Archive for January 30th, 2019

On Food Choices, part 7: asymptotic vegan

January 30, 2019

Peter Singer and Jim Mason, in The Ethics of What We Eat (pages 255, 256), say that objecting to the idea of killing young healthy farm animals for food:

…leads many people to become vegetarian, while continuing to eat eggs and dairy products. But it is not possible to produce laying hens without also producing male chickens, and since these male chicks have no commercial value, they are invariably killed as soon as they have been sexed. The laying hens themselves will be killed once their rate of laying declines. In the dairy industry much of the same thing happens—the male calves are killed immediately or raised for veal, and the cows are turned into hamburger long before normal old age. So rejecting the killing of animals points to a vegan, rather than a vegetarian diet.

I’m not fond of labels but I would say now that I’m asymptotically approaching veganism, that I am moving towards a plant-based diet. I’m largely there but 100%, all the time?

There’s the “low-hanging fruit” like meat. Then dairy and eggs.

Yet there are shades of grey.

I have shoes with leather uppers that I purchased before my thinking changed. Should I discard them? Will that help the animal now? No. Will I buy shoes with leather uppers in future. No.

Do you care about herd immunity? You should. Will you get the yearly flu vaccine to protect the vulnerable in our society as well as yourself? Eggs are used in the process of making the flu vaccine. Having the flu vaccine involves a compromise. In part 5, I referred to Australian research that aims to reduce the ethical dilemma by determining sex before hatching.

On the subject of vaccines, fetal bovine serum may be used instead of non-animal derived alternatives in vaccine production. The RSPCA says that where a synthetic serum or a non-animal derived alternative exists, they must be used instead of the animal-derived product.

The extent to which alternatives are used is something I want to discover more about, but: vaccination matters people! Imagine smallpox making a comeback.

Of course, as the recent outbreak of African Swine Fever in Chinese factory farmed pig populations shows, when a large outbreak of disease in animals occurs, they are “destroyed”. I don’t think that would fly with human disease outbreaks.

Do you use a sweetener in your coffee? Does it contain lactose? Some do and some don’t.

Do you drink almond milk or otherwise consume almonds? How are the flowers of almond (and other) trees pollinated? By bees. Is this a natural process? Do the bees just fly in and out of the orchard, or are they brought there, in man-made hives? If the latter, although less harmful than taking their honey, it’s arguably still a form of exploitation. Is that enough to make you stop drinking almond milk? If not, you made a compromise.

We recently had a turkey in the freezer with a long expiry date that had not yet been eaten. Would the “right action” have been to not consume it? If so, wouldn’t that have been a waste and wouldn’t that mean the turkey’s demise was pointless? I think so, therefore we had it last Christmas and were grateful.

Do you drink wine? The fining process often uses animal products (such as milk or eggs), but there are alternatives. Sites like Barnivore will help and obviously you can Google. Wine labels may sometimes say whether they are vegan friendly. More reds than whites seem to be vegan friendly from what I’ve seen so far, but by no means all. Beer is often okay. The main thing is: check if you don’t know.

Jelly contains, well, gelatine which is created from animal skin, bones and connective tissue. There are alternatives.

There are even lighter shades of grey.

If food has been cooked and will be discarded if I don’t eat it, should I eat it?


More subtle, if food is cooked and leftovers would be kept refrigerated, should I eat it since it will be eaten later by someone else anyway. That’s less compelling since any animal based food I choose not to eat will reduce the need/demand for that food.

There are bacteria everywhere, including in what we eat. Fragments of insects may inadvertently end up in our food. I may step on a bunch of ants…

But we have to make a distinction between the foregoing and deliberately enslaving and killing animals, treating them as means to our ends, instead of sentient creatures who, as Moby said in a TED talk, just want to be free of pain and suffering, essentially just want to be happy.

The point is to think. To ask questions. To intend change, to do better. To find alternatives, to say no more often.

It should never be about dogma. That way lies religion and unjustified ideology.

On Food Choices, part 6: surplus to requirements #2

January 30, 2019


This RSPCA KnowledgeBase page answers the question: what happens to bobby calves?

For cows to produce milk, they have to give birth to a calf. Most calves are separated from their mother within 24 hours of birth to reduce the risk of disease transmission to the calf, and most do not stay on the farm for long.

The term ‘bobby calves’ refers to newborn calves that are less than 30 days old and not with their mothers. Essentially, they are surplus to dairy industry requirements as they are not required for the milking herd. This applies to all bull calves (males) and about one quarter of heifer calves (females) born each year. And, each year, around 450,000 of these bobby calves are destined for slaughter.

