Animal Rights, Review, Science / Tech, Tech, Top Stories

A World Without Animal Farming

A Review of The End of Animal Farming: How Scientists, Entrepreneurs, and Activists Are Building an Animal-Free Food Systemby Jacy Reese (Beacon Press, November 6 2018, 240 pages). 

In a world distressingly full of evil, we can discern moral progress by looking at the benighted past. Only two lifetimes ago educated people endorsed chattel slavery. The raises the sobering question: how might present arrangements appear to inhabitants of a more enlightened future civilization? Supposing that moral progress continues, there’s good reason to expect that our descendants will wince when they reflect upon our treatment of animals.

Every year, tens of billions of land animals, and more sea creatures, are killed in so-called “factory farms,” having lived lives of unrelieved mental and physical anguish, because humans enjoy eating their flesh. A chilling line in Thucydides’ Peloponnesian Wars comes to mind. The Greek historian reports a dialogue between a group of Athenian emissaries and the representatives of Melos, a city-state that wanted to remain neutral in the war between Athens and Sparta. The emissaries bluntly assert that “the strong will do what they can and the weak will yield what they must.” In other words, power justifies its own exercise. Sadly, that remark characterizes our relationship with animals: we take what they can, they yield what they must.

It doesn’t need to be this way. In his new book, The End of Animal Farming, Jacy Reese, the co-founder of the Sentience Institute, shows how an expanding moral circle and innovative technology can—and likely will—create a better future. He also offers constructive criticism to those who want to hasten this progress. Unfortunately, unless it unfolds much more rapidly than he anticipates, trillions of animals will live lives of torture before animal farming is finally abolished. Reese is aware of this grim reality, but his focus is on finding solutions.

He begins by describing the emerging, if belated, scientific consensus on animal sentience. Philosopher, scientist and mathematician Rene Descartes notoriously held that animals are mere automata, machines. This view has exerted an inordinate amount of influence over scientists’ opinions, though it’s contrary to common sense and evidence alike. Reese quotes primatologist Frans de Waal, who said that “animal cognition” is “a term considered an oxymoron until well into the 1980s.” Even in the 1990s, some scientists were advised to avoid research in that area until after tenure.

Finally, in the early twenty-first century, scientists abandoned the old paradigm under the weight of new evidence. Neurologists recognized that animals possess the neurological substrates that are apparently responsible for consciousness in humans. Further evidence shows that many animals possess sophisticated emotional lives. Cows grieve for their calves when they are separated from them. Elephants pause at places where their relatives have died, sometimes laying down branches as if to memorialize the location. Reese, who generally writes with restraint, cannot resist mocking the remaining sentience-deniers:

Members of the scientific community who took this Cartesian view in the past are either changing their minds or moving to the sidelines. (I imaging this is causing them to feel somewhat embarrassed. Then again, even if their behavior seems consistent with feelings of embarrassment, we can’t really know, can we?)

It’s one thing to recognize that animals are sentient, another to accept the moral implications of this, and still another to act upon them. You don’t have to be David Hume to think that people are seldom moved by abstract moral reasoning alone. Fortunately, several independent trends are converging to make these discoveries resonate emotionally. Urbanization has meant that more people are living with pets, companions that they are likely to see as possessing moral worth. Graphic footage of the insides of factory farms, one of the most powerful weapons in the animal welfare activist arsenal, also packs a visceral punch.

Reese briefly mentions Upton Sinclair’s novel, The Jungle, which exposed the horrendous working conditions in meat-packing plants in the early 1900s, galvanizing reform efforts. To dwell on this a bit more: Sinclair complained that he aimed for the public’s heart, but hit it in its stomach. That is, his work elicited more disgust than it did the sympathy for workers he intended. Something similar is probably true of factory farming footage, but it might not matter much. Consumption decreases when people abandon animal products for aesthetic reasons, and aesthetic converts might become moral converts later.

The campaign against animal products is simultaneously a campaign for humane—and tasty— alternatives. These are improving rapidly thanks to innovative companies like Just, Inc. (previously Hampton Creek), Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat. Reese’s profiles of these companies and the entrepreneurs who created them should interest technophiles. One curious tidbit is this: The Impossible Burger, Impossible Foods’ signature product, derives its meaty quality from a compound called “heme” that is apparently responsible for 90 percent of beef’s taste. Heme is highly concentrated in blood, but plants contain small amounts of it which yeast can multiply for commercial purposes.

Entrenched food giants are taking notice of these new products and reacting in different ways. Tyson Foods has invested in Beyond Meat. That suggests which way the winds are blowing (though we might suspect a ruse to control, and ultimately kill, a rival product). One defensive strategy is to deny newcomers access to familiar labels. In 2015, Unilever Food Solutions unsuccessfully attempted to sue Hampton Creek on the grounds that its eggless “Just Mayo” should be called something else. Similar challenges have been raised against using to the word “milk” to describe plant-based products. (If the dairy industry had their druthers, almond milk would probably have to be called “maggot puss”).

A more ambitious alternative to animal products, touted veganism’s moonshot, is so-called “cultured meat” or “clean meat”—basically, meat grown from living animal cells. Although Reese’s discussion is characteristically balanced, I came away more skeptical of the enterprise than I had been. The development seems incredibly costly. It’s unclear how long it will take the public to get used to the idea of lab-grown meat after a product is available. Moreover, these extravagant efforts seem to concede that plant-based products aren’t “real meat” or are second-rate for some other reason. I’m inclined to think that improving, and better marketing, the plant-based products that we already have is a better investment. On the other hand, there’s something to be said for a “try everything” approach.

One of Reese’s most contentious claims is that all animal farming must be abolished. He has three arguments for this. First, animal exploitation is intrinsically wrong. Second, small specialty farms are far less humane and worse environmentally than the public has been led to believe. Third, even the existence of a few genuinely ethical farms will lend an air of justification to animal farming as a whole. Unreflective consumers will take “psychological refuge” in the thought that they only eat ethical animal products—even if they aren’t very diligent about making sure these products come from ethical sources. I’ll focus on the first argument because it’s the most philosophically interesting.

Reese rests his case on a thought experiment. Surely it would be wrong for technologically sophisticated Neanderthals to “humanely” farm, and painlessly slaughter, human beings for food if they didn’t absolutely need to do so. One issue here is that some people claim that different standards apply to human beings, or any species whose ordinary adult members are above the threshold of intelligence requisite for “personhood.” Plenty of philosophers have argued against this “speciesist” view, but some philosophers, and probably most ordinary people, accept it. An argument that doesn’t require the rejection of speciesism it might have been better rhetorically.

Second, Reese seems to accept some version of consequentialism, the view that the moral status of actions depends upon the goodness of their actual or expected consequences. This is especially clear in the final chapter when he estimates that the cumulative moral worth of earth’s insects might be “five to fifty times greater than the total moral worth of all farmed animals.” Presumably, it would also be greater than the total moral worth of all living humans too, though he doesn’t say this. These conclusions sit awkwardly with his insistence that animal farming is intrinsically wrong.

Imagine that chickens were genetically engineered to feel no pain or, better yet, to enjoy their captivity. When it’s slaughter time, they willingly walk to the farmer’s tree stump like serene martyrs, necks outstretched, waiting for the ecstatic moment when the axe releases them from the mortal coil. If consequentialism is true, then we might ask why adding a huge numbers of such blissful creatures wouldn’t outweigh the badness of exploitation, making the world better overall. In fairness, this objection is purely theoretical; Reese’s case for abolishing animal farming is strong notwithstanding.

What I find especially impressive is Reese’s measured criticism of the vegan startups he champions. He neither glorifies them in unqualified terms, nor gives the impression that nothing could ever be good enough. Occasionally his critiques seem petty, as when he scolds Ripple Foods for put-downs of competitors’ animal-free products. Reese thinks vegan companies should cooperate, training their firepower on the Great Satan that is big agribusiness. I sympathize, but also think it’s unrealistic to expect them not to compete over the small consumer base of committed vegans. Some amount of commercial friction seems inevitable.

At the same time, the inclusion of these exacting complaints serves to bolster the impression that Reese’s hopeful conclusions are based on impartial, scrupulous analysis, not wishful thinking. The End of Animal Farming has helped convince me that ethically-guided entrepreneurship and reflective activism have put a better, more compassionate future within reach.

Spencer Case has a PhD in philosophy from the University of Colorado Boulder. He writes for QuilletteNational Review and other outlets. You can follow him on Twitter @SpencerJayCase


  1. Morgan says

    “The raises the sobering question: how might present arrangements appear to inhabitants of a more enlightened future civilization? Supposing that moral progress continues, there’s good reason to expect that our descendants will wince when they reflect upon our treatment of animals.”

    How might abortion appear to inhabitants of a more enlightened future civilization?

    • Greg Maxwell says

      Really. The logical disconnect is enough to remind me that half the population has an IQ below 100.

      • Bernard Hill says

        …looks like you’ve got a big blind spot there Greg. Before we reform our practices of farming animals, we really should review our practices of farming people.

      • Mad social science student says

        Well, by definition half of the population have less than 100 IQ.

      • Greg: So? Does that mean you are justified in murdering them? I am sure you don’t mean that. Why do we tolerate killing totally innocent babies simply because they are inconvenient?

        Have you ever seen a photo of a 10 week old baby? Hands, feet, ears, eyelids, beating heart. Does not look like a lump of cells to me.

        There is no logical disconnect. Morally aware people often have discomfort eating meat, and prefer to eat vegetarian. Morally aware people recoil at murdering innocent children, either in the womb or after. Morally aware people don’t judge others for their IQ, as if that were some factor that makes one superior.
        Lynn Johnson

      • johno says

        So it’s okay to eat animals as long as they haven’t been born yet?

        • I know of only one dish where you need unborn animals as ingredients, a Portugese pork dish from the unborn piglets. Though, I”ve never tasted it, and think even I wouldn’t enjoy, too decadent!

          • Chris Williams says

            There is an egg dish that includes an unborn fully formed chick

      • Reality Checker says

        The first question I’d ask “intellectuals” like this author of this book is: “Have you ever read any evolutionary biology?” Next question: “What the hell do YOU eat?” I think certain of our urban sophisticate brethren (the same ones who deny the male/female binary but think we humans control the weather) missed the once-universal parental talk on the Facts of Life at around age 5! That used to include, “Yes, your steak came from a cow. Now eat up!”

        First of all, “factory farming” developed in an age of exponentially expanding human population, when “factory” EVERYTHING, schools for instance, became the dominant social model. Think housing developments like Levittown. Little boxes for everyone, the chickens too! Truth was, an awful lot of food had to be produced safely and affordably in a very short period of time. The public today still demands cheap, ubiquitous availability. While we are moving rapidly toward allowing farm animals more room to exhibit natural behaviors, etc. certain economic realities drive farming practices as all else. This is called “reality.”

        Second, I doubt this author has ever actually spoken to a farmer in his life. The emotional phraseology employed sounds like it came from PETA, via Facebook. If he’d spent some time LISTENING to farmers, he’d find that every single management practice employed in modern farming is designed to increase the well-being, and thereby the productive output, of the animals being raised. For the same reasons that human health responds poorly to stress, every farmer is highly motivated to keep his animals calm, eating, drinking, and comfortable. Animals suffering temperature, crowding, dietary, or conflict stress simply do not produce nearly as much meat, milk, or eggs in the desired time frame. Like, DUH.

