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Debate: Vegetarianism

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Should humans stop eating animals and become vegetarians?

Background and context

Most men and women eat meat, although some (mostly in rich countries) eat much more than others. Almost all of this meat is the flesh of domesticated livestock - animals born and raised on farms to be killed and sold for their meat. People who make a choice never to eat meat are vegetarians, although there are different views about what this can mean. Some vegetarians eat fish if it has been caught in the wild, many will not eat flesh of any sort. Some people are vegans, choosing not to eat any animal product, include eggs and dairy (milk) foods such as cheese, butter and yoghurt. Vegans and many vegetarians also refuse to wear leather or fur because it comes from animals. The arguments below are general but could be adapted to suit particular debates.

More background resources: Wikipedia: Vegetarianism

Contents

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Equality: Are humans and animals of equal value?

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Yes

  • Animals have emotions, personalities, and souls just like humans Henry David Thoreau - "I saw deep in the eyes of the animals the human soul look out upon me. I saw where it was born deep down under feathers and fur, or condemned for a while to roam four-footed among the brambles, I caught the clinging mute glance of the prisoner and swore that I would be faithful."[1] Many pet-owners believe that their pets have personalities. Socially, in many countries, eating typical house pets (dogs and cats) is considered a major social taboo. However, other animals (cows, pigs, chickens) are raised as food. This conflicting and inconsistent attitude towards animals indicates how socially determined our attitudes towards meat-eating is. Vegetarianism simply extends the typical attitude towards common household pets to other animals species.
  • Animals are superior to humans in many of their abilities Many of the physical abilities of animals are astonishing and far superior to the correlating abilities of humans. Eagles, for instance, have many times better eye-sight than humans. They are also better fliers. As such, it is wrong to claim that humans are, generally, superior and thus authorized to eat other animals; we're simply different creatures of no greater or lesser value.
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No

  • There is a great moral difference between humans and animals. Unlike animals, humans are capable of rational thought and can alter the world around them. Religious people would say that humans also have souls and a different relationship with God. Other creatures were put on this earth for mankind to use, and that includes eating meat. For all these reasons we say that men and women have rights and that animals don’t. This means that eating meat is in no way like murder.
  • If humans are animals, why defy our animalistic instincts? Michael Pollan. "An Animal's Place". The New York Times Magazine. November 10, 2002 - "Surely this is one of the odder paradoxes of animal rights doctrine. It asks us to recognize all that we share with animals and then demands that we act toward them in a most unanimalistic way. Whether or not this is a good idea, we should at least acknowledge that our desire to eat meat is not a trivial matter, no mere 'gastronomic preference.' We might as well call sex--also now technically unnecessary--a mere 'recreational preference.' Whatever else it is, our meat eating is something very deep indeed." Indeed, if we consider humans to be equal to animals and a part of the animal kingdom, it is natural that we find our instincts to eat meat to be of equivalent intensity as compared to other meat-eating animals. If humans are animals too, why should we deny these instincts?
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Dominion: Do humans NOT have dominion over animals (and a right to eat them)?

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Yes

  • "Dominion" makes humans stewards; no right to harm/exploit animals Even if we apply the notion of "dominion" and deny animals rights, the principle of "dominion" should be applied in a way that requires humans to see themselves as "stewards", not dominant exploiters. As "stewards", inflicting suffering on animals by eating them is unacceptable.
  • Evolutionary science debunks the idea of human dominion over animals. Humans have evolved from animals and from a common single cell organism. Humans did not have dominion then over other animals; in-fact, we didn't even exist. Therefore, how is it possible to claim that we now can have dominion? At a minimum, evolution forces us to recognize that humans do not have an innate-historical claim to "dominion".
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No

