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Is it immoral to eat meat?

LAST WASH: Cows cleaned before being slaughtered (PA)

MEAT IS Murder was the title of British band The Smiths’ 1985 album, and the record’s title succinctly explains why many around the world have stopped eating meat.

Although the reasons for shunning meat in the diet are as diverse as the people who make the choice, it is tempting to divide the world into two camps – those who consume meat and those who do not.

On both sides of the fence it becomes apparent that anyone can construct a seemingly formidable argument in favour of their own diet, which some defend and cherish as a deeply personal part of themselves, akin to their own faith.

Nonetheless, with various studies, such as the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) 2006 landmark report Livestock’s Long Shadow, showing the wide-scale damage the meat industry is inflicting on our planet, more people are questioning whether they can continue fuelling demand of a supply chain that pollutes, kills and enforces systemic suffering of animals.

It is a dilemma that Peter Smith of the Vegan Society resolved for himself over 30 years ago when he decided to remove all animal products from his diet, and there is no doubt in his mind that being vegan benefits all on this Earth.

“It’s perfectly clear that if everyone on the planet became vegetarian or vegan the world would be a much better place,” he tells The Voice.

“We would be able to stop cutting down the rainforest to clear land. Depending on the figures you look at, you would only need between a third and a tenth of the land that we use at the moment. That means we could return two-thirds of the land to other uses – turn it back to nature to let wildlife thrive again. We could use it for human recreation, and it could help reduce the housing crisis as well.”

NON-MEAT DIET: Leona Lewis is a previous winner of PETA's UK's sexiest vegan award (PA)

For Smith, the positives of a vegetarian and vegan utopia are far-reaching and he emphasises how it would do more than just help end the suffering animals.

“It’s a diet that supports people as well,” he explains. “It supports people in the developing world. We don’t want people to be under pressure to adopt a Western diet.

“If you’re living in a developing country with a diet that is almost exclusively vegetarian or vegan, and then add milk into it, it’s costly and brings health problems.”

In a nutshell, the dedicated vegan cites “people’s health, being able to feed more people, not polluting the planet, and of course animals not having to suffer” as the main advantages of ditching meat.”

He adds: “Everyone makes their own moral judgment, but in the view of the Vegan Society, it is immoral to eat the flesh of another animal.”


 However, the FAO’s seminal report acknowledges how “livestock products are a welcome addition to the diets of many poor and/or malnourished people who frequently suffer from protein and vitamin deficiencies as well as from lack of important trace minerals.”

It adds: “Children in particular have shown to benefit greatly in terms of physical and mental health when modest amounts of milk, meat or eggs are added to their diets, as shown by long-term research carried out in Kenya.”

SLAUGHTER: Dead cows in an abattoir (PA)

Yet the study reminds us of the drawbacks of excess, with “diseases among the more wealthy segments of the world’s population...associated with high intakes of animal source foods, in particular animal fats and red meat: cardio-vascular disease, diabetes and certain types of cancer.”

Furthermore, the study states: “It may well be argued that environmental damage by livestock may be significantly reduced by lowering excessive consumption of livestock products among wealthy people.”

By framing the debate along those lines, it might be said that eating meat becomes more immoral if one lives in the relative luxury of a wealthy Western lifestyle, where choice is greater than for those in the developing world.

For actress and PETA activist Kate Laycy there are no shades of grey, and it is simply compassion for the welfare of animals that is at the heart of her reasoning for being vegan.

“People need to think of the animals and what they actually go through,” she says. “We don’t need to eat meat – it’s not like we are going to die if we don’t eat meat.”

VEGAN: Actress Thandie Newton (PA)

A number of celebrities, including Hollywood actress Thandie Newton, pop star Leona Lewis and former world heavyweight champion David Haye, have spoken out against animal cruelty and why it turned them off meat. Laycy is no different.

“The animals in the slaughter houses see no light, they’re cramped up, often abused – all sorts are done to them just so we can eat them for a meal. It’s pointless,” she argues.

“You’ve got to look at the bigger picture as well. There are people starving in the world, but we are feeding livestock grains when it could be given to people.”

There are also religious and spiritual foundations supporting the case against meat and foregoing certain types. Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism are three Eastern religions which emphasise, to varying degrees, a non-meat way of life.

COMPASSION FOR ALL BEINGS: His Holiness the Dalai Lama (PA)

Writing in the book The Joy of Living and Dying in Peace, Tibet’s Buddhist spiritual leader Dalai Lama says: “Harming other sentient beings for your own interests, killing animals for their meat or skin...will lead to an unbearably painful life in hell."

Rastafarians advocate an "ital" diet, which is a strict organic vegetarian or vegan lifestyle that followers believe increases their spirituality. Eating dead animals is a contravention of the principle of ‘livity’ – the life energy they believe exists inside every human being.


But other belief systems are more forgiving to meat-eaters. Christian bishop Joe Aldred, who says he eats meat as part of a balanced diet, talks about the Bible’s Acts of Apostles in which “Peter was shown a vision from heaven of various kinds of animals”.

Aldred says: “The message he got from God was, ‘Rise Peter, kill and eat.’ Christians have tended to take their cue from that as a way of saying that all meat is good for food, provided it is eaten with thanksgiving as a general perspective.”

RAW MEAT: Numerous studies have linked excessive consumption of red meat to cancer (PA)

However, the bishop is aware of the Bible urging humans to be “custodians” of nature, and adds: “There is no doubt that within the Old Testament and the New Testament, the idea of preservation of the planet and cosmos is implicit in the scriptures.

“There is a consistent line throughout scripture about the need to look after creation and to use it for your benefit.”

Aldred concludes: “God put man here to use the planet, to be a steward of it. Don’t think you ever own it or abuse it, but it is there for your use. Being responsible and a good steward doesn’t mean you do not utilise.

"I think it is possible to carve out a conversation that meat from animals can be eaten but we must be very conscious of what we are doing and be sensitive to the eco system.

“We have to live with our own consciences. If someone, on compassionate grounds, finds that the slaughter of animals is something they can no longer do, then I would fully understand that position. From time to time I come pretty close to it myself.”

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