Meat on the table: Can we justify consuming animals?

If you typically eat three meals a day, then it's a choice you make more than one thousand times a year. And if you're like most people, that choice probably involves meat or dairy, or both. On top of that, many of the clothes we wear are made from animals. But can something that nearly everybody on the planet is doing ━ and has been doing for millions of years ━ be immoral?
(Henry Romero/Reuters)
Listen to the full episode53:59

If you typically eat three meals a day, then it's a choice you make more than one thousand times a year. And if you're like most people, that choice probably involves meat or dairy, or both. On top of that, many of the clothes we wear are made from animals. But can something that nearly everybody on the planet is doing ━ and has been doing for millions of years ━ be immoral? **This episode originally aired October 27, 2017.

Is the consumption of animals immoral?

For Gary Francione, the answer is a resounding "yes". He is an author and professor of law and philosophy, and an architect behind what's known as the abolitionist approach to animal rights. Francione believes our interactions with animals are wholly exploitative, and that we need to stop regarding them as property, and start recognizing them as non-human persons. That means not only giving up meat, fish, dairy ━ even honey ━ in our diets, but also shedding clothing derived from animal products.

It also means saying goodbye to our furry household friends.

"We shouldn't be domesticating animals at all," says Francione. "In my perfect world, dogs don't exist. We shouldn't be domesticating animals for any purpose ━ including to be as pets. But we certainly shouldn't be breeding them and bringing them into existence, so that we can kill them and eat them and wear them, or use them for other purposes."

Beef rancher Nicolette Hahn Niman and legal scholar Gary Francione face off over whether or not it is OK to consume animals. 1:02

But Nicolette Hahn Niman sees Francione's abolitionist view as unnecessarily extreme ━ even harmful. She is a California beef rancher, lawyer, and the author of Righteous Porkchop and Defending Beef: The Case for Sustainable Meat Production.

"The animal rights perspective basically is that they have legal personhood," explains Hahn Niman. "And so, not just we shouldn't have cats and dogs, and we shouldn't be riding horses, but also we shouldn't have bees domesticated, so we shouldn't have honey; we shouldn't use bees for pollination, we shouldn't have silkworms. It's really a very extreme position, and it has dramatic ramifications for the food system".

Hahn Niman argues that while current agriculture practices require drastic reform, the answer lies in improving the lives of animals within the food system ━ rather than an outright rejection of the system altogether.

"There's nothing inherently wrong about raising animals for food," she says. "I think we need to focus on the how we're doing things, because it's causing environmental problems. It's cruel to the animals in many cases. And I think there are so many benefits to having animals in the food system that when we're just sort of bashing the presence of animals in [it], we're taking the energy away from the improving the system."

Hahn Niman and Francione both featured in the The Matter of Meat  by CBC Radio producer Kevin Ball.  In this episode they speak to host Paul Kennedy for an exclusive head-to-head debate about animal consumption.

  • Gary Francione is a professor and legal scholar at Rutgers University, and the author of several books on veganism and animal rights.
  • Nicolette Hahn Niman is a cattle rancher, lawyer, and the author of Defending Beef and Righteous Porkchop.


**This episode was produced by Kevin Ball.

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