A Right To Live: Unless You Produce Eggs or Milk
Early in my days of animal advocacy, newly cognizant of the abuse and exploitation of animals for human benefit, I made the decision to reject the consumption of all meat, adopting a vegetarian lifestyle, along with the philosophy to never again eat anything “with a mother or a face.” However, as my years of advocating for society’s rejection of animal meat progressed, I recognized my clear discomfort when faced with the realities of the animal agriculture industry. Eventually, I admitted the ovo-lacto-guilt I experienced was derived from my own subconscious awareness of the inconsistencies between my values and my lifestyle choices and of my daily decision to give in to this cognitive dissonance, all for the sake of ease and periodic chocolate chip pancakes.
Now, vegetarians, and subscribers of the traditional Western diet alike, often ask me why ethical vegans (who are against murdering animals) do not drink cow's milk or consume eggs, reasoning that "chickens lay eggs anyways" and "a cow doesn’t have to be killed for it to be milked." Without any further arguments, these points are entirely accurate. However, many vegetarians defend their meat-free diets with “right to life” reasoning, maintaining the right of an animal to live and not be killed. Unfortunately, in the context of a vegetarian diet, this principle overlooks the system in which animal products and by-products are manufactured.
The production of animal products and byproducts (such as eggs, milk, fur, meat, and feathers) for human consumption is a commercial industry. Just like any industry, the ultimate goal is profit- minimum input for maximum output. This is a well-known fact yet rarely is it considered at length. For animals (such as layer hens and dairy cows) raised for their byproducts, the reality is a system with nearly 200 years of technological innovations designed to benefit from every scrap of their body. Therefore, dairy cows are not raised solely for their milk, nor layer hens for their eggs.
Seventy percent of ground beef sold in the United States is made from dairy cows, whose bodies are worn from an average four years of intense milk production. The little-known slaughter linked to the dairy industry is the production of veal, often considered a byproduct industry. In order to avoid delays in milk production, baby cows are taken from their mothers within as little as days after birth. The males are condemned to an almost immediate slaughter, while the females are either slaughtered or entered into the dairy industry. By drinking cow's' milk and supporting the dairy industry, consumers permit and promote the slaughter of animals.
The egg industry is responsible for countless deaths as well, beginning with 260 million male chicks whose lives serve no purpose in egg production. For many “spent” layer hens, who do not qualify for protection under the Humane Slaughter Act, the slaughterhouse is also their designated end. However, due to a declining market for spent hens and therefore a decline in profits, many layer hens now face death by asphyxiation. Clearly, the consumption of eggs from the egg industry permits and promotes the slaughter of animals.
It has become impossible to isolate any one sector; animal agriculture of all species has become a single, interconnected industry. Even beyond the typical examples, byproducts of animal agriculture are integrated into the most unsuspecting industries: refined white sugar cane is manufactured with the bone char of cattle, tennis racket strings are created with animal intestines, some beers are even produced using the swim bladders of fish. However, animals commercially raised for their meat and animals raised for their by-products are equally subjected to an unnatural life supplanted with cruel, utilitarian treatment and their lives end the same as well: being corralled up the ramp to a slaughterhouse. Consumption of any animal product or byproduct permits and promotes the slaughter of all animals. There is truly no option for affirmers of the “right to life” belief other than committing to veganism.
By adopting a vegan lifestyle completely void of all animal products and byproducts one can discover a sense of security and legitimacy in the belief that all living beings should have an absolute right to life. Veganism is the only lifestyle which holds this belief in consonance with the awareness of the reality of animal agriculture. I wholeheartedly assert that one cannot justifiably renounce the consumption of animal meat on moral grounds, citing “right to life” reasoning, without the concurrent renunciation of all animal products.
*The question of whether or not animals deserve a right to life has been much contested. Philosophers, theologians, ethicists, farmers, vegans, and vegetarians alike have contemplated what it means to have a claim to life, citing the interests principle, free will, moral reciprocity, dominionism. However, this particular article does not address any of these contentions; I’m only arguing against the validity of maintaining both an existing belief in animals’ right to live and a continued support of the modern animal agriculture industry.
1. Joy, Melanie. Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows: An Introduction to Carnism: The Belief System That Enables Us to Eat Some Animals and Not Others. San Francisco: Conari Press, 2011.
2. "Veal: A Byproduct of the Cruel Dairy Industry." PETA. Accessed August 26, 2016. http://www.peta.org/issues/animals-used-for-food/animals-used-food-factsheets/veal-byproduct-cruel-dairy-industry/.
3. "Chickens." Farm Sanctuary. Accessed August 26, 2016. https://www.farmsanctuary.org/learn/factory-farming/chickens/.