It continues:

Some calves will be reared for veal and about three quarters of the heifers will become replacements for adult milk-producing cows. Heifer calves may also be reared and then exported to dairy farms overseas. Bobby calves may also be killed on farm.

Bobby calves destined for slaughter are housed together on farm and fed colostrum, milk or milk replacer, usually only once a day. Bobby calves, because of their low value, often do not get the same standard of housing, cleanliness, care or attention as the valuable replacement heifers or the calves being reared for veal.

Products from processed bobby calves include young veal for human consumption, valuable hides for leather, calf rennet for cheese making, and byproducts for the pharmaceutical industry.

It goes on to talk about the transport and handling considerations for such young animals and concludes with:

The RSPCA believes that bobby calves should be at least 10 days old and be fed at least four hours before being transported. Transport to the abattoir should be no more than 10 hours and in trucks that have protection from the elements, bedding and enough room for all calves to lie down.

To avoid or reduce the welfare concerns relating to bobby calves, the RSPCA position is that if bobby calves cannot be euthanased on farm (to avoid the welfare issues associated with handling and transport), they should be at least 10 days old before being transported off farm and then slaughtered within 12 hours of last feed.

Another consideration is the stress caused to both cow and calf, described on this RSPCA page:

Separation within 24 hours of birth interferes with the development of the cow-calf bond and thus reduces separation distress. Cows will show a strong response (calling) if their calf is separated at an older age, e.g. 4 days after birth, compared to separation at 1 day or 6 hours after birth. A similarly strong response in cows was found when separating the calf at 2 weeks of age compared to 1 day.

To reduce separation distress, consideration could be given to a more gradual separation process whereby the calf is prevented from suckling but still has (some) physical contact.

There are also health concerns relating to the cow such as mastitis and lameness although less so than in the US and UK.

On a positive note, this RSPCA dairy standards page says that:

In contrast to the fairly intensive nature of dairy production overseas – where cows may be housed in sheds for their entire lives – most Australian dairy cows spend at least part of the day on green pasture.


Finally, Animals Australia comments that:

The natural lifespan of a cow is up to 20 years, yet few commercial dairy cows live beyond the age of seven years, and many younger animals go to slaughter.

Due to the concerns listed above, the environmental issues discussed in part 1, and the more general argument about animals-as-means-to-our-ends from part 3 I choose not to consume dairy products anymore, where possible.

Part 7: asymptotic vegan

On Food Choices, part 5: surplus to requirements #1

January 30, 2019


Caged hens as a source of eggs can’t be ethically justified unless you think that having an area no larger than an A4 sheet of paper to live in, standing on wire, beak cutting to stop pecking of other hens, not being able to engage in natural behaviours, physical pain, injury and death are all okay.

Read the RSPCA’s short article Why battery cages are cruel if you think otherwise:

If you already buy cage free eggs in the supermarket, either barn or free range, you will be surprised to know that more than 11 million hens, or 70% of Australia’s hens, are still confined to a battery cage.

Hens in battery cages are constantly frustrated that they can’t do the things that come naturally to hens – spread their wings, walk freely, dust bathe, forage, lay their egg in a nest.

Battery cages cause physical pain, injury and death.

Australia is falling behind. Battery cages were phased out in the EU by 2012, and will be phased out in New Zealand from 2012. Canadian egg farmers have committed to an industry-led phase-out, while in the US, several states have either ended battery cage farming, stopped construction of further cages, or begun a phase-out.

They conclude that:

Battery cages are indefensible from a welfare point of view. The science is in, consumers and many major businesses are making the switch. It’s time for the Australian egg industry to stop clinging to the past, and catch up.

As mentioned in part 1, Karen and I have been choosing free range eggs for quite awhile now with the help of apps like CluckAR. Determining what constitutes free range and what doesn’t can be tricky though. As we’ve discovered, the number of birds and the conditions under which they are kept vary wildly under the “free range” or “cage free” banners, e.g. in a barn, out in the open.

But whether caged, barn, free range, there are two remaining problems: male chicks and “spent” hens.

Male chicks

From this RSPCA KnowledgeBase page:

In the egg industry, the sex of day-old chicks is determined at the hatchery. Sexing chicks (determining whether they are a hen or a rooster) requires considerable skill and is done at this very early stage to determine their fate.

If strong and healthy, the female chicks remain in the hatchery, they are grown to a suitable size and then transferred to a laying facility — which could be a caged, free-range or barn set up. Male chicks are considered an unwanted byproduct of egg production and are killed and disposed of shortly after birth.

