Is eating meat wrong?
Humans. We’ve evolved majestically, now intelligent enough to recognise our own selfish behaviours and responsible enough to create global principles to which we all respect and strive towards. This is what forms legislation, is it not? Legislation that is meant to protect humans from harm and provide a safe environment in which murder is condemned.
But what about animals? Why is it that we are comfortable with killing animals? Should they have similar rights? And why is it that we treat animals differently based on aesthetics or usefulness, even though many have similar mental capacities. For example, pigs and horses are intellectually similar, however we have formed a better relationship with the latter and therefore treat them very differently and choose not to eat them (in most countries anyway).
These are questions that have widely been discussed for centuries within the discipline of philosophy. The ancient Greek philosopher Plato was opposed to eating meat on the grounds that it was an expensive luxury item which would therefore lead to potentially disastrous consequences. Rene Descartes, the famous French philosopher, suggested that animals were different to humans in their levels of consciousness and therefore it was permissible to eat them.
Fast forward to today and the debate still continues. One of the most prominent contemporary philosophers in the animal ethics movement is Peter Singer who argues that animals should be given rights because they evidently feel pain and pleasure. Singer’s work has influenced many animal rights activists and inspired many young YouTubers and bloggers who are all following his stance promoting a worldwide view in which killing animals for food is wrong.
As a meat eater, this is a topic that causes me obvious discomfort. I believe the term is ‘cognitive dissonance’ in which one knows something is wrong but continues to engage in it. Smoking cigarettes is a dangerous habit (and we have evidence to prove it), however millions of people continue to smoke ignoring the obvious. The difference here is that we’re not just talking about our own health, but something that is negatively affecting the whole planet (I will reveal why shortly). So the question is, if you haven’t made that change already, will you join me in making it? Let's review why the change is so important.
Slavery then slaughter
We all discriminate when it comes to the animal kingdom. We choose the animals we like and dislike. If animals can serve a purpose for humans, we often taken advantage. This is what is known as speciesism – discrimination based upon the species of an animal. Within the context of breeding then murdering animals for food, some of the most popular animals we discriminate against are pigs, cows, lambs, sheep and chickens.
With over 5 billion meat-eating human beings on our planet, the need to regularly produce this meat is extremely high. And to meet this high demand, a significant amount of meat production stems from factory farms. These exist all over the world (including the UK) where animals are bred, often in very cramped, poor farming conditions, with the intention to be used for milk and eggs (if possible) and then slaughtered for meat.
The manner in which these animals born, live and die has been documented in several notorious documentaries including Cowspiracy (2014), Eating Animals (2017) and Dominion (2018), all which provide the hard-hitting reality of how they are treated before being killed. I urge you to watch at least one of these today. They document animals in factory farms being treated as machines where they are deprived of any normal natural behaviour. From birth, they are given genetic enhancing drugs, they live in overcrowded environments with little or no natural light, and it is evident that the animals live stressful lives before they are eventually killed.
I’m not sure if people ever think about how the animals we eat are killed, but after the research I conducted I am deeply disturbed. For the majority, the animals are hung upside-down and their throats are slit. In the UK, the law says that an animal should be stunned before this takes place (although the law exempts religious communities from having to do this; I will discuss shortly). This is to render the animal unconscious, usually via a metal rod to the brain, an electrical shock, or gas. However, the current problem with this method is that it is not always effective and video footage has often revealed that animals are sometimes still conscious when the killing takes place.
The RSPCA have identified that the two main reasons for this are because the stun current is either ineffective or the time between stunning and killing is not soon enough and the animal regains consciousness. Production lines are also very fast, so it is easy to miss an animal who has regained consciousness. Substantial malpractice has been identified over the years within the industry time and time again.
What’s most shocking is that UK law exempts religious communities (i.e., Muslim and Jewish) from having to stun an animal before execution. Therefore a significant amount of religious meat has come from an animal which was killed by throat cutting only. The RSPCA are currently trying to tackle this ‘non-stun slaughter’ issue, mainly because the neck cut results in pain and distress for an animal for up to 2 minutes before the period of insensibility takes over, rendering it a form of cruelty. Some religious communities agree that this is a form of cruelty and choose to stun animals first, however some religious communities don’t and feel as though stunning an animal goes against the scriptures when it comes to sacrifice.
