Monthly Archives: January 2008

Blog Announcement

February through July is a busy time of year for me at work. As much as I enjoy writing unpopular vegan essays, I will have to slow down the frequency of blog postings from what has been a posting every week or two to about one posting or so per month during this period of long work hours. In August, I plan to pick up the blog pace again as work slows down to my preferred shorter hours from August to January. As always, thank you for reading.

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Animal Rights and Policing Nature


If animals have rights, it is sometimes asked, do we have obligations to police nature? To what extent should we intervene, if at all, in predator-prey relationships so ubiquitous in the wild? Is animal rights philosophy necessarily hostile to ecological concerns? What are the boundaries of our moral responsibility for others in general, including humans? It is clear that we should eliminate all intentional, avoidable, and unnecessary harm and violence against others and that we should reduce regrettable, but practically necessary harmful side-effects of our actions as much as possible; but what about our obligations to physically or militarily intervene to prevent the immoral actions of others? Is the behavior of true carnivores – who for all practical purposes need to kill to survive – immoral? [1] Would the world be better off without true carnivores? These are all difficult questions. Like many questions regarding ethics and morals in all areas, these questions are about where lines should be drawn. These questions also bring up conflicts between holist and individualist ways of viewing ethics, which go to the root of ethical and moral foundations.My goal in this essay will be to propose general answers to some of these questions within the context of prima facie rights and duties, giving priority to the interests of individuals, but also considering the holist point of view, at least to the consequentialist extent of preserving a sustainable ecosystem and environment. I’m using the word consequentialist instead of utilitarian because while I see the need to consider ecosystem and environmental consequences for the goal of preventing serious harm in these areas, I do not see a need to maximize environmental balance and health, as if such maximization of environmental balance and health were the summum bonum of human and nonhuman activity. First, if such maximization were the summum bonum, the first step would be to abolish all cities and virtually all of modern industry and transportation and cull the enormous planetary human herd of six billion; a step that I’m glad to dismiss out of hand, if for no other reason than it would violate the rights of many individuals. It would also be difficult to achieve a political consensus on the matter of who gets culled and why (we humans – including ecologists embracing holism – tend to take our own individual rights to life very seriously, or at least more seriously than we generally take others’ rights to life, human or not). Second, I value existing individual consciousness and sentience, human and nonhuman, far more than an aesthetically-pleasing and balance-maximizing “ideal ecosystem”. Obviously, we need to protect ecosystems and the environment sufficiently for survival and health of current and future generations, but concern for the environment is very much a utility concern akin to our concern for the condition of our home: we want it clean, balanced, and livable, both now and in the future, and perhaps cleaner and more livable than it is now, but there’s no need for perfect balance and to make the environment immaculate as if it were a museum piece (even if it were possible to do so).

Policing Humans and Nonhumans

Regular readers of this blog will probably begin to notice a certain approach that I take to answering ethical and moral questions surrounding animal rights, which is an approach based on respect for generally accepted human rights: first, look to the precedent established in human rights; second, see if that precedent needs any revisions based on differences in surrounding circumstances. I will approach the “policing nature” questions in the same way.

If humans in remote and sometimes violent areas of the planet have moral rights – and I take for granted that they do, even if they have no legal rights – then do we have obligations to police predatory behavior of local tribes, tyrants, or chieftains? And if “we” do, who is “we”? Do we personally, as individual citizens of economically developed country X, have an obligation to hop a plane to underdeveloped country Y and “take care of business” over there, restoring justice? Or is it our government and volunteer military operating under a liberal democratic political system that would take on this responsibility? Or perhaps our government’s and voluntary military’s responsibility is to safeguard our national interests and not to assure human rights for the six billion human inhabitants of the planet? Isn’t the question of how much “we” (i.e. our country or the United Nations) should do to police the world really more of a complicated political question with difficult moral and ethical considerations than a question of human rights, per se? It certainly seems so to me.

