gets into heaven after a certain time. I have tried being Vegan/vegetarian many times and I can’t stay healthy. Try being decent, and you have background noise with lots of it being complete ultra critical garbage. Puritans. I have my mocking abilities on low.

I hate to say this, but if you want organic gardening, look to Prince Charles. 

 

 

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And worms! Recipes? Cicada crunch cereal. Whipped worm icing, on bee cake. Crispy cricket pakoras? Cockroach kale smoothies, and Bhurfi. Mealy bug burgers.

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3 hours ago, Starkess said:

Eating animals and plants (which can feel sensations and maybe even pain too) is a normal and nature part of life, IMO. I have no problem with people who choose to abstain from that for whatever reason, but that's not a choice I'm going to make for myself. Neither am I someone who Must Eat Meat at all times. I happily enjoy vegetarian and even vegan meals from time to time. But I, as a creature, am an omnivore and will continue to be so.

We agree in some respect. I personally have no problem eating hunted meat, or partaking of eggs from people who I know raise their chickens to my arbitrary standards of good welfare. The wild is a terrible place, and "natural" deaths are often very brutal.

I'm not compelled by the argument of nature though. What is natural? Genetic engineering isn't natural. We do it anyway, and it has become an essential part of food production.

Usually when people mean natural, they mean how events would transpire without the intervention of scientific artifice. If we go by that definition, virtually nothing about modern human society is natural - including the suffering imposed by factory farming. It's also worth noting that there have been many points in human history where meat was extremely rare for consumption. Consuming animals is an extremely inefficient method of obtaining energy. There has been no point in the history of humanity where meat eating has been as prevalent as now.

I should think that instead of considering what is natural, humans ought to avail themselves of the intelligence which they take so much pride in and work to find a means of sustenance that does not impose suffering on others.

2 hours ago, DaveSumm said:

So basically animal suffering is very real and tragic, but being a vegan looks like it really fucking sucks. I look forward to a time when that isn’t the case.

Some people come to prefer veganism, and find it quite easy. For others it's more of a challenge. I'm one of those who finds it challenging, and I consider it a sacrifice for an easier conscience.

I think many people, at least on a distant, abstract level, are able to fathom the absolute horror of billions of animals are put through every year. Most people do not like it. But most people are fairly egocentric - if it is out of sight, it is out of mind. This enables a profound cognitive dissonance. We justify ourselves. "It's only natural." "They are inferior, we can do as we like because they are not human." "Some day civilization will evolve to treat them better, so it's ok if I participate in their suffering now." Etc.

It's even to the point where habits such as veganism are often derided. In what other circumstance is the effort to reduce the massive blatant torture of others considered absurdity?

@Leap

Cultured meat is a promising development that I hope takes off. However, there are several obstacles ahead.

An important barrier is that the agricultural industry is a powerful lobby. Recall how difficult it was to convince people to give up tobacco, even though there was clear evidence of it being harmful. Doubt was constantly contrived to sway the public. People were amenable to this because they were familiar with tobacco and liked it. They wanted to believe that it wasn't harmful.

I can see a similar thing occurring here. There will be frequent news reports about the health effects of cultured meat. People will not want to give up a familiar product for this new product. Doubt will be cast on whether animals truly are relieved of suffering, or whether it makes any real difference in regards to climate change, etc. Even weak, unsupported studies will have massive weight in the eyes of the public because want to stay with the familiar.

I can also see lobbyists imposing a lot of political and economic restrictions on cultured meat if it does end up threatening their market.

Cultured meat may take off, but I fear it's probable it will be many decades before this occurs.

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