Ethical meat

2008-10-28

in Economics, The environment

Many times before, I have written about the ethics of meat consumption. Critical issues include the health and environmental impacts of factory farming, greenhouse gas emissions, and the perverse ways in which animals are made to live contrary to their natures. All that being said, I think it is actually more ethical to spend the time and money to seek out ethical meat, rather than simply choosing not to eat it at all.

Agriculture is an industry in which a whole range of choices exist: from the solar-powered grass-based agriculture so well advocated by Michael Pollan to the hydrocarbon-fueled and unsustainable forms that dominate in most of the world today. While choosing vegetarianism means taking a stance against the former, it seems likely to be more positive overall to provide active support to a positive alternative. The pike Emily and I enjoyed while canoe camping partially embodied this approach – though there is a difference between seeking ethical self-sufficiency and trying to help the emergence of ethical industries.

Do readers agree? Does anyone have experience trying to acquire ethical meat in Ottawa?

Report a typo or inaccuracy

{ 45 comments… read them below or add one }

R.K. October 28, 2008 at 6:38 pm

It does seem better to support a positive solution, unless your reason for vegetarianism is that killing animals is itself wrong.

Woodsy October 28, 2008 at 7:54 pm

I like wild game for the concerns that you cite above. It can be purchased at Saslove’s Meat Market in the Byward Market.

Tristan October 28, 2008 at 9:53 pm

“- though there is a difference between seeking ethical self-sufficiency and trying to help the emergence of ethical industries.”

If there is a contradiction, even potentially, between these two motives this would seem to indicate an overly insular, “selfish” notion of “ethical self-sufficiency”. Certainly no man is an island, and what it means for ourselves to be self-sufficient is to be reliant in an appropriate way on others. This reliance gives us positive duties to others, and this would seem to tend to conflate the need to encourage ethical institutions as a personal ethical need.

Padraic October 28, 2008 at 10:13 pm

Sorry, how is it more ethical to find a lesser evil? I don’t buy your argument at all.

Milan October 29, 2008 at 12:02 am

Sorry, how is it more ethical to find a lesser evil? I don’t buy your argument at all.

It is more ethical to help the emergence of a good system than to simply abstain from participating in a bad one. It means taking more personal responsibility, as well as enhancing your chances of improving the world.

This comment makes a similar point.

To be consistent, one would also need to eat only ethical and sustainable milk and egg products.

Jessica October 29, 2008 at 4:38 am

I encourage those I know who do eat meat to chose more sustainable options. There are ways to push for more humane animal husbandry standards that don’t involve purchasing meat. Ultimately, I don’t think there is anything remotely ethically sound about taking a life just because you can.

If you like the taste of meat and can’t stand to live without it then own up to that, don’t couch it in some phony ethical argument.

Padraic October 29, 2008 at 8:09 am

Your argument assumes that a world of 100% ethical meat is better than a world of no meat, but you haven’t made the case for that at all (and I think it would be a difficult case to make).

Tristan October 29, 2008 at 8:24 am

“I encourage those I know who do eat meat to chose more sustainable options. There are ways to push for more humane animal husbandry standards that don’t involve purchasing meat. Ultimately, I don’t think there is anything remotely ethically sound about taking a life just because you can.”

It can’t be that vegetarianism is just about not taking the lives of animals – the production of cereals kills far more animals per calorie than the production of beef, because harvesting kills hundreds of thousands of field mice, rate, etc… And it isn’t accidental, it’s not like it would be possible to expulse rodents from their not “natural”, but very appropriate habitat.

So, it can’t be that ethicality is just the reduction of lives of animals taken – it has to be about not taking the lives in inappropriate ways. It might be easier to stop caring about the killing part all together, and concentrate just on sustainability. Or, and this is what I would advocate, concentrate on the in-ethicality of the institution of mechanized meat production – and engage in imagining what a non-industrial, human-like meat “industry” would be like.

Tristan October 29, 2008 at 8:29 am

Also, don’t pretend you think killing animals is murder or an unbelievable travesty, or anything like that. If you really thought eating meat was murder, then the right thing to do would be to blow up the meat production plants. (In the same way that suicide bombing the death camps would be universally acclaimable). And if you say you can’t act radically because you’ll be dismissed, does that mean you believe that “moderate political discourse” is an appropriate method of persuasion in times of genocide? It seems wrong to think that when the most unbelievable evils are being done that those who oppose them should have to rationally engage with the perpetrators.

Milan October 29, 2008 at 8:32 am

If you like the taste of meat and can’t stand to live without it then own up to that, don’t couch it in some phony ethical argument.

