LOUIS P. POJMAN- The Moral Life: An Introductory Reader in Ethics and Literature

New York Oxford OXFORD UNIVERSITY PRESS 2000

p. 856 Our Duties to Animals

Do you agree with Cohen that absurd consequences would follow

from our embracing a strong position on animal rights?

The Immorality of Eating Meat

MYLAN ENGEL, JR.

Mylan Engel, Jr. teaches philosophy at Northern Illinois University.

He has published several articles in epistemology,

philosophy of religion, and metaphysics. His current research

concerns human obligations to nonhuman animals.

In this article, Professor Engel advances an argument for the

immorality of eating meat. Unlike other ethical arguments

for vegetarianism, the argument advanced is not predicated

on the wrongness of speciesism, nor does it depend on your

believing that all animals are equal or that all animals have

a right to life, nor is it predicated on some highly contentious

metaethical theory which you reject. Rather, it is predicated

on your beliefs. Simply put, the argument shows that even

those of you who are steadfastly committed to valuing

humans over nonhumans are nevertheless committed to the

immorality of eating meat, given your other beliefs.

Most arguments for the moral obligatoriness of vegetarianism take

one of two forms. Either they follow Singer’s lead and demand equal

consideration for animals on utilitarian grounds,’ or they follow

Regan’s deontological rights-based approach and insist that most of

the animals we routinely consume possess the very same rights-con-

This essay was commissioned for this work and appears here in print

for the first time.

‘see Peter Singer’s Animal Liberation, 2d edition (New York: Avon Books,

1990) or his “All Animals are Equal” in Animal Rights and Human Obligations,

2d edition, eds. Regan and Singer (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-

Hall, 19891, pp. 73-86.

Engel/The Immorality of Eating Meat 857

Most arguments for the moral obligatoriness of vegetarianism take

one of two forms. Either they follow Singer’s lead and demand equal

consideration for animals on utilitarian grounds,’ or they follow

Regan’s deontological rights-based approach and insist that most of

the animals we routinely consume possess the very same rights-con-

ferring properties which confer rights on h~mans. While many people

have been persuaded to alter their dietary habits on the basis of

one of these arguments, most philosophers have not. My experience

has been that when confronted with these arguments meat-loving

philosophers often casually dismiss them as follows:

Singer’s preference utilitarianism is irremediably flawed, as is Regan’s

theory of moral rights. Since Singer’s and Regan’s arguments for vegetarianism

are predicated on flawed ethical theories, their arguments

are also flawed. Until someone can provide me with clear moral reasons

for not eating meat, I will continue to eat what I please.

A moment’s reflection reveals the self-serving sophistry of such

a reply. Since no ethical theory to date is immune to objection, one

could fashion a similar reply to “justify” or rationalize virtually any

behavior. One could “justify” rape as follows: An opponent of rape

might appeal to utilitarian, Kantian, or contractarian grounds to

establish the immorality of rape. Our fictitious rape-loving philosopher

could then point out that all of these ethical theories are flawed

and ips0 facto so too are all the arguments against rape. Our rape

proponent might then assert: “Until someone can provide me with

clear moral reasons for not committing rape, I will continue to rape

whomever I please.”

The speciousness of such a “justification” of rape should be obvious.

No one who seriously considered the brutality of rape could

think that it is somehow justfied/permissible simply because all current

ethical theories are flawed. But such specious reasoning is used

to “justify” the equally brutal breeding, confining, mutilating, transporting,

killing, and eating of animals all the time. My aim is to

block this spurious reply by providing an argument for the immorality

of eating meat which does not rest on any particular ethical

approach. Rather, it rests on beliefs which you already hold.3

‘See Tom Regan’s 7be Case for Animal Rights (Berkeley and Los Angeles:

University of California Press, 19831, or his “The Case for Animal Rights”

in In Defense of Animals, ed. Peter Singer (New York: Harper and Row

Perennial Library, 19851, pp. 13-26.

30bviously, if you do not hold these beliefs (or enough of them), my argument

will have no force for you, nor is it intended to. It is only aimed at

those of you who do hold these widespread commonsense beliefs.

858 Our Duties to Animals

Before turning to your beliefs, two prefatory observations are in

order. First, unlike other ethical arguments for vegetarianism, my

argument is not predicated on the wrongness of specie~ismn,~o r

does it depend on your believing that all animals are equal or that

all animals have a right to life. The significance of this can be

explained as follows: Some philosophers remain unmoved by

Singer’s and Regan’s arguments for a different reason than the one

cited above. These philosophers find that the nonspeciesistic implications

of Singer’s and Regan’s arguments just feel wrong to them.

They sincerely feel that humans are more important than nonhum

a n ~P.e~rh aps these feelings are irrational in light of evolutionary

theory and our biological kinship with other species, but these feelings

are nonetheless real. My argument is neutral with respect to

such sentiments. It is compatible with both an anthropocentric and

a biocentric worldview. In short, my argument is designed to show

that even those of you who are steadfastly committed to valuing

humans over nonhumans are nevertheless committed to the irnrnorality

of eating meat, given your other beliefs.

Second, ethical arguments are often context-dependent in that

4Speciesism is the widespread view that one’s own species is superior to

and more valuable than the other species and that, therefore, members of

one’s own species have the right to dominate members of these other

species. While “speciesism” and its cognates are often used pejoratively

in the animal rights literature, I use them only descriptively and imply no

negative or condescending appraisal of the individual so described.

5Bonnie Steinbock’s criticism of Singer’s view seems to be rooted in such

a sincerely held feeling. See her “Speciesism and the Idea of Equality,”

Philosophy, vol. 53, no. 204 (April 1978). Therein Steinbock writes:

I doubt that anyone will be able to come up with a concrete and morally

relevant difference that would justlfy, say, using a chimpanzee in an

experiment rather than a human being with less capacity for reasoning,

moral responsibility, etc. Should we then experiment on the

severely retarded? Utilitarian considerations aside . . . , we feel a special

obligation to care for the handicapped members of our own

species, who cannot survive in this world without such care . . . .

[Allthough one can imagine oneself in the monkey’s place, one feels

a closer identification with the severely retarded human being. Here

we are getting away from such things as ‘morally relevant differences’

and are talking about something much more difficult to articulate,

namely, the role of feeling and sentiment in moral thinking. (pp. 255f,

my emphasis)

Engel/The Immorality of Eating Meat 859

they presuppose a specific audience in a certain set of circumstances.

Recognizing what that intended audience and context is,

and what it is not, can prevent confusions about the scope of the

ethical claim being made. My argument is context-dependent in

precisely this way. It is not aimed at those relatively few indigenous

peoples who, because of the paucity of edible vegetable matter

available, must eat meat in order to survive. Rather, it is directed

at people, like you, who live in agriculturally bountiful societies in

which a wealth of nutritionally adequate alternatives to meat are

readily available. Thus, I intend to show that your beliefs commit

you to the view that eating meat is morally wrong for anyone who

is in the circumstances in which you typically find yourself and a

fortiori that it is morally wrong for you to eat meat in these circumstance~

E.~n ough by way of preamble, on to your beliefs.

  1. THE THINGS YOU BELIEVE

The beliefs attributed to you herein would normally be considered

noncontentious. In most contexts, we would take someone who

didn’t hold these beliefs to be either morally defective or irrational.

Of course, in most contexts, these beliefs are not a threat to enjoying

hamburgers, hotdogs, steaks, and ribs; but even with burgers

in the balance, you will, I think, readily admit believing the following

propositions: (p,) Other things being equal, a world with

less pain and suffering is better than a world with more pain and

suffering; and (p,) A world with less unnecessary suffering is better

than a world with more unnecessary suffering.’ Anyone who

6~ccordinglyt,h roughout the text my claim that “your beliefs commit you

to the immorality of eating meat” should be understood as shorthand for

the following more cumbersome claim: Your beliefs commit you to the

immorality of eating meat for anyone who is in the circumstances in which

you typically find yourself.

‘By “unnecessary suffering” I mean suffering which serves no greater, outweighing

justifying good. If some instance of suffering is required to bring

about a greater good (e.g., a painful root canal may be the only way to

save a person’s tooth), then that suffering is not unnecessary. Thus, in the

case of (p,), no ceterisparibw clause is needed, since if other things are

not equal such that the suffering in question is justified by an overriding

justifying good which can only be achieved by allowing that suffering,

then that suffering is not unnecessary.

860 Our Duties to Animals

has felt the force of the atheistic argument from evil based on gratuitous

suffering is committed to (p,) and (p,). After all, the reason

we think a wholly good God would prevent unnecessary suffering

is because we think that such suffering is intrinsically bad and that

the world would be better without it.8 Since you think that unnecessary

suffering is intrinsically bad, you no doubt also believe: (pa

Unnecessary cruelty is wrong and prima facie should not be supported

or encouraged. You probably believe: (p4) We ought to take

steps to make the world a better place. But even if you reject (p4)

on the grounds that we have no positive duties to benefit, you still

think there are negative duties to do no harm, and so you believe:

(p4J We ought to do what we reasonably can to avoid making the

world a worse place. You also believe: (p5) A morally good person

will take steps to make the world a better place and even

stronger steps to avoid making the world a worse place; and (p6)

Even a “minimally decent personn9 would take steps to help reduce

the amount of unnecessary pain and suffering in the world, if&e

could do so with vey little effort on herhis part.

