This essay investigates the ethics and impact of eating meat (or abstaining from it). It's divided into four sections: 1. Environmental Impact, 2. Animal Welfare, 3. Human Welfare, and 4. Personal Health.
I argue that there is a positive environmental effect (CO2(equivalent) reduction), but that reduction of meat consumption won't solve the problems (innovation is needed, reduction is too late). In the second part I argue that (many) animals are most probably conscious and in most cases suffer before they become your meal. I present several ways of measuring this and look for a way to navigate what to eat (with regards to meat and other animal products). As an addendum to suffering, I also consider the human suffering involved in the production of meat. Lastly, I look at the evidence for health improvements/longevity reasons for eating a plant-based diet (and also acknowledge that having a beer and 'bad' foods sometimes is very much ok).
1. Environmental Impact
- Going vegan will reduce your kgCO2e footprint (from food) by 1000kg
- This is about 5% of your total emissions
- Eating meat has many other negative consequences including loss of biodiversity, water use, land use (deforestation)
- But eating less meat is not enough and we need to find alternatives (to eat and to fix our carbon cycle)
Not everyone who is vegetarian is so by choice. Many people are vegetarian because they can't afford meat. But what if you stop eating meat, or opposite that, what if someone starts eating meat. What will be your personal impact? Based on this study I could find that emissions for vegetarians versus (medium) meat eaters were 664 kgCO2e(equivalent) lower. For vegans it was exactly 1000 kgCO2e.
What does that mean in terms of impact. Is 1000kgCO2e per year a lot or not? The article states that "dietary GHG emissions in self-selected meat-eaters are approximately twice as high as those in vegans". So in terms of diet it really has a large effect. What about your total kgCO2e footprint? From The World Bank if could find the emissions from someone in The Netherlands to be about 10.000kg. So that would mean you are saving 10% of your emissions by going vegan.
I think this is in line with what I've read earlier in 'The Hidden Impact' by Baette Porcelijn. In her book (short summary here, link to book), she argues that indeed food can have a large impact. Next to CO2e there is also lots of land use, hidden emissions (e.g. from trucks transporting animals/meat), and lots of water use (15.000 litres per kg beef).
orange juice 0.019
apple juice 0.099
soy milk 0.025
(I might update this later)
Some people do point out that there might be a 'rebound effect'. One description of this is that with the extra money (vegetarian food might be cheaper), you will buy other things that are polluting. I couldn't find a definitive study on this. From my own experience my vegetarian food expenses are equally high (if not higher) than the meat-based diet from before (just think of the few euro's per 1kg of chicken you can buy). And I think that people who are conscious of the choice of going vegetarian are also those who consume less or more responsible.
Next to CO2 or other gasses we are polluting with, livestock also has many other negative impacts on the environment. From wikipedia, sources linked: "The livestock sector is probably the largest source of water pollution (due to animal wastes, fertilizers, and pesticides), contributing to eutrophication, human health problems, and the emergence of antibiotic resistance. It accounts also for over 8% of global human water use. Livestock production is by far the biggest user of land, as it accounts for 40% of the global land surface (my note: much of this is crops to feed the animals). It is probably the leading player in biodiversity loss, as it causes deforestation, land degradation, pollution, climate change, and overfishing. (wiki)"
That all being said, I think asking people to eat less meat is not going to solve our climate problems. I think we need (have to) innovate our way out of this situation (good news, emissions in EU countries are already going down). I see meat alternatives (including cultured meat - grown from actual cells, without the animal) are ways we could provide a growing and richer population (e.g. India, China) with nutritious food without more pollution. And that we also need innovation to capture carbon (or heck, I even read that we can maybe make batteries with it), and to find a way to make a new carbon cycle that works in line with our needs (to consume, expand, use more). Reducing our meat intake won't be enough.
- Most scientists think that animals are conscious.
- Days suffered per kg: 110
- Days suffered per egg (50g): 5.5
- Days suffered per 100kcal: 7
- The multiplier for suffering (versus beef) is 4 in this case. I can agree, but also acknowledge that much work has been done and no supermarket in The Netherlands sells battery cage eggs anymore (you can buy them on the market, so beware).