I have happily been vegetarian for two years. The motivation for the statements above is all about ethical and environmental concerns, not about eating meat.

The only meat I really miss is tuna.

Milan October 29, 2008 at 8:51 am

Your argument assumes that a world of 100% ethical meat is better than a world of no meat, but you haven’t made the case for that at all (and I think it would be a difficult case to make).

Neither of those outcomes is remotely foreseeable. That being said, I think you can argue that demanding the existence of ethical meat options has a net beneficial effect – not least because it draws attention to all the ethical issues associated with livestock and agriculture.

There are ethical problems that endure, even when meat is produced in a healthy, humane, and sustainable way. For instance, it takes a lot more land and energy to provide a person with a meat diet. I am certainly not saying that people should eat meat every day, or even every month. The occasional choice to eat locally-grown, ethically raised meat is what I am contemplating here.

Milan October 29, 2008 at 10:57 am

I agree with Tristan that the simple fact of killing animals is not particularly ethically problematic (though sentient animals and endangered species are exceptions). I think the larger problem of cruelty lies in the conditions under which farm animals live: hugely overcrowded and living in ways that bear no resemblance to a position in a natural ecosystem.

If we accept the goodness of ecosystems themselves, we accept the appropriateness of animals being killed. You can argue that human intelligence means that we need to conform to a different sort of behaviour (veganism or vegetarianism), but I still think most people who make that choices are more appropriately objecting to the conditions of life for farm animals, not the circumstances of their deaths.

Anonymous October 29, 2008 at 11:47 am

What about fish?

Sasha October 29, 2008 at 12:37 pm

“..it’s okay to eat fish, ’cause they don’t have any feelings…”
-K.C.

Tristan, brilliant point with regard to animals being killed during agricultural harvesting. Robbie Burns and the wee mouseys everywhere applaud you, I’m sure.

An issue I haven’t seen raised here yet is that of quantity, which I think does factor. If it weren’t for the North American steak-and-potatoes diet demanding a sizable slab of meat on every plate, every day, I don’t think we’d have such issues – rain forests being sacrificed for grazing grounds, giant industrial “meat-farms” etc.

I do eat meat, small servings about 2-3 times per week, but am highly choosy about it. It’s the best dietary compromise I’ve found to a troublesome stomach and family propensity for anemia. Fortunately for me, here in Vancouver there are a good many sources for meat that is free range, organic, and produced as sustainably as possible. I can’t help with tips for Ottawa though, sorry.

Tris October 29, 2008 at 12:37 pm

Interestingly, it turns out to be more efficient in terms of energy extraction for cattle to graze than to grown corn and feed it to cattle. This proves that the market does not maximize efficiency, but only a combination of efficiency and store-ability.

I would acknowledge the goodness of ecosystems themselves, and then deny that we can be radically parsed off from them. Humans are natural beings as well, but significant in that they seem to be able to live either appropriately or inappropriately in their environment. This would be the “thought is cancer” thesis.

Milan October 29, 2008 at 12:53 pm

Eating fish may be fine, but the way in which we fish is not. Even the Alaskan pollock fishery, considered one of the most well-managed in the world, now seems to have been exploited unsustainably.

Fish may not have feelings, but people who eat fish in poor countries do. So do those in future generations.

Sarah October 29, 2008 at 3:08 pm

I’m not convinced by this argument, partly because vegetarian protein & vitamin sources require ongoing demand if production is to continue in the same way that the ethical meat production requires demand. It also seems a tad ridiculous to focus on the type of meat when the more important problem (at least environmentally) is the amount of meat consumed by North Americans. Persauding people to eat 1/10th of the meat they currently consume would be greatly preferable to persauding them to substitute it for more expensive but arguably more ethical meat, & it seems to me that one can only do that by changing eating habits away from ‘meat and 2 veg’ for dinner and towards vegetarian chilli, vege burritos, dal etc.

Milan October 29, 2008 at 3:13 pm

I agree that eating less meat is crucial.

Is it better to eat ethical meat once a month, or to never eat meat at all?

Supporting vegetarian options is definitely important, but I think ethical meat is a much smaller and more nascent industry.

BuddyRich October 29, 2008 at 10:47 pm

To answer one of your original questions, two places around Ottawa have grass-fed beef:

http://www.heartland-farms.com/home.php

and

http://www.totallynaturalbeef.ca/

We bought off of L.J. (totallynaturalbeef) and were impressed with how lean the meat was and the taste. As someone who comes from a hunting family, its still not nearly as “gamey” tasting as venison or moose, but moreso than even organic steak from Saslove’s. More similar to their Bison meats. Though also most farms around the small Eastern Ontario town I am from raise cattle mostly on grass anyway. Perhaps not strictly grass fed (they might winter on hay and a corn feed) so buying from any local farmer is probably pretty safe.