  • Humans have dominion over animals with a right to exploit them Genesis 1:28 - "And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth." This means that humans have the right to subdue and control animals for man's own purposes.
  • Dominion and meat-eating can and should be excercised responsibly. The notion of man's dominion over animals need not be thought of as a blank check for man to exploit animals. Indeed, it may be appropriate to connect the notion of "dominion" to stewardship" over animals. Yet, humans can be good stewards of animals while continuing to eat them. It is merely necessary that humans maintain balance, order, and sustainability in the animal kingdom. But, again, this does not require the abandonment of meat-eating.
  • Humans have "dominion" over evolutionarily "domesticated" animals There are certain animals that have evolved with humans, through mutual self-interests in survival, to become "domesticated" by humans. Cats, dogs, pigs, and chickens are examples. Our "dominion" over these animals is certainly biological and evolutionary. Farming and eating these animals is merely a continuation of this evolutionary history of domestication. It is not wrong or right; it simply is.
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Compassion: Is vegetarianism an expression of human compassion?

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Yes

  • Animal rights promotes the true science of humans and animals as kin Animal testing and the subjugation of animals undermines a fundamental scientific reality; that humans and animals are kin. With humans and Chimpanzees sharing 99.4% of their genetic code, and humans and mice sharing 99% of their genetic code, it is important to recognize that humans are, on a scientific basis, the kin of animals. The testing of animals undermines this scientific understanding by subjugating animals. This is harmful to broader scientific progression in society.
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No

  • There is no evidence that vegetarians are more compassionate "A Case Against Vegetarianism". Sulekha.com. Jan 23 2002 - "if we are vegetarians, does it follow that we will be kind and compassionate? Speaking in the Indian context, it would not seem so. Looking at some sordid and conspicuous aspects of Indian society, we are anything but kind and compassionate."
  • Cruelty to animals is wrong, but farming/meat-eating is not always cruel/wrong. Animals are given food, shelter and care if they become ill or injured. When it is time to slaughter them, the end is quick and pain-free. After all, unhappy and stressed animals provide poor meat, so it is in farmers’ interests to look after them well. Some intensive farming methods are hard to defend, but that is a reason for passing laws to protect animals better. There is nothing wrong in principle with farming livestock.
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Animal rights: Do animals have rights that makes eating them inappropriate?

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Yes

  • Animals deserve the same basic rights that humans enjoy Marymoose. "The case against animal testing". Helium - "Animal testing generally occurs as a result of developing a cost-benefit model. Basically, if the benefit of the research (to humans) looks high, then it is seen as being worth the costs (to animals). For instance it is seen that if animal research is likely to save the lives of many humans that it is worthwhile. However, it can be argued that all sentient beings have the same rights, and that costs to animals are as important as costs to humans. There is no moral basis for elevating the interests of one species over another this is specieism."
  • Animals have rights and it is wrong to kill them needlessly. Humans are animals too and it is not possible morally to set us apart from other species. Animals may not be as clever as people, but a baby is less intelligent than an ape and we don’t say that means it should have fewer rights. Like us, animals can feel pleasure and pain, and they suffer if they are shut up and forced to live and eat in unnatural ways. Many religious people believe that all life is sacred, and that nothing should be made to suffer without need. For these reasons killing and eating animals is a form of murder.
  • Eating meat means that animals suffer Farming involves animals like cows, sheep, pigs and chickens being kept in nasty conditions and usually cruelly killed. Some farming methods – such as battery chickens – are crueller than others, but all of them subject animals to suffering and pain. It is wrong for humans to subject animals to such pain and suffering...
  • Animal rights can be assigned according to animal psychology Jeremy Bentham - "While critics question where the line would be drawn, fearing that animal rights activists would grant rights to single cell organisms, the general consensus in the animal rights community is that rights should be conferred only to animals that can suffer. This is a psychological distinction that is possible to make in acceptable terms. And, the main right being granted is the right to avoid suffering at the hands of humans."
  • Humans have a choice and thus responsibility to do no harm to animals. Many opponents of animal rights and supporters of testing cite the fact that animals kill each other without public outcry, and ask, why humans should be held to a higher standard? The answer is that humans have the capacity to make the choice to inflict pain on animals. Animals, having no free will, so do not have this same ability to choose. Therefore, if we determine that it is morally ethical to do no harm to animals, since we have the choice, it is our unique responsibility to do no harm.
Reply: There are many situations in which an individual who has rights is unable to respect the rights of others. This is true of infants, young children, and mentally enfeebled and deranged human beings. In their case we do not say that it is perfectly all right to treat them disrespectfully because they do not honor our rights. On the contrary, we recognize that we have a duty to treat them with respect, even though they have no duty to treat us in the same way.
  • The markets incentivize lowering animal rights and welfare. Supermarkets put huge pressure on farmers to produce meat, milk and eggs at rock bottom prices, so it is not surprising that animal welfare is neglected in a search for profit.
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No

