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Practical Issues

 26. Surely there are more pressing practical problems than AR, such as homelessness; haven't you got better things to do?

 27. If everyone became vegetarian and gave up keeping pets, what would happen to all the animals?

 28. Grazing animals on land not suited for agriculture increases the food supply; how can that be considered wrong?

 29. If we try to eliminate all animals products, we'll be moving back to the Stone Age; who wants that?

 30. It's virtually impossible to eliminate all animal products from one's consumption; what's the point if you still cause animal death without knowing it?

 31. Wouldn't many customs and traditions, as well as jobs, be lost if we stopped using animals?

 32. The animal product industries are big business; wouldn't the economy be crippled if they all stopped?

          Additional topics:  Wildlife Intervention


#26 Surely there are more pressing practical problems than AR, such as homelessness; haven't you got better things to do?

There are very serious problems in our world that deserve our attention; cruelty to animals is one of them. We should try to alleviate suffering wherever we can. Helping animals is not more or less important than helping human beings -- both are important. Animal suffering and human suffering are interconnected.

Inherent in this question is an assumption that it is more important to help humans than to help nonhumans. Some would dismiss this as a speciesist position (see question #1). It is possible, however, to invoke the scale-of-life notion and argue that there is greater suffering and loss associated with cruelty and neglect of humans than with animals.

This might appear to constitute a prima-facie case for expending one's energies for humans rather than nonhumans. However, even if we accept the scale-of-life notion, there are sound reasons for expending time and energy on the issue of rights for nonhuman animals.

Many of the consequences of carrying out the AR agenda are highly beneficial to humans. For example, stopping the production and consumption of animal products would result in a significant improvement of the general health of the human population, and destruction of the environment would be greatly reduced.

Fostering compassion for animals is likely to pay dividends in terms of a general increase of compassion in human affairs. Tom Regan puts it this way:

...the animal rights movement is a part of, not antagonistic to, the human rights movement. The theory that rationally grounds the rights of animals also grounds the rights of humans. Thus those involved in the animal rights movement are partners in the struggle to secure respect for human rights--the rights of women, for example, or minorities, or workers. The animal rights movement is cut from the same moral cloth as these.

Finally, the behavior asked for by the AR agenda involves little expenditure of energy. We are asking people to NOT do things: don't eat meat, don't exploit animals for entertainment, don't wear furs.

These negative actions don't interfere with our ability to care for humans. In some cases, they may actually make more time available for doing so (e.g., time spent hunting or visiting zoos and circuses). --DG

Living cruelty-free is not a full-time job; rather, it's a way of life. When I shop, I check ingredients and I consider if the product is tested on animals. These things only consume a few minutes of the day. There is ample time left for helping both humans and nonhumans. --JLS

"I am in favor of animal rights as well as human rights. That is the way of a whole human being." --Abraham Lincoln (16th U.S. President)

"To my mind, the life of a lamb is no less precious than that of a human being." --Mahatma Gandhi (statesman and philosopher)

"Our task must be to free ourselves...by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature and its beauty." --Albert Einstein (physicist, Nobel 1921)

SEE ALSO: #1, #87, #95

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#27 If everyone became vegetarian and gave up keeping pets, what would happen to all the animals?

It's unrealistic to expect that everyone will stop eating animals overnight. As the demand for meat decreases, the number of animals bred will decrease. Farmers will stop breeding so many animals and will turn to other types of agriculture. When there are fewer of these animals, they will be able to live more natural lives.

As vegetarianism grows, the number of animals bred for food gradually will decline, since the market will no longer exist for them. Similarly, a gradual decrease would accompany the lessening demand for the breeding of companion animals. In both cases, those animals that remain will be better cared for by a more compassionate society. --LK

SEE ALSO: #75

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#28 Grazing animals on land not suited for agriculture increases the food supply; how can that be considered wrong?

There are areas in the world where grazing of livestock is possible but agriculture is not. If conditions are such that people living in these areas cannot trade for crops and must raise livestock to survive, few would question the practice. However, such areas are very small in comparison to the fertile and semi-arid regions currently utilized for intensive grazing, and they do not appreciably contribute to the world food supply. (Some would argue that it is morally preferable not to live in such areas.)

The real issue is the intensive grazing in the fertile and semi-arid regions. The use of such areas for livestock raising reduces the world food supply. Keith Acker writes as follows in his "A Vegetarian Sourcebook":

Land, energy, and water resources for livestock agriculture range anywhere from 10 to 1000 times greater than those necessary to produce an equivalent amount of plant foods. And livestock agriculture does not merely use these resources, it depletes them. This is a matter of historical record. Most of the world's soil, erosion, groundwater depletion, and deforestation--factors now threatening the very basis of our food system--are the result of this particularly destructive form of food production.

Livestock agriculture is also the single greatest cause of world-wide deforestation both historically and currently (between 1967 and 1975, two-thirds of 70 million acres of lost forest went to grazing). Between 1950 and 1975 the area of human-created pasture land in Central America more than doubled, almost all of it at the expense of rain forests. Although this trend has slowed down, it still continues at an alarming and inexorable pace.

