Ethical Dilemma of Eating Meat

All the people of the planet can be relatively divided into 3 categories, namely those who eat meat, those who do not use meat in any form, and those who do not care what to eat; meat and vegetables are evenly represented in their diet. However, it is meat, not carrots, for example, that causes heated discussions among scientists and general public. For a long time the dispute whether a person should or should not eat meat has not been settled, and it keeps uprising once in a while. Most of the disputants tend to recognize a fact that an individual must necessarily consume meat products, since the protein of human body is almost identical with the protein of meat. Other debaters insist that meat slugs the organism hence shortening life. No matter whether one likes it or not, the discussion of eating meat and the myths surrounding it (mixed with real facts) are imprinted in minds. In order to understand the essence of the issue, it is required to view it from different perspectives, mainly ethical and ecological ones, since biology and economics of eating meat are not as acute as they were previously. Therefore, considering all the facts provided by various standpoints, currently eating meat causes more harm than good for human beings, but these effects are still not able to persuade the humankind into consuming less meat.


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The United Nations issued some reports during the last several years that large farms collectively produce more greenhouse gas emissions than the car industry of the whole Earth. A recent study published by Cederberg, Persson, Neovius, Molander and Clift (2011) states that in order to effectively combat climate change, humanity must drastically change eating habits, namely people have to reduce the amount of meat and dairy products in their diet.

The authors of a remarkable documentary Cowspiracy collected a large collection of facts from publicly available research papers/notes on how significant and harmful for the environment the livestock is (Andersen & Kuhn, 2014). The overall effect encompasses a number of factors. The main ones are listed below and contain references to specific statistical evidence recorded by scientists.

Greenhouse Gases

Livestock production leads to an increase in greenhouse gas emissions due to natural causes. The levels of carbon dioxide rise due to animal breathing, and the degree of methane (CH4) increases because of the digestive activity of ruminants. According to the calculations of American researchers, one cow daily produces 250 to 500 liters of methane. Methane has much greater effect on the rise in temperature on the Earth than CO2, but it exists in the atmosphere for a shorter time.

At the end of 2009, Goodland and Anhang, the environmentalists from the World Bank Group with a long record, published the article entitled “Livestock and Climate Change,” which presents the outcome of the analysis of data from the United Nations with more complete adjustments in their view. The result was impressive: livestock and products of this industry cause annual emissions of more than 32 billion tons of greenhouse gases, which is more than half (about 51%) of all emissions on a global scale (Goodland & Anhang, 2009).

Consumption of Water

The maintenance of animals is associated with the utilization of an exceptional measure of water, which is used for developing grain, drinking, washing and other related procedures. Nevertheless, this human utilization of a standout amongst the most profitable assets  is not adequate obviously. The improvement of farming has led to the fact that today a large portion of water is not spent by individuals for coordinate drinking and financial needs but rather for the industry. Evaluations of the measure of water required the “creation” of considerable meat shift; however, this demands the colossal cost.

A widely cited assessment belongs to Dr. George Borgstrom of the University of Michigan (as cited in Bramble & Fischer, 2015): 2,500 gallons of water is necessary for every 1 pound of American beef (i.e. about 4,000 liters of water per 1 kg of meat). The data is valid for 1970 and the researchers confirm and correct the findings by saying that currently the number mentioned should be multiplied by three to address the current needs in meat (Bramble & Fischer, 2015). The total cost of water resources for livestock production in the world is from 20% to 70%. In particular, Rullia, Savioria and D’Odoricob (2012) investigated 28 regions around the globe and concluded that livestock consumes 1/3 of all fresh water.