In that regard I would also recommend the Fitzroy Beef Co-op.

http://www.fitzroybeeffarmers.com/index.html

They are at the Ottawa Farmer’s Market at Lansdowne Park on Sundays and at least a couple of their farms do graze their cattle (read the farm profiles in the co-op). I bought from them 2 years ago and also liked their meat.

In regards to ethical considerations, some areas of the planet are not suited to agriculture, but are suitable for grazing. We should also look at more than just carbon emissions, fertilizers (used in non-organic vegetables) affect water quality, vegetable variety needs to be considered to maintain crop diversity to protect against pathogens and diseases. That is perhaps the best argument I could make for eating meat. Just to keep it around as an option for diversity. Monoculture anything is particularily dangerous, and going all vegetable leaves us susceptable to a host of things that could affect our food supply that being omnivore protects us from, I mean thats why man evolved as an omnivore, to be an oportunistic eater as food was scare… it might not be scarce now, but it might not always be plentiful either.

I think what people should really be looking into is Permaculture to see what is truly sustainable, because even with current organic methods we will evetually exhaust the micro-nutrients in our soil (not even talking about the traditional NPK measurements)

Sarah October 30, 2008 at 4:23 pm

“I think ethical meat is a much smaller and more nascent industry.”
Perhaps in Canada, but in the Uk this is absolutely, unequivocally false. Many organisations in the UK offer certified ‘ethical’ meat including http://www.realmeat.co.uk/ http://www.happymeats.co.uk/ http://thefreerangemeatcompany.co.uk etc. Real Meat Company products have been readily available from butchers in England since at least 1996 & are branded as premium prodicts largely in order to get better income for farmers. Unfortunately, this fad for ethical meat in the UK has done nothing at all to convince people that they should reduce their overall meat consumption (if anything the opposite is true – enthusiasm for ‘traditional’ meat based meals is greater than ever). As such, I regard ethical meat as distraction from the debates about sustainability & carbon footprints rather than a positive contribution to that discussion.

R.K. October 31, 2008 at 3:33 pm

[V]egetarian protein & vitamin sources require ongoing demand if production is to continue in the same way that the ethical meat production requires demand

Vegetarians don’t need anything unusual to satisfy their nutritional requirements. You can get protein from all sorts of plants, even if you don’t eat eggs or milk. The same is true for iron and all the other nutrients in meat. Potatoes are 11% protein, oranges 8%, beans 26%, and tofu 34%. The Recommended Dietary Allowance (R.D.A.) for protein is 0.8 grams a day per kilogram of bodyweight. Meeting that requirement requires no special industry, though it is good to support sustainable forms of agriculture generally.

TT December 16, 2008 at 8:09 pm

complete vegans do however need to supplement their diets with vit B12 as it is only found in animal based products as far as i know…..is this not true

Milan December 16, 2008 at 8:11 pm

According to Wikipedia:

The Vegan Society, the Vegetarian Resource Group, and the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, among others, recommend that vegans either consistently eat foods fortified with B-12 or take a daily or weekly B-12 supplement. Fortified breakfast cereals are a particularly valuable source of vitamin B-12 for vegetarians and vegans.

Tristan December 16, 2008 at 8:52 pm

What I don’t understand about ethical veganism is, if it’s wrong for oneself to eat animals, isn’t it wrong for others to do it? And if it’s wrong for others to do it, its either wrong enough to break other ethical standards to stop them, or it isn’t. If it’s not wrong enough to trump any other ethical duties, how wrong is it, really?

Milan December 16, 2008 at 8:58 pm

Tristan,

The question of how hard we ought to work to convince other people of the rightness of our own moral convictions is a difficult one. I don’t think there is any simple answer.

Elements that seem relevant include the urgency of the moral question being decided, the degree of doubt a reasonable person would have about the validity of your moral arguments, and perhaps the overall legal and societal context in which you find yourself.

Tristan December 17, 2008 at 12:48 pm

It seems plausible to me that normativity comes in degrees, and the fact that arguments for veganism are convincing because there is some normativity there. However, I think it’s just weak normativity. There are lots of right actions which only imbue weak normativity. E.G. the demand to sponsor an african child based upon a late night television commercial – it seems this does confer some sort of demand on the viewer, but weakly.

The alternative, if veganism is based on strong normativity, i.e. it’s in the same region as the normativity that prevents one from stealing or harming others, then we’d need a more complex answer as to why it isn’t right to commit acts of violence to prevent the eating of animals.