        One hears infrequent media stories, usually played for maximum emotional drama and outrage, of mistreatment of farm animals, but the simple truth verifiable anywhere is that on a normal, workaday basis, NO farmer is beating, starving, torturing, or mistreating his stock because that would be UNPROFITABLE. Farmers generally work with animals because they enjoy it and would quickly default to an easier career were that not the case. So please read or view with your BS meter fully engaged any article or TV piece claiming wholesale, intentional abuse. Farms would be out of business very quickly were that the case.

        Best practices on farms are employed precisely because THEY WORK BEST. Trimming chickens’ beaks, for instance, prevents rampant cannibalization of each other in flocks. Confinement eliminates predation and provides better access to feed and water and protects stock from harsh weather. Farrowing crates prevent mother sows from lying on and crushing their young. Castration of bulls prevents fighting, etc.–I could provide examples all night. One should ASK, not assume the worst possible motivations.

        One of the greatest fallacies of this book is expressed in the reviewer’s first paragraph, the absurdly anthropomorphic claim that all food animals live lives of “anguish.” The author here again shows his ignorance of actual farming, because animals are actually pretty easy to please! Their wants run to food, water, companionship of their own kind, and protection from mortal threats, including weather. Give them that, they’re pretty contented actually. They don’t stress about actualizing their potential, reading Kafka or virtue signalling. Eat, drink, sleep, poop while hanging with your herd is about it. (Heck, most HUMANS would be satisfied with having all their basic needs met if you added a wet bar and WiFi!)

        By the same token, the methods of slaughter are designed to minimize stress and pain to the animal when performed correctly. I would direct the interested to search “Temple Grandin” and read about her extremely valuable work in this area. An adrenalized animal is not only unsafe for handlers but produces enzymes in the meat that make it what’s called a “dark cutter” that tastes lousy. Once again, NO ONE sets out to torture, maim, or cause “anguish.” Though I will certainly acknowledge that screwups happen when production line speeds are pushed beyond what is humanly possible–equally dangerous for the mostly low-paid immigrant workers.

        Several undisputed facts known to every evolutionary biologist:

        (1) During the long glaciation periods that lasted up to hundreds of thousands of years, pre-agricultural humans evolved as CARNIVORES. This is the reason for our relatively large brains, small guts and manual dexterity. We LACK a cecum, necessary to digest cellulose and ubiquitous among herbivores. Our gut to brain ratio is comparable to that of straight carnivores such as our dogs and cats. Wishing this away won’t change anything.

        (2) No pre-industrial tribe has ever been found that chose a vegetarian or vegan diet when meat, dairy, eggs, fish, or shellfish were available. Case closed. Plant-based diets lack a number of essential animal-derived amino acids etc. without which one will be developmentally disabled, riddled with deficiency diseases, and ultimately infertile. This is not controversial among biologists as opposed to purveyors of pop fad diet books.

        (3) Plants were never eaten in any quantity prior to the use of fire. Before cooking most were either outright poisonous or so unpalatable as to be inedible before their cellulose was broken down by heat. Meat was generally still eaten raw. Due to finds of coprolites (fossil human turds) none of the above is lacking scientific proof.

        Now; nearly all the modern “Diseases of Civilization” have arrived in the presence of just three “modern” foods: Refined wheat flour, refined sugar, and edible soy. I’ll refer you to the research of Weston A. Price and Gary Taubes for the long-version litany of what these things (in quantities currently consumed) are doing to our bodies, brains, and offspring. I lack the 6 or so hours it would take to concisely list them here. So if the techno-lights of our age come up with bio-identical “meat” they can make in Star Trek’s molecular replicator, I’m all for it because I’m an animal-lover too. In the meantime I’m not holding my breath.

        I consider the above book a work of overheated virtue-signalling. But it’ll sell to a certain crowd, which is of course its entire point.

        Now I’m going out to feed the critters . . .

        • Steven Hales says

          One could imagine a bit of sexual politics also afoot since AC above referred to the changes in social organization that mechanization wrought. Factory food production also relieved the housewife of the drudgery of from scratch everything. Coupled with washing machines, refrigerators, vacuum cleaners. So free was the housewife by the 1950’s that her boredom led to either affairs or emotional crises.Thank goodness that she decided that higher education and working would relieve her of the stress of being a housewife with loads of free time and nothing at all to do.

          • GACooper says

            Spoken by a man who knows eff all about “housewives” of the 50s and 60s, except what he sees on Mad Men.

        • I think you have some good points, but I’d be wary of a few ideas. As someone with over 10 years (and still going) experience in organic and conventional farming i’d Be carefully of buying into the saliency “best practice” measures. Often they simplify the perception what is best for a giving animal, sometimes in a rushed hope that it they lead to more efficient production. For example, that fact that the beaks of chickens have to be clipped to prevent cannibalization, is the result of overcrowding and no access to to the outdoors, where outside of feeding time chickens can acces bugs and grass. The trend of chickens of canna mixing each other has to do with an evolutionary corrective procedure, much like disease is in overpopulation.
          If you want to develope true best practices in farming, the procedures will look to fully express the animals instinctual behaviors, not regulate them. A great example of a successful farmer who does this is Joel Saladin at Polyface Farms.

          • Reality Checker says

            You’ll get no argument from me on the points you raised; which is why I buy free-range chicken (and raise my own for eggs), pastured pork and exclusively grass-fed beef. However, for these delightful artisanal products I’m paying roughly 4x supermarket price. The marketplace demands protein affordable for the masses who shop in Costco and Wal-Mart, just as it demands the denatured and chemically preserved products that increase shelf life. The marketplace will ALWAYS give the public what it’s willing to pay for. This is where the real work lies.

        • Paul137 says

          The first question I’d ask “realists” like Reality Checker is if he — it’s gotta be a guy — could give us an equivalent riff on concentrated animal feeding operations [CAFOs].

          But maybe that riff could wait until after WATCHING the movie “Dominion” …

          … probably the most painful two-hour experience of my life **even though I already knew plenty about the subject**.

          (Matthew Scully’s 2002 book on this subject coincidentally had the same main title.)

          From the movie, among myriad other aspects of the animals-for-human-uses business, you’ll see the actual character of farrowing crates for sows, which you’ll then be able to compare with Reality Checker’s “Farrowing crates prevent mother sows from lying on and crushing their young.” And grasp the unspeakable lives “lived” by those sows.

          The movie isn’t just about animals raised for food. One quick shot I remember was of minks being skinned alive. Indeed, there’s ample horror documented in this top-grade, professionally-produced film to impress virtually anyone.

          And yes, I’ve been a vegetarian for these reasons since 1992 (fairly close to vegan). Consistently, I avoid leather goods.

          At the same time, I’m a hard-right political conservative.

          • Brian Rookard says

            The problem at this point is not CAFOs … but the sheer scale of human population and the need to feed a lot of people each and every day which mandates mass production of food. Having my own chickens for eggs, and growing my own garden, gives a realistic appraisal of where our food comes from, the need to grow a lot of it, and the production methods that are necessary to grow such a large amount. City dwelling folk demand that fresh, attractive food fill the grocery shelves (heaven forbid less than perfectly red, round apples). The demand for meat, eggs, and other food necessitates less than attractive methods for securing that food.
            It’s not pretty – but it’s necessary.

    • IKR. How “educated” do you need to be believe these kind of things. I have a little thought experiment. There is a butchery and abortion clinic next to each other, which one is more worthy of elimination. Or Imagine convincing jesus that being an abortionist is a more honourable occupation then being a sheep herder.

      Never mind future civilizations, even previous civilization would be flabbergasted by the modern view of abortions.

      • Irrational Actor says

        Koos, Greg is spot on. A convincing argument in favour of factory farming is not “but abortion!”. For a start, they can both be bad, and regardless – they are two entirely separate subjects. You simply come across as someone reading straight out of the ‘Views all conservatives should hold’ manual.

        And Jesus? Really? Picking your favourite deity and then imagining their thoughts on a given matter to defend your own position on it is less than intellectually sound…

        • My critique is that I refuse to engage on the issue of sufficient candles to light the dinner table with people who refuse to discuss the issue of whether the house is on fire. While claiming to be on the path of the ultimate description of progressive “enlightenment”. pun intended

          The author of the original article claims the moral high ground from himself on the basis of being enlightened and progressive. He opened himself up to the critism of what about abortion with that paragraph. He doesnt constrain himself to the rightness of the issue but attaches it to the long march of “progress and enlightenment”.

          Seeing as you personalised the argument . You are apparently ignorant of the most basic idea of theology and religion. There are christians and non christians who do not ascribe to the divinity of Christ, but hold him to be a historic figure, so my example could be made “imagine explaining to Moses/Socrates… that butchery of animals and eating eggs is wrong and how butchering a human fetus is not.

          Once again YOU started personalising the argument . You seem to be reading out of the proscriptions of “Gutmensch: beliefs that sniggering progressive elitist with a phd in somebullshit should hold and how to ignore those Untermensch, backwater backwards blue collar rednecks” .

          • Just Me says

            Koos –

            Judaism does not consider abortion killing a human being:

            “According to Jewish law, a fetus is not considered a full human being and has no juridical personality of its own. While recognizing the potentiality of becoming human, Rashi, the great 12th century commentator on the Bible and Talmud, states clearly of the fetus “lav nefesh hu – it is not a person.” The Talmud contains the expression “ubar yerech imo – the fetus is as the thigh of its mother,” i.e., the fetus is deemed to be part and parcel of the pregnant women’s body.”

            And the health and emotions of the existing human being is given priority over that of a potential human.

            I don’ know Socrates’s thought on the matter, but abortion was accepted in both ancient Greece and Rome.

      • animal consumption is essential to human evolution. without it, we’d still be shit-tossing monkeys living in trees.

        it is established science that animal based protein and fat is essential to healthy development in and out of the uterus.

        it is established science that vegan mothers have a drastically increased chance of giving birth to a mentally retarded child.

        it is established science that a predator/prey relationship is essential to equilibrium and a healthy ecosystem.

        • Paul137 says

          Ty wrote, “it is established science that a predator/prey relationship is essential to equilibrium and a healthy ecosystem.”

          He should take a look at the coverage of concentrated animal feeding operations [CAFOs] in the recent movie “Dominion” …

          … and then get back to us about healthy ecosystems and all that.

          • Ty is not talking about animal feeding operations. He’s talking about the real world, real nature, real humans that live real lives.

    • War, gangs, terrorism, school shootings, corrupt politicians/police/prisons, religious coercion, border skermishes… How moral are we supposed to be today?

    • Even if one thinks it is moral to eat animals and their eggs and milk, the health benefits of a no oil lowfat whole food vegan diet are indisputable. There is no other diet that has been shown(with actual studies) to reverse heart disease, the number one cause of death. Dr. Dean Ornish proved it several decades ago. If you want to read about saving a life through vegan no oil eating, read about this dying Chick-fil-A owner who was lucky enough to have a doctor who knew about plant-based eating:
      Also if you want info on how to prevent and treat disease with plant foods, Dr. Gregor and his team at the Humane Society have lots of free info here:
      Or read Drs. McDougall, Klapper, or Barnard. All real MDs, who all have helped thousands of patients recover from diabetes, heart problems and cancer.
      Meat and dairy is not good for the human body, it seems. Like gorillas, we do best on a vegan diet. Gorillas are fed dairy in zoos and develop artery clogging, whereas in the wild they never do. Most captive gorillas die of heart disease.
      Don’t get fooled by the meat and dairy industry, if only the vegetable farmers had such a lobby.

