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Why I don’t buy meat

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Some years ago I took an interest in philosophy stumbled upon the excellent Harvard lectures by Michael Sandel which are available on YouTube.  This series, enlightening in itself, also provided an excellent reading list. I also listen to the Sam Harris podcast where in episode 21 he interviewed the philosopher Peter Singer, whose book of essays Ethics in the Real World got me thinking about the issue of the ethics of food.

In the past I have been vegetarian and, for a brief and unpleasant period, vegan. However, I have always reverted to eating meat because, I think, my motivations were not sufficiently compelling. However, Singer’s book dedicated several essays to the subject some of which hit a nerve with me. I made the decision not to buy meat based upon three factors.

  1. Cruelty. There is no doubt that the production of meat is, in the main, very cruel to animals. Put out of your mind the idea of cows and chickens in the fields of some idyllic farm. Chickens are housed in tiny cages where they are unable to stand erect or even turn around. Their beaks are burned off (a very painful process) so that they don’t peck at each other. They are slaughtered in most inhumane fashion. Cows fair little better. I find this cruelty unacceptable and refuse to encourage it by buying meat.
  2. Sustainability. For every kilogram of protein in meat, the animals consume between 2 and 20 kilograms of grain. To quote The Economist article on the subject, “The results confirm that efficiency in livestock varies hugely. Chickens and pigs convert grain into meat at rates of two or three to one (ie, it takes 2kg of feed to produce 1kg of chicken). The ratio for lamb is between four and over six to one and that for beef starts at five to one and goes as high as 20 to one.” Combine this with the fact that livestock breeding is the biggest land use in the world and the idea of over consumption of grain via meat is unsustainable in a world of six (going to ten) billion humans.
  3. Environmental impact. The same economist article says, “Livestock also damages the environment. It accounts for between 8% and 18% of greenhouse-gas emissions, depending on how you account for changes in land use (when the Amazon is cut down for pasture, carbon emissions rise). Roughly a fifth of all the world’s pasture has been degraded by overgrazing. Livestock uses water inefficiently: you need about 15,000 litres of water to produce a kilo of beef but only 1,250 litres for a kilo of maize or wheat. And animals form a significant reservoir of diseases that affect humans; avian flu, the best known example, is far from an isolated case: 60% of human diseases are shared with animals and three quarters of new infectious diseases of people were first found in animals.” Of the greenhouse gases emitted by livestock most is methane. Although Methane only comprises 9% of green house gases, its global warming potential is much greater than that of carbon dioxide. Methane traps 100 times more heat than carbon dioxide over a 5 year period and 72 times over a twenty year period. If everyone stopped eating meat, we would not have a global warming problem.

These three factors caused me to make the decision, six months ago to stop buying meat. You will note that I say stop buying rather than stop eating. When eating at home or in restaurants my wife and I do not eat meat, however, when dining at a friend’s house, if they ask in advance, we will express a preference for fish or seafood but otherwise will eat whatever is presented. The other exception is for our six year old son who is quite a picky eater and will eat chicken a couple of time a week.

Instead of meat, we eat a lot of fish and seafood to which only the first of the factors above applies and that, in my humble opinion, only applies to some extent to the larger fish. I don’t think that prawns suffer much from being fished. We also eat eggs but buy them from a local farm that has free range chickens whose beaks are not seared.

There is one area where I have, for the moment, made an uncomfortable compromise: cheese. Although all three of the factors above apply to the production of cheese, it is a good source of protein and provides delights for the palette that are difficult to forego. However, the compromise is become increasingly uncomfortable. Stay tuned.

I hope that the readers of this will make their own evaluations of the ethics of buying meat and perhaps join me in reducing the negative impacts eating meat.



Written by robertpfrench

July 23, 2017 at 7:02 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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Written by robertpfrench

May 14, 2011 at 10:05 pm

Posted in Uncategorized