Robin Hanson, <email@example.com>, writes:
> Here is a consequentialist argument for eating animals: cows lives are
> overall worth living, even if they are slaughtered at the end. What happens
> if you convince the world that you from now on you will no longer eat cows,
> and instead spend the same amount on fancy vegetable foods? The demand for
> cows goes down and the demand for veggies goes up. Farmers will choose to
> grow fewer cows to meet that demand, and will choose to plant more fancy
> veggie crops. People who used to have jobs processing cow meat will switch
> to jobs processing veggies. And so on.
I think this is a good argument. All else equal, it is better for there to be more living organisms enjoying life.
However, some food animals do not have lives as good as range-fed cows. Animal rights activists describe chickens raised their whole lives in wire cages barely big enough to turn around in, veal calves kept chained in stalls and force-fed, and other hardships designed to increase the amount of salable meat.
Robin's argument calls attention to the quality of life of the animals being raised for meat, an important issue which is often glossed over in debates about vegetarianism. We should not be looking so much at the question of whether we kill and eat animals, but rather at how we treat the animals while they are alive.
BTW I visited a beef processing plant many years ago, to get some cow lungs which would be used for dissection in my wife's biology class, and the treatment of the animals struck me as being very humane. The cows were killed instantly and, as nearly as I could judge, painlessly; the animal's body is then swept away and not seen by the other cows.