  • Animals can't uphold human rights; we are not obligated to uphold theirs Animals don't respect human rights. Therefore, humans have no obligation to respect their rights either. Animals do not deliberate on the morality of eating other animals nor humans. It is merely a matter of instinct. Therefore, why should humans deliberate on this question, particularly if we feel natural hunting and eating meat?
  • If animals have rights, do we criminalize animals that abuse each other's rights? This argument simply highlights the fact that animal rights are legally untenable.
  • That the retarded have rights does not justify animal rights This is frequent argument of animal rights activists; that animals deserve rights because they have at least as much capacity to reason as do some retarded humans, who retain rights. The problem with this argument is that it fails to see rights as a thing that must be shared among a group of creatures, not something that is extended on an individual basis. Therefore, the question is not whether some humans are incapable of having rights, but rather whether human kind, as a species, is capable of having rights. They are. Non-human animals, conversely, as a class of organisms, are not capable of holding rights. It is, therefore, appropriate to categorically draw the line on rights between humans and non-humans.
  • Animal rights reduce humans to mere animals, not made in God's image David R. Carlin, professor of philosophy and sociology at the Community College of Rhode Island - "By arguing that animals are equal to humans and thus deserve the same legal protection, animal rights proponents reduce human beings to nothing more than biological entities, on par with animals. Animal rights advocates' view of humanity negates fundamental Christian, Platonic, and Stoic claims that man was created in the image and likeness of God. Humans are clearly superior to animals. Granting animals legal rights would be dangerous and degrading to humans."
  • Protecting animals from suffering by humans is a matter of animal welfare not rights. Many supposed animal rights activists claim that they desire to see animals have a right against suffering at the hands of humans. This might be a good idea, but it is false to claim that it is a "right". Such an idea can only be classified within the realm of animal welfare. The main reason is that it is only something that is practiced by humans unto animals, and can never be claimed or defended by animals out of their own accord. The idea only restricts humans against inflicting suffering on animals, but does not restrict animals from inflicting suffering on other animals (not even animals within their own species). Because it is a one-way relationship in this sense (from human-kind unto animals), it can only be seen as welfare, not a right that an animal might be able to carry and defend in all their relationships with other creatures.
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Natural? Is vegetarianism natural for humans? Is meat-eating unnatural?

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Yes

  • That animals harm/kill each other does not justify the same by humans Michael Pollan. "An Animal's Place". The New York Times Magazine. November 10, 2002 - "My first line of defense was obvious. Animals kill one another all the time. Why treat animals more ethically than they treat one another? (Ben Franklin tried this one long before me: during a fishing trip, he wondered, 'If you eat one another, I don't see why we may not eat you.' He admits, however, that the rationale didn't occur to him until the fish were in the frying pan, smelling 'admirably well.' The advantage of being a 'reasonable creature,' Franklin remarks, is that you can find a reason for whatever you want to do.) To the 'they do it, too' defense, the animal rightist has a devastating reply: do you really want to base your morality on the natural order? Murder and rape are natural, too. Besides, humans don't need to kill other creatures in order to survive; animals do. (Though if my cat, Otis, is any guide, animals sometimes kill for sheer pleasure.)"
  • Farming animals for meat is very unnatural. Some animals do kill others for food, but at least prey species live free and any suffering in the hunt is almost always over quickly. And unlike lions or wolves, humans are moral beings, who are aware of the suffering they can cause and able to choose a different way of life. For this reason vegetarians dislike hunting animals for meat (or for fun) just as much as farming them. Farming is actually worse than hunting as it inflicts long term cruelty on animals in a systematic way. Not only are farm conditions cruel, breeding for meat, dairy or wool has created livestock which suffer all sorts of unnatural and painful diseases and conditions.
  • Humans don't need meat; eating it is an immoral choice Humans might have the physical equipment to eat meat, but we do not have to do so. People should make a moral choice not to eat other creatures. In just the same way we know that men are capable of great aggression and physical violence, but society says that such behaviour is unacceptable.


