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The ethics of eating

Peter Singer

Readinch

Traditional Chinese farming methods are making way for western-style meat production. Chinese consumers should think twice before embracing such cruel, unhealthy and ecologically damaging practices, says Peter Singer.

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Global meat consumption is predicted to double by 2020. Much of this increase will come from China, where the growing middle class is demanding more meat and other animal products. As a result, China is now rushing helter-skelter down the path blazed by giant agribusiness corporations in western nations. Once, the animals we raised went out and gathered things we could not or would not eat. Cows ate grass, chickens pecked at worms or seeds. Then we ate their flesh, or their eggs, or drank their milk, thus adding to the amount of food available to us. 

Now the animals are brought together in “concentrated animal feeding operations”, or CAFOs. It is not unusual to have a million hens, 100,000 pigs, or 50,000 cattle brought together to be fed in this way – the hens and pigs indoors, in vast sheds, the cattle outdoors, on dirt feedlots that stretch to the horizon. Once the animals are concentrated in this way, they need to be fed, so we grow food for them. We use synthetic fertilizers and oil-powered tractors to grow corn or soybeans. Then we truck it to the animals so they can eat it. And instead of spreading their manure in a natural manner around the fields, it accumulates in vast quantities. It needs to be trucked away, but often, before it is, it pollutes local streams and ground water. All this use of oil contributes significantly to global warming. These CAFOs also have terrible odour problems and attract flies and other vermin.

Defenders of these production methods argue that they are a regrettable but necessary response to a growing population’s demand for food. The truth is exactly the reverse. When we confine animals in factory farms, we have to grow food for them.
The animals burn up most of that food’s energy just to breathe and keep their bodies warm, so we end up with a small fraction – usually no more than one-third and sometimes as little as one-tenth – of the food value that we feed them. The traditional Chinese diet used meat in very small quantities. Now, with the increased demand, China is importing more and more grain and soybeans in order to feed its factory-farm animals. If it simply wanted to feed its people, they could eat the grains and soybeans directly, as they used to do, and the total amount of grain and soybeans needed would be much less. So too would be the greenhouse gas emissions caused by each mouthful of our food.

According to Vaclav Smil’s Feeding the World, producing milk, meat, and eggs based on feeding the animals crops “inevitably” leads to less food than we could produce from the land on which the crops were grown. This holds, Smil writes, whether we are talking about the energy the food provides, or the amount of protein we obtain from it. Hence, Smil calculates, it is simply not possible for everyone in the world to eat as much meat as people in the affluent world now eat, because to produce that amount of meat would, in the absence of some unforeseen advances in bioengineering, require 67 per cent more agricultural land than the world possesses.

Ironically, while China copies the western methods of producing animal products, many thoughtful people in the west are becoming concerned about the ethics of these methods. In Europe, mad cow disease shocked many people, not only because it shattered beef’s image as a safe and healthy food, but also because they learned that the disease was caused by feeding cattle the brains and nerve tissue of sheep. People who naively believed that cows ate grass discovered that beef cattle in feed lots may be fed anything from corn to fish meal, chicken litter (complete with chicken droppings), and slaughterhouse waste.


        Photo by D.Hatz

The consumption of veal has fallen sharply since it became widely known that to produce so-called “white” – actually pale pink – veal, newborn calves are separated from their mothers, deliberately made anemic, denied roughage, and kept in stalls so narrow that they cannot walk or turn around. In Europe, this method of raising veal calves will become illegal on January 1st, 2007.

 

Concern about how we treat farm animals has led millions of people in the west to become vegetarians, or even vegans – eating no animal products at all.  Despite the existence of strong ethical, environmental and health arguments for vegetarianism, it is not yet a mainstream position. More common is the view that we are justified in eating meat, as long as the animals have a decent life before they are killed. The problem is that industrial agriculture denies animals even a minimally decent life. Tens of billions of chickens produced today never go outdoors. They are bred to have voracious appetites and gain weight as fast as possible, then reared in sheds that can hold more than 20,000 birds. The level of ammonia from their accumulated droppings makes the air so acidic that if you enter the shed, it stings your eyes and hurts your lungs.  The effect on the birds, who live in that atmosphere for their entire lives, is much worse. Slaughtered at only 45 days old, their immature bones can hardly bear the weight of their bodies. Some collapse and, unable to reach food or water, soon die, their fate irrelevant to the economics of the enterprise as a whole.