It should be clear after a short reflection on the above paragraph that the question of how much we should “police nature”, particularly in developing a society-wide policy on such policing, is more a complicated political question with the same difficult moral and ethical considerations than a question of animal rights, per se. Granted, there are no governments or political factions in the wilderness, but that doesn’t change the political nature of the debate of what “we” should do about policing nature. In addition, many of the human conflicts inflicted by tyrants around the world really are akin to life in the wilderness rather than life in a civilized, governed political society. Predation (or worse, planned genocide) is precisely what goes on in many world conflicts. Being the political question that it is, it is a question better addressed in a society of vegans, who will probably disagree on “where to draw the line” on policing nature as much as citizens who strongly promote human rights currently differ over “where to draw the line” on policing human activity outside of one’s own country.

It also should be clear that a cost-benefit analysis, including costs to the balance of ecosystems, should be considered. Personally, I think we should protect the rights of as many non-predatory humans or nonhumans as we can reasonably afford to protect, even if we must override the rights of a fewer number of predatory humans or nonhumans. How many we can reasonably afford to protect – regardless of whether they are human or nonhuman – depends on not only the potential costs of lives in the attempt to protect, but also the costs of the degree of harm to an ecosystem that causes serious hardship to members of the ecosystem, whether those members are human, nonhuman, presently existing, or to exist in the future. In other words, to what degree, if at all, we should police nature is a complicated question, and one that even a society of vegans would have significant political differences over. Policing nature is also an issue – like other complicated political and moral questions about policing humans – that generally ought to be decided on a case-by-case basis, with case analyses on specific proposals with specific facts about specific ecologies considered in light of the moral implications of animal rights, which, just like human rights, need not be absolute. We need not settle the issue here with broad, sweeping generalizations sure to apply only to a few specific cases, if any at all. Most importantly, as we will see in the next section, there are more immediate concerns to address in our “protection” of animals; specifically, that we should start leaving animals alone by not intentionally breeding them into existence and abusing and slaughtering them before we talk about protecting wild animals in nature.

The Implications of Animal Rights

As we established in previous essays, animals have the basic rights to physical security and not to be property against humans by virtue of their sentience. [2] The duty of humans regarding these basic rights is essentially to abstain from intentionally harming animals and taking reasonable actions to prevent or reduce unintentional harm. [3]

If we breed animals into existence, purchase them (of course, breeding, selling, and purchasing animals should be illegal) or adopt them, we acquire the duty – as we would acquire the duty if we adopted children – to take further steps to protect their rights as their guardians which goes beyond our duty to abstain from harming them or our duty to take reasonable actions to prevent or reduce unintentional harm. Our acquired duties toward animals we take action to bring into existence (or who exist due to our negligence) or become the guardians of, like our acquired duties toward those humans whom we become the guardians of, are far more stringent than the duties we have to those beings, human or nonhumans, whose existence is not our responsibility or whom we have not become the guardians of.

Domesticated versus Wild Animals

Domesticated animals, by definition, are those who have been brought into existence by the intention or negligence of humans (e.g. negligence involving failure to spay or neuter). Because of this intentional action or negligent non-action, we have acquired duties toward those animals whose existence is our responsibility which, as stated in the section above, go beyond and are far more stringent than the duties we have toward wild animals whose existence is not our responsibility.

Our acquired responsibility toward domesticated animals is to provide a comfortable existence, including food, shelter, the ability to engage in natural harmless behavior, and reasonable protection from harms. If we do not want this responsibility, we should avoid negligently or intentionally allowing domesticated animals to breed and we should avoid purchasing or adopting them. Of course, if we want to take on this responsibility, we should only adopt since there are millions too many unwanted domesticated animals already in existence.

As for wild animals, we are not responsible for their existence and have no acquired duties to provide for them. We only have duties to abstain from intentionally harming wild animals and taking reasonable actions to prevent or reduce unintentional harm. [3] Our duties to police their behavior, just as in the case of policing humans in remote areas and other countries, are limited in any case to reasonable actions (i.e. there are no stringent duties here) and range from no such duties to duties determined on a case-by-case basis considering and balancing ecological sustainability concerns, the advice of experts, and the rights of individual animals.

The Unreasonable Assumptions of Animal Exploitation Advocates

One of the reasons for writing on this topic is that sometimes animal exploitation advocates bring up the impossibility of “policing all of nature” as an attempted, but failed, reductio ad absurdum of the animal rights position in general.

One sure sign of speciesism is the tendency to, first, cast animal rights in absolute terms admitting no exceptions and to project our corresponding duties as absolutely stringent and impossible to achieve, and second, choose the other extreme of doing whatever we please to animals. The speciesist notion goes something like this: if animals have rights, then that would require us to establish a planetary utopia whereby we must prevent all harm from any source whatsoever from visiting on animals (one imagines hurling oneself into the path of lightning bolts halfway across the globe and generally doing endless battle with Zeus). Since we cannot achieve such a state of affairs, so say animal exploitation advocates, we ought to abandon any ideas of rights and accept the opposite extreme of doing whatever we please, perhaps “mitigated” by (impotent) welfare laws.

Animal exploitation advocates ignore all of the middle ground and reasonableness that we apply in formulating and applying human rights, both practically and theoretically, when they think of animal rights. There is a palpable intellectual dishonesty in the exploitation advocates’ “ignorance of” or refusal to acknowledge the middle ground and reasonableness of animal rights and the similarities, particularly in this regard, of human rights and animal rights in both theory and practice.

The exploitation advocates’ dishonesty and “disunderstanding” (dishonest misunderstanding) would ordinarily not fly as well as it does in our society if not for the cultural prejudice of speciesism currently so prevalent in society to being with. Indeed, most people, when faced with the ignorance and corresponding fear of the unknown of veganism (which is actually an easy, healthy, and delightful way to eat), are all too happy to “play dumb” and ignore this dishonesty. The good news is that this dishonesty can only be a temporary obstacle for animal rights. The longer the light of day shines on the ease and healthy living of veganism and the exploiters’ dishonesty, the less sway the exploiters’ objections will have. Assuming progress in human civilization over the coming decades, someday, hopefully soon, it will be utterly embarrassing, as it should be, to put forth the objections that are so commonly offered by today’s animal exploitation advocates.



[1] Humans sometimes refer to themselves as “carnivores.” In contrast to true carnivores, applying the word “carnivore” to a human is absurd. As opposed to scavenger “carnivores” (who are better categorized as necrovores or omnivores), true carnivores kill prey with their fangs and claws; are fast, quick, tough and very strong considering their body weight; tear through and easily digest raw, living, bloody flesh; and eat the being while the blood is still warm and before any disease and rot has had an opportunity to infest the body. True carnivores have short digestive tracts and not only can, but generally must, eat virtually nothing but muscle, blood, fat, and entrails (i.e. no vegan food). A true carnivore’s survival needs will always at least excuse, if not justify, behavior otherwise considered immoral. So even if true carnivores could deliberate morally, they would be excused from their otherwise immoral behavior due to survival requirements.

Contrast that with humans: we cannot hunt without artificial weapons; we’re slow, physically soft and dull, and relatively weak considering our body weight; we have harmless teeth and nails; we have long, ape-like vegetarian digestive tracts, and usually cook the disease out of rotting flesh (as opposed to eating it fresh, warm, bloody, and raw). Most of us would be disgusted by precisely what a true carnivore (or even a true scavenger/omnivore) eats. The more we consume animal products, the more we are overcome by heart disease, obesity, diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, strokes, and cancer. [1.1] It is quite clear that we are best suited to a diet with little or no animal products.

[1.1] For more information on the health benefits of veganism, check out Physicians’ Committee for Responsible Medicine and The China Study.

[2] See Sentience: The Morally Relevant Characteristic Justifying Basic Rights and Property Status and Animal Welfare: Two Deep Roots of Cruelty.