You also have beliefs about yourself. You believe one of the following

propositions when the reflexive pronoun is indexed to yourself:

(p,) I am a morally good person; or (pa) I am at least a rninimally

decent person. You also believe of yourself: (pp) I am the

sort of person who certainly would take steps to help reduce the

amount of pain and suffering in the world, if I could do so with

vey little eflort on mypart. Enough about you. On to your beliefs

about nonhuman animals and our obligations toward them.

You believe: (p,J Many nonhuman animals (certainly all vertebrates)

are capable of feeling pain; (p,,) It is morally wrong to cause

8~nterestingly enough, one of the most powerful versions of the atheistic

argument from unnecessary suffering is predicated on gratuitous animal

suffering, namely, the suffering of a fawn severely burned in a naturally

occurring forest fire. See William Rowe’s “The Problem of Evil,” in Philosophy

ofReligion: An Introduction, 2d edition (Belmont, Cal.: Wadsworth,

19931, pp. 79-82.

9By a “minimally decent person” I mean a person who does the very rninimum

required by morality and no more. I borrow this terminology from

Judith Jamis Thomson who distinguishes a good Samaritan from a minimally

decent Samaritan. See her “A Defense of Abortion,” Philosophy and

Public Affairs, vol. 1, no. 1 (1971), pp. 62-65.

Engel/The Immorality of Eating Meat 861

an animal unnecessary pain or suffering; and (p,,) It is morally wrong

and despicable to treat animals inhumanely for no good reason.1° In

addition to your beliefs about the wrongness of causing animals

unnecessary pain, you also have beliefs about the appropriateness

of killing animals; for example, you believe: (p13) We ought to euthanize

untreatably injured, suffering animals to put them out of their

misery whenever feasible; and (pI4) Other things being equal, it is

worse to kill a conscious sentient animal than it is to kill a plant.

Finally, you believe: (p15) We have a duty to help preserve the environment

for future generations (at least for future human generations);

and consequently, you believe: (pld One ought to minimize

one’s contribution toward environmental degradation, especially in

those ways requiring minimal effort on one’spart.

  1. FACTORY FARMING AND MODERN

SLAUGHTER: THE CRUELTY BEHIND

THE CELLOPHANE

Before they become someone’s dinner, most farm animals raised

in the United States are forced to endure intense pain and suffering

in “factory farms.” Factory farms are intensive confinement facilities

where animals are made to live in inhospitable unnatural conditions

for the duration of their lives. The first step is early separation

of mother and offspring. Chickens are separated from their mothers

before birth, as they are hatched in incubators, veal calves are

removed from their mothers within a few days, and piglets are sep-

”See Gilbert Harman’s The Nature of Morality: An Introduction to Ethics

(New York: Oxford University Press, 19771, p. 4, where he presents the

following much discussed example: “If you round the comer and see a

group of young hoodlums pour gasoline on a cat and ignite it, you do

not need to conclude that what they are doing is wrong; you do not

need to figure anything out; you can see that it is wrong.” What is relevant

about this example for our purposes is that no one considering the

example seriously doubts whether a cat so treated would feel pain (hence,

no one seriously doubts Ip,J), nor does anyone seriously doubt that cruelly

burning a cat for no good reason is wrong (hence, no one seriously

doubts [p,,] or [p,,] either).

862 Our Duties to Animals

arated from their mothers two to three weeks after birth.” The offspring

are then housed in overcrowded confinement facilities.

Broiler chickens and turkeys are warehoused in sheds containing

anywhere from 10,000 to 100,000 birds;12 veal calves are kept in

crates 22″ by 54″ and are chained at the neck, rendering them unable

to move or turn around;l3 pigs are confined in metal crates (which

provide six square feet of living space) situated on concrete slatted

floors with no straw or bedding;14 and beef cattle are housed

in feedlots containing up to 100,000 animals.15 The inappropriate,

unforgiving surfaces on which the animals must stand produce

chronic foot and leg injuries.16 Since they cannot move about, they

must stand in their own waste. In these cramped, unsanitary conditions,

virtually all of the animals’ basic instinctual urges (e.g., to

nurse, stretch, move around, root, groom, build nests, rut, establish

social orders, select mates, copulate, procreate, and rear offspring)

are frustrated, causing boredom and stress in the animals.

The stress and unsanitary conditions together compromise their

immune systems. To prevent large-scale losses due to disease, the

animals are fed a steady diet of antibiotics and growth hormones.17

“Jim Mason and Peter Singer, Animal Factories, 2d edition (New York:

Harmony Books, 1990), pp. 5, 10, and llf.

12These overcrowded conditions make it impossible for the birds to develop

a pecking order, the lack of which generates aggression, feather pecking,

and cannibalism in the buds. See Karen Davis, Phoned Chickens,

Poisoned Eggs: An Inside Look at the Modern Poulty Industy (Summertown,

Tenn.: Book Publishing Co., 19961, pp. 6571; Singer, Animal Liberation,

  1. 99f; and Mason and Singer, Animal Factories, pp. 1-7.

13John Robbins, Diet for a New America (Walpole, N.H.: Stillpoint, 1987),

  1. 114; Humane Farming Association, “Modern Farming Is Inhumane,”

Animal Rights: Opposing Viewpoints (San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 19891,

  1. 118; and Mason and Singer, Animal Factories, p. 12.

14~umaneF arming Association, “Modem Farming Is Inhumane,” p. 117.

For further details, see Robbins’ discussion of the “Bacon Bin” in Diet for

a New America, p. 83.

15~obbinsD, iet for a New America, p. 110.

16~asoann d Singer, Animal Factories, pp. 30f; and Davis, Phoned Chickens,

Poisoned Eggs, pp. 21 and 56f.

17Estrogens, gestagens, and androgens are routinely administered to cattle,

veal calves, hogs, and sheep. Recommended dosages are described in

Engel/The Immorality of Eating Meat 863

When it comes to feed, disease prevention isn’t the only consideration.

Another is cost. The USDA has approved all sorts of costcutting

dietary “innovations” with little regard for the animals’ wellbeing

including adding the ground-up remains of dead diseased

animals (unfit for human consumption) to these herbivorous animals’

feed,18 adding cement dust to cattle feed to promote rapid

weight gain,19 and adding the animals’ own feces to their feed.20

Hormones in Animal Production, Food and Agricultural Organization of

the United Nations (Rome, 19821, p. 3. Mason and Singer report, “Nearly

all poultry, 90 percent of veal calves and pigs, and a debatable number

of cattle get antibacterial additives in their feed” (Animal Factories, p.

66). Residues often remain in their flesh, despite the fact that many of

these drugs are known carcinogens not approved for human use. According

to Problems in Pmenting the Marketing of Raw Meat and Poultry

Containing Potentially Harmful Residues (Washington, D.C.: General

Accounting Office, April 17, 19791, p. i.: “Of the 143 drugs and pesticides

GAO has identified as likely to leave residues in raw meat and poultry,

42 are known to cause cancer or are suspected of causing cancer; 20 of

causing birth defects; and 6 of causing mutations” (cited in Mason and

Singer, Animal Factories, p. 72).

18″Ten billion pounds of processed animal remains were sold for animal

feed in the U.S. in 195.” See Eric Haapapuro, “Piling It High and Deep,”

Good Medicine, vol. 5, no. 4 (Autumn 19961, p. 15. It should be noted

that feeding cattle the rendered remains of sheep infected with scrapie

is the suspected cause of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE or as

it is commonly called “mad cow disease”). Consuming BSE-infected cattle

is believed to be the cause of one variant of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease,

a fatal brain disease in humans. See “Mad Cow Disease: The Risk

in the U.S.,” Good Medicine, vol. 5, no. 3 (Summer 19961, p. 9.

19~asoann d Singer, Animal Factories, p. 51.

20~aapapuro”P, iling It High and Deep,” p. 15. Also see Eric Haapapuro, Neal

Barnard, and Michele Simon, “Animal Waste Used as Livestock Feed: Dangers

to Human Health,” Preventive Medicine, vol. 26 (19971, pp. 59M02;

as well as Mason and Singer, AnimalFactories, p. 53. Detailed feed recipes,

some containing as much as 40 percent chicken manure, are outlined in

Feed from Animal Wastes: Feeding Manual, Food and Agricultural Organization

of the United Nations (Rome, 1982). Forced coprophagia has been

an industry practice since the mid-1970s. See “Animal Wastes Can Be Fed

in Silage,” meAmerican Farmer (January 1974, pp. 14f, an article describing

the “suitability” of adding cattle and poultry manure to feed.

