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Are some animals more viable for exploitation than others?


Christopher Lewis asked me on Facebook:

I am interesting on understanding your scale for judging an animal’s suffering. How do we know killing one animal is fine, another is wrong. Torturing one animal ok, hunting another to extinction not.

Here’s my answer:

Christopher Lewis It’s an excellent question.

I would formulate my thoughts this way:

  1. Vulnerability to extinction. First, we have to protect species against extinction. I believe it is a massive sin to cause any extinction of species, a total blasphemy against the Creator as we cannot create a single species. And also the loss of the genetic material robs future human generations of the opportunity to experience this life form. So I make the same point here for animals, plants, fungi and without regard to size or complexity. We cannot replace them, and don’t destroy what you cannot create is an excellent maxim for life.
  2. Controllability of habitat and numbers Second, given the first point, we need to take more care with regard to animals or plants where the slide to extinction is less controllable by us. So at the moment marine life has a bigger call on protection because we have certainly placed plastics into the oceans at measurable amounts and this is completely and guaranteedly anthropogenic and there is no debate about it, unlike the debates that can be made in the case of greenhouse gases and global warming. I am in two minds about GW but I am not in two minds at all about the plastic issue, to the degree where I jumped up and down and got everyone in a small chain of stores I do things with to abandon plastic bags entirely. I have been talking about the plastic issue for fifteen years in fact, and finally people are starting to take the issue seriously and hopefully not too late, but we still don’t know how good the clean up can be and how fast. So I put animals in the line of threat from plastics into a degree of priority.
  3. Strength of links to others of the species It does appear that certain animals, even from their behaviour, have empathy to each other and interact with each other and some have interactions with their offspring which are related to love and tenderness in the human. For animals where the loss of one causes distress to others, I give more consideration than for the ones which do not have such a case. There are many species of bird, for example, that could be domesticated but humans have not chosen for the farmyard those which have lifelong pairbonds and which pine away when their loved one is taken. Take a chicken from the rooster and he happily carries on with his existing harem and the other chickens also don’t tend to look around for the missing hen. Do this to penguins, storks, swans and many other birds and mammals and you have a node of suffering. So I give priority not to eat the animals which show tenderness to one another and which demonstrate meaning to one another. In “The Time Machine”, for example, H.G.Wells Morlocks have taken the trouble to breed out of the Eloi race of humans they are farming any kind of empathy for each other. As indeed the powers that be do to us today, replacing Christ’s call to love our neighbour with the empty husk of political “correctness”.
  4. Intelligence regardless of sociability Fourthly, the above point doesn’t mean that vertebrates are always preferred over invertebrates. It appears that shrimp which people eat in great numbers are social and that the octopus, which is pretty anti-social really, is a startling intelligence and deserves a bit more respect than your typical invertebrate. All of this is subordinate to the first and second point, anyway.
  5. Deaths per kilogramme if useable protein This leads on to the fifth and this is an important point. If we are turning a living, sentient animal into amino acids for our own digestion, it seems to me to be more moral to take one animal that will feed many families over many meals than to take an animal which it takes many of to feed one person one meal. This is one of the reasons why I try to avoid shrimps. It takes maybe 10 shrimps to make a meal for one person, whereas a cow might make a hundred meals so the relationship of shrimps to cattle to give you a tonne of protein is at least a thousand (maybe closer to ten thousand) shrimps to one cow. This is an extreme example. Now if we placed the intelligence and value of the life of the shrimp at only one thousandth of that of the cow, maybe that would be justifiable. But if you look at shrimps in an aquarium for any length of time you’ll see probably just as much different activity and expression going on as you’ll see on a cow’s face as it stands around chewing cud, and maybe even more. So for me it’s disturbing to think that we could be making a virtual holocaust of these crustaceans just to produce the kilos of a single slaughtered cow. Likewise when it comes to fish is it not a bit disturbing to take a thousand capelin to give us the equivalent flesh of one tuna? Worth a thought.
