Animal Rights and Vegan Advocacy

Ethics Objections Section

Reasoned responses, organized as talking points, to common objections, concerns, and questions regarding animal rights and veganism.

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“Eating animals is natural—it’s part of the circle of life and we are apex predators on top of the food chain.”“eating animals is natural—it’s part of the circle of life and we are apex predators on top of the food chain.”“eating animals is natural—it’s part of the circle of life and we are apex predators on top of the food chain.”[toc label="talking points"]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 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.((palmer, craig t. “rape in nonhuman animal species: definitions, evidence, and implications.” journal of sex research26, no. 3 (august 1989): 355–74. )) infanticide is committed by dolphins, lions, and baboons.((thompson, helen. “why some mammals kill babies of their own kind.” smithsonian, november 13, 2014. )) 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.((mills, milton r. “the comparative anatomy of eating.” vegsource interactive inc 26 (1996). ))

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.((blayney, don p. the changing landscape of us milk production. us department of agriculture, economic research service, 2002. ))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.((cheng, h.-w. “breeding of tomorrow’s chickens to improve well-being.” poultry science 89, no. 4 (april 1, 2010): 805–13. )) 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.((jamieson, alastair. “large eggs cause pain and stress to hens, shoppers are told,” march 11, 2009, sec. finance. ))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.((stevenson, peter. “leg and heart problems in broiler chickens.” compassion in world farming, january 2003. ))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.((regan, 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.
“Don’t force your values on me—what I eat is a personal choice.”“don’t force your values on me—what i eat is a personal choice.”“don’t force your values on me—what i eat is a personal choice.”[toc label="talking points"]this objection to animal rights and veganism is made by those who are not aware of the implications of eating animals or by those who are aware but are unwilling to change. it is often accompanied by a statement such as, "i respect your right to be vegan; you should respect my right to not be vegan."this objection is usually an implicit admonition to back off.

personal choices are not necessarily ethical.

just because it is a choice you personally make does not make it an ethical choice. for example, you may choose to be rude to someone because of their gender or color. the fact that you are not legally restricted from such an action does not imply the action is ethical.also, the personal-choice declaration can be and has been used to defend all manner of indefensible positions:
  • "it's my personal choice to own slaves."
  • "it's my personal choice to pay women less money than men for the same work."

it's not just a personal choice.

it is a personal choice in the sense that it's a choice you can personally make, but for any choice to be only a personal one, all those affected must give consent. for example, i may personally choose to cut in front of you in the grocery-store line, but unless i get your permission, it negatively affects you.if it involves harming others, then it is as much a social choice as it is a personal choice. as the saying goes, "your right to swing your fist ends where my nose begins."

this choice has a victim.

it is inescapable that eating meat and animal secretions (such as milk, cheese, and eggs) harms animals.when we buy or eat animal products, we are not just ignoring the victim—we are complicit in the violence the victim has endured. we are complicit because even though we are not inflicting harm directly, we are paying someone else to do so.

awareness changes your perspective.

when you become fully aware of the harms resulting from eating animals or their products, it is impossible to view it as merely a personal choice. when you take a little time to educate yourself on the atrocities inflicted on animals before they become the food on your plate, you will less likely choose to harm other sentient beings whose lives are as important to them as yours is to you.
“With all the problems in the world, we should spend our time helping humans first, then animals.”“with all the problems in the world, we should spend our time helping humans first, then animals.”“with all the problems in the world, we should spend our time helping humans first, then animals.”[toc label="talking points"]this objection is one that vegans and animal rights activists hear a lot. it is often expressed something like this: "there are so many problems in the world and so much human suffering, we should focus on these pressing human concerns rather than spend our time and energy on animals. maybe after we make real progress on human problems, we can then help the animals."

living vegan does not take more time.

insofar as this objection is addressed to vegans who are not also animal rights or vegan activists, it assumes that just living a vegan life takes an inordinate amount of time—time that could be spent helping humans.yet vegans go about their lives in the same way as everyone—going to work, preparing recipes, eating out, buying groceries, and embarrassing their children in front of their friends.once you learn a few new recipes (or adapt your favorite ones) and choose brands of underarm deodorant and toothpaste that are not tested on animals, it takes no more time to be vegan than to not be vegan.