864 Our Duties to Animals

The animals react to these inhumane, stressful conditions by

developing “stereotypies” (i.e., stress- and boredom-induced, neurotic

repetitive behaviors) and other unnatural behaviors including

~annibalismF.~or~ e xample, chickens unable to develop a pecking

order often try to peck each other to death, and pigs, bored due

to forced immobility, routinely bite the tail of the pig caged in front

of them. To prevent losses due to cannibalism and aggression, the

animals receive preemptive mutilations. To prevent chickens and

turkeys from pecking each other to death, the birds are “debeaked”

using a scalding hot blade which slices through the highly sensitive

horn of the beak leaving blisters in the mouth;22 and to prevent

these birds from scratching each other to death (which the

industry refers to as “back rippingn), their toes are amputated using

the same hot-knife ma~hine.~O3t her routine mutilations include:

dubbing (surgical removal of the combs and wattles of male chickens

and turkeys), tail docking, branding, dehorning, ear tagging,

ear clipping, teeth pulling, castration, and ovariectomy. In the interest

of cost efficiency, all of these excruciating procedures are performed

without anesthesia. Unanesthetized branding, dehorning, ear

tagging, ear clipping, and castration are standard procedures on

nonintensive farms, as welLz4

Lives of frustration and torment finally culminate as the animals

are inhumanely loaded onto trucks and shipped long distances to

slaughterhouses without food or water and without adequate protection

from the elements. Each year tens of thousands of animals

die and millions are severely injured as a result of such handling

and transportation. For example, in 1997, USDA inspectors condemned

over 22,000 ducks, 26 million turkeys and 30 million chickason

on and Singer, Animal Factories, pp. 21-24; and Davis, Prisoned

Chickens, Poisoned Eggs, pp. 65-71.

22Debeaking is the surgical removal of the birds’ beaks. When beaks are

cut too short or heal improperly, the birds cannot eat and eventually

starve to death (Davis, Prisoned Chickens, Poisoned Eggs, pp. 48 and

65-71; Mason and Singer, Animal Factories, pp. 3%; and Robbins, Diet

for a New America, p. 57.)

2″avis, Prisoned Chickens, Poisoned Eggs, p. 47; and Mason and Singer,

Animal Factories, p. 40.

24~ingeAr,n imal Liberation, p. 145.

Engel/The Immorality of Eating Meat 865

ens before they entered the slaughter plant, because they were

either dead or severely injured upon arrivaL25 Once inside the

slaughterhouse, the animals are hung upside down (pigs, cattle,

and sheep are suspended by one hind leg, which often breaks) and

are brought via conveyor to the slaughterer who slits their throats,

severs their jugular veins, and punctures their hearts with a butcher

knife. In theory, animals covered by the Federal Humane Slaughter

Act are to be rendered unconscious by electric current or by

captive bolt pistol (a pneumatic gun which, when aimed properly,

renders the animal unconscious by firing an eight-inch pin into the

animal’s skull). Chickens, turkeys, ducks, and geese are not considered

animals under the Act and hence receive no protection at

In practice, the Act is not enforced, and as a result, many

slaughterhouses elect not to use the captive bolt pistol in the interest

of cost efficiency.27 As for electric shock, it is unlikely that being

shocked into unconsciousness is itself a painless process, based on

reports of people who have experienced electroconvulsive thera~

y.A~ c*o nsequence of the lax enforcement of the Federal Humane

Slaughter Act is that in many cases (and all kosher cases), the animals

are fully conscious throughout the entire throat-slitting ordeal.29

25Po~ltrSyl aughter, National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), United

States Department of Agriculture (USDA) (Washington, D.C.: April 3,

1998), pp. 17 and 24f. The antemortem condemnation statistics just cited

are estimates, since NASS tracks antemortem condemnations in pounds,

not bird units, and were deduced as follows: the total weight of antemortem

condemnations for a given bird-type was divided by the average

live weight of birds of that type. For example, in 1997 antemortem

chicken condemnations totaled 144,424,000 pounds and the average live

weight of the chickens slaughtered was 4.81 pounds. Dividing pounds

condemned by average pounds per bird yields 30,025,779 chickens condemned.

26~obbinsD,i et for a New America, p. 139.

27Singer, Animal Liberation, p. 153.

28~bid.p,. 152.

2%Vhile only 5 percent of U.S. meat is sold as kosher, as many as 50 percent

of the animals are slaughtered while fully conscious in conformity

with antiquated ritual slaughter laws (Robbins, Diet for a New America,

  1. 142).

866 Our Duties to Animals

These animal rearing and slaughtering techniques are by no

means rare: 97 percent of all poultry are produced in 100,000-plus

bird operation^,^^ 97 percent of pigs are raised in confinement syst

e m ~o,v~er~ ha lf of the nation’s dairy cows are raised in confinement

systems,32 all veal calves are crate-raised by definition, and

61 percent of beef cattle are confmed in factory farm feedlots.33 To

see just how many animals suffer the institutionalized cruelties of

factory farming, consider the number slaughtered in the United

States each year. According to the National Agricultural Statistics

Service, 36.3 million cattle, 1.58 million veal calves, 92.0 million

pigs, 3.91 million sheep and lamb, 22.0 million ducks, 290.2 million

turkeys, and 7,903.5 million chickens were slaughtered in

30~nimaAlg riculture: Information on Waste Management and Water Quality

Issues, a U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO) Report to the U.S.

Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry (June 19951, pp.

2 and 47.

3’Confinement is the norm in hog operations with more than 100 head. In

1997, 97 percent of the total U.S. hog inventory was housed in operations

with more than 100 head. In fact, 85 percent of hogs were raised

in facilities with more than 500 head and a startling 35 percent were

raised in operations with more than 5000 head (Hogs and Pigs, NASS,

USDA (Washington, D.C.: December 29, 1997), pp. 24f. All NASS publications

can be accessed on the Web at: http://www.usda.gov/nassA. The trend

toward consolidation of the hog industry with ever larger operations is

continuing. According to the U.S. GAO, “From 1978 to 1994, the total

number of [hog] operations (of all sizes) decreased by about 67 percentfrom

635,000 to 209,OOGwhile inventory remained the same at about

60 million head” (Animal Agriculture: Information on Waste Management

and Water Quality Issues, p. 41). In 1997, the number of hog farms plummeted

to 138,690, down 11 percent from 1996 and 24 percent below

1995, while inventory continued to remain relatively unchanged at 59.9

million head (Hogs and Pigs, NASS, USDA, p. 1).

32Again confinement is the norm in operations with 100+ dairy cows. According

to NASS, in 1996, 57 percent of the nation’s dairy cows were housed in

operations with 100+ head (NASS, USDA, AgriculturalStatistics 1997, Table

8-7 [Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 19971, p. VIII-5).

33~osf January 1, 1998, 61 percent of the total cattle inventory was housed

in feedlots with a capacity of 1000+ head (according to Cattle on Feed,

NASS, USDA [Washington, D.C.: January 23, 19981, p. 1).

Engel/The Immorality of Eating Meat 867

1997.~In~ s um, 8.35 billion animals are raised and slaughtered annually

(not counting horses, goats, rabbits, emu, other poultry, or

fish);35 and even this number underestimates the number of farm

animals killed by animal agriculture by over 10 percent, since it

does not include the 921.4 million animals who suffer lingering

deaths from disease, malnutrition, injury, or suffocation before

reaching the slaughterhouse either as a result of the abysmal unsanitary

conditions in factory farms or as a result of brutal handling in

transit.36 Extrapolation reveals that over 25 million animals per day

(roughly 293 animals per second) are killed as a result of the food

animal industry. Suffice it to say that no other human activity results

in more pain, suffering, frustration, and death than factory farming

and animal agribu~iness.~~

  1. THE IMPLICATIONS OF YOUR BELIEFS:

WHY YOU ARE COMMITIXD TO THE

IMMORALITY OF EATING MEAT

I will now offer an argument for the immorality of eating meat

predicated on your beliefs (pl)-(p16). Actually I will offer a family

of related arguments, all predicated on different subsets of the set

[(p,), (p,), . . . , (p16)l. While you do not have to believe all of

(plHp16) for my argument to succeed, the more of these propositions

you believe, the greater your commitment to the immoral-

34~ivestockS laughter 1997 Summary, NASS, USDA (Washington, D.C.:

March 1998), p. 1; and Poultry Slaughter, NASS, USDA (Washington, D.C.:

April 3, 19981, p. 15.

35~ntdhe se numbers are for the United States alone. Worldwide, cattle,

poultry, goats, and sheep total 15 billion (UN Food and Agricultural Organization,

Production Yearbook 1989 [Rome, 19891, vol. 43, table 89).

36~ccordintgo The F a n R epovt (Spring 1997), 530.8 million broilers, 252.6

million layers, 115.7 million turkeys, 1.4 million ducks, 1.8 million cattle,

2.8 million veal calves, 15.1 million pigs, and 1.2 million sheep died in

1997 before reaching the slaughterhouse. These numbers are only for the

United States.

37~itthhe possible exception of the seafood industry, which, strictly speaking,

should be viewed as an extension of animal agribusiness.

868 Our Duties to Animals

ity of eating meat.38 For convenience, (pl)-(pl& have been compiled

in an appendix at the end of the article.

Your beliefs (p,J-(p13) show that you already believe that animals

are capable of experiencing intense pain and suffering. I don’t

have to prove to you that unanesthetized branding, castration,

debeaking, tail docking, tooth extraction, etc., cause animals severe

pain. You already believe these procedures to be excruciatingly

painful. Consequently, given the husbandry techniques and slaughtering

practices documented above, you must admit the fact that:

(fl) Virtually all commercial animal agriculture, especially factory

farming, causes animals intense pain and suffering and, thus, greatly

increases the amount of pain and suffering in the world. (f,) and

your belief (p,) together entail that, other things being equal, the

world would be better without animal agriculture and factory farms.

