My Ethics Code

We are 14 days into the #farm365 project.  The media attention the this open sharing agriculture project caused the Animal Rights Activists (ARA) to descend in a swarm with a single goal of hijacking the hashtag.  They’ve called farmers and ranchers murders, rapists, sociopaths, psychopaths, unethical and immoral to name a few.  The unethical and immoral claims inspired this post. (Note: this post is a quick, superficial explanation of why I believe it is ethical to eat meat.  I would need a novel to provide all my views and supporting evidence and no one would want to read that, LOL!)

One reason the debate on eating meat is so volatile and passionate is that it is based on the human constructs of ethics and morality.  Ethics and morality are not a universal fact.  What is considered moral or ethical can be (and is) different between individuals, cultures and time periods.  Ethics and morality can be debated, discussed and studied but as it is based on a person’s view of the world cannot ultimately be proven right or wrong. One only has to look at the moral code of “Thou shall not kill” to see the flexibility of morality in humans.  Everyone has their line in the sand on what is or is not morally acceptable.

Ethics is defined as follows:
plural noun
1. (used with a singular or plural verb) a system of moral principles:the ethics of a culture.
2. the rules of conduct recognized in respect to a particular class of human actions or a particular group, culture, etc.: medical ethics; Christian ethics.
3. moral principles, as of an individual: His ethics forbade betrayal of a confidence.
4. (usually used with a singular verb) that branch of philosophy dealing with values relating to human conduct, with respect to the rightness and wrongness of certain actions and to the goodness and badness of the motives and ends of such actions.

Morality is defined as follows:
noun
1. conformity to the rules of right conduct; moral or virtuous conduct.
2. moral quality or character.
3. virtue in sexual matters; chastity.
4. a doctrine or system of morals
When I was in university I studied molecular biology and genetics.  Back then I could see the moral and ethical snake’s nest that the field could lead me too.  As a result I studies ethics, morality and critical thinking.  I probably could have declared philosophy as a minor.  In those classes I was exposed to many different points of view and arguments to support and disprove them.  I’ve studied the ARA’s bible, Animal Liberation by Peter Singer.  I’ve studied Consequentialism which states only the outcome determines if an action is moral (commonly refered to as the ends justify the means).  I disagree with both.
My ethical code can be summarized as- everything living on this planet is food for something. Life requires death. Life is sentient.  Everything on this planet feels and responds to its environment.  Every living thing has a will to live and its ultimate goal is to live as long as possible and produce as many offspring as possible. By eating food we say our needs supercede the needs of that living being and cut its life short. That I take life for my food is not a license for cruelty.  As individuals raising farm animals, farmers and ranchers have a moral obligation to care for those animals to the best of their ability and give them a quick, painless death.  Eventually I will die and I will provide food for many living creatures.  You are free to chose a vegan, vegetarian, paleo, or “I only eat green and red things” diet.Humans are true omnivores.  It is natural for humans to eat meat. Our ancestors domesticated crops and animals and started and agricultural way of life that we still benefit from today. Agriculture allowed humans to create society.  Agriculture gave humans the time to develop culture, the arts, science and the time to sit and ponder what it is to be human and what is appropriate behaviour.  With the development of society we created moral standards to give order to our lives.  Moral standards guided our behaviours so we could function as a society.  Many cultures had and still have moral standards that differ from each other.

