more reasoned responses to the common justifications for eating animals or you are just someone exploring the topic, we are all impacted by a lifetime of cultural conditioning that has profoundly shaped our worldview in favor of eating animals. This conditioning has led to deeply-entrenched prejudices against farmed animals which are expressed in a variety of the justifications we discuss here. These justifications surface when we are confronted with the facts about animal farming and the opportunity to make more compassionate choices. Each justification is followed by a response, which may include links to supporting sources. This page is a frequentlly updated work in progress, so please bookmark it and check back often!
If you want to go even more in depth, check out our series of articles on individual justifications from several leading authors.
Justifications Based on Nature, Biology or Evolution
If I wasn’t meant to eat meat, I wouldn’t have these canine teeth!
There are several serious problems with the “canine teeth” argument, the most glaring one being the idea that the presence of canine teeth means we are “meant to eat meat.” The truth is that nearly all mammals have canine teeth. Many herbivores and primary plant-eaters have ferocious canine teeth; in fact, the largest canine teeth of any land animal belong to a true herbivore. Check out our photo gallery and accompanying nine reasons why your canine teeth don’t make you a meat-eater
Humans are omnivores, designed to eat animals
The term omnivorous doesn’t mean must eat some animal products. It means capable of subsisting on both plant and animal matter. Of the two, we are able to thrive without eating animals; however, if we eat no plants, we could quickly become malnourished. In fact, decades of scientific evidence have demonstrated that humans have no biological need to consume flesh, eggs or dairy products. We can get all the nutrients we need on a plant-based diet, without the unhealthy animal protein and cholesterol, and without inflicting needless suffering and death on billions of animals.
Animals eat other animals, so why shouldn’t we?
Many people insist that eating animals is “natural” — and therefore morally neutral — because other animals eat animals. But it’s important to realize that, with a few exceptions, when humans kill other animals for food, we’re not doing what animals do in nature. Read article…
Animals are ferocious and would think nothing of attacking us.
“Compassion is a betrayal of nature,” Hitler exclaimed days before his suicide. “Nature itself is brutal, cruel,” people often tell us, which then becomes a justification for harming animals for any reason we wish, framing our relentless violence toward them as part of some primal, predatory, tooth-and-nail fight to the finish. Painted this way, our treatment of farmed animals is practically self defense. Yet, bred into a state of total domination and learned helplessness, farmed animals are among the most docile, submissive and passive creatures on earth. They have given up out of the gate. None of the domesticated animals raised for food have the kill instinct of carnivores, nor is human flesh a natural or desired part of their diet. But, even if farmed animals posed a serious threat to us, they exist only because we forcibly breed them into existence. If we did not artificially breed farmed animals in the first place, they would not exist and therefore would pose no threat to us. We create our own problems with animals and then blame the animal victims for those problems. We are by far the most violent perpetrators of any species on this planet. It is the height of irony that we should then characterize other species who kill, if they do, only from necessity, as ferocious and merciless.
Animals can’t reason like us so they don’t deserve the same treatment.
Regarding the question of how we ought to treat nonhuman animals, philosopher Jeremy Bentham famously wrote, The question is not, “Can they reason?” nor “Can they talk?” but, “Can they suffer?” Read article...
We have been eating animals since the dawn of humankind.
Prehistoric humans and their ancestors ate some amount of meat. There’s no question about that. However, an in-depth analysis by science writer Rob Dunn published in the Scientific American reports on recent studies indicating that Human Ancestors Were Nearly All Vegetarians. But, again, is what our ancestors ate really relevant to the very different circumstances we face today regarding our food choices and lifestyles? We are no more compelled to eat like our ancestors than we are to practice cannibalism, rape, slavery, murder, or any of the other violent traditions which are all an unfortunate part of our human legacy.
Our large brains developed from eating animals.