It is also a fact that: (f,) In modem societies the consumption of

meat is in no way necessa y for human survival,39 and so, the pain

and suffering which results from meat production is entirely unnecessay,

as are all the cruel practices inherent in animal agriculture.

Since no one nee& to eat flesh, all of the inhumane treatment to

which farm animals are routinely subjected is done for no good reason,

and so your belief that it is morally wrong and despicable to

treat animals inhumanely for no good reason [(pl,)l forces you to

admit that factory farming and animal agribusiness are morally

wrong and despicable. Furthermore, your belief that a world with

less unnecessary suffering is better than a world with more unnecessary

suffering [(p2)1, together with (f2), entails that the world would

be better if there were less animal agriculture and fewer factory

farms, and better still if there were no animal agriculture and no

factory farms. Moreover, your belief in (p3) commits you to the

view that factory farming is wrong and prima facie ought not be

supported or encouraged. When one buys factory farm-raised meat,

38~f you believe (p,), (p,), (p6), and (p,J, my argument will succeed. In

fact, an argument for the immorality of eating meat can be constructed

from (pI5) and (p,d alone.

39~ccordintgo the USDA, “Vegetarian diets are consistent with the Dietary

Guidelines for Americans and can meet Recommended Dietary

Allowances for nutrients.” Nutrition and Your Health: Dietary Guidelines

for Americans, 4th ed., USDA, U.S. Department of Health and Human

Services (19951, p. 6.

Engel/The Immorality of Eating Meat 869

one is supporting factory farms monetarily and thereby encouraging

their unnecessa y cruel practices. The only way to avoid actively

supporting factory farms is to stop purchasing their products.

Since, per (pa, you have a prima facie obligation to stop supporting

factory farming and animal agriculture, you have a prima

facie obligation to become a vegetarian.*O Of course, prima facie

obligations are overridable. Perhaps they can even be overridden

simply by the fact that fulfilling them would be excessively burdensome

or require enormous effort and sacrifice on one’s part.

Perhaps, but this much is clear: when one can fulfill a prima facie

obligation with vey little effort on one’s part and without thereby

failing topeform any other obligation, then that obligation becomes

very stringent indeed.

As for yourprima facie obligation to stop supporting factory farming,

you can easily satisfy it without thereby failing to perform any of

your other obligations simply by refraining from eating meat and eating

something else instead. For example, you can eat veggie burgers

rather than hamburgers, pasta with marinara sauce rather than meat

sauce, bean burritos or bean tostadas rather than beef tacos, red beans

and rice rather than Cajun fried chicken, barbecued tofu rather than

barbecued ribs, moo shu vegetables rather than moo shu pork, minestrone

rather than chicken soup, five-bean vegetarian chili rather than

chili with ground beef, chick pea salad rather than chicken salad, fruit

and whole wheat toast rather than bacon and eggs, scrambled tofu

vegetable frittatas rather than ham and cheese omelets, etc. These

*O~ereI am bracketing hunting. I realize that not all meat comes from factory

farming and animal agriculture. Some comes from hunting. Hunting

itself results in all sorts of unnecessary pain and suffering for the animals

killed, maimed, and wounded by bullets, shot, and arrows. Every year in

the United States alone, hunters kill 175 million animals, and for every animal

killed two are seriously wounded and left to die a slow agonizing death

(Anna Sequoia, 67 Ways to Save the Animals [New York: Harper Perennial,

19901, p. 38.); and for every deer killed by crossbow, twenty-one arrows

are shot since crossbow hunters rarely hit a vital organ (Ingrid Newkirk,

Save the Animals! 101 Easy Things You Can Do [New York: Warner Books,

19901, p. 95). Many of these animals are killed for wall “trophies,” but even

in those cases where the animals are killed (maimed or wounded) for the

sake of obtaining meat, all of the pain and suffering inflicted on them is

unnecessary since no one in a modem agriculturally advanced society

needs to eat any kind of meat, wild or domesticated.

870 Our Duties to Animals

examples underscore the ease with which one can avoid consuming

flesh, a fact which often seems to elude meat eaters.

From your beliefs (pl), (p2), and (p4,), it follows that we ought

to do what we reasonably can to avoid contributing to the amount

of unnecessary suffering in the world. Since one thing we reasonably

can do to avoid contributing to unnecessary suffering is stop

contributing to factory farming with our purchases, it follows that

we ought to stop purchasing and consuming meat.

Your other beliefs support the same conclusion. You believe: (p5)

A morally good person will take steps to make the world a better

place and even stronger steps to avoid making the world a worse

place; and (p6) Even a “minimally decent person” would take steps

to help reduce the amount of unnecessary pain and suffering in the

world, ifshe could do so with very little effort. You also believe that

you are a morally good person [(p,)] or at least a minimally decent

one [(p,)]. Moreover, you believe that you are the kind of person

who would take steps to help reduce the amount of pain and suffering

in the world, ifyou could do so with very little effort on your

part [(pql. As shown above, with minimal effort you could take steps

to help reduce the amount of unnecessary suffering in the world just

by eating something other than meat. Accordingly, given (pa, you

ought to refrain from eating flesh. Given (pJ, if you really are the

kind of person you think you are, you will quit eating meat, opting

for cruelty-free vegetarian fare instead.

Finally, animal agriculture is an extremely wasteful, inefficient,

environmentally devastating means of food production. A full discussion

of the inefficiencies and environmental degradations associated

with animal agriculture is beyond the scope of the present

paper, but consider five examples:

  1. Animal agriculture is an extremely energy intensive method

of food production. It takes an average of 28 kilocalories of fossil

energy to produce 1 kcal of animal protein, compared with an average

of 3.3 kcal of fossil energy to produce 1 kcal of grain protein,

making animal production on average more than eight times less

energy efficient than grain production.41

41David Pimentel, “Livestock Production: Energy Inputs and the Environment,”

Proceedings of the Canadian Society ofAnirnalScience, 471h Annual

Engel/The Immorality of Eating Meat 871

  1. Animal production is extremely inefficient in its water usage,

compared to vegetable and grain production. Producing 1 kilogram

of animal protein requires around 100 times more water than producing

1 kg of plant protein-for example, it takes 500 liters of water

to grow 1 kg of potatoes and 900 liters of water to grow 1 kg of

wheat, but it requires 100,000 liters of water to produce 1 kg of beef.42

Hence, agricultural water usage, which currently accounts for 87 percent

of the world’s freshwater cons~mption,~c3ou ld be drastically

reduced by a shift toward an entirely plant-based agriculture.

  1. Animal agriculture is also extremely nutrient inefficient. By

cycling grain through livestock to produce animal protein, we lose

90 percent of that grain’s protein, 96 percent of its calories, 100

percent of its carbohydrates, and 100 percent of its fiber.44

  1. Another negative byproduct of the livestock industry is soil

erosion. Much of arable land in the United States is devoted to

feed crop production. Eighty percent of the corn and 95 percent

of the oats grown in the United States are fed to livestock, and the

excessive cultivation of our farmlands needed to produce these

crops is responsible for the loss of 7 billion tons of topsoil each

year.45 David Pimentel, professor of agriculture and life sciences,

Cornell University, describes the magnitude of the problem as follows:

“During the last 40 years, nearly one-third of the world’s

arable land has been lost by erosion and continues to be lost at a

rate of more than 10 million hectares per year.”46 The United States

Meeting (Montreal, Quebec: July 24-26, 1997), pp. 16 and 20. Fish production

is equally inefficient requiring, on average, 27 kcal of fossil energy

per kcal of fish protein produced (David Pimentel and Marcia Pimentel,

Food, Energy, and Society, rev. ed. [Niwot, Colo.: University Press of Colorado,

19961, p. 93).

42~aviPdi mentel, James Houser, et al., “Water Resources: Agriculture, the

Environment, and Society,” Bioscience, vol. 47, no. 2 (February 19971, p.

100.

43~bid.p,p . 97 and 104.

44~obbinsD, iet for a New America, p. 352.

45~bid.p,p . 351 and 358.

46~avidP imentel, C. Harvey, et al., “Environmental and Economic Cost of

Soil Erosion and Conservation Benefits,” Science, vol. 267, no. 5201 (February

24, 19951, p. 1117.

872 Our Duties to Animals

is losing soil at a rate thirteen times faster than the rate of soil formation.*’

  1. Animal agriculture creates enormous amounts of hazardous

waste in the form of excrement. U.S. livestock produce 250,000

pounds of excrement per second, resulting in I billion tons of unrecycled

waste per year.@ According to the U.S. General Accounting

Office’s Report to the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition,

and Forestry, animal-waste runoff from feedlots and rangeland

is a significant factor in water quality, affecting about 72 percent

of impaired rivers and streams, 56 percent of impaired lake

acres, and 43 percent of impaired estuary miles.49 This GAO report

found that agriculture is one of the main sources of groundwater

pollution and also found: “Among five general categories of pollution

sources (Municipal Point Sources; Urban Runoff/Storm Sewers;

Agriculture; Industrial Point Sources; and Natural Sources), agriculture

ranked as the number one cause of impaired rivers and

streams and lakes.”50 The upshot is this: animal agriculture is far

and away the most resource-intensive, inefficient, environmentally

harmful, and ecologically unsound means of human food production,

and consequently, one of the easiest direct actions one can

take to help protect the environment and preserve resources for

future generations, requiring minimal effort, is to stop eating meat.

