• The case against meat prohibition

    As a left-of-center civil libertarian, I have enjoyed and celebrated the appearance of outlets such as Quillette and Areo magazines, which counter the right-wing and regressive left follies at the same time; and are as scientifically informed as I like my regular readings to be. They’re a bulwark of modernism, and I really hope many more outlets like these will come.

    So imagine my distress when I came across a post by Andrew Gripp in which he calls for the end of animal slaughter by way of slouching towards a State-sanctioned prohibition of meat inspired, no less, by a religiously-motivated similar ban in the Indian city of Palitana.

    To his credit, Gripp avoided most of the regular veg arguments, including the speciesism canard — he even pointed out some fallacies people responding to veg claims usually fall into.

    His argument, nonetheless, is fallacious as well. In short, he makes the following claims:

    1. Killing animals unnecessarily is wrong

    2. The government ought to intervene to protect animals from being killed in the name of feeding human beings

    3. The Humane Slaughter Act (HSA) is not being enforced (and that, somehow, is supposed to be an argument for prohibition).

    4. There’s no difference between the meat industry and our neighbors sadistically killing their dogs (or rather, that there is no difference in quality, but only in quantity)

    5. There are culturally and morally arbitrary reasons why anti-cruelty laws explicitly exclude farm animals from the protections afforded to pets, and that this allows farmers to kill and mistreat animals.

    6. He quotes an NYT blogger who thinks the meat industry is morally equivalent with sadistically kicking a dog or a hamster.

    7. He argues there is a moral and legal hypocrisy in treating both activities with such a double standard.

    8. Eating meat by choice is morally wrong.

    9. He advocates once again for the government to provide protection to all animals in the care of human owners.

    The central part of his argument relies on a misunderstanding or, rather, the omission of a pesky fact: veg diets cause animal suffering as well. Every single time we put anything in our mouths, be that lettuce, onion, carrots, potatoes or bacon, animals died. Put another way: just like eating meat, veg diets rely on the killing of animals for food.

    In the comments section of his article, Gripp summarizes his thesis like this: “we should not tolerate the killing of animals for food”. Now, he has four options: to recant and rethink his authoritarian stance, to advocate for the banning of both meat and veg diets at the same time, to go into some kind of special pleading and do more mental gymnastics to explain why his preferred diets are exempt from his self-righteous position and how his diet choices are an acceptable “indifference toward the suffering of animals“, or just ignore the whole thing and pretend he has thoroughly demonstrated why his opinion should be made into the law.

    Onto his other claims. Regarding the HSA, I’m sorry but I can’t follow the logic here. There is a systematic failure to enforce the regulation that mandates animals be rendered insensible to pain before being killed so… instead of calling for said regulation to be actively and vigorously enforced, for laws to make sure meat production is done in a more humanely way, you instrumentalize that failure to ban all meat production? How convenient for you that all those animals suffered, so you could weaponize that suffering to advocate enforcing your morals on other people.

    Let’s take Gripp’s argument to its logical conclusion: people over-speeds and goes through red lights, so I guess cars have to go too! And we will end up getting rid of the Internet as well, since some people use it to commit cyber-fraud, porn-revenge and bully people with opinions. And you know what? Given most religious leaders challenge secularism by way of making political comments and endorsing candidates, I guess we’ll have to ban religion altogether! (Please note that I am making a reductio ad absurdum; yes, all religions are dangerous bullshit, and despite I am an ardent secularist, not even in my wildest dreams would I entertain the idea of having Government tell people what they can think or not, no matter how stupid or childish those beliefs are.)

    Regarding the mental exercise of our neighbor killing his dog, I wouldn’t mind — a long time ago I learned that whatever my morals are, my rights end where other people’s rights begin, so it’s not my place to dictate what other people can or cannot do with their animals and stuff, as long as they’re not hurting any other human being without their consent. If the dog(s) didn’t feel any pain, what my neighbor does on his property, with his animal(s), and without unnecessary suffering is pretty much his problem.

