No Laughing Matter For Animals

This is a response to Lee Yue Heng’s article ‘Fifty Steps Laugh At One Hundred Steps’ at http://ahhengwrites.blogspot.com/2012/05/fifty-steps-laugh-at-one-hundred-steps.html as on 21.05.12. It’s a strange title, with a strange explanation, because it assumes vegans are laughing at meat-eaters? I have never heard of such cases. I’ve heard of many meat-eaters sniggering at vegans self-righteously though, unfortunately. The below response should remain relevant, provided that the article in the above link remains unedited. If you are already pro-vegan, you might want to skip that link and just read the below.

[1] It is difficult to see how those who eat cows and chickens are moral or respectful towards them in that aspect – of eating. For example, if a man-eating tiger eats us humans, will it be easy for the eaten humans to see how the tiger might actually still be moral and respectful to them? Of course, non-vegans can be moral and respectful in various other ways to various sentient beings. They can even be moral and respectful to cows and chickens but with bad faith, turn away just when they know they are about to be killed for them. Almost all meat-eaters turn away from the sight and sound of animals being killed in slaughterhouses. Yes, they are killed only for meat consumers.

[2] We should also respect the insects who are killed by the insecticide used on farms. Meat-consumption, however, can be linked to up to 10 times more use of insecticide due to use of it to produce 10 times much crops for animal feed to fatten up the animals for slaughter This has been discussed at length at http://moonpointer.com/new/2012/05/all-mothers-deserve-respect-of-course already.

[3] As a vegan who does not consume animals, I have no problem with people wanting to be meat-eaters. But it’s quite disturbing when meat-eaters who go out of their way to put themselves on a moral holier-than-thou pedestal and pontificate to vegans, inadequately too. Anti-vegan posts appearing on my Facebook’s news feed is the equivalent of unwelcome spam in my mailbox. And I am free to either ignore, delete or respond. (Of course, there is the option of opting out of unwanted posts of friends, or to unfriend.)

[4] Well-informed vegans know that almost all foods are at the expense of other beings in an interconnected way – which is why veganism is chosen mindfully as a means to be connected to less killing. In http://moonpointer.com/new/2012/05/all-mothers-deserve-respect-of-course are systematic replies to the non pro-vegan news articles hyperlinked in the blog post.

[5] Here are replies to Monbiot’s article (http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/sep/06/meat-production-veganism-deforestation), with quotation marks for excerpts, and comments between:

[a] ‘There’s no doubt that the livestock system has gone horribly wrong. Fairlie describes the feedlot beef industry (in which animals are kept in pens) in the US as “one of the biggest ecological cock-ups in modern history”. It pumps grain and forage from irrigated pastures into the farm animal species least able to process them efficiently, to produce beef fatty enough for hamburger production. Cattle are excellent converters of grass but terrible converters of concentrated feed. The feed would have been much better used to make pork. Pigs, in the meantime, have been forbidden in many parts of the rich world from doing what they do best: converting waste into meat.’ The article goes on to be pro-pork. It is speciesism to choose to exploit one sentient being over another. What would it be like if an alien sees human meat to be cost-effective? How about being pro-non-killing of sentient beings? How about showing clearly why the path of least killing for all humans (not just those living in UK) is actually eating of pigs and such instead of being mindful vegans? The day it is proven clearly enough with the maths, statistics and all, am sure it would hit international deadlines and convince all vegans to let go of their ‘ill’ ways. I would like to see statistics of how soya ‘trashes the Amazon’, versus the increase in clearing forests for grazing grounds and for animal feed crops due to the increase in demand for meat, not that I’m a ‘soyan’, but a vegan, who consumes more than just soya.

[b] By all means, please switch to more environmentally and humane animal-breeding and slaughtering models. Would like to see worldwide statistics comparing the amount of land required to breed crops for feeding meat animals versus crops directly for human consumption. Remember – cows alone need 10 times more crops than humans.