      • So you think it’s immoral to eat food that you do not agree with? Tell that to the Eskimos, the African tribes that drink the milk & blood of their livestock that they humanely farm. Did you forget that many vegans suffer from thyroid problems and other nutritional imbalances. It’s how you prepare meat and how it’s raised, or the source that matters more. You act like people who eat meat sit around a carcass gorging themselves. Also as far as heart disease etc. there are many other factors to consider that contribute to poor health.

  2. Russell Madden says

    “…live lives of torture…” “… animal exploitation is intrinsically wrong…” “… Plenty of philosophers have argued against this ‘speciesist’ view…”

    Wow. What a bunch of irrational, evasive nonsense. Have these people ever actually visited an actual farm? I wonder.

    1. Morality applies _only_ to creatures that possess a conceptual level consciousness, i.e., only to beings that possess volition/free will.

    2. Non-human animals are non-moral beings. They do not possess free will/volition or a conceptual level consciousness. (Otherwise we would have to arrest/try/imprison a cat when it eats a mouse; a lion when it kills a zebra; a fish when it eats another fish. Ask Ben Franklin regarding the last example…)

    3. Only beings needing a moral code to guide their behavior have or have need of “rights.” Only humans fulfill that requirement. Non-human creatures have _no_ rights nor any use for them.

    4. Rational humans have every _right_ to use animals for human needs, though — since enjoying another creature’s pain is irrational — we should do so humanely.

    5. What a bunch of irrational, evasive nonsense.

    For a fuller discussion of this topic, see “The Myth of Animal Rights,” available on Amazon.

    • Yavor says

      Thank you for this concise and intelligent contribution! If I could build a little on it, I would go as far as to say that animal welfare should not be of concern to us, since an animal’s life has lower significance than a human’s. Should we go vegan, just to stop slaughtering cows? In order to achieve what, that a cow lives to 20 instead of 5 or 10 and writes a sonnet or something?

      I agree we should decrease animal suffering as much as possible. But we should take notion of the fact that humans need meat for a healthy and satisfied life and that animals, after all, are animals – they kill other animals as part of the food chain and can’t contribute to the universe as anything more than food or pets.

      And let me stress how important meat is for human health and how the environmental impact of animal farming is exaggerated. Not to mention that plant farming can’t exist without animal farming.

      • The effect of ending aninal farming is that almost no farm animal breeds would live at all as they would purely be anachronistic curiosities. All but the commonest breeds would probably become extinct.

        I do not think the question of sentience and morality is quite as clear cut as in the response by Ruseell Maddenn in fact it is clear that cognitive capacity and awareness is a continuum and varies between and within species. Animals clearly can and do experience pain and fear. They are not moral agents and therefore it makes no sense that they are responsible for crimes or that they have rights. It does make sense however that animals suffereing is minimised and balanced against benefits that may be derived from it. The use of experiments on live animals to explore new surgical techniques is probably justified for eample but live dissection of animals for purely educational purposes in schools is probably not for example.

        Even if rights were given to some animals, perhaps great apes, that would not be the end of a discussion as rights must be balanced against others rights and responsibilities rather than beng absolute.

        • -All but the commonest breeds would probably become extinct-, but, AD, this process is already going on since factory farming took over healthy forms of animal husbandry. The 10 billion or so chickens and broilers of the world are of only 2 or 3 types (or the hybrids of them), same for the pigs, and almost same for cows (Holsteins alone almost half of all dairy breeds, and the most unhappy, miserable type it is, kept in airco facilities in Saudi Arabia and Israel, no more grazing but feeding on irrigated alfalfa and with hoof problems due to overmilking and overfeeding, it’s too ridiculous for words, and fowl and pigs suffer even more, just have a look at the saddening pictures above, and at that of former Q. essays on the subject).

      • If we don’t eat and milk them, there would be only a few cows, mostly the sickly looking ones like those found in India roaming the streets “living the good life.”

      • dellingdog says

        Animal products are not necessary for human health — except for people with very specific medical conditions. Vegetarians and vegans live longer, on average, than omnivores. (You can’t necessarily infer causation from that correlation, but it avoiding meat was unhealthy it’s highly unlikely that the correlation would exist.)

        I agree that an animal’s life has less significance than a humans, but it doesn’t follow that animal welfare should not concern us. That’s a non sequitur. The argument in favor of reducing or eliminating the consumption of meat is very simple: (1) If possible, we should avoid causing unnecessary suffering. (2) Animals are capable of suffering. (3) Factory farms inflict significant amounts of suffering on animals. (4) Most humans don’t need to eat meat to be healthy and have satisfying diets. Therefore, we should avoid consuming animal products produced on factory farms.

        • Justin Thorne says

          dellingdog, I would have been inclined to agree with you several years ago, when those studies surfaced linking longevity and plant-based diets. However these studies were too simple for the complexity of diet. The categories “Vegetarian (or Vegan)” and “not Vegetarian (or Vegan)” that these studies looked at, do not take into account the people in the omnivore category that eat healthily. Because the “traditional American diet” is omnivorous (and incredibly unhealthy), and the vast majority of people do not care about their health or diet in that group, the life expectancy results convey wrong information. If you compare a small group that tries to eat healthy, against a very large group that the vast majority do not try to eat healthy, you will get skewed results.

          When omnivore group is controlled for calories and health content (“whole foods” – no processed foods/junk food), the life expectancy of the vegetarian group and healthy omnivore group are the same! This makes sense because you are comparing 2 groups that tend to be conscious of what they’re eating. .

          When a study like this is properly set up, it shows the common belief many vegetarians/vegans have that “eating meat is unhealthy” is most likely wrong. This makes sense considering for the majority of human evolution, selection favoured people that thrived off meat. So obviously it can’t be bad for us, as long as you’re not eating McDonalds and poptarts.

        • Reality Checker says

          I’ve yet to see anything remotely resembling a randomized controlled trial capable of proving anything even close to this claim of “living longer.” The truth that IS documented is that vegans are approximately 1% of the U.S. population, and the majority quit the diet after an average of 6 months because it is so unsatisfying and difficult. It also requires medical monitoring and supplementation with artificial products to supply essential nutrients which can’t be synthesized in the body or derived from plants.

          Raise a brood of kids from zygote to age 100 on plants alone with rigorous documentation (a sample of about 300,000 would be a start) and I’ll concede your point.

          Such evidence-based science as exists seems to indict refined starches and sugars, not animal fats, as the primary culprits in diseases of civilization.

      • Yavor, every single line you wrote is wrong (plant farming,health and meat, universe contribution etc) but I understand: You are deeply endoctrinated by the ideology of carnism, ans it’s not really your fault, but try to educate yourself on the matters that you write about. Thanks.

        • Yavor says

          @FGP Thanks, I have read about and practiced what I talk about. Go hug a tree and do some yoga to cleanse your guilt for merely existing.

      • Peter says

        Humans do not need meat to be healthy and plant farming can be done without input from animal farming. All around the world, dietetic associations agree on the former and there’s even an IFOAM standard for biocyclic vegan farming these days. Why are you spreading misinformation?

    • Simon Johnson says

      “Morality applies _only_ to creatures that possess a conceptual level consciousness, i.e., only to beings that possess volition/free will.”

      First of all: According to whom?
      Secondly: You’re making a very bold assumption about our supposed free will. On what basis do you believe humans have more free will than other mammals?
      Thirdly: It’s arguable whether a foetus or even a newborn possesses a conceptual level of consciousness. Are you suggesting that it’s perfectly moral to allow them to suffer?
      Lastly: Animals clearly experience pain and suffering. Do you dispute this? Many of us feel that this level of pain and suffering is not necessary. You obviously disagree, but you clearly think that we’re all idiots for being concerned with animal suffering. On whose authority have you declared this?

      • Asenath Waite says

        Thanks, Simon. I agree with your points here. Russell Madden’s comment makes it seem like his list represents some sort of universal moral law. The notion that humans are in some fundamental way different from and superior to all other animals is not supported by biological science, particularly when it comes to highly intelligent animals such as the other great apes. His list of reasons why nonhuman animals don’t deserve any moral consideration basically boils down to “because they aren’t as smart as we are.”

        • Not superior, but rather equal. So, a bear or lion or alligator has all the right to catch and devour a human being. It would be nonsense to deny them that right (though, it might be sensible to kill it, to avoid further harm). Native Amazonians, before shooting or killing a prey, ask permission to the Ghost of the animal kingdom to do so. It’snot a matter of superiority, thus, death is part of life cicles. A Spanish saying says:- behind, above every dish or meal, the mask of death is grinning-

        • Stoic Realist says

          Then on the basis of this humans, like other omnivores in nature, should eat meat when they need it or choose to. Even if you argue that humans and animals are the same it doesn’t support the termination of animal consumption.

          I eat meat because I choose to remain a part of the natural food cycle. Should I at some point wind up on the wrong end of that cycle I will accept it. But I do not and will not accept the relativistic moral scale being determined by the anti-meat group. It has an entirely backwards construction as it always proceeds from a predetermined premise which it then attempts to build a posteori support for.

          That some group is attempting to find some new way to feel better about itself/some reason to feel morally superior is historically trivial.

        • Bob Daye says

          “The notion that humans are in some fundamental way different from and superior to all other animals is not supported by biological science, ”

          When an animal other than human, posts on this thread that agrees with you, you may have a point.

      • Humans have free will because they can choose to eat meat or vegetables, whereas a cat never will choose to eat plants over animals.

        • Asenath Waite says

          @david of Kirkland

          There are many other omnivorous animals besides humans.

        • Stoic Realist says

          Given that cats are obligate carnivores you are better off using a different example.

    • Specieism exists when they suggest that plants and bugs, which dominate the natural world, are just meant to be food.
      Besides, it’s unclear that the moral circle will just continue to grow because like most such good notions, the laws of diminishing returns comes into play where the unintended harm will outweigh the hoped-for benefits.

    • Thanks for this Russell, had similar thoughts reading this as well. I’ll draw on a couple of quotes I thought were reaching a bit.

      “Small specialty farms are far less humane and worse environmentally than the public has been led to believe”.

      Don’t believe that for one second; would love to see actual data and/or another source besides solely ‘Reese’. Depending on what the author means by ‘specialty’, and unless we’re talking about agricultural runoff, living conditions for animals are far better than in an industrial setting. In addition, the raising of animals responsibly can be used to actually revitalize depleted landscapes through rotational grazing and focusing on creating biomass in soils.

      Second point: “even the existence of a few genuinely ethical farms will lend an air of justification to animal farming as a whole”.

      I agree, and I see nothing wrong with that. The author seems to be concluding that there is no longer a debate as to whether or not eating meat is ‘humane’, even though we’ve been eating meat for thousands of years, if not more.

      There’s a reason our brains are as big and powerful as they are, and meat consumption had a lot, if not everything, to do with that.

      That said, let’s give these animals the healthiest lives we can. After all, we are what we eat. And we are what we eat, eats, as well.