Male chicks are killed for two reasons: they cannot lay eggs and they are not suitable for chicken-meat production. This is because layer hens — and therefore their chicks — are a different breed of poultry to chickens that are bred and raised for meat production. Layer hens are bred to produce eggs whereas meat chickens are bred to grow large breast muscle and legs.

It concludes with this:

The RSPCA continues to urge the egg industry to invest in alternatives…For example, research into alternatives to allow chick sex to be determined in the early egg incubation phase should be urgently progressed.

New Australian gene technology aims to do exactly that:

Recent advances in gene technology mean that it is now possible to differentiate between male and female chicks pre-hatch. This discovery provides an opportunity to improve animal production, reduce costs and eliminate ethical dilemmas in the egg laying and related industries.

An additional benefit of this technology is the potential to use the male eggs to protect people from influenza viruses. For example, human influenza vaccines are generally grown by vaccine manufacturers in fertilised chicken eggs. The pre-hatched male eggs that are no longer required by the layer industry could then be used to help produce seasonal flu vaccines.

“Spent” hens 

From this RSPCA frequently asked questions page about layer hens:

A hen is declared ‘spent’ when her egg production drops at around 72 weeks of age. At this point she is considered less profitable and removed from the production system.

The process of removing ‘spent’ hens is known as ‘depopulation’ where hens are manually caught by human ‘catchers’ (up to 5 hens per hand) and placed into crates ready for transport.

There can be welfare issues during depopulation. For example, time pressures and rough handling often lead to injuries such as bone fractures.

Spent hens are either killed on farm and composted, or transported to an abattoir for slaughter. Some of the meat from spent hens may be exported, while other options may include pet food, and lower-quality processing meat for human consumption (for example in soups and stocks.)

For these reasons, and the more general argument about animals-as-means-to-our-ends from part 3 I choose not to consume eggs anymore, where possible.

There is always the option of keeping your own hens or sourcing them from a local community that raises them ethically. For poor communities there’s a lot of sense in this.

Part 6: surplus to requirements #2

On Food Choices, part 4: cultural relevance?

January 30, 2019

The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated. (Mahatma Ghandi)

Source: The Australian, April 7, 2018

Even though the Australian Government is currently reducing the number of months per year that sheep will be exported, it’s hard to see how the live export of cattle or sheep can be defended on cultural, religious or other grounds.

In this ABC News article, the RSPCA is quoted as saying:

The RSPCA has long maintained that livestock should be slaughtered as close as possible to the point of production to avoid or minimise the inherent risks associated with their transport.

The trade in live farm animals from Australia, which requires transporting millions of animals over thousands of kilometres on arduous journeys which can last several weeks, could not be further from this principle.

As that article also points out there are other reasons for live export such as refrigeration issues, affordability, a desire to build breeding stock in the destination country.

Of course, those reasons would be less compelling, even irrelevant, if a plant-based diet was predominant.

The ethical aspects from part 1 are:

  1. The desires and health of a human individual.
  2. The food producer’s livelihood.
  3. The impact upon the environment.
  4. The welfare of animals.

Obviously export is driven by demand and the supply relates to the second aspect, but I want to focus on the first and fourth which have particular relevance here.

Do the desires (culture, religion) of one or more humans outweigh the welfare of one non-human animal?

After writing that last sentence I recalled Spock’s words at the end of The Wrath of Khan:

The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few or the one.

As an aside, in that context, he was taking a consequentialist ethical stance to sacrifice his own life to save the lives of his shipmates, while oddly, at the same time making it sound like a Kantian maxim that could be applied independent of context.

The sentence structures are similar:

The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few or the one.

The desires of humans outweigh the welfare of an animal.

But that’s where mere syntax is insufficient and semantics matters.

In Spock’s utterance, the word needs is applied both to the many and to the few or the one, while in the second sentence desires is applied to humans but welfare is applied to an animal.

Welfare implies needs.

So, the second sentence becomes:

The desires of humans outweigh the needs of an animal.

Hmm. Desires vs needs…

The needs of an animal — human or non-human — include being able to:

  • eat and drink
  • sleep
  • avoid pain
  • live

The desires of humans in the context of live export are to:

  • do something because an ancient text says they should, e.g. eat one animal but not another or slaughter an animal in a particular way after transport (e.g. kosher, halal)

It seems reasonable to suggest that needs trump desires here.

In part 1 I said this:

But the thing is, I like the taste of beef, bacon, ham, fish, turkey, chicken, cheese, milk, and other foods I’ve spent half a century eating.

Beef was my favourite meat. Lamb chops were frequently seen on the dinner plate when we were growing up but less frequently in my adult life. I preferred beef but lamb was fine too.

I have liked these things, but I don’t need them. It seems I never really did.

Part 5: surplus to requirements #1