Use of the Land

According to different data, from 1/3 to half of the available land area is used for the needs of animal husbandry. The share of the planet surface attributable to animal husbandry is estimated at 30% by Rullia, Savioria and D’Odoricob (2012) and 45% by Thornton, Herrero and Ericksen (2011). The comparison of the effects of livestock products with habitual environmentally unfriendly materials reveals that products of animal origin can inflict more harm, than the production of materials for construction, i.e. sand, cement, plastic or metal. Biomass and crops for animals are as destructive as burning fossil fuels (Hertwich, 2010). In addition to causing damage to landscapes, livestock breeding is the reason for the irrational allocation of resources on the land and hunger in many parts of the globe, as a result. With the development of livestock and the increasing population of the planet, it is exceedingly difficult to feed 7 billion people. Instead of growing edible fruits for nutrition, humans grow fodder crops for livestock. One cow a day eats 10-20 kg of feed (or fodder crops, such as potatoes, beets, Jerusalem artichoke). For one average family to live, this amount of food is enough for a week. Nevertheless, the main consumers of livestock products usually do not have food problems; therefore, it is difficult for them to imagine how many hungry children die all over the world, who only need a bag of grain to survive.


Manufacturing of products of animal origin is a very expensive process in terms of generated waste, which must be always disposed somewhere. Whole ponds from animal excrement accumulate such substances as ammonia, methane, hydrogen sulphide, carbon monoxide, cyanide, nitrates, heavy metals, and bacteria (salmonella, streptococci, etc.) among others.

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Ethics of Eating Meat

The ethical aspect of livestock breeding is worthy of special attention. It also has a direct relationship to the environment, which is not limited to climate change, natural resources and flora. Living organisms are an integral part of ecology, and the attitude towards them is an important indicator of environmental awareness. According to Philip Lymbery (2017), people kill more than 70 billion animals every year (more than 133 thousand animals per minute).

Despite the enormous numbers of animals slaughtered, currently the ethics of eating meat is concentrated mainly on the conditions, in which the livestock is grown and treated. The question of killing a living organism and eating corpses is still being discussed, but in practice, such debates will never end due to the emotional component of the matter. In other words, some people love animals more than others; consequently, they are against eating animals believing that it is a murder, even despite the fact that an animal is grown to be consumed (Bramble & Fischer, 2015). The main claim here is that raising animal for slaughter leads to inequality in chances, i.e. when hunted an animal has the opportunity to survive, unlike the case when it is grown to become food. Nevertheless, nowadays these debates are almost forgotten and arise only from time to time.

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Instead, after a series of documentaries and researches, the matter of conditions in which the livestock has became publicly discussed. Food Inc., a documentary of 2008, for instance, demonstrates that the meat industry cares about growing more meat in shorter terms rather than about its biological and ethical value (Kenner & Pearlstein, 2008). For example, the cattle lives in overcrowded enclosures, biological rhythms of chickens are controlled by the light thus making them eat more. Furthermore, animals are fed with corn and other nutrients having high nutritional value, but low use. As a result, meat contains a considerable amount of fat hence being unhealthy for consumption. Moreover, it may contain antibiotics as well as bacteria in its content posing danger to health.

Food Inc. documentary describes the notion of ‘ethical’ cattle growing, so-called organic farming, done in a traditional way. Animals have a lot of space to walk around and are fed with grass, grains and other traditional fodder for the corresponding type of animals (Kenner & Pearlstein, 2008). Despite the existence of ‘natural’ farming, the ethical issue is still not resolved since the question of slaughter remains unanswered. Again, traditional farming does not settle the issue because most consumers buy meat products at the supermarket, where it is rather hard to distinguish the origin of the packed meat. Additionally, provided the packing indicates the type of farming used, the majority of buyers do not consider the product’s origin but make the choice basing on the packing or the price, as the cost of traditionally grown meat is much higher.


In summary, it is worth mentioning that irrespective of the abundance of sources, investigations, and documentaries concerning the matter of eating meat, it remains unsolved. Perhaps, the results will require a considerable amount of time since it is difficult to change human consciousness as well as the habit of eating and enjoying meat. However, taking into account all the effects described, the measures shall be implemented to tackle the issue.

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