      • Reality Checker says

        I’ve got a really DEEP idea, radical in its simplicity. Philosophers, listen up: YOU eat what YOUR taste, budget and conscience allow, and allow ME and everyone else to do the same. Same principal as your fist stops at my nose–got it? VERY easy-peasy . . .

    • Walter says

      Russell, would it be okay for humans to eat infants, as infants have not yet developed morality, conceptual level consciousness, or free will?

      (For the record, I’ve been on many farms, and have witnessed the slaughter of animals. It leaves a lasting impression. I also hunted game, and have no problem with that.)

      That said, I don’t disagree with your general take on “rights.” The word seems inappropriate for this discussion. Still, using whatever arguments are a better fit, the elimination of factory farming is a worthwhile goal.

      • Bob Daye says

        Better practices for factory farming are a worthwhile goal, not elimination.
        This type of farming exists due to demand and cost control to provide a product at a price people can afford. That product is proving to be inferior in quality and the means to produce is not respectful enough of the animals.
        Changes are needed yes, and are happening to some degree, but the elimination of factory farming will put the price of meat out of the reach of almost everyone.
        That is the goal of animal rights activists with their animals have rights meme, which I believe is nonsense.
        Also from my experience on farms I have been on, the care and treatment of the livestock on those farms is first and foremost at the top of their priorities.

        November 11, Never Forget

  3. TarsTarkas says

    What about the rights of plants? Every year trillions upon trillions of plants are killed, tortured, beaten, squashed, sliced, minced, boiled, fried, burnt, and pureed all to satisfy the never ending gluttonous appetites of the white cisgender patriarchy. Not to mention the billions and billions of trees chopped down, sliced up, ground up, and burnt to make things to be sat upon, slept upon, or lived within or simply to heat our abodes or cook other plants. Not to mention the horrible mutations we have forced plants to undergo in order to make them more productive for our greed. The world would be better off without humans.
    Then there’s all the things we do to protists, fungi, chromista, bacteria, archaeobacteria . . .

    • middleway says

      If you are young enough, I believe you will live to see your world without humans come to fruition with yourself included.

    • E. Olson says

      I can see the documentary film already: “Cry of the wheat”. The tragic story of a happy family of wheat on a hot August day when they hear a distressing new noise in the distance – the cutting knives of a combine and the cries of distant wheat cousins being cut down in the prime of their lives. “Mommy what should we do?” “Run child, run as fast as you can.” “But mommy, my roots won’t move.”

      • David Pittelli says

        It’s already been done as a song: “John Barleycorn Must Die” by Traffic.

    • Asenath Waite says

      Plants have no nervous system and therefore no consciousness.

      • E. Olson says

        Only according to your biased animal-centric viewpoint.

      • You are wrong, plants do have systems similar to nervous systems, even bacteria.

        Look at this macrophage hunting and killing a fleeing bacterium.

        Do you realise that we use chemical weapons to exterminate innocent bacteria by the billion! How horrifying it is!

        Also, the dominant theory of consciousness is that it’s simply a side effect of coordinated information processing. It has nothing to do with life and with nervous systems, except that the level of sophistication is higher.

        • dellingdog says

          Arnold: if consciousness has nothing to do with nervous systems, I would invite you to remove your brain and report back with the results of your experiment. The dominant theory of consciousness is that it’s an emergent phenomenon which is causally dependent on a functioning brain.

    • dellingdog says

      Plants are not sentient. Animals can suffer, they (as far as we know) cannot. This argument is a non sequitur intended to avoid the actual issues the articles raises.

      • dbigelow says

        Actually, I believe it is the very root of the argument. Selective morality. In this case, the selection of the author is to state that the animal life is morally equivalent to the human life. But that plan life is of lessor value. Thus Mr. Reese displays that his personal moral choice allows for the killing of plants in order to support his life, but doesn’t agree with the killing of animals. Sentience, suffering, nervous systems, consciousness are all aspects of how we come to our moral conclusion. I do not believe Mr. Reese demonstrates a strong enough argument to justify imposing his personal moral views on the rest of us. This is especially important given both the current reality of biology (i.e. we are omnivores), and the growing need to feed the ever expanding human population. Unless of course he puts forth an argument on the relative morality of human value vs other creatures. I don’t think that was his objective, which leaves this as his justification for the choices made by a small group of people. Feel free to limit your diet as you see fit Mr. Reese, and I shall continue to do the same.

  4. middleway says

    Ask the Yememi children what they would prefer to eat…

    • I know about Yemeni children (the ones from yemen) and Yanamamo ones (Venezuelan tribal ones), but Yememi? What the hell can that be? And why do they need to eat meat? Better some milk or enriched porridge!

  5. Nearly Normal Frederick says

    You have to allow yourself to become sensitive to everything, everyone, and realize that everyone is a one, not just the humans. In their being the non-humans they are, certainly, as alive and conscious as human beings, just as self-aware in every fundamental sense. They get afraid in their bodies when threatened, like human beings do. And, therefore, they are urgent with Contemplation, unlike most dreadfully sane human beings. They are not over-busy; or if they are busy, they’re intoxicated somehow by their song with one another, or whatever it may be – for example the bees, crickets and cicadas. Cats engage in the same intoxication when they purr.

    So, in effect the non-humans exercise the capability of Divine Contemplation. They also experience psychic dimension phenomenon and so forth – what could be called dream-world awareness. They wake, they dream, and they Contemplate, by relinquishing self-regard, and even awareness relative to the gross meat body.
    So they go into some protected spot, check it out, and then zone out. And yet they retain the ability to in an instant, react if their territory is interfered with or encroached upon – house cats being a classic example.
    Cats are also experts at soaking up the sun.

    They are always urgently moved to return to a state of free Contemplation.

    • David Norman says

      In her student days, nearly a hundred years ago now, my mother wrote an essay that was returned with the nicely judged comment ‘this is just high grade waffle’. As you can tell, I was strongly reminded of this by your poetically written contribution.

  6. annaerishkigal says

    Is it just me, or has Quillette started to drift out of the “comfortable left” lately into far-left wingnut territory with its articles?

    Factory farming is atrocious. Big agribusiness should be abolished and the subsidies redistributed to small and mid-sized family farms (most “farm subsidies” go to New York City skyscrapers while the “family farms” the lobbyists trot out for photo-ops get precious little or nothing). But the fairy-tale that the public is going to give up meat to pay 100x more for factory-grown crap of questionable quality any time in the foreseeable future is just that, a wealthy coastal globalist elite leftist fairy tale. And, most likely, yet another grab at power by massive multinational corporations to seize the means of production, lobby Congress to pass a law, and then force us to buy their crap.

    I grew up on a small, family farm and we used to “knack” our own livestock, as well as hunt for it. If necessary, I will do that again. Or do what we do with our organic vegetables, buy a “farm share” to pay a small, local farmer to humanely raise and knack a cow, a pig, and bunch of chickens to stuff the freezer. Such farm shares already exist for grass-raised beef. We didn’t have enough land for cows growing up, so every year we bought a half a side of beef directly from the farmer, and we had a special freezer just for our meat.

    • And this makes sense economically if we want to say we actually support local and small business practices.

  7. This is now the 4th essay on the subject in Quillette this year, just another one mixing two completely unrelated subjects (ethical question of speciesism and the extremes of the practice of animal farming (economic and ethical in one). Both things are unrelated, because it is quite possible, though somewhat more expensive, to raise animals under humane conditions (= animal friendly, conform their own needs , based on related science). I think it is here already the 5th or 6th time I raise this argument, but tribalism seems to reign also where it comes to this issue. You are either for, either against speciesism, veganism or animal farming. Discussions and argumentation is totaly superfluous. Or, maybe even impossible?? In that case, I expect many more on the subject to come.

      • Indeed augustine, a quite different one, propagating sustainable meat and dairy in a nice silvo-pastoral landscape (as normal in the author’s homeland, Sussex, where a very well adapted cattle brand, the brown Sussex, nicely melts into the meadowlands and forests around). I liked it strolling around there, as I liked the essay, but, lamentably he cherrypicked all the advantages of cattle husbandry, as much as others cherrypick the negative and abhorrent sides, here on Q. The comments were either strongly against, or in favour of veganism, why is this? tribalism? identity?? Only God knows.

  8. E. Olson says

    I love how these “anti-meat” authors always bring up the pet issue as a reason not to eat meat – after all we wouldn’t eat Snoopy or Garfield, but they never mention the follow-up. If it is ok to confine and leash dogs and cats for our own pleasure and entertainment, what are we supposed to feed them? Nothing says animal cruelty like putting a dog or cat on a vegan diet, and yet that is exactly what many vegan’s attempt to do with their own pets. Of course this problem may also disappear because now the “global warming” nuts are coming after pets – it seems that the annual carbon footprint of Snoopy equals driving a moderate sized SUV for a year.

    • Not only the pet argument, also the abortion. I torture my mind how on earth these two things can be swept together, and can only think in technical terms, the killing of for some reason, but how can you compare interfering in human foetus growth (for comfort, or to save them an unsure future) with slaughtering adult animals for food??

      • E. Olson says

        dirk, Don’t you know that the unborn human fetus is just a clump of random cells? On the other hand, a chicken is a creature of high intelligence and consciousness who will greatly resent being turned into chicken nuggets. Who knows what chickens, cows, and sheep might accomplish if they could live their lives in peace and maximize their potential with an Ivy League education – perhaps they should get some of those affirmative action slots to make up for the thousands of years they were enslaved and eaten by man(un)kind.

        • D-Rex says

          Even the rare dumb articles I don’t bother to finish reading are worth publishing here for the sheer joy of reading so many of the entertaining comments.

        • dellingdog says

          Not random, but a clump of cells nevertheless. My dog has a higher moral status than a zygote. The “pro-life” movement is mostly motivated by a (1) the desire to control and punish women and (2) the theological belief that God imparts a “soul” at the moment of conception. If you have religious beliefs and object to terminating your pregnancy, that’s your right. Don’t impose your views on the rest of society.

          • Evander says

            Alright, I’ll bite.

            dellingdog, aren’t you a clump of cells? What cells does the fetus possess? Broccoli, canine, or… human? When does it transition from killable clump to dignified human being? The argument for the non-killing of unborn humanity in the womb can be without appeal to the divine.

            Yes, the pro-life movement believes that human life begins at conception. And their theology of man, that all human beings possess souls, being moral creatures made in God’s image, guarantees the dignity of every human regardless of other identity markers — sex, race, age, etc, not that these are unimportant. That’s why people with this position will, or at least should, defend the preciousness of humans regardless of secondary characteristics.

            A desire to control and punish women? Do you sincerely believe that? I’m pro-life, and I’m aghast at the thought of controlling women. And the idea of punishing women disgusts me. But if we’re talking about the killing of innocent human life in the womb, I am morally opposed.

            Pro-choice advocates believe they have women’s interests at heart. I am sympathetic to some of their arguments. Conception following rape, unintended pregnancy for a woman whose partner abandons her, etc. I see rational cause for abortion, and can respect, if not agree with, such arguments. Do you see any sense and moral power in the pro-life argument?

            In a democracy, we freely debate and vote on our laws. Pro-lifers would argue that your side is doing the imposing. In 1970, the population of the USA was just over 200 million. How many people decided that abortion should be legal? Seven (1973).

