We are all well aware of the inhumane treatment and killing of animals that goes on in slaughterhouses and concentrated animal farming operations. But there is another much less talked about, but just as real danger to animals: Farming of edible crops.
Vegan diet kills animals too
Sentient animals are killed as a side effect of growing and harvesting plants. It is an agricultural reality that we have known about for a long time, but one that is often ignored.
Animals lose their habitat because of vast mono-cropped fields
Birds and butterflies are poisoned by chemicals
Rabbits and mice are run over by tractors and other agricultural machinery
In a 1992 study (1) by Tew and Macdonald, 33 wood mice were given monitoring collars during harvesting season. They found that 17 were killed by predators, and only one was killed by a harvesting machine. That doesn’t seems like very much. But imagine how many mice reside near farms all over the world? If it’s 3,3 million, then a hundred thousand mice die every season. And mice are not just lab props. Even though they are considerably smaller than dogs, they are at least as capable in figuring out problems. They are also highly social animals. They thrive in families. Even in captivity they are better off in pairs. A lone mouse can get sad and its health suffers as a consequence.
Steven Davis, a professor of animal science at Oregon State University, said that nobody’s hands are free from the blood of animals. He estimates that millions of them are killed every year to prepare land for growing crops like corn, soybean, wheat, and barley, the staples of a vegan diet (2). The suffering that’s required to bring seemingly “humane” foods to our dinner table is undeniable, and in essence, not that different from the pain of animals raised for meat.
It could be argued that people weren’t aware of this and it was therefore an unintentional killing. But now that we know for a fact that in order to produce vegetables, animals are killed in the process, is it still morally better to eat vegetables?
Responsible vegans have to replace plants with insects
Vegans have to eat something, of course. We don’t yet live in a world where the no suffering option is on the menu. Eating only plant based foods might have been the next best thing in the past, but now with insects as a part of the equation, things have changed.
Insects do not have the ability to suffer and they are a great complement to a vegan diet from a nutritional point of view. Insects also feed on what we call food-waste, something that would otherwise end up in the trash. There is no need for more agricultural land to support their farming and therefore no unintentional killing is involved.
The choice is no longer between the intentional or unintentional deaths of sentient creatures. Instead, it’s now between killing animals that do not suffer (insects) and killing animals that very clearly do (rodents, birds, etc.) when plants are grown.
Cricket flour vs Tofu
When a person decides to go vegan, she is basically opting out of the animal-foods industry entirely. That decreases the demand for meat and gives the whole system less power. That’s definitely a good first step. But if she includes insects as a staple in her diet, her influence becomes much greater. She incentivizes farmers to use their resources differently, for farming creatures that don’t suffer or feel pain. And she also puts less pressure on mono-culture farming that causes most of the unintentional killing. That is how a gradual worldwide change in food production starts. Tofu stands no chance in a duel with cricket flour, not for a responsible vegan.
It is time to face the inconvenient fact that including insects in a daily diet – yes, killing animals – is an essential step towards the ultimate vegan goal of reducing the overall suffering of animals who we know feel pain.
1) T.E. Tew. and D.W. Macdonald, ‘The effects of harvest on arable wood mice Apodemus sylvaticus’, Biological conversation, 1993, http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/000632079390060E
2) Steven L. Davis, ‘The Least Harm Principle May Require that Humans Consume a Diet Containing Large Herbivores, Not a Vegan Diet’, Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics, 2003, https://link.springer.com/article/10.1023/A:1025638030686