[3] “Reasonable actions” means that we are not obligated to incur significant personal cost or sacrifice, or disrupt our lives, to prevent or reduce unintentional harm. It means that if there is something relatively inexpensive and risk-free we can do or implement to prevent or reduce unintentional harm, we ought to do it. The same standard arises in our obligations to prevent or reduce unintentional harm toward humans. In fact, the law in the United States does not require us to assist others even if there is no cost to us in attempting to do so; it is more lenient than what I propose in this essay.

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Do Vegans Violate Animal Rights?

Last week’s essay, ”Contrasting Harms”, was dedicated to the issue of contrasting the harms between vegan and animal agriculture populations, and found that 1) in feeding equal populations, any system of animal agriculture would be significantly more harmful than a vegan system of agriculture, and 2) the current animal agriculture system is unimaginably more harmful than a vegan system of agriculture, particularly in the degree of cruelty involved, but also in the number of deaths involved in each system.This essay will directly address the claim of some animal exploitation advocates that since 1) vegans consume grains, soybeans, corn, and other crops, and 2) crop production causes field animals to die, that 3) vegans cause animal deaths, and 4) are therefore violating the rights of animals.

A Comparative Analogy in Human Rights

On American highways and roads we inadvertently, but predictably kill an average of 38,000 human beings annually. This annual average of approximately 38,000 human deaths is as reliable and predictable as the change of seasons. Although we try to keep this number “as low as reasonably possible” through reasonable measures, such as speed limits, seatbelts, air bags, and anti-lock brakes, we do not take stringent measures to eliminate a majority of those 38,000 highway deaths, such as reducing the speed limit from the range of 55 to 75 miles per hour (88 – 120 kph) to the range of 35 to 50 miles per hour (56 – 80 kph) using either mandatory engine governors and/or extremely heavy fines or jail time for even moderate speeding. Are we violating human rights by only taking reasonable instead of stringent measures to prevent these fatal accidents? Most, if not all of us, would say no, there are no human rights violations inherent in our current highway and motor vehicle system, even if we inadvertently, but predictably kill 38,000 random humans annually, and even if we only take reasonable measures instead of stringent measures to prevent these deaths.

Let’s compare the “inadvertent motor vehicle fatalities” situation (“Situation A”) given above with another situation, which we’ll call the “prisoner execution” situation (“Situation B”). Situation B is as follows: To reduce the financial and economic burden of housing prisoners and to rid the country of its most violent sector, both for short-term relief of the violent burden and as a long-term “social improvement” program, we have adopted a policy of executing 38,000 prisoners annually, with the 38,000 to come from the prisoners with the most jail time left to serve. As the prison population declines due to our new execution program, the policy will eventually be tapered down from “38,000 prisoner executions no-matter-what” to executing anyone convicted of a crime normally garnering a sentence of greater than or equal to 4 years in prison. Of course, many of these prisoners will not have murdered anyone and will be receiving a punishment greater than their crime, but we anticipate that it will have positive deterrent and “social improvement” effects on society. Also, there will come a point when we’re killing far less prisoners than 38,000 per year. In addition to that, we kill 38,000 innocent people on our highways annually because of our lax driving restrictions, so why not kill not-as-innocent prisoners?

What’s the problem with Situation B? The problem is most of us would call this prisoner execution policy a very serious human rights violation.

Why do we come to different conclusions about human rights violations in the above two situations? In both situations, we can clearly foresee, with virtually no doubt, that 38,000 humans will be killed as a result of our policy. In both situations, the economic, social, and/or practical gains are significant.

There are at least a few reasons we come to different conclusions with regard to human rights in these two different situations, and they are as follows:

1) In Situation A, the policy of “allowing speed limits greater than 35 to 50 mph on expressways” is not wrong in itself. By contrast, in Situation B, the policy of “executing prisoners innocent of capital crimes” is wrong in itself.