[c] ‘the stuffing of animals with grain to boost meat and milk consumption, mostly in the rich world – which reduces the total food supply. Cut this portion out and you would create an increase in available food which could support 1.3 billion people.’ Indeed! ‘Fairlie argues we could afford to use a small amount of grain for feeding livestock, allowing animals to mop up grain surpluses in good years and slaughtering them in lean ones. This would allow us to consume a bit more than half the world’s current volume of animal products, which means a good deal less than in the average western diet.’ Until Fairlie is able to implement these changes, it’s fair to say that environmentally, these animals are better kept off the plate. How many actual litres of water is needed to produce a kilogram of beef, if is it not 100,000 litres?

[d] ‘UN Food and Agriculture Organisation’s claim that livestock are responsible for 18% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, a higher proportion than transport. Fairlie shows that it made a number of basic mistakes. It attributes all deforestation that culminates in cattle ranching in the Amazon to cattle: in reality it is mostly driven by land speculation and logging.’ What happens to the logged lands? Do they become grazing grounds? Or crop land for planting animal feed, or…. ? If so, it’s not a miscalculation.

[e] ‘It muddles up one-off emissions from deforestation with ongoing pollution. It makes similar boobs in its nitrous oxide and methane accounts, confusing gross and net production.’ If the logged lands do become grazing grounds or animal crop land, this wouldn’t be a confusion. ‘Conversely, the organisation greatly underestimates fossil fuel consumption by intensive farming: its report seems to have been informed by a powerful bias against extensive livestock keeping.’ What is the fossil fuel consumption by intensive farming for crops for animals? Would that not be worse, as animals can consume up to 10 times more crops than vegans? Why would there be a powerful bias against extensive livestock farming? Surely, not all the UN scientists are vegan!

[f] ‘Overall, Fairlie estimates that farmed animals produce about 10% of the world’s emissions: still too much, but a good deal less than transport.’ Well, too much is too much, and it’s just an estimate, that might be wrong. ‘He also shows that many vegetable oils have a bigger footprint than animal fats, and reminds us that even vegan farming necessitates the large-scale killing or ecological exclusion of animals: in this case pests.’ Would like to know which vegetable oil has the least footprint and which animal fats has the least for fair comparison. The truth it, extra oil is not needed for veganism, as espoused by Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, who was crucial in converting Bill Clinton to veganism: http://www.heartattackproof.com/qanda.htm and  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p4hbV4RgzI8 Vegan farming necessitates killing to harvest crops, but remember that animals reared can consume up to 10 times of these crops, which means there is much more killing done for a pound of flesh than a pound of vegetables. ‘On the other hand, he slaughters the claims made by some livestock farmers about the soil carbon they can lock away.’ Good!

[g] ‘By keeping out of the debate over how livestock should be kept, those of us who have advocated veganism have allowed the champions of cruel, destructive, famine-inducing meat farming to prevail.’ Indeed, ethics matter. This is how livestock is kept today in many places – http://www.meat.org I would like to see all meat-eaters further justify their meat-eating (if possible at all) by them speaking up for animals’ welfare before they are slaughtered. But here is the irony – how can you systematically demand animals, via active consumption and market forces, to be reared, imprisoned and slaughtered – all in the name of their welfare? Reeks of hypocrisy?

[6] If veganism is indeed the kinder and wiser diet, which overwhelming evidence shows, veganism does involves less greed and delusion for humankind. And it is the path of least murders because vegans consume less in quantity and lower on the food chain – plants. No proper vegan believes that insects killed for vegan produce are not as worthy as a cow or a chicken. That would be speciesism; not the spirit of universal compassion and equanimity that founds veganism. In fact, it is exactly for reducing killing, that people turn vegans. Remember – meat animals consume up to 10 times for crops than vegans – which means 10 times more insects are killed. Simple maths, that many keep missing, despite repeated explanation. Animals are not ‘often slaughtered against their will’ – but always murdered against their wishes. Insects and small animals might die for vegan produce, but what about the 10 times more crops (and thus killing) for meat to be possible? Does that not make meat-eaters 10 times more morally culpable? The irony of those who proclaim that the meat and vegan diet are exactly morally equal is a no-brainer in this sense, for the intelligent and fair-minded reader who has examined the facts.

