Archive for the ‘Animals & Ethics’ Category

Eating Meat Results in Seeing Animals as Less Worthy of Considation

Monday, August 2nd, 2010

An interesting paper was just published showing people who ate meat minutes before ranked cows as less worthy of moral consideration than those who ate nuts.

University of Kent news release: Conflicted meat-eaters deny that meat-animals have the capacity to suffer

PubMed abstract

Could Insects be Conscious?

Thursday, July 22nd, 2010

Insects may have consciousness and could even be able to count, claim experts

The models suggest that counting ability could be achieved with just a few hundred nerve cells, it is claimed. And a few thousand would be sufficient to make an animal a conscious being, rather than an automated ‘living robot’….To use a computer analogy, bigger brains might in many cases be bigger hard drives, not necessarily better processors.

This article from Mail Online is from November 17, 2009, though I just found out about it today via a PETA email. It doesn’t provide any evidence that insects’ brains fit the model they have created, just the possibility that they could. And it’s not at all clear to me how they can know that it only takes a few thousand neurons for an animal to be conscious.

I have always assumed (and hoped!) insects’ brains were not large enough to be conscious of pain, and being conscious of something doesn’t mean you are also conscious of pain, or conscious of pain in similar ways to humans.

Anyway, I thought this was an interesting article worth passing on.

Is Not Eating Meat Only a Symbolic Act?

Thursday, June 17th, 2010

I dug up an old paper that is relevant to the point Rhys Southan of Let Them Eat Meat brought up in a recent post which I quoted on June 9:

But I recognize that my consumer choices are almost totally insignificant in this regard; like veganism, this is a symbolic gesture.

The paper is Expected Utility, Contributory Causation, and Vegetarianism by Gaverick Matheny (Journal of Applied Philosophy, Vol. 19, No. 3, 2002. p.293-7.). In it, Matheny argues that act-utilitarians cannot know what the actual consequences of an action will be in many cases, and therefore they must base their actions on the probability of expected consequences. Matheny goes on to explain that by not eating meat for a year, you take a chance that you will be the person who causes a reduction of meat past a threshold which is felt to the farmers and causes them to raise less animals:

For example, take the case of The 200 Million Consumers. There are 200 million consumers, each of whom eats 50 farm animals each year. In this market there are only ten possible annual outputs of animals for farmers: one billion animals, two billion, and so on, up to ten billion. The difference between each of these annual outputs, one billion, is the smallest unit of demand perceivable to the farmer and is thus the threshold unit. Since there are 20 million customers per threshold unit, and only one of these customers will actually complete the unit of which his or her purchase is a part, the probability of my completing a unit is one in 20 million. That means by buying meat I have a one-in-20 million chance of affecting the production and slaughter of one billion animals. The expected disutility is then one-20-millionth times one billion, which equals 50 – that is, the disutility associated with raising and slaughtering 50 animals per year.

Matheny explains why this matters using the example of The 100 Bandits in which 100 bandits go into a village and each steals one bean from each of 100 villagers, each of whom has 100 beans. After this is done, the villagers have no beans left. However, the loss of only one bean cannot cause any perceptible difference to a villager. Since no bandit could have caused actual (perceptible) harm by stealing only one bean, none is responsible for the villagers going hungry, right?

No. One of the bandits stole the nth bean that reached the threshold of perceptible harm to a villager, and the probability of any given bandit being the one who steals the nth bean to reach that threshold is the same whether each bandit steals 100 beans from the same villager or 1 bean from 100 different villagers.

In other words, when divided into equal contribution units, any contribution of a unit towards reaching the threshold of a perceptible difference is as morally important as the unit that actually reaches that threshold.

As long as the animals are treated humanely…

Wednesday, May 26th, 2010

A new Mercy for Animals investigation reveals unbelievable cruelty at a dairy farm in Ohio.