          • Stoic Realist says

            It seems this same stance could be directed at discussions of the consumption of meat. If you have some personal philosophical objection to the consumption of meat that is your right. But don’t impose your views on the rest of society.

            It is interesting how for some people the views they hold should be imposed on others but the contradictory views held by others should never be imposed on them.

      • Just Me says

        The problem with the abortion debate is it gets reduced to a choice between all or nothing.

        In a nutshell, there is no moral issue with first trimeter abortion, there is with last trimester, the middle one is problematic, i.e. when does the foetus become a human being.

        Another difference with animal farming is that carrying a foetus to term when you do not want a child is very hard on a human being, the woman, emotionally and physically, and forcing a woman to give birth under threat of punishment is even worse, whereas no one is personally emotionally and physically affected by the absence of animal farming.

        Many societies have allowed or even encouraged infanticide under various circumstances.

        • Evander says

          How is there no moral issue with first trimester abortion?

          Yes, pregnancy is demanding. But the female body is biologically constructed for childbirth. And pregnant women should receive the full support of their community (family and society), along with the comfort and help of modern science. If a moral imperative to preserve life is established, we should strive energetically to help a distressed woman through her pregnancy.

          My concern is that the pro-life movement is best known for its staunch opposition to abortion. I think pro-lifers, especially church groups, need to clearly state, and act on, their willingness to support pregnant women considering abortion, even offering foster care and adoption, if it comes to it. That’s the logical extension of the pro-life argument – no human should go without care.

          Many societies previously licensed infanticide. Yes, because the child was a girl, deformed, weak, or unwanted. In any case, this is an ad populum appeal. Abortion is wrong.

          • Just Me says

            First trimester there is not yet anything that would be recognized as a human being.

            “the female body is biologically constructed for childbirth”

            And yet until modern medicine death in childbirth was common. Women still die in childbirth.

            Yes, there should be support, but often there isn’t, and even then, you can,t make a woman want a child, it is a deeply emotional thing, and there are a zillion reasons someone doesn’t want to go through a pregnancy.

          • Just Me says

            Levander –
            “Conception following rape, unintended pregnancy for a woman whose partner abandons her, etc. I see rational cause for abortion, and can respect, if not agree with, such arguments.”

            Then you are the one being self-contradictory. If the foetus is a human being worthy of life , why does it matter why a woman doesn’t want to carry it to term? Why are those reasons legitimate, and not others? Sounds like those are reasons why “it isn’t her fault”, while others are, and so she deserves to be punished in some cases but not others, but why punish the child, if that is the core of the argument, its right to life?

          • Just me: please google a ten week fetus image. That way you will never again be justified in saying a first tri fetus is a clump of cells. Eyes, ears, fingers, toes, sleeping and waking. You can say it, but you will know in your heart you are lying.

      • augustine says

        “I torture my mind how on earth these two things can be swept together”

        It is about the valuation of life itself. Animals, mostly mammals, in particular. The connection is logical in wider ethical terms. The abortion comparison may be more awkward but I torture my own mind that anyone can be viscerally upset about killing animals on moral grounds and simultaneously hold that abortion is a natural freedom we should accept and even valorize.

        • Evander says

          Thanks for replying, Just Me.

          I recognise the zygote as human life. We disagree. So, who gets to define human being? That’s where it gets tricky.

          The criteria you use to de-humanise – I mean this technically and neutrally – a zygote or the human life at any stage of the pregnancy, can almost always be applied to other human beings. It usually goes along the lines of possessing some property or faculty.

          Heartbeat? At 6 weeks our baby (not yet born btw) had a strong, healthy heartbeat. Where does that leave an adult male with a pacemaker? Pain? Where does that leave the person with globally shot nerves?

          The fact is that the human life inside the womb is immunologically distinct from the mother, needn’t share the same chromosomes, and contains a unique set of genes guaranteeing the development of an individual related to but biologically distinct from both parents.

          Risk of death in childbirth is at a historic low, so that’s hardly something women need to fear. Sophisticated pain relief and midwifery further alleviate the physical toil of the process.

          Regarding the comments you quoted: I said I can see where the other side are coming from. When the pregnant woman experienced rape, or her partner abandons her because of the pregnancy, I can empathise with the difficulty she is in. Yet I would argue that there is a moral imperative to save the life of the child. Sorry if I wasn’t clear!

          I’m not an absolutist: in the case of an ectopic pregnancy, where the zygote threatens the life of the mother, I would support abortion. But according to my convictions on this I just can’t see any other acceptable circumstances.

  9. JKkit says

    It’s interesting to read various points of view on important topics, thanks Quillette for providing a platform for that.

    What the writer of this essay has not mentioned is that 1. Not all farms treat animals in horrific ways, small and medium sized farms are actually quite humane, and 2. that animal products are necessary for human health, especially for children. There are some micronutrients we need that simply cannot be found in plants in the form that is bioavailable (“absorbable”) to humans. This is why vegans have to supplement heavily to sustain their lifestyle, but supplements are expensive, not all supplements are of equal quality, and not everyone can metabolize them (in other words, they just don’t work for some people). It’s not that humans simply “like” to eat meat, it’s that animal products (at least milk products, eggs, fish) are necessary for human survival. And 3. We have no idea what the long-term health effects of the alternative “meat” products are.

    I agree that animals should be treated more humanely. But at what cost?

    • dellingdog says

      The only supplement that’s necessary is B12. Animal products are not necessary for human health. I’m not a vegan myself (I occasionally eat humanely-raised meat), but my sister-in-law, brother and two of their children are. They’re extremely healthy and very athletic, frequently competing in (and often winning) cycling competitions.

    • D-Rex says

      I live on a small 60 acre property surrounded by cattle and sheep farms. The animals are all grass fed and live contented lives until they go to market. Where is the problem with that?

  10. steve says

    My patreon support for Quillette is going away, just like common sense on the issues of animal farming.

    • Why Steve? Stay with us, people reacting here on veganism and animal farming are mostly naive (sub)urbans, without any knowledge or experience on the subject, other than buying (or refusing) pieces of meat in the supermarket, and having pets, or rabbits in their backyard (rabbits that, take notice, never are slaughtered for Christmas, but are taken to the vet if they start sneezing).

  11. George G says

    I’m not sure I follow the speciesism argument, surely its advocates understand that animal farms exist to farm animals for meat, hides and whatever else can be made from their carcasses. If animals were no longer food, farms would not continue to rear them. Surely speciesism is an argument for the extinction of farmed animals?

    Is there a source for all this modern magical thinking?
    Transgenderism: man = woman.
    Speciesism: animals = humans.

    Is it rise of postmodernist thinking dissolving the distinction between categorise of things coupled with too much / misplaced empathy?
    Maybe the lack of a religious structure in modern life is causing people to elevate these ideas from well-meaning notions to irrational fundamental beliefs?

    • Asenath Waite says

      @George G

      Concern for animal welfare has nothing in common with postmodernism, transgenderism, or magical thinking. Man =/= woman, but if you’ll think back to your high school biology class you might recall that humans do in fact = animals. We are not fundamentally different from other animals and it’s in no way irrational to feel some compassion for other animals in a similar way to that in which we feel compassion for members of our own species.

      In my opinion, the extinction of a farmed animal species would be preferable to that species only existing in a state of relentless suffering. The whole concern surrounding extinction of species has more to do with enrichment of human experience though being able to observe diverse animals species in the world (or with concerns about ecological disruption) than it does with actual concern for the well-being of individual animals.

      • George G says

        @ Asenath Waite

        Thanks for your thoughts. I can’t say i agree with any of them or your other comments here though, Man = Man, Woman = Woman, Human = Human, Animal = Animal. humans do not in fact = animals. i think your confusing the category of “things that are alive on earth” which humans and animals both share, but similar does not in fact mean the same. A live electric cable is identical in almost every respect to a dead electric cable but touching them leads to very different outcomes.

        So thank you for your condescending advice but you may want to go back to high school biology yourself and re-read the bits on food chains, predation and evolution and see how much inter species compassion exists in nature.

        I’ve got not time for your nihilistic, god complex second sentiment either, so you say animal = humans, and you’d prefer suffering animals were made extinct rather than lived in suffering. So can we presume you’d say the same of suffering humans?

        See what you’ve done here pal, is project human emotions on to creatures that by definition don’t experience human emotion, and you’ve also projected your own misanthropy on to the rest of humanity and our reasonable decision to consume resource that benefit our health.

        • Asenath Waite says

          @George G

          Humans aren’t animals? Are you sure you want to go with that? And I’m not advocating for animals to be killed, I’m advocating for animals not to be bred for suffering. I’d have the same position for humans. I don’t think someone should have a child if it is likely to have a miserable life. I don’t think I child should be killed because it is likely to have a miserable life.

          • Humans aren’t animals, aren’t they? Few people are against the practice of breeding farm animals (eliminating the unwanted features, like wildness, slow growth, fatness or muscles,low quantity of eggs, and other qualities, not wanted by us, but almost always deleterious for the animals themselves), what about breeding humans? For wanted features? Morally speaking? Many scientists and politicians beginning 20th century were in favour of eugenics, and even organisations existed to promote it, and even practiced it in some form (sterilisation). But the whole idea vanished from the agendas since the holocaust.

    • Just Me says

      I blame Disney and Beatrix Potter. And modern life, which has severed the relationship humans have always had with nature, red in tooth and claw, and replaced it with a sentimentalized version of cute, lovable animals we see on screens and in picture books.

      Having to survive in harsh environments did not allow humans to think of themselves as above the cycle of life, the necessity of killing to live, just like other animals, yet paradoxically this new understanding places humans in the exalted position of being the only animal with the moral duty to avoid taking part in this natural cycle of killing other animals to eat.

      While on the other hand denying that humans are in any way superior or are more worthy of our care (that is speciesism), basically leading to the idea that all animals have the same worth as humans, and devaluing human life.

      You see the results in comments on videos of some human getting mauled by an animal and commenters cheering on the animal. How many would now save their pet rather than a stranger from a burning building, because the pet is fa member of the family, and who knows what a terrible human being the human might be?

    • Reality Checker says

      People never got the parental “talk” that used to be called The Facts of Life. They included the facts of birth, growth, sex, aging, death, the fact we raise some animals to eat and others as pets.
      I’ve noticed the well-adjusted folks in this world accept all that circa age 5 and go on to live happy lives. The others write dense academic jargon about “speciesism” and similar intellectual grandstanding claptrap. Happens when you occupy the pinnacle of Maslow’s pyramid and look down upon what the rest of us call “the world.” Pfft!

  12. Kenneth Wells says

    We created domesticated animals. As our creations, should it not be the case that we owe them something? And if we owe them something, what might that be?

    When we see someone abuse a dog, cat or horse, we’re outraged at the actions and sympathetic toward the animal. Because we don’t eat them, such reactions are easily understood. Pigs? Chickens? Not so much except what knowledge of unjustifiable cruelty might generate.

    For myself, I think there is a bargain here with our domesticated animals… or should be. It looks something like; we created you, we make your lives as pleasant and as free of fear and suffering as we can. We consciously and conscientiously regard you with respect, admiration and appreciation.

    And, in exchange, we eat you.