Magictofu December 17, 2008 at 4:25 pm

Woodsy: “I like wild game for the concerns that you cite above. It can be purchased at Saslove’s Meat Market in the Byward Market.”

With rare excpetions (e.g. wild rabbit in Quebec), game meat in Canadian butcher stores or grocery stores is farmed. Deer, partridge, elk, etc. are generally farmed, often in better conditions than the usual farmed animals though. Packaging is often designed to make the consumer believe otherwise though.

Milan March 13, 2009 at 11:50 am
. June 1, 2009 at 7:55 pm

Supporting the Local Meat Industry?

Sometimes I feel as though my vegetarianism is almost purely an ethical stance, with no real-world influence. This seems especially true when I buy and consume dairy products from companies with similarly awful and unsustainable farming practises to the meat industry. It is difficult not to be hypocritical as an ovo-lacto-vegetarian. I make a point to get local organic eggs when I’m shopping, and I buy Olympic organic yogourt. Olympic is a larger company operating through a number of local organic farms in the Fraser Valley. Olympic boasts:

“Supporting other small local businesses; we have partnered with certified organic dairies throughout B.C.’s Fraser Valley. The cows are fed 100% organic grass silage, grain and alfalfa hay. They have never been exposed to hormones or steroids and live upon certified organic soil.”

chuck October 1, 2009 at 8:49 pm

“It is more ethical to help the emergence of a good system than to simply abstain from participating in a bad one. It means taking more personal responsibility, as well as enhancing your chances of improving the world.”

Yes. This. I often think that much of the pop vegetarian “lobby” like PETA are actually in the employ of some of the larger monoculture, Industrial Ag Industry. Because they would rather support monoculture food shipped from thousands of miles away than work within the boundaries of our current system to fund tangible, functional alternatives that will provide food security infrastructure for the forseable future.

It’s the emotional-vegetarian argument. The simplistic notion that ‘killing is wrong’ that falls apart immediately when you look beyond the grocery store shelf. Once you admit to yourself that killing is an experience that every creature must humble themselves to be a part of, you can then move beyond the simple platitudes of ‘meat is murder’ and address the issues of sustainability in the Industrialized Food system.

Great article!

Tristan October 2, 2009 at 3:01 am

“Once you admit to yourself that killing is an experience that every creature must humble themselves to be a part of, you can then move beyond the simple platitudes of ‘meat is murder’ and address the issues of sustainability in the Industrialized Food system.”

This is about the most ridiculous justification of killing animals that I’ve ever heard. We get beyond platitudes like “Raising animals for slaughter is murder” (is that a platitude? I thought it was a truism) by realizing that we are humbled by killing animals? Like Abraham is humbled by deciding to kill his son?

Of course killing can humbling – but only if you do it out of need. Killing animals for meat production is needless. Sure industrial agriculture is nasty – and much of it is supporting the unsustainable industrial meat industry.

We have to kill animals to live. The animals that live in the wheat fields – which get chopped up by the combine harvesters. We cannot live without killing these animals. This is a serious justification for killing these animals. This is the same as the justification for any society which is able to support itself only by hunting – they are justified in killing animals because they need to in order to live. Killing in order to live is humbling. Killing animals that are needless brought into the world, in full knowledge that their life will be mostly of pain, followed by a hopefully painless but possibly very painful death – that is not humbling, that is a crime against animality.

Milan October 2, 2009 at 10:43 am

I think the key ethical issue here (from the perspective of the animals) is their quality of life while alive. I didn’t object to eating lake-caught pike, because the creatures had liked good pikey lives. Killing and eating an animal that grew up in natural conditions is surely less wrong than doing the same with one raised in deeply inhumane conditions. When it comes to wild-caught animals, the key ethical issue is sustainable harvesting (and perhaps the manner in which they are killed.)

Of course, many domesticated animals cannot survive in the wild. For domesticated animals, the standard of care is different. Whereas it is fine for pike to suffer in the wild (from cold, predation, etc), animals that we put under roofs that we control have some right to care from us. How much probably depends on the kind of creature (more for chickens than nematode worms).

There are other ethical issues involved that don’t focus on animal welfare. These include risks of human diseases created and spread through factory farming (including antibiotic resistance) as well as the environmental impact from industrial farms on things like water quality and climate.

Milan October 2, 2009 at 10:45 am

“The animals that live in the wheat fields – which get chopped up by the combine harvesters.”

This is an odd intermediate case.

The animals aren’t in the wild, but they aren’t really domesticated either. Still, I think a case could be made that we have some kind of duty to protect them from needless suffering.

chuck October 3, 2009 at 12:47 am

The emotional, hard-line vegans have no desire to dialogue or debate. In their minds, they are right, and their minds are already made up.