What seems to resemble slavery is seemingly the norm when it comes to the animal kingdom. As a society we have turned a blind eye to what is happening in these factory farms, simply so we can have our meat and eat it! The image of meat coming from fanciful farms where animals live long lives and then are humanely killed is a complete myth; I’m afraid the meat we eat has come from a far worse place.
On 14th February 2022, a Panorama documentary entitled A Cow’s Life: The True Cost of Milk? aired on BBC One (currently available on BBC iPlayer https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m0014mkh) and truly shocked the nation. It graphically displayed how female cows are essentially raped in order to produce milk, and when their babies are born they are separated from them which causes immense distress. This is standard practice in the farming industry as it allows the farmers to sell the milk that the mothers produce, rather than have the mothers feed it to their young.
It’s bad for the environment
Animal agriculture is a big operation. It takes a lot of land to raise animals and has therefore resulted in billions of trees being cut down in order to make way for more factory farms. Animals also need lots of vegetation to eat. In fact, the majority of crops that are grown are actually to feed livestock. Therefore the need to feed more animals contributes to more water usage and land erosion. Then there is the waste that animals produce. This is a monumental problem, particularly in countries like the US. Animal waste can be used as fertiliser, but there is so much of it that some has to get dumped, emitting harmful chemicals and fumes into the environment.
More prevalent than ever are we now faced with the crisis of global warming, and we know that farming livestock is one of the biggest contributors. In particular, cows produce an alarming amount of the greenhouse gas methane which solely has been recognised as more of a contributor to global warming then all the transport systems in the world put together!
As the world’s population rises, these problems will only get worse. So we need to make a change. But before you make any decisions going forward, let’s look at the arguments as to why we should continue eating meat.
It tastes good
True, meat is delicious. Many of us enjoy a juicy beef burger or a succulent chicken sandwich. However, there are so many vegan alternatives now both in supermarkets and restaurants with equally as much nutrition as meat. Can we really say we have given meat free meat a fair chance? And vegetables alone have so many benefits – they’re packed with vitamins and minerals which boost your immune system, provide you with better hair, skin, teeth and nails, and help aid digestion and lower cholesterol. So ditching meat could be the right step towards a healthier you!
Loss of jobs
Some say if we did abandon eating meat, millions of jobs would be lost in the meat production and farming industry, along with market traders, butchers, etc. This would therefore affect the economy drastically. This admittedly may be true, unless of course we all adapt to a new worldview on food and food production, and I’m pretty sure there are ways in which we could utilise farming land for new-wave farms where plant-based foods could be grown. It may be that we would need an international plan or package to support those in the meat industries. However as job losses occur, new ones would take their place and we would eventually adapt. We have to ask ourselves what do fear more - new careers for those in the meat industry, or the continuous murder of billions of animals each and every year.
Even if we all cut out meat intake one day a week, the impact would be monumental (click the following link https://meatfreemondays.com/calculator/ to see how much of a change you could make). Change can only occur if we unite in numbers, so I urge those of you who do eat meat – let’s make a start with meat free Mondays. Once you get going, you may decide to remove meat from your diet altogether. You may then decide to remove dairy and eggs also, making even more of a difference (this is known as the vegan diet, excluding anything that comes from an animal). If you’re worried about how you might obtain calcium, protein, and other important components to a healthy diet, check out the following article https://www.peta.org.uk/living/vegan-nutrition/ which provides some reassurance.
Why is it that we are happy to breed, use, then kill innocent living animals who are sentient and conscious, knowing that we could very well live healthily on a vegetarian diet? I think part of the reason is because the eating of meat has become so normalised it is very difficult to relate the idea of meat on a plate to the idea of an animal being slaughtered somewhere. However, after reading this article, hopefully I have connected those dots in a persuasive enough way for you to make a change, today. Please join me.