Animal exploitation and suffering

It is often said that we’re a nation of animal lovers. But I think it’s safe to say that as a nation we hold rather contradictory views to towards animals.

For example, many people have a pet dog or cat that they treat as one of the family. We often hear about their personality and their distinctive quirks. The idea of killing dogs or cats seems morally abhorrent to many people. But on the other hand many of these very same people will happily have other animals killed so that they can eat them. Pigs are very intelligent animals, and there seems to be no moral argument for eating pigs but not dogs or cats.

As another example, a lot of people protested about the live animal exports from Brightlingsea in Essex back in 1995. I found this surprising because animals are kept in poor conditions as a matter of course without such protests. It just seemed to capture the public’s imagination, as did fox hunting, which was subsequently banned. Fox hunting, however, has unfortunately reared its ugly head again.

I am a vegetarian myself, although not yet a vegan. But I am attempting to move in that direction given what happens with dairy cows and calves as well as the hens and chicks involved in egg production. In short, males calves and chicks are of no use to the dairy and egg industries respectively, so they are killed off.

It would be unrealistic to expect everyone in the country to turn vegetarian or vegan overnight, but I certainly think that it should be made easier for people, and there should be new legislation guaranteeing higher standards for the conditions that animals are kept in, with regular inspections.

To make it easier, all food sold should be labelled as vegetarian, vegan or neither. We would therefore need proper legal definitions of vegetarian and vegan, and there should never be any ambiguity when buying any food product.

In addition to this, I think it’s quite reasonable for all foods that aren’t primarily meat products to be required to use only vegetarian (and where possible vegan) ingredients. For example, sweets are often made using gelatine, which comes from the bones and connectives tissues of pigs or cows. But this is unnecessary; they can easily be made without this ingredient, and frequently are. Cheese is often made using animal rennet, which comes from calves’ stomachs. But this is also unnecessary. Indeed, most supermarket cheese is now made without animal rennet. But some traditional cheeses still use animal rennet, including some whose methods of production are protected by EU legislation making them compulsorily non-vegetarian. This includes Parmesan and Gorgonzola. However, we should not let tradition get in the way of progress – after all fox hunting was banned. There are still Parmesan- and Gorgonzola-style vegetarian cheeses available, so banning animal rennet would cause no great dietary hardship. Of course, these cheeses are still not vegan, but being vegetarian is still preferable to the alternative, especially if the laws on the conditions animals are kept in are updated.

There should also be no more subsidies for animal farming. Meat is more expensive to produce than food from plants, and uses more resources, making any reduction in meat production good for the environment. We also do not need to eat meat, nutritionally speaking. There is certainly no need for it to be actively encouraged and subsidised by the state.

Finally, all of this does not just apply to food. Not wanting to exploit animals or cause them to suffer does not begin and end with what you put in your mouth. Indeed, toiletries and footwear are often labelled as vegan, and I think that this extension is logical and should be taken further. As with food, other products should be required to explicitly state if they use any animal ingredients. And as with food, any animal ingredients that have a reasonable non-animal substitute should not be permitted.

It will take work to get the legislation exactly right, but I think that now is the time to make a start.


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