Ethical Beef, Part 3: The Environmental and Moral Concerns of Eating Meat

Consumers can make a positive change when buying and eating meat from farmers who raise livestock properly.


| November 2014



Environmental and Moral Concerns of Eating Meat

“Building a food system that is more ecological and more humane is far more important to me than whether or not so-and-so is eating meat.”


Photo by Fotolia/mrcmos

Is eating meat ethically wrong or right? In Defending Beef: The Case for Sustainable Meat Production, environmental lawyer Nicolette Hahn Niman aggregates the research and personal insight to explain how eating meat is beneficial for humans and for the planet, stating that there is a need for meat to be produced the right way. This excerpt, which addresses and resolves some of the moral and environmental concerns about eating meat, is from the section, “Final Analysis: Why Eat Animals?”

Buy this book from the MOTHER EARTH NEWS store: Defending Beef.

The Environmental and Moral Concerns of Eating Meat

The other aspect of the moral question about eating beef is whether it’s acceptable for humans to eat meat at all. In answering this, I’d like to rely less on data and statistics and bring some of my own personal experiences to bear. It’s been 14 years since I began working on farm-related issues for Waterkeeper. Although the job was focused on addressing pollution, to me the animals were equally important. While other environmental groups were publicly advocating addressing problems from industrialization with more effective waste containment or treatment, I found those approaches far too narrow. They ignored factory farming’s greatest evil: animal cruelty. Even worse, by endorsing steps geared toward pollution reduction that failed to improve farm animals’ lives, they were further entrenching the current system.

Fortunately, my boss felt the same way. Bobby Kennedy Jr. has cared passionately since childhood about every creature from sow bugs to blue whales. He heartily endorsed my advocating for farming that was ecologically sound and provided animals good lives. Having closely viewed the brutality of industrial production, we felt morally obligated to seek improvements in farm animal welfare.

Over the years, my writings and speeches often addressed the ethics of how meat was produced, but until a few years ago they never spoke to whether or not it is ethical to eat meat at all. Then I was invited by an ecological journal to write an essay arguing that an environmentalist need not refrain from meat eating. Following publication of the essay, I was extended invitations to participate in several live debates about the ethics of meat eating, two of which I accepted. Both times (somewhat ironically, since I am still a vegetarian) I represented the “pro meat” position. I later wrote a piece for TheAtlantic.com titled, “Can Meat Eaters Also Be Environmentalists?” Even though I never sought to focus my energies on the question of whether people should eat meat, it seemed important to refute the increasingly prevalent notion that people who cared about the environment should avoid it. I was becoming a de facto vegetarian meat advocate.





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