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Chapter 6 - What are we entitled to do, vis-a-vis other organisms?

Back to Main Page Chapter six Body of chapter six Principles of Deep Ecology Francione's animal rights baselines References

Appendix B - Practical applications of TPHP: how may we use living things?

The practices of land-clearing, choice of transport, hunting and fishing, meat-eating, family planning, animal experimentation and xenotransplantation serve as useful illustrations of the kinds of practices TPHP would tolerate, question and disallow. I discuss cases where it might be rational for me, as a human being, to set aside my interests in favour of those of other organisms.


Case study: land clearing

Land clearing is recognised as the biggest threat to wildlife in Australia: clearing of remnant (mature) vegetation destroys 190 million trees and kills at least 100 million native mammals, birds and reptiles each year in Queensland alone. 94% of all land clearing in Queensland is carried out to make new paddocks for cattle grazing; the rest is cleared for infrastructure, housing and crops such as sugar cane (Australian Conservation Foundation, 2003; Green Left Weekly, November 26, 2003, World Wildlife Fund, 2003).

Every list of basic human goods includes the good of "life" or "health". Food and shelter are essential parts of this good. It might be argued that because cattle grazing and sugar cane fall under the umbrella of "food", they would be allowed by TPP, while housing would be covered by "shelter". However, "food" is a very broad category. Our right to eat does not entitle us to eat wastefully. It is generally accepted that animal husbandry places much greater demands on the environment, for every kilogram of protein produced, than crop-growing. A proponent of TPP might ask whether Queensland should phase out its cattle industry, and engage in less destructive forms of food production. Land clearing for sugar cane is even harder to justify; many Australians are obese because they consume far too much sugar. Finally, medium or high-density housing would also reduce the need for new land.

On an individual level, matters are more complicated. Farmers have demanded that they should receive adequate compensation for revenue foregone, before they can stop clearing land. From a TPP perspective, the farmers are (reasonably) upholding their right to engage in the basic human good of work. The Queensland government should therefore be commended for its recent decision by to provide $150 million to assist landholders affected by the controls and to provide incentives to protect bushland, thereby enabling it to phase out broadscale land clearing of remnant bushland by the end of 2006 (World Wildlife Fund, 2004).

In Australia, suburban sprawl is a typical feature of city development. The harm done to living things is considerable: the clearing of land to build new homes destroys large numbers of soil organisms, and the construction of houses "demands a great deal of scarce material and energy for building, and considerable energy for operation" (Miner and Stomberg, 1998). TPHP would entitle us to clear land to realise basic human goods, but would also require us to minimise the harm done thereby. The idea that city-dwellers should adopt medium to high-density housing may strike many Australians as abhorrent, but it is commonplace in Europe and certainly compatible with an enjoyable lifestyle. Miner and Stomberg (1998) also suggest: building where possible on degraded land and then reclaiming it, rather than on undeveloped land; building or buying housing close to our daily work destination; and designing more compact, energy-efficient homes.


Choice of Transport

Aside from the basic human good of practical activity (in this case, getting from A to B), the other human goods realised by travelling are the ones we realise at our destination (work, play, the pursuit of knowledge, etc). Trains and buses are 4 to 10 times more energy efficient than automobiles, when the occupancy rate is 1.5 persons per car (Baird and Hayhoe, 1993). Trams and light rail transport have a lower environmental impact than trains and buses (Encyclopedia of Sustainable Development, 2000) but this difference is relatively slight, compared with the environmental cost of car transport, so according to TPHP they could regarded as morally equivalent.

For most Australian city dwellers, reliance on public transport would marginally increase travelling time to and from work, but would otherwise make little difference to their attainment of the basic goods they pursue in their everyday lives, so according to TPHP's fourth condition, they should travel by bus or train whenever possible. By contrast, the lack of regular buses and trains in the countryside renders them impractical for most people living there. Also, people such as doctors, who have to respond to emergency calls, cannot rely on public transport.

For their part, the owners of public transport have a moral obligation to take whatever affordable measures they can to minimise pollution from their vehicles.

Finally, governments have an obligation to remove incentives for people to pollute. For instance, car and truck drivers should pay directly for road maintenance, as railway freight users do, to remove the bias toward road freight, which is 4 times less energy efficient than rail freight. Governments also have a responsibility to plan towns so as to reduce people's need to travel. Studies show that cities with a high urban density use far less petrol per capita than North American and Australian cities, and the separation of industrial areas into different zones also increases people's travel requirements (Baird and Hayhoe, 1993).

