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Various types of meats.
In most societies, controversy and debate have arisen over the ethics of eating animals. Ethical objections are generally divided into opposition to the act of killing in general, and opposition to certain agricultural practices surrounding the production of meat. Reasons for objecting to the practice of killing animals for consumption may include animal rights, environmental ethics, or religious reasons. Some people, while not vegetarians, refuse to eat the flesh of certain animals due to cultural taboo, such as cats, dogs, horses, or rabbits. Others vocally support meat eating for scientific, nutritional and cultural reasons, including religious ones. Some people eat only the flesh of animals who have been treated in a way meeting their approval before slaughter. Some meat eaters abstain from the meat of animals reared in particular ways, such as factory farms, or avoid certain meats, such as veal or foie gras. Some people follow vegetarian or vegan diets not because of moral concerns involving the production of meat and other animal products in general, but the treatment involving the raising and/or slaughter of animals.

Ethics of killing for food

Princeton Universitymarker professor and founder of the animal liberation movement, Peter Singer, believes that if alternative means of survival exist, one ought to choose the option that does not cause unnecessary harm to animals. Most Ethical Vegetarians argue that the same reasons exist against killing animals to eat as against killing humans to eat. Singer, in his book Animal Liberation listed possible qualities of sentience in non-human creatures that gave such creatures the scope to be considered under utilitarian ethics, and this has been widely referenced by animal rights campaigners and vegetarians. Ethical Vegetarians also believe that killing an animal, like killing a human, can only be justified in extreme circumstances and that consuming a living creature for its enjoyable taste, convenience, or nutritional value is not sufficient cause. Another common view is that humans are morally conscious of their behavior in a way other animals are not, and therefore subject to higher standards.

Author J. Neil Schulman contends that "If human beings are no different from other animals, then like all other animals it is our nature to kill any other animal which serves the purposes of our survival and well-being, for that is the way of all nature. Therefore, aside from economic concerns such as making sure we don't kill so quickly that we destroy a species and deprive our descendants of prey, human animals can kill members of other animal species for their usefulness to us. It is only if we are not just another animal -- if our nature is distinctly superior to other animals -- that we become subject to ethics at all -- and then those ethics must take into account our nature as masters of the lower animals. We may seek a balance of nature; but "balance" is a concept that only a species as intelligent as humankind could even contemplate. We may choose to temper the purposes to which we put lower animals with empathy and wisdom; but by virtue of our superior nature, we decide ... and if those decisions include the consumption of animals for human utilitarian or recreational purposes, then the limits on the uses we put the lower beasts are ones we set according to our individual human consciences."

Conservative pundit George Will wrote in favor of human obligations rather than animal rights, in What We Owe What We Eat, taking a position in contrast to both Singer and Schulman: "The rhetoric of animal 'rights' is ill-conceived. The starting point, says Matthew Scully, should be with our obligations -- the requirements for living with integrity. In defining them, some facts are pertinent, facts about animals' emotional capacities and their experience of pain and happiness. Such facts refute what conservatives deplore -- moral relativism. ...Statutes against cruelty to animals, often imposing felony-level penalties, codify society's belief that such cruelty is an intrinsic evil. ...even though the law can regard an individual's animal as the individual's property, there nevertheless are certain things the individual cannot do to that property. Which means it is property with a difference. The difference is the capacity for enjoyment and suffering. So cruelty to a puppy appalling and cruelty to livestock by the billions a matter of social indifference? There cannot be any intrinsic difference of worth between a puppy and a pig. ...Yes, of course: You don't want to think about this. Who does? But do your duty: read his book..." and George Will concludes: "man is not only a rational creature but a rationalizing creature, putting his intellectual nimbleness in the service of his desires. But refraining from cruelty is an objective obligation. And as Scully says, 'If reason and morality are what set humans apart from animals, then reason and morality must always guide us in how we treat them.' "

Benjamin Franklin anticipated Will's point regarding "rationalizing" when Franklin notes what he himself did to animals; he describes his conversion to vegetarianism in Chapter 1 of his Autobiography, but then he describes why he (usually) ceased vegetarianism in his later life: " my first voyage from Boston...our people set about catching cod, and hauled up a great many. Hitherto I had stuck to my resolution of not eating animal food... But I had formerly been a great lover of fish, and, when this came hot out of the frying-pan, it smelt admirably well. I balanc'd some time between principle and inclination, till I recollected that, when the fish were opened, I saw smaller fish taken out of their stomachs; then thought I, 'If you eat one another, I don't see why we mayn't eat you.' So I din'd upon cod very heartily, and continued to eat with other people, returning only now and then occasionally to a vegetable diet. So convenient a thing it is to be a reasonable creature, since it enables one to find or make a reason for everything one has a mind to do."

Treatment of animals

Modern slaughterhouse technique

Ethical Vegetarianism has become popular in developed countries particularly because of the spread of factory farming, which has reduced the sense of husbandry that used to exist in farming. Some believe that the current mass demand for meat cannot be satisfied without a mass-production system that disregards the welfare of animals, while others believe that practices like well-managed free-ranging and consumption of game, particularly from species whose natural predators have been significantly eliminated, could substantially alleviate the demand for mass-produced meat.

Defenders of factory farming argue that the animals are better off in total confinement. According to F J "Sonny" Faison, president of Carroll’s Foods: "They're in state-of-the-art confinement facilities. The conditions that we keep these animals in are much more humane than when they were out in the field. Today they're in housing that is environmentally controlled in many respects. And the feed is right there for them all the time, and water, fresh water. They're looked after in some of the best conditions, because the healthier and [more] content that animal, the better it grows. So we're very interested in their well-being up to an extent."

