Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Do the facts show that a low meat diet is more ethical...?

Got involved in the online debate on the 'Bristol MP calls for cow flatulence debate' story in today's paper. My contribution drew quite a bit of response, including the one below from Grahame P. Thought it was worth posting on it here to invite responses on the ethics issue. To me it seems absurd to say that ethics is not part of this, and perhaps all, debates and wrong to say that you cant have a reasonable debate with someone who says that his moral position is backed by the facts - but what do readers think??

My post was addressed in reply to Glenn Vowles who said "....the facts show its healthier, more ethical and more ecological to freely choose to eat a lower meat diet..." Whilst I'd agree with his very first assertion, the argument that it's somehow more 'ethical' to eat less meat rankles because how can the facts show eating less meat is more ethical? Ethicality is a moral assertion, individually subjective, and therefore the 'facts' can't show anything of the sort!
(Grahame P, Central Bristol).

My reply:
Dont agree Grahame. The more people eat a low meat diet then - the more animals can be farmed in a non-intensive, healthier and higher animal welfare way; the fewer animals need to be farmed, leaving less forest cleared, which helps save species and save our climate; the more likely each person is to stay within a sustainable carbon budget, leaving nature less harmed for future generations. Isn't the result of all this that a low meat diet is more ethical??


  1. I suspect Grahame is more concerned with proper use of words and grammar than the content. Nevertheless, he is wrong.
    Facts can 'show' an action is more ethical...., in that the action supports an ethical position.
    He confuses this, deliberately or by design, as the same as an action showing or proving that an ethical position is right - clearly an ethicaI position cannot be proven to be right by factual evidence, but factual evidence can show, or prove, that an action fits with an ethical position.
    We agree it is wrong (unethical) to stub your cigarette out on your dog. If you do so, I could
    1. snigger
    2.. physically prevent you doing so and allow the dog to escape.

    The facts would show that in choosing 2, my action was more ethical than the other choice or choices if I can show that the dog escaped by video'ing it on my phone.
    The facts then show my action was ethical but do not prove that stubbing fags out on dogs is wrong.

  2. Well Glenn, that all depends on just what it is that you mean by “meat”. This argument is in great favour among vegetarians and vegans who always come out with simplistic “20lb of grain to produce1lb of beef” type arguments. Just a few brief thoughts however..

    Extensive (as opposed to intensive - talking farming terms here) rearing of livestock plays a crucial part in the preservation of our countryside - especially areas such as meadows and moorland… a reduction in meat eating would not be too healthy for our wildlife. Look up the term “conservation grazing” and you’ll get some idea of what I mean.

    While the rearing of lot cattle fed on soya based feeds in problematic, this is a problem with large scale agribusiness - to see it as a problem with meat is to miss the point. Soya is chucked into a wide variety of foods nowadays, just look at the ingredient lists on packets. The whole animal food business is encouraged by governments as being good economics (i.e. bloody stupid economics), and is promoted by the globalisation agenda. A good example of this is the way in which the swill feeding of pigs was outlawed by the Blair government, ostensibly to stop the spread of pig diseases… the truth is though, that these diseases were brought into the country through imported pig products which ended up in the swill. A more sensible course of action would have been to ban importation of pig products, and continue using the pig for that purpose it performs so well - turning waste into protein. That however would go against the globalisation agenda.

    It is also true that we eat far too few different species… people in the UK should be eating a lot more venison considering the number of deer roaming about the place eating all the tree bark. Until badgers were given their protected status, they were often eaten here in the south west. Given that in the past, a population of 3 badgers psm used to be considered a healthy badger population, and that now, some areas have as many as 30 psm, they could be brought back onto the menu. Grey squirrels should be destined for the pot. In short, game is good as long as it is harvested sustainably.

    Traditional agricultural systems such as the rice paddy invariably involve the rearing of meat - waterfowl, frogs and insects - not to mention fish such as carp. Modern rice production systems lack this aspect, due to pesticide usage.

    This is subject is something that I have taken an interest in for nearly 25 years now, and I could, if I wasn’t so lazy, write a book on it. There are many things that should be looked at including social policies - the decline of pig clubs and poultry keeping among the working class as a result of government policies for one. I am constantly annoyed by the way in which a vegetarian/vegan lobby try to twist facts to achieve their own ends. The “we can’t do anything about population growth” brigade also promote these simplistic arguments too… I wonder why? In short, get away from simplistic analysis.

    As a last thought, let us remember that in the 19th century, buffalo hunters on the great plains of the US killed well over 50,000,000 North American Bison. Do you seriously believe that the buffalo hunters were helping to stave off climate change? If not, what is the difference between the fart of a bison, and the fart of a cow?

  3. Oh yeah, your title is "Do the facts show that a low meat diet is more ethical...?"... this question presupposes that there is a single unified system of ethics... there ain't... as your current disagreement with the pope clearly demonstrates.

  4. Interesting comments Lizard Watcher - much of which I agree with. I'm not advocating vegetarianism or veganism but am advocating a lower meat and better quality meat diet.

    I'm not assuming a unified system of ethics!! What I'm saying is that for a certain ethical stance ie that meat eating is fine, the facts show that a low meat diet is more ethical.

    I do think that many people would agree that intensive farming involves: a lot of animal suffering; massive resource inputs and environmental/species damage; unsustainable practices; and that we should act to oppose such things. My view is quite widely shared and I believe more and more people are thinking similarly.


Genuine, open, reasonable debate is most welcome. Comments that meet this test will always be published.