I acknowledge animals are sentient. I define sentience as:
1. The quality or state of being sentient; consciousness.
2. Feeling as distinguished from perception or thought.
Sentient being defined as:
1. able to perceive or feel thingsI extend my definition of sentience to include the Eastern Philosophical definition of sentience being a metaphysical quality of all things that requires respect and care. Which is why I belive ranchers and farmers have a moral obligation to care for domesticated animals and plants as well as nature on the whole.
I do not believe it is unethical to eat a sentient being. I believe you can kill to eat and still be capable of showing that being care and respect.  I believe ensuring death is quick and painfree is an integral part of showing care and respect to that being.
Humans are fundamentally different from others in the animal kingdom.  Studying biology has shown me the many ways jellyfish are different from cuttlefish are different from chickens are different from cows.  I agree with Daniel Dennett’s view that:“Consciousness requires a certain kind of informational organization that does not seem to be ‘hard-wired’ in humans, but is instilled by human culture. Moreover, consciousness is not a black-or-white, all-or-nothing type of phenomenon, as is often assumed. The differences between humans and other species are so great that speculations about animal consciousness seem ungrounded. Many authors simply assume that an animal like a bat has a point of view, but there seems to be little interest in exploring the details involved” (Animal Conciousness: What Matters and Why, Daniel Dennet http://instruct.westvalley.edu/lafave/dennett_anim_csness.html)
I believe these differences make it difficult to decide what is ethical to eat and what is not for many. Some believe it is only wrong to eat animals with a central nervous system as they believe they are the only ones that exhibit pain.  Others believe it is wrong to eat any animal be it pig or jellyfish. Some can eat fish but not beef purely because cows are cute and fish are not.  What is ethical or not to eat is obviously not a universal fact but depends on your personal views and cultural backgrounds.
“Sponges are animals, but like plants they lack nerves or a brain. Jellyfish, meanwhile…have no brains, only a simple net of nerves, arguably a less sophisticated setup than the signaling systems coordinating the lives of many plants. How do we decide how much sensitivity and what sort matters? (No Face but Plants like Life Too, Carol Kaesuk Yoon, http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/15/science/15food.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0)
I define sentience as the ability to perceive or feel things, I also believe plants to be sentient. Many ARAs think this is a ridiculous claim as they believe plants do not feel pain like we do.  I believe this thought is the very definition of speciesist.  The field of Plant Neurobiology is uncovering the complex life of plants.  We are learning that plants communicate, that they respond to predation and injury in ways analogous to pain in animals.  They recognize their offspring and relatives and prefer helping those they are related to.  ARAs argue that eating meat is unethical because killing a living organism that wants to live is wrong.  I find this argument strange as we do not have any evidence that a plant does not want to live:
“When a plant is wounded, its body immediately kicks into protection mode. It releases a bouquet of volatile chemicals, which in some cases have been shown to induce neighboring plants to pre-emptively step up their own chemical defenses and in other cases to lure in predators of the beasts that may be causing the damage to the plants. Inside the plant, repair systems are engaged and defenses are mounted, the molecular details of which scientists are still working out, but which involve signaling molecules coursing through the body to rally the cellular troops, even the enlisting of the genome itself, which begins churning out defense-related proteins … If you think about it, though, why would we expect any organism to lie down and die for our dinner? Organisms have evolved to do everything in their power to avoid being extinguished. How long would any lineage be likely to last if its members effectively didn’t care if you killed them?…
Plants don’t just react to attacks, though. They stand forever at the ready. Witness the endless thorns, stinging hairs and deadly poisons with which they are armed. If all this effort doesn’t look like an organism trying to survive, then I’m not sure what would. Plants are not the inert pantries of sustenance we might wish them to be….
…scientists even reported evidence that plants could detect and grow differently depending on whether they were in the presence of close relatives, a level of behavioral sophistication most animals have not yet been found to show.” (No Face but Plants like Life Too, Carol Kaesuk Yoon, http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/15/science/15food.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0)
In summary,  I believe life depends on death.  I believe sentience is not restricted to advanced animals.  I believe that eating sentient beings is not a license for cruelty.  I believe in treating animals with a high level of care and giving them a quick, painless death. I have reached these conclusions both through my education in philosophy and biology and from my personal experience interacting with animals. You are free to disagree with all or part of my beliefs.  As I stated previously, ethics and morality are human constructs.  They are heavily influenced by personal experience and cultural influence. As you are free to disagree with me please respect that I am free to disagree with your beliefs.  I do not force my views on anyone and I expect the same in return.
“I think using animals for food is an ethical thing to do, but we’ve got to do it right.  We’ve got to give those animals a decent life and we’ve got to give them a painless death.  We owe the animal respect” – Temple Grandin
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