Conditions are, if anything, even worse for laying hens crammed into wire cages so small that even if there were just one per cage, she would be unable to stretch her wings. But there are usually at least four hens per cage, and often more. Under such crowded conditions, the more dominant, aggressive birds are likely to peck to death the weaker hens in the cage. To prevent this, producers sear off all birds’ beaks with a hot blade. A hen’s beak is full of nerve tissue – it is, after all, her principal means of relating to her environment – but no anesthetic or analgesic is used to relieve the pain.

Pigs may be the most intelligent and sensitive of the animals that we commonly eat. When foraging in a rural village, they can exercise that intelligence and explore their varied environment. Before they give birth, sows use straw or leaves and twigs to build a comfortable and safe nest in which to nurse their litter. But in today’s factory farms, pregnant sows are kept in crates so narrow that they cannot turn around, or even walk more than a step forward or backward. They lie on bare concrete without straw or any other form of bedding. The piglets are taken from the sow as soon as possible, so that she can be made pregnant again, but they never leave the shed until they are taken to slaughter.

China does not have a well-developed tradition of concern for animal welfare or animal rights, as many western nations do. But to the extent that Buddhism has left its mark on Chinese culture and thought, compassion for all sentient beings cannot be considered a foreign import. It is, rather, one of the more noble elements of Chinese ethics that is in need of revival and strengthening. We should not ignore the sufferings of nonhuman animals merely because they are not members of our species. 

Some who have observed factory farming in China report that standards are low. Joyce D’Silva, of the British organization Compassion in World Farming, told me of seeing a totally unsuitable, western financed, intensive dairy farm that, in addition to being an inefficient form of food production and having poor animal welfare, was causing severe local pollution. 

China’s turn towards meat will not only be bad for the environment and bad for animals. It will also be bad for the health of its people. The world’s largest and most comprehensive study of diet and disease was based on research carried out in China in the 1980s, showed that in rural China, good health and normal growth are achieved on a diet that includes only one-tenth as much animal-based food as Americans eat (T. Colin Campbell and Thomas Campbell, The China Study : The Most Comprehensive Study of Nutrition Ever Conducted and the Startling Implications for Diet, Weight Loss and Long-Term Health, Benbella, Dallas, TX, 2005). Increases in the consumption of animal products above that very low base are correlated with an increase in the “diseases of affluence”: heart disease, obesity, diabetes and cancer.

China still has hundreds of millions of small peasant farmers, raising animals by traditional, sustainable methods. Instead of establishing giant animal factories that will drive these small farmers out of business, small farmers should be encouraged to reform and improve their methods. In the west, the fastest growing section of the food market now is organically produced food, grown in a sustainable manner, without the use of synthetic fertilizers or pesticides. Animals kept on organic farms must have access to the outdoors. Millions of Chinese peasant farmers could, with some guidance, meet international organic standards and produce better quality products at lower cost to the environment. Since the demand in the west for organic food continues to grow, Chinese organic producers may also be able to find a profitable export market. 

It is tragic that countries like China and India, as they become more prosperous, are copying western methods and putting animals in huge industrial farms to supply more meat and eggs for their growing middle classes. If this continues, the result will be animal suffering on an even greater scale than now exists in the west, as well as more environmental damage and a rise in heart disease and cancers of the digestive system. It will also be grossly inefficient. Chinese consumers should not buy such products. They should refuse to support farming methods that are cruel to animals and bad for them 

 

The author: Peter Singer is Professor of Bioethics at Princeton University and the author, with Jim Mason, of The Way We Eat: Why Our Food Choices Matter. (Rodale, New York, 2006).

 

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中产阶级对这些价值观的发展很重要

彼得•辛格谈到了一个好的话题。但重要的是我们必须记住这些崇高的价值观和理念是很难在一个基本生活条件还没有到位的国家实现的。在中国千百万的人们还生活在贫穷的生活状况中,比如说没有足够的食物,没有上学和就医的条件,买不起省时的家电如洗衣机等。
我的问题是:如果人们平均需要一周花2到3个小时的时间来手洗衣服和花一年的工资来只是做一个普通的手术等,那你认为他们还会有时间来担心他们的食物从哪里来的吗?所以,在先保证基本的条件之后,其它的一切才会适时可以实现。

Being middle-class is so important to values

Peter Singer talks a good case. But it is important to remember that it will be difficult for such lofty values to
flourish in a country where the basics are not yet in place. Hundreds of millions of Chinese people are still faced with basic poverty - insufficient food, poor access to basic sevices such as schools and hospitals and low ownership of time-saving devices such as washing machines. So my question: Do people who spend, on average, 2-3 hours handwashing clothes per week and require a year's salary to pay for a routine operation etc have time to worry about where their food comes from? Deliver the basics first and the rest will arrive in due course!