[7] Of course, when both meat-eaters and vegans eat the same amount of food, they can eat with the same amount of greed. However, as in point [6], the latter is connected to less murders, while the delusion of the meat-eaters over this fact keeps them eating meat with no compunctions. Vegans are folks who are willing to give up their greed for the taste of real meat. For the mock meat argument, please see http://thedailyenlightenment.com/2011/03/a-brief-history-of-the-love-hate-relationship-with-mock-meats Hey, at least no real animals are harmed. Meat-eaters, however cling to greed for meat despite many facts on meat’s ills. Again, it’s not all or nothing. Anyone can consume less meat in good time. Even if not, no one can force anyone to drop meat.

[8] There was no mention that vegans are more virtuous or pure on the whole, but in terms of conscious choice of diet out of compassion and wisdom, they are more virtuous in that sense; and not necessarily in all other aspects of life. The Amagandha Sutta reminds us that it is not meat-eating that makes one spiritually unpure, but greed, hatred and delusion (the three poisons). It is not what one eats that makes one pure or not, but in the context of eating, if one consumes with greed, hatred and delusion, that person is feeding the poisons that much more. This means it is possible for a meat-eater to consume with less of the three poisons than a vegan. However, if both parties are offered choices of diet, with knowledge that of the above moral issues, the one who chooses the kinder and wiser diet is in that aspect of life, kinder and wiser. This is not a self-righteous idea. As mentioned, a person might be a good vegan but a person poor in character in all other aspects of life. But this good vegan can practise to become better in the other aspects of life too. Likewise, meat-eaters who are already wonderful in other aspects of life can be more wonderful if they reduce meat consumption.

[9] There is no actual quotable record in the Pali Canon of the Buddha himself eating any meat. This is while, in the Mahayana canon, there are many occasions of the Buddha speaking of the ills of meat-eating: http://moonpointer.com/new/2012/05/why-buddhists-should-be-vegetarian In the few cases of the Buddha being offered meat, there is no clear record that the Buddha did eat it. Even in the case of Siha’s offering, it is not clear that he killed any animal for the Buddha directly or not, or that the Buddha ate it or not.

[10] The Buddha permitted meat-consumption for random alms-seeking monastics if the animals are not seen, heard or suspected to be killed for them. Consumer meat purchased and eaten by laypeople is however meat suspected to be killed for them – via the market forces of deliberate demand and supply: http://www.4ui.com/eart/214eart1.htm Yes, the usual suspects demanding animal slaughter directly or indirectly are human consumers. As it seems, in the Pali Canon, the Buddha did not clearly dispense advice on meat-consumption for laity. If the Buddha ruled butchery as wrong livelihood, is paying others to carry on this trade perfectly blameless? Yes, the money from meat-consumers indirectly pays for others to do the bloody task of killing on their behalf. This does not mean all Buddhists absolutely have to be vegetarians or vegans though. To each his own, but for the Bodhisattva path, vegetarianism is a Bodhisattva precept in the Brahma Net Sutra, to be lived to best one can. It is hypocritical to wish all beings to be well and happy while directly demanding consumption of some of these beings’ flesh for every meal. On the validity of the Mahayana sutras, please see http://www.tricycle.com/feature/whose-buddhism-truest

[11] No wise Buddhist (including the Buddha) would demand that all Buddhists must be vegetarian or vegan, as there might be practical constraints in many cases. The Buddha rejected Devadatta’s demand for compulsory vegetarianism in the Sangha because the monastics in those times lived by random alms food. As the saying goes, not that they are beggars, ‘beggars can’t be choosers’. Many Theravadin monastics worldwide today are vegetarian because they live less by alms food and are connected to laypeople who offer vegetarian food. A popular Theravada monk who visits Singapore regularly is said to never eat meat offered on a buffet spread by laypeople. He picks the non-meat. It would be better if he spoke to discourage meat offerings of course.