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No

  • Humans have always eaten/exploited animals; it has evolved into our DNA. Michael Pollan. "An Animal's Place". The New York Times Magazine. November 10, 2002 - "There is, too, the fact that we humans have been eating animals as long as we have lived on this earth. Humans may not need to eat meat in order to survive, yet doing so is part of our evolutionary heritage, reflected in the design of our teeth and the structure of our digestion. Eating meat helped make us what we are, in a social and biological sense. Under the pressure of the hunt, the human brain grew in size and complexity, and around the fire where the meat was cooked, human culture first flourished. Granting rights to animals may lift us up from the brutal world of predation, but it will entail the sacrifice of part of our identity--our own animality."
  • Eating meat is entirely natural for omnivorous humans. Like our early ancestors, humans have teeth designed for tearing flesh as well as for crushing and chewing vegetable fibres. Our stomachs are also adapted to eating both meat and vegetable matter. All of this means that eating meat is part of being human. Like many other species, human beings were once hunters. In the wild animals kill and are killed, often very brutally and with no idea of “rights”. As mankind has progressed over thousands of years we have largely stopped hunting wild animals. Instead we have found kinder and less wasteful ways of getting the meat in our diets through domestication. Farm animals today are descended from the animals we once hunted in the wild.
  • Vegetarianism would cause the extinction of domesticated animals. Cows, sheep, chickens, etc as we know them today could not live a life in the wild any more, so if they were not kept as livestock these breeds of animal would rapidly become extinct. Is this the objective of Vegetarians? Causing mass extinction? Is this moral? Or, are domesticated farm animals meant to persist in their domesticated form, for human consumption? The later is correct.
  • Animal rights unfairly alienate humans from the natural order. Why should animals be free from obligations and responsibilities toward one-another in the animal kingdom, while humans might be obligated by "animal rights" to certain responsibilities toward them? Why should humans be alienated from the natural order of the animal kingdom in this way? The answer is that we should not be. Animal rights, therefore, should not exist.
  • Farming is evolutionary and mutually-beneficial for humans and animals. There are certain animals that have evolved with humans, through mutual self-interests in survival, to become "domesticated" by humans. Cats, dogs, pigs, and chickens are examples. We provide shelter and sustenance in exchange for their work, bodily produce, or flesh. Indeed, domesticated farm animals have evolutionarily "succeeded" in this way, far outliving and out-proliferating their long-extinct ancestors.
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Health: Is a vegetarian diet healthier for humans?

