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In response to: 
“Eating animals is natural—it’s part of the circle of life and we are apex predators on top of the food chain.”

Article

In objecting to veganism and animal rights, some invoke a series of statements centering around the idea that eating animals and their secretions is natural. These statements often include a reference to the circle of life, apex predation, and the idea that humans are on top of the food chain  all in an attempt to prove that the eating of animal flesh, chickens’ eggs, and cow’s milk by humans is as natural as the laws of physics.

Here we show that these declarations are not germane to the case for veganism. But even if they were, they are still defeated by taking a closer look at the assertions, which we do.

Assertions as to what is natural are not pertinent to the validity of veganism.

Simply put, the case for veganism is that it’s wrong to cause unnecessary harm to animals. Eating products made from animals harms animals, and because we don’t need animal products to be healthy, the harm is unnecessary. The issues of harm and necessity are covered in our article “An Introduction to Veganism.”

So even if the practice of eating animals were natural, even if it were somehow part of some nebulous circle of life, and even if we were apex predators on top of the food chain  all that would still not justify causing unnecessary harm to others.

Naturalness says nothing about rightness.

The occurrence of a behavior in the natural world says nothing about the morality of the behavior. Rape, defined as forced sexual intercourse, is not unusual in other species. Amphibians, reptiles, birds, fish, and mammals engage in the practice.1Palmer, Craig T. “Rape in Nonhuman Animal Species: Definitions, Evidence, and Implications.” Journal of Sex Research26, no. 3 (August 1989): 355–74. https://doi.org/10.1080/00224498909551520 Infanticide is committed by dolphins, lions, and baboons.2Thompson, Helen. “Why Some Mammals Kill Babies of Their Own Kind.” Smithsonian, November 13, 2014. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/why-some-mammals-kill-babies-own-kind-180953318/ We would not say these behaviors are moral, but we could not deny that they are natural in the sense that they occur in nature.

Our natural abilities suggest we are not natural predators, much less apex predators.

We may be apex predators in the sense that we are not eaten by other species, but this is a consequence of our not living in a more natural environment, such as the wilderness, as well as our ability to use our mental faculties to avoid being eaten. It is not because of physical strength or agility, as is the case with other apex predators, such as the African wild dog, the lion, or the tiger.

Natural predators have physical characteristics that allow them to seize and kill their prey, rip and tear their prey’s flesh, and then eat the raw flesh. Humans are not so good at this. Although we have developed tools that overcome our physical limitations, we don’t have what it takes to do this unaided. Also, we insist on cooking the flesh we eat, which no other species of flesh eater does.

Our physiology and anatomy suggest that flesh is not a natural food for humans.

A comparative review of the physiology and anatomy of animals reveals that humans match closely with herbivores, not omnivores or carnivores. We cover this topic in more depth in our post in response to the assertion that “humans are natural omnivores  we digest meat, have canine teeth, and have front-facing eyes.”

As that post demonstrates, the length of our intestines, the structure of our teeth, nails, jaw, mouth opening, and facial muscles, our digestive enzymes, our stomach acidity, our ability to detoxify vitamin A, and our urine concentration all point toward humans being herbivorous.3Mills, Milton R. “The Comparative Anatomy of Eating.” VegSource Interactive Inc 26 (1996). https://www.scribd.com/doc/94656/The-Comparative-Anatomy-of-Eating

There is nothing natural about how we get our meat, dairy, and eggs.

Selective breeding has resulted in farmed animals that produce far more flesh, far more eggs, and far more milk than their forebears would produce in a natural environment.

