Michael Huemer on Animal Welfare: Self in Society #3

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.

Listen to the episode via iTunes.

Buy Huemer’s book via Amazon (paid link): Dialogues on Ethical Vegetarianism

Continue reading “Michael Huemer on Animal Welfare: Self in Society #3”

Human Health as a Pretext for Animal Rights

The ad from PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) featuring Alicia Silverstone is an amazingly effective piece of propaganda that has earned enormous unpaid publicity. Featuring a nude but strategically concealed Silverstone emerging from a pool, the ad promotes a vegetarian diet. Silverstone says, “I feel so much better and have so much more energy. It’s so amazing.” The ad features the web page, GoVeg.com, which is run by PETA. So the hook is human health. But the motive is animal “rights.”

But this is odd. Why doesn’t PETA just make its case directly? The fact is that PETA would advocate a vegan diet even it were demonstrably less healthy for humans. PETA’s main web page proclaims:

Animals Are Not Ours to Eat
Animals Are Not Ours to Wear
Animals Are Not Ours to Experiment On
Animals Are Not Ours to Use for Entertainment
Animals Are Not Ours to Abuse in Any Way

If animals indeed have such rights, then human health is irrelevant. By way of comparison, did anti-slavery writers of the 1800s argue that the reason to end slavery is to make life better off for slave holders? No. They argued that people have rights, and slave holding is morally wrong. Whether the abolition of slavery hurt or helped particular slave owners was mostly beside the point.

On PETA’s page, Silverstone is a little more explicit about her motives:

Like most people, I wasn’t always a vegetarian, but I’ve always loved animals. If you ever have a chance to meet a cow, pig, turkey, or goat, you will see that they are just as cute and funny as your dogs and cats and that they, too, want to live and feel love. They don’t like pain. Now when I see a steak, it makes me feel sad and sick because right away, I see my dog or the amazing cows I met at a sanctuary.

Then she goes on to discuss her health.

But even this discussion is too limited. If animals have rights, then why is Silverstone featuring only cute, fuzzy animals like cows? Why not rats? According to PETA’s doctrine, setting a trap to kill a rat in the basement is just as immoral as eating a steak. By PETA’s own standards, Silverstone is unfairly discriminating against less-popular animals.

So here is my theory. The folks at PETA are caught up in the post-modernist notion that language is a tool used for social control and manipulation, not a means of communicating objective truth.

Here’s one of the lines from GoVeg.com:

Eating Chickens Is Bad for Your Health
According to a major 2006 Harvard study of 135,000 people, people who frequently ate grilled skinless chicken had a 52 percent higher chance of developing bladder cancer compared to people who didn’t.

But is the problem the chicken, or is it the grilling? Grilling anything creates carcinogens. So I suspect that throwing a tofu dog on the grill is just as harmful.

Recently I wrote about the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM), a group associated with PETA. Here’s what a September 4 news release from the group claims:

Prostate Cancer Survival Improves with Low-Fat Vegan Diet, New Study Shows

Levels of Hormones That Feed Tumors Are Lower in Men Who Consume Less Fat and More Fiber

WASHINGTON—Men who increase consumption of cancer-fighting vegetarian foods and avoid foods that feed tumor growth, such as dairy products and meat, may significantly increase chances of living longer after prostate cancer diagnosis, say the authors of a new review in September’s Nutrition Reviews.

According to lead author Susan Berkow, Ph.D., C.N.S., and her colleagues, high-fat, low-fiber diets raise circulating testosterone, estradiol, and insulin levels, which in turn may fuel prostate cancer cell growth. Among men with the highest intake of saturated fat, the risk of dying from prostate cancer is three times higher than among men with the lowest intake, the authors found. …

The 76 published studies analyzed for the current review include the groundbreaking work by Dr. Dean Ornish that shows serum from patients following a low-fat vegan diet inhibits the growth of cultured prostate cancer cells eight times more than serum from a standard diet group. Several studies, including Dr Ornish’s, found that patients on a low-fat, plant-based diet experience a significant decrease in PSA levels, a marker for prostate cancer progression.

For a copy of the new study or an interview with one of the authors, journalists can contact Jeanne S. McVey at 202-686-2210, ext. 316, or jeannem@pcrm.org.

I requested “a copy of the new study” on the evening of October 4 but have yet to hear back. But, even without a copy of the full study it my hands, it’s obvious that the release is manipulative.

Is a low-fat, high-fiber diet the same thing as a vegan diet? Obviously not. For example, one can purchase fat-free milk. According to NutritionData.com, a 71-gram serving of skinless chicken breast contains 0.2 grams of saturated fat.

Does Dr. Dean Ornish promote a vegan diet, as the news release implies? No, he does not. Instead, Ornish says, “Fish oil provides omega-3 fatty acids that are protective to the heart and have other significant benefits as well.” Obviously, fish oil, which, it turns out, comes from fish, is not vegan.

Ornish continues: “The problem is that most doctors and dieticians recommend a 30% fat American Heart Association-type diet. In other words, less red meat, more fish and chicken, etc. This diet may be enough to prevent heart disease in some, but it’s not sufficient to reverse it in most people.” Ornish indeed recommends a low-fat, high-fiber diet, but he does not recommend a vegan diet.

In describing Ornish’s diet, Anne Pearce writes:

Guidelines for both versions of Ornish’s diet emphasize reducing your intake of high fat, high animal protein foods, such as red meat, pork, bacon, ice cream, etc., and increasing your consumption of complex carbohydrates, including fruits, vegetables, and whole grains in their natural forms, legumes, nonfat dairy, soy products, and egg whites. …

You may include moderate amounts of fish, skinless chicken, avocados, nuts, and seeds. However, if you are working toward losing weight and sustaining a healthier, target weight, these allowances could also be sources of unwanted calories and fat.

Apparently, some animal-rights activists do not believe that they can bring mainstream America over to their cause through honest argument.