Urbanisation is often regarded as an evil, but from an ecological perspective it is a blessing: "By enduring crowding, urbanites spare land for nature" (Ausubel, 2000).

One might object that although the construction of built-up cities would save billions of organisms' lives, it would be at the cost of another basic human good: the enjoyment of beauty. But this objection is beside the point, as people living in built-up cities have lots of other opportunities to enjoy beauty in their everyday lives. In other words, the basic good has alternative instantiations.

In any case, many urban facilities that blight our landscape could be built underground over the next 100 years - not only underground shopping malls, but also underground inter-city magnetically levitated trains that would be ten times as energy-efficient as present transport systems. Already, the Swiss maglev plan links all Swiss cities within 10 minutes (Ausubel, 2001).


Family planning and affluent consumption

Natural law theories of ethics classify procreation as a basic human good, which contributes to human flourishing. While many people may choose to forego some of the basic goods, procreation is a good that almost everyone wants to realise at some stage. Most parents regard their families not only as their greatest source of joy in their life, but also as their greatest accomplishment in life. We need compelling reasons, then, before we can tell parents that it would actually be morally wrong (and not just inadvisable) for them to create another life. Citing a poorly measured, uncertain, long-term danger to the biosphere will hardly do. Because of massive uncertainties in our long-range future models, the danger should be clear and have a significant probability of occurring in the next two generations, to count as a valid reason for family limitation.

TPHP is not intended to prescribe "ideal" courses of action, but simply to help us distinguish right actions from wrong ones. Consequently, TPHP cannot tell us how many children a couple should have. Nevertheless, it can impose ethical constraints on the number of children that an average family should plan for.

Could wrongful creation ever justify child-killing?

It needs to stated at the outset that an individual's moral status does not depend on how she originated, but rather on her nature. (The concept of nature was defended in chapters 1 and 5.) A child, once created, has the same moral status as any other child, even if her parents' decision to create her was morally irresponsible. While TPHP can set some ethical limits on the procreation of children, it can never be invoked to justify their destruction.

The paradox of procreation

As we saw above, the decision to have another baby certainly satisfies the first three conditions of TPHP. Because it is aimed at bringing a new human life into the world, the individual act of planning for another child promotes the basic human good of procreation, so the first condition of TPHP is met. The environmental harm resulting from the act - the inevitable burden that another individual places on the biosphere - is surely not intended by the parents-to-be, so condition (ii)(b) is satisfied. The third condition is unproblematic: performance of a procreative act, by definition, makes a significant difference to the agent's prospects of realising a basic good (procreation). Parents can also make sure that they do not violate the fourth condition. Condition (iv)(a) of TPHP is not applicable to the decision to have another baby, because the good of procreation, unlike many other basic goods, is a singular good, which can only be realised in one form (having a baby). Thus there are no alternative instantiations. Condition (iv)(b) implies that if parents choose to have another child, they should endeavour to minimise the ecological consequences of their decision, as far as is practicable. This condition may also be satisfied. (For instance, the need for extra housing, which takes a toll on plants and animals in the environment, may be minimised by living in an extended family and putting the new child in the same bedroom as its siblings.) Likewise, the sixth condition is likely to be violated only in extreme circumstances. If, for instance, parents are barely able to feed their existing children, then their duties to care for them are of over-riding importance, as clause (vi)(b) stipulates. Similarly, for a couple with no children who are facing starvation due to famine, the decision to create a child would fall foul of clause (vi)(c), as the child's basic subsistence rights would be denied.

The ethical paradox stems from the fact that it would be theoretically possible for a couple to have an unlimited number of children while observing all these conditions. Each child could be created and brought up in a way that minimises environmental harm, yet the aggregate environmental harm caused by creating such a large family would be enormous.

Resolving the paradox

The proper way to avoid such a paradox is to include a requirement that TPHP's conditions should apply not only to the individual act of planning for another child, but also to the long-term project of planning for a family. In particular, the family as a whole should be planned in a way that minimises environmental harm. This requirement is mandated by the fifth condition of TPHP.

I shall confine my discussion of the environmental harms caused by increases in population and affluent consumption to three key areas: global warming and deforestation (both of which pose a threat to biodiversity), and the total ecological footprint of humanity. In addition, local environmental factors may limit the range of a couple's ethical choices when planning a family.

Major environmental threats: an overview

A recent report in Nature by Thomas et al. (2004), warns that global warming taking place between now and 2050 will doom to eventual extinction at least 9% and possibly a third to a half of all land animal and plant species. The report's authors urgently recommend cutting greenhouse gases and storing the main one, carbon dioxide, to save as many species as possible. Cutting emissions requires a cut in consumption. One way to achieve this would be to reduce the number of consumers (people).