    Gripp’s example is flawed in yet another way: history turned out in such a way that we ended up farming pigs and cows for meat, while having dogs as pets and horses to ride. And, from a public safety point of view, since neither dog nor horse meat are typically farmed, their histories cannot be traced, and that’s a serious cause for concern, for they could be contaminated and not suitable for consumption. That’s why we had that whole horsemeat scandal a few years ago. So killing a dog isn’t really the same than killing a pig for human consumption. It just ain’t so.

    Regarding the NYT blogger and his claim that sadistically kicking dogs and hamsters is morally equivalent with the meat industry, that’s just plain wrong. Reducing business owners to blood-thirsty depraved men is just an ad hominem fallacy. Yes, the intellectual dishonesty of animal advocates never seizes to amaze, I will give them that.

    Now, I could be wrong, I don’t know, but I’m willing to bet most farmers don’t get a hard on just by turning the grinders on, or with animal blood-spills. But apparently, according to Gripp and Mark Bittman, selling food so your fellow human beings can meet their biological needs is not morally different to having an adrenaline rush when you cause pain gratuitously. Go figure! And, once again, considering agriculture also causes animal suffering and kills animals, there’s no reason why the indictment shouldn’t be extended to veggie peddlers!

    So no, there is no double standard when it comes to the moral and legal considerations we give to pets and those we give to farm animals. They are different, so we treat them differently.

    Last, but not least, Gripp ends with the whole thing that informs and drives his essay: the belief that eating meat by choice is morally wrong. No, it isn’t. I understand some people have an emotional need for a holier-than-thou narrative, but eating meat is not morally worse (or better) than eating vegetables.

    We do what we need to survive. So far, we haven’t come up with widely available and cost-effective ways to feed ourselves without causing suffering to animals (or killing them). I do hope we get there eventually, but we’re not there yet. I don’t like this fact, but that doesn’t make it any less true: everything we do has an impact on our environment — and this fixation on meat-eating is unhealthy: there are many other human activities that benefit from animals, and sometimes cost animals their lives, from research to booze distillation (isinglass from fish bladder and sea shells are used while filtering alcohol prior to bottling). The fact that we can see the meat while not considering the wildlife lost to kale farming is just incidental but doesn’t change the fact that animals died in both cases.

    To me, focusing on meat is just nit-picking. I’ll go out on a limb and take a guess as to why this happens: with the New Age, some people adopted yoga, others went with meditation, some others with pseudo-scientific quackery like the so-called ‘Traditional’ Chinese ‘Medicine’ (TCM), and it is quite possible some others were guilt-tripped into quitting meat. Have you ever wondered why veg propaganda (Cowspiracy, Earthlings, Vegucated, Live and Let Live, Peacable Kingdom, Forks over Knives, Simply Raw, Specisism, etc) is awash with appeals to emotion and won’t let those pesky facts get in the way? They’re to diet and nutrition what The World According to Monsanto is to GMOs and Monsanto, or what Gasland is to fracking: intellectually lazy appeals to emotion to advance an ideological agenda, and have mobs with torches and pitchforks try to impose their morals on others.

    And that’s pretty much what Gripp is advocating for in his piece. He just thinks his stance is civilized because he’s summoning the coercive power of the State instead of a mob, which is a distinction without a difference: his goal is to tell other people how to live our lives just because he was gullible enough to be guilt-tripped by an old and foreign puritanism.

    On Twitter, when I pointed out how ridiculous it is to instrumentalize the failure to enforce the HSA regulations to advance State-sponsored prohibitions and how taken aback I was because such a piece ended up being posted in Areo magazine —of all places—, Gripp retorted that Malhar Mali (Areo‘s founder and editor) eats meat… which had nothing to do with my point, namely that, if it were up to him, Gripp would do anything within his power to keep Mali (and anyone else) from eating meat.

    There are several other problems with prohibitionism, starting with the fact that nutritionally complete veg diets can be expensive and even in rich countries, meat can be the only way for poor people to fight chronic malnutrition. And, we know the horrors of prohibition as well: the absurd war against drugs and the criminalization of prostitution are two of the most egregious examples — prohibition leads to more suffering and illegal markets which, in turn, foster violence.