And so, since you believe that we have a duty to preserve the

environment for future generations [(pl5)1 and you believe that one

ought to minimize one’s contribution toward environmental degradation

[(plSl, your beliefs commit you to the obligatoriness of

becoming vegetarian, since doing so is a simple way to help to

preserve the environment.

The moral of the present section is clear: consistency forces you to

admit that meat consumption is immoral and, thus, necessitates your

becoming vegetarian immediately.

*’~imentel and Pimentel, Food, Enew, and Society, p. 153.

48~obbinsD, iet for a New America, p. 372. In contrast, humans produce

12,000 pounds of excrement per second, one-twentieth that of livestock

(p. 372).

49~nimaAlg riculture: Information on WasteM anagement and Water Quality

Issues, pp. 2 and 8f.

5OIbid., p, 9.

Engel/The Immorality of Eating Meat 873

  1. OBJECTIONS AND REPLIES: WAYS

THINGS MIGHT HAVE BEEN, BUT AREN’T

From (f,) and (p,) we inferred that, other things being equal, the

world would be better without animal agriculture and factory farms.

Perhaps other things are not equal. Perhaps the agony experienced

by animals in factory farms is necessary for some greater good. The

present section examines several ways things might have been

unequal, but aren’t.

Perbaps Meat Consumption Is Necessary

for Optimal Nutrition

A crucial premise in my argument is: (CP1) The pain and suffering

which inevitably result from meat production are entirely unnecessay.

I defended (CP1) on the grounds that in modem societies

meat consumption is in no way necessary for human survival

[(f,)]. But (CP1) does not follow from (f,), since eating meat might

be necessary for some reason other than human survival. Hence,

one might object: “While eating meat is not necessary for survival,

it might still be necessary for humans to thrive and flourish, in

which case (CP1) would be false since the pain and suffering experienced

by farm animals would be necessaly for a significant human

benefit.”

If meat consumption were necessa y for humans to flourish, my

argument would be seriously compromised, so let us examine the

evidence. First, consider the counterexamples. Since world-class athletic

competition is one of the most grueling and physically strenuous

activities in which humans can engage, one would not expect

there to be any highly successful vegetarian athletes or vegetarian

world record holders, if meat consumption were necessary for humans

to thrive and flourish. However, the list of world-class vegetarian

athletes is quite long and includes: Dave Scott (six-time winner

of Hawaii’s Ironman Triathlon), Sixto Linares (world record

holder for the 24-hour triathlon), Edwin Moses (400 meter hurdler

undefeated in international competition for eight straight years),

Paavo Nurmi (twenty world records and nine Olympic medals),

Andreas Cahling (1980 Mr. International title in body building), and

Ridgely Abele (U.S. Karate Association World Champion), to name

874 Our Duties to Animals

a few,51 which strongly suggests that eating meat is not necessary

for humans to flourish.

Second, consider the diseases associated with the consumption

of meat and animal productsheart disease, cancer, stroke, osteoporosis,

diabetes, hypertension, arthritis, and obesity-as documented

in numerous highly regarded studies.52 Four examples must

suffice:

  1. The Loma Linda study, involving over 24,000 people, found

that lacto-ovo-vegetarian men (who consume eggs and dairy products,

but no meat) had a 61 percent lower coronary heart disease

(CHD) mortality rate than California’s general population. Pure vegetarian

men (who consume no animal products) fared even better:

the CHD mortality rate for these males was 86 percent lower than

that of the California general p~pulation.~~

  1. The ongoing Framingham heart study has been tracking the

daily living and eating habits of thousands of residents of Framingham,

Massachusetts, since 1948. Dr. William Castelli, director of

the study for the last fifteen years, maintains that based on his

research the most heart-healthy diet is a pure vegetarian diet.54 Perhaps

vegetarians suffer from other illnesses or die of other diseases

earlier than their meat-eating counterparts. Not according to Dr.

Castelli: “The vegetarian societies of the world have the best diet.

Within our own country, they outlive the rest of us by at least seven

51The impressive feats of these world-class vegetarian athletes and numerous

other vegetarian athletes are discussed in much greater detail in Robbins,

Diet for a New America, pp. 15k2-63.

5Z~oanr excellent well-documented discussion of the positive correlation

between meat consumption and these diseases, see Robbins’ Diet for a

New America, pp. 205305.

53~olanLd. Phillips, Frank R. Lemon, et al., “Coronary Heart Disease Mortality

among Seventh-Day Adventists with Differing Dietary Habits: A Preliminary

Report,” 7he American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, vol. 31

(October 19781, pp. S191-S198. CHD mortality rates based on Standardized

Mortality Ratios of 39 and 14 for lacto-ovo and pure vegetarian men,

respectively (Fig. 5, p. S195).

54″An Interview with William Castelli,” Good Medicine, vol. 5, no. 3 (Summer

19961, p. 15.

Engel/The Immorality of Eating Meat 875

years, and they have only 10 or 15 percent of our heart attack

rate.”55 Elsewhere Castelli adds: “Vegetarians not only outlive the

rest of us, they also aren’t prey to other degenerative diseases, such

as diabetes, strokes, etc., that slow us down and make us chronically

ill. “56

  1. The Cornell-Oxford-China Health Project systematically

monitored the diet, lifestyle, and disease patterns of 6,500 families

from sixty-five different counties in Mainland China and ~aiwan.~’

The data collected in this study have led its director, Dr. T. Colin

Campbell, to conclude that 80-90 percent of all cancers can be

controlled or prevented by a low-fat (10-15 percent fat) vegetarian

diet .5*

  1. The Dean Ornish study in which it was demonstrated that

advanced coronary artery disease could be reven-ed through a combination

of stress reduction and an extremely low-fat vegetarian diet

(10 percent fat). All patients in the study had greater than 50 percent

stenosis in one or more of the major coronary arteries. Members

of the experimental group participated in stress management

training and were fed a 1,400-calorie diet consisting of fresh fruits

and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, tubers, and soy beans, while

the control group continued their routine activities at work and at

home. After only six weeks, an important indicator of coronary

function (mean left ventricular ejection fraction) improved 6.4 percent

in the experimental group, but deteriorated 1.7 percent in the

control group. In addition, the experimental group showed a 20.5

percent reduction in plasma cholesterol, a 91 percent mean reduction

in the frequency of angina, and a mean weight reduction of

ten pounds, compared to the control group, which showed no sig-

55~bid.

56~illiamC astelli, “Lessons from the Framingham Heart Study: How to

Reduce the Risk of Heart Disease,” Bottom Line: Personal (July 1, 1994),

  1. 10.

57~. Chen, T. C. Campbell, et al., Diet, L@style, and Mortality in China: A

Study of the Characteristics of 65 Counties (Oxford University Press, Cornell

University Press, and the China People’s Medical Publishing House,

1990).

58T. Colin Campbell (Professor of Nutritional Biochemistry at Cornell University),

as reported in Healthcare Foodsemice (MarchIApril 1992), p. 15.

876 Our Duties to Animals

nilicant improvement in any of these areas.59 These and countless

other studies have led the American Dietetic Association, the leading

nutritional organization in the country, to assert:

Scientific data suggest positive relationships between a vegetarian diet

and reduced risk for several chronic degenerative diseases and conditions,

including obesity, coronary artery disease, hypertension, diabetes

mellitus, and some types of cancer. . . . It z& theposition of Tbe

American Dietetic Association (ADA) that appropriatelyplanned vegetarian

diets are healthful, are nutritionally adequate, and provide

health benejits in thepreuention and treatment of certain dked~es.~

An article in 7be Journal of the American Medical Association concurs,

claiming: “A vegetarian diet can prevent 97 percent of our

coronary oc~lusions.”I~n ~li ght of these findings, the Physicians

Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) recommends centering

our diets on the following new four food groups: (1) whole

grains (5+ servings a day); (2) vegetables (3+ servings a day); (3)

fruits (3+ servings a day), and (4) legumes (2+ servings a day).62

Gone are meat and dairy, the two principal sources of fat and cholesterol

in the American diet. The evidence is unequivocal: A vegetarian

diet is nutritionally superior to a meat-based diet. One cannot

reject (CP1) on the grounds that eating meat is necessary for

59~eaOnm ish, et al., “Effects of Stress Management Training and Dietary

Changes in Treating Ischemic Heart Disease,” Journal of the American

Medical Association, vol. 249, no. 1 (19831, pp. 54-59. These findings

were confirmed in the Lifestyle Heart Trial. See Dean Omish, et al., “Can

Lifestyle Changes Reverse Coronary Heart Disease?” Lancet, vol. 336 (July

21, 19901, pp. 129-33.

a”~osition of the American Dietetic Association: Vegetarian Diets,” Journal

of the American Dietetic Association, vol. 97, no. 11 (November 19971, p.

  1. For those wishing to leam more about sound vegetarian nutrition,

the ADA has published this article in its entirety at: http://www.eatright.org/

adapll97.html.

61″~ieatn d Stress in Vascular Disease,” Journal of the American Medical

Association, vol. 176, no. 9 (June 3, 19611, p. 806. Thus, the coronary

health benefits of a vegetarian diet have been known for over thirty-five

years.

