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

In this section we examine the various common forms of  animal exploitation. Our goal is to share the facts, and not provide provide prescriptive guidance on morality and ethics. Only statements that are supported by peer reviewed science are presented.

Happiness and Contentment

This section could also have been called finding personal happiness and contentment. We can do this this by following our inner nature which involves allowing natural expression of our compassion to all others, including animals and our shared home.  This is in our inner nature and has been essential for our evolution. Now we live in a society that encourages competitiveness and selfishness above all else which conflicts with our true nature so leads to discontentment and anxiety. Our society provides the opportunity for relief from this in various forms such as pursuing personal wealth, possessions, overeating, drugs and alcohol. These are all addictions that will only add to our discontentment and fuels our destructive system of ever increasing consumption and environmental harm.

Most know what real compassion is but have learned to limit this to direct family, a select group of friends or even a beloved pet.   It is unnatural for us to be selective with our compassion and true contentment can only come when we allow this instinct to to be expressed to all humans, animals and the home we share.  This does not mean we assume the burden of all injustice and suffering but that we allow ourselves to face reality and give due consideration to our wider family.  Of course being informed is essential or we risk living a lie.   So, two missing links preventing a happy healthy population and earth are widespread knowledge of facts and our societies inhibition of our natural state of compassion.  This not an opinion but is fully supported by peer reviewed scientific studies summarized in the inspiring book “Altruism” by Mathieu Ricard.

Ethics

Ethics is a far reaching often subjective topic but most will agree on some key universal truths. For example, if we live our life with an open mind and take all reasonable steps to avoid harming “others”, this would be a solid ethical position.   Compare this to many large corporations today that appear to accept various harm caused in the name of shareholder wealth.  They may cloud the waters by pointing to the good they do, such as providing jobs, their charity work or wealth for a local community.  Considerations of the greater good when considering our own choices seems valid but it is clear that ignoring our natural compassion or giving undue considerations to selfish gain will lead to destructive, harmful choices.  Two historical examples that show the disastrous consequences of such an approach are:

  • For centuries, up until relatively recently, slavery was generally accepted and defended by mainstream society.  Economics was the driver of this and slaves were portrayed as inferior beings unworthy of compassion.
  • Public torture and killing of criminals was once widely practiced and even considered a public spectacle.

Thankfully these two practices are now widely rejected and understood to be shameful parts of human history.

Eating Animals

Over millions of years of human evolution our survival  depended on our adaptation to a changing environment. The ability to survive on whatever food was available at various times would have been critical.  Eating meat would surely have been part of this, particularly in times of plant food shortage such as in droughts.  Of course in these times where survival was the primary consideration, where there were no real choices to be made, ethics was not relevant.  We still see this in the animal kingdom today.

Most of us now find ourselves in a world, where all our basic survival needs are met. This provides us the opportunity to make choices as well as consider the greater good when making these choices.  Having said that it must be acknowledged there is still approximately 1 billion people on this planet without enough food which we discuss in detail later.

With better access to facts we all now have the opportunity to make individual choices that help our society evolve ethically and sustainably. Some of these key facts which are elaborated and fully referenced in other sections are as follows:

  • Eating animal products is for all intents and purposes unnecessary for humans, and in fact may be the cause of many common diseases 1.2. This  position is fully supported by scientific research, and accordingly adopted by leading dietary associations.  For example read the position of the American Dietetic association here.
  • The most highly respected scientific research bodies have found that growing animals for meat and other animal products is inherently wasteful and disproportionately harmful to the environment. As a result the UN has formally urged a move towards a vegan diet.  Refer to EVER’s “Earth” Sections for details and references.
  • Around a billion people live without enough food while much of the worlds crops are inefficiently fed to animals raised for meat. We currently have enough arable land available to grow enough crops to feed a population of 10 billion people.
  • Animals (including fish3.)experience pain and a range of emotions including joy, fear and grief4. They are sentient and have a strong will to live and avoid pain.
  • The vast majority of farmed animals are now raised in factory farms where they live in crowded,  unnatural conditions.
  •  With the help of hidden cameras there is considerable evidence that suggests animals in modern farms and slaughterhouses are being routinely subjected to cruel mistreatment and hardship. View footage from Australian Pig farms here.
  • All farmed animals, even the small minority not raised in these factories are killed in slaughterhouses at a small fraction of their natural lifespan.

We hope that although some of these facts are deeply disturbing, the facts about our natural compassionate state will provide genuine optimism that leads to personal satisfaction and positive action.

Carnism

Carnism is predominant in our society today.  It is an invisible belief system that normalizes meat eating, the opposite of veganism.  Such is the dominance of carnism most people don’t even see eating animals as a choice. Understanding how carnism impacts us and our world is essential to free choice. Read more about carnism here.

The Trolley Problem- with a twist

As a final introduction, the following is an interesting short 2 minute exercise on the ethical dilemmas we now face with our food choices.  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 will you pull the lever?



 

 

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


References

[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: http://daa.asn.au/for-the-public/smart-eating-for-you/nutrition-a-z/vegan-diets/.

[3] Black, H, 2009. Underwater Suffering: Do Fish Feel Pain?. Scientific American, [Online] Available at: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/underwater-suffering-do-fish-feel-pain/

[4] Berkoff, M, 2016. Animal Emotions: Exploring Passionate Natures. Oxford Journals Science & Mathematics BioScience, [Online]. 50 , 861-870. Available at: http://bioscience.oxfordjournals.org/content/50/10/861.full