    I don’t think Gripp or anyone else advocating the government to curtail our liberties has taken just one minute to ponder the effects their beloved ban would have. Or they don’t care. Who gives a rats ass if chronic malnutrition starts soaring? Or if people start killing each other over turf wars? Or if people start dying because the black market couldn’t care less about sanitary regulations? Or if we increase the population of the already overpopulated prison system just because people did with their body what they saw fit? Yeah, I’ve seen what prohibition can do (blood shedding and jailing non-violent people) and I’m not impressed.

    In his Twitter response, Andrew Gripp told me Areo magazine was a platform for exploring ideas. The thing is prohibition and authoritarianism run contrary to that ideal; and that’s why Areo doesn’t publish post-moderninst absurdities. (Or at least, I like to think that’s why.) Hence my surprise to see the magazine giving voice to ideas expressed in a self-righteous way that dangerously mirrors that of many assorted intellectual thugs, such as SJWs and Evergreen State College students.

    In previous posts I have stated that I suspect veg-animalism is a misanthropic movement more interested in policing human behavior and amputating people’s rights than in actually improving animals’ lives and diminishing their suffering. Sadly, Andrew Gripp’s article confirms my suspicion. Even sadder: Areo lent itself for that.

    I am, by no means, an animals advocate; worthy cause and lots of house-cleaning to do, but I got bigger fish to fry — first, we ensure all human beings have their Human Rights and civil liberties respected, then we can all focus on how to improve our treatment of animals. There are, nonetheless, some activities that would seem an obvious go-to for people who has the animal cause as their top priority, instead of using it as a disguise to advance their totalitarian wet dreams.

    I’m thinking of things such as lobbying for the HSA to be as robustly enforced as possible; raising the level of debate by refusing to appeal to emotions and demonize meat-eating and, instead, trying to convince people giving them all the facts and being as accurate as possible; expanding education and fighting pseudoscience, so people won’t buy potions made with rhino’s horns or miraculous stews cooked with brown spider monkey broth.

    I have no reason to believe my words won’t fall on deaf ears. Most probably, Andrew Gripp and other animals advocates will keep their zealously policing of human eating habits up until they can enforce on everyone of us the prohibition they are so desperately calling for. I hope I’m wrong, but then again, when it comes to human lives (and the enjoyment of rights), animals advocates track record sucks.

    As per usual in with this topic, I am bound to say this: choosing a veg diet is as respectable as choosing an omnivorous one, and any properly fed and informed person who is over 18 years old should decide which one they prefer — there’s no right or wrong answer, and no diet is morally superior to others. Bon appétit!

    Category: PhilosophySkepticism and Science


    Article by: Ðavid A. Osorio S

    Skeptic | Blogger | Fact-checker
    • Bill Ames

      I think you miss the most important argument against vegans. Predation is a natural, and necessary part of the natural order. I fail to see how being killed and eaten by humans is worse than being killed and eaten by wolves or hyenas. Further forbidding the slaughter and/or miking of domestic cattle would probably lead to their extinction. These animals have adapted over nearly 3000 years to being fed and protected by humans in return for providing us with food and labor. This has been their Darwinian Strategy. They have neither the hardiness, nor intelligence of their wild cousins.

      • Yes, I could’ve claimed something of the sorts. Will take it into account later. (I would probably word it differently, though, because before you qualified your argument, I thought you were introducing a naturalistic fallacy.)


        • Bill Ames

          It seems I was not clear in the first part of my post. I do not believe that something is good, or even acceptable, because it is natural. As a through going materialist I regard good and bad as human values. I simply wished to point out that since many humans, including me, value places that show minimal human impact, eliminating humans as predators will have little effect on the total of animal suffering. The only excuse I can offer is I am no used to having what I write read by a philosopher.

    • Drew

      Some rejoinders:
      1. I don’t deny that a vegetarian diet harms animals. Growing and transporting food in a globalized economy will have a host of negative consequences. But we can drastically minimize the harm that we cause animals while still getting the nutrition we need to survive and be healthy.
      2. The reductio ad absurdum argument is absurd. I would never argue that we should ban important activities because they have unavoidable negative externalities. Yes, thousands of people die in car accidents every year, people who wouldn’t die if we banned automobiles or lowered the speed limit to 10 mph nationwide. That’s because if we did, there would be a whole host of much worse consequences. Our economy would barely be able to function, which would have consequences that would be far worse than those under the status quo. As a society, we make these cost-benefit calculations all the time. We accept a certain number of casualties caused by car accidents to reap the benefits of quick transportation. But we also don’t abolish the speed limit: the costs would almost certainly outweigh the marginal benefits. So to maximize utility, we set a relatively high speed limit.
      And so it is (or ought to be) with food. Are their costs associated with sustaining a vegetarian diet? Yes. But compared to worlds in which we (a) raise animals for food and (b) grow food only in a way that eliminates all animal suffering, a world (c) in which only vegetarian food is grown and consumed is optimal.
      3. My argument in and of itself does not depend on the existence of HSA violations. My argument is that we should not kill animals for food unless it is necessary for human survival. My reason for invoking HSA violations is to demonstrate the suffering that is inflicted on animals in a world where the demand for meat is so high. Abundant and affordable meat is only possible if its production is Taylorized. It would take way too much time to manually slaughter 8 billion chickens, so instead the process is mechanized: chickens are dragged through an electric bath and then have their throats slit. But 700,000 chickens are not sufficiently stunned and do not have their throats slit each year, meaning they are later scalded while conscious. Many cows and pigs are killed while conscious as well.
      4. The other reason I bring up the violations is because there is this assumption that animals raised for food live decent lives and are killed painlessly. As stated above, many animals do not die painless deaths (and I didn’t even address religious slaughter, which is truly barbaric and I suspect something you don’t endorse). But in the U.S., far too many animals raised for food live miserable lives. I mention sow crates, the 6-week lifespan of a broiler chicken, the extremely cramped conditions of caged “layer” hens, not to mention calves raised for veal and the thousands of cattle who freeze to death in feedlots during blizzards. Also extreme weather kills many animals during transport. You write that what a neighbor does to animals is none of your business, so long as the animals do not feel pain and do not suffer unnecessarily. To what extent are these common practices and occurrences described above morally acceptable to you? How exactly would farm animals have to be raised, housed, transported, and slaughtered for the whole process to be ethical? And what should the punishments be when animals do suffer? If your standard is that animals ought not suffer unnecessarily or experience pain, then you should be pretty outraged at how we produce most of our meat.
      5. There is nothing ad hominem about my essay. I know that some farmers do all they can to make their animals’ lives and deaths comfortable. However, some workers do enjoy tormenting animals, or do it because they become desensitized to their suffering. Here is that latest example, from a few days ago:
      If you think this is a one-off, just let me know. There are countless examples. No wonder crime rates tend to be higher in areas where there are lots of these kinds of jobs: http://www.animalstudies.msu.edu/Slaughterhouses_and_Increased_Crime_Rates.pdf
      6. People can satisfy their biological needs without consuming animal flesh. I included links to evidence for this claim in my Areo essay.
      7. There is no reason that we can’t promote human rights around the world and promote the well-being of animals at the same time.
      8. I’m sure it was fun for you to psychoanalyze me and other vegetarians in trying to explain our motives (New Age, sanctimony, misanthropy, coercion for its own sake, etc.). Spare me next time. Deal with the arguments.
      9. To return to the central argument: I am interested in finding the morally optimal way (with respect to the well-being of humans and animals) to ensure that humans have the nutrition they need to survive and be healthy. Ending the production of all vegetarian food would benefit animals, yes, but it would have disastrous consequences for humanity. It would in no way be morally optimal. That leaves us with a vegetarian diet or an omnivorous diet. Granted, both require some animal suffering. But do they require the same amount of animal suffering? Does the vegetarian diet not necessitate less net animal suffering? If it does, then I think it’s fair to say that, morally speaking, it is a superior diet.