- This model assumes much more happy chickens, who range free and don't experience too much stress
- Days suffered per kg: 2.8
- Days suffered per egg (50g): 0.14 (so a day of suffering per 7 eggs)
- Days suffered per 100kcal: 0.18
- Of course (because I manipulated the the parameters), the suffering is much lower. But could this be true? I think the chickens my dad has are happy (as can be), but how much it applies to eggs with 3 stars (or whatever rating), I have to investigate further. A cursory reading does look promising (read: happier chickens). One (possible) way to do get eggs (if you even still want them), is to get them locally. I'm not saying local is better per se (global trade does many awesome things), but it might be easier to verify yourself. Here (Rechtstreex) is one program for people in Rotterdam. (alas I do see they have jumped on the Non-GMO bandwagon, but lets leave that aside for now)
- One more note about eggs/chickens. It's predicted that the determination of gender could happen as early as in the egg, so that you won't be killing about half of the baby chicks/hens. As it's a cost-saving measure, I can image this being implemented rather soon.
- Days suffered per kg: 0.12 (this seems low, but you get about 30.000 litres of milk per cow)
- Days suffered per glass (200ml): 0.06
- Days suffered per 100kcal: 0.09
- I found this rather surprising. The vast amount of milk just offsets the badness (2x per day of beef cow) of the life of a milk cow.
- "But what about the calves?", I can just hear my girlfriend say it. The fact is that it's true, veal (meat from young cows) is what is the by-effect of this process. And it's profitable and necessary for the production of milk (although I can see us figuring out how to not do this). And after the cows have lived their lives (about 4 years), they are also killed.
- With so many milk-like products available, I think it's not necessary to buy any milk products anymore. Some products don't have the same protein content (e.g. oat milk), but all of them do not involve animals, and are by most measures more environmentally friendly too.
- Days suffered per kg: 1600
- Days suffered per fillet (113g): 185
- Days suffered per 100kcal: 160
- This is far from my area of knowledge (I never liked fish). Yet it's also one where I could imagine there being a scenario where there is a 'free range' option where the catfish don't suffer so much.
The scientific concensus seems to be that animals are indeed conscious. 'The Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness' signed in 2012 states that many brain-functions/structures in animals and humans are the same. For instance, the African grey parrot shows very similar (and probably parallel evolved) brain functions including REM sleep. The declaration ends with the following statement:
"The absence of a neocortex does not appear to preclude an organism from experiencing affective states. Convergent evidence indicates that non-human animals have the neuroanatomical, neurochemical, and neurophysiological substrates of conscious states along with the capacity to exhibit intentional behaviors. Consequently, the weight of evidence indicates that humans are not unique in possessing the neurological substrates that generate consciousness. Nonhuman animals, including all mammals and birds, and many other creatures, including octopuses, also possess these neurological substrates."
There is critique on this view. One could argue (as David Deutsch does) that animals (and computers, learning networks) can display almost all of humans' capacities, but that you don't need consciousness for this. A plant directs its leaves towards the sun, trees share nutrients across a vast network, yet most of us don't give them the benefit of the doubt. What sets us humans aside is that we are universal explainers, we don't just optimise for a problem, we think of whole new problems (and solutions).
LeDoux and Brown state the following: "Tulving argued that autonoetic consciousness is an exclusive feature of the human brain. Other animals could, in principle, experience noetic states about being in danger. However, because such states lack the involvement of the self, as a result of the absence of autonoetic awareness, the states would not, in our view, be emotions." MORE DEUTSCH BRETT? http://www.bretthall.org/humans-and-other-animals.html http://www.bretthall.org/humans-and-other-animals.html http://www.bretthall.org/humans-and-other-animals.html WHERE TO DRAW THE LINE?
My view is that we aren't completely certain if animals are conscious (and thus can suffer), but that the chances are high. We don't have a full graps on what consciousness is (even in humans), so our models need to keep improving. What we do know is that we humans don't have any special hardware (read: brain area), but that it comes down to software (side-note: so computers should be able to be conscious, but definitely aren't now). So for now, let's work with animals being conscious as an assumption.
See for a much deeper discussion this Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on Animal Consciousness.
If animals are conscious, then I think it's safe to say they can suffer. Mammals show very similar mentation (mental activity) to humans. Elephants have death rituals. Many have complex emotional lives. But it's difficult to say who suffers more. Is it bigger brains (but that would seem very arbitrary), more vivid experiences, or something else?
Maybe we can identify two ways of suffering. One that is uniquely human, one that plans into the future or harkens back to the past (mental time travel, mental pain), and physical pain. I think it's safe to say that with regards to our diet the latter is most important and one that we can be safe to say is experienced by animals. One interesting note is that within our (very comfortable) humans lives, most of the suffering we remember/identify with is mental and not physical (or even mental suffering following a negative physical event).
