Approaching the question “Is it ethical to eat meat”, it is important to address the subjective nature of ethics. A long debated area in all disciplines, philosophy, law and the sciences. What is, and what is not ethical can always be argued as conjecture, the opinion of the individual or the collective. Social and cultural biases can also have a profound effect on what is, and what is not considered ethical. When dealing with ethics you can try and include widely accepted concepts of morality, but in practice, an individual will be guided by their own moral compass. So to answer this question I shall do so from the stand point of my own personal guideline of ethics. I will use arguments to support them, but with an understanding that my morality may vary from my reader, with neither being invalid.

For me, when looking at the question of consuming meat there are a few key areas to consider, evaluate and draw from before concluding whether meat consumption is or is not ethical. These areas are, environmental impact, treatment of livestock, personal health and wider economic context.

Environmental Impact

The Environmental impact of industrial and global agriculture is for the first time truly coming to light. Looking at the main areas of impact, 46 – 58 thousand acres of forest are lost each year with the main reason cited as cattle (World Wildlife, 2015). Animal agriculture is responsible for up to 91% of Amazon destruction (Margulis, 2003). 1-2 acres of rainforest are cleared every second (rainforest relief, 2007). The amount of water used in agriculture is truly a shocking statistic. Animal agriculture water consumption ranges from 34-76 trillion gallons annually. (Pimental, 2004). In the U.S agriculture is responsible for 80-90% of water consumption (USDA ERS, 2013). In terms of Greenhouse gases, agriculture is the leading cause, way over shadowing carbon emission from transport. Livestock and their byproducts account for at least 32,000 million tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) per year, or 51% of all worldwide greenhouse gas emissions (Worldwatch, 2009). Methane is 25-100 times more destructive than CO2 on a 20 year time frame (Susanne E. Bauer, 2009). Then we can consider waste production, Every minute, 7 million pounds of excrement are produced by animals raised for food in the US. A farm with 2,500 dairy cows produces the same amount of waste as a city of 411,000 people (USEPA, 2008).

Within environmental impact we can consider impact on our fellow species. Up to137 plant, animal and insect species are lost every day due to rainforest destruction (Convention on Biological Diversity, 2007). Ten thousand years ago, 99% of biomass was wild animals. Today, humans and the animals that we raise as food make up 98% (Smil, 20014). As many as 2.7 trillion animals are pulled from the ocean each year (A Mood and P Brooke, July 2010). We could see fish-less seas by 2048 (National Geographic, 2006).These statistics build a convincing picture as to the damages our meat eating impact is having on our environment.

Treatment of livestock

Many have contemplated whether we should feel concerned with the treatment of livestock or not. It has been proven beyond retribution that these animals are sentient and feel fear, pain and anxiety. An example of a regular journey for a cattle cow would be; born, branded with a hot iron, it’s horns gauged off and testicles castrated. All without painkillers. Pulled from it’s mother then kept in a small, confined space for just a few years without experiencing any company or the outside world. Then killed. This may actually be seen as a blessed existence when compared to that of the female dairy cow. The dairy cow is forced into a cycle of continuous birthing so that she will constantly produce off-spring and milk. This consists of insemination via a large metal rod. After birthing, the calf is taken from her mother, it is reported that the mother will continue to call for her calf for days during which she is hooked up to milking machines that will cause her to puss and bleed. Through a combination of these techniques and bovine growth hormones a dairy cow will produce four times the milk of a cow in the 1950’s. A normal cow would live 20 years, a dairy cow’s body is typically worn out after 5 and is killed and sold for cheap meat (Peta, 2015).

Anyone that has spent time in the company of pigs often compares them to dogs as they are highly intelligent, playful, loyal and friendly. In-fact animal behaviouralist show pigs to be as smart as a 4 year old child. Sows spend most of their lives in gestation crates, too small to turn around in. They are impregnated again and again until their bodies give out, then they are slaughtered. Piglets are torn from their mothers, tails chopped off, teeth snipped, no pain killers. When it comes to slaughter, Pigs are crammed into trucks, in the summer many die from heat exhaustion, in winter many arrive at the slaughterhouse frozen to death. It’s estimated that 1 million pigs die in transportation a year, a further 420,000 are crippled (PETA, 2015).

These are just two snapshots of the treatment of animals. Gary Yourofsky’s made a speech at Georgia tech, in which he compared the current treatment of animals for consumption to a worldwide holocaust (Yourofsky, 2010).