2) In Situation A, the bad consequence of 38,000 traffic fatalities is a foreseen side-effect, but not an intended consequence of the policy of “allowing speed limits greater than 35 to 50 mph on expressways”. Our intent in our policy of “allowing higher speed limits” is not “to kill more drivers.” By contrast, in Situation B, the bad consequence of 38,000 prisoner fatalities is a foreseen and intended consequence of the policy of “executing prisoners innocent of capital crimes”. Our intent in our policy of “executing prisoners” is “to kill prisoners.” The dead prisoners will not be merely “foreseen side-effects” of our executions.

3) In Situation A, the good economic and practical consequence is a direct result of “speed limits greater than 35 to 50 mph on expressways”. The higher speed limits themselves bring about the good consequence. The 38,000 annual traffic fatalities – which we are also taking reasonable measures to prevent from being higher – do not themselves bring about the good consequence. By contrast, in Situation B, the good economic and practical consequence is a direct result of the 38,000 annual prisoner executions. The prisoner executions themselves bring about the good consequences.

A Parallel Comparative Analogy in Animal Rights

Because of our policy of allowing speeds in excess of 35 to 50 mph on our highways, we inadvertently, but predictably kill thousands of humans. In the same way, because of our policy of allowing machines to till soil and harvest crops, we inadvertently, but predictably kill millions of wild field animals.

We, as vegans supporting animal rights, are willing to incur the crop production fatalities for the same reasons that a majority of people in our society, as citizens supporting human rights, are willing to incur the traffic fatalities on our highways. We, as vegans supporting animal rights, are unwilling to incur intentional slaughterhouse fatalities for the same reasons that a majority of people in our society, as citizens supporting human rights, are unwilling to incur the prisoner execution fatalities. The reasons stated above for the human rights case are the exact same reasons stated below in the animal rights case for easy comparison. We’ll call the inadvertent crop production fatalities “Situation C” and the intentional slaughterhouse fatalities “Situation D”.

1) In Situation C, the policy of “allowing machines to till soil and harvest crops” is not wrong in itself. By contrast, in Situation D, the policy of “slaughtering nonhuman beings” is wrong in itself.

2) In Situation C, the bad consequence of millions of crop production fatalities (to feed hundreds of millions of people) is a foreseen side-effect, but not an intended consequence of the policy of “allowing machines to till soil and harvest crops”. Our intent in our policy of “allowing crop production using machines” is not “to kill more animals”. By contrast, in Situation D, the bad consequence of billions of animal deaths is a foreseen and intended consequence of the policy of “slaughtering nonhuman beings”. Our intent in our policy of “slaughtering animals” is “to kill animals.” The dead animals will not be merely “foreseen side-effects” of our slaughterhouse operations.

3) In Situation C, the good consequence of obtaining economically affordable vegan food for hundreds of millions of people is a direct result of “allowing machines to till soil and harvest crops”. The machines themselves bring about the good consequence. The millions of wild field animal fatalities – which we should also take reasonable measures to reduce – do not themselves bring about the good consequence. By contrast, in Situation D, the (so-called) “good” consequence (and perhaps bad health consequence) of obtaining animal products for consumption is a direct result of “slaughtering nonhuman beings”. The slaughterhouse operation itself brings about the consequences.

The three reasons why Situations A and C are not rights violations can also be applied (and are applied) to rights questions involving self-defense, just war theory, triage, and health care economics. Crop production deaths are merely another paradigm case among many analogous cases where we accept regrettable consequences due to various other factors, such as intent, direct causation, and significantly worse alternative consequences.

It should be clear by now that if animal exploitation advocates are going to accuse vegans of animal rights “violations” because of inadvertent, but foreseen crop production deaths, they certainly ought to lead the way in criticizing our society’s human rights “violations” because of inadvertent, but foreseen traffic fatalities. If animal exploitation advocates think vegans should avoid machine-harvested crops, then they should literally ”walk” the talk and avoid modern rapid (and potentially lethal) transportation, not to mention go vegan and grow their own food manually. Of course, if they are reasonable and care about the rights of animals, the only imperative is to be vegan.

