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Debate: Vegetarianism

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Should we stop eating other animals? What are the moral, environmental, and health issues involved?

This article is based on a Debatabase entry written by Thomas Dixon. Because this document can be modified by any registered user of this site, its contents should be cited with care.


Background and Context of Debate:

Most men and women eat meat, although some (mostly in rich countries) eat much more than others. Almost all of this meat is the flesh of domesticated livestock - animals born and raised on farms to be killed and sold for their meat. People who make a choice never to eat meat are vegetarians, although there are different views about what this can mean. Some vegetarians eat fish if it has been caught in the wild, many will not eat flesh of any sort. Some people are vegans, choosing not to eat any animal product, include eggs and dairy (milk) foods such as cheese, butter and yoghurt. Vegans and many vegetarians also refuse to wear leather or fur because it comes from animals. The arguments below are general but could be adapted to suit particular debates.

Animal rights: Do animals have rights that makes eating them inappropriate?


  • Animals have rights and it is wrong to kill them needlessly. Humans are animals too and it is not possible morally to set us apart from other species. Animals may not be as clever as people, but a baby is less intelligent than an ape and we don’t say that means it should have fewer rights. Like us, animals can feel pleasure and pain, and they suffer if they are shut up and forced to live and eat in unnatural ways. Many religious people believe that all life is sacred, and that nothing should be made to suffer without need. For these reasons killing and eating animals is a form of murder.
  • Eating meat means that animals suffer Farming involves animals like cows, sheep, pigs and chickens being kept in nasty conditions and cruelly killed. Some farming methods – such as battery chickens – are crueller than others, but all are barbaric. Supermarkets put huge pressure on farmers to produce meat, milk and eggs at rock bottom prices, so it is not surprising that animal welfare is neglected in a search for profit.


  • There is a great moral difference between humans and animals. Unlike animals, humans are capable of rational thought and can alter the world around them. Religious people would say that humans also have souls and a different relationship with God. Other creatures were put on this earth for mankind to use, and that includes eating meat. For all these reasons we say that men and women have rights and that animals don’t. This means that eating meat is in no way like murder.

Natural? Is vegetarianism natural for humans? Is meat-eating unnatural?


  • Farming animals for meat is very unnatural. Some animals do kill others for food, but at least prey species live free and any suffering in the hunt is almost always over quickly. And unlike lions or wolves, humans are moral beings, who are aware of the suffering they can cause and able to choose a different way of life. For this reason vegetarians dislike hunting animals for meat (or for fun) just as much as farming them. Farming is actually worse than hunting as it inflicts long term cruelty on animals in a systematic way. Not only are farm conditions cruel, breeding for meat, dairy or wool has created livestock which suffer all sorts of unnatural and painful diseases and conditions.
  • Humans don't need meat; eating it is an immoral choice Humans might have the physical equipment to eat meat, but we do not have to do so. People should make a moral choice not to eat other creatures. In just the same way we know that men are capable of great aggression and physical violence, but society says that such behaviour is unacceptable.
  • Eating meat is like cannibalism; the eating of fellow living creatures. Robert Louis Stevenson - "nothing more strongly arouses our disgust than cannibalism, yet we make the same impression on vegetarians, for we feed on babies, though not our own."[1]
  • Vegetarians adopt a proper temperament and philosophy toward animals. Albert Einstein - "It is my view that the vegetarian manner of living by it's purely physical effect on the human temperament would most beneficially influence the lot of mankind."[2]


  • Eating meat is entirely natural for humans. Like many other species, human beings were once hunters. In the wild animals kill and are killed, often very brutally and with no idea of “rights”. As mankind has progressed over thousands of years we have largely stopped hunting wild animals. Instead we have found kinder and less wasteful ways of getting the meat in our diets through domestication. Farm animals today are descended from the animals we once hunted in the wild. Indeed, cows, sheep, chickens, etc as we know them today could not live a life in the wild any more, so if they were not kept as livestock these breeds of animal would rapidly become extinct.
  • Humans are omnivores – we are meant to eat both meat and plants. Like our early ancestors we have teeth designed for tearing flesh as well as for crushing and chewing vegetable fibres. Our stomachs are also adapted to eating both meat and vegetable matter. All of this means that eating meat is part of being human. Only in a few western countries are people self-indulgent enough to deny their nature and get upset about a normal human diet.