Personal Health

Is it necessary for us to eat meat to sustain our health? If it is, does this make some of these practices necessary? When considering both sides of the eating meat argument. It is vital to consider implications to our personal health. The first way of deducing how needed meat is in our diet is to look at our physiology and anthropology. It is fair to say that today we are an omnivorous species. But is this by evolutionary design or via social construction?

Clearly we have processes to digest and utilise meat and dairy but are these adaptations to our lifestyles?

Dr Campbell explains that it is only in our comparatively recent history that we have been eating meat and that our bodies and system had evolved to what they are today way before this. Are body’s functionality is formed around the nutrients of a completely plant based diet (Dr Campbell, 2004).

We do not posses the features of a carnivorous animal, sharp teeth for tearing flesh. A short digestive tract so that the meat passes through quickly without rotting. Our teeth have a circular grinding motion when chewing, conducive with plant eating mammals. We have a long digestive system to break down fibrous plants. We have dexterous hands for picking and collecting plants and fruits, not claws for taking down prey.

Becoming behavioural omnivores is now causing havoc with our health. Heart disease is now the biggest killer world-wide. Globally An estimated 17.3 million people died from CVD (Cardio Vascular Disease); 30% of all deaths, Every 7 minutes someone in the UK will have a heart attack, CVD is the number one cause of premature death (Heart UK, 2015). Raised levels of Cholesterol is the leading cause of CVD, This is Cholesterol gained from meat and dairy, our bodies are not equipped to deal with. Our bodies actually synthesise our own Cholesterol where required.

Beyond causing heart disease. Meat and Dairy is now being cited as one of the main causes of the most prolific cancers. Meat eaters are at significantly higher risk of colorectal cancer, breast cancer, prostate and pancreatic cancer then vegetarians and vegetarians at higher risk than vegans (PCRM, 2014).

These are just two of the major health hazards you can also find many studies indicating that meat and dairy are leading causes of Alzheimer’s among a plethora of other ailments.

But do we not need to consume meat to get vital nutrients and proteins?

This is another myth or misunderstanding. Upon further investigation to the biology and molecular processes within the human body it becomes clear that it is actually the amino acids that we break proteins down to that become the useful building block within our bodies processes. You can find these amino acids within many plant based foods and in-fact, our body does not have to use energy to break them down from proteins, as when they are derived from meat and dairy.

We are genetically very comparable to Gorillas for example. You can see that they have very little trouble sustaining a healthy, muscular composition on a purely plant based diet.

Wider Economic Implications

We face a situation today where we have an ever growing global population. With that rise, we face the problem of how to sustain the population.

Currently we already have a 795 million people going hungry every day (WFP, 2015). There are currently 7 Billion people in the world. We currently grow enough food to support 10 billion people (Holt-Giménez, 2012). However worldwide, at least 50% of grain is fed to livestock (Cassidy, West, Gerber, Foley 2013). Leaving a large part of the world in starvation and shockingly 82% of starving children live in countries where food is fed to animals, and the animals are then eaten by western countries (Unicef, 2013).

In a report from the U.N (U.N, 2010) it is reported that we will face 9.1 Billion people worldwide by 2050. The report states a global shift towards a vegan diet is vital to save the world from hunger, fuel poverty and the worst impacts of climate change.

In Summary

When considering these various factors and contrasting them with the reasons to eat meat, which can be summarised really as personal enjoyment and convenience. Then framing these elements back to the initial question of “Is it ethical to eat meat?” Leaves me with this answer;

If my morality, or ethical principles are based on what is good for my fellow-man, then my answer has to be no, it is not ethical. If my morality is more guided towards my footprint on this world and the causality for future generations, then my answer has to be no, it is not ethical. If my compass of morality points in the direction of care for my fellow species and worldly inhabitants than my answer again must be no. If my ethical principles are based on more intrinsic values and I am more concerned with what is an ethical way to treat my own body, then again, No has to be the answer I arrive at.

If ethics, as the etymology of the word suggests, is the science of morals. Then by approaching this subject with the same objectivity as a scientific endeavour, removing my social and cultural bias, preconceptions and experiences as a western male that has grown up in an intensely meat based culture. I surmise that it is not ethical to eat meat. 

****************************************************************************

References

World Wildlife Foundation available at:

http://www.worldwildlife.org/threats/deforestation Accessed: September 2015

Pimentel, David, et al. (2004) “Water Resources: Agricultural And Environmental Issues.” BioScience 54, no. 10 (2004): 909-18.

Margulis, Sergio (2003) Margulis, Sergio. Causes of Deforestation of the Brazilian Rainforest. Washington: World Bank Publications, 2003.