合理消耗

我们需要知道这样的一个事实:中国的人均GDP还小于2000美元,而那些富裕的发达国家却比我们要富有10-20倍。美国的人均收入已经超过了40000美元;它只拥有世界上5%的人口,却消耗着世界上25%的资源。在那些富裕的国家里的人没有一个有权利去告诉中国减少消耗量。但是确实明智的消费,包括保护自然环境,将是符合中国和整个世界的利于的。

Rational consumption

It is essential to keep in mind this fact:
China's GDP per capita is less than US$2,000 while the rich countries have 10-20 times more wealth. The US per capita income is over US$40,000; and with 5% of the world's population, she consumes 25% of world's resouces. No one living in the rich countries has the right to tell China to consume less. But it is in the intersts of China and the world that she consumes wisely, including protecting the natural environment for her peoples.


出口并不是解决问题的办法

辛格大多数文章我都很喜欢,我本人也是一个素食者。但是,我对关于中国应该加大对世界其他国家有机食品的出口的评论十分不赞同。这种观点对环境保护没有任何意义。人们热衷有机食品,但是英国超市里现有的大多数有机食品都是过季或者从几千里以外运过来的。每个国家都应该尽可能支持当地和该国食品生产政策。

Exporting not the answer

I like most of Singer's article and am myself vegetarian. However, I am uneaasy about one of his last comments that the Chinese could increase their exports of organic food for the rest of the world. This is something that does not make environmental sense - the talk is now off food miles, and eating locally. People enjoy and promote organic food - but most of that which is available in British supermarkets is out of season and transported 1000s of miles. Every single country should be supporting policies of producing food for local and national consumption whenever possible.


己所不欲,勿施於人

这文章有著很关切的研究,甚或内容表明畜牧业对地球资源以至人体健康有莫大的伤害。但作者并没有说明制造这个问题的幕后黑手…西方的思维、西方的生活方式、西方的饮食习惯、西方的工业模式、西方的农业模式、西方的商业模式…西方文化如癌细胞似的在侵害著中国;可恨的是西方已偿到苦果,亦知问题所在,很多甚至在其国家被禁的行为,但在利益推使下都跑来中国,或哄或骗的在中国发展起来,有如二百年前的鸦片一样,令中国中毒上瘾。

当年西方在中国贩卖鸦片但最後演成中国要割地赔款。今天西方工商百业来中国投资,推展西方模式,尚未能计算其破坏所及但是己受到西方各方面的指手划脚,甚或说成是威胁全球、威胁人类。西方人可否先自首再学中国固有文化,其中一个简单为人处事之道“己所不欲,勿施於人”。
--纽约Vegan--

Do not do to others what you do not want them to do to you

This article demonstrates thoughtful and concerned research, explaining the effect the livestock industry has on global resources, to the extent of having a significant detrimental impact on human health. The writer however never explains who constructed this problem and the perpetrators behind it...western ideas, western lifestyles, western eating habits, western industrial models, western agricultural models, western commerce model ...western culture, encroaching like cancer cells on China. It is a pity that even the West has already swallowed its own bitter fruit, and also knew what the problems were, yet, many have come to China with a drive of profit, practice cheatingly those business conducts which are even banned in their own countries. The situation is just like the illegal opium trade about 200 years ago. It has caused China a new poisonous addition. Because the western nations sold opium in China, it ended up that China had to cede territory and pay indemnities to them. Today, the western industry and commerce come to China to invest and promote western models. Yet, it hasn’t been able to calculate the damage such caused, China has already been criticized by the West. Some even condemned it as a menace to the world and humanity. Why not Westerners first admit their mistakes, then study Chinese culture? There is a very simple way for human interaction: 'Do not do to others what you do not want them to do to you' -----New York Vegan