Deforestation also threatens the world's biodiversity hotspots. According to NASA's Earth Observatory, "[i]f the current rate of deforestation continues, the world's rain forests will vanish within 100 years - causing unknown effects on global climate and eliminating the majority of plant and animal species on the planet" (Urquhart, Chomentowski, Skole and Barber, 2004). Reasons for deforestation include slash-and-burn agriculture by peasant farmers, capital-intensive construction of large-scale cattle ranches, commercial logging operations, and the construction of towns and dams. Population is one of several contributing factors.

The global carrying capacity of the earth's ecosphere is a matter of serious concern. Environmentalists warn that human consumption and waste production have overshot the earth's capacity to create new resources and absorb waste by a factor of 20%, and that we would need three Earths to support an American lifestyle for everyone (Wackernagel and Rees, 1995; Wackernagel et al., 2002).

Putting population in perspective: the threat of affluent consumption

The aggregate consumption of resources that threatens the planet is due to a combination of increasing consumption per person and increasing numbers of people. Of the two factors, affluent consumption is by far the more dangerous. A country's total CO2 emissions are much more strongly linked to its economic affluence than its population: the United States accounts for 24% of all global CO2 emissions, but has just 5% of the world's population, while India is responsible for 4% of emissions, but has 16% of the world's population (The Globalist, 2003). Similarly, the USA's per capita ecological footprint of 12.22 hectares per person dwarfs India's footprint of 1.06 hectares per person (NationMaster.com, 2004), giving the USA a much larger overall footprint than India.

A new study in Nature (Liu, Daily, Ehrlich and Luck, 2003) documents the effect of affluence on biodiversity. According to the study, an international housing boom is resulting in reduction in biodiversity around the world, as housing units throughout the world are being built at a rate that outpaces population growth. The housing boom is largely being driven by a global trend toward smaller households - primarily due to lower fertility rates, higher divorce rates, higher per capita income, ageing populations and a decline in multi-generational family units. Each household takes up space, requires resources to construct, and fuel to heat and cool it.

"We had hoped to find that, where human population growth was slowing, biodiversity might be given some breathing room," said Stanford University ecologist Gretchen C. Daily, co-author of the study. "But instead, we've found that urban and suburban sprawl are accelerating faster than population growth is decelerating" (Schwartz, 2003).

Putting population in perspective: the role of technology

More people and greater affluence need not entail greater consumption of the planet's resources. Technological change can reduce humanity's ecological footprint. Indeed, some scientists (Bailey, 2002; Ausubel, 2000, 2001) question Wackernagel's (2002) key assumptions and projections, arguing that humanity's load on the biosphere is actually likely to diminish in the future, thanks to a combination of:

Additionally, Ausubel observes that "a vegetarian diet of 3,000 primary calories a day ... doubles the land spared" (2001).

Is population increasing at an ecologically sustainable rate?

It is universally accepted that Earth's current rate of population increase - about 1.2 per cent - cannot be sustained indefinitely. However, it is not immoral per se for a human society to increase at a rate that would be unsustainable in the long term. If it were, the Aborigines who first arrived in Australia would have been morally obliged to practice ZPG, instead of populating the continent, which is absurd. Historically, ecologically unsustainable population increases are typically brief, and are generally followed by more sustainable patterns. (The fifth condition of TPHP applies only to projects, not to plans over hundreds of years, which are impossible to formulate because of the inherent uncertainties that attend long-term planning.) Populations do not typically increase exponentially over long periods of time, but follow a sigmoid (S-shaped) curve, where the rate of growth is initially low, reaches a maximum and then gradually decreases to zero again (Boyle, 1998). As it happens, the global fertility rate has halved in the past 40 years. The earth's rising population of 6.4 billion is expected to peak at 9 billion and eventually settle at about 8.4 billion (BBC, 2002).

What, then, does TPHP mandate?

Even if humanity's total load on the biosphere is set to diminish as optimists forecast, clause (v) of TPHP requires couples planning a family to minimise environmental harm and not just keep it manageable. Does this mean that a two-child family is morally obligatory for each and every couple? The answer is no, for two reasons.

First, it is possible to intelligently plan for a larger family in a way that places no extra load on the biosphere. For instance, the above-cited study by Liu, Daily, Ehrlich and Luck (2003) found that in the case of deforestation, it is the number of housing units, rather than the number of people, that poses a threat to biodiversity. A household with an extended family, where two or more children share a bedroom, can be as eco-friendly as a smaller household. As one of the authors (Liu) put it, "In larger households, the efficiency of resource consumption will be a lot higher because more people share things". Thus a sensible ethical requirement relating to condition (v) of TPHP would be that the family one plans for must place no greater load on the biosphere than a two-child family.

I have used a two-child family as the benchmark because, barring exceptional circumstances, it is generally a good thing if a society reproduces at replacement level. Population decline is not viable in the long-term, for a variety of political and social reasons.

Second, even if ZPG were a duty, it would surely apply to society as a whole rather than to each and every couple. The reason is that in any society practicing ZPG, many couples will reproduce at below replacement level. That means that a few couples can have larger families, and society can still achieve the goal of ZPG.

Thus TPHP's fifth condition does not mandate family size, but effectively requires couples planning a family to limit the environmental harm caused by their family to the level of a two-child family. Additionally, in countries where fertility rates have fallen below replacement level, a few couples may provide a counterbalance by having larger families.


Case study: Hunting and fishing

The practice of sport hunting kills over 130 million animals every year in the United States alone, not counting fish and other aquatic organisms killed for sport (Taylor, 1999, p. 80; World Farm Animals Day, 2003). In addition, the practice of recreational "catch-and-release" fishing causes many fish to die, mainly because of stress resulting from fighting the hook and wounding caused by the hook itself (Williams and Schwartz, 1992). The mortality rate for fish caught has been estimated at 10 to 50%. Indeed, it has been argued that for some popular species of fish, this kind of fishing actually kills more fish than traditional angling, owing to the large numbers caught and released (FishNet USA, 2000).

Defences of hunting and fishing which appeal to human goods in the spiritual domain - such as communion with nature (Ortega, 1972, Rolston, 1988; cited in Taylor, A., pp. 81-83) - would cut no ice with a proponent of TPHP, as these categories of good have alternative instantiations, that can also be realised without killing. (Mountain climbers can commune with nature too.) Nor can recreational hunting and fishing be defended by appealing to the basic human good of play; there are other enjoyable forms of recreation which cause no harm to creatures. TPHP's condition (iv)(a) is not satisfied for these goods.

Ted Kerasote (1993, discussed in Taylor, 1999, p. 87) defends his own hunting of elk for food, on the grounds that it kills fewer animals than the millions of mice, rabbits, birds and insects that are routinely killed, either by farm machinery and pesticides or through habitat destruction, in order to feed what he calls "supermarket vegetarians". From a TPHP perspective, Kerasote's argument could be construed as an appeal to the basic good of caring for other life-forms. Intentions complicate the moral equation. Many moralists would argue that intentional killing (such as hunting) is worse than killing which is foreseen but not intended (such as the killing involved in agriculture). However, Kerasote might reply that his hunting has a dual intention: he wants to (a) kill a few animals in order to (b) reduce the much greater destruction of animal life as a result of agriculture. A proponent of TPHP might regard such an aim as morally laudable. On the other hand, as Angus Taylor (1999, p. 87) points out, there is no way that the planet's six-billion-plus inhabitants could feed themselves by hunting, so "[o]n the large scale, then, the choice would seem to be between supermarket vegetarianism and supermarket meat-eating". The raising of animals to be hunted would violate condition (iv)(b) of TPHP, as these animals would have to be raised on land that could feed a far greater number of people through crop cultivation - "a vegetation diet of 3,000 primary calories per day ... doubles the land spared" (Ausubel, 2001).

On the other hand, from a TPHP perspective, the practice of subsistence hunting by traditional communities such as the Inuit was certainly justifiable in the past. Pursuit of the basic good of life (i.e. searching for food) justified hunting in environments where it was the only way to earn a living.

The moral issue becomes more problematic with the arrival of the welfare state and the cash economy. Today's Inuit hunt with snowmobiles and rifles purchased through trading, not with dog sleds and harpoons. In fairness, it should be pointed out that there are still few opportunities for work where they live, and that they use snowmobiles because they have to travel further to obtain food since being resettled by their government in the 1950s. Are the Inuit now obliged to cease hunting and either accept welfare handouts or migrate en masse to the big cities for work opportunities?

Angus Taylor (1999, pp. 84-87), in a review of the philosophical literature surrounding Inuit hunting and fishing, points out that the demoralisation caused by welfare payments has brought numerous social problems in its wake (suicide, alcoholism and drug abuse). Presumably these problems would only be exacerbated by the culture shock and loneliness resulting from wholesale relocation of these communities to urban areas. An overnight ban on hunting would devastate entire communities. A proponent of TPHP could argue that continued hunting by the Inuit (but not by non-indigenous peoples) is justified, in order to protect the basic human goods of work and society. (Animal liberationists may not relish this conclusion, but it is difficult to resist, unless one assumes that survival is the only goal humans are entitled to pursue when their interests conflict with the flourishing of other living beings - a position criticised earlier in this chapter.)

The moral equation situation changes, however, if we consider forms of hunting which are inherently cruel, such as whaling - where the animal takes a long time to die.

Taylor (1999, pp. 84-87) also suggests that as the Inuit territory of Nunavut integrates with Canada's economy, other jobs are likely to become available, enabling a gradual phasing out of the hunt, although he questions whether the loss of traditional culture would be a good thing. From a TPHP perspective, the loss of traditional culture would not be a sufficient reason to maintain the practice of hunting. Human beings cannot flourish without some kind of culture, but the continuation of each and every practice in their local culture is not a necessary condition for their thriving. All cultures are in flux, and a gradual abolition of hunting over two generations would not cause massive disruption.


The ethics of eating meat, fish, eggs and dairy products

According to FAO figures, the number of animals killed worldwide for food in 2002 was 51.2 billion, which included 305 million cattle, buffalo and calves; 813 million sheep and goats; 1.2 billion pigs; and 49 billion chickens, turkeys and geese. (These figures exclude non-slaughter deaths, which are generally not reported.) The number of mammals and birds killed for food in the USA exceeded 10 billion in 2002, if we include animals that died before reaching the slaughter-house. During a 77-year lifetime, a typical U.S resident is responsible for the deaths of 11 cows, 32 pigs and sheep, and 2660 turkeys, chickens and ducks (World Food Animal Day, 2003).

In the preceding chapter, it was argued that we have a prima facie duty not to harm living things, and that the killing of an animal was worse than the killing of a plant. Additionally, the raising of animals requires the destruction of far more plant life (per kilogram of protein produced) than crop cultivation: "1 kg of beef costs 16 kg of grain, where the other 15 kg are used to support the animal's activities and parts we cannot eat... Poultry is somewhat cheaper in energy consumption" (Lomborg, 2001, pp. 102, 373). Since a vegan (or at least a vegetarian) diet would spare large numbers of plants and animals, we have a prima facie obligation to abstain from meat. From a TPHP perspective, the question of whether we actually have this moral obligation depends on whether there are any basic human goods whose realisation requires us to eat meat.

Can pleasure justify meat-eating?

Meat-eating is sometimes justified on the grounds of taste alone, by people who consider it to be an irreplaceable good. However, on the natural law-based account which I am defending here, the pleasant taste of meat could never serve as an adequate justification for eating meat. First, many natural law theorists exclude pleasure from their list of basic human goods, arguing that it is not a good in abstraction from the activity in which pleasure is taken (Murphy, 2002).

Second, even if it is allowed that the pleasure we take in realising basic human goods is itself a basic part of human flourishing, this proves nothing more than that we are entitled to enjoy our food, in pursuit of the basic good of life. Alternative instantiations - that is, pleasant-tasting foods that do not contain meat - make meat-eating unnecessary and hence unjustifiable according to condition (iv)(a) of TPHP.

Meat-eating and health

In the last few years, defenders of meat-eating have attempted to rebut common charges made by vegans and vegetarians that a meat-based diet is both "unnatural" and unhealthy. Colin Campbell's China study is commonly cited (Natural Hygiene Network, 2002) to show that a meat-based diet is linked to higher rates of cancer and heart disease. More recently, a new meta-analysis of 28,000 vegetarians and 48,000 non-vegetarians from five landmark studies, including the Oxford Vegetarian Study, found that over a 10-year period, the vegetarians were 24 per cent less likely than non-vegetarians to die of ischaemic heart disease, including heart attacks (Fox, 2000).

On the other hand, metabolic evidence of human adaptation to a diet that contains more meat than our ape relatives, coupled with anthropological evidence (from both contemporary and historical studies of hunter-gatherer diets) that meat-eating played a vital part in human evolution (Cordain, 1998) certainly gives the lie to oft-repeated assertions by some vegetarians that herbivory is natural for human beings. In a similar vein, Nicholson (1998) faults clinical studies which claim that vegetarian diets are healthier than omnivorous diets for simplistically equating "omnivorous diets" with "Western diets", which are very unhealthy.

From a TPHP perspective, however, these data cannot justify meat-eating. Rather, the crucial question is whether one can enjoy a healthy diet without meat or fish. In an affluent society, this is certainly possible.

Not so easy to dismiss is the increasing anecdotal evidence that veganism - and possibly vegetarianism - is associated with a decline in physical well-being known as "failure to thrive" in some individuals, possibly because the human body finds it harder to extract iron, zinc and essential fatty acids from plant-based foods. Fish and certain meats (liver, kidney and brains) are also ideal sources of DHA. Nicholson (1998) argues that clinical studies to date are too methodologically flawed for us to conclude that vegan or vegetarian diets suit everyone, and that reliance on anecdotal evidence, while problematic, is rational when little other evidence is available. He also contends that "mechanisms of built-in structural bias operate in the vegan community to minimize/prevent awareness of failure to thrive or its relevance" and suggests that two reasons why we have heard little about "failure to thrive" from ex-vegetarians is that they are often morally ostracised by their peers and tend to be less passionate about their beliefs than committed vegetarians.

Because it is a self-loving ethical principle, TPHP would permit those individuals whose health declines under a vegetarian regime to consume meat and/or fish, as condition (iv)(a), which relates to alternative instantiations, would no longer hold for these individuals. However, condition (iv)(b) - harm minimisation - would still apply: the individuals affected would only be entitled to eat the minimum amount of meat and fish needed to restore full health.

The environmental cost of meat-eating

From a TPHP perspective, the argument over the environmental cost of meat-eating has been bedevilled by asking the wrong questions.

Much ink has been spilt in arguments as to whether meat-eating imposes an unsustainable cost on our environment. It has been claimed that if farmers worldwide continue to sustain a 2% annual growth in grain yields per hectare, ten billion people would be able to enjoy a meat-rich diet by 2070, and still use less land for farming than we do now (Ausubel, 2000). On the other hand, other models assume more modest annual growth rates of around 1 to 1.5 % (MacKenzie, 2000; Lomborg, 2001).

From a TPHP perspective, however, the important question is not whether the environmental cost of meat-eating is ecologically sustainable, but whether it minimises environmental harm.

Another morally misleading question related to land use for meat production is whether animal husbandry is an optimal way of using land. In certain places like Mongolia or the Australian outback, where the land is unsuitable for crop cultivation but can be used for grazing, meat production may indeed be "optimal". However, from a TPHP perspective, the ethical question at issue is not: "What should we do with Mongolia?" but: "What kind of healthy eating minimises the harm we do to the environment and to other living things?" This question arises from condition (iv)(b) of TPHP.

Even proponents of sustainable meat-eating acknowledge that the universal adoption of a vegetarian diet would result in the least disruption to the biosphere (Ausubel, 2001). It was argued above that the best way to measure this disruption was to use an aggregate measure such as the Ecological Footprint Model, developed by Wackernagel and Rees (1995).

Drawing on this model, Miner and Stomberg (1998) argue for vegetarianism on environmental grounds:

Agriculture - food and non-food production - accounts for 30% of an American's [ecological] footprint. Animal products account for three-fourths of the agricultural footprint... Becoming vegetarian would immediately and simply reduce our ag[ricultural] share [of the ecological footprint] by close to 75%.

To be fair, Miner and Stomberg (1998) acknowledge that there are alternative non-vegetarian practices (eating only wild game for meat, and dropping eggs and dairy from our diets) could reduce our ecological footprint by a similar degree. It seems that the optimal practice, which would accord with condition (iv)(b) of TPHP, would be to combine the best of both worlds by adopting a vegetarian diet, and eating only as many eggs and as much dairy food as we need for nutritional purposes.

Arguments against meat-eating based on the cruelty of factory farming

Even if dietary and environmental arguments are less than compelling, it may be argued that the cruelty inflicted on animals in farming of any sort - be it factory farming or so-called "free-range farming" - is so massive in its scale and scope that we are duty-bound to avoid all animal products, until humane farming practices become available on a large scale.

Examples of cruelty from the poultry industry include the following:

TPHP's fourth condition permits practices that inflict harm on other creatures, only if (a) there are no alternatives, and (b) harm is minimised. The fact that most of us can live without meat shows that condition (a) is not met. The widespread neglect of animals on today's farms, coupled with the suffering that they endure at our hands, show that (b) is not satisfied either.

Summary

In an affluent society where alternatives to meat abound, all of us should eat a lot less meat than the standard Western diet contains, although "failure to thrive" may excuse certain individuals from the obligations of a vegan or vegetarian diet.

Additionally, the cruelties that are endemic in modern animal farming oblige us to minimise our consumption of animal products, simply to minimise animal suffering. That means we should attempt to live on a vegan or near-vegan diet.

The ideal of cruelty-free eating is, however, unattainable. In our interactions with other life-forms, we live by killing (Passmore, 1980). Vegans have enough to eat only because farmers kill numberless insect pests, and crop cultivation kills not only plants but also worms and soil microbes. The best we can do is reduce the number of lives we take.


Animal experimentation and Xenotransplantation


The mouse is the most common subject for animal testing. Image courtesy of Americans for Medical Progress.

Exact figures are not available, but around 60 million animals are believed to be used in the USA each year for biomedical research and testing. The vast majority are rats and mice (World Farm Animals Day, 2003).

The controversy surrounding vivisection is of two kinds: ethical and scientific. Some oppose the practice as immoral, while others question the scientific rationale for animal experimentation.

Rather than subject the reader to tedious non-philosophical arguments relating to statistics, comparative anatomy and neurophysiology, and the history of medicine, I have decided, after sifting through the literature in favour of animal experimentation (Americans for Medical Progress, 2002; European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations, 2002; The Research Defence Society, 2004), and against it (Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, 1998; Greek and Greek, 2000; Americans For Medical Advancement, 2002; The Medical Research Modernization Committee; and the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection, 2004), as well as publications by "open" groups with members from both sides of the debate (The Boyd Group, 2003; the Nufffield Council on Bioethics, 2001), to summarise the valid factual claims made by both sides in an online Appendix (attached to the end of this Appendix in the printed version of this thesis). To cut a long story short: animal research has resulted in significant medical breakthroughs that would otherwise not have occurred, but its overall impact on human mortality rates is modest: improved sanitation and a better diet due to increasing affluence have had a much greater impact. The search for animal models for human diseases is very much a hit-and-miss affair, and has occasionally led scientists down a few "blind alleys", but the practical knowledge gained has been indispensable for combating diseases. The testing of new medicines on animals is a notoriously fallible procedure, but it is much better than no testing at all. Unfortunately, none of the proposed cruelty-free alternatives can completely replace animal testing at present.

It should always be kept in mind that "animal experimentation" is not a monolithic entity and that animals can be used in science for a variety of purposes:

1. Spare parts (e.g. heart valves).
2. Factories (e.g. production of insulin and monoclonal antibodies).
3. Models for human disease.
4. Test subjects (e.g. drug testing, carcinogen testing).
5. Tissue donors (e.g. for the study of basic physiological principles).
6. Educational tools (e.g. dissection, psychology).
7. Modalities for ideas (for the purpose of heuristic procedure).
8. Systems of interest unto themselves (knowledge for knowledge's sake).
9. Models for animal disease (source: AFMA, 2002).

My proposed ethical principles and their application

Anyone who believes that animal have an absolute right to control their own bodies will have to argue that animal research is intrinsically wrong, and that abolition is a moral imperative. While I respect the integrity of those who adhere to this absolutist position, I have argued above that a consistent application of their position would make it impossible for humans to satisfy even their vital needs.

Of the remaining arguments against animal experimentation discussed above, the strongest is the argument that it violates animals' right to bodily integrity. If, as was suggested in Appendix A, animals have a prior claim to the integrity of their own body parts, then they may not be dismembered or deliberately subjected to irreparable bodily injury while alive.

The prior claim that animals have to their body parts would also prevent us from killing them simply in order to use these body parts. This would rule out the first rationale for animal experimentation, as well as xenotransplantation.

I should acknowledge, as a possible weakness of TPHP, the fact that while it allows for the possibility of "prior claims" such as an animal's right to bodily integrity, the existence of such a right is not implied by TPP but has been appended to Note 2 in clause (vi), in a rather ad hoc manner. Without this right, no other condition in TPHP would absolutely prohibit xenotransplantation. Condition (vi)(d), which prohibits destroying persons as a means to an end, would not apply, as non-rational animals do not qualify as persons.

Since TPHP applies only to the advancement of basic human goods, it cannot be invoked to justify the ninth rationale listed above for animal research (saving other animals from disease). As the animals whose lives are saved are typically not those upon whom research is performed, only a consequentialist could defend this kind of research. (Consequentialism has already been shown to be incompatible with TPHP's first condition.)

It needs to be stressed that TPP is a self-preference principle: it implies that we may value our own well-being above that of other organisms. On the other hand, the first condition of TPHP stipulates that any act causing harm to living creatures must not only achieve a good end, but have an essential connection to our telos: the harm-causing act must be re-describable as a telos-promoting act.

The first and second rationales for animal experimentation are easily amenable to a re-description of the harm-causing act as a health-promoting act per se. (The first rationale, however, violates animals' right to bodily integrity.) In these cases, animals are killed for spare parts or used as factories to make medicinal products (such as insulin). Likewise, killing animal to make medicinal products (e.g. vaccines) is obviously a health-promoting act. However, the fourth rationale - animal testing - cannot be re-described in this way, as it does not promote human health as such. Taking medicine derived from an animal makes me healthy; vivisecting or inflicting pain on an animal does not. Thus it might seem as if animal testing is not permitted by TPHP. The other rationales for animal research appear even more problematic, in the light of TPHP's first condition.

On the other hand, the human telos comprises other basic human goods apart from health, including the good of knowledge for its own sake. Although its medical benefits have been greatly exaggerated (see on-line Appendix - attached to the end of this Appendix in the printed version of this thesis)), animal experimentation, as a special field of scientific investigation, could certainly be said to promote this basic human good.

However, the fact that animal research enables us to acquire special knowledge about animals (including ourselves) does not justify the practice, any more than the fact that animals have a special taste justifies eating them. There are many different ways of pursuing the good of knowledge, without destroying animal or plant life. The fourth condition of TPHP would therefore prohibit experimenting on animals for pure research, as alternative instantiations of this basic good (other avenues of research) are available, which inflict no harm on creatures.


Much of what we know about the human brain comes from neuroscience research on monkeys. Image courtesy of Research Defence Society, UK.

Practical activity is another basic human good that could justify animal research, in at least some cases - although obviously not where cruelty-free alternatives exist. (The testing of perfumes, shampoos, tooth-pastes, hair dyes, skin creams, make-up and deodorants on animals is therefore morally indefensible. as there are alternative instantiations of these goods which do not require us to perform any new testing - see clause (iv)(a) of TPHP.) Practical activity encompasses activities required to realise some other basic human good. This would include the pursuit of practical knowledge, such as the cure for a fatal disease. To justify experimenting on animals in search of a cure for the disease, one might argue that:

(i) the research is not "optional", as the cure that may be discovered as a result of the research is necessary for human beings who have the disease to realise the basic good of life; hence

(ii) the question of whether alternative instantiations (other avenues of applied research) exist is not morally relevant here; however,

(iii) this knowledge can only be gained by performing experiments on animals; therefore

(iv) animal research is necessary in relation to the end pursued (the practical attempt to save human lives).

This syllogism would apply to the third rationale for animal research, listed above. A similar syllogism could be constructed to argue for the necessity of safety testing of new life-saving medicines on animals, which falls under the fourth rationale.

Even so, it needs to be acknowledged that in animal experimentation, unlike the other harms we inflict on animals, the connection between the harm-causing act and the good achieved is a remote, long-term one. Most experiments that inflict pain on animals do not result in new knowledge on our part.

An animal liberationist might object that the above justification of animal research in terms of practical activity proves too much. The goal of "practical research" could be used to justify the infliction of unlimited suffering on animals, so long as it might advance our knowledge of how to save human lives.

Here is where the sixth condition of TPHP comes into play. Even if the research is needed to realise a basic human good, the act of engaging in the research and inflicting suffering on animals which does not in any way benefit them individually will inevitably be profoundly morally desensitising for the researcher, and may even irrevocably destroy his/her moral capacity for empathy. In such a case, the resulting loss of virtue would therefore preclude the act, under clause (vi)(a) of TPHP. (This argument gains suasive force if the suffering is extreme, prolonged or routinely inflicted, or if the animal is irreparably harmed.)

There will inevitably be some disagreements among advocates of a telos-promoting ethic as to how their key principles (TPP and TPHP) should be applied to specific cases. Some moralists will argue that any research is morally hazardous and should therefore never be attempted; others, that the goal of saving human lives is so pressing that we have a duty to attempt this research. Moralists in the latter group could propose that we minimise harm to animals as well as the risk of researchers becoming morally desensitised. For instance, we might enact laws prohibiting mutilation as well as the infliction of certain kinds of suffering on animals.

It was argued above that the eighth rationale for animal experimentation (pure research) contravenes TPHP's fourth condition. The sixth rationale (education) is defensible only where the practical knowledge gained is vital. Trainee surgeons, for instance, have to practice on live animals in order to fine-tune their techniques (Americans for Medical Progress, 2002).


What kind of altruism does TPHP allow?

Despite the humanistic bias of TPHP's second rider, there are some situations where it might be rational for me, as a human being, to set aside my basic interests in favour of those of other organisms.