62~eaBla rnard, Food for Life: How the New Four Food Groups Can Save

Your Life (New York: Harmony Books, 19931, pp. 144-47.

Engel/The Immorality of Eating Meat 877

human flourishing, because it isn’t. On the contrary, it is detrimental

to human health and well-being.63

A Utilitarian Gambit? Perhaps Human Gustatory

Pleasure Outweighs Animal Su&kring

A speciesistic carnivore might object that I have conveniently omitted

one of her pertinent beliefs: (p,,) Human pleasure always outweighs

animal suffering. Given (pl,), since humans derive gustatory

pleasure from eating the flesh of nonhuman animals, other

things are not equal. Accordingly, there is a justdying reason for

the agony billions of farm animals are forced to endure: taste.

First, you do not actually believe (p,,). Remember Harrnan’s cat.

You do not believe that the pleasure the thugs get from burning a

cat alive morally justifies their disregarding the cat’s interest in avoiding

suffering. You do not believe that the pleasure a sadistic Satanist

gets out of slowly torturing a fully conscious dog by skinning and

eating it alive (even if he gets immense gustatory pleasure from

doing so) outweighs the dog’s interest in avoiding such suffering.

@These findings are hardly surprising when one considers that both the

American Heart Association (AHA) and the American Cancer Society (ACS)

rec0mmend.a diet that is high in complex carbohydrates and fiber, and low

in protein, dietary cholesterol, fat (especially saturated fat), sodium, alcohol,

carcinogens and procarcinogens. Specifically, complex carbohydrates

should comprise 55 to 70 percent of our calories, fat should provide less

than 30 percent (preferably 10-15 percent) of our calories, protein should

make up 10-12 percent of our calories, dietary cholesterol should not

exceed 300 mg a day (0 mg is optimal, since there is no minimum amount

of dietary cholesterol required), and fiber consumption should be 25-30

grams a day. In stark contrast, the typical American meat-bused diet is 40-50

percent fat (most of which is saturated), 30 percent carbohydrate, 25 percent

protein and contains 400+ mg of cholesterol per day. These statistics

are to be expected since meat is high in fat, high in protein, and high in

cholesterol (only animal products contain cholesterol), but contains no

complex carbohydrates and no fiber. In fact, it is almost impossible to

adhere to the AHA’S and ACS’s dietary guidelines while consuming a meatbased

diet, whereas satisfying these guidelines is virtually inevitable when

one eats only from the PCRM’s new four food groups.

878 Our Duties to Animals

You simply do not believe that trivial human pleasures outweigh

the most significant interests of nonhuman animals.

Second, in assessing whether a carnivore’s pleasure in eating

meat outweighs the pain of the animal that became that meat, it is

a mistake to compare the pleasure had by eating meat with the

frustration of eating nothing at all. Rather, to assess the pleasure

gotten by eating meat, one must compare the pleasure one would

get from eating meat with the pleasure one would get from eating

something else.@ Suppose your only food options are beef tacos

or bean tostadas. If you would get ten hedons of pleasure from the

tacos and nine from the tostadas, then only one hedon would be

attributable to eating meat. Since, for any meat item you could consume,

there is a vegetarian item which would give you nearly as

much pleasure, it is very unlikely that the minimal pleasure one

gets from eating meat outweighs the prolonged and excruciating

pain of castration, branding, dehorning, tail docking, et~.~~

Third, animals aren’t the only beings who suffer as a result of

the meat industry. Billions of humans suffer as well, including the

1.3 billion people worldwide suffering from chronic hunger;66 the

millions of carnivores themselves who are suffering from heart disease,

cancer, stroke, osteoporosis, and obesity; and these carnivores’

children who are well on their way to a shortened lifetime

of debilitating disease as a result of being fed a meat-based diet by

their parents. By not eating (or serving) meat we greatly reduce

our chance of suffering a litany of debilitating diseases, we greatly

reduce our children’s risk of suffering from these same diseases,

art Gruzalski makes a similar point. See his “The Case against Raising

and Killing Animals for Food” in Animal Rights and Human Obligations,

  1. cit., pp. 183f.

65~erefo, r the sake of argument, I assume that the carnivore would get a

bit more pleasure from the meat dish than the vegetarian dish. This

assumption may well be false, as Gruzalski notes: “Since much of the

world’s population finds that vegetarian meals can be delightfully tasty,

there is good reason for thinking that the pleasures many people derive

from eating meat can be completely replaced with pleasure from eating

vegetables” (ibid., p. 183). Consider also the added pleasure one gets

from trying new dishes. For an excellent discussion of these points, see

Gruzalski, ibid., pp. 184f.

66~eremyR ifkin, Beyond Beef(New York: Dutton, 1992), p. 177.

Engel/The Immorality of Eating Meat 879

and we, at least indirectly, help to reduce world hunger by reducing

the demand for grain-fed meat, freeing up grain for humans.

Thus, even if you were a speciesist who did believe (pI7) and only

cared about human suffering, consistency with your other beliefs

would still require you to stop eating -meat.

Perbaps Phnts Feel Pain

Perhaps, but you don’t believe they do. You walk on grass, mow

your lawn, and trim your hedges without any concern that you

might be causing plants pain. But you would never walk on your

dog or trim your dog’s legs, because you are certain that doing so

would cause your dog terrible pain. Mere conjecture that plants

might feel pain won’t undermine my argument, for my argument

is predicated on your beliefs. Since you do not believe that plants

feel pain, the objection under consideration gives you no reason to

continue eating meat.

Tbe Supreme Dietitian

People often attempt to justify their carnivorous habits by claiming

that God intends us to eat meat, citing their preferred religious text

as evidence of God’s will. This “justification” is particularly puzzling

since all major religions teach compassion for all living creatures.

Islam advocates kindness to animals; the Hindu doctrine of reincarnation

encourages equal respect for all animals; and the First Precept

of Buddhist ethical conduct is not to harm sentient beings.67 Both

Judaism and Christianity accept the Old Testament, which states:

“And God said, ‘Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed

which is upon the face of the earth, and every tree with seed in its

fruit; you shall have them for food”‘ (Genesis 1:29). So why think that

67~velynE lkin Giefer, “Religion and Animal Rights,” Mainstream, vol. 27,

  1. 1 (Spring 19961, p. 13. There Giefer cites Mohammed’s teaching

(Hadith Mishkat, book 6, ch. 7, 8:178): “A good deed done to an animal

is as meritorious as a good deed done to a human being, while an act

of cruelty to an animal is as bad as an act of cruelty to a human being.”

Giefer also notes that the Hindu Bhagavad Gita (verse 5.18) “proclaims

that a self-realized soul is able to understand the equality of all beings”

(p. 13).

880 Our Duties to Animals

God intends us to eat meat? Finding writings in these texts which

contradict the teachings mentioned here won’t resolve the matter,

since if these texts’ teachings are self-contradictory, then we are left

with no clear guidance as to what God intends us to eat.

Fortunately, we can bypass this unpromising hermeneutical project

altogether. There is a much more compelling refutation of the

“God intends us to eat meat” defense. If God intends us to eat

meat, then God is either ignorant, irrational, or malevolent. If God

doesn’t know that eating meat causes heart attacks, cancer, strokes,

etc., then he is ignorant about nutrition. If God knows that eating

meat is harmful to our health but intends us to do it anyway, then

either he is malevolent and wants bad things to happen to us, or

he is irrational since, despite wanting us to be healthy, he intends

us to eat a diet detrimental to our health. Since, by definition, God

is neither ignorant nor irrational nor malevolent, it is incoherent to

believe that God intends us to eat meat.

me “Free Range” Fantasy

A critic might object to my argument as follows:

O.K., I understand your strategy. You’re trying to show that, given

my other beliefs, consistency forces me to admit that eating meat is

wrong. Now, suppose I admit that factory fanning causes prolonged,

unnecessary, excruciating pain and that, as a result, believing (pl&

(p,,) commits me to the immorality of eating factory farm-raised meat.

Even so, you’ve yet to show that my beliefs commit me to the immorality

of eating humanely raised animals. What’s wrong with eating

“free range” animals which are raised humanely and killed painlessly?

How do my beliefs commit me to the immorality of eating

them?

My response to such a critic is fourfold: First, in admitting that eating

factory farm-raised meat is morally wrong, you have just admitted

that it is immoral to eat over 90 percent of the meat you eat. Second,

the terms “free range” and “free roaming” are not indicative of

humane animal husbandry practices. According to the labelling division

of the USDA, “a free range bird is one that has access to the outdoors,”

no matter how small the outdoor pen. The term “free roaming”

just means birds which have not been raised in cages, even

Engel/The Immorality of Eating Meat 881

though they are permanently confined in a wareho~seT.h~u~s, uncaged

broiler chickens with the industry-recommended seven-tenths

of a square foot of floor space can legally be sold as “free roaming”

birds. Moreover, the painful mutilations described above are also

routinely performed in both “free range” and nonintensive farms.

Plus, even if the “free range” animals had it good while they were

on the farm, there are no humane livestock transportation companies

and no humane slaughterhouses. The only way to be sure that

the animal you are eating was raised humanely and killed painlessly

is to raise and kill her yourself. Third, even if you had the time, space,

and will to raise and kill your own “dinner,” you would still be jeopardizing

your own health and the health of your loved ones, as well

as wasting resources which could be better spent helping to alleviate

human hunger and malnutrition. Even “happy cows” require 12.9

pounds of grain to produce a pound of meat.69 Fourth and most

important, you already believe (pI4), that other things being equal,

it is worse to kill a conscious sentient creature than it is to kill a plant.