    Something like that. On the surface it may sound horrible but perhaps only to people unfamiliar with what happens to animals in ‘nature’. In point of fact there are very, very good reasons why zoo animals live far longer lives in captivity than they do in the wild and it’s not just 24/7 access to a vet.

    Sure, if a way comes for us to not have to eat other critters, why not? But meanwhile, there is no shortage of video of unspeakable cruelty. The mindset or philosophy I’ve offered is not perfect and maybe not even moral but it’s surely better than factory farms and far better than what happens to animals in places like China, India or Africa where abject poverty makes concern for animal welfare the least of their worries.

  13. Greg Lorriman says

    They may feel and see (ie, sentience) but they don’t reason, they aren’t self-aware, and without that feedback loop there is just no way they are truly suffering. Rather their responses are instinct. Meanwhile, they get a good albeit short life with a painless death, assuming good husbandry. Whereas in nature they have a tough life, full of hunger, and often a lingering death.
    That and the fact that plenty of land can only sustain animals and not crops, and the fact that we are quasi-carnivores, farming animals will never end.

    • Asenath Waite says

      @Greg Lorriman

      Plenty of animals have be shown to reason. From (other) apes, to cetaceans to pigs, to crows. The mechanism of human thought is not fundamentally different from that of other animals, it is just a bit more sophisticated.

      • But we kill other humans when we think it right, so why not kill animals we created and raised for the very purpose of eating them. You are free to be a vegan, but if coercion of others to be vegan is a morally outrageous act.

        • Asenath Waite says


          I didn’t say anything about coercion of others. And it seems weird that you pronounce this to be objectively a “morally outrageous act” while you seem to think that “creating” and raising higher animals for the purpose of killing them is objectively totally fine morally.

      • Greg Lorriman says

        No other animals have been shown to reason. Where are you getting this idea? Talking (signing) apes have been a singular demonstration of even self-aware animals not being able to reason.

        • Asenath Waite says


          If by reason you mean solving problems through logic, it’s been shown for apes, pigs, crows, parrots, and numerous other animals.

        • Asenath Waite says

          @Greg Lorriman

          Here’s an example relating to Crows published in Current Biology. Smirnova et al. 2015.

          Analogical reasoning is vital to advanced cognition and behavioral adaptation. Many theorists deem analogical thinking to be uniquely human and to be foundational to categorization, creative problem solving, and scientific discovery. Comparative psychologists have long been interested in the species generality of analogical reasoning, but they initially found it difficult to obtain empirical support for such thinking in nonhuman animals (for pioneering efforts, see [2, 3]). Researchers have since mustered considerable evidence and argument that relational matching-to-sample (RMTS) effectively captures the essence of analogy, in which the relevant logical arguments are presented visually. In RMTS, choice of test pair BB would be correct if the sample pair were AA, whereas choice of test pair EF would be correct if the sample pair were CD. Critically, no items in the correct test pair physically match items in the sample pair, thus demanding that only relational sameness or differentness is available to support accurate choice responding. Initial evidence suggested that only humans and apes can successfully learn RMTS with pairs of sample and test items; however, monkeys have subsequently done so. Here, we report that crows too exhibit relational matching behavior. Even more importantly, crows spontaneously display relational responding without ever having been trained on RMTS; they had only been trained on identity matching-to-sample (IMTS). Such robust and uninstructed relational matching behavior represents the most convincing evidence yet of analogical reasoning in a nonprimate species, as apes alone have spontaneously exhibited RMTS behavior after only IMTS training.

  14. Greg Lorriman says

    Self-awareness in most animals is a myth coming from vegans and other fanatics.

    The only evidence of self-awareness is in a handful of animals. And none of them are farm animals.

    Meanwhile, about as meaningful as the life of a farm animal is indicated by it’s moos, clucks, baaas, etc. Ie, no meaning beyond existing for a higher purpose and not for itself. And that higher purpose is to provide a carnivore with its next meal.

  15. RickU says

    I’m not horrified by the idea of eating horse or dog – or cat for that matter but I’d avoid eating it – As I understand it carnivores taste unpleasant. I do agree that we shouldn’t be torturing animals…but even with “factory farming” we can decrease their suffering…Even regular farming however (including wasteful organic farming) kills countless creatures – It deprives them of habitat, farmers remove ‘pest’ animals, millions of voles, mice, rats, insects of many kinds are killed during a harvest. We can’t avoid doing harm to /something/ to survive. I’ve given over using sentience as a benchmark for what I’ll eat and not eat – and instead use sapience. Even grass is ‘sentient’ according to the definition.

    • Farris says

      FYI many toothpastes, deodorants, soaps, shampoos and perfumes contain animal products.

  16. Asenath Waite says

    Thanks for this article. Fake meat products are improving, but they still aren’t really close to replicating true meat (I have yet to try the Impossible Burger, but I’m skeptical that it’s quite as meat-like as made out), and for that reason I think it’s unlikely the population at large will embrace them in favor of actual meat. I think it may take development of laboratory meat to make this a possibility, though as you state the cost is a primary concern there. I’m hopeful that with further development this might eventually become an economically feasible strategy to move away from factory farming of animals. I suspect that if this ever occurs, it will take a very long time.

    As evidenced by the comments in this thread, it seems that few people currently have any concern for the well-being of nonhuman animals, and in a surprisingly Biblical sort of way view them as mindless fodder placed on Earth for humans to use as they please. There seems to be a pervasive lack of understanding of the fact that humans are also animals and in no way fundamentally different from other organisms, especially not other higher order mammalian species. If more hominid species were still extant, it would be interesting to see where people chose to draw the line between sentient being and fodder. Is there a particular IQ level that they have in mind?

    • Darrell says

      You have made this argument that humans are equal to animals five times. Call me when the cows start building cars, roads, airplanes, rocket ships, etc. It should be obvious to anyone with eyes to see that humans are a different level than other animals. This comment has nothing to do with whether we should eat animals, only your silly argument.

      • Asenath Waite says


        I didn’t claim anywhere that other animals were equal in intelligence to humans. The fact that we are higher on the spectrum of intelligence doesn’t make us fundamentally different, though. We’re still just animals, regardless of some people’s need to view us as created in God’s image or whatever the secular equivalent of that would be.

        • George G says

          @Asenath Waite

          you might want to take the time to clearly explain what your actual claims are instead of repeating that humans are animals. if this argument didn’t convince the first 5 times this 6th time isn’t likely to be the magic number. (3 is the magic number , everyone knows that)

          • D-Rex says

            In a strictly classification sense, humans are indeed animals, we belong to kingdom animalia. But do any of us put a nematode worm or botfly larvae in the same category as a dolphin or even a gecko? Animals we may be but being part of an ecosystem actually gives more justification for viewing other animals as something for us to exploit, not less.

          • Asenath Waite says

            @George G

            My claim is that humans are animals. Doesn’t seem like it should be a controversial claim. We aren’t different enough from other animals that we can categorize treatment of humans fundamentally different from treatment of other animals. We should feel bad about inflicting pain on other animals even though they are not as intelligent as we are.

    • augustine says

      Here you have presented a false dichotomy between people who allegedly have no concern for non-human animals and others who allegedly care very deeply for them. Even as a number of commenters have reported the humanitarian (if I can use that word) aspects of animal husbandry.

      I believe it is more like a bell curve, where a small proportion of people– of Westerners– may have a callous disregard for the well being of these animals, and another small number advocates veganism on moral grounds. The rest of us care on some level and probably anyone who is disturbed at the sight of someone savagely beating a dog would feel similarly seeing someone beating a pig or chicken.

      Someone else commented here that the world’s populations in general have more to worry about than kindness to animals, which is undoubtedly true. But I know that Muslims (e.g.) feel very protective about the animals under their care (goats, camels, etc.), even on a more profound level than we feel about our own food animals. Since this dialogue appears to be “global” I can’t help wonder how arguments for a meatless diet are faring in Islamic populations?

  17. Farris says

    The vegan lifestyle is a gregarious activity. Apparently the food does not taste as well unless others join in.
    The author equates animal husbandry with slavery. This moral equivalence would mean that horseback riding, training rescue animals and even owning pets is wrong, since the animal has no choice in the matter and may not wish to be a beast of burden, endanger its life rescuing humans or be someone’s toy.
    Notions such as these come from personification of animals. Notice how the author states that animals are sentient, then claims it is a matter of scientific consensus and not to be debated. Oddly enough in the quote above states knowing the thoughts of other scientists would be impossible.
    People of this milieu have no rational understanding of how animals actually live.
    Compare the life of a Red Angus with its relative the Cape Buffalo. Both are subject to predation, the Angus from man and the Cape buffalo from lions and crocs. The buffalo spends its life foraging for food and water The Angus is fed or given a food and water source. The buffalo is subject to ticks, worms, biting flies and other parasites. The Angus is under veterinary care. The buffalo will perish in times of drought or food shortages. The Angus has continual access to sustenance. In the end both will die and be consumed.
    Lastly is raising crickets in a box, impaling them on a fishing hook and using them as bait subject to the same moral equivalence? One may notice the amount of rights an animal possesses is generally directly proportional to its cuteness.

    • Asenath Waite says


      The concern is for cruelty to animals, as in the case of factory farming. Owning a dog and treating it well is not cruel. Owning a dog and causing it to suffer is cruel.

      The concern for the welfare of an animal would be directly proportional to its intelligence (and corresponding capacity for experiencing emotion), not its cuteness. Obviously crickets have an extremely rudimentary nervous system and are unlikely therefore to be able to experience suffering, if they even possess any degree of consciousness at all.

      • But slaveowners took care of their slaves (if they wanted them to be productive and not die and need to be replaced at great expense). While some beat them (just as some beat their pets), most did not.

        • Asenath Waite says


          Humans have complex emotional needs and are intelligent enough to be able to experience suffering from control and suppression of life ambitions, as in the case of slavery, even if they are provided with an environment that fosters health and are not physically abused. Dogs are unlikely to have life ambitions beyond what humans can provide them in the owner-pet dynamic (food, exercise, companionship etc.). Because dogs have relatively simple needs in life doesn’t mean that they don’t experience emotions similar to those of humans.

      • Farris says


        The point is not that pet ownership is wrong but rather equating animal care with slavery is hyperbole. Animal rights arguments are always (overly) emotionally based. These arguments or lack thereof are derived from a fundamental misunderstanding of nature. The Red Angus and Cape Buffalo will both die (the Angus euthanized, the Buffalo from old age or disease) and be consumed. In addition to all the pleasantries nature is briars, ticks, biting flies, disease and inclement weather, not hiking trails and ranger stations or a view from a mountain chalet with a fireplace.

        • Asenath Waite says


          I’m not sure how the fact that life is difficult for animals in nature provides a justification for the cruel treatment of animals on farms.

          Also, this is an argument about morality and therefore is inherently emotionally based, just as arguments about the morality of human treatment are emotionally based. Morality is an artificial concept invented by humans as a result of our emotional experiences and only exists in the context of emotion.

          • For a proper discussion on the subject (if at all possible), one has to define cruelty a bit. In animal husbandry, there are different (juridical even) exigencies, whether in intensive (factory, cages) or extensive systems (free range, open air):
            -freedom of hunger, disease, thirst, cold , cleanliness etc (this is generally better with domesticated than in the wild
            – a certain freedom to express the specific animal needs and propensities (chickens like to take a dustbath, etc etc)

            So, without making any differences in form and measure of cruelty and husbandry practices, it is quite useless to continue argueing.

