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August Spies



Joined: 09 Aug 2002
Posts: 1979
Location: D.C.
Any vegans/vegetarians here?  Reply with quote  

Thought this was an interesting article:


The Least Harm Principle Suggests that Humans Should Eat Beef, Lamb, Dairy, not a Vegan Diet

The following abstract and the aforementioned title were written by S.L. Davis, Department of Animal Sciences, Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR 97331.

http://www.wildlifedamagecontrol.com/animalrights/leastharm.htm

Introduction
Although the debate over the moral status of animals has been going on for thousands of years (Shapiro, 2000), there has been a resurgence of interest in this issue in the last quarter of the 20th century. One of the landmark philosophical works of this period was the book by Regan (1983) called "A Case for Animal Rights." In that book, Regan concludes that animals do have moral standing, that they are subjects-of-a-life with interests that deserve equal consideration to the same interests in humans, and therefore have the right to live their lives without human interference. As a consequence, he concludes that humans have a moral obligation to consume a vegan (use no animal products) diet and eliminate animal agriculture. However, production of an all vegan diet also comes at the cost of the lives of many animals, including mice, moles, gophers, pheasants, etc. Therefore, I asked Regan, "What is the morally relevant difference between killing a field mouse (or other animal of the field) so that humans may eat and killing a pig (or chicken, calf or lamb) for the same purpose? Animals must die so that humans may eat, regardless whether they eat a vegan diet or not. So, how are we to choose our food supply in a morally responsible manner?" Regan's response could be summarized by what may be called the "Least Harm Principle" or lhp (Regan, Personal Communication). According to LHP, we must choose the food products that, overall, cause the least harm to the least number of animals. The following analysis is an attempt to try to determine what humans should eat if we apply that principle.

Regan's Vegan Conclusion is Problematic

I find Regan's response to my question to be problematic for two reasons. The first reason is because it seems to be a philosophical slight of hand for one to turn to a utilitarian defense (LHP) of a challenge to his vegan conclusion which is based on animal rights theory. If the question, "What is the morally relevant difference?" can't be supported by the animal rights theory, then it seems to me that the animal rights theory must be rejected. Instead, Regan turns to utilitarian theory (which examines consequences of one's actions) to defend the vegan conclusion.

The second problem I see with his vegan conclusion is that he claims that the least harm would be done to animals if animal agriculture was eliminated. It may certainly be true that fewer animals may be killed if animal agriculture was eliminated, but could the lhp also lead to other alternative conclusions?

Would pasture-based animal agriculture cause least harm?

Animals of the field are killed by several factors, including:

1. Tractors and farm implements run over them.
2. Plows and cultivators destroy underground burrows and kill animals.
3. Removal of the crops (harvest) removes ground cover allowing animals on the surface to be killed by predators.
4. Application of pesticides.

So, every time the tractor goes through the field to plow, disc, cultivate, apply fertilizer and/or pesticide, harvest, etc., animals are killed. And, intensive agriculture such as corn and soybeans (products central to a vegan diet) kills far more animals of the field than would extensive agriculture like forage production, particularly if the forage was harvested by ruminant animals instead of machines. So perhaps fewer animals would be killed by producing beef, lamb, and dairy products for humans to eat instead of the vegan diet envisioned by Regan.

Accurate numbers of mortality aren't available, but Tew and Macdonald (1993) reported that wood mouse population density in cereal fields dropped from 25/ha preharvest to less than 5/ha postharvest. This decrease was attributed to migration out of the field and to mortality. Therefore, it may be reasonable to estimate mortality of 10 animals/ha in conventional corn and soybean production.

There are 120 million ha of harvested cropland in the US (USDA, 2000). If all of that land was used to produce a plant-based diet, and if 10 animals of the field are killed per ha per year, then 10 x 120 million = 1200 million or 1.2 billion would be killed to produce a vegan diet. If half of that land (60 million) was converted to forage production and if forage production systems decreased the number of animals of the field killed per year by 50% (5 per year per ha), the number of animals killed would be:

1. 60 million ha of traditional agriculture x 10 animals per ha = 0.6 billion animals killed.
2. 60 million ha of forage production x 5 animals of the field = 0.3 billion.