After viewing the footage, Dr. Bernard Rollin, distinguished professor of animal science at Colorado State University, stated: “This is probably the most gratuitous, sustained, sadistic animal abuse I have ever seen. The video depicts calculated, deliberate cruelty, based not on momentary rage but on taking pleasure through causing pain to cows and calves who are defenseless.”


What separates us from…the ants?

Sunday, May 9th, 2010

WNYC’s Radiolab is an NPR program that tries to explain the science behind peculiar and unusual phenomena. While a very interesting program, the two hosts, Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich, have antiquated attitudes towards animals, in my humble opinion, and are annoyingly fixated on the question of “What makes us human?”

Today I was listening to their Emergence episode in which they discuss ant behavior. The conversation later turned to people trying to trick Google into giving their websites a higher rating and Jad pointed out in a serious voice, “See this is what separates us from the ants right here…”

Really? We are so insecure that we need to point out what makes humans different from ants?

Back in 1988, I read an article in Psychology Today that ran down the list of the different traits that people have traditionally thought separates humans from other animals, and one by one showed that some animals also possess each of those traits. They concluded, tongue in cheek, that what separates us from other animals is that we are the only species that tries to find things that separates us from the other animals.

It’s not much, but hopefully will provide some comfort for those who are searching.

Are there Medical Conditions Requiring Animal Foods?

Thursday, April 2nd, 2009


Are there any medical conditions which require someone to eat flesh?
Are there any that prevent someone from being vegan?


There are certainly people who feel like their health suffers when they don’t eat meat, unfortunately.

As I’ve posted about recently, there are some conditions which might make it difficult to eat a normal vegan diet, such as having herpes, being allergic or intolerant of soy or wheat, and having trouble absorbing iron.

And although research shows that a plant-based diet is a good way to treat early chronic kidney disease, once someone has to be on dialysis it can be difficult. This is because most plant foods are either high in phosphorus (as is dairy) or potassium. People on dialysis tend to need large amounts of protein and it’s hard to get it from plants without also getting phosphorus. You can take calcium tablets to try to prevent phosphorus absorption but this strategy is limited.

Vegetarian Diet for Kidney Disease Treatment, by Joan Brookhyser, RD, CSR, CD, is a book about how to be vegetarian or vegan while on dialysis. So, it can be done but I do not know how often it is done.

Finally, there might be some people whose bodies don’t make enough of a nutrient that can only be obtained, at this time, from animal foods.

I once corresponded with an animal advocate who thought his body did not produce enough cholesterol and it was causing him to pass out. He did have very low cholesterol (under 100 mg/dl) which may or may not have been the problem. He said that when he ate cheese, he felt much better and didn’t pass out. We tried to figure out what else it might be, such as not enough calories or fat, but we did not succeed. However, I do not think that cheese, or any other animal product, has magical properties. If the cheese really was solving his problem, then there must be some molecule(s) in the cheese that can be uncovered as the cause.

Eventually, we might be able to produce all such molecules without harming animals, particularly if in vitro meat becomes a reality.

Should Humans Model our Diets after Apes?

Saturday, March 21st, 2009

This question has arisen a few times for me lately, and I thought the readers of this blog might be interested in the topic.

My personal opinion is that the evolution of apes and humans diverged long enough ago that significant differences in optimal nutrition have manifested themselves, and the value of looking at the diets of apes, in comparison to the nutrition research that has been performed on humans, is very minimal.

Even in regards to looking at our human ancestors, I would not assume that the most natural diet of humans (if that can even be defined or determined) is the optimal diet. Diets can be tweaked and improved in unnatural ways.

In their article Cooking as a Biological Trait, Richard Wrangham and NancyLou Conklin-Brittain, of the Department of Anthropology at Harvard, suggest that it only takes 5,000 years or less for the human body to adapt to different methods of eating. In some cases, some populations can adapt much more quickly, such as during periods of famine when only those whose bodies are most efficient at storing energy survive.

Some interesting articles about the diets of non-human primates and to what extent they are vegetarian can be found on