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Is Eating Animal Meat Unethical?

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A recent BBC comedy by Simon Amstell pictures life in 2067. Everyone’s vegan, and folks join groups to deal with the guilt of their old meat-eating days. 

It might seem far-fetched, but an Oxford University philosopher argues there are solid reasons for us to ditch meat. 

In his guest post, Julian Savulescu, Oxford’s Uehiro Professor of Practical Ethics, shares that cutting back on meat and other animal products is “one of the simplest ways we can live more ethically.” 

Here are his five reasons to give up meat:

1.It’s a Big Blow to the Environment

Farming livestock is a big drain on our environment. It leads to issues like water and land degradation, acid rain, loss of biodiversity, coral reef decay, and deforestation. 

The most alarming impact? Climate change. Livestock farming churns out 18% of the greenhouse gas emissions caused by humans worldwide. That’s more than all transport – ships, planes, trucks, cars, and everything else – combined. 

Climate change ups the risk of extreme weather like floods, droughts, and heatwaves, posing a massive threat to human health this century. To meet the targets set for reducing greenhouse gas emissions – crucial to dodging the worst of climate change – we need to consume fewer animal products. 

2.It Eats Up Loads of Grain, Water, and Land

Producing meat, especially red meat, is pretty inefficient. It takes 25 kilograms of grain and around 15,000 litres of water to make one kilogram of beef. Pork and chicken are slightly less demanding. 

Looking at land use, about 30% of the earth’s surface is used for livestock farming. Considering the scarcity of food, water, and land in many parts of the world, this isn’t the best use of our resources. 

3.It’s Tough on the World’s Poor

Feeding livestock with grain boosts global demand and hikes up grain prices, making it harder for poor folks worldwide to feed themselves. We could be using that grain to feed people and the water to grow crops. 

If we fed all grain to people instead of animals, we could feed an extra 3.5 billion people. Basically, industrial livestock farming is both inefficient and unfair.

4.It Makes Animals Suffer

If we believe animals are sentient beings whose needs matter – a belief many people share – we should aim to meet those needs and avoid causing unnecessary suffering. 

Industrial livestock farming doesn’t meet this basic standard. Most meat, dairy, and eggs come from farms that disregard animal welfare. They fail to provide enough space for animals to move, interaction with other animals, and access to the outdoors. 

Simply put, industrial farming makes animals suffer without a good reason.

5.It’s Making Us Sick

At the production level, industrial livestock farming relies heavily on antibiotics to speed up weight gain and control infection. In the US, livestock farming gobbles up 80% of all antibiotics. 

This adds to the growing public health issue of antibiotic resistance. Already, over 23,000 people are estimated to die every year in the US alone from resistant bacteria. As this number keeps climbing, it’s hard to understate the threat of this looming crisis. 

Eating a lot of meat, especially red and processed meat, is linked with health problems, including heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and various cancers. 

These diseases make up a major chunk of the global disease burden, so eating less meat could bring significant public health benefits. 

Right now, folks living in wealthy countries consume 200-250g of meat daily on average, much more than the 80-90g recommended by the United Nations. Switching to a more plant-based diet could save up to  

8 million lives a year worldwide by 2050 and lead to savings in healthcare and avoided climate change damages of up to $1.5 trillion. 

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