[12] Continual buying of meat incites continual killing for the meat market. It’s simple economics. If there are no or less buyers, there will be no or less suppliers. To the extent one that one is entrenched in the supply and demand cycle, it is the extent to which one is personally involved in it, directly or less directly. It is easy to find meat that one has not witnessed by sight or sound to be from animals killed for one (just avoid slaugtherhouses in bad faith to animals), but all meat available in the market IS specifically killed ONLY for meat consumers. This is in contrast to millions of vegetarians and vegans worldwide, who have removed themselves from the supply and demand for meat.

Enough said… now back to work… (The length of the above is what I meant earlier when I said I lacked and needed time to reply in detail.) After the ‘Related Articles’ below is an exchange between vegan friends on the Monbiot article, and an ‘Open Invitation’.

Related Articles:

All Mothers Deserve Respect, Of Course!
http://moonpointer.com/new/2012/05/all-mothers-deserve-respect-of-course
Censorship?
http://moonpointer.com/new/2012/05/censorship
Censorship Not
http://moonpointer.com/new/2012/05/censorship-not

Exchange on Monbiot’s Article: 

From G:

1. There are some problems with the env argument, but I think the main one is that eating fishes and chickens is less env unfriendly than eating beef, although still not as good as vegan. So, some people claim to be green by not eating pigs and especially cows. It’s a bit like the recent news about red meat reducing life expectancy. One vegan health expert called this bad news for chickens.

2. Yes, there are always different ways to do calculations, and the results, even of calculating the same way, will vary in different contexts. But even if we agree with his revisions, vegan is still greener.

3. But the two key flaws are: he assumes it would be easy to change the way we use animals for food. The system exists for economic reasons; it doesn’t exist because of some conspiracy by KFC and McDs to spoil the env or to kill billions of animals. It’s all about the money. Until the system changes, only someone who couldn’t care less could advocate eating as though the system had changed.

4. The second key flaw is the line near the end about eating meat with a clear conscience. So, killing animals is okay, as long as  it’s only 50% worse for the env than not killing them. To me, the lesson from the article is that the Kindness reason is our strongest argument.

From F (Response to G):

Well I only hope all the best stuff was in point 1 which you omitted to add. Because point 2 is unsupported and pure supposition. Point 3 makes the insupportable claim that reforming the meat farming system is somehow impossible which is utter nonsense (indeed, the vegan insistence that reform will never work is not only deeply mendacious but it causes direct environmental harm – vegans just feel smug about their veganism, do nothing to improve the meat system, and the world suffers as a result of their fecklessness). In point 4, your friend basically concedes that the previous arguments were rubbish by suddenly abandoning the entire environmental argument for veganism and declaring, with touching lack of sophistication, that “the lesson from the article is that the Kindness reason is our strongest argument.” If that’s the case, basically veganism is f*cked.

From A (Response to F):

Point 2 is not pure supposition. That article mainly concerned itself with a very narrow environmental ground, i.e. energy efficiency. It also mentions that the author estimates factory farming contributes less to global warming than the transportation sector. It is unclear how he estimated the greenhouse gas emissions that farmed animals contribute to, but even based on his calculation of 10%, it is a hell lot. Most importantly, the author neglected to mention one of the worst problems associated with factory farming (FF) – waste mismanagement and the consequential water pollution and air pollution.