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Contrasting Harms: Vegan Agriculture versus Animal Agriculture

In last week’s essay about veganism as the moral baseline, I promised to address the anti-animal rights claim that since 1) vegans consume grains, soybeans, corn, and other crops, and 2) crop production causes field animals to die, that 3) vegans cause animal deaths, and 4) are therefore violating the rights of animals.

Before I address the related issues of the nature of rights (human or nonhuman), prima facie duties, conflicting rights, the principles of least harm and double effect, intended purposes, foreseen consequences, and how these issues interact with crop production deaths, I would like to assess and compare the harms done to animals under vegan and animal systems of agriculture. Because both of these topics (i.e. so-called rights “violations” and respective harms) are somewhat lengthy, I will break the discussion into two essays. This essay, as its title suggests, will discuss respective harms done by vegan versus animal agriculture. The next essay will discuss the so-called rights “violations” which animal exploitation advocates accuse vegans of.

Amusingly (from a human psychology standpoint), animal exploitation advocates kick up much righteous and defensive dust over this rights “violation” claim on Internet forums and elsewhere, as if it provides them with a toehold of moral ground to condemn animal rights advocates and, for themselves, take a permanent moral holiday with respect to our obligations toward animals, particularly our obligation to be vegan. If you pay them enough in public relation consulting fees, the most dishonest exploitation advocates will even go as far as to dig up an old and refuted study about how – “paradoxically” – intentionally killing more animals actually saves more animals, and publish it without publishing the related successful refutation. Indeed, the sleazy front group for the promotion of the special interests of the tobacco, alcohol, meat, dairy, and egg industries, misleadingly named “Center for Consumer Freedom” (“CCF”), posted such an article on their website as recently as April 3, 2007. The article was about a 2003 article entitled “Least Harm” written by Oregon State University animal science professor, Steven Davis, and published in the Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics, which, as CCF put it “suggests that switching to a food system dominated by beef and dairy would save the lives of 300 million more animals annually than switching to a vegan system.”

Really? A system dominated by “beef and dairy” would save 300 million more lives than a vegan system? How counterintuitive; who would have guessed at such an odd state of affairs?

To be fair, Steven Davis never put it the way CCF did above; and where we properly assume Davis made honest errors (as we will see below), CCF’s failure to mention the well-known rebuttal leaves us wondering not only about CCF’s positive inclination to plainly defraud the public, but also about their stupidity in the attempt.

Least Harm

Steven Davis argued that the number of wild field animals killed in pasture-based animal agriculture is less than the number of wild field animals killed in crop agriculture (due primarily to machine tilling and harvesting); therefore, according to the least harm principle central to most, if not all, ethical thought, we should adopt a diet of ruminant products (e.g. cows, sheep, and dairy) rather than a vegan diet.

Davis’s “Least Harm” article was immediately and successfully refuted in 2003 by Gaverick Matheny at Johns Hopkins University School of Public Health. Matheny’s article, which also appeared in the Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics, challenged Davis’s claims on three counts: “first, Davis makes a mathematical error in using total rather than per capita estimates of animals killed; second, he focuses on the number of animals killed in production and ignores the welfare of these animals; and third, he does not count the number of animals who may be prevented from existing.” Of Matheny’s three objections, the third one is an objection on utilitarian grounds, and therefore, for purposes of discussing deontological rights, the first two of his objections are of primary relevance.

Since Matheny’s article is linked above for those who are interested, I will spare the casual reader the details and references of Matheny’s accurate and successful rebuttal and go on to his conclusion on the first objection: “to obtain the 20 kilograms of protein per year recommended for adults, a vegan-vegetarian would kill 0.3 wild animals annually, a lacto-vegetarian would kill 0.39 wild animals, while a Davis-style omnivore would kill 1.5 wild animals. Thus, correcting for Davis’s math, we see that a vegan-vegetarian population would kill the fewest number of wild animals, followed closely by a lacto-vegetarian population.”

It should be noted here that Matheny’s calculation is referring ONLY to wild animals (i.e. only those animals inadvertently killed in crop land or pasture). A “lacto-vegetarian” population would, as a practical and economic matter, kill significantly more total animals, including ruminants, than a vegan population since 1) vegans don’t kill ruminants, and 2) ruminants, like humans, do not produce milk without being pregnant, which would lead to a massive glut of unusable male calves and “spent” dairy cows which have outlasted their lacto-productivity, a productivity ending several years before their life expectancy terminates. As the old saw goes, there’s a little veal in every glass of milk. The dairy industry is economically dependent on the slaughter industry. So, when we account for the “disposal” of the excess ruminants, we see that a “lacto-vegetarian” population moves away from the vegan population and closer to the Davis-style omnivore population in terms of all animals killed (not just wild field animals), and the vegan population, killing no ruminants, not only kills the fewest wild field animals but stands further alone in killing the fewest total animals.

Matheny’s second objection addresses the differences in welfare and quality of life between crop and ruminant production: “In comparing the harms caused by crop and ruminant production, we should compare the treatment of, say, a wild mouse up until his or her death in a harvester, with that of a grass-fed cow. The wild mouse lives free of confinement and is able to practice natural habits like roaming, breeding, and foraging. In contrast, the grass-fed cow, while able to roam some distance in a fenced pasture, may suffer third degree burns (branding), have holes punched in his ears (tagging), be castrated, have his horns scooped out of his head (dehorning),…” Matheny goes on to describe the cow’s transportation “up to several hundred miles without food, water, or protection from extreme heat or cold; then he is killed in a conventional slaughterhouse. The conditions of slaughterhouses have been described elsewhere (Eisnitz, 1997). Suffice it to say, it is hard to imagine that the pain experienced by a mouse as he or she is killed in a harvester compares to the pain even a grass-fed cow must endure before being killed.” Matheny goes on to properly conclude those principally concerned with the treatment of animals, rather than simply the number of deaths, have more reason to go vegan.

Matheny’s third objection is a utilitarian-based objection which concludes that a vegan population allows more animals with lives worth living to exist than any non-vegan population; a desirable condition, indeed, but not a necessary condition under an animal rights view.

In the end, Matheny correctly concludes that “When we correct for these errors, Davis’s argument makes a strong case for, rather than against, adopting a vegetarian diet: vegetarianism kills fewer animals, involves better treatment of animals, and likely allows a greater number of animals with lives worth living to exist.”

Case closed.

Other Considerations

What the Davis article and Matheny refutation does not address is the more than 10 billion land animals we actually slaughter for food annually, of which more than 9 billion are chickens, and which works out to about 33.3 animals per non-vegan annually, [1] PLUS the animals killed by harvesters to feed both humans and “food” animals, which we can estimate at least another 1.5 animals per non-vegan annually, for a total of at least 34.8 animals per non-vegan annually, compared to the estimated 0.3 of an animal per vegan annually. By going vegan, we avoid ALL (100%) of the animals intentionally slaughtered to feed ourselves and over 99% of all animals killed, intentionally or as a regrettable and unintended side-effect.

Need we say more about contrasting the harms of vegan versus animal agriculture? No, it is very clear that the contrast in harms is an extremely stark one, with the actual deaths currently caused by non-vegans quantitatively greater by 116 times the number of deaths caused by vegans, [2] and the harms caused by non-vegans in terms of welfare and quality of life qualitatively unimaginably greater than the harms caused by vegans.

The next essay will address how this information and other considerations, such as intentional acts and foreseen consequences, relate to animal rights and veganism as a moral baseline.


Eisnitz, G. A., Slaughterhouse (Prometheus Books, New York, 1997)


[1] 10 billion animals divided by the population of American non-vegans estimated at 300 million (these statistics are fairly easy to obtain, verify, or compile by searching on the Internet)

[2] Deaths caused annually per person: 34.8 for non-vegans divided by 0.3 for vegans.

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