Well, one could claim that our brains have also developed to become addicted to smoking, gambling, video games, alcohol, drugs, sex, violence, and harmful fast food. Our brains have evolved to create complex societies where Hitlers and Stalins exist along with great visionaries like Ghandi and Leonardo da Vinci. Read article…
We are apex predators at the top of the food chain.
Not according to the best science we have on the subject. But even if it were true, claiming to be at the top of the food chain may be a popular slogan but it is not a moral argument. It’s simply an affirmation of “Might makes right” — the principle behind the worst atrocities and crimes of human history. Read article…
Eating animals is as instinctual to us as procreation.
“We live in a society governed by laws that are largely aimed at discouraging those behaviors that persist as our baser instincts: stealing, beating, raping, killing, etc. The fact that these behaviors occur so commonly, even when stigmatized and criminalized, is surely proof that they are instinctual on some level; it is also evidence that a behavior’s being instinctual has no bearing on whether or not it is ethical. We have both moral and immoral instincts, impulses that are sometimes generous, sometimes violent and cruel. Living an ethical life means we strive to thwart our baser instincts — those that cause harm and injury to others — and to cultivate those behaviors and attitudes that promote the wellbeing of ourselves and others.” — Ashley Capps
Eating animals is just a part of the cycle of life.
The same could be said for rape, slavery, murder, war, genocide and any of the other human vices that are an unfortunate part of our human legacy. While we have many natural behaviors that are offensive and harmful to others, free will is also natural, and with it comes a responsibility to weigh the negative and positive impacts of the choices we make. Our contributing writer, Sherry Colb, has an excellent post on the various natural arguments used to justify eating animals.
That’s what animals are here for!
This is nothing more than a prejudicial, unreflective judgement that has no basis in any serious understanding of who farmed animals are and what their complex social and emotional lives tell us. The same kind of prejudicial judgments are made against all oppressed groups, including African slaves by slaveholders. Such judgments only help the oppressor while reinforcing the subjugation of the victim.
Farm animals have a much better life than they would in nature.
Fans of this line of thinking often present an either/or situation: either the animals we eat die a horrible death in nature after a difficult existence, or they have a comparably “easy” life and a better death on farms. This is inaccurate, and a false dilemma. Farmed animals would never exist in the wild; they are artificially bred into existence to be used on farms. Read article…
Plants are alive too. Don’t vegans believe plants should not be harmed also?
There is a reason why we don’t hesitate to walk our dogs in the park on the grass, yet if someone were to kick our dog on that walk in the park, we would find this morally objectionable. It would also be within our rights to press criminal charges against the offender. Plants are not sentient beings with thoughts, feelings and a central nervous system, but the animals we exploit for food clearly and regularly demonstrate that they are highly sentient, emotionally complex individuals who are aware of and value their individual lives. Why is sentience such an important distinction? Here’s a more detailed explanation. And, of course, even if plants were sentient, raising animals for food requires vastly more plant feed crops than if we were to eat plant foods directly from the source.
What about other life forms? Where do you draw the line?
Even if we may not know or agree exactly where to draw the line, we can easily rule out the most gratuitous and unnecessary forms of animal exploitation and suffering simply by replacing egg, dairy and flesh products (including fish) which account for at least 99% of all animals exploited for food. All of the other animal by-products that exist in other non-consumable products would not exist without the slaughterhouse industry which in turn would not exist without the demand for eggs, dairy and meat. So, for example, the market for cheap leather goods would essentially vanish without the slaughterhouse industry. And the manufacturers of computers, mobile phones and construction materials would find alternative non-animal based materials to replace what was once a cheap source of animal by-products derived from slaughterhouse remains. So the fact that we may not be crystal clear on where to draw the line is not a valid reason to inflict suffering on those we know with certainty to be sentient, which includes all of the some 70 billion land animals and one trillion aquatic animals we use for food. The bottom line is that eating animals destroys far more insects, plants and animals than eating plant foods directly. We can and should minimize the suffering we cause, even if we cannot realistically eliminate it entirely.