Therefore, in this hypothetical example, the change to include some forage-based animal agriculture would result in the loss of only 0.9 billion animals of the field instead of 1.2 billion to support a vegan diet. As a result, the lhp would suggest that we are morally obligated to consume a diet of ruminant products, not a vegan diet, because it would result in the death of fewer animals of the field.

But what of the ruminant animals that would need to die to feed people? According to the USDA numbers quoted by Francione (2000), of the 8.4 billion animals killed each year for food in the US, 8 billion of those are poultry and only 41 million are ruminants (cows, calves, sheep, lambs). Even if the numbers of ruminants killed for food each year doubled to replace the 8 billion poultry, the total number of animals that would need to be killed under this alternative would still be fewer (0.9 billion + 82 million = 0.982 billion) than in the vegan alternative (1.2 billion).

In conclusion, applying the Least Harm Principle as proposed by Regan would actually argue that we are morally obligated to move to a ruminant-based diet rather than a vegan diet.

References

Davis, S.L. 2000. What is the Morally Relevant Difference between the Mouse and the Pig? Pp. 107-109 in the Proceedings of EurSafe 2000; 2nd Congress of the European Society for Agricultural and Food Ethics.

Francione, Gary L. 2000. Introduction to Animal Rights: Your child or the dog? Temple University Press. Philadelphia.

Regan, Tom. 1983. A Case for Animal Rights. University of California Press, Berkeley.

Shapiro, L.S. 2000. Applied Animal Ethics, pp. 34-37. Delmar Press.

Tew, T.E. and D.W. Macdonald. 1993. The effects of harvest on arable wood mice. Biological Conservation 65:279-283.

USDA. 2000. www.nass.usda.gov/Census/Census97/highlights.
Post Sun Aug 31, 2003 8:50 am
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imatopos



Joined: 09 Jul 2002
Posts: 91
Interesting argument, but nope  Reply with quote  

I've read this before, and it's an interesting argument, but it won't quite work against Regan. The guy misunderstands Regan's remarks on the death of animals and why we should avoid killing some animals over others. Remember, Regan's rights theory only covers mammals that are one year of age and older, and he has a very sophisticated means for dealing with conflicts of obligation--both of which the author fails to address. So, it's interesting from a critical perspective, but it isn't a genuine engagement with Regan's thought.

It might have some pull from a utilitarian perspective, but we'd have to see the numbers in order to make any kind of judgment.

Regardless of how the scenario works out, I think that most vegetarians know that there is no cruelty-free diet--all forms of consumption costs lives and cause pain. If someone comes up with a form of living that is more compassionate and causes less killing and suffering than vegetarianism or veganism, I think that most vegetarians would be glad to join in.
Post Sun Aug 31, 2003 12:48 pm
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August Spies



Joined: 09 Aug 2002
Posts: 1979
Location: D.C.
 Reply with quote  


Quote:

I think that most vegetarians know that there is no cruelty-free diet


I wish they wouldn't all wear shirts that say "cruelty-free" though.
Quote:


Post Sun Aug 31, 2003 12:49 pm
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justinpayne



Joined: 10 Aug 2003
Posts: 8
Location: Palm springs CA
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I dont eat meat cuz I dont like it the way it taste the way it looks the way it makes me feel to know that something died and Im eating it. it has nothing to do if its good for me or not
Post Sun Aug 31, 2003 12:50 pm
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Billy Gnosis



Joined: 16 Jul 2003
Posts: 1281
Location: Southern Oregon
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Vegetarian who eats dairy.
Post Sun Aug 31, 2003 12:54 pm
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barlow



Joined: 30 Jun 2002
Posts: 1100
Location: Leeds, UK
 Reply with quote  

Vegetarian for about the last 9 years
Vegan for about the last week

Fuck, if someone had told me dark chocolate was vegan, I would have done this years ago!
Post Mon Sep 01, 2003 2:45 am
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duke_city



Joined: 05 Jul 2002
Posts: 3208
Location: San Diego,CA
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I have friends that are vegetarians and some vegan as well. I myself am neither. I try to eat a balanced diet as best as I can limiting my intake of fast food and red meat to a minmum.