Grazing requires large tracts of land and the consequences of overgrazing and soil erosion are very serious ecological problems. By conservative estimates, 60 percent of all U.S. grasslands are overgrazed, resulting in billions of tons of soil lost each year. The amount of U.S. topsoil lost to date is about 75 percent, and 85 percent of that is directly associated with livestock grazing. Overgrazing has been the single largest cause of human-made deserts.

One could argue that grazing is being replaced by the "feedlot paradigm". These systems graze the livestock prior to transport to a feedlot for final "fattening" with grains grown on crop lands. Although this does reduce grazing somewhat, it is not eliminated, and the feedlot part of the paradigm still constitutes a highly inefficient use of crops (to feed a human with livestock requires 16 times the grain that would be necessary if the grain was consumed directly). It has been estimated that in the U.S., 80 percent of the corn and 95 percent of the oats grown are fed to livestock. --TA

"I grew up in cattle country--that's why I became a vegetarian. Meat stinks, for the animals, the environment, and your health." --k.d. lang (musician)

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#29 If we try to eliminate all animals products, we'll be moving back to the Stone Age; who wants that?

On the contrary! It is a dependency upon animal products that could be seen as returning us to the technologies and mind set of the Stone Age. For example, Stone Age people had to wear furs in Northern climates to avoid freezing. That is no longer the case, thanks to central heating and the ready availability of plenty of good plant and human-made fabrics. If we are to characterize the modern age, it could be in terms of the greater freedoms and options made possible by technological advance and social progress. The Stone Age people had few options and so were forced to rely upon animals for food, clothing, and materials for their implements. Today, we have an abundance of choices for better foods, warmer clothing, and more efficient materials, none of which need depend upon the killing of animals. --TA

It seems to me that the only Stone Age we are in any danger of entering is that constituted by the continuous destruction of animals' habitats in favor of the Portland-cement concrete jungle! --DG

SEE ALSO: #60, #62, #95

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#30 It's virtually impossible to eliminate all animal products from one's consumption; what's the point if you still cause animal death without knowing it?

Yes, it is very difficult to eliminate all animal products from one's consumption, just as it is impossible to eliminate all accidental killing and infliction of harm that results from our activities. But this cannot justify making it "open season" for any kind of abuse of animals. The reasonable goal, given the realities, is to minimize the harms one causes. The point, then, is that a great deal of suffering is prevented. --DG

SEE ALSO: #57-#58

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#31 Wouldn't many customs and traditions, as well as jobs, be lost if we stopped using animals?

Consider first the issue of customs and traditions. The plain truth is that some customs and traditions deserve to die out. Examples abound throughout history: slavery, Roman gladiatorial contests, torture, public executions, witch burning, racism. To these the AR supporter adds animal exploitation and enslavement.

The human animal is an almost infinitely adaptable organism. The loss of the customs listed above has not resulted in any lasting harm to humankind. The same can be confidently predicted for the elimination of animal exploitation. In fact, humankind would likely benefit from a quantum leap of compassion in human affairs.

As far as jobs are concerned, the economic aspects are discussed in question #32. It remains to point out that for a human, what is at stake is a job, which can be replaced with one less morally dubious. What is at stake for an animal is the elimination of torture and exploitation, and the possibility for a life of happiness, free from human oppression and brutality. --DG

"People often say that humans have always eaten animals, as if this is a justification for continuing the practice. According to this logic, we should not try to prevent people from murdering other people, since this has also been done since the earliest of times." --Isaac Bashevis Singer (author, Nobel 1978)

SEE ALSO: #32

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#32 The animal product industries are big business; wouldn't the economy be crippled if they all stopped?

The invention of the automobile, the abolition of slavery, and the end of World War II also necessitated job retraining and restructuring. This is simply an ingredient in all social progress--not a reason to deter progress.

One cannot justify an action based on its profitability. Many crimes and practices that we view as repugnant have been or continue to be profitable: the slave trade, sale of child brides, drug dealing, scams of all sorts, prostitution, child pornography.

A good example of this, and one that points up another key consideration, is the tobacco industry. It is a multibillion-dollar industry, yet vigorous efforts are proceeding on many fronts to put it out of business. The main problem with it lies in its side-effects, i.e., the massive health consequences and deaths that it produces, which easily outweigh the immediate profitability. There are side effects to animal exploitation also. Among the most significant are the pollution and deforestation associated with large-scale animal farming. As we see in question #28, these current practices constitute a nonsustainable use of the planet's resources. It is more likely true that the economy will be crippled if the practices continue!

Finally, the profits associated with the animal industries stem from market demand and affluence. There is no reason to suppose that this demand cannot be gradually redirected into other industries. Instead of prime beef, we can have prime artichokes, or prime pasta, etc. Humanity's demand for gourmet food will not vanish with the meat. Similarly, the jobs associated with the animal industries can be gradually redirected into the industries that would spring up to replace the animal industries. (Vice President Gore made a similar point in reference to complaints concerning loss of jobs if logging was halted. He commented that the environmental movement would open up a huge area for jobs that had heretofore been unavailable.) --DG

It is my view that the vegetarian manner of living by its purely physical effect on the human temperament would most beneficially influence the lot of mankind." --Albert Einstein (physicist, Nobel 1921)

SEE ALSO: #28, #31

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