      • Drew

        Elsewhere I’ve seen you dispute the claim that growing plants for food causes less harm to animals than killing animals for food. A commenter cited this article:

        And it had this conclusion:

        “One conclusion of the Cornell study was that meat generally increases land requirements of a diet, but diets including a small amount of meat could result in less land required per capita than some high-fat vegetarian diets (that include milk and eggs) because of cattle converting forage on land unsuitable for crops into human-edible calories. It is probably true that raising ruminant animals on pasture unsuitable for crops would increase the total amount of human-edible calories in the food supply, but it is critical to point out that chicken, pork, and at least 85 percent of beef is fattened in a feedlot on corn grown on land that could be divided between growing food for direct human consumption and wildlife habitats[17]. The gain of human edible calories achieved by grazing cattle is not much of a benefit considering that there is enough suitable cropland to grow enough calories to feed everyone without the additional calories gained from raising cattle on pasture, and that cattle grazing has an environmental cost. Cattle are a non-native species to the United States, and cattle grazing is destructive to the environment in numerous ways, including soil loss to erosion, reduced survival of seedling trees, and loss of species diversity[18].

        “The results of this estimation show that a diet that includes animal products will result in more animal deaths than a plant-based diet with the same number of calories. The production of chicken meat results in vastly more animal deaths than any other category of food. Based on this estimation, someone wanting to modify their eating habits in order to reduce animal suffering and death should start by removing chicken from their diet, then eggs. Although beef may cause more animal deaths than pork, pork probably causes more suffering, because most of the beef-related deaths are wild animals, and in comparison, a greater number of the pork-related deaths are factory farmed animals. The most animal suffering and death can be prevented by following a vegan diet.”

        Will you now concede that a vegetarian diet causes less harm to animals than an omnivorous diet?

        • I wasn’t aware of this. I have reduced my chicken consumption and actually replaced it with beef for Steven Pinker gave a compelling reason in ‘The Better Angels of Our Nature’. (I’m guessing his argument and part of the article cited are somehow related.)

          And, once again: if the HSA was enforced, animals would suffer less. That’s something I think we can both agree on, and I would support wholeheartedly.

          I don’t like stripping humans out of their rights. I’m all for reducing animal suffering, but not by authoritarian means. The means you choose are usually a reflection of the ends you are advocating for.

          So even if I were to concede that veg diets cause less harm than omnivorous ones, I’m not even an inch more sympathetic to your prohibitionist claim.

        • Drew

          1. Your claim seems to be that producing vegetarian food causes as much, if not more, harm to animals than producing meat. First, I am writing about modern Western nations (if nothing else, to avoid discussing a multitude of different cases) In the U.S., we kill 9 to 10 billion cows, pigs, and chickens each year, as well as produce massive amounts of food just to feed them. If we replaced all meat production with producing plant-based foods (essentially what I am arguing), the net harm to animals would drop drastically. The same seems obviously true when applied to Canada, Western Europe, Australia, etc. Do you disagree?
          2/3. No, my argument is not dependent on the recurrence of HSA violations. Even if we rendered every animal perfectly unconscious before killing it, we’d still have billions of animals living in conditions that cause suffering (see #4). Also, we’d still be killing billions of animals prematurely. If a pet owner killed his 6-week old kitten, he’d be prosecuted. If a farmer kills hundreds of 6-week chicks per hour, he runs a successful business. This hypocrisy is the basis of my argument, not HSA violations.
          4. —
          5. No, not just because. Because they have jobs that involve killing young animals.
          I agree that there should be training. Still, the point stands: some do enjoy tormenting the animals.
          6. Yes, but again, supporting an omnivorous diet causes more harm than a vegetarian diet. I’m happy to make this the focus of the subsequent discussion.
          7. No, it is a false choice. Presumably, you go to the grocery store on a regular basis. Next time, you can simply get vegetarian food rather than meat products. It adds no extra time, and you can go on promoting human rights.
          8. I don’t hide any facts.
          I’m also happy to respond to any supposed logical fallacies. I don’t see any in my essay, but your post is filled with ad hominems.
          9. No, I didn’t change my tune. My argument hasn’t changed. In response to your claim of moral equivalence (between eating vs. not eating meat), I am saying that a vegetarian diet causes less net suffering (to humans and animals) than (a) a non-vegetarian diet, whatever that might be, and (b) an omnivorous one.
          10. We don’t legalize unethical things to avoid the consequences of prohibition. You wouldn’t argue for legalizing dogfighting (I suspect) on the grounds that prohibition will just drive it underground, create a black market, etc.
          Also, soon (in the West at least), cultured meat will obviate the need to kill animals to produce meat. When it becomes widely available, I think the argument for prohibition, even just at the local level, will be plausible.
          What do you think about that? In 50 years, when cultured meat might be capable of supplanting the current meat industry (this seems like a fair estimate), do you think it could be justifiable to ban killing animals for food then? If a farmer wants a burger, and he can get the same quality burger at the store, should we accept him killing a cow “just for old time’s sake”?