  • Farming animals is mutually beneficial for humans and animals. Treating animals cruelly is wrong, but farming in general is far from unkind. Animals are given food, shelter and care if they become ill or injured. When it is time to slaughter them, the end is quick and pain-free. After all, unhappy and stressed animals provide poor meat, so it is in farmers’ interests to look after them well. Some intensive farming methods are hard to defend, but that is an reason for passing laws to protect animals better. There is nothing wrong in principle with farming livestock.

Health: Is a vegetarian diet healthier for humans?


  • A vegetarian diet is healthier for humans. Eating a varied range of cereals, fruits, nuts and vegetables is a delicious way of getting all the vitamins, minerals, fibre and protein your body needs. In fact it is meat (and dairy) eaters who are eating unhealthily as they take in far too much fat, protein and cholesterol, and often far too little fibre and vitamins.
  • Meat-eating is risky as it is linked to a range of serious illness. Almost all dangerous types of food-poisoning (e.g. E-coli, salmonella) are passed on through meat or eggs. Close contact between humans and animals also leads to zoonosis – diseases such as bird ‘flu which can be passed on from animals to humans. Hunters eating apes and monkeys is thought to have brought HIV/AIDS to humans. And using animal brains in the processed feed for livestock led to BSE in cattle and to CJD in humans who ate beef from infected cows.
  • Eating meat is bad for both animals and for humans; simple ethics Some make the argument that it is unnecessary to subject animals to pain when there are other adequate sources of protein and the other nutrients contained in meat. But, eating meat is even worse than "unnecessary"; it's unhealthy. This makes the moral trade-off even simpler. Eating meat is both bad for animals and for humans.


  • It is healthiest to eat a balanced diet with both meat and vegetable products. We should eat five or six portions of fruit and vegetables a day, but without adding some meat or fish it is hard to make sure our body is getting the protein and iron it needs to be healthy. It might be OK for adults to choose a vegetarian diet for themselves, but should we allow vegetarian parents to impose such a diet on their babies?
  • Eating meat is not as risky as being a vegetarian. Food safety and hygiene are very important for everyone, and governments should act to ensure that high standards are in place. And just as meat production can raise health issues, so does the arable farming of plants – examples include GM crops and worries about pesticide residues on fruit and vegetables. None of this means that we should stop eating meat, just that we should ensure all food is produced in a safe and healthy way

Environment: Is vegetarianism good for the environment?


  • Vegetarianism is important in the fight against global warming Meat production is highly inefficient in land-use. This often means that forests are cut-away in order to create room for the grazing of cattle. This eliminates important carbon-sinks that are necessary in reducing atmospheric CO2 levels and fighting global warming. Clear-cutting can also increase the reflectivity of the Earth's surface, which contributes to warming. Meat production also generally consumes much more energy than other forms of farming. Since much of this energy involves carbon-based fuels, meat production contributes significant carbon into the atmosphere. Finally, the methane gas from the bowl-functions of cattle contribute to the global warming problem.
  • Vegetarianism generally helps the environment, ecosystems, and animals Farming animals is hugely wasteful in land – plant crops require a small part of the space to produce the same amount of calories as livestock. So if every human ate a vegetarian diet there would be no need to chop down the rainforest and ruin the land. Nor would our seas be emptied of fish and other species like dolphins and corals, which harmed by the methods used to catch them.


  • You don’t have to be vegetarian to be an avid environmentalist. Many special environments have been created by livestock farming – for example chalk downland in England and mountain pastures in many countries. Ending livestock farming would see these areas go back to woodland with a loss of many unique plants and animals. Growing crops can also be very bad for the planet, with fertilisers and pesticides polluting rivers, lakes and seas. Most tropical forests are now cut down for timber, or to allow oil palm trees to be grown in plantations, not to create space for meat production. Good examples of environmentalist meat-eaters include Theodore Roosevelt and Native American indians.


  • This House would become a vegetarian
  • This House believes eating meat is wrong
  • This House believes meat is murder
  • That farming animals for meat is morally wrong

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