The Case Against Raising And Killing Animals For Food

  • Bart Gruzalski
Chapter
Part of the Contemporary Issues in Biomedicine, Ethics, and Society book series (CIBES)

Abstract

The important ethical view that one ought to live in such a way that one contributes as little as possible to the total amount of suffering in the world and as much as possible to the world’s total happiness is called utilitarianism. In this paper I develop the classical utilitarian argument against raising and killing animals for food. I then examine this position in light of several arguments which have recently been raised to show that utilitarianism permits this use of animals. Throughout the paper I refer to nonhuman animals as animals, and to human animals as humans. Although such usage suggests an elitism that might offend some humans, the substantive arguments in the paper are better expressed if we follow ordinary usage, however unenlightened it may be.

Keywords

Cholesterol Transportation Mane Defend 

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References

  1. 1.
    Although Bentham’s and Mill’s interpretation of utilitarianism in terms of expected or foreseeable consequences has for a time lost favor in the twentieth century, this interpretation, which I adopt in the text, has been recently adopted by Richard Brandt (1979, pp. 271ff) and defended by me in “Foreseeable Consequence Utilitarianism,” Australasian Journal of Philosophy, 59, No. 4, June 1981.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Those who discuss this notion of consequences include Lars Bergstrom (1966, p. 91), D. Prawitz (1968, p. 83), and J. Howard Sobel (1970, pp. 398–400).Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Singer, 1975, p. 241. Those unfamiliar with how animals are turned into meat will find Chapter Three of Singer’s book enlightening.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    On utilitarian grounds the animal husbandry argument can be made even stronger. Peter Singer (1979), modifying some of what he wrote earlier [Singer (1975)], distinguishes between self-conscious beings who have preferences, including the preference to stay alive, and beings which, though sentient, do not have such preferences. When a creature without preferences is killed, the only disutility which occurs is the disutility of the pain of dying and the disutility of the loss of future pleasures. Hence, if we can minimize the pain of dying and prevent the loss of future pleasures by replacing the killed animal with another animal, a humane Cargile-style animal husbandry will produce foreseeable pleasure. As Singer says: Some of the animals commonly killed for food are not self-conscious—chickens could be an example. Given that an animal belongs to a species incapable of self-consciousness, it follows that it is not wrong to rear and kill it for food, provided it lives a pleasant life and, after being killed, will be replaced by another animal which will lead a similarly pleasant life and would not have existed if the first animal had not been killed (1979, p. 153).Google Scholar
  5. 4a.
    On utilitarian grounds the animal husbandry argument can be made even stronger. Peter Singer (1979), modifying some of what he wrote earlier [Singer (1975)], distinguishes between self-conscious beings who have preferences, including the preference to stay alive, and beings which, though sentient, do not have such preferences. When a creature without preferences is killed, the only disutility which occurs is the disutility of the pain of dying and the disutility of the loss of future pleasures. Hence, if we can minimize the pain of dying and prevent the loss of future pleasures by replacing the killed animal with another animal, a humane Cargile-style animal husbandry will produce foreseeable pleasure. As Singer says: What Singer calls the replaceability argument is, however, objectionable for the same reasons that defeat Cargile’s animal husbandry argument.Google Scholar
  6. 5.
    Or consider the following from Frances Moore Lappé (1975, p. 14): To imagine what this means in practical, everyday terms simply set your self at a restaurant in front of an eight-ounce steak and then imagine the room filled with 45 to 50 people with empty bowls in front of them. For the “feed cost” of your steak, each of their bowls could be filled with a full cup of cooked cereal grains!Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    W. H. Thorpe in the Brambell Report (1965), quoted in Singer, 1975, p. 135.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Richard Rhodes, who regards such killing as “necessary,” reports what he felt and observed in a slaughterhouse that was doing its job of slaughtering pigs “as humanely as possible.” He writes: The pen narrows like a funnel; the drivers behind urge the pigs forward, until one at a time they climb onto the moving ramp . . . . Now they scream, never having been on such a ramp, smelling the smells they smell ahead. I do not want to overdramatize because you have read all this before. But it was a frightening experience, seeing their fear.Google Scholar
  9. 8a.
    Richard Rhodes, who regards such killing as “necessary,” reports what he felt and observed in a slaughterhouse that was doing its job of slaughtering pigs “as humanely as possible.” He writes: “Watching the Animals,” Harper’s, March 1979, quoted in Singer 1975, p. 157.Google Scholar
  10. 9.
    There are two other foreseeable disutilities of an animal industry, even a “humane” one. The first is that it is only a small step from the perception of animals as beings we kill to satisfy human tastes to a perception of animals as meat-producing mechanisms, a perception that is part and parcel with the cruel practices of today’s meat industries. Hence, among the foreseeable consequences of even a “humane” animal industry is the sort of cruelty imposed on animals daily under the guise of meat production. The other foreseeable disutility of the meat industry is the horrible suffering animals experience when they are transported. The following account is typical: “For an 800-lb. steer to lose seventy pounds, or 9 percent of his weight, on a single trip is not at all unusual” (Singer, 1975, p. 118). This loss, not only from the fleshly parts of the animal but also from the head and shanks, indicates “a severe amount of otherwise unmeasurable stress on these animals” (p. 120). This account is not one of the horror-stories of animal transportation, but is typical and indicates the amount of anxiety and fear animals experience in trucks and trains.Google Scholar
  11. 12.
    But note that in 1973 the average American consumed 175 pounds of red meat and over 50 pounds of chicken (Information Please Almanac, 1975)!Google Scholar

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© The HUMANA Press Inc. 1983

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  • Bart Gruzalski

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