I would be remis if I didn't mention Peter Singer here too. He argues that livestock animals deserve much better treatment and that one of the place we can look for our moral compass is in the house (read: how we treat our pets). He states that there should be no speciesism destinction between us humans and other animals. He even argues that we don't even need to ascribe consciousness to animals to have a moral obligation to them to treat them well.
All that being said I have tried, below, to find what the impact on animal suffering is for different types of products. Here I lean heavily on this blog, this follow-up calculator, and this article. They go into depth about the weights and methods. From the blog, the model uses these inputs: 1) animal product, 2) average lifespan, 3) product (eggs, meat, milk), 4) sentience multiplier (how certain you are the animal can suffer), 5) suffering per day lived, 6) number of days of life equivalent to pain of death (the moment of killing, how bad is it), 7) (result) equivalent days of suffering caused per kg demanded.
From this model (and with my best understanding of the data), I've come up with the following estimates.
Eggs (battery cage)
Eggs (free range)
Conclude, human treatment could be very effective
- vegan things: -- t is estimated that an average consumer of eggs who eats 200 eggs per year for 70 years of his or her life is responsible for the deaths of 140 birds, and that an average consumer of milk who drinks 190 kg per year for 70 years is responsible for the deaths of 2.5 cows -- https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs10460-012-9402-x https://reducing-suffering.org/how-much-direct-suffering-is-caused-by-various-animal-foods/ http://sandhoefner.github.io/animal_suffering_calculator Animal products Killed animals for one person per 70 years of animal product consumption (c) Aggregate years of shortened lifespan by killing animals during 70 years of animal product consumption (g) (years) Aggregate average period of animal suffering during 70 years of consumption (h) (years) Beef 15 270 30 Pork 49 710 25 Chicken 2,450 23,275 919 Carp 3,220 135,240 10,733 Animal products Killed animals for one person per 70 years of average amount of consumption (c) Aggregate years of shortened lifespan by killing animals during 70 years of average amount of consumption (g) (years) Aggregate period of animal suffering during 70 years of average amount of consumption (h) (years) Eggs* 140 1,330 70 Milk 2.5 43.8 6.3 WILD ANIMALS SUFFERING? https://reducing-suffering.org/vegetarianism-and-wild-animals/ - beef reduces wild animal suffering? - Plausibly reduces net suffering somewhat due to reducing wild-invertebrate populations, although this may not be the case if cattle are grazed on irrigated pastures, such as in the Western USA. Grass-fed beef probably prevents more suffering than non-grass-fed. - pork, chicken, eggs, farmed fish - not good, probably suffer themselves Interesting links: - http://www.hsa.org.uk/ - HUMAN SUFFERING! - in production - from diseases (Covid yo) MORE LINKS: - https://reducing-suffering.org/suffering-in-animals-vs-humans/ Suffering in Animals vs. Humans - Brian Tomasik - personal blog
- no diseases from animal feed - longer life, but flawed studies (blue zones etc) - no hormones and other things?
https://www.psychologytoday.com/intl/blog/animal-emotions/201801/animal-consciousness-new-report-puts-all-doubts-sleep - I have no doubt that numerous nonhuman animals (animals) are conscious beings, and I know I'm not alone in taking this strong and uncompromising position - "Convergent evidence indicates that non-human animals have the neuroanatomical, neurochemical, and neurophysiological substrates of conscious states along with the capacity to exhibit intentional behaviors. Consequently, the weight of evidence indicates that humans are not unique in possessing the neurological substrates that generate consciousness. Non-human animals, including all mammals and birds, and many other creatures, including octopuses, also possess these neurological substrates." - Caution is required before excluding consciousness in species not having the same brain structures as the mammalian ones as different neural architectures may mediate comparable processes. - the overall picture obtained from the large range of species considered strongly provides evidence for different types of consciousness in both livestock and fish. - We provide a few examples of higher levels of consciousness in domestic livestock: in poultry, hens can judge their own state of knowledge suggesting they are conscious of what they know or do not know. Pigs can remember what events they experienced, where, and when. Several other examples of cognitive capacities potentially underlying consciousness in domestic livestock are also available, such as recognition of individuals in sheep and cattle. Collectively these studies and those on wild and laboratory species, clearly support the hypothesis that domestic livestock species are capable of complex conscious processing. -
This is where I will post short updates/excerpts of what I'm writing. Check back later to see the first