Green Party Food Fight
Also sponsored by Peace Pendants at PeacefulJewelry
A subcommittee of the Green Party I am on recently considered a platform plank called "Ethical Treatment of Animals". The discussion brought up a number of interesting points about ethics as applied to humans and animals. At the core of controversy was the unstated assumption that any human use of animals is unethical, as is any killing of animals by humans. The entire proposed plank is reproduced below, as well as the plank it would replace.
The key parts I want to discuss here include the definition of animal and the assumption that all animals are sentient beings; banning the use of animals in science and medicine; banning animal foods; closing zoos and aquaria, and not allowing animals in classrooms; and encouraging a vegan lifestyle.
Vegan lifestyle is not defined, but my understanding is that vegans neither eat nor wear anything that is an animal product (See also veganism at Wikipedia).
I think we can apply human ethics to the treatment of animals by humans, but the first thing to remember is that they are human ethics, not the ethics of animals. Carnivores do not eat vegan diets, and carnivores are crucial components of ecological systems. Recall that carnivores do not just include large mammals like wolves and tigers; carnivores come in all sizes, right down to the microscopic level.
Just as animals can be classified as herbivores, carnivores, and omnivores, there are many classifications of animals. I have no problem with arguing about how sentient specific species of animals are, but I find calling a tick or nematode sentient to border on ludicrous. The most basic problem with this plank, and vegan philosophy (which is derived from a branch of the Hindu religion), is that it allows thinking only in terms of broad moral absolutes. Fact-based knowledge of the world is excluded. Vegans want all animals, including wild animals (and pests that exist in large numbers because they have accommodated well to humans) treated as if they were pets. No argument is allowed. By the vegan gospel humans should not be allowed to treat (kill) animal parasites like worms and malaria.
Which is a major difference between my Natural Liberation Philosophy and many of the doctrines that are current among environmentalists. We need to be able to apply our ethics and philosophy to specifics. Deep Ecology also appreciates the importance of carnivores.
The proposed plank sees a future in which all human food is plant material. How much more unecological could you get? This proposal eliminates not just carnivores, but also all herbivores from the equation. No cows, sheep, goats, or pigs. Just wall to wall soy and carrots.
Even the allegation that the plank stops cruelty to animals (and that those of us who voted against the plank are cruel, by implication) does not stand up to scrutiny. The plank wants children to go to schools where there is not an animal, dead or alive, to be seen or studied. What kind of children would that produce? And since it would ban all dissections, there would be no way for veterinary students to learn to do surgery. Nor could scientists find new cures for animal diseases.
In fact, the plank really advocates a total separation of the human world from the animal world.
I do believe that some scientists, both private-sector and academic, have abused their power over animals. I have no problem with setting up animal ethics committees to deal with these questions. But I also don't believe that simply raising an animal in a laboratory is inherently cruel, and I do believe we have a right to weigh the value of what is learned.
I was surprised that many people on the subcommittee could not handle gray areas. They wanted absolutes. In that way they resembled the anti-abortion, anti-contraception movement. I can see that an egg and sperm are not a human being, and that a one-year old child is. People can have all the facts about fetal development and still disagree on the ethics of the timing of when a fetus or baby gains a right to life. But when they say "The Bible says ..." they are no longer arguing about either the facts of development or the fine points of ethics. And vegan absolutists do not argue about ethics or cruelty, as I learned in this discussion. They try to use environmental concerns ("cows cause greenhouse gas") to support what is essentially a religious, moral position. They refused to make reasonable compromises, and mainly because of failed to get their plank out of our committee.
I think healthy farms include animals that produce eggs and milk, and even meat. A truly valuable animal byproduct is manure, which is indispensable to keeping the vegetable part of a farm thriving. I would rather legislate that farms must start be more diverse in what they create than that they can't raise animals.
People are mortal. Accepting the mortality of people and of all life forms is crucial to developing a sound philosophy and a sound society. To a large extent a vegan lifestyle is an attempt to deny death. It is a lifestyle based on fear and denial.
A little honey won't hurt anyone. Bees seem to like to make it. And bees will sting their enemies. I hope Green Party members will become more like bees, and less like walking ghosts, too busy being afraid of breaking imaginary rules of karma to actually get anything productive done.
Proposed new Green Party U.S. Ethical Treatment of Animals plank
Cruelty to animals is repugnant and unacceptable. The mark of a humane
We call for an intelligent, non-hierarchical and non-exploitive
There is a moral equality between humans and nonhuman animals in that we
The Green Party advocates the following policies:
1. Redirect nationally-funded research away from animal experiments and
2. Phase out the use of animals for consumer product testing, tobacco,
3. Mandate clear labeling of products disclosing whether or not they have
4. While we recognize our current laws are not sufficient to end the abuse
5. Phase out as a matter of urgency the most egregious examples of animal
6. Ban the transport of live horses to other countries for foreign
7. End international and national trade in wildlife. Ban the use of goods
8. Prohibit the use of inhumane and indiscriminate wildlife control
9. Prohibit large scale commercial breeding facilities, such as “puppy
10. Ban the exploitation of animals in entertainment, gambling and sports,
11. Ban canned hunts and the corresponding trade in animals from zoos and
12. Eliminate free-trade laws that weaken or revoke efforts to end animal
14. As a world view that respects animals as fellow sentient beings
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