    • George G says


      “The vegan lifestyle is a gregarious activity. Apparently the food does not taste as well unless others join in.”


      Veganism is the Scientology of food fads, 10 converts a day or no tofu for you

  18. Most animals only exist to serve human beings in one way or another. Take that away and bye bye many different kinds of animals almost completely unless you think the dynamic chicken can exist on his own.

  19. On ethics of killing animals yes or no: in the NL we have a socalled wildpark with a few thousand deer, Heck cattle and wild ponies, with year after year (after a good summer with abundant grass and growth of young animals) the dilemma: what to do? Wildlife and fauna service has set up the park as a wildpark, but of the 5000 animals in November, over 3000 will probably die a slow, horrible (cruel?) death due to starvation , weather and diseases. To shoot them? No, says the majority of the Dutch animal loving population. To let them die off the natural way? OK, says the remaining part, the nature loving ecologists (nevertheless, I presume, pet and farm-animal loving). In both cases, suffering scarcely can be avoided.
    The dilemma would not have existed in real nature with wolves and pumas, but, lamentably, these predators are not allowed in the park. The dilemma every year fills pages and pages in the newspapers. Even the courts are involved.
    Amusing detail: people that feed the animals by throwing packs of hay over the fence are fined by police.

      • Farris says

        Is it morally wrong for me to shoot the coyotes who try to kill my calves and foals? Some consumers prefer free range chickens. I prefer free range ducks, deer and quail.

      • Thanks George, for the English version, so now also non Dutch can take notice of what happens with animals in areas where people live so cramped together, as well with wildlife as with the domesticated, or worse even,in situations in- between. Maybe, difficult to imagine for people in the US, Australia, Brasil, Russia and even East Europe, with vast wildernisses in their backyard, wolves, bears etc.
        Interesting: the very first art of humans were those drawings of free roaming, proud ,dynamic herds of animals in Lascaux, Altamira and elsewhere, man was just only part of the crowds then, it was eating and being eaten, except for the vegetarian hoof animals and the rabbits (only being eaten, if we don’t count the plants). For men, Harari said, this cramping together in cities is conditional for progress, for wildlife as well as domesticated it is a tragedy. We have it now rather comfortable and easy going, not so the animals of course. But I refuse to see this as a necessity, a zero-sum game. There are alternatives, but it needs special attention, efforts and some costs to pay for.

        • That’s quite incidental: today I saw a picture in my newspaper of an even older cave drawing of a brown banteng cow, found this week in Borneo, some 40 thousand yrs old, unbelievable, and why paint rhinos or buffaloes in caves, and not human figures (apart of the hand prints of the painter himself)?? And in such widely apart regions? Animals must have had an overwhelming importance for early humans, as they still have, but oh oh oh what a difference in ways and styles of interest!

  20. Tim B. says

    Most ethical arguments are quick to point out how morally wrong it is to treat animals the way we do in industrial farming, and they are correct.

    But they never consider the ethics of using the basically slave like labor of people of other lands who are paid next to nothing to bring them cheap soy, produce, etc.

  21. If you are a Christian, there is no real convincing argument in favor of veganism. The Christian worldview contends that human are atop the created order and that we have a God-ordained duty to “subdue” creation (plants and animals) for our benefit. A strong argument can be made for humane animal husbandry and environmentally sustainable farming, as that duty is always presented as a sort of “stewardship.” That is, the creation that is being subdued does not actually belong to mankind – it belongs to God and is to be managed well.

    If you are an atheist, there is no real convincing argument in favor of veganism. The Atheist worldview contends that we exist because we have won the lottery of time, chance, and natural selection – a game of relentless death, carnage, and suffering which is neither good nor evil. We are here because our environment has produced us. We do not condemn a fox for killing (and even sadistically toying with) a mouse. It is his nature, and his nature is what helped him win the lottery along with us. A strong argument can be made for humane animal husbandry and environmentally sustainable farming, as the destruction of the environment that produced us does not bode well for our continued existence as a species. We are high-functioning, but our intrinsic desire is still the same as our lower-functioning ancestors – to advance our species. We must realize we can’t do that in the long term if we destroy the environment.

    • What I know from the Old testament, that Jahweh liked the smell of barbecued meat from sheep and goats (Abel story), from Jesus I don’t know whether he liked or disliked meat, but he certainly liked fish, and even quite often stimulated his disciples to go out fishing (for eating of course, not for an aquarium).

      • Reality Checker says

        I challenge anyone not to salivate walking past a grill loaded up with sizzling bacon. On the other hand, I’ve never known anyone in my entire life to salivate with anticipation at the smell of simmering cabbage or broccoli. Pretty much says it all as to Nature’s intent, no?

    • dellingdog says

      Nate, atheists don’t derive their moral principles from nature. Humans are the products of evolution, and our evolved nature (as social animals) provides a foundation on which ethical systems are built, but evolution does not dictate morality. Peter Singer is an atheist philosopher who makes a strong case against animal exploitation on the basis of Utilitarianism.

      • Nate, I really don’t see whether your affiliation with christianity, atheism, or islam has anything to do with the choice for or against vegetarism or veganism. In Buddhism it’s different, there some monks wear a cap around their mouth to avoid insects being swallowed involuntarily. The choice depends on other factors, very often on unpleasant experiences in your youth (slaughtering of your pet rabbit or pony, even where parents try to keep this out of sight).

    • augustine says


      You make good points here. How do you see Christians balancing the “subduing” of nature with the “stewardship” of the environment? It strikes me that it is mainly atheistic people who venerate nature and support its protection. Christians almost recoil from concepts like biodiversity and nature conservation for its own sake. Why have mostly non-religious intellectual liberals dominated in these areas of “stewardship”?

      • I think, for really religious people (christians, muslims, judean) the fact that only humans have an eternal soul (and animals definitely not) must make the big difference. Also, in their rituals , lamb and sheep sacrifices play a special role. Why??

      • @ Augustine,

        I don’t know if you’ll read this, considering this post is rather old now (I read Quillette on my phone on the weekends, and can’t comment well from my phone), but I appreciate the question. I’m an admirer of your comments on Quillette.

        I only know two types of Christians: 1) the theologians I’ve read (e.g. Jonathan Edwards, JI Packer, GK Chesterton, CS Lewis, etc); and 2) salt of earth middle-class, lower-middle-class families in my community. Neither group, as far as I can tell, “recoils from the concepts like biodiversity and nature conservation.” On the contrary, both exhibit the sentiment I describe, either explicitly or in the ethos of their writing (first group), or their obedience to hunting and fishing limits, community litter clean-ups, voting for responsible land management, etc. (second group). Obviously, as Americans we live with an ongoing struggle between capitalism and environmental purity, but I think most Christian care about and struggle to achieve this balance. This has been my experience. Your results may vary.

        I think Atheists and Christians can be strong allies in humane farming and nature conservation. Though the means and motivations are different, the ends are ultimately harmonious.

        • augustine says

          Thanks for your thoughtful reply, Nate. Your kindness is appreciated.

          As one conditioned in childhood to adore, if not worship nature, I think this is an interesting subject that does not get the attention it deserves. I hope that someone qualified will tackle this area in a Quillette essay someday. In the meantime, allow me to clarify a few ideas.

          Instead of biodiversity I should have said biophilia. I am not speaking of our familiar associations with game birds, farm animals, pets, everyday birds and plants, and so on. Modern Westerners tend to sympathize with E.O. Wilson’s notion of man’s association with nature, as I do myself. And as you indicate, there is nothing to prevent Christians from appreciating and protecting nature and many of them do this. However, it seems to me that the Biblical injunction against covetousness (commandment no. 10) covers things like desire of nature or natural objects. Then there is No.1: Do not worship any other gods, which may be the more germane of the two.

          In many people I know I see a deeply felt attachment to some natural object or phenomenon. I cannot say there is anything morally wrong with these behaviors necessarily. But according to scripture we are to worship only God, the Spirit and the Son. Everything else, including ourselves, is worldly, and can distract us from higher things. From studying the Word and from experience I believe this makes sense. Some hold that for the Christian, “worldly” normally means the world of human affairs and excludes the natural world, God’s creation. Either way, too much of a good thing has its perils.

          Those who are not religious are overwhelmingly dominant in the natural sciences. How many butterfly taxonomists or experts on Amazonian bats are Christian? Shell collectors? Or leaders in environmentalism and conservation of wild areas? Why should this be so? Does Scripture somehow lead people away from curiosity about the natural world?

          Maybe I have in mind the most prominent, cutting edge examples of biophilia, but they seem to have the greatest impact on public consciousness about nature in the abstract. The result is that the promotion of nature and its conservation worldwide is in the hands of ideological birds of a feather who have politicized their cause with Leftist ideology and alienated many potential supporters. They should not enjoy ownership of protecting and understanding nature any more than Christians should have a lock on all things spiritual.

  22. Just Me says

    As others have pointed out, animals in the wild suffer too. Unlike pets or farmed animals, there is the constant anxiety of being prey, the stress of having to hunt for your food, the possibility of getting hurt and maimed with no medical treatment available, cold in winter for some, exposure to the elements in general, etc. Animals in the wild live shorter lives for a reason.

    We have a moral duty to prevent them from feeling a lot of unnecessary pain, but any pain at all, even for a few minutes at the end of their lives? No. We all have felt pain, for shorter or longer periods, and no one, human or animal, is owed a totally painless life, that would be a very artificial life.

    I would make a distinction though with dogs, and to a lesser extent horses and donkeys, animals that we either bred as companions or helpmates, or co-evolved to be such. They have evolved, or had bred into them, a sense of devotion, love, and loyalty to their humans, that deserves to be respected and honoured. We owe them that.

    Not so those animals that have no such deep attachments to humans, and were just bred to be food, and certainly not those that have always been our prey in nature, or that prey on us. That is the natural order of things.

  23. Brendan Murray says

    I think its important here to distinguish between ‘factory farming’ and other forms of farming. The two are completely different and worth segregating into separate conversations. Unless of course your sole goal is to convert everyone to veganism.

    Factory farming is is an abhorent practice and deserves to be ended, ordinary farming is relatively humane, open paddocks and grass feed generally lead to better quality meat and happier livestock. As always though, there is a consequence. Eliminating factory farming would lead to more expensive meat and animal products.

    Similarly, one thing that I have never had explained to me from those pushing for the end of all animal farming, is what happens to the animals that are now only alive for farming purposes? Millions of animals will die or be killed. There is limited spaces in our society for free range and wild sheep, cows, chickens, nor would many of these animals survive in the wild. Farmers would not keep them for the sake of it – animals cost money to maintain believe it or not. I feel the consequences of eliminating animal farming would be worse than the problem they are trying to solve

  24. Peter from Oz says

    I would have thought that the relevant moral issue doesn’t turn on whether animals are sentient but on the human obligations and feelings of humanity. Human morality is the issue here, not some kind of general all-species morality. Thus it is the motive of the person that is important. IIf the person acts from malice or reckless indifference then he or she is acting immorally. But he or she may do the same thing with a good motive and be acting morally. Shooting a dog is morally right if done in the belief that the dog is terminally ill and in pain. SHooting a dog is wrong if done for target practice

    • Shooting a suffering dog is morally right, even for vegetarians, I think. Shooting a suffering man or woman is not. Why? Maybe there is , after all, something like superiority in the animal kingdom at play here, mocking all speciesism?