vegan activism does benefit humans.

animal rights and vegan activists do spend time helping animals, but that time is also helping humans, as well as helping the earth that sustains both human and non-human animals. to the extent that vegan activism succeeds, humans benefit in some significant ways. there is perhaps no other cause that embodies so many benefits on so many offers peace of mind. by embracing veganism, you gain the peace of mind that comes from knowing you are living your life in accordance with your own values of justice, fairness, and benefits human health. the suffering and expense humans encounter due to health problems, including obesity, diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, and early mortality, can be mitigated and sometimes eliminated by a whole-foods, plant-based vegan diet.((tuso, philip j, mohamed h ismail, benjamin p ha, and carole bartolotto. “nutritional update for physicians: plant-based diets.” the permanente journal 17, no. 2 (2013): 61–66. doi:10.7812/tpp/12-085 ))it addresses human equity and impoverishment. because animals are so inefficient at converting the calories in plant feed to calories in meat, dairy, and eggs, many times fewer impoverished people can be fed by animal-based agriculture than by plant-based agriculture.((cassidy, emily s., paul c. west, james s. gerber, and jonathan a. foley. “redefining agricultural yields: from tonnes to people nourished per hectare.” environmental research letters 8, no. 3 (2013): 034015. doi:10.1088/1748-9326/8/3/034015 ))it prevents violence. educating others, especially children, to show civility toward animals can help in preventing violence to humans. studies show an undeniable link between cruelty to animals and violence toward humans.((siebert, charles. “the animal-cruelty syndrome.” the new york times, june 11, 2010, sec. magazine. ))it helps the environment. we should do all we can to minimize harming the environment that sustains us all. the significant contributions of animal agriculture to climate change, depletion of fish, destruction of wildlife, deforestation, water depletion, and other environmental issues would all be eliminated.((hyner, christopher, and j.d. candidate. “a leading cause of everything: one industry that is destroying our planet and our ability to thrive on it.” stanford environmental law journal (selj). accessed september 23, 2017. ))

all oppression has the same roots.

one of the problems plaguing the world is the oppression of others based on color, gender, ethnicity, or sexual identity. these problems are all rooted in the indefensible notion that others are less valuable because they differ in some way that is not pertinent. it’s the same with our exploitation of animals.all forms of oppression are interconnected. if we taught our children at an early age to value the lives of all sentient beings, it is unlikely they would grow up to hate and oppress other humans because of these irrelevant differences.

the objection is disingenuous.

the people who raise this objection would not raise the same objection to people who volunteer at the local humane society for the benefit of companion animals—or to people who volunteer to organize purely gratuitous events, such as a game-day tailgating party.

the objection presents a false choice.

there is no reason why one cannot work both for humanitarian causes and for animal rights causes. many vegan and animal rights activists, if not most, are engaged in other causes that directly help humans.they volunteer to feed the homeless, deliver meals to the elderly, work with drug addicts, and work with a variety of issues, such as civil rights, women's rights, and other causes of which humans, not animals, are the beneficiaries.when presented with the objection that we should spend our energies helping humans instead of animals, professor tom regan very simply and eloquently said, "we can do both; we should do both."((“tom regan; animal rights.” weeac. accessed september 23, 2017. ))
“There are no true vegans. Animal products are in car tires and everywhere.”“there are no true vegans. animal products are in car tires and everywhere.”“there are no true vegans. animal products are in car tires and everywhere.”[toc label="talking points"] some have objected to veganism on the grounds that there are no true or pure vegans by virtue of the widespread inclusion of animal-derived products in many everyday items. this complaint, at best, reveals a lack of understanding about the definition and essence of veganism. at worst, it is an attempt to apply standards to veganism that would not be applied to any other cause or movement.

vegans seek to minimize harm to animals, not be perfect.