I don't see how completely eliminating enitre groups of food can be good for humans in the long run (especially growing kids). I think our bodies are designed with variety (inclusive of meat and dairy products) as a necessity.

The longest surviving people on the earth (Okinawans) combine a high intake vegetable diet with seafood and ocasional red meat consumption.

The most severe threats to health are not even controlled by diet:
stress and pollution for example.

This reminds of the movie "Permanent Midnight" where the main character shoots up heroine like mad but won't eat sugar cause he thinks its bad for his health.

Brian
Post Mon Sep 01, 2003 3:04 am
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bensandoval



Joined: 12 May 2003
Posts: 2564
Location: berkeley
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i eat what tastes good.

how else could i rationalize loving spam?
Post Mon Sep 01, 2003 3:53 am
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Perspective



Joined: 18 Aug 2003
Posts: 436
Location: Finland to UK
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I also eat what I like...and I happen to love steak.
Post Mon Sep 01, 2003 4:00 am
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Bles



Joined: 04 Jul 2002
Posts: 561
Location: RI
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Quote:

The most severe threats to health are not even controlled by diet:
stress and pollution for example.


You must be kidding. You honestly think "stress" is more of a threat to health than eating a shitty diet?

Let me go quit my job and start drinking shit out of the skull and cross bones labeled bottles under my kitchen sink... I'll last longer that way.

C'mon now...
Post Mon Sep 01, 2003 1:38 pm
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duke_city



Joined: 05 Jul 2002
Posts: 3208
Location: San Diego,CA
 Reply with quote  

bles wrote:

Quote:

The most severe threats to health are not even controlled by diet:
stress and pollution for example.


You must be kidding. You honestly think "stress" is more of a threat to health than eating a shitty diet?

Let me go quit my job and start drinking shit out of the skull and cross bones labeled bottles under my kitchen sink... I'll last longer that way.

C'mon now...


Well if you take it to the extreme level no. Eating poison? How many people do this dude? Thats ridiculous.

But stress is responsible for more illness than eating red meat I believe that much.

Brian
Post Mon Sep 01, 2003 1:44 pm
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Billy Gnosis



Joined: 16 Jul 2003
Posts: 1281
Location: Southern Oregon
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Heart disease is the number one killer in America.

Suprise, caused by things like stress, smoking, and a poor diet.
Post Mon Sep 01, 2003 1:50 pm
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avatar



Joined: 16 Sep 2002
Posts: 3418
Location: Republic of Cascadia
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vegans taste better.
Post Mon Sep 01, 2003 5:22 pm
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robbndahood



Joined: 09 May 2003
Posts: 127
Location: Santa Cruz, CA
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Why does this argument come up every month or so? I don't see any veggies on here trying impose their thoughts onto other people. Why can't people just accept the fact that vegetarians/vegans/goats don't want to eat meat for their own reasons.

And the matter of fact is, we only need to justify these reasons to ourselves.

... and to think that we all wear shirts that say "cruelty-free". *sigh*.
Post Mon Sep 01, 2003 5:41 pm
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August Spies



Joined: 09 Aug 2002
Posts: 1979
Location: D.C.
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Well... actually the majority of my friends back home are vegan or vegetarian and they constantly try to pressure their views on me. Constanly.

But anyway I just posted this cause I thought it was an interesting argument, whether you are vegan or not.
Post Mon Sep 01, 2003 6:06 pm
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