Dairy cows produce more than three times the amount of milk they did several decades ago, which burdens them and results in their development of unnaturally large udders.4Blayney, Don P. The Changing Landscape of US Milk Production. US Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service, 2002. https://www.ers.usda.gov/webdocs/publications/47162/17864_sb978_1_.pdf?v=41056

An egg-laying hen produces more than 300 eggs per year, but the jungle fowl from which they were bred lay four to six eggs in a year.5Cheng, H.-W. “Breeding of Tomorrow’s Chickens to Improve Well-Being.” Poultry Science 89, no. 4 (April 1, 2010): 805–13. https://doi.org/10.3382/ps.2009-00361  Also, laying hens are bred to lay large eggs, which they are not evolved for; this stresses their reproductive system and causes such problems as osteoporosis, bone breakage, and uterus prolapse.6Jamieson, Alastair. “Large Eggs Cause Pain and Stress to Hens, Shoppers Are Told,” March 11, 2009, sec. Finance. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/newsbysector/retailandconsumer/4971966/Large-eggs-cause-pain-and-stress-to-hens-shoppers-are-told.html

The modern broiler chicken is unnaturally large and has been bred to grow at an unnaturally fast rate and have large breasts. This selective breeding causes numerous afflictions: leg disorders; skeletal, developmental, and degenerative diseases; heart and lung problems; breathing difficulty; and premature death.7Stevenson, Peter. “Leg and Heart Problems in Broiler Chickens.” Compassion in World Farming, January 2003. https://www.ciwf.org.uk/media/3818898/leg-and-heart-problems-in-broilers-for-judicial-review.pdf

Farmed animals are far from natural  they could not survive in a natural environment. In our contrived animal agriculture system, the concepts of “natural,” “circle of life,” “apex predation,” and “food chain” simply don’t apply.

We shouldn’t base our morality on animal behavior.

We humans have moral agency, meaning we can judge the consequences of our actions. This implies a degree of responsibility, or duty, to do what is right. Nonhuman animals seem to lack the ability to fully contemplate the moral consequences of their actions.8Regan, Tom. The Case for Animal Rights. University of California Press, 2004. 152-154

But even if they could, that does not mean we should model our morality on the behaviors of other species. Instead, we should use our moral agency to make ethical decisions, not invoke nebulous and impertinent concepts of what is natural to justify behaviors that unnecessarily harm others.