      • 1) No, you don’t get it. It’s not the consequences of using pesticides for growing food or transporting said food. It’s about this: Every land used for agriculture was once wild land, so when you’ve plowed a piece of forest to plant it, the entire ecosystem has been removed. Removing the ecosystem involves removing space for wildlife to develop. The problem is most obvious in tropical areas, where the agricultural land is obtained by burning patches of forest and burning every animal that lives there, so if you eat a fruit or vegetable from any of these countries, many more animals than just a cow died. In addition, the proximity to the jungle is yet another problem: the impact that wildlife can have on crops. It is quite common for a tiger to attack a farmer, or a herd of elephants to raze the plot, which means that farmers have to defended themselves. In recent years the mortality of protected species has been due more to agriculture than poaching. <<– THIS is the killing of animals for veg diet food.

        2. a). That's how reductio ad absurdum works.
        b) Check your article. Maybe that's what you wanted it to say (the cost-benefit analysis), but it doesn't say so. It reads like this: the HSA doesn't work, so let's ban meat.

        3. False dilemma. You can have automatized meat production while rendering animals insensible to pain. It maybe increase costs, but that should already be an operating cost.

        4. I'll have to get back to you on these Qs.

        5. "I know that some farmers do all they can to make their animals' lives and deaths comfortable"

        And you're advocating for them to be left out of jobs. Just because. (Again, go back to my point 1 in this response).

        "some workers do enjoy tormenting animals, or do it because they become desensitized to their suffering"

        So there should be a psychological treatment component to these kinds of jobs.

        "No wonder crime rates tend to be higher in areas where there are lots of these kinds of jobs"

        Correlation ain't causation.

        6. Yes, people can satisfy their biological needs without consuming animal flesh but that doesn't mean animals won't die from veg farming. (Once again, go to point 1 in this comment).

        7. Yes, there are. For starters, because for some people animal well-being equates with stripping people out of their human rights (check your own Areo article). And second, because there isn't enough time/energy/money for me to get behind every worthy endeavour, so we prioritize.

        8. Regardless of how fun it was (or wasn't): have you ever stopped to consider your fellow activists are doing a disservice to your cause by hiding facts (once again, go to point 1 in this comment) and appealing to emotions (among other assorted fallacies, used quite liberally, tbh)?

        9. You changed you tune. You went from "no killing of animals for food" to "net animal suffering", which ain't the same.

        "But do they require the same amount of animal suffering?"

        If you factor caloric intake in, veg farming requires *more* animal suffering (how much lettuce you have to eat in order to get the same caloric intake you get from a steak? A LOT!)

        10. Now that we're talking moral optimals, it wouldn't hurt the conversation if you answered the comments about prohibition effects. Have you ever stopped to consider what prohibition actually does to societies?

    • sombodysdad

      Meat eaters should be forced to live near pig and chicken farms. Then we will see what they have to say about it.

    • Sonny Moonie

      Movies that show how meat is actually made, or show interviews with doctors who advocate vegan diets that are successful for their patients, you call “veg propaganda.” You say veg propaganda has appeals to emotion, as if that’s an argument against it. I guess you’d prefer human ways of life to go against human emotions at every turn. Why would you prefer that though, if you do, hypothetically? That would just be your own emotional preference, for rational brutality, or something like that.