Available at: https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/handle/10986/15060 (Accessed: October 2015)

Rainforest relief (2007) available at:

http://www.rainforestrelief.org/What_to_Avoid_and_Alternatives/Rainforest_Wood.html

(Accessed: October 2015)

USDA ERS, 2013 – Irrigation & Water Use.” United States Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service. 2013. Available at: http://www.ers.usda.gov/topics/farm-practices-management/irrigation-water-use/background.aspx (accessed September 2015)

Improved Attribution of Climate Forcing to Emissions, (2009)

Drew T. Shindell*, Greg Faluvegi, Dorothy M. Koch, Gavin A. Schmidt, Nadine Unger, Susanne E. Bauer.

Available at: http://www.sciencemag.org/content/326/5953/716.figures-only (accessed: October 2015)

WorldWatch, November/December 2009. Worldwatch Institute, Washington, DC, USA. Pp. 10–19.

Available at: http://www.worldwatch.org/node/6294 (Accessed: October 2015)

“What’s the Problem?” United States Environmental Protection Agency, 2008

Accessed at: http://www3.epa.gov/region09/animalwaste/problem.html (Accessed: Oct 2008)

Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity (2007) MR. AHMED DJOGHLAF,

Available at: https://www.cbd.int/doc/speech/2007/sp-2007-05-22-es-en.pdf

(Accessed: October 2015)

Vaclav Smil, (2011) Harvesting the Biosphere: The Human Impact, Population and Development Review 37(4): 613-36, December 2011.

Available at:  http://postgrowth.org/the-bomb-is-still-ticking/

(Accessed: October 2015)

A Mood and P Brooke, (July 2010) “Estimating the Number of Fish Caught in Global Fishing Each Year” report available at: http://www.fishcount.org.uk/published/std/fishcountstudy.pdf

(Accessed: October 2015)

John Roch, (2006) National Geographic Article “Seafood may be gone by 2048” available at:

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2006/11/061102-seafood-threat.html

(Accessed October 2015)

PETA Article, (2015) ‘Cows Used for Food” available at:

http://www.peta.org/issues/animals-used-for-food/factory-farming/cows/

(Accessed October 2015)

PETA Article, (2015) “Pigs used for Food” available at:

http://www.peta.org/issues/animals-used-for-food/factory-farming/pigs/

(Accessed October 2015)

Campbell, T. Colin, Decemebr, 2004, The China Study. Benbella Books

Gary Yourofsky (20120) Georiga Tech,“Best Speech You Will Ever Hear”

Available a; October 2015)t: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=es6U00LMmC4

(Accessed October 2015)

Heart UK Report (2014) – “Key Facts & Figures” Available at: http://heartuk.org.uk/press/press-kit/key-facts-figures

(Accessed October 2015)

PCRM (2014) – Physicians Committee for Responsible Medecine, Article “Cholesterol and Heart Disease” Available at: http://www.pcrm.org/health/health-topics/cholesterol-and-heart-disease

(Accessed October 2015)

PCRM (2014) – Physicians Committee for Responsible Medecine, Article “Meat Consumption and Cancer Risk” Avaialble at: http://www.pcrm.org/health/cancer-resources/diet-cancer/facts/meat-consumption-and-cancer-risk

(Accessed October 2015)

World Food Programme Statistics 2015, Available at: https://www.wfp.org/hunger/who-are

(Accessed October 2015)

Holt-Giménez, Eric (2012) “We Already Grow Enough Food for 10 Billion People… and Still Can’t End Hunger” Published in Common Dreams. Available at: http://www.commondreams.org/views/2012/05/08/we-already-grow-enough-food-10-billion-people-and-still-cant-end-hunger

(Accessed October 2015)

Cassidy, Emily. and West, Paul and Gerber, James and Foley, Johnathan. August (2013) “Redefining agricultural yields: from tonnes to people nourished per hectare” 2013 IOP Publishing Ltd • Environmental Research Letters, Volume 8, Number 3

Avaialble at: http://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/8/3/034015/meta;jsessionid=7F4F1562D5E8B6B8885B6DD74E8500D3.c1

(Accessed October 2015)

Unicef (2013) Report “Improving Child Nutrition” Avaialble at: http://www.unicef.org/gambia/Improving_Child_Nutrition_-_the_achievable_imperative_for_global_progress.pdf

(Accessed October 2015)

U.N Report ((2010) “Assessing the Environmental Impacts of Consumption and Production”  Available at: http://www.unep.org/resourcepanel/Portals/24102/PDFs/PriorityProductsAndMaterials_Report.pdf

(Accessed October 2015)