Ethical Food

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Applied ethics and meat. A few thoughts.

Videos are graphic.

Submitted: September 16, 2009

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Submitted: September 16, 2009



The ethics of food has becoming an increasingly discussed topic. We find ourselves debating over the affects of eating meat on the environment and other humans. Is it ethical that over “100 million cows, pigs, and sheep are raised and slaughtered in the United States alone each year” (Singer 57) when the grain used to feed these doomed animals, could be directly harvested for human consumption? And why do we often not take into account the animal suffering? Are we to desensitized or just ignorant? Clearly, when looking into whether eating meat is ethical in this day an age, we must conclude the negative.

First off, by not calling meat what it actually is, we desensitize ourselves to the suffering of animals. Humans often tell themselves that they’re just eating beef, venison, poultry, or pork; when in actuality, they’re eating flesh. It’s unlikely that anyone would say that cannibals dine on homo-sapien. No, most people would probably say cannibals eat man-flesh or men. If we didn’t give animal flesh fancy titles, and instead called it for what it really was, it would be harder to cope with the idea that we’re eating something that can feel pain and suffer. The majority of people would find themselves hard-pressed to say that when the common farm pig is stuffed into an over-packed holding center, in which there is six square feet per pig (which in-turn greatly increases stress in animals, forcing farmers to medicate the animals), that the “pork” is suffering. Unfortunately though, when humans give animal families impersonal titles that imply they’re dead, we are only masking the fact that they can suffer too.

Secondly, a large amount suffering of all animals, including human suffering, is caused by the consumption of non-human animals. One could possibly justify eating meat if we did what economists call “breaking even” with amount of grain we gave up for the meat. But, we don’t break even, in-fact, for every 4.8 pounds of grain we us to feed cattle, we get back one pound of cow-flesh. (Motavalli) Instead of using that grain to directly feed other humans, we waste it, with few being able to reap the benefits. According to Harvard nutritionist Jean Mayer, if we were to slow the demand of meat by just ten percent in the U.S. alone, we could produce more farms that would not only be good for the environment, but we could grow enough grain to feed an additional 60 million of the earths 1.02 billion starving people. What about animal suffering? Surely they suffer as well. The common farm cow, pig, and chicken are all forced into tight spaces known as Animal Feed Operations or AFOs. Even worse, is that in these AFOs, animal’s do not have enough space to graze or move comfortably elevating stress levels to an extent where they need to be medicated. A more specific example of animal suffering takes place at a chicken hatchery owned by hy-line North America, where more than 150,000 male chicks are thrown into grinders daily. Although that practice is not the exception, according to United Egg Producers, it’s the standard. ( Would we do this to our kittens, puppies, or any other animal? Would we throw our children into grinders?

Lastly, the earth’s eco-system would be profoundly damaged if we continue harvesting meat the way we do now. For example, water is a very scarce resource, yet by consuming meat you’re facilitating the waste of water. You might be asking what the relationship between water consumption and meat is, I’ll explain: All animals need to consume water, even the ones most people eat. For every pound of beef produced, 2,500 pounds of water must be consumed. For every pound of grain produced, 60 pounds of water were used. (Motavalli) Also, animal waste is very harmful to the environment. According to the EPA, a single dairy cow produces the same amount of wet manure as 20-40 people. Manure can be helpful when farming, but not properly disposing of it can result in rain run-off’s into streams, rivers, or other bodies of water; which in turn harms fish and the water we drink. Adding to the pollution of our water, it’s estimated over 80% of cows from the United States are given hormones of some kind. (Raloff) So basically, if a rain run-off of manure into a body of water would occur, then not only would the water be polluted by the animal waste, but by the hormones given to the animals, which then we humans absorb upon drinking the polluted water.

 As you can see vegetarianism or strict veganism are the only ethical options for our eating habits. Eating meat in this day and age causes desensitization, suffering of humans and animals, and perhaps most importantly it further damages our environment. If we continue on this path we are putting our very world at stake. Ethical diet choices need to be maintained to support a more eco-friendly, animal friendly, and people friendly earth.
"What's the Problem?." http// 10/07/2009. Environmental Protection Agency, Web. 16 Sep 2009. <>.
Motavalli, Jim. The Case Against Meat. <>.
"Animal Rights Group Accuses Hatchery of Cruelty." 01/09/2009. Associated Press, Web. 16 Sep 2009. <>.
Raloff, Janet. “Hormones: Here's the Beef: environmental concerns reemerge over steroids given to livestock.” Science News 161, no. 1, January 5, 2002, 10.
Singer, Peter. Writings On An Ethical Life. NY: Ecco Press, 2000.

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