An example of Andrew Tardiffs will illustrate the point. Suppose we

could perform a human-benefiting experiment on either a dog or a

plant with equally reliable and equally valuable results, but that the

experiment will inevitably result in the death of the test subject. Anyone

who accepts (pI4) will surely admit that we ought to perform the

experiment on the plant. For those who still have doubts, Tardiff

modifies his example: Once again, we could perform a humanbenefiting

experiment on either a dog or a plant, and once again the

test subject will be killed in the course of the experiment, only this

time suppose that we would get much greater human benefit by testing

on the plant than we would by testing on the dog.’O Surely, you

will grant that we ought to perform the experiment on the plant.

68~uzannHe amlin, “Free Range? Natural? Sorting Out Labels,” 7%e New York

Times, section C (November 13, 19961, p. 1. See also Davis, Prisoned

Chickens, Poisoned Eggs, pp. 127-31.

69~USD~A, ~Agri~cult,ura l Statistics 1997, Table 1-72, p. 1-47. Thanks to

the routine use of antibiotics and growth hormones, this 12.9:l grain-tomeat

conversion ratio is down from the 16:1 ratio often sighted.

‘qardiff presents and discusses both of these examples in his excellent

article “Simpl~fyingth e Case for Vegetarianism,” Social 7%mya nd Practice,

vol. 22, no. 3 (Fall 1996), pp. 302f.

882 Our Duties to Animals

Now, compare this case with the case for food. You already believe

that, when other things are equal, it is worse to kill a conscious sentient

animal than it is to kill a plant. But in the case of food, other

things are not equal. Since a plant-based diet is more nutritious and

human health-promoting than a meat-based diet, (p14) commits you

to the view that it is worse to lull conscious sentient animals for food

than it is to kill plants for food, even if those animals have been raised

humanely.

Consistency: me Two-Edged Sword

In section 4, I argued that consistency rationally requires you to

admit that eating meat is immoral. I did so by showing that your

beliefs, when combined with two indisputable facts, entail that eating

meat is morally wrong, and ips0 facto that vegetarianism is

morally required. In effect, I presented you with a valid argument

of the form

where Q = Eating meat is immoral. Of course, as Harman and Pollock

have pointed out vis-a-vis skepticism, being presented with a

valid skeptical argument of the form

does not force you to accept -K, for it may be more reasonable

to reject some premise Pi than to accept – K.”

Similarly, one might object to my argument as follows: “Consistency

does not demand that I accept Q. Consistency demands that

I either accept Q or reject one of my present beliefs. What’s to stop

me from doing the latter?” First, the cases are not analogous. In

rejecting some Pi of the skeptic’s argument, you are rejecting one

“As Gilbert Harman puts it, “[Tlhere is no plausible rule of acceptance saying

that if we believe both P ana IfP, then Q, we may always infer or

accept Q. Perhaps we should stop believing P or IfP, then Q rather than

believe Q.” (nought [Princeton and London: Princeton University Press,

19731, p. 157). John Pollock makes a similar point in Contemporary neories

of Knowledge (Totowa, N.J.: Rowman and Littlefield, 1986), pp. 5f.

Engel/The Immorality of Eating Meat 883

of the skeptic’s beliefs; whereas in rejecting some (p,) of my argument,

you are rejecting one of your own firmly held beliefs. Since

(plHp16) are your beliefs, it’s not at all clear that you could simply

stop believing one of them-for example, you could no more

stop believing that animals are capable of feeling pain than you

could stop believing that humans feel pain. Furthermore, my argument

actually consists of a family of arguments predicated on different

subsets of {(p,), . . . , (p16)l. Thus, while one can escape the

clutches of the skeptic’s argument by rejecting a single Pi, to escape

my argument you must reject a number of your beliefs. Second,

even if you could reject these beliefs, it would be irrational for you

to do so. After all, as a philosopher, you are interested in more

than mere consistency; you are interested in truth. Consequently,

you will not reject just any belief(s) for the sake of consistency.

You will reject the belief(s) you think most likely to be false. Now,

presumably, you already think your belief system is for the most

part reasonable, or you would have already made significant

changes in it. So, you will want to reject as few beliefs as possible.

Since (p1)4pl6) are rife with implications, rejecting several of

these propositions would force you to reject countless other beliefs

on pain of incoherence, whereas accepting Q would require minimal

belief revision on your part. Simply put, Q coheres with your

otherwise already reasonable beliefs, whereas -Q does not, thus

making it more reasonable to accept Q than to reject any of your

other beliefs.

  1. CONCLUSION

Let me conclude by noting two further implications of your beliefs.

First, your beliefs not only commit you to the obligatoriness of vegetarianism,

but also to the obligatoriness of a vegan diet, that is, a

diet devoid of all animal products. Here’s why: In section 4 we

found a vegan diet to be the most nutritious and healthful diet a

human can c~nsume.’P~lu s, contrary to what many people think,

‘*The PCRM recommends a vegan diet centered around the new four food

groups. Anyone who eats only from these four food groups will be consuming

a vegan diet. Any article advocating a vegan diet would be remiss

884 Our Duties to Animals

it is extremely easy to adopt a vegan diet. To see just how easy,

recall that in section 3, I provided a long list of readily available,

tasty vegetarian dishes which one could easily eat in place of standard

meat fare. Each of the vegetarian dishes listed there is actually

vegan. Since eggs and dairy products are both nutritionally

unnecessary and easy to avoid, we can now see why your beliefs

entail that eating these products is morally wrong.

Let us start by examining the modem egg industry. Two distinct

strains of chickens have been developed: “layers” for egg production

and “broilers” for meat production. Since layer strains are

thought to produce insufficient and inferior meat and since males

do not produce eggs, male chicks of the layer strain are identhed

by chicken sexers, who throw them into plastic bags where they

are allowed to suffocate.73 In 1995, 247 million unwanted male

chicks met this fate.74 Like their broiler counterparts, female layers

are debeaked at one week of age. However, since layers are kept

alive longer, most egg producers debeak their birds a second time

around twelve weeks of age.75 Worse still, layers are permanently

confined in 16″ by 18″ battery cages, five or six birds to a cage.76

not to discuss the only legitimate nutritional concern facing vegans,

namely, vitamin BI2 deficiency. The conventional wisdom is that vitamin

BIZ is virtually nonexistent in plant foods. New evidence suggests: (1)

that B12 can be found in plants, (2) that organically grown plants contain

higher levels of BIZ than those grown with chemical fertilizers, (3)

that plant roots are able to absorb vitamins produced by soil microorganisms

(BIZ is only produced by microorganisms), and (4) that vegans

should be able to obtain BIZ by consuming organically grown produce

(T. Colin Campbell, “B,, Breakthrough: Missing Nutrient Found in Plants,”

New Century Nutrition, vol. 2, no. 11 [November 19961, p. 1). Because

this evidence is preliminary, those following a vegan diet should make

sure they have a reliable source of vitamin B12 in their diets (reliable

sources include fortified soy, rice, and nut milks; fortified cereals; fortified

textured soy protein; and Red Star T-6635+ nutritional yeast) or they

should take a B,, supplement.

73~obbinsD, iet for a New America, p. 54.

74~avisP,r isoned Chickens, Poisoned Eggs, p. 105.

75~asoann d Singer, Animal Factories, p. 39.

76~areDn avis, “The Plight of Poultry,” me Animals’ Agenda (July/August

1996), p. 38. Also see Robbins, Diet for a New America, p. 63.

Engel/The Immorality of Eating Meat 885

Thus, the average layer has only 48-58 square inches of living space,

not much larger than a 5″ by 8″ index card. The cages have slanted

wire mesh flooring totally inappropriate for the birds’ feet, which

sometimes grow fixed to the cage floor making it impossible to

reach food and water.77 Ninety-eight percent of the eggs produced

in the United States come from layers permanently confined in such

battery cages.78 After a year and a half of this existence (assuming

they don’t die in their cages, as do 12-18 percent of them per

year79), about the time when their egg production begins to wane,

the birds are either crammed even more tightly into portable crates,

transported to the slaughterhouse, and turned into soup and other

processed foods,80 or they are kept for another laying cycle,

whichever is cheaper. Those unfortunate enough to be kept and

“recycled” are force-molted to prepare them for the next laying

cycle. The primary method of forced molting involves the withholding

of all food from the hens for a period of 5-14 days.81 After

one or two forced-molt laying cycles, the spent birds will suffer

one of two fates: Either they will be sent to slaughter as described

above or, as is increasingly favored, they will meet with on-farm

disposal whereby they are ground up alive and fed to the next generation

of hens.82 These birds are forced to endure all of this inhumane

treatment, just so we can indulge in an inherently unhealth-

“singer, AnimalLiberation, p. 110. The industry justification for such inappropriate

flooring is that it allows urine and feces to drop through the

cage and the slant facilitates automatic egg collection.

78~illiamDu dley-Cash, “Study Shows Adoption Rate of Technology by Laying

Hen Industry,” Feedstuffs ((November 4, 1991), p. 11; and Robbins,

Diet for a New America, p. 53.

