Food Fight! Davis versus Regan on the Ethics of Eating Beef
Journal of Social Philosophy, Vol. 38, No. 2, pp. 331-348, Summer 2007
18 Pages Posted: 27 Aug 2008 Last revised: 25 Apr 2015
Date Written: August 25, 2008
One of the starting assumptions in the debate over the ethical status of animals is that someone who is committed to reducing animal suffering should not eat meat. Steven Davis has recently advanced a novel criticism of this view. He argues that individuals who are committed to reducing animal suffering should not adopt a vegetarian or vegan diet, as Tom Regan an other animal rights advocates claim, but one containing free-range beef. To make his case Davis highlights an overlooked form of animal harm, that done to field animals in crop production. Yet while Davis's argument is ingenious and thought-provoking, it is not a successful challenge to vegetarianism and veganism's status as the diets that most advance animal rights. Scientific studies of crop production that Davis draws on document two different forms of harm done to field animals: those that are directly killed by harvesting equipment and those that are killed by other animals. Once this distinction is made explicit, the degree to which such studies pose a problem for animal protection theory considerably weakens. Davis also overlooks philosophically significant forms of harm to human beings that are present in beef production but not crop harvesting. Finally, he bases his argument on the controversial assumption that there is no difference between deliberate and accidental killing - either of animals or people. Although these problems defeat Davis's attempt to offer an immanent critique of Regan's animal rights position, his analysis does have important dietary ramifications that animal advocates should take into account.
Keywords: philosophy, ethics, animal rights, animal welfare, vegetarianism, veganism, Tom Regan, agriculture
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