Incidental harm to animals is not an excuse not to go vegan
Guest Essay by Anita Moos
The simplest of our actions as we go about the business of living seems to cause inevitable, albeit often incidental, harm to animals. Almost immediately after I became vegan, I was asked (mostly by non-vegans), how I could reconcile being both a pilot and a vegan. The point of contention was the fact that the airplane I flew did kill birds, insects, and other animals who accidentally strayed into its path. Wracked by guilt and a little confused, I very briefly considered changing my profession, but then realized that there is a fundamental difference between incidental harm caused by the act of flying or otherwise earning a living that causes indirect harm (as all forms of existence do) and the very insidious act of avoidable and deliberate animal exploitation.
Vegans, like all other people, have to work for a living. Vegans are employed as bus drivers, waitresses and supervisors, or at publishing houses, grocery stores or at bakeries. Every day, they reconcile their moral beliefs with the reality of whom they work for or where they work. However, there are very important reasons for vegans to keep working at professions not related to large animal organizations. Let’s consider the following:
- When we become financially dependent on animals, we tend to form coalitions with non-vegans in order to keep the donations coming in for our organizations. These coalitions mean that the vegan message is necessarily diluted or watered down to the point of being both unrecognizable and meaningless.
- Since animal use is so pervasive in society, it would be pretty near impossible to find employment that is completely free from such influence. Choosing not to work and living off of welfare would not help either, because all that would have changed is that you would now be living off money made by non-vegans.
When I fly the airplane, I do not fly with the intent of killing animals. I do this to transport people from point A to point B. I would, instead, compare it to the act of walking or maybe driving a car. Accidents happen to humans and animals alike as we perform these activities, but we continue to perform them, all the time acknowledging these unfortunate, and sometimes inevitable consequences. We must, however, be extremely diligent and try to minimize the impact we have on other sentient beings as we perform these acts.
The production of crops and other plant foods also causes accidental harm to animals. This is often pointed out by non-vegans as being inconsistent with the vegan ethos of not causing harm. After all, are mice, rabbits and snakes not killed or displaced when we bring increasing land areas under cultivation? Yes, some animals are certainly harmed in the production of grains and vegetables, however there is more to be considered. Much more grain needs to be fed to the animals than if the produce was eaten directly by the person. Thus, as vegans we would reduce harm and make more efficient use of available resources.
The only way to completely eliminate harm is not to exist at all. I think none of us would consider this to be a viable solution. Professor Francione makes an interesting observation when he states that some humans construct roads and let other people drive on these roads knowing full well that some, unidentified humans will unfortunately die as a result of road accidents at some point in the future. Humans continue to build roads acknowledging this reality. So there is definitely a moral difference between an activity that has human harm as an inevitable but necessary consequence and the intentional killing of human beings. Therefore, we cannot conclude that the accidental harm we cause animals during plant agriculture is justification for the deliberate act of raising and killing animals for animal agriculture. Animal agriculture that only serves to satisfy completely frivolous human desires of palate pleasure, wearing clothing made from animal skins, fur and wool, or for entertainment provided in the form of rodeos, zoos etc.
So, to all the people who try to use incidental harm as an excuse to justify animal use, please stop! We cannot justify our arbitrary exclusion of animals from the moral community, based on a false sense of superiority. The fact that we cannot avoid all harm to animals is no reason for us to ignore the very real moral obligation we have towards sentient nonhumans to go vegan. The longer we take to do this, the more we are prolonging the enslavement and abuse of innocent, sentient beings who are counting on us to speak up for them.