vegans seek to eliminate harm to animals, according to the most widely accepted definition of veganism, "as far as is possible and practicable." there are some items containing incidental amounts of animal products for which there are no viable substitutes or for which substitutes are very difficult to obtain. automobile tires are one such example.this situation is beyond our control in the short term. it would be nonsensible to say that because we can't be perfect vegans, we shouldn't do anything. with the wide variety of fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds available to most—as well as an increasingly large selection of processed vegan foods—it is not at all logistically difficult for most to adopt a vegan diet. adopting a vegan diet would eliminate, by far, most of the unnecessary suffering and slaughter that we pay others to inflict on animals.

once we stop eating animals, other uses will be eliminated or greatly reduced.

the incidental use of animals in everyday products will take care of itself as veganism gains acceptance and people adopt a vegan diet. many of the products used, for which there are already alternatives, are byproducts of the slaughter process. as animal slaughter becomes less commonplace, nonanimal substitutes will be used and new substitutes will be developed.

no one objects to other worthy causes just because perfection is unobtainable.

it would be difficult to think of any movement or cause in which perfection is obtainable. no one would say that because we will never completely stop discrimination, we shouldn't try to do what we can. no one would say that because we will never stop child abuse completely that we shouldn't even try. no one would say, for any worthwhile cause, that if we can't do everything, we shouldn't do anything. it seems disingenuous to apply such a standard of purity or perfection to veganism while ignoring it for other causes.
“Veganism would devastate the economy and cause massive unemployment.”“veganism would devastate the economy and cause massive unemployment.”“veganism would devastate the economy and cause massive unemployment.”[toc label="talking points"]the claim that veganism would devastate the economy and cause massive unemployment seems to be one of the most concerning objections to veganism and animal rights. after all, animal agriculture is a major segment of the economies of all industrialized nations. this objection is, however, defeated by a closer examination of the topic.

economies will have ample time to adjust.

it's beyond improbable that everyone would go vegan at once. it will happen gradually, over a period of years or maybe even decades. as with past shifts in consumer preferences, economic resources and jobs will shift to accommodate the movement away from animal products.such shifts are not unusual. we are now witnessing a shift away from fossil fuels to more sustainable sources of energy, including a switch from gasoline-engine-powered cars to electric cars. the trend toward internet sales is continuing to cause job movement. in the past, we have seen a shift from an agrarian economy to an industrial economy to an information economy. in all these cases, new opportunities are created as others are diminished or eliminated.

most would choose principles over a beneficial economic impact.

although people frequently make purchasing choices based on pricing and principles, it seems that few make choices on the basis of their national economy.imagine a country named tobaccastan, whose economy depended on the sale of cigarettes. if you lived there, would you refuse to stop smoking because it would hurt the economy if everyone quit? would you sacrifice your health and the health of others for the health of the economy? this example, while not perfect, does shed light on the nature of our purchasing choices.

veganism benefits the economy.

as illustrated here and by other sources, animal agriculture unnecessarily harms innocent animals, is destructive to the environment, damages human health, and contributes to human impoverishment. the last three of these put a strain on the economy. because of this, veganism is a net benefit to any economy, especially over time.
“I only eat meat I hunt and kill myself.” To Do“i only eat meat i hunt and kill myself.” to do“i only eat meat i hunt and kill myself.” to do
“More small animals are killed in plant farming than are killed by us eating them.” To Do“more small animals are killed in plant farming than are killed by us eating them.” to do“more small animals are killed in plant farming than are killed by us eating them.” to do
“Vegans who support abortion are inconsistent” To Do“vegans who support abortion are inconsistent” to do“vegans who support abortion are inconsistent” to do
“Some vegans would save a dog from a burning house before saving a human.” To Do“some vegans would save a dog from a burning house before saving a human.” to do“some vegans would save a dog from a burning house before saving a human.” to do
“You shouldn’t compare the confinement and slaughter of animals to human slavery and the holocaust” To Do“you shouldn’t compare the confinement and slaughter of animals to human slavery and the holocaust” to do“you shouldn’t compare the confinement and slaughter of animals to human slavery and the holocaust” to do