Outline

 Talking Points OutlineKnowledge Base
  • Context
    • In objecting to veganism and animal rights, some invoke a series of statements centering around the idea that eating animals and their secretions is natural. These statements often include a reference to the circle of life, apex predation, and the idea that humans are on top of the food chain  all in an attempt to prove that the eating of animal flesh, chickens’ eggs, and cow’s milk by humans is as natural as the laws of physics.
    • Here we show that these declarations are not germane to the case for veganism. But even if they were, they are still defeated by taking a closer look at the assertions, which we do.
  • Assertions as to what is natural are not pertinent to the validity of veganism.
    • Simply put, the case for veganism is that it’s wrong to cause unnecessary harm to animals. Eating products made from animals harms animals, and because we don’t need animal products to be healthy, the harm is unnecessary. The issues of harm and necessity are covered in our article “An Introduction to Veganism.”
    • So even if the practice of eating animals were natural, even if it were somehow part of some nebulous circle of life, and even if we were apex predators on top of the food chain  all that would still not justify causing unnecessary harm to others.
  • Naturalness says nothing about rightness.
    • The occurrence of a behavior in the natural world says nothing about the morality of the behavior.
      • Rape, defined as forced sexual intercourse, is not unusual in other species. Amphibians, reptiles, birds, fish, and mammals engage in the practice.9Palmer, Craig T. “Rape in Nonhuman Animal Species: Definitions, Evidence, and Implications.” Journal of Sex Research26, no. 3 (August 1989): 355–74. https://doi.org/10.1080/00224498909551520
      • Infanticide is committed by dolphins, lions, and baboons.10Thompson, Helen. “Why Some Mammals Kill Babies of Their Own Kind.” Smithsonian, November 13, 2014. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/why-some-mammals-kill-babies-own-kind-180953318/
      • We would not say these behaviors are moral, but we could not deny that they are natural in the sense that they occur in nature.
  • Our natural abilities suggest we are not natural predators, much less apex predators.
    • We may be apex predators in the sense that we are not eaten by other species, but this is a consequence of our not living in a more natural environment, such as the wilderness, as well as our ability to use our mental faculties to avoid being eaten. It is not because of physical strength or agility, as is the case with other apex predators, such as the African wild dog, the lion, or the tiger.
    • Natural predators have physical characteristics that allow them to seize and kill their prey, rip and tear their prey’s flesh, and then eat the raw flesh.
    • Humans are not so good at this. Although we have developed tools that overcome our physical limitations, we don’t have what it takes to do this unaided. Also, we insist on cooking the flesh we eat, which no other species of flesh eater does.
  • Our physiology and anatomy suggest that flesh is not a natural food for humans.
    • A comparative review of the physiology and anatomy of animals reveals that humans match closely with herbivores, not omnivores or carnivores. We cover this topic in more depth in our post in response to the assertion that “humans are natural omnivores  we digest meat, have canine teeth, and have front-facing eyes.”
    • As that post demonstrates, the length of our intestines, the structure of our teeth, nails, jaw, mouth opening, and facial muscles, our digestive enzymes, our stomach acidity, our ability to detoxify vitamin A, and our urine concentration all point toward humans being herbivorous.11Mills, Milton R. “The Comparative Anatomy of Eating.” VegSource Interactive Inc 26 (1996). https://www.scribd.com/doc/94656/The-Comparative-Anatomy-of-Eating
  • There is nothing natural about how we get our meat, dairy, and eggs.
    • Selective breeding has resulted in farmed animals that produce far more flesh, far more eggs, and far more milk than their forebears would produce in a natural environment.
      • Dairy cows produce more than three times the amount of milk they did several decades ago, which burdens them and results in their development of unnaturally large udders.12Blayney, Don P. The Changing Landscape of US Milk Production. US Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service, 2002. https://www.ers.usda.gov/webdocs/publications/47162/17864_sb978_1_.pdf?v=41056
      • An egg-laying hen produces more than 300 eggs per year, but the jungle fowl from which they were bred lay four to six eggs in a year.13Cheng, H.-W. “Breeding of Tomorrow’s Chickens to Improve Well-Being.” Poultry Science 89, no. 4 (April 1, 2010): 805–13. https://doi.org/10.3382/ps.2009-00361
      • Also, laying hens are bred to lay large eggs, which they are not evolved for; this stresses their reproductive system and causes such problems as osteoporosis, bone breakage, and uterus prolapse.14Jamieson, Alastair. “Large Eggs Cause Pain and Stress to Hens, Shoppers Are Told,” March 11, 2009, sec. Finance. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/newsbysector/retailandconsumer/4971966/Large-eggs-cause-pain-and-stress-to-hens-shoppers-are-told.html
      • The modern broiler chicken is unnaturally large and has been bred to grow at an unnaturally fast rate and have large breasts. This selective breeding causes numerous afflictions: leg disorders; skeletal, developmental, and degenerative diseases; heart and lung problems; breathing difficulty; and premature death.15Stevenson, Peter. “Leg and Heart Problems in Broiler Chickens.” Compassion in World Farming, January 2003. https://www.ciwf.org.uk/media/3818898/leg-and-heart-problems-in-broilers-for-judicial-review.pdf
    • Farmed animals are far from natural  they could not survive in a natural environment. In our contrived animal agriculture system, the concepts of “natural,” “circle of life,” “apex predation,” and “food chain” simply don’t apply.
  • We shouldn’t base our morality on animal behavior.
    • We humans have moral agency, meaning we can judge the consequences of our actions. This implies a degree of responsibility, or duty, to do what is right.
    • Nonhuman animals seem to lack the ability to fully contemplate the moral consequences of their actions.16Regan, Tom. The Case for Animal Rights. University of California Press, 2004. 152-154
    • But even if they could, that does not mean we should model our morality on the behaviors of other species. Instead, we should use our moral agency to make ethical decisions, not invoke nebulous and impertinent concepts of what is natural to justify behaviors that unnecessarily harm others.
  •  Meta
    • Contributors
      • Greg Fuller   Author
      • Isaac Nickerson   Copy Editor
    • Revisions
      • 2018-09-08 Initial post completed   glf
      • 2018-09-25 Copy editor’s first pass on article only   isn

