The Case for Veganism

Veganism is the practice of abstaining from the use of animal products as far as is possible. A vegan diet uses only plants and hence no animal foods, i.e. no meat, no fish, no dairy foods, no eggs and no honey. Vegans also avoid the use of animal products such as leather, feathers, fur and wool.

Some people become vegans because they do not want to exploit animals. Some people become vegan for health reasons because some research has linked vegan diets with lower blood pressure and cholesterol and lower rates of heart disease, type 2 diabetes some types of cancer and some research has given evidence that a balanced vegan diet is useful in combatting diabetes and arthritisi. Some go vegan for environmental reasons - giving up animal products lowers carbon emissions; also to produce food for an omnivore uses about five times the amount of water food produced for a vegan uses.

The vegan diet contains four food groups: (i) grains (ii) vegetables (iii) fruit and (iv) legumes, nuts and seeds. In addition vegans should take a source of vitamin B12 (e.g. a tablet). For a balanced diet one should eat from all four groups.

Well-planned vegan diets follow healthy eating guidelines, and contain all the nutrients that our bodies need. The Dietetics Association of Australia, the British Dietetic Association and the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics say that vegan diets are suitable for every age and stage of life. “Vegan diets are healthful, nutritionally adequate and may provide health benefits for the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. These diets are appropriate for all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, adolescence, older adulthood and for athletes.” - The American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, December 2016. “The most ethical diet just so happens to be the most environmentally sound diet and just so happens to be the healthiest.” - Dr. Michael Greger, MD4.

Advocates of animal liberation advocate a vegan diet. They say that every year we humans raise over 74 billion land animals just to be senselessly killed for our use and consumption. On the seas we catch and kill between one to three trillion water animals. We end up feeding over 30% back to the land animals we eat. They are all sentient beings. Like us they feel pain, experience emotions and build strong bonds with other members of their kin, and sometimes even with other species. There is no justification for the horrors we force upon them, whether the industry is conventional or free-range. There is a better way - animals don’t need to die for us to thrive.

Vegans believe killing is not justified. Ultimately, humans take away life. Other animals do not ‘give up their life’ as some people believe – they have not given consent to be slaughtered. In over 95% of cases they are killed prematurely:

• Cows, for example, could live to well over 20 years of age, while on 'dairy' farms they are usually shot between 3-4 years of age when milk production is no longer considered 'profitable'. Cows bred for 'beef' meat are killed sooner.
• Broiler chicks are just 6 weeks old and grown too rapidly to sustain their own weight and heart when they are killed. Chickens could live to 10 years old.
• Pigs are sociable, affectionate, strongwilled individuals who form close bonds with family and friends, just like we do. Pigs are slaughtered when they have reached a certain weight, which will be later in organic systems than in intensive farms, but they are typically killed between 4-6 months of age, while they could reach 15 years.
• Sheep can also live to 15 years but depending on whether they are slaughtered as lambs or later, they are shot and bled between 3-10 months of age.
• Every week in the UK 3,000 male calves are killed shortly after birth, usually within days. Males do not secrete bodily fluids destined for offspring (cow's milk). Calves are either shot or exported alive to mainland European countries where they are kept in small pens to produce veal flesh - deprived of their mothers and their natural food (milk).
• Half of the chicks hatched are male, who are useless to the egg industry because they don’t lay eggs. They are disposed of either by being gassed, or dropped into industrial shredders and ground up while fully conscious.

Like humans, cows only produce milk for their offspring. However, for the dairy cows their babies are killed so we can drink their milk. Dairy cows are routinely artificially impregnated and kept in a relentless cycle of pregnancy, birthing and milk production. Many suffer chronic mastitis, lameness, severe liver damage and painful digestive disorders. Cows and their calves are separated at birth. Mothers will break down fences and walk miles to reunite with their babies. Both cry out for days to be reunited.

Fish can recognize other individuals, keep track of complex social relationships, and work cooperatively with other species. As with other sentient animals, fish also feel pain, fear and stress. But because they don’t scream, their suffering often goes unnoticed. A study published in the journal Science predicted that if fishing rates continue unchanged, we could see fishless oceans by the year 2048

Every year, hundreds of millions of animals in Australia are confined in factory farms. Factory farming produces the highest quantity of meat, eggs and dairy at the lowest possible cost. However, a growing number of experts and consumers believe that costs to the health and welfare of animals are simply too high. Kept in a state of permanent confinement, animals are often crowded together in cages or sheds. Producers use a variety of artificial methods to increase production, such as the constant administration of antibiotics, artificial lighting and selective breeding. According to scientific research, farmed animals are sentient, emotionally complex, intelligent and have rich experiences of the world. On factory farms, animals experience numerous impacts on their welfare, including: permanent confinement in cages or in sheds in such large numbers that they struggle to find space to move or reach their food, mutilation of sensitive areas without pain relief – the tails, teeth and genitalia of piglets and the beaks of chicks are clipped, as well as the horns, tails, and testicles of calves – because it is practical, cheap and, alarmingly, lawful to do so. The law defines the acceptable treatment of animals according to their use rather than their capacity to suffer. Many practices which would qualify as 'cruelty' under the law if performed on a dog or cat are instead 'legal' if done to a pig or chicken raised for food. While each state and territory has animal cruelty legislation in place, significant exemptions exist for the treatment of farmed animals. For example, in NSW it is an offence to fail to provide an animal with adequate exercise except if that animal is a cow, sheep, goat, pig or chicken. In 2014, the ACT became the first Australian state or territory to legislate against certain factory farming practices, by prohibiting the use of cages for commercial egg production, the debeaking of chickens and the use of sow stalls and farrowing crates for pigs. Tasmania has also made moves to ban construction of new battery cage facilities.

In his book Animal Liberation, philosopher Peter Singer argues in favour of veganism and against animal experimentation. Following Jeremy Bentham, Singer argued that the interests of animals should be considered because of their ability to experience suffering. He popularized the term "speciesism" in the book, which had been coined by Richard D. Ryder to describe the exploitative treatment of animals.

I have summarised some of the arguments used in favour of veganism, which I believe that we should adopt if we want to be compassionate towards animals.

1. Animal Liberation, by Peter Singer.
2. Diet: Only Hope For Arthritis, by John McDougall, MD
3. Dr Neal Barnard’s Program for Reversing Diabetes, by Neal Barnard, MD.
4. How Not to Die, by Michael Greger, MD.
5. Vegan Diet Uses 5 Times Less Water Than A Meat-Based Diet, Study Finds, by Lauren Wills.
6. The Healthiest Diet On The Planet, by John McDougall, MD.
7. Vegan Easy
8. Veganism - Wikipedia article.
9. Why Go Vegan? by The Vegan Society.

Presentation to the Critical Thinkers group, Melbourne, December 1st, 2019