In my own experience there is no diet that removes one from the process of life and death. refraining from eating meat does little to stop killing, and does not remove one from this cycle.

If those who are vegetarian/vegan, who wish to see an end to Factory Farms, really want a functional, real-world solution, they would do well to support locally-produced alternatives for the 90% of the population that continues to eat meat.

As for the idealists, who refuse anything less than a all people eating all vegan, all the time, good luck. you will never get there.

Tristan October 3, 2009 at 5:01 am

“In my own experience there is no diet that removes one from the process of life and death”

Did you read my comment? I said eating wheat makes you complicit in the killing of many, many animals. So, who are you arguing with here?

“The emotional, hard-line vegans have no desire to dialogue or debate. In their minds, they are right, and their minds are already made up.”

Do you have any desire to dialogue or debate with the “hard line” vegans? Or have you already decided this beyond a doubt?

I happen to know many “hard-line” vegans, and I don’t know any of them who have no desire for dialogue or debate. They all know that the ideals they strive for appear impossible within the current context. Also, there is no strong unified “vegan ideal” – there is a strong debate between the “hard liners” between those who argue for animal rights, and those who argue for animal well-being. Sure, people have positions, but they are not permanent and unchanging.

Tristan October 3, 2009 at 5:13 am

“As for the idealists, who refuse anything less than a all people eating all vegan, all the time, good luck. you will never get there.”

Any serious “idealist” knows that their ideals break down in practice. The reason why people fight for ideals (i.e. freedom, equity, tolerance, fairness) is not that they want those ideals perfectly instantiated, but that they believe those ideals are powerful – that they can enact effective and meaningful (but never total) change.

This is just a straw man refutation.

Emily October 3, 2009 at 12:59 pm

“The emotional, hard-line vegans have no desire to dialogue or debate. In their minds, they are right, and their minds are already made up.”

Sounds like you have your mind made up about all vegans, and no one’s going to change that.

Tristan October 3, 2009 at 6:54 pm

“The animals aren’t in the wild, but they aren’t really domesticated either. Still, I think a case could be made that we have some kind of duty to protect them from needless suffering.”

I think you’re right. But, this mediation would be limited by what is possible while still maintaining existing levels of food production. It’s possible at least that there is nothing/very little we could do.

Milan October 3, 2009 at 8:56 pm

This is a factual more than an ethical question. If we had an easy way to keep rodents out of grain fields, it may be ethically laudable (or even necessary) to use it.

Milan October 5, 2009 at 9:34 pm

The issue of quasi-domestication is strange, because it could apply to all sorts of ‘accidental’ creatures. For instance, antibiotic resistant bacteria and invasive species.

Bacteria aren’t so problematic, since it is pretty easy to say that they aren’t morally considerable. That being said, I wonder how we can have moral obligations to mice in our grain fields but not the rabbits we disastrously introduced into Australia.

. October 5, 2009 at 11:37 pm

“This is our fault. Doctors over-prescribing antibiotics. Got a cold? Take some penicillin. Sniffles? No problem. Have some azithromycin. Is that not working anymore? Well, got your Levaquin. Antibacterial soaps in every bathroom. We’ll be adding Vancomycin to the water supply soon. We bred these super bugs. They’re our babies. Now they’re all grown up and they’ve got body piercings and a lot of anger.”

HOUSE, M.D.
1X04: MATERNITY

. March 18, 2011 at 11:12 pm

The second main source of growth will consist of spreading a tried and tested success: the “livestock revolution”. This consists of switching from traditional, open-air methods of animal husbandry, in which chickens and pigs scratch and root around the farm, eating insects, scraps and all sorts of organic waste, to closed “battery” systems, in which animals are confined to cages and have their diet, health and movement rigorously controlled. This entails huge losses in animal welfare, and European consumers are reacting against the system. But there are also gains in productivity and sometimes even in welfare, by reducing losses from diseases and predators that in traditional systems can be distressingly high.

Alyssa January 14, 2012 at 3:59 pm
Demetrius September 5, 2013 at 4:45 pm

A motivating discussion is worth comment. I believe that you ought to publish more about
this issue, it may not be a taboo matter but generally people do not speak about these issues.
To the next! All the best!!

Feel free to surf to my web blog :: Super Gyros (Demetrius)

Amanda February 18, 2014 at 1:51 pm

It’s not just about abstaining from eating meat, it’s about supporting ethical farming so that farms that resort to animal cruelty are not supported and forced to change their practices to stay in the business.

Leave a Comment

You can use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

{ 1 trackback }

Previous post:

Next post: