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Michael Huemer on Animal Welfare

Copyright © 2024 by Ari Armstrong
This episode originally was published on June 27, 2019, and reposted here on May 2, 2024.

Self in Society Podcast #3
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Philosopher Michael Huemer discusses his book, Dialogues on Ethical Vegetarianism, focusing on the problem of the severe suffering of most animals currently raised for their flesh, skin, milk, or eggs. He also discusses the difference between a strict vegan diet and a diet that includes bivalves and potentially lab-grown meat; the alternative strategy of reducing one's consumption of animal products; the problem of social conformity; and more.

Time Markers
0:00 Introduction
1:16 Introduction to ethical vegetarianism
5:52 Ari's two main points of push-back: Nutritional benefits of consuming animal products and the possibility of consuming animals humanely
7:24 The Humane certification
8:54 Vegetarianism, Veganism, and Ostroveganism
10:52 Nutrition and diet
13:31 What about honey?
13:50 Are some vegans dogmatic?
15:13 Leather, wool, and pets
16:59 Lab-grown meat
20:05 Is concern about animal suffering just a disgust reaction rather than a moral matter?
23:34 Reducitarianism
28:23 The problem of social conformity
32:07 Should we applaud marginal improvements in animal treatment?
35:11 The example of Fairlife milk
38:12 Is humane treatment of animals better than enabling more natural predation?
43:07 Why don't animal suppliers who say they’re humane put full-time video online?
44:07 Squaring advocacy of animal-welfare regulations with libertarianism
47:10 Animal production companies sometimes use lobbying pressure against plant-based competitors
49:29 How to deal with social conformity
52:15 Wrap-up

Huemer runs a blog, Fake Noûs, where he writes about animal welfare, criminal justice, and other issues. Huemer also maintains a web site for his papers and such.

Huemer refers to Stuart Rachels's article, "Vegetarianism."

In his book, Huemer refers to a couple of videos, "What Cody Saw Will Change Your Life" and "Meet Your Meat."

I mentioned the nutrition data for mussels. A three ounce (85 gram) serving contains 20.2 grams of protein, 340% of the daily value of vitamin B12, and 736 milligrams of Omega-3 fats.

The Certified Humane program lists its standards online.

I also mentioned that there is a pet-food company that uses Certified Humane products. Some companies do offer vegan pet foods. I'm not sure how well carnivorous animals can do on a vegan diet, but I'm pretty skeptical that they can be optimally healthy.

As I mentioned, "The sale of raw cow, goat or sheep milk for human consumption is illegal in Colorado." However, people can buy "cow shares," which legally means they own a portion of a cow and the resulting dairy product. I have no especial interest in raw dairy; however, practically, this law means that no Certified Humane cow milk is available in Colorado (that I know of). Organic Pastures sells a Certified Humane cow cheese in Colorado, which is allowed, but it cannot legally sell its Certified Humane cow milk in Colorado. (Note: I’m not sure if the company would sell the milk in Colorado if that were legally permitted.)

There's a web site devoted to the "reducitarian" movement.

I brought up the example of Fairlife milk. Animal Recovery Mission released a video critical of one of Fairlife's suppliers. Fairlife in turn issued a June 12 media release and video promising reforms.

I absolutely loved the HBO film, Temple Grandin, about the professor of animal science. I didn't realize until after I recorded the podcast with Huemer that Grandin has quite a lot to say about animal welfare.

A point of interest for consumers of vegan products: The Impossible Burger recently changed its ingredients, mostly to soy and coconut fat. The Beyond Meat burger uses largely "pea, mung bean, and rice" proteins.

I punted on the issue of egoism. I will point out here that Ayn Rand would say that Huemer is wrong about egoism. I wrote my own critique of Rand’s egoistic ethics, What's Wrong with Ayn Rand's Objectivist Ethics, but I think Rand’s theory is stronger than many critics assume. Incidentally, Rand did allow some room for concern with animal welfare:

Only one's own life is a primary moral obligation. . . because it's the only life over which you have control, the only life you can live, the only life for which ethics gives you guidance. For the same reason that you should value your own life, you should value human life as such. I'd even say animal life has a certain value that man should respect. (Ayn Rand Answers, p. 113)

I also punted on the matter of rights, as we could have spent hours on the topic. My view is that rights arise in the context of the social interactions of rational beings and that they don’t apply to animals. So I think we should be concerned with animal welfare without claiming that animals have rights. But I realize that these are controversial positions that depend on a rich body of theory.

Following are a couple of soup recipes that Huemer likes:

Carrot ginger soup
1 lb. baby carrots
1 ginger root
2 cups Ripple brand pea milk

Peel and slice ginger (slice across the fibers)
Boil carrots and ginger in water for 1/2 hr. Adjust amount of water depending on how thick you want the soup.
Add ripple.
Mix in a blender until smooth.

Mike's Soup
1 lb. baby carrots
1 lb. split peas
1 bunch baby broccoli
1 tsp. salt
Misc. other spices (optional)
Ginger, garlic (optional)
3 cups of vegan milk substitute (e.g., soy milk or Ripple)

Boil carrots & peas in water for 1 hr. with salt & spices.
Add vegan milk.
Mix in a blender.
Cut broccoli and chop in small pieces. Boil separately. Then add into pea-carrot soup and stir.

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