      • The theme in To Kill a Mockingbird, father Finch finishing off a dog by gun, because of compassion. To hunt blue jays was allowed in that book (hunting in the South is even popular among kids), but not the mockingbird. A superior bird?

  25. Jake Asswell says

    Entertaining. Think I will have another roast beef sandwhich. mmmm…delicious

  26. “In my opinion, the extinction of a farmed animal species would be preferable to that species only existing in a state of relentless suffering.”

    This comment from Asenath Waite represents the typically unspoken perversion of radical animal lovers. I would prefer intense suffering to non-existence. Wouldn’t you?

    I like these conversations because they are evidence of the better side of humanity. However, I’ve met more than a few “animal lovers” that will do more than hint at a willingness to harm humans at the expense of animals.

    • Asenath Waite says

      @U Murphy

      Eh, you seem to miss the point. It’s that people care about the existence of the species, not the existence of an individual animal. I’d rather an animal not be brought into existence in the first place than have that individual animal be brought into existence only to experience suffering.

  27. All the moral arguments pushed here in the comments are based on looking down the intelligence chain and arguing whether there is some fundamental difference that would allow humans to ignore the treatment of lower species. I think it is much more informative to pursue a thought experiment looking upwards. If a super-intelligent alien species was to visit the Earth would the moral rules we use say that they should not farm us for food in their own version of a factory farm. If we assume the intelligence ranges are non-overlapping then what is the difference between them and us which doesn’t apply between ourselves and other mammals. Only if we answer that question and define rules that under the conditions of the thought experiment don’t leave us as food are we treating other lifeforms morally. Or, of course, we could simply accept that it would be perfectly acceptable under our morale code for such aliens to farm us for food.

    Personally I think the biggest cause of problems in this area is that all other hominins that would have provided overlapping intelligence ranges between species are now extinct. Currently we can claim that all humans are more intelligent than all members of all other species and nobody can prove us immediately wrong. Personally I have encountered humans who I feel don’t meet this criteria but all were considered seriously mentally handicapped due to medical causes but were still assigned full human rights which are refused to other primates.

    Personally I don’t know the answer to any this but I believe we should all feel deeply uncomfortable that our current stance as a species seems to leave open the door for humans to be factory farmed by another superior species. I have not seen anyone putting forward a properly argued proposed morale code that adequately addresses this issue.

    I can even expand the argument and point out that if we take step down from my personal intelligence to the stupidest 1% of humans and then make a further similar scale step down we our well within the intelligence range of many of the more advanced mammal species. Where is the argument that says those bottom 1% can eat cows but I can’t eat stupid humans. Tell me the abstract rules we are using that separate off all humans as a different category from all other species. We have seen that animals talk to each other, they use tools.

    • Just Me says

      I agree, intelligence in itself is irrelevant.

      The question should be, is there any valid reason to go against the natural order of things, the food chain, in which humans eat animals in the same way other animals eat other animals, because that is how we are constructed, to want meat? Why is our desire for meat any more evil than the lion’s, or dog, or cat?

      We did not evolve to torture animals, and we don’t normally do that, so it is normal that we would avoid inflicting purely avoidable and gratuitous pain on them. But to refrain from eating them at all? There is no moral argument for that.

      • Just Me says

        We do not normally eat primates or carnivores, either, and do not farm them, we farm the kind of animals we normally would have hunted in the wild, ruminants, or seafood. Those are our natural food sources, part of the natural the food chain.

    • What are you after Steve, to slaughter the stupidest humans and prepare them into a special hamburger, kind of? Yes, cannibalism has been among us humans, and not even very long ago, I just read in my newspaper an article on a cannibalistic tribe somewhere in Myanmar. But don’t think very many will go along, and feel sympathy for it.

      • No, I’m looking for the morale argument for how we choose what we eat and how we treat other animals and, whatever that morale argument is, when it is applied it should say we don’t eat other humans without referring to a rule that simple says “humans are special”.

        • Just Me says

          Ww don’t eat other humans because, like most other animals, we don’t hunt and eat our own species. That is not the natural order of the food chain.

    • J Dub says

      I have talked about this argument as well. Though I would say based on what we know about factory farming and where we are heading as a species, an advanced alien race that would factory farm humans wouldn’t be very advanced as factory farming in general seems to be very inefficient and wasteful. The future of meat production I imagine will be artificial and this would make all moral conversations about the issue irrelevant.

  28. One way or another we have to play God. We either raise them for their commercial value or we accept that the vast majority of them will have to die off.


    If you have ever raised chickens or turkeys you’d know that they are a savage lot and hard to feel sorry for. Not all husbandry are factory farms. Vegans brains shrink over time because of the lack of meat and fish. More transparency and choice please.

  30. Another consideration, maybe useful for the discussion. For humans, death is the end of all, the ego finishes, and is even more important than the society to whom that ego belongs. For animals it is the other way round. A fish spawning with 500.000 eggs yearly means that at least 499.999 have to die, succumb or being eaten before maturing, otherwise big problems with overpopulations. With frogs and ducks it’s similar, though, in a less conspicuous way. In fact, it used to be similar for humans, too!

    I wonder whether any biologist or ecologist will consider criteria of superiority, or sentience, or degrees of feelings, or nerve system of any relevance for the fact whether they have the right (or opportunity) to live or to die.

  31. Modern day civilization is predominantly supported by annuals, growing in soils built over tens of thousands of years from a combination of glaciation and massive (now largely extinct) herds of herbivores grazing perennial grasslands. So enjoy your tofu tacos topped with kale, but also realize there is no terrestrial ecology without animals cycling nutrients….

    For the record I see factory farming as an ecological time bomb (not to mention ethically indefensible).

  32. J Dub says

    We are clearly the most intelligent species on the planet and possibly the universe. However, if it turns out that we are only relatively intelligent, we should all hope that an advanced alien species does not find humans tasty and leverages some of our logic.

    That said, there is a problem with escalating animals to the level of humans. All species give their species priority, this is a biological imperative. While it would be nice to believe that we are elevating animals it seems to me that we are not elevating them at all and are instead just dehumanizing humans to accomplish the task. Psychologically dropping humans to a sub species seems very dangerous. We should not forget that being vegan does not make you more moral. It was written that a driving force behind Hitler’s hate for Judaism and Christianity was their ethics related to animals. This should at least give us some pause when we consider the difference between morality and ethics when it comes to the treatment of animals.

    We should avoid, at all costs, using animals as a proxy for morality and hate of humanity. Since animals fundamentally exist outside the concept of human morality, using them as any kind of proxy could result in a complete twisted world view where all humans are evil and how humans treating other humans is less of a concern than how humans treat animals.

  33. Bilwill says

    So when these animals are no longer needed for food will they vanish? Or is it better for them to have an existence even though it is agricultural.

  34. Jesse Bowman says

    Freedom of speech is nice but the ignorance of most of these comments is vast. Abortion one way or the other should be done in the best interest of society and not just the unborn child. If a parent is capable of raising the child or willing should be taken into consideration. If a society is willing to take on the burden of raising the child or of punishing that child if raised poorly by an unfit parent.

    Then we move on to the actual message of the article and whether or not it’s morally right to kill anything that has: emotions, feelings, memories for the sake of food. This too should be looked at holistically from an environmental and economic stand point. How you feel about a sentient being being tortured and slaughtered isn’t the only case that can be made against the farming of animals but without limiting the size of human cities and the number of human colonies why worry about what we are eating in the first place? Number of people is limited then the number of animals eaten will also be limited.

    There is a vast environmental impact caused by farming and eating animals as well. The vast number of ignorant responses about animal’s shouldn’t have rights is less relevant to me then the fact that farming leads to deforestation the destruction of micro habitats that would produce fungus that would eliminate carbon emissions from our air. And deforestation process and farming leads to toxic run off that kills plankton the main producer of oxygen on earth. Forests also help regulate the temperature of earth. Seems like a good thing to have all around right now. Maybe humans should avoid farming and start planting more forests and cultivating micro habitats and limit the amount of poison we let go into the air and water.

    Rights or no rights less humans, less farms, more trees, more micro habitats, more plankton, more oxygen and less carbon dioxide in the air. Abortion politics aside for human rights … less people is a good thing. Stop worrying about abortions and if you really want to save the planet just hand out more condoms and vasectomies. Actually snipping half the population of the world and searing those tubes tied by age 16 would vastly improve the worlds ecosystems. Fix the real problem: The number of humans on earth. Limit their numbers to 300 million and I bet the world will take care of itself. Snipping men’s balls will also decrease their aggression, violent nature, and probably crime. So yeah I just created world peace as well. Simple fix and human’s don’t need a choice in the matter. Just start snipping balls off and taking away females abilities to breed.

    • Evander says

      I don’t see you lessening the load of alleged ignorance, Jesse.

      Making bare assertions is nice, but your lack of justification is vast.

      Abortion, if it is to be done at all, should be done for morally defensible reasons, e.g. because of an ectopic pregnancy. Feel free to engage with any of the points I’ve already made.

      If serious, your view of humanity is hideously frightening. I’d almost forgot that anti-human totalitarianism isn’t just something that exists in the past or in novels.

      • augustine says

        His view is not one of humanity but one of biology, a poorly constructed and bitter one at that.

  35. Don_in_Odessa says

    When the civilized world finally collapses on itself, and it will … again, what will be the moral thing to eat then? I expect, in the beginning of such a scene … each other … for a time. The sanctity of life, other than our own, very often gives way to expedience.

  36. R Henry says

    I suffer no guilt from eating meat.

    Christians like myself understand that humanity occupies a unique position within Creation. We are at once given Dominion over Creation, yet also charged with providing good stewardship for it.

    As such, I understand that eating meat is perfectly acceptable on a moral level. I also understand it is my moral duty to properly care for the animals before their slaughter.

    It is simple philosophy, but not always easy.

  37. kenneth hunt says

    Where I live, cows, sheep, goats, humans, elk, deer, salmon, eagles, butterflies worms beetles mosquitoes and so on coexist. If this were a soybean farm not only would it be a mono culture it would be a highly toxic one.

  38. Jareth says

    From a purely evolutionary point of view the “trillions” of animals to which this article refers would not even exist were it not for farming.

    The cows and the humans have entered into a symbiotic relationship in which cows are now massively more successful in terms of reproducing themselves as a species than they would have been had they not “buddied up” with humans in this way.

    I’d like the author of this article to explain why he wants to see the mass extermination of trillions of cows for his own “moral” sense of well being.

    • But Jareth, please, listen to the voices here, it’s not about quantity (as it is in the human world), but about quality of life. Just look around, and judge yourself, the meadows with sheep and cattle or dairy, the feedlots, the animal factories on TV programmes ( because they are rather hidden in the landscape you walk and drive in) and the many alternatives behind farmers markets and organic growing systems (as in Joel Saladin’s polyfarms, see comments above, one of the firsts). What I know, there are about 1.5 trillion cows and cattle, of which more than half have a reasonably good life, before being slaughtered. This, however, cannot be said of the poultry and pigs, nohow!! Why not? It’s easy to change that, but we refuse to pay for it!

  39. Pingback: 69. Food » Metazoan

Comments are closed.