鸦片战争

对于鸦片战争以及西方在中国环境问题的责任的抱怨,现在难道不该停止了吗?中国对于自身环境的破坏有三千多年之久。好好想想吧。中华文明发源于黄河河曲。而今,那里成了沙漠。是外国人干的?是西方企业的责任?不是,是中国人自己的破坏。如今,草原也正在蜕变成荒漠。那里也并没有什么外国人。你是否曾经询问过(或被告知)大跃进期间,在毛主席下令开垦草场后,那些草原的命运。查查看吧。(而且我可以给你一点提示,那时根本没有外国人的介入。)你们抱怨说,西方人在兜售他们的消费模式。确实。而且的确这些模式很糟糕。但是你们并不需要照单全收。你们应该自己作决定(毫无疑问,更先进的决定)。中国当时也并不需要引进共产主义理念,这一理念,我隐约记得,是起源于德国的。我很希望能够看到更多的产于中国本土的好主意,但我满耳充斥的却是对于西方的抱怨。在一方面,中国的形象是一个有着4000年历史的强大文明;而另一方面,中国却像是西方文明的受害者,可怜兮兮的。哪一个才是她本来的面目呢?如果这个文明真是如此先进,那为何她扩张进入的疆土多成为不毛之地?当满族人统治满洲里的时候,那里还有些森林。但现在,都消耗殆尽了。当然,我们要学习中华文化。但只有当这个文化提供一些答案而非仅仅是借口的时候,她才是值得学习的。

opium wars

isn't it time we stopped blaming the opium wars and the west for China's environmental problems? China has been destroying its environmental riches for more than 3000 years. Think about it. Chinese civilisation began in the bend of the Yellow River. Now it's desert.Was that foreigners? Was that western companies? No it was Chinese destruction of the Chinese environment. Today the grasslands are turning to desert. Not many foreigners there either. Have you ever asked (or been told) what the effect was on the grasslands of the Great Leap Forward when Chairman Mao ordered that the grasslands be ploughed up. Check it out. (and I'll give you a clue.. there weren't any foreigners involved at all)
You complain that Westerners are promoting their models of consumption. Of course.. and they are bad, yes. But you don't have to buy these ideas. You don't have to buy these ideas.. you could make your own (no doubt superior) decisions. China didn't have to buy communism either.. which, I seem to recall, was an idea that began in Germany. I would love to see some really good Chinese ideas, but all I hear is complaining about the west. On the one hand China is portrayed as the big powerful 4000 year civilisation, on the other, as the poor victim of the west. Which is it? If it is so superior, why is it that all the territory that the Chinese have spread into has been turned into barren land? When the Manchus controlled Manchuria, there were forests. Now there are none. Sure. let's study Chinese culture. But it's only worth studying if it has some answers and not just excuses..


我关注彼得•辛格的意见

我同意5楼寻找自身原因和传统文化答案的观点。

中国一半国土曾经是提供安全畜产品的草原和荒漠地区,几千年来形成了人类独特的游牧文化,那里曾经是人与自然和谐共处的乐园。

但是由于中国历届政府200年来持续的无序开发,打乱了人与自然和谐发展的传统秩序和生产方式,今天那里的生态和民生问题目前已经影响到了中国的可持续发展,尤其是1997年前后实施的牧区平分草场到户政策,造成游牧文化的衰微和内蒙古草原地区游牧生产方式的彻底消亡,它的直接后果是几年之内,草原牧区原生植被逐渐发生了负向演替,内蒙古草原地区几乎成了荒漠化、贫困的代名词。

在这种背景下,中国农业部一些官员和一些专家提出了圈养、舍饲等“西方畜牧业工业化生产方式”。。。

更多内蒙古传统草原地区信息和背景资料请看“曾经草原”网站和自然之友保护草原联合项目网页:
http://www.cy.ngo.cn

http://www.fon.org.cn/channal.php?cid=502

陈继群

Taking note of Peter Singer's suggestions

I agree with comment 5 that we should explore the cultural background to this issue.

China has a long history of nomadic culture, as half of its land was developed for raising livestock.

Some 200 years of unregulated and reckless development has destroyed the harmony between man and the nature on the pastures of China.

The deteriorating ecology and livelihood of people there have posed a threat to sustainable development in China.

The policy introduced in 1997, to allocate grasslands to individuals, has led to the decline of nomadic culture and an end to the nomadic mode of production.

As a result, the grasslands of Inner Mongolia have been threatened by desertification and ensuing destitution.

Under this situation, some officials from China's Agricultural Ministry proposed adopting western practice of settled and industrialized animal husbandry.

A site on grassland protection: http://www.cy.ngo.cn http://www.fon.org.cn/channal.php?cid=502

Chen Juqun


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