Animal consciousness

Eugene Linden, author of The Parrot's Lament suggests there are many examples of animal behavior and intelligence that surpass what people would suppose to be the boundary of animal consciousness. Linden contends that in many of these documented examples, a variety of animal species exhibits behavior that can only be attributed to emotion, and to a level of consciousness that we would normally ascribe only to our own species.

Philosopher Daniel Dennett counters that: "Consciousness requires a certain kind of informational organization that does not seem to be 'hard-wired' in humans, but is instilled by human culture. Moreover, consciousness is not a black-or-white, all-or-nothing type of phenomenon, as is often assumed. The differences between humans and other species are so great that speculations about animal consciousness seem ungrounded. Many authors simply assume that an animal like a bat has a point of view, but there seems to be little interest in exploring the details involved."


A related argument revolves around non-human organisms' ability to feel pain. If animals can be shown to suffer in a way similar or identical to humans, many of the arguments against human suffering could then, presumably, be extended to animals.

There is a debate as to where the line should be drawn. Justin Lieber, a philosophy professor at Oxford Universitymarker writes that:

"Montaigne is ecumenical in this respect, claiming consciousness for spiders and ants, and even writing of our duties to trees and plants. Singer and Clarke agree in denying consciousness to sponges. Singer locates the distinction somewhere between the shrimp and the oyster. He, with rather considerable convenience for one who is thundering hard accusations at others, slides by the case of insects and spiders and bacteria, they pace Montaigne, apparently and rather conveniently do not feel pain. The intrepid Midgleymarker, on the other hand, seems willing to speculate about the subjective experience of tapeworms ...Nagel ... appears to draw the line at flounders and wasps, though more recently he speaks of the inner life of cockroaches".

As noted by John Webster, a professor of animal husbandry at Bristol: "People have assumed that intelligence is linked to the ability to suffer and that because animals have smaller brains they suffer less than humans. That is a pathetic piece of logic, sentient animals have the capacity to experience pleasure and are motivated to seek it, you only have to watch how cows and lambs both seek and enjoy pleasure when they lie with their heads raised to the sun on a perfect English summer's day. Just like humans."

Others have argued that pain can be demonstrated by averse reactions to negative stimuli that are non-purposeful or even maladaptive. One such reaction is Transmarginal inhibition, a phenomenon observed in humans and some animals akin to mental breakdown.

Environmental issues

Main articles: Environmental vegetarianism and Anthropocentrism

Some people choose to follow a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle for environmental reasons.

The use of large industrial monoculture that is common in industrialized agriculture, typically for feed crops such as corn and soy is more damaging to ecosystems than more sustainable farming practices such as organic farming, permaculture, arable, pastoral, and rain-fed agriculture. Other concerns include the wasting of natural resources, such as food, water, etc.

Animals fed on grain and those which rely on grazing need more water than grain crops . According to the USDAmarker, growing crops for farm animals requires nearly half of the U.S.marker water supply and 80% of its agricultural land. Animals raised for food in the U.S. consume 90% of the soy crop, 80% of the corn crop, and 70% of its grain. . In tracking food animal production from the feed through to the dinner table, the inefficiencies of meat, milk and egg production range from a 4:1 energy input to protein output ratio up to 54:1. The result is that producing animal-based food is typically much less efficient than the harvesting of grains, vegetables, legumes, seeds and fruits, though this might not be true to the same extent for animal husbandry in the developing world where factory farming is almost non existent, making animal-based food much more sustainable.

Anthropocentrism, or human-centredness, is believed by some to be the central problematic concept in environmental philosophy, where it is used to draw attention to a systematic bias in traditional Western attitudes to the non-human world . Val Plumwood (1993, 1996) has argued that anthropocentrism plays an analogous role in green theory to androcentrism in feminist theory and ethnocentrism in anti-racist theory. Plumwood calls human-centredness "anthrocentrism" to emphasize this parallel.

Defenders of anthropocentrist views point out that maintenance of a healthy, sustainable environment is necessary for human well-being rather than for its own sake.

Argument that plant consumption also kills animals

Professor of animal science, Steven Davis suggest that vegetarianism and veganism wouldn't actually reduce the number of animals killed if we used more cropland for a ruminant-pasture model of livestock production. Whenever a tractor traverses a field to plow, disc, cultivate, apply fertilizer and/or pesticide, or harvest, animals are killed. Based on a study finding that wood mouse populations dropped from 25 per hectare to 5 per hectare after harvest (attributed to migration and mortality) Davis estimates that 10 animals per hectare are killed from farming every year. If all of cropland is used for a vegetarian/vegan diet then approximately 1.2 billion animals would die each year. If half of the cropland was converted to ruminant-pasture then Davis estimates only .9 billion animals would die each year, assuming people switched from the 8 billion poultry killed each year to beef, lamb, and dairy products.

Gaverick Matheny, a Ph.D. candidate in agricultural economics at the University of Maryland, counters that Davis' reasoning contains several major flaws, including narrowing the definition of "harm" to include only the killing of animals, and calculating the number of animal deaths based on land area rather than per consumer. Because an equal amount of protein can be produced from 1 hectare of cropland, 2.6 hectares of ruminant dairy, or 10 hectares of ruminant beef, less cropland would be needed for a vegetarian diet. According to Metheny's estimates, 0.3 animals would be killed per person for a vegan diet, 0.39 for a vegetarian diet, and 1.5 in the Davis model. Matheny says that "After correcting for these errors, Davis’s argument makes a strong case for, rather than against, adopting a vegetarian diet."

Davis's argument has also been criticized by Andy Lamey, a Ph.D. student at the University of Western Australia, who re-examined the studies Davis used to calculate animal deaths in crop production. In these studies, many of the animal deaths which Davis attributes to harvesting technology were actually caused by predation. Lamey says this calls into question Davis' overall estimate and therefore the success of his argument.

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