Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Continuing Discussion On Vegetarianism.

The discussion about my first Vegetarianism blog has started, and it's great, as it get's me to sharpen my ideas, and my choices.  One of my clients, Sean "P Diddy" Powell contacted me tonight, via email, with these list of, shall we say concerns? Objections? Points? Regarding my argument, and what I considered or lacked in my argument. His email was so good I got his permission to post it here. And it got me to thinking, if anyone has any responses to the vegetarianism blog, please contact me at the blog and I may chuck them up. To address things I haven't or to allow me to defend my (unpopular) position, as best I can.
Here is P Diddy:
"Being of a squeamish nature, I haven’t watched the video, but do you know where it is sourced from?  Australia has pretty strict laws on how animals are processed (to use the clinical term) for slaughter and AQIS does regular inspections of all Australian abattoirs.  Even cattle slaughtered for halal consumption has a stungun applied to the forehead and then the halal slaughterman cuts the throat.  I’m guessing that the video is probably American, and without the benefit of the stungun.

I agree that animals can feel pain, show love (or a variation defined as fondness, loyalty, or at worst associating human presence with reward) and express  curiosity – anyone who has cared for a pet would most likely agree.  But I also think that there is a human ability to accept double standards or turn a blind eye or delude ourselves that lets most of us enjoy our meat while not thinking about where it comes from.

There is also a concept which you didn’t refer to – you may have considered it but not thought it worth raising – being the right of the predator, or the food chain concept.  Do humans, as a more capable predator, have the right to kill and eat other animals -  which admittedly is a slightly elemental argument, but if we eliminate the suffering aspect and breed, raise and kill humanely without suffering, does that make it ok.  I don’t think Australian abattoirs are there yet because focus is on throughput and volume because its run as a business but it could get to the same stage that the egg industry has moved to where eggs are graded as caged, barn or free range (my personal protest is that I only buy free range eggs...)" (Powell 2011) 

My reply:

"I haven't sourced the video no, and that is something I probably should have done, I think the point was even if the animals are killed humanely (is that possible? Think, for example your loved ones being killed the ways in the video, or the ways you mentioned), there are still the other issues of environment and suffering, all of which I think are reason enough, on their own, to give up meat. But when added together? Make a very strong case for me, at least, to abandon meat..

I agree, yes humans can accept a double standard, but that's also what I'm arguing against, as in, what is the basis for the double standard? Is it valid? Again, for me? No, for you? Sure. The same double standard is what allows us to live happily while places like Africa and the Middle East suffer, which I also don't agree with, as in we can do something to help, which is what I'm advocating with the denial of meat.

The last point you raised is an interesting one, and was cited to me tonight. I don't agree with it, but let me tell you why. It seems to me if I have understood you (and others), than an argument from biology is being made, as in, we have evolved to be the best at killing, or have evoled to be at the top of the food chain so shouldn't we kill? I think a hidden premise in this argument might also be: other animals kill, but do we think a lion is inhumane for killing the gazelle?

In response I would say, evolution has adapted us to also have consciousness, intelligence and as an emergent result we have culture, science etc. We also have the ability to deny our biological urges (laws against rape go directly against our biological urge to procreate), hence it seems plausible that as the dominant species on this planet, it falls to us, to maintain the well-being of ourselves, this planet, and all the other life on this planet. With that in mind, it seems plausible to me, that given we know our eating of these animals causes either suffering or pain or both (and environmental concerns) that we are duty-bound, as the dominant species to protect other species, to reduce suffering. Especially as we can live healthily without meat. I guess the point is, and I take a long time getting there I know, is we deny our biology and the rules of this planet all the time, I think we are justified in doing it in this case. As in the hidden premise (that I admit, could be my own interpretation), a lion doesn't have the capabilities to know it can be a vegetarian, it doesn't have consciousness, self awareness etc, hence it does what it's biology tells it, it doesn't keep animals in pens and it's eating of the gazelle doesn't cause environmental concerns. So while it still is causing pain, it has no other way to live it's life, we do." (Bezant 2011)
I encourage anyone who has concerns to offer critique or argument, see if I can justify myself.

As if upon request I received a startling beat down from the President of the Atheist Community of Austin (Texas), and all round smart dude, Matt Dillahunty
"The pain argument is a non-starter, for me. Certainly I'm against excessive pain and animal cruelty and I'll favor improvements in the slaughter industry, but if suffering (the awareness and cognizance of pain) is the foundation, then the argument fails the instant one points out that it is possible to kill without pain.

This is a rights issue. What sort of rights should we afford non-humans - and why? And are all non-humans afforded the same rights - and why or why not? Do the gnat, chicken, dolphin and chimp have the same standing?

Humans aren't granted rights because we can experience pain and suffering, we initially take those rights as an act of volition and then grant them as a matter of empathy, practicality and a conscious awareness that it increases the well-being of all of us.

I tend to afford the same opportunity for rights and defense of rights to all animals and I do so equitably. It's not immoral for the shark or the lion to eat me...and vice versa.

All that said, there are other arguments (including ethical ones) for vegetarianism that still intrigue me and may even sway me, but the simplistic pain arguments are, I think, horribly flawed.

Is it immoral for me to anesthetize a bunny so that it doesn't feel pain? If I then lop off it's head, am I immoral - even though it did not suffer?

Suffering simply can't be the criteria. It's a good emotional argument but it fails in its task. I could kill another human being and make it downright pleasant, using the right drugs - and it'd still be immoral.

It baffles me that so many science-minded individuals fail to see that the suffering argument fails falsification.
" (Dillahunty 2011)
Any thoughts guys?


  1. One of the easiest ways someone can feel better about themselves and their eating habits in Australia is to say "oh, don't worry, that's only a problem in America/in the Middle East. We're not like that here!".

    Ask any Aussie who's seen Food Inc (great film) and shuddered. We rationalise by telling ourself it's only in America.

    This is not just a problem linked to live export of Aus animals to countries with much lower standards (the most obvious issue). Here's a link to one Aussie's experience visiting Australian abattoirs:

    “What percentage are stunned properly, if at all?”

    For cattle I watched the kill area for about 10 mins and in that time they slaughtered about 5-6 cattle and of those one was not stunned properly. Another one was thrashing so much when her throat was slit she fell off the table. I don`t know if she was stunned properly or not. I suppose that makes it about 1/5 not stunned properly that I saw but it was only a 10 minute sample.

    “How do the kill the sheep? Are they supposed to be stunned? How do they get through all the wool when they slit their throats? “

    They hold an electric stunner to their head for a prescribed length of time. This renders them unconcious for about 30 sec (I think its 30 sec). The knife has to be very sharp to get through the wool – also Halal slaughter requires one slit to the throat only. The person cutting throats that I saw had a blunt knife and was sawing at the throats – he was repremanded by the vet.

  2. Interesting comments Eloise, thankyou for the link, and the data. Many have asked me about the standards in Australian abbatoirs so it will be great to pass this information on!

  3. From an information perspective, people interested in required standards for animal slaughter at Australian abattoirs may wish to review this document (last revised 2007) "Welfare of Animals at Abattoirs", by DAFF, which is the govt department which works with AQIS in auditing compliance at, and reviewing Australian abattoirs:

    Also of interest for the halal commentary is 5.2 in the halal guidelines - relevently that,

    "The over-riding responsibility of management and their employees for animal welfare takes precedence over any other aspect of the slaughtering process. Stunning is required to be by a method that is recognised as being reversible (e.g. electric or percussive). Animals shall receive the halal cut expeditiously after stunning to ensure they do not regain consciousness."

    People interested can find more information at the DAFF, AQIS or AusMeat websites.