Water pollution: Globally, according to the UN, FF is “probably the largest sectoral source of water pollution, contributing to eutrophication, “dead” zones in coastal areas, degradation of coral reefs, human health problems, emergence of antibiotic resistance and many others.” Similarly in the U.S., according to the Environmental Protection Agency, agricultural runoff is the single largest source of water pollution in the nation’s rivers and streams. As Jonathan Safran Foer succinctly described, “[t]he problem is quite simple: massive amounts of shit. So much shit, so poorly managed, that it seeps into rivers, lakes, and oceans – killing wildlife and polluting air, water, and land in ways devastating to human health”. In all, farmed animals in the U.S. produce 130 times as much waste as the human population. The polluting strength of such waste is 160 times greater than raw municipal sewage. Yet there is almost no waste-treatment infrastructure for farmed animals and almost no federal guidelines regulating what happens to it. Improperly stored or used animal waste in excessive amounts can contribute pollutants such as nutrients (e.g. nitrates, phosphorus), organic matter, sediments, pathogens, heavy metals, hormones, antibiotics and ammonia to rivers and underground drinking water supplies through various ways. Usually, it occurs when inadequately sized and poorly-lined storage structures allow manure to escape into the surrounding environment. Take the example of America’s leading pork producer – Smithfield spilled more than 20 million gallons of lagoon waste into the New River in North Carolina in 1995. The spill was the largest environmental disaster of its kind and is twice as big as the iconic Exxon Valdez spill. The spill released enough liquid manure to fill 250 Olympic-sized swimming pools.

The mismanagement of animal waste also poses significant public health threats when contaminants seep into underground sources of drinking water. For example, in 2009, in Morrison, Wisconsin, residents suffered from chronic diarrhoea, stomach illnesses and severe ear infections when agricultural runoff containing byproducts of manure or other fertilizers seeped into drinking water and polluted more than 100 wells.

And that’s not even touching on the damage to river and stream ecosystems. I can go on and on about water pollution, but why don’t we move on to air pollution?

In addition to greenhouse gases, FF also contributes many air pollutants, such as carbon monoxide, chlorofluorocarbons, ammonia, nitrogen oxides, sulphur dioxide and volatile organic compounds. These are emitted from the decomposition of concentrated animal waste that are collecting in open-air cesspools or evaporating through sprays, and by the dust generated by animal activity and farming practices. In the U.S., residents around industrial hog farms have complained of chronic headaches, lungs suddenly close up for children, respiratory problems, diarrhoea, nosebleeds, earaches and lung burns and neurological damage…

With regard to Point 3, you have twisted my friend’s words out of proportion. He said “he assumes it would be easy to change the way we use animals for food. The system exists for economic reasons… Until the system changes, only someone who couldn’t care less could advocate eating as though the system had changed.” He didn’t say it would be impossible for the system ever to change. Yes it might change in the future as consumers become more informed – maybe in 50 years, maybe in 100 years? But change takes time, and what are we going to do in the meanwhile? Contribute to the demand that fuels such a horrific industry in the hopes that somebody is going to eventually change the system? Get real.

The point is – YES it is theoretically possible for the factory farming system to be reformed, just like how world peace is theoretically possible. But the reason why it is the way it is now is because these corporations only care about the bottom line. They will never change the way they operate unless they can profit from it.

Even though pressure has been exerted on these powerful companies and continues to be exerted on them, they wield strong lobbying influence in many countries, particularly developed ones. In the U.S., farm lobbies have blocked previous environmental efforts by Congress. State legislatures have also often encountered difficulties. Perhaps most telling was the Pew Commission’s confession that it had “serious obstacles [in] completing its review [of the industry] and approving consensus recommendations… [it] found significant influence by the industry at every turn: in academic research, agriculture policy development, government regulation, and enforcement”.

So the question is, what kind of industry do you want to support and “vote for” with your money while we wait and hope that activists’ efforts in reforming the industry will one day succeed?

From G:

I’m glad that you understand the points I’m making. Just one clarification: I’m not conceding that Monbiat is correct; I’m just saying that even if he is correct, vegan is still greener.

Open Invitation:

Hi Yue Heng,  was chatting a little on our recent chats with the president of Vegetarian Society (Singapore), Dr. George Jacobs.  Of his own initiative, he mentioned that he is open to sharing on vegetarianism (in non-religious terms of course) with your class and/or school (Yusof Ishak Secondary School) via an educational talk, if there is any interest. Just for your consideration. No obligations of course. In recent years, VSS has done many educational programs and exhibitions in schools, including Raffles Institute – with great success and welcome, and featured in The Straits Times and Zaobao too. More on VSS: www.vss.sg