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Yes

  • A vegetarian diet is healthier for humans. Meat (and dairy) eaters eat unhealthily as they take in far too much fat, protein and cholesterol, and often far too little fibre and vitamins. Eating a varied range of cereals, fruits, nuts and vegetables is a delicious way of getting all the vitamins, minerals, fibre and protein your body needs.
  • Vegetarianism reduces exposure to dioxins found in meats/dairy Dioxins are poisons found in the environment largely as a bi-product of forms of industrial production. They are highly poisonous to humans. Because they are fat-soluble, they are predominantly found in meat and dairy products, as opposed to, for instance, vegetables and fruits.
  • Meat-eating is linked to a range of serious illness such as food-poisoning. Almost all dangerous types of food-poisoning (e.g. E-coli, salmonella) are passed on through meat or eggs. Close contact between humans and animals also leads to zoonosis – diseases such as bird ‘flu which can be passed on from animals to humans. Hunters eating apes and monkeys is thought to have brought HIV/AIDS to humans. And using animal brains in the processed feed for livestock led to BSE in cattle and to CJD in humans who ate beef from infected cows.
  • Eating meat is bad for both animals and for humans; simple ethics If eating meat is both bad for animals and for humans, it seems that the moral trade-off is fairly simply in favor of vegetarianism. And, even if eating meat is simply "unnecessary", the fact that it is bad for animals makes the moral trade-off simple, and in-favor of vegetarianism.
  • Vegetarians avoid consuming chemicals related to animal pain/death. Animal death involves a high degree of animal pain, which causes the release of many chemicals into the bloodstream of animals. These chemicals are consumed by meat-eaters. If the notion of "you are what you eat" applies, meat-eaters are consuming pain, suffering, and death, which some believe lead to greater aggression, anger, and insensitivity in humans.
  • Vegetarian diet can provide all essential nutrients "Plant foods can provide all essential amino acids and ensure adequate nitrogen retention and use in healthy adults, thus complementary proteins do not need to be consumed at the same meal." - [Vegetarian Diets: Volume 109, Issue 7, (July 2009)]
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No

  • A strictly vegetarian diet can promote health problems. Humans with vegetarian diets are more likely to suffer from fatigue, apathetic behavior, and a lack of concentration. These could negatively affect proficiency in school and the ability to perform well at the site of someone's profession. Other conditions include frequently becoming ill, frequently becoming depressed, and malnourishment.
  • It is healthiest to eat a balanced diet with both meat and vegetable products. We should eat five or six portions of fruit and vegetables a day, but without adding some meat or fish it is hard to make sure our body is getting the protein and iron it needs to be healthy. It might be OK for adults to choose a vegetarian diet for themselves, but should we allow vegetarian parents to impose such a diet on their babies? Meats are an easy and reliable source of protein, an essential building-block for the human body.
  • Dioxins found in meats are not really dangerous Chris Masterjohn. "A Case for Vegetarianism?". October 17th, 2005 - "The assertion that dioxins accumulate specifically in animal products is simplistic and inaccurate, and in fact a diet rich in pastured animal products provides protective nutrients, especially vitamin A, that directly oppose the toxic actions of dioxins in animal experiments, while a diet rich in most plant fats provides compounds that enhance the actions of dioxin. The argument that we should avoid animal products because of their dioxin concentration is thus no less flawed than the argument that we should avoid animal products because they contain saturated fat and cholesterol."
  • Vegetarian foods have as many health risks as animal foods. Food safety and hygiene are very important for everyone, and governments should act to ensure that high standards are in place. And just as meat production can raise health issues, so does the arable farming of plants – examples include GM crops and worries about pesticide residues on fruit and vegetables. None of this means that we should stop eating meat, just that we should ensure all food is produced in a safe and healthy way
  • Fats contained in animal meat are healthy to consume in moderation. It is a myth that fats contained in meat are unhealthy; they are healthy in moderation and unhealthy in excess.
  • Vegetarians are healthy due to their health-consciousness not vegetarianism. Vegetarians are generally more health-conscious. This is the primary reason why they are healthy; it is less a cause of vegetarians avoiding meat. Similarly, obese people are obese because they are not health-conscious, more than because they are meat-eaters.
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Environment: Is vegetarianism good for the environment?

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Yes

  • Vegetarianism is important in the fight against global warming Meat production is highly inefficient in land-use. This often means that forests are cut-away in order to create room for the grazing of cattle. This eliminates important carbon-sinks that are necessary in reducing atmospheric CO2 levels and fighting global warming. Clear-cutting can also increase the reflectivity of the Earth's surface, which contributes to warming. Meat production also generally consumes much more energy than other forms of farming. Since much of this energy involves carbon-based fuels, meat production contributes significant carbon into the atmosphere. Finally, the methane gas from the bowl-functions of cattle contribute to the global warming problem.
  • Vegetarianism generally helps the environment Farming animals is hugely wasteful in land – plant crops require a small part of the space to produce the same amount of calories as livestock. So if every human ate a vegetarian diet there would be no need to chop down the rainforest and ruin the land. Nor would our seas be emptied of fish and other species like dolphins and corals, which harmed by the methods used to catch them.
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No

  • Many special environments have been created by livestock farming – for example chalk downland in England and mountain pastures in many countries. Ending livestock farming would see these areas go back to woodland with a loss of many unique plants and animals. Growing crops can also be very bad for the planet, with fertilisers and pesticides polluting rivers, lakes and seas. Most tropical forests are now cut down for timber, or to allow oil palm trees to be grown in plantations, not to create space for meat production.
  • You don’t have to be vegetarian to be an avid environmentalist. Good examples of environmentalist meat-eaters include Theodore Roosevelt and Native American Indians. These meat-eating-environmentalists appreciate the source of their meat, the life-form that was behind it, and acted to uphold a sustainable environmental balance. As long as you live up to these principles, there is no contradiction between eating meat and being an environmentalist.
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Personal costs: Is meat consumption too expensive for individuals?

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Yes

  • Due to its relative inefficiency, meat is very expensive. The inefficiency (high land-use and energy-use) of meat production makes it more expensive to produce and thus more pricey (per calorie) on store shelves. If consumers want to save money, they should consider vegetarianism for this purpose.
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No

  • Meat can be produced very cheaply. Many types of meat are in vary high supply and as a result are available at low costs. Consumers simply need to be aware of these facts in order to be price-conscious in their purchases of meat.
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Does vegetarianism mean that less meat is consumed and thus less animals are killed?

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Yes

  • If demand falls, supply will decline too. There is no reason to believe that a decline in meat-eating would cause global meat consumption to rise. As the demand falls, so too the supply will shrink.
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No

  • More meat will be consumed globally. Given that most vegetarians live in the developed countries, the demand for meat in those countries will fall. That means that the prices will decline and even more people will be able to buy and consume meat regularly (notably Asia, parts of Africa).
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Evolution: Should animals be given rights on the basis that humans have rights?

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Yes

  • Evolutionary attachment to animals means they deserve rights. Ever since the publication of Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species in 1859 we have known that human beings are related by common descent to all other animals. We owe a duty of care to our animal cousins.
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No

  • Offering rights to animals based on evolution is a slippery slope. The fact that we are (incredibly distantly) related to other animals does not mean that it makes sense to talk about them having ‘rights’. This sort of thinking would have absurd consequences: e.g. saying that we should respect the ‘right’ to life of bacteria, or the ‘right’ of the AIDS virus to move freely and without restriction, and to associate freely with other living organisms. We might wish to reduce unnecessary animal suffering, but not because all creatures to which we are distantly related have rights.
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Famine: Is vegetarianism beneficial to the global fight against famine?

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Yes

  • Non-meat agriculture has a higher yield and can help end famine. The inefficiency of meat production should be seen in the context of global famine. If the land and energy used to produce meat was used instead to produce potatoes and grains, much more food would be made available to those that desperately need it around the world.
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No

  • Famine is not caused by a lack of food globally. There is enough food in the world. The problem is that it cannot be easily distributed to remote areas internationally. Therefore, an individual living in an industrial society, who opts to adopt a vegetarian diet, will unlikely free-up food that can then be distributed to remote areas in the world afflicted by famine.
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Captivity: Is it unfair to keep animals in captivity when producing meat?

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Yes

  • Animals belong in their natural habitat in the wild. It is a breach of their natural rights to take them by force into captivity for our own purposes.
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No

  • Animals do not have rights so can be held in captivity. Because animals do not have rights, how can holding them in captivity be problematic from a human rights perspective?
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Pro/con resources

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Yes

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No

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Pro/con videos

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Yes


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No

See also

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