  6. Naturally predated And then we have the sixth issue. Prey animals. Animals are by nature divided into hunter and hunted. The hunted tend to be thise which are naturally in the niche of proviing meat to other species and to a degree they evolved into it. It is part of being a sheep that you get eaten by a tiger, it is part of being a tiger that you don’t get eaten by anything. Human agriculture fit into this natural division in that we usually don’t eat tigers (some do) and usually do eat sheep (some don’t).
  7. Substitutability. If an animal or plant can be substituted with another in order to give the necessary thing we are looking for (example tortoiseshell now largely replaced by plastics) then it is best to take the version of the product with the least offences against these other points. If there is no substitute then all the more we need to take care that the species is protected from extinction. Usually this involves careful cultivation over a number of different sites.
  8. Farmability Given the last point, an animal or plant which can actually be farmed is a better candidate for use than a wild species that cannot be kept and cultivated under human control. Those which can be kept ought to be kept in a proper way, with regard to diet, housing and enrichment. The use of battery farms and similar is becoming thankfully a thing of the past, and this trend should continue. We are making a one way trade with these animals, they feed us and give us food and fibres, plants render to us all their nutrients and chemicals and of course it is not a deal any of them signed up to. The least we can do is give them a reasonable time of quality life with as low suffering as possible prior to sacrificing that life, again with the minimum possible suffering. Not all species lend themselves to farming, on the other hand those species which do also seem to lend themselves to adaptation into numerous breeds with varying characteristics.
  9. Multiple products. It is maybe good in view of the above to use synthetic fur rather than real fur, however if synthetic fur becomes unviable for any reason, it is better to farm fur animals which are also edible, such as rabbits, rather than mink which are only there to provide fur and which by the way require the sacrifice of numerous other animals to nourish them, although they can of course be fed on foods made from spent hens and dairy cows not usually sold for human cuisine. If we are going to sacrifice an animal, we should at least waste as little of it as possible. It is good to keep sheep as they provide milk and wool in addition to the produce of their carcase. Cattle produce leather in addition to their milk and blood products taken during their lives but this, like their meat and unlike wool, is a one off event at their death.
  10. Utilisation of inedible food. Humans cannot eat grass which is the easy crop. Cattle, sheep and camels do eat these as they are cellulose metabolised, thanks to their microbiota hosted in special chambers of their alimentary canal. Pigs can eat acorns and scraps which humans cannot eat. Via these animals, oak forests and grasslands have a use to us which might make the difference between keeping them going with their additional biodiversity, which you wouldn’t find in say a wheatfield. Hence farming them has advantages which vegetarians tend to overlook. Now let’s apply all the above to the issue of whales. They for sure let themselves down on the size issue – one whale will feed more than one of almost anything else, and given that we cannot eat plankton they let themselves down in the acorn argument too, but on the other arguments we shouldn’t be taking them.
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Vegetarian experience on European British Airways flight.