79~asoann d Singer, Animal Factories, p. 25.

80~bidp.,. 6.

81Davis, Prisoned Chickens, Poisoned E&s, pp. 74-76. Davis explains molting

and the industry rationale behind forced molting as follows: “Molting

refers to the replacement of old feathers by new ones. In nature, all birds

replace all of their feathers in the course of a year. . . . Egg laying tapers

off as the female bird concentrates her energies on growing new feathers

and staying warm” (p. 74). This process naturally takes four months,

whereas during a forced molt, the process only takes a month or two. (p.

74)

82Davis, Prisoned Chickens, Poisoned Eggs, p. 77.

886 Our Duties to Animals

ful product loaded with cholesterol (300 milligrams per egg) and

fat (50 percent of eggs’ calories come from fat, most of which is

saturated), which has somehow come to be associated with breakfast.

Since eggs are nutritionally unnecessary, are easy to avoid, and

come from an unnecessarily cruel industry, your beliefs entail that

it is immoral to eat them.

As for dairy products, 57 percent of dairy cows are raised in factory

farms, where their calves are taken away within one or two

days and where they are constantly reimpregnated, pumped full of

antibiotics and bovine growth hormone, milked two to three times

a day, suffer from mastitis, fed unnatural diets, and prevented from

moving about freely. After a few years when their milk production

wanes, they, like their meat-producing counterparts, will be inhumanely

loaded onto trucks and shipped to the slaughterhouse without

food or water and without protection from the elements, where

they will be transformed into ground beef. Lest one think this a

rare occurrence, in 1997, over 2.9 million dairy cows were slaughtered

in federally inspected plants.83 As for their calves, if the calf

is female, she will either be kept or sold to another dairy farmer,

but if the calf is male, he will typically be sold to veal farmers who

will chain him at the neck and feed him an iron-deficient diet for

14-16 weeks before sending him off to slaughter.84 Consequently,

when one purchases dairy products, one is not only supporting the

unnecessary and inhumane confinement of dairy cows, one is also

indirectly supporting the even more inhumane veal industry. Since,

according to both the ADA and the PCRM, dairy products are in

no way necessary for optimum human health, since dairy products

are easy to avoid, and since the dairy industry inflicts untold suffering

and death on dairy cows and their calves, your beliefs commit

you to the immorality of consuming dairy products.

Finally, your beliefs commit you to the immorality of purchasing

personal care and household products that have been tested on animals.

These tests include the Draize eye irritancy test,85 the lethal

83~ivestockS laughter 1997 Summary, NASS, USDA, p. 82.

84~bid.p,p . 12f.

85~hDer aize test involves dripping caustic substances such as bleach or

shampoo into restrained rabbits’ eyes, frequently resulting in hemorrhage,

ulceration, and blindness. Rabbits are used for convenience, because they

EngeVThe Immorality of Eating Meat 887

dose 50 percent (LD50) test, dermal toxicity tests, and injection tests.

Eighty percent of the animals in these tests receive no anesthesia.

Moreover, these tests are unnecessary and unreliable. For example,

the crude LD50 test, in which a test group of animals is force-fed a

substance until 50 percent of the animals die (which is often due to

stomach rupture rather than the effects of the substance per se), provides

no useful data which can be reliably extrapolated to humans.86

In most cases, avoiding products which have been tested on animals

is easy, since equally effective, equally priced, equally safe, alternative

products which have not been tested on animals and which contain

no animal ingredients are almost always readily available. Moreover,

determining which products are cruelty free will not require a

great deal of time or effort on your part, for these products typically

advertise their cruelty-free status on the label. Since one can easily

reduce one’s contribution to laboratory-generated animal suffering

by buying cruelty-free personal care and household products instead

of those tested on animals (usually they are right next to each other

on the supermarket shelves), your beliefs entail that you are morally

obligated to do so.

The implications of your beliefs are clear. Given your beliefs, it

follows that: (1) eating meat is morally wrong; (2) eating animal

products is morally wrong; and (3) purchasing personal care and

household products which have been tested on animals is morally

wrong (provided comparable cruelty-free products are readily available).

These conclusions were not derived from some highly contentious

ethical theory which you can easily reject, but from your

own firmly held beliefs. Furthermore, these conclusions follow,

regardless of your views on speciesism, animal equality, and animal

rights. Even those of you who are staunch speciesists are committed

to the immorality of these practices, given your other beliefs.

have no tear ducts to flush out the offending substance. Of course, this

makes them poor models for humans who do have tear ducts. Sidney

Gendin, “The Use of Animals in Science” in Animal Rights and Human

Obligations, op, cit., pp. 199f.

86~oberSt harpe, “Animal ExperimentsA Failed Technology,” in Animal

Experimentation: me Cornensus Changes, ed. Gill Langley (New York:

Chapman and Hall, 19891, pp. 101-104. Also see Singer, Animal Liberation,

  1. 53-56.

888 Our Duties to Animals

Consequently, consistency demands that you embrace the immorality

of these practices and modify your behavior accordingly.87

APPENDIX

(p,) Other things being equal, a world with less pain and suffering

is better than a world with more pain and suffering.

(p,) A world with less unnecessary suffering is better than a world

with more unnecessary suffering.

(p3) Unnecessary cruelty is wrong and prima facie should not be

supported or encouraged.

(p4) We ought to take steps to make the world a better place.

(p4,) We ought to do what we reasonably can to avoid making

the world a worse place.

(p5) A morally good person will take steps to make the world a

better place and even stronger steps to avoid making the

world a worse place.

(pG) Even a minimally decent person would take steps to help

reduce the amount of unnecessary pain and suffering in the

world, if she could do so with very little effort.

(p,) I am a morally good person.

(pa) I am at least a minimally decent person.

(pb I am the sort of person who certainly would take steps to

help reduce the amount of pain and suffering in the world,

if1 could do so with very little effort.

87~esearcho n this project was supported by a generous grant from the

Culture and Animals Foundation, for which I am extremely grateful. Versions

of this paper have been presented at the MidSouth Philosophy Conference,

the Illinois Philosophical Association Meetings, and the Conference

on Value Inquiry. I would like to thank those in attendance for their

comments. I would also like to thank John Carroll, Mark Heller, Alastair

Norcross, Louis Pojman, Trudy Pojman, Eric Richards, Jim Sauer, Ray

Dybzinski, Nathan Nobis, Bob Hicks and the philosophy faculty at Southem

Methodist University for their helpful suggestions. Special thanks to

Lisa Joniak whose detailed comments on numerous versions improved

every section of the paper.

Engel/The Immorality of Eating Meat 889

(p,J Many nonhuman animals (certainly all vertebrates) are capable

of feeling pain.

(p,,) It is morally wrong to cause an animal unnecessary pain or

suffering.

(p,,) It is morally wrong and despicable to treat animals inhumanely

for no good reason.

(p13) We ought to euthanize untreatably injured, suffering animals

to put them out of their misery whenever feasible.

(p14) Other things being equal, it is worse to kill a conscious sentient

animal than it is to kill a plant.

(p15) We have a duty to help preserve the environment for future

generations (at least for future human generations).

(plb) One ought to minimize one’s contribution toward environmental

degradation, especially in those ways requin’ng minimal

effort on one’s part.

For Further RefCection

  1. Why does Engel make a point of not predicating his argument

on any particular moral theory? Explain the strengths or weaknesses

of applied ethical arguments not grounded in theoretical

considerations.

  1. Must ethical vegetarianism be grounded in the equal moral considerability

of animals or is their mere moral considerability sufficient

to make vegetarianism obligatory?

  1. How does Engel defend the claim that it is wrong to eat

humanely raised meat?

  1. To whom is Engel’s argument directed? What conditions must

one satisfy in order for Engel’s argument to apply?

  1. How could it be permissible for some people to eat meat and

wrong for others to do so? Explain. Does Engel’s argument

entail an objectionable form of relativism? Why or why not?

  1. What does Engel’s argument imply about: (1) the use of leather,

(2) attending circuses and zoos, and (3) using animals in medical

research?

890 Our Duties to Animals

  1. Are there any good reasons to eat meat which Engel has neglected

to address and which would override all the suffering

factory farm animals are made to endure?

Further Readings for Chapter 14

Frey, R. G. Rights, Killing and Suffering. Oxford: Basil Blackwell,

1983.

Rachels, James. Created From Animals: the Moral Implications of

Darwinism. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990.

Regan, Tom. me Case for Animal Rights. Berkeley: University of

California, 1983. The most comprehensive philosophical treatise

in favor of animal rights.

Regan, Tom and Peter Singer, eds. Animal Rights and Human Obligations.

Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1976.

Robbins, John. Diet for a New America: How Your Food Choices

Affect Your, Health, Happiness, and the Future of Life on Earth.

Walpole, N.H. : Stillpoint, 1987. A strong case for vegetarianism.

Rohr, Janelle, ed. Animal Rights: Opposing Vieurpoints. San Diego:

Greenhaven Press, 1989.

Singer, Peter. Animal Liberation. 2nd ed. New York: New York

Review of Books, 1990.

VandeVeer, D. and Pierce, C., eds. People, Penguins, and Plastic

Trees. Belmont, Cal.: Wadsworth, 1990.

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