Ethical overview

There is no fundamental difference between man and animals in their ability to feel pleasure and pain and happiness and misery. ~ Charles Darwin – English naturalist and geologist, biggest contributor to the evolutionary theory

Photo courtesy Animals Australia
Photo courtesy Animals Australia

The Trolley Problem- with a twist

In this section we use ethical discussions to guide our decisions. To set the scene, the following is a short 2 minute exercise on ethical dilemmas.  It is based on the Trolley Problem which is a famous thought provoking experiment. However in this case, there is a twist. The question is would you pull the lever?

Ethics Overview

It is now considered a universal belief that exploiting, enslaving or killing innocent people is unacceptable. This has not always been the case in our history. For example the slavery of black people in the USA was once generally accepted and defended as being normal, natural and necessary by those involved. Fortunately human rights and social justice have moved forward since those days and now the basic right to freedom from slavery is protected in law and considered an essential prerequisite of a civilized society.

On the other hand, exploitation of non-human animals is now more prevalent than ever. As you read this, tens of billions of farm animals are living in completely unnatural conditions, without even basic freedom as well as being exposed to considerable unnecessary suffering.

The different ways we as individuals (and as a society) justify this exploitation appears to be founded on the beliefs that eating and using animals is normal, natural, and necessary. These are the same ways in which human slavery was justified and allowed to continue for so long. The following are some important facts relevant to any discussion on the ethics of animal exploitation:

  • The major dietary institutions around the world acknowledge that eating animal products is unnecessary1. With planning, virtually all people living in western countries today may choose to meet all their dietary needs without using products of animal exploitation1.2. Read the relevant section of the American Dietetic Association here.
  • Highly respected scientific research bodies show that growing animals for food is excessively harmful to the environment, is resource/energy intensive and is disproportionately wasteful when compared to plant based alternatives. This applies to factory farmed, free range, grass fed or organic varieties. See further discussion and references under EVER’s “Earth” Sections.
  • Many millions of people live without enough food while a large proportion of the world’s edible crops are fed to farm animals raised for human consumption. Further, much of the worlds arable land is used to grow crops which are fed to animals.  To learn more about the use of crops in the world click here.
  • Many recent studies3 on fish show they are  sentient and feel pain like we do.  Read more on fish sentience here.
  • Animals have social connections with others of their own kind and experience a range of emotions including joy, fear and grief, just like we do4. To learn more on animal emotions click here.
  • The vast majority of farmed animals are raised in factory farms. Here they endure confined  unnatural conditions before being killed at a very young age. To learn more about factory farms click here.
  •  Today the majority of farm animals are raised in these factory farms, and this intensive farming becomes  increasingly prevalent as the demand for animal products grow.  Factory farms are unnatural environments, designed to grow animals abnormally quickly.  Many of these animals never see natural light until the last day of their life, on the way to the slaughterhouse.
  • With the help of hidden cameras there are libraries of evidence that show what happens in farms and slaughterhouses behind closed doors. These paint a picture of animals being routinely subjected to cruel mistreatment and hardship. To see the reality of Australian Pig farming click here.
  • All farmed animals, even the  minority not raised in these factories are killed at a very young age, a fraction of their natural lifespan. Read more about the slaughter ages of animals here.
  • Virtually all farmed animals have their lives forcibly taken. To think that there may be a humane way to perpetrate this is fundamentally flawed.
  • Read more about factory farms here.
  • Read more about Australian factory farms here.


The term Carnism relates to the underlying belief many hold that it is OK to kill and eat some animals and not others. If we accept that eating animals is no longer necessary, we need to understand that eating animals is now a choice, which we make based on our beliefs. Carnism explains how we have become comfortable enslaving certain animals in factory farms (and killing them at a young age) when they are no different from those animals that we treasure and love.  Psychologist Dr Melanie Joy, who coined the term Carnism, explains it in a captivating TEDx talk.

Our future selves will consider meat eating barbaric.  ~ Peter Singer – Australian moral philosopher and Professor of Bioethics at Princeton University

Additional Links & Resources

vegan resources

Meet your meat

Beyond Carnism

A well fed world

Cowspiracy facts page

Bioscience – Evidence of Animal emotions


[1] Craig WJ, Position of the American Dietetic Association: vegetarian diets. Journal of the American Dietetic Association 2009; 109(7):1266-1282

[2] Dieticians Association of Australia. 2013. Vegan Diets. [ONLINE] Available at:

[3] Black, H, 2009. Underwater Suffering: Do Fish Feel Pain?. Scientific American, [Online] Available at:

[4] Berkoff, M, 2016. Animal Emotions: Exploring Passionate Natures. Oxford Journals Science & Mathematics BioScience, [Online]. 50 , 861-870. Available at: