In this book, Jan Deckers addresses the most crucial question that people must deliberate in relation to how we should treat other animals: whether we should eat animal products.
Many people object to the consumption of animal products from the conviction that it inflicts pain, suffering, and death upon animals. This book argues that a convincing ethical theory cannot be based on these important concerns: rather, it must focus on our interest in human health. Tending to this interest demands not only that we extend speciesism—the attribution of special significance to members of our own species merely because they belong to the same species as ourself—towards nonhuman animals, but also that we safeguard the integrity of nature.
In this light, projects that aim to engineer the genetic material of animals to reduce their capacities to feel pain and to suffer are morally suspect. The same applies to projects that aim to develop in-vitro flesh, even if the production of such flesh should be welcomed on other grounds.
The theory proposed in this book is accompanied by a political goal, the ‘vegan project’, which strives for a qualified ban on the consumption of animal products. Deckers also provides empirical evidence that some support for this goal exists already, and his analysis of the views of others—including those of slaughterhouse workers—reveals that the vegan project stands firm in spite of public opposition.
Many charges have been pressed against vegan diets, including: that they alienate human beings from nature; that they increase human food security concerns; and that they are unsustainable. Deckers argues that these charges are legitimate in some cases, but that, in many situations, vegan diets are actually superior.
For those who remain doubtful, the book also contains an appendix that considers whether vegan diets might actually be nutritionally adequate.
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Abolition of Meat In Animal (De)liberation: Should the Consumption of Animal Products Be Banned? Jan Deckers makes a convincing argument for qualified moral veganism. Qualified means that it “does not demand that human beings abstain from eating …
The full review cannot be displayed due to copyright restrictions. You can read the full review at Bibliotekos - Finding the Uncommon Reader
Jan Deckers PhD
Summary In 2016, the book Animal (De)liberation: Should the Consumption of Animal Products Be Banned? was published. This article aims to engage with the critique that this book has received and to clarify and reinforce its importance for human health. It is argued that the ideas developed in the book withstand critical scrutiny. As qualified moral veganism avoids the pitfalls of other moral positions on human diets, public health policies must be altered accordingly, subject to adequate political support for its associated vegan project. 1 INTRODUCTION In 2016, Ubiquity Press published my book Animal (De)liberation: Should the Consumption of Animal Products Be Banned? I am pleased and grateful that some scholars have already published their critical reviews of the book in various places, including the articles by Laestadius and Paez in this journal issue. The aim of this article is to evaluate these reviews and to clarify and expand on some ideas that were developed in the book. In doing so, it will be emphasized that the ideas developed in the book are pivotal to people's health and that, subject to sufficient political support, they should inform public health policy. Before embarking on this task, I would like to express that the meta-ethical position that is adopted throughout this article, as well as in my work in general, is Pyrrhonian moral scepticism, which is the position that, whenever a claim is made that X or Y ought (not) to be done (by any moral agent in a particular situation), it is inappropriate to assert that claim with certainty. Whenever a Pyrrhonian moral sceptic claims that something is right or wrong, they are neither adopting the view that what is right or wrong is merely a matter of personal preference or taste (moral relativism) nor that its universal validity would be beyond any doubt (moral dogmatism). 2 A BRIEF SUMMARY OF ANIMAL (DE)LIBERATION I would like to start by providing a very concise summary of the theory developed in the book. I argue that to address the questions whether and when the human consumption of animal products may be justifiable, one must consider not only the human interest in using animals for nutritional purposes but also a raft of other interests. These interests are: An interest in avoiding the consumption of animals, including those who die naturally or accidentally, which is based on a more general animalist interest. An interest in avoiding the consumption of animals who are closely related to us, which is based on a more general evolutionist interest. An interest in avoiding the consumption of animal products where such consumption relies on the intentional infliction of pain, suffering, and death upon animals. An interest in avoiding the consumption of animal products where such consumption relies on the intentional infliction of pain, suffering, and death upon animals who are closely related to us. An interest in avoiding the consumption of animal products where such consumption relies on the intentional infliction of pain, suffering, and death upon animals with relatively great capacities for richness of experience. An interest in avoiding the consumption of animal products where such consumption relies on actions that pose relatively high risks of inflicting accidental pain, suffering, and death upon animals. An interest in avoiding the consumption of animal products where such consumption relies on actions that jeopardize the integrity of nature. An interest in holistic health.(p159-160) In relation to 1 and 2, it must be clarified that animalism refers to the belief that, all else being equal, we should attribute more moral significance to animals than to other organisms simply because they are more closely related to us biologically, whereas I defined our evolutionist interest, or “evolutionism,” as the belief that, all else being equal, we should attribute increasingly more moral significance to animals the more closely they are biologically related to us.(p80) However, evolutionism could also be defined more generally as the belief, encompassing both speciesism and animalism, that we should, all else being equal, attribute increasingly more moral significance to organisms the more closely they are related to us. This wider definition of evolutionism is preferable as a being's evolutionary distance to the human species is relevant to adjudicate the moral significance of all organisms, rather than that of animals only. Whereas I argued that evolutionary proximity has some moral relevance, the interest in holistic health that is referred to in item 8 is the overriding interest that moral agents should act in accordance with whenever they make any moral decision. It requires careful balancing of our interest in eating animal products, of the 7 other interests that I bring to bear on the issue, as well as of any other holistic health interests that are not included within these eight, for example, our interest in a good climate. This duty to safeguard our holistic health is also articulated in terms of a duty to minimize negative Global Health Impacts (GHIs) or to maximize positive GHIs. It is then argued that the consumption of animal products fails to minimize negative GHIs in many situations, for example, by causing disproportionate ecological and physical health risks (chapter 1). The resulting theory is qualified moral veganism (chapter 2), the theory that vegan diets ought to be the default diets for most of the human population. It is accompanied by a political project (chapter 3), the vegan project, which strives for the implementation of qualified bans on the consumption of animal products. In chapter 4, it is argued that the different views that others, including academic scholars and slaughterhouse workers, have expressed on the question addressed in the book fail to convince, and the book's appendix considers whether vegan diets might be nutritionally sound or better than other diets. Whilst I argued that our evolutionist interest extends even to animals who have died, the book should have explained more clearly that I believe that a nonhuman animal's relative moral significance should not be determined only by the degree to which the animal in question is related to the human species but also by whether or not the animal is alive or dead and by the animal's relative experiential complexity. All else being equal, I believe that we owe more to living animals and to animals with relatively advanced capacities to enjoy complex experiences. These other factors explain why we cannot rely only on our evolutionist interest. On account of the latter factor, I put forward the view that, for example, “killing a one-day-old chicken embryo may be less troubling than killing an adult mussel.”(p161) 3 ENGAGING WITH LAESTADIUS In relation to interest 8, Laestadius is right to point out that my theory derives from a critical reflection upon the moral importance of self-interest. As I argued, every moral agent must “prioritise their greatest (morally relevant) interest.”(p7) The reason self-interest is at the core of my theory relates to the fact that I adopt the view that the way in which moral agents are aware of their own interests differs fundamentally from their awareness of those of others. Each moral agent only embodies their own interests. Consequently, the private interests of others are necessarily interpreted through what I called our “individualistic bias.”(p67) Ethical theory must be mindful of this basic fact: Moral agents can only give importance to the interests of others by imagining, rather than by directly feeling, what these interests might be. This is why one can empathize with another being's hunger, for example, but one can only feel one's own. A disinterested moral evaluation of the interests of another is impossible as every perception of another's interests is mediated through, and therefore affected by the moral agent's own interests. This does not imply that one's own hunger is necessarily more important than another's. What it does imply, however, is that each moral agent has an insurmountable individualistic epistemological bias. Moral decisions about what moral agents should (not) do for moral patients are always based on the moral agent's attributions of moral patients' interests and on their interests in granting these some moral significance, rather than on what these interests actually are. In other words, moral agents inevitably make decisions by balancing their own interests. Whereas this individualistic bias does not imply that the physical health of the moral agent should necessarily override the health interests attributed to others, Laestadius anticipates that many scholars in animal studies will take issue with my speciesism as “human interests ultimately take precedent.” Unlike our individualistic bias, this bias could be avoided as moral agents could decide to turn a blind eye to species membership. However, my book argues that they should not do so. It should be clear, however, that speciesism does not imply that peripheral human interests should be allowed to override important interests of nonhuman animals. It might, for example, be wrong to prioritize one's interest in drinking milk from nonhuman animals over one's interest in not doing so, where the latter may be based on one's moral view that drinking the milk in question would violate some important interests of nonhuman animals. Nevertheless, Laestadius is right that not all scholars in animal ethics are enamoured by my speciesist stance, an issue that I shall return to below. I also believe that she is right in pointing out that the book could have addressed more “why moral consideration of animals is critical to the promotion of health, holistically defined.” Perhaps most controversial in this regard is the claim that our evolutionist interest is associated with some aversion towards consuming animals, which is why we may have a morally significant interest in avoiding the consumption of animals, even of those who die naturally or accidentally. In an increasingly more homogenized world, diets that include a large proportion of animal products have proliferated. Consequently, many people have (developed) appetites for the consumption of animal products. In this light, the claim that we are also predisposed to have some aversion or disgust towards the consumption of animal products and that we should avoid consuming them in many situations because of it may seem odd. For people to give any moral weight to an interest in avoiding the consumption of animals per se, however, they must recognize some morally relevant aversion or disgust towards their consumption. Whereas my moral theory does not depend on a sociological survey, my belief in it is likely to grow if I know that others share the underlying values. Conversely, it may decrease if it is found that many do not share my values. Research will therefore need to be done to explore whether my aversion might be universally shared amongst moral agents, and whether it extends to all products derived from nonhuman animals. My hypothesis is that both questions can be answered affirmatively, but that many people fail to strike an appropriate balance between their appetite and their aversion. I can relate to this difficulty. Whereas my own dietary choices would be much more challenging if I would not have been able to benefit from the luxury of being able to eat a very varied vegan diet without much difficulty and without significant concerns over its moral adequacy, the sheer fact that some dietary choices may be hard does not provide a good reason for a failure to adhere to dietary principles. Apart from the cases mentioned in section 1.1 of the book, I provide further, more detailed cases elsewhere, however, to illustrate that there are many situations where our interest in enjoying a nutritionally balanced diet would be harmed unjustifiably if we allow our aversion towards consuming animal products to prevail. These cases also aim to respond to Laestadius's suggestion to provide more detail on what qualified bans may look like. They illustrate that the question what counts as an ethical diet cannot be addressed adequately without sensitivity to personal, social, and ecological factors, which vary significantly between different individuals. Whereas significant controversy is likely to be generated over the claimed existence and moral relevance of our aversion towards consuming animal products, the view that zoonoses, negative ecological impacts, as well as practices that inflict pain, suffering, and death on animals undermine our health may be less controversial. Recent research has even found that the false notion that human beings somehow transcend nature and mortality may be a significant factor that causes people to support the killing of animals, and that support for this practice may in turn reinforce some sense of invulnerability. This is known as “terror management theory,” the view that people can be terrorized by their mortality and seek to manage this terror by dominating other animals and by rejecting their own animal nature. The same study found that people are less likely to support the killing of animals when their self-esteem is boosted, underlining the crucial importance of human health for animal ethics. I also argued that our health is jeopardized if we undermine the integrity of nature, and that this concern with nature's integrity provides an additional ground to question not only the consumption of many conventional animal products but also the development of new technologies in the farm animal sector, including the genetic engineering of animals and in vitro flesh. This unease about tampering with nature has been documented by others, even if it may not be universally shared. Whereas this does not undermine its moral validity, to facilitate moral improvement, more research will need to be done to understand why it may not be universally recognized. In spite of this concern with nature's integrity, the development of in vitro flesh and of similar alternatives to conventional animal products may be desirable to reduce the negative GHIs associated with conventional animal products. In general, considering one's self-interest adequately means embracing a duty to maximize positive GHIs. In relation to this duty, Laestadius rightly makes the point that Governments may not be fair in calculating GHIs, but nevertheless that “the framework could provide a useful alternative to dollar driven cost-benefit analysis if it could be operationalized further in future work.” I agree with Laestadius here and have indeed argued in chapter three that a significant problem associated with establishing good estimates of GHIs stems from what Hardin called the tragedy of the commons, which is partly related to the lack of international policy instruments. With exception for those goods and services that should not be priced, a GHI-based moral theory, however, need not necessarily be seen as an “alternative to dollar driven cost-benefit analysis,” provided that the costs and benefits that feature in such an analysis reflect a comprehensive account of all the GHIs associated with particular actions. The lack of detail that I provided in relation to what a qualified ban on the consumption of animal products might look like is related partly to my remaining uncertainties in relation to weighing up the different moral significance we should bestow upon different organisms, and partly to the complex business of evaluating the GHIs, for example, the ecological costs and benefits, of actual and potential diets. Chapter one provides no more than a summary of this complexity. As more people take the key question addressed by the book seriously, I hope that further studies and value discussions will refine GHI calculations. Laestadius also queries the necessity of including the book's appendix, which considers the nutritional literature on vegan diets, by pointing out that the American Dietetic Association has stated already that “appropriately planned … vegan diets, are healthful.” However, I considered the appendix to be necessary to address whether this conclusion should still stand in light of more recent nutritional research as well as to engage with the many people who remain unconvinced in spite of the position by the American Dietetic Association. 4 ENGAGING WITH PAEZ The most in-depth challenge to some ideas developed in my book comes from Paez, who is unhappy about the fact that I did not discuss Whiteheadian panexperientialism in the context of its rival ontologies. Whilst I have discussed panexperientialism and its alternatives at some length elsewhere, I would like to sum up briefly why I believe that Whitehead was drawn to this view. Reflecting on Kant's idea that the “thing-in-itself” cannot be known, Whitehead realized that he did actually know one thing in itself rather well: He knew himself as a feeling (and sometimes also a thinking) being, where his whole body was understood as the feeling unit. He realized, however, that reductionist materialism understood bodies as spatial entities that would be utterly devoid of feelings. One problem for this ontology is how to understand the apparent reality of feelings, which is resolved by denying that they exist. Whitehead also realized that dualism rejects this solution by arguing, like reductionist materialism, that there are some things that are utterly devoid of feelings, typically including non-living things, but that there are other things that do feel, typically including at least some living things. One problem for this ontology is how things with feelings might have emerged from those that lack them. Another issue is how our experience of ourselves as unified beings might be reconciled with the view that we are composed of 2 fundamentally distinct things, flying in the face of the commonly held belief that our minds both depend on and influence our bodies. Faced with these problems, Whitehead decided to adopt a more parsimonious ontology that nevertheless takes the reality of our embodied experiences seriously. Whitehead started with his own experience, thinking that his mind was nothing but the integration of billions of units of feeling that were spread throughout his body and that feed into it. He then started thinking about what other things might be like, thinking not about how they were observed by him, but about what it might be like to be another individual. This led him to conclude that we should think of other things in themselves by analogy with the way in which we understand ourselves, as feeling entities. David Griffin introduced the name panexperientialism to refer to this ontology, which is the ontology that believes that all true individuals, unlike aggregates of individuals, have experiences. As my version of this ontology adopts the view that all experiences are also sentient, I suggested using the name “pan-sentientism.”(p70) In spite of the physiological, anatomical, and behavioural data that I discuss in section 2.6 with the aim to obtain some idea of what the experiences of others might be, I admit that Kant was right: No individual is really able to know what it might be like to be another individual. Whereas I am very comfortable with pansentientism, I am less comfortable with the task, which I nevertheless consider to be important, of ranking different entities' experiences on a scale of qualitative richness because of my individualistic bias.(p67) It is this bias that reigns supreme, which is why I disagree with Paez that adopting a panexperientialist ontology creates “ulterior problems.” No moral theory that is based on any other ontology has provided a satisfactory answer to how a moral agent might separate their own feelings and interests from the feelings and interests that they may attribute to another entity. Any moral theory that assigns moral significance to entities on the basis of their experiential capacities is therefore faced with this problem. As pansentientism argues for a continuum of these capacities, however, moral decision-making is likely to be more troublesome than it might be for those who accept sharp dichotomies. Pansentientist qualified moral vegans may therefore be expected to have greater doubts about their moral theory compared to qualified moral vegans who adopt a dualistic ontology. Whereas our individualistic bias is insurmountable, moral agents can reject a speciesist bias. My book argues, however, that we should not do so. A substantial point that must be clarified is that Paez wrongly concludes that my view implies that “agents act wrongly when they do not give greater weight to the interests of their species co-members.” With many who have objected to speciesism I affirm, however, that “like interests should be treated alike, regardless of which species the individual with interests happens to belong to.”(p80) If what would be wrong with speciesism is the view that like interests should be given unequal moral weight, then I am not a speciesist. However, I understand speciesism to be the belief that human moral agents have a justified interest in giving special moral significance to members of our species. I write “our species” as I did not claim—pace Paez—that “extraterrestrial species” ought to prioritize their species, but that human beings ought to do so: Speciesism is used throughout the book to refer to human speciesism. Other scholars in animal ethics have ignored significant interests that moral agents must tend to when they make moral decisions. This is what my theory aims to correct, and I mentioned in the introduction that speciesism—thus conceived—is a subclass of our evolutionist interest. Paez, however, shares neither my commitment to evolutionism nor what it would imply for human nutrition. In relation to the first point, Paez argues that adopting evolutionism would also commit me to racism, in spite of my argument against this.(p82-83) Whereas I contended that human beings have a racist interest, I argued that this interest ought to be overridden by our greater interest in equality, which stems from the mutual recognition between people from different races agreeing that an equal world is better than a racially prejudiced world. With this, I do not argue that my antiracist interest depends on particular people from other races not being prejudiced against me. Indeed, it may be appropriate to treat them equally, in spite of the fact that they may not do so. However, mutual recognition is required in the sense that racism would not be a moral problem if nobody from another race possessed the capacity to question racism. This is why I argued that the fact that nonhuman animals, unlike people from other races, cannot make such mutual agreements with us is morally relevant. Whilst human beings and nonhuman animals cannot mutually recognize that an anti-speciesist world might be better than a speciesist world, at least some human beings from one race and at least some from another race can recognize and agree mutually that an equal world is better than a racist world. Because of this difference, I am unpersuaded that racism is justified by my commitment to evolutionism. Paez acknowledges as much and claims that “the victim's capacities to understand existing discrimination, rebel against it and repay in kind” are crucial in this part of my theory. This is not quite correct. What I think does the moral work here is that the moral patient is recognized to belong to a biological group that is, in spite of their evolutionary difference from the group to which I belong, sufficiently rational to allow for a mutually binding contract based on equality. When the moral patient lacks this capacity themselves, Paez claims that the only thing in my theory that might save them from discrimination is their being cared for by rational others, which Paez considers implausible. I understand why Paez comes to this conclusion, given that I wrote that “equal moral significance” should be given to “members of both races who may not possess moral agency, but are nevertheless held dearly by the imaginary parties.”(p83) I would like to clarify that the question whether or not they are “held dearly” is not morally relevant. Whilst they should be “held dearly,” regardless of their capacities, the crucial point that I would like to make is that merely their membership of another race that includes members who are recognized as being able to make a mutually binding contract based on equality with members of my race is sufficient. It is not the moral patient's capacities that do the moral work, but the fact that they are a member of a biological group that includes members who are recognized to be capable of making a mutually binding contract with us. This should prevent their victimization. In relation to what my commitment to evolutionism would imply for human nutrition, Paez queries why we should hold on to the view that our evolutionist interest survives death,(p80) particularly since dead bodies are no more than aggregates of molecules with experiential capacities that can be deemed to be significantly inferior to those of living bodies. This is an important challenge. I argued in the book that an evolutionist interest is an interest in attributing special moral significance to those who are more closely related, regardless of whether they are either alive or dead. Whereas I remain convinced that this interest ought to survive death, one shortcoming of the book—as mentioned before—is that it did not make explicit my belief that there is a difference between the moral significance of a dead body and that of a living one. Accordingly, it may be preferable to consume a dead animal than to kill an animal first to consume them, in spite of the fact that the former may be more closely related to us. To make this discussion more concrete, I provide an example. In a situation where either is necessary to prevent malnutrition, a person would, in my view, be justified in eating a part of a whale who had died naturally, rather than to kill fish, who are more distantly related. They would, however, be wrong to eat a dead human being if the former option was not available, in spite of the fact that eating a dead human being would be preferable to killing a living one to consume them. This also shows that evolutionism is not invoked to resolve any lingering doubt about who is the most sentient being. In spite of my doubts, I do believe quite strongly that a dead human being is insentient and that the experiences of the remaining molecules are inferior to those of a living animal. The challenge, however, remains: If we assume that physical health risks could be minimized to an acceptable level, why should we adopt the view that our evolutionist interest ought to imply a prima facie duty to refrain from eating the dead bodies of organisms who are closely related to us? Unless we adopt the view that human beings have some natural aversion towards eating the bodies of those who are closely related, I am unable to answer it. However, I also recognize that, paradoxically, we have an interest in eating animals and that sometimes our interest in “consuming an animal … ought to prevail,”(p160) which is why Paez is not quite correct to state that evolutionism demands that we regard animals as “unsuitable objects for consumption.” This is why I wrote that our “psychological health is best served by not conceiving of other animals as sources of food where our physical health does not depend on doing so.”(p162) Paez is right that the question whether the interests that I bring to bear on the morality of consuming animal products are universally shared cannot be derived from the small sample of people who were interviewed and whose views I engaged with in chapter four, which is why I wrote that “further research is needed to discuss qualified moral veganism explicitly and with more diverse groups of people.”(p157) Paez is incorrect, however, that this implies that my argument for a qualified ban is “methodologically problematic.” Whether many people agree with me may be relevant for its feasibility (and—pace Paez—I did not claim that realizing the vegan project is feasible, at least not in the short term), but it is not a necessary condition for its validity. Its validity depends, rather, on the moral evaluation of people's views. If the views of those who disagree with qualified moral veganism do not stand up to critical scrutiny, there would be nothing wrong with the vegan project or the ambition to create legal and political changes in line with qualified moral veganism. This does not take away that I remain doubtful about its validity, which is why the fact that Paez finds the ideas of the final chapter “extremely interesting” provides a powerful incentive to organize more deliberative exchanges on the theme in the future. As mentioned before, my confidence in my moral position is likely to grow if I know that others share the underlying values, but it may decrease if it is found that many do not share them. 5 ENGAGING WITH TORRES Another review of my book was written by Mikel Torres Aldave. Torres does a great job in providing a chapter by chapter summary of the book, which he understands, by and large, very well. Nonetheless, some ideas have been misunderstood. In addition, he has made a number of counterarguments to my theory that fail to convince me. Torres writes that my position is that plants possess less developed experiential capacities compared to many animals (“muchos animales”),(p204) but I actually believe that this applies to all animals. A more substantial point that must be clarified is that Torres is imprecise where he claims that I adopt the view that our dietary choices should be guided by the general rule that we should inflict as little pain and suffering as possible. This is actually merely one rule that must be balanced with other rules. Amongst these is the rule to act in accordance with our speciesist and animalist interests. It is at this point where my position differs from Torres's, who believes that speciesism is irrelevant and who doubts whether animalism is relevant. Curiously, Torres claims that speciesism is not relevant morally because of the argument from species overlap, also known as the argument from marginal cases. This, however, does not make sense. The argument from species overlap focuses on the moral relevance of particular properties that would exist across species to counter the moral theory that different species deserve differential moral significance on the basis of each species possessing unique properties. Speciesism, however, does not need to be based on the view that species have unique properties. My commitment to speciesism is merely based on the view that the fact that individuals can be more or less closely related to one another genealogically matters morally. This flaw in Torres's understanding may have been fostered by his reading of Garner's work, who makes the same error where he claims that speciesism implies “that because an anencephalic infant is a human being … she has the same capacities as nonmarginal human beings.” Whereas Garner questions rightly whether the concept of “marginal” might be “offensive” when it is used in this context,(p177) a debate that I shall not pursue here, for the purpose of this article, I merely stress that speciesism implies only that anencephalic human beings deserve more moral significance compared to members of other species, rather than that they have the same capacities as other human beings. An anti-speciesist position cannot explain why it is, in my view, more problematic to eat a human being who died naturally than to eat nonhuman organisms who might need to be killed to be turned into food. An anti-animalist position cannot explain either why, in my view, vegans may not be immoral by refusing to eat animals who die naturally or accidentally, in spite of the fact that their refusal may, all else being equal, cause more pain, suffering, and death. Vegans who oppose animalism also run into trouble in situations where they refuse to eat animals who might either have been anaesthetized before being killed or whose deaths were relatively painless compared to the numerous animals who were carved up on the land after it had been ploughed to provide their vegetables. This contrast is particularly stark when we compare the killing of one large mammal, such as a cow, with the thousands of deaths of the much smaller organisms that vegans are responsible for by their refusal to eat a cow. Regarding this last example, it might be countered that the balance may tilt the other way if we factor into the equation the pain, suffering, and deaths that cows cause by their walking and grazing. However, I believe that there is a significant moral difference between our responsibility for the pain, suffering, and deaths inflicted on the organisms affected by our tillage and cultivation of the land and our responsibility for the pain, suffering, and deaths that result from our decision to allow a cow to graze. Allowing animals to live, even if this necessarily causes others to be killed, is not the same as killing animals. This is why ploughing the land poses a moral problem, whereas allowing a cow to continue living does not. Whilst farmers may have duties to limit the breeding of cows and to limit the negative impacts of grazing cows upon others, I would argue that the negative impacts that the grazing of a cow, per se, imposes upon others do not pose a moral problem. This is why the pain, suffering, and deaths that cows cause by grazing per se should not be entered into the moral equation when we make dietary decisions. The anti-animalist vegan, therefore, has a real problem: How can a diet be justified if it imposes more units of what they consider to be morally relevant harm compared to another diet? Perhaps they might counter that the life of one cow is worth much more than the lives of the thousands of animals who are affected negatively by the plough. Whereas I accept that some lives matter more than others, I remain unconvinced, particularly if we consider that the thousands of other lives that are lost through ploughing include other mammals, for example, mice, rats, voles, and moles. I would also question what anti-animalist vegans might one day be obliged to do if the human capacity to anaesthetize animals had improved to such an extent that it would not impact negatively (due to the administration of toxic substances) upon the healthiness of eating their flesh afterwards. Rather than to eat plants, there may then be situations where they would be obliged to eat animals, at least if physical health risks could be minimized, if we remained ignorant of how we might anaesthetize plants, and if the relatively greater disvalue associated with the loss of the animal's life could be assumed to be insufficiently great to tilt the balance the other way. It might, of course, be countered that plants are insentient, which is the position that Torres adopts, but this is contested by some panexperientialists. The implication is that, in some situations, panexperientialist vegans would only be able to stick to a vegan diet if they adopted my moral theory. It is also partly because of my commitment to animalism that Torres is correct to say that my position regards the production of in vitro flesh, in principle, as immoral. However, as animalism is no more than one interest amongst many others, I also argued that its production and consumption may be the lesser evil compared to the production and consumption of conventional animal products. Part of the problem with in vitro flesh is that it is derived from animals, thus clashing with our animalist interest, but the reason why I might nevertheless welcome its large-scale production—where my cautious stance relates to current uncertainties about how exactly this might be done, and therefore to uncertainties about its GHIs—stems from my greater concerns with the consumption of conventional animal products and my realization that there is great social resistance to the adoption of vegan diets. For people who refrain from adopting vegan diets for justifiable reasons, as well as for those who cannot be compelled to adopt such diets in situations where they nevertheless ought to do so, the consumption of in vitro flesh may turn out to be preferable to the consumption of conventional animal products. In spite of my recognition of our social reality, Torres is right to conclude that I favour the third political strategy, the vegan project, which was defined as “the ambition to create international and national laws to introduce ... a qualified ban” on the consumption of animal products.(p115) However, in spite of my contention that we should focus on the vegan project, this focus is not meant to exclude the 2 other strategies that I outline in the book, notably education and the adoption of better pricing mechanisms. In relation to the second strategy, however, it must be emphasized that the existence of noncapitalist economies is not the only problem, but also my concern with the ideology that all moral issues can be tackled by the adoption of appropriate pricing mechanisms. The book argues that many animal products simply ought not to be consumed, regardless of the price that one might ask for them. This is another point where Torres differs, who argues that, as a political liberalist, he values freedom a great deal. This is why he cannot accept the third strategy. Rather, perhaps inspired by Rawls—arguably the most famous defender of political liberalism—he claims that the state ought to be reasonably neutral towards different conceptions of the good. This is where his position runs into problems as Torres also favours a prohibition on the cruellest forms of animal abuse. How could this be enacted by a supposedly neutral state? There is no view from nowhere, which is why even the state must adopt particular values that are not necessarily shared by everyone. I argue in chapter three that, since I am not a dictator and since I think it would be wrong for me to impose my values on others, a qualified ban on the consumption of animal products would only be legitimate if it was supported by sufficient people who, acting within a just political system, justifiably impose their values on those who disagree.(p115-116) There may not be sufficient people to justify political change at the present time. However, this does not imply that, “morally” (“moralmente”), the vegan project would not be defensible.(p210) It is not inconsistent to adopt the view that everyone ought to act in a particular way and the view that nobody ought to be compelled by the state to do so as long as there is insufficient support for the former view. The political abolition of slavery presents a different example that shows that it can be right to focus on the abolition of certain practices, rather than on their improvement. Whereas the better treatment of slaves may have been welcomed by early defenders of the abolition of slavery, I believe that they were right to insist on abolition, in spite of the fact that their views were not supported by the political majority. It does not seem to be appropriate to defend liberty where that liberty is being used to perpetuate acts that one considers to be immoral, however great one's doubts may be about what is (im)moral. As Torres's defence of liberty appears to have been inspired by Rawls, it is worth pointing out that, whilst Rawls included “freedom of thought” within his defence of the liberty principle, he did not include the freedom to act in accordance with one's thoughts.(p61) Whereas Torres does not explicitly refer to Rawls to support his stance, his position seems to have been influenced a great deal by the work of Garner as he claims that this scholar would have “a more appropriate theory for a liberal society” (“una teoría … más apropiada para una sociedad liberal”).(p210) The theory in question recognizes that nonhuman animals “are due much more” than a right “not to have suffering inflicted on them by humans,” but that nonhuman “animal advocates ought to direct their attention” to the goal of “eradicating the suffering of animals” as asking more than that would imply that one expects people to be “saints.”(p166-168) While I am at one with Garner that the suffering that we impose upon other animals poses a moral issue, I also argued that it is inappropriate to seek to eradicate it. More importantly, I argued that significant political change for the better in relation to the consumption of animal products can only be expected if people balance the whole gamut of interests that are at stake in relation to the consumption of animal products appropriately, rather than focus merely on our interest in the limitation of suffering. Demanding that moral agents act in accordance with whichever interest deserves moral priority does not imply that one demands people to be saints. It merely demands that, in every situation, they tend to their most significant duty or, to put it differently, to the interest that ought to prevail. Whereas I agree with Garner that a “nonideal theory should focus on the most urgent injustices,”(p19) Torres's appeal to liberty fails to undermine the case for political change to tackle less urgent or minor injustices. In the name of liberty, one could also defend that the state should allow those who autonomously wish to ruin their health the right to do so, at least where it does not harm others, which is the position that Torres takes. I agree with him on this point, but—contrary to what Torres claims(p209)—it does not undermine the central claim of the book: That moral agents have an unconditional duty to maximize their health.(p6) If one believes that this duty might clash with other values, for example, the value of liberty, this may seem problematic. However, if the concept of health ought to be understood holistically, it includes one's psychological health, which includes a concern with liberty. For moral agents, what is paramount in safeguarding one's holistic health is to protect one's moral health. Such health cannot be achieved if values that ought to be prioritized are subordinated to other values. As Torres claims, many people might argue that restricting one's liberty when making dietary choices undermines their health. However, I argue at length that their conception of health is problematic when their freedom to choose what to eat is exercised in ways that override morally important factors that ought to be prioritized. As Torres does not provide any examples of situations where it might be argued that one's interest in liberty ought to trump the other interests that I argue should be prioritized in relation to various dietary scenarios, I conclude that my thesis stands firm: Our duty to care for our health demands that we abstain from the consumption of animal products in situations that most people are confronted with at our present time. 6 ENGAGING WITH MANCILLA I have also provided examples of situations where people should not abstain, which is why Mancilla is incorrect to state, in her encyclopaedic article on “veganism,” that my position stipulates that “veganism is the best dietary choice if we care about the environment, i.e. if we care about the health of the planet as a whole.” Veganism should not be recommended as the best choice for the many people who would, if they committed to veganism, experience significant hardship, for example, due to their experiencing great difficulties in finding or purchasing the variety of plant-based foods that must be consumed to maintain good health. Whereas the health of some organisms might be improved by the early deaths of people who, in spite of their inability to live healthy lives on vegan foods, refuse to consume animal foods, my theory does not demand such sacrifices to promote planetary health. Additionally, and relatedly, it is also important to emphasize that, whilst my global health concern relates to a concern with the health of all biological individuals, I do not adopt the view that “the planet as a whole” is an individual that could be either healthy or unhealthy. Mancilla refers to my position—somewhat inaccurately, but understandably in light of the general gist—as “an innovative defense of veganism,” before discussing 3 counterarguments against “veganism.” She is right to suggest that veganism fails to minimize harm in some situations, but this first counterargument (the “minimize harm principle” challenge) does not apply to qualified moral veganism as it demands that we consume animal products in situations where not doing so would produce more harm. Because of my commitment to animalism, however, eating animal products may produce more harm compared to not doing so even in situations where this is only so because of the psychological harm associated with consuming animal products. For this reason, those who adopt my theory of qualified moral veganism have, in sharp contrast to other dietary theories that ignore evolutionism, one further reason why it may be appropriate to abstain from consuming animal products in some situations. When they face the “minimize harm principle” challenge, they have an additional defence. Mancilla's second counterargument, which she encountered in the work of Lestel, amongst others, is summarized as the view that we should “turn meat-eating into a ceremony” and “embrace the cruelty embedded in life” as not doing so would mean that we “see ourselves as superior to all other beings” and deny “our own animality.” This, however, is a non sequitur. Adopting qualified moral veganism implies neither that we affirm human superiority nor that we deny that we are animals. The view that we should bestow more moral significance upon human beings does not imply that human beings are superior. As I do not believe it is possible to substantiate claims about absolute superiority, claims about superiority and inferiority prompt the question: Inferior or superior in relation to what? It is not inconsistent to adopt both the view that human beings are inferior to many other animals, for example, horses, by virtue of the fact that we need to educate ourselves much longer to flourish relatively independently, and the view that we ought to value human lives more. It is not clear either how a failure to embrace cruelty might imply a denial of one's animality. However, what separates qualified moral veganism from many other theories that have been developed to promote veganism is the clear recognition—highlighted in section 3.5.3 of the book—that any dietary regime, vegan or otherwise, inflicts a great deal of pain, suffering, and death. The third counterargument identified by Mancilla is the (supposedly feminist) critique that veganism should not be seen as the morally correct choice, but as “one choice among many others depending on individual and social circumstances.” Qualified moral veganism does not fall prey to this critique either, however, as it does not identify veganism as the morally correct choice for those for whom veganism would be “nutritionally inadequate … culturally alien … or economically prohibitive.” Whereas it is not entirely clear to what extent Mancilla embraces these counterarguments, a significant shortcoming of her article is that it does not mention that none undermine qualified moral veganism. 7 CONCLUSION In this article, I provided a brief sketch of the key ideas developed in my book, Animal (De)liberation, and explored several challenges that have been raised against it. I argued that both qualified moral veganism and the vegan project survive critical scrutiny. As vegan diets are pivotal to public health in many situations, I remain committed to the view that they ought to be adopted by most of the human population at the present time. Provided that the ideas developed in the book gather significant political support, public health policy changes must be made that prohibit the consumption of animal products in many situations. I would like to thank my critics for engaging with my work and for providing me with the opportunity to clarify and expand on some ideas. It is my hope that this work will inspire others to read and engage with “Animal (De)liberation” and stimulate public health policy reform in accordance with this moral theory. ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS The ideas presented in this article have been presented and developed at several conferences. I thank participants and reviewers for their useful feedback. I also thank the Wellcome Trust for their research funding and the associated Open Access publication costs (grant reference: 104137/Z/14/Z). REFERENCES 1 Deckers J. Animal (De)liberation. Should the Consumption of Animal Products Be Banned? London: Ubiquity Press; 2016. https://doi.org/10.5334/bay CrossRef 2 Laestadius L. Self-interest for the greater good. Review of Deckers, J. In: Animal (De)liberation: Should the Consumption of Animals Be Banned? London: Ubiquity Press. J Eval Clin Pract. 2017;23(5):1101–1104. 3 Paez E. The pitfalls of qualified moral veganism. A Critique of Jan Deckers's Holistic Health Approach to Animal Ethics J Eval Clin Pract. 2017;23(5):1113–1117. PubMed | Web of Science® Times Cited: 2 4 Deckers J. Are those who subscribe to the view that early embryos are persons irrational and inconsistent? A reply to Brock. J Med Ethics. 2007;33(2):102-106. https://doi.org/10.1136/jme.2006.016311 CrossRef | PubMed | Web of Science® Times Cited: 4 5 Deckers J. Could ecologically sound human nutrition include the consumption of animal products? In: Sabate J, ed. Environmental Nutrition. Connecting Health and Nutrition with Sustainable Diets. Amsterdam: Elsevier; 2018 (in press). 6 Lifshin U, Greenberg J, Zestcott CA, Sullivan D. The evil animal: A terror management theory perspective on the human tendency to kill animals. Pers Soc Psychol Bull. 2017;43(6):743-757. https://doi.org/10.1177/0146167217697092 CrossRef | PubMed | Web of Science® Times Cited: 1 7 Cook G. Genetically Modified Language. Oxon: Routledge; 2004. 8 Deckers J. Are scientists right and non-scientists wrong? Reflections on discussions of GM. Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics. 2005;18(5):451-478. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10806-005-0902-1 CrossRef | Web of Science® Times Cited: 14 9 Hardin G. The tragedy of the commons. Science. 1968;162(3859):1243-1248. https://doi.org/10.1126/science.162.3859.1243 CrossRef | PubMed | CAS | Web of Science® Times Cited: 8636 | ADS 10 Craig WJ, Mangels AR. American dietetic association. Position of the American dietetic association: Vegetarian diets. J Am Diet Assoc. 2009;109(7):1266-1282. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jada.2009.05.027 CrossRef | PubMed | CAS | Web of Science® Times Cited: 241 11 Dekers J. Christianity, and Ecological Ethics. The significance of process thought and a panexperientialist critique on strong anthropocentrism. Ecotheology. 2004;9(3):359-387. CrossRef 12 Kant I. Kritik der reinen Vernunft. Meiner Verlag: Hamburg; 1998. 13 Whitehead AN. Process and Reality (Corrected edition; edited by David Ray Griffin and Donald W. Sherburne). New York: Free Press; 1978. 14 Griffin D. Unsnarling the World-knot: Consciousness, Freedom, and the Mind-Body Problem. Berkeley: University of California Press; 1998. 15 Torres A, Reseña de Jan Deckers M. Animal (De)liberation: Should the Consumption of Animal Products Be Banned? Dilemata. 2016;201(9): 201-211. http://www.dilemata.net/revista/index.php/dilemata/article/view/412000088/483 Accessed April 3, 2017. 16 Garner R. A theory of justice for animals. In: Animal Rights in a Nonideal World. Oxford: Oxford University Press; 2012:146. 17 Rawls J. A Theory of Justice. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press; 1971. 18 Veganism MA. In: Thompson PB, Kaplan DM, eds. Encyclopedia of Food and Agricultural Ethics. Dordrecht: Springer; 2016:4. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-94-007-6167-4_578-1 19 Lestel D. The carnivore's ethics. Angelaki. 2014;19(3):161-167. https://doi.org/10.1080/0969725X.2014.976066
Linnea I. Laestadius PhD MPP
The medical and public health communities continue to in large part view the consumption of animals as a personal ethical decision separate from the promotion of human health. While some change in animal product consumption might be advocated for based on connections to chronic disease or the contributions of meat consumption to environmental harms,[1-3] recommended reductions generally appear to be modest and take the form of either general encouragements to eat less processed meats or 1-day-a-week efforts like Meatless Mondays. Bioethicist Jan Deckers offers a timely and fresh perspective on the issue of animal consumption, pushing the boundaries of current discourse by arguing for the widespread adoption of vegan diets based on a holistic definition of human health. His new book draws from moral philosophy, empirical qualitative data, his own experiences with animals, and a review of several bodies of scientific literature to inform a new theory of qualified moral veganism. This approach clearly expands on the current small body of research documenting the links between human health and animal interests, which has so far stopped short of arguing for the widespread adoption of vegan diets.[4, 5] Inevitably, some readers may feel dismissive of the conclusions before even reading the book, but even sceptics of vegan diets may want to engage with the text given its novel perspectives and line of reasoning. Deckers embraces both speciesism and the prioritization of human health, perspectives often thought to be dismissive of veganism, and still ends up with a compelling argument for what he terms the “vegan project.” Deckers prefaces his work by making it clear that he believes health is all that should matter in bioethics. This streamlined approach is possible thanks to the adoption of an expansive, or holistic, notion of health that includes not only physical and psychological health but also Nussbaum's idea of a healthy life as “flourishing” and Caney's focus on human rights. Deckers explains that this definition of health also includes moral health. As a result, the promotion of personal health may also involve the fulfilment of moral duties to other people. This is perhaps not the most conventional definition of health for practitioners but certainly one that comes across as reasonable to the preservation of human well-being. While he argues that people do not have a right to health, since it cannot be ensured because of factors outside of human control, he does lay out a prima facie right to health care. Again, this term is defined expansively, which can at times be confusing given the US shorthand of using health care to mean medical care. Health care as defined by Deckers includes anything that promotes health and well-being. It is this right to holistic health care, and its associated duties, that sets the stage for the discussion of dietary choices. Fulfilling these duties requires us to consider the ways in which our diets affect ourselves and those around us, both immediately and across temporal and geographic boundaries (p 6). The definition of health is then further expanded by acknowledging a modern interpretation of bioethics that recognizes nonhuman animal interests in conjunction with those of humans. As a result, our efforts to achieve holistic health must also consider any “duties towards nonhuman entities” (p 9). This is an important point of distinction from past rights-based work on animal consumption because Deckers recognizes animal interests only as mediated through the primary moral obligation of meeting our own holistic health care duties rather than as a direct interest in animal well-being. Deckers states this point concisely noting that “the most important interest that human moral agents ought to consider in relation to the consumption of animal products is their interest in their own health, holistically conceived” (p 5). This self-interested approach is remarkably clever from a public health perspective since it recognizes animal well-being while still allowing human interests to trump animal interests as needed without creating a moral inconsistency. At its heart, Deckers' book lays out an ethical framework in which our concern for both other humans and other living organisms is borne primarily out of self-interest, with the notable caveat that we have an interest in being moral. 2 NEGATIVE GLOBAL HEALTH IMPACTS FROM ANIMAL REARING Underpinning Deckers' analysis of holistic health and diets is a moral theory on positive and negative global health impacts (GHIs). First developed in his earlier work,[8, 9] the concept measures the effects of human actions on health. In short, Deckers argues that our actions generate some volume of GHI and the aforementioned duty for holistic health care requires us to maximize positive GHIs while minimizing negative GHIs. To achieve this, we must (1) prioritize more important interests and duties over less important ones and (2) fulfill our duties in the way that creates the smallest possible amount of negative GHIs (p 7). For nonethicists, the GHI concept may take multiple readings to fully grasp. Simplifying the relationship between the positive and negative GHIs of an action, as well as the comparison of GHIs between actions, to a basic set of equations might help readers to better visualize GHIs at work. Additionally, a number of practical questions arise. It appears challenging to determine the specific GHIs for any set of actions (although Deckers rightfully proposes that ecological footprints could work as a proxy for some negative GHIs), and it is also not entirely clear who should be determining and weighing GHIs. Deckers implies that governments should take on the role, but even governments may be inclined to attribute inordinately high levels of positive GHIs to actions that bring them immediate economic or political gain, while minimizing negative GHI calculations for future generations or other nations. If GHIs can be added up in a fashion similar to a conventional cost-benefit analysis, it would also be important to consider the appropriate discount rate for harms and benefits to future generations. It is possible that the GHI framework is meant to be applied more theoretically rather than for concrete numerical analysis, but it strikes me that the framework could provide a useful alternative to dollar-driven cost-benefit analysis if it could be operationalized further in future work. All of that aside, from a theoretical perspective, the obligation to minimize harms while fulfilling holistic health care duties is clearly appealing and intuitive for those in public health professions. Deckers then asks if we are eating in a way that fulfills our duty for health care and minimizing negative GHIs. More specifically, he asks if “human beings who consume particular animal products in particular situations fail to minimise negative GHIs” (p 8). The most obvious point that detractors will raise at this stage is to question if vegan diets are in fact healthful. If they are not, direct health harms could offset the positive GHIs from vegan diets. Deckers preempts this concern both by acknowledging the small number of circumstances where animal consumption may be necessary and with an appendix summarizing the nutrition science literature on vegan diets. Although I note that this should not strictly speaking have been a necessary defense since the American Dietetic Association has stated since 2009 that “appropriately planned vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases.” With the exploration of nutritional effects of consuming, and not consuming, animals covered elsewhere, Deckers moves on to spend most of chapter 1 laying out the harms to humans from the rearing of farmed animals. More specifically, he provides well-grounded explorations of the connections between farmed animals and zoonoses, land use, water use and pollution, and fossil fuel usage and climate change. He also touches on occupational health and inequities for those working in the farmed animal sector, although this could easily have been a full section in and of itself. While the first half of this chapter likely offers few new facts for scholars already engaged with food systems questions, it provides a helpful summary for those who are new to the field or who may not have previously considered the connections between farmed animals and human health. The second half of the chapter picks up on Deckers' GHI framework and argues that many people who consume animal products create more negative GHIs than those who abstain and that vegan diets could reduce negative GHIs (p 41). The chain of reasoning is compelling, and while it is always possible to argue the minutiae of specific studies on the impacts of farmed animals on human health, the overall collection of evidence persuasively suggests that most people are not fulfilling their moral imperative to reduce negative GHIs when they choose to eat animal products. 3 QUALIFIED MORAL VEGANISM In chapter 2, Deckers builds on his exploration of negative GHIs to add consideration of the impacts of our consumption choices on nonhuman animals and how this impacts our moral health. Deckers moves beyond animal welfare reasoning to argue that killing is wrong even if painless but in the process also rejects elements of the moral frameworks outlined by prominent animal rights scholars Singer, Cochrane, and Regan for making what he views as unjustifiable distinctions between different types of living organisms (pp 73-75). Deckers instead suggests a prima facie right of all living things with health interests to not have those interests harmed (p 103) but also lays out what he terms “animalist” and “evolutionist” reasoning to justify eating plants but not animals. Under these principles, holistically defined human health requires that humans attribute some degree of moral significance (albeit less than what we give to humans) to “animals, whether they be dead or alive, because they are biologically more closely related to our species than other (non-animal) organisms are; and those animals who are biologically closer to us than other animals are” (p 80). As a policy scholar rather than a bioethicist, I cannot offer a full critique of these arguments other than to note that much of the literature advocating for animal interests embraces an antispeciesist platform.[14, 15] Embracing speciesism may make Deckers' approach to veganism more palatable to the mainstream public since human interests ultimately take precedence, although I would anticipate pushback on this point from some animal rights scholars. Additionally, Deckers could perhaps have struck a better balance in this chapter between considering the impacts of animal consumption on animals and the relevance of those impacts to human moral health. Given that the moral component of human health may be the least well recognized by practitioners, this seems like a missed opportunity to further develop the argument for why moral consideration of animals is critical to the promotion of health, holistically defined. Ultimately, Deckers uses this speciesist argument in conjunction with the GHI framework to develop a theory of qualified moral veganism, which may be the greatest and most innovative contribution of this work. This moral position does not demand veganism in all situations and recognizes that some humans may face justifiable social, personal, and ecological reasons for continued animal consumption. On the whole, however, vegan diets should become the “default diets for the majority of the human population” (p 99). This approach to veganism strikes me as significantly more palatable to the public health and medical communities than the Francionian argument for veganism as a moral baseline. Given all of the direct and moral harms from farmed animal consumption and rearing, qualified moral veganism seems like a pragmatic and well-reasoned solution for many of our most pressing public health problems. Certainly, some animal advocates may argue for a stricter moral baseline, but it strikes me as difficult to craft a rational argument that Deckers' interpretation of holistic health would call for anything less than this. 4 A QUALIFIED BAN ON ANIMAL CONSUMPTION The crux of the whole argument, however, is that while many people may agree that the presented evidence and ethical arguments are sound, history suggests that relatively few individuals will ever get around to adopting a vegan diet. Deckers recognizes this challenge and argues that policy reforms are needed as a response to people's “unwilling or unwitting failures” to embrace health care duties related to animals (p 11). Specifically, he uses chapter 3 to outline a 3-pronged approach consisting of Educating people about qualified moral veganism; Increasing the cost of animal products, primarily by ending subsidies for harmful animal agriculture; and A qualified ban on the consumption of animal products, with the ambition to create such a ban known as the “vegan project.” From a public health policy perspective, moving upstream to consider policy interventions strikes me as a sound approach for addressing social norms as deeply ingrained as carnism. For example, smoke-free indoor air legislation has created substantial “changes in social norms for tobacco use.” That said, the political feasibility of this final goal must be addressed. Even in the realm of tobacco control, where there is long-recognized evidence of negative GHIs that vastly outweigh any positives, Western governments have not found it politically feasible to institute overall bans on smoking. The barriers to change on animal consumption may be even more significant, even with a qualified rather than absolute ban. Past efforts to modify the US dietary guidelines to advise reduced consumption of animal products faltered in the face of corporate opposition, and even environmental nonprofits have been hesitant to advise the adoption of vegan diets.[19, 20] Deckers acknowledges these barriers to change and explores public opinion about animals in chapter 4 but still remains hopeful and argues that supporters of qualified moral veganism “must contribute to political and legislative reforms to reduce the likelihood that people will not fulfil their duties when they make choices about what to eat” (p 107). As a moral position, this obligation for support does make sense, and I appreciate Deckers including a call to action even in the face of stiff industry and political opposition. Deckers does not outline exactly what a qualified ban on consuming animal products would look like in practice. Significant questions arise about who would determine what counts as a justifiable need for animal products and how the allocation of animal products would be managed in this system. He suggests that the harm-benefit analysis present in current European Union directives for animal testing approvals may serve as an entry point for legal reform (p 119). However, scaling up a review process from research institutions to millions of individuals making dinner choices appears to present logistical challenges. That said, regulated access to an agricultural product is not unprecedented, and the US medical marijuana industry may hold lessons here. It would also be valuable to identify incremental policies, perhaps equivalent to location-specific smoke-free air laws, on the way to a qualified ban. Clearly, not all policies are equally suitable for this goal, and Deckers appears to caution that policy campaigns focused primarily on animal welfare improvement could be counter to the vegan project as they may strengthen the idea that “people should be allowed to use animals for food in situations where doing so cannot be justified” (p 121). The obvious incremental policy to the qualified ban may be the proposed changes to agricultural subsidies, but it would be helpful to identify additional policy steps along the way. The lack of concrete detail on what a qualified ban would actually look like represents the primary limitation of the book, albeit one that is perhaps to be expected from a moral philosophy book and hopefully one that sets the stage for more direct dialogue about the best policy approach for actually implementing this vision. Given that the text is freely available under a Creative Commons License from Ubiquity Press, follow-up dialogue could be forthcoming and inclusive of practitioners, advocates, and academics. Readers would benefit from prior exposure to bioethics frameworks, but the text is accessible and engaging enough that it would make a good selection for introductory and more advanced courses on public health and medical ethics. While it may be overly optimistic to expect widespread changes in diets or narratives about health in the near term, Deckers' book sets the stage for much needed critical discussions to move us closer to an expansive definition of human health. 1 Kaluza J, Åkesson A, Wolk A. Processed and unprocessed red meat consumption and risk of heart failure: prospective study of men. Circ Heart Fail. 2014;7(4):552–557. doi: 10.1161/CIRCHEARTFAILURE.113.000921 2 Chan DSM, Lau R, Aune D, et al. Red and processed meat and colorectal cancer incidence: meta-analysis of prospective studies. PLoS One. 2011;6(6):e20456. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0020456 3 McMichael AJ, Powles JW, Butler CD, Uauy R. Food, livestock production, energy, climate change, and health. Lancet. 2007;370(9594):1253–1263. doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(07)61256-2 4 Akhtar A. Animals and Public Health. 1st ed. London: Springer; 2012. 5 Akhtar A. The need to include animal protection in public health policies. J Public Health Policy. 2013;34(4):549–559. 6 Nussbaum M. Beyond “compassion and humanity.” Justice for nonhuman animals. In: Nussbaum M, Sunstein C, eds. Animal Rights: Current Debates and New Directions. Oxford: Oxford University Press; 2004:299–320. 7 Caney S. Human rights, climate change, and discounting. Environ Polit. 2008;17(4):536–555. doi: 10.1080/09644010802193401 8 Deckers J. Negative “GHIs,” the right to health protection, and future generations. Bioeth Inq. 2011;8:165. doi: 10.1007/s11673-011-9295-1 9 Deckers J. What policy should be adopted to curtail the negative global health impacts associated with the consumption of farmed animal products? Res Publica. 2010;16(1):57–72. doi: 10.1007/s11158-010-9117-z 10 Craig WJ, Mangels AR. American Dietetic Association. Position of the American Dietetic Association: vegetarian diets. J Am Diet Assoc. 2009;109(7):1266–1282. 11 Singer P. Rethinking Life and Death. The Collapse of Our Traditional Ethics. Oxford: Oxford University Press; 1995. 12 Cochrane A. Animal Rights Without Liberation: Applied Ethics and Human Obligations. New York: Columbia University Press; 2012. 13 Regan T. The Case for Animal Rights. Oakland, CA: Univ of California Press; 2004. 14 Singer P. Speciesism and moral status. Metaphilosophy. 2009;40(3-4):567–581. 15 Bekoff M. Deep ethology, animal rights, and the great ape/animal project: resisting speciesism and expanding the community of equals. J Agric Environ Ethics. 1997;10(3):269–296. 16 Francione G. The abolition of animal exploitation. In: Francione G, Garner R, eds. The Animal Rights Debate: Abolition or Regulation? New York: Columbia University Press; 2010:1–102. 17 Wakefield M, Forster J. Growing evidence for new benefit of clean indoor air laws: reduced adolescent smoking. Tob Control. 2005;14(5):292–293. doi: 10.1136/tc.2005.013557 18 Evich Bottemiller H. Meat industry wins round in war over federal nutrition advice. Politico. Available at http://www.politico.com/story/2016/01/2015-dietary-guidelines-217438. Published January 7, 2016. Accessed November 27, 2016. 19 Laestadius LI, Neff RA, Barry CL, Frattaroli S. “We don't tell people what to do”: an examination of the factors influencing NGO decisions to campaign for reduced meat consumption in light of climate change. Glob Environ Chang. 2014;29:32–40. doi: 10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2014.08.001 20 Laestadius LI, Neff RA, Barry CL, Frattaroli S. Meat consumption and climate change: the role of non-governmental organizations. Clim Change. 2013;120(1):25–38
Eze Paez PhD
Abstract I critically examine Jan Deckers′ position in Animal (De)liberation, where he defends two main views. The first is “qualified moral veganism”: Most humans have a duty to abstain from consuming animal products, even if there are circumsta…
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Deckers, J. 2016. Animal (De)liberation: Should the Consumption of Animal Products Be Banned?. London: Ubiquity Press. DOI: https://doi.org/10.5334/bay
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Published on July 28, 2016