I attach the scan of my comments sent in today during the British Airways flight from Heathrow to Warsaw.

It would be self-explanatory, if one could actually read it, so I will type it out to make that a bit easier.

Every time I fly this route you seem to run out of vegetarian option sandwiches. This flight was about 4 short.

Bearing in mind that anyone can eat our food but we cannot eat carnibals’ food, doesn’t it make sense to overestimate the number of vegucated people rather than underestimate?

That would probably reduce food wastage, increasing your green credentials, as proudly boasted on every item of packaging!

The number of us is growing, so more amd more catering for vieegies should be in BA’s plans for the future, IMHO.

PS: Unless you indicate the contrary, I’ll include your reply in my blog huliganov.tv

So there we have it, I’m awaiting their response and you will be able to read that in an updated version of this post if you’re subbed to us here on Huliganov.TV.

I want to say clearly that this is no reflection on the cabin crew, who were outstanding today. Lindsay who was handing out the food actually went above the call of duty and raided the catering for the return route so as to get vegetarian sandwiches for the 4 of us who otherwise would have gone hungry. Roberto who was bursar explained also about how once people who are really vegetarians get a veggie sandwich, a lot of other people looking on would would quite like an egg sandwich even though they are quite happy to eat a ham sandwich if there’s no alternative.

The problem is that on the flights with real meals you can book a vegetarian option, but there’s no way of booking a vegetarian option beforehand on the snack-based flights that we have around Europe. So anyone who books into an economy class on a European flight will not be able to state a dietary preference – which would be all very well if all the snacks were plant-based and kosher but since they are not (I made the point also, which was well taken by Roberto, that the UK to Poland flight is sometimes going to hold parties of Jewish kids on excursions to Auschwitz or to heritage places, and they are not going to be able to take a ham sandwich either. This is not, repeat not, the fault of the people handing out the food and drinks on the flight, who could not have been better especially as it was a busy flight today, but this is just a call to the guys on the ground who design these meals. We read on all the wrappings how concerned BA is to have sustainable this and free-trade that, but still the choice of any meat, especially ham in sandwiches means that the ethics in place are still falling short of the expectations of a growing number of passengers.

Lindsay was kind enough to provide me with the information that 16 of the 123 sandwiches provided for the flight were egg and cress, the rest were the meat option. This means in fact that the estimation of the people planning the food was 13% vegetarian. This in itself, all else being equal, would in fact be a reasonable reflection of the current level of vegetarianism in most of Europe. I researched it the other day when my mother said it was for a lunatic fringe of cranks and the sources I saw put it between 10-15%.  However, the point Roberto made that in his experience as soon as the first vegetarian has refused the meat and taken egg, then a larger number of people suddenly start wanting to exercise a choice, this means that you cannot really just go on the basis of the number who are vegetarian.  It is hard for cabin staff to start challenging people’s vegetarian credentials in the flight over an egg sandwich.

And on top of that, in the UK there is getting on for 10% of the population who won’t eat pork on religious grounds even if they are not vegetarian. Diversity is a hallmark of what modern Britain stands for, and an airline flying our flag, and hoping soon to boost its fortunes no doubt with travel to the UK of people from all over the world both for the Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II and also the Olympics in London coming up very soon now this year, is duty bound to have this approach in its menu choices. Like it or not, vegetarian sandwiches are acceptable to most religions and to vegetarians also. About ten percent of vegetarians are full Vegan of course, but they are aware in any event that they are hard to cater for and if someone wants to be a no-exceptions Vegan and not an 80% Vegan like me, they will have to prepare their own in-flight food for a good while in the future, I expect. If I were uncompromising, I’d be a Vegan too, but I sometimes have to go half way in a social situation and accept egg and dairy products, but then I do expect that these options are readily available, and that’s the other party’s part of the compromise as I see it.

So what’s my recommendation to BA? And to representatives of other airlines who may have stumbled upon this? I would say that if your main sandwich is chicken or fish, you might get away with 35% vegetarian option and 65% your chicken or fish option. But if you are doing pork or shellfish, you probably need about 55% vegetarian option.

The clincher really is what I started off with in my note, that carnibals can almost always eat vegetarians’  food. They may not like it, or indeed they may have discovered that veggie food is tastier than meat based food, but there are very few who can’t eat it at all. The same is not true when the only remaining option is the meat option and as the cabin staff get down to the tail end of the plane they are coming up against people who are not happy because they will be going hungry when others are eating.

The advice given is to let the cabin staff know if you are vegetarian, so that they save one for you from the people who are taking the vegetarian option facultatively, but surely a better option is to let people choose and to have it so that when the choice finally does run out, at least the one thing left is something that we can nearly all eat?

I await the British Airways response – they’ve got my email. Unless they tell me I’m not supposed to publish it, you’ll also see it when they do respond.

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