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Footnotes   [ + ]

1.Palmer, Craig T. “Rape in Nonhuman Animal Species: Definitions, Evidence, and Implications.” Journal of Sex Research26, no. 3 (August 1989): 355–74. https://doi.org/10.1080/00224498909551520
2.Thompson, Helen. “Why Some Mammals Kill Babies of Their Own Kind.” Smithsonian, November 13, 2014. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/why-some-mammals-kill-babies-own-kind-180953318/
3.Mills, Milton R. “The Comparative Anatomy of Eating.” VegSource Interactive Inc 26 (1996). https://www.scribd.com/doc/94656/The-Comparative-Anatomy-of-Eating
4.Blayney, Don P. The Changing Landscape of US Milk Production. US Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service, 2002. https://www.ers.usda.gov/webdocs/publications/47162/17864_sb978_1_.pdf?v=41056
5.Cheng, H.-W. “Breeding of Tomorrow’s Chickens to Improve Well-Being.” Poultry Science 89, no. 4 (April 1, 2010): 805–13. https://doi.org/10.3382/ps.2009-00361
6.Jamieson, Alastair. “Large Eggs Cause Pain and Stress to Hens, Shoppers Are Told,” March 11, 2009, sec. Finance. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/newsbysector/retailandconsumer/4971966/Large-eggs-cause-pain-and-stress-to-hens-shoppers-are-told.html
7.Stevenson, Peter. “Leg and Heart Problems in Broiler Chickens.” Compassion in World Farming, January 2003. https://www.ciwf.org.uk/media/3818898/leg-and-heart-problems-in-broilers-for-judicial-review.pdf
8.Regan, Tom. The Case for Animal Rights. University of California Press, 2004. 152-154
9.Palmer, Craig T. “Rape in Nonhuman Animal Species: Definitions, Evidence, and Implications.” Journal of Sex Research26, no. 3 (August 1989): 355–74. https://doi.org/10.1080/00224498909551520
10.Thompson, Helen. “Why Some Mammals Kill Babies of Their Own Kind.” Smithsonian, November 13, 2014. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/why-some-mammals-kill-babies-own-kind-180953318/
11.Mills, Milton R. “The Comparative Anatomy of Eating.” VegSource Interactive Inc 26 (1996). https://www.scribd.com/doc/94656/The-Comparative-Anatomy-of-Eating
12.Blayney, Don P. The Changing Landscape of US Milk Production. US Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service, 2002. https://www.ers.usda.gov/webdocs/publications/47162/17864_sb978_1_.pdf?v=41056
13.Cheng, H.-W. “Breeding of Tomorrow’s Chickens to Improve Well-Being.” Poultry Science 89, no. 4 (April 1, 2010): 805–13. https://doi.org/10.3382/ps.2009-00361
14.Jamieson, Alastair. “Large Eggs Cause Pain and Stress to Hens, Shoppers Are Told,” March 11, 2009, sec. Finance. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/newsbysector/retailandconsumer/4971966/Large-eggs-cause-pain-and-stress-to-hens-shoppers-are-told.html
15.Stevenson, Peter. “Leg and Heart Problems in Broiler Chickens.” Compassion in World Farming, January 2003. https://www.ciwf.org.uk/media/3818898/leg-and-heart-problems-in-broilers-for-judicial-review.pdf
16.Regan, Tom. The Case for Animal Rights. University of California Press, 2004. 152-154