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The Least Harm Principle Suggests that Humans Should Eat Beef, Lamb, Dairy, not a Vegan Diet
wildlife damage control ^ | ? | WDC

Posted on 08/29/2003 2:14:39 PM PDT by freepatriot32

The Least Harm Principle Suggests that Humans Should Eat Beef, Lamb, Dairy, not a Vegan Diet. Wildlife Damage Control Wildlife Damage Control Home Page NWCO's only business information wildlife trapping baits and lures wildlife and animal traps Wildlife Damage Control press kit Federal and State wildlife laws Politics of animal rights Wildlife control animal diseases Wildlife Damage Control Solutions wildlife damage control prevention wildlife damage control books wildlife damage control videos wildlife trap research and studies used animal damage control items Wildlife Damage Control Online Store

The following abstract and the aforementioned title were written by S.L. Davis, Department of Animal Sciences, Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR 97331.

Wildlife Damage Control has received permission to reprint this abstract in its entirety which was "Previously published in the Proceedings of the Third Congress of the European Society for Agricultural and Food Ethics, 2001, pp 449-450."

Again, this article was NOT written by Stephen Vantassel. See my version of this principle written long before this article at Uneasy Conscience of the Animal Rights Movement.

Key words: veganism, least harm, farm animals, field animals.

Although the debate over the moral status of animals has been going on for thousands of years (Shapiro, 2000), there has been a resurgence of interest in this issue in the last quarter of the 20th century. One of the landmark philosophical works of this period was the book by Regan (1983) called "A Case for Animal Rights." In that book, Regan concludes that animals do have moral standing, that they are subjects-of-a-life with interests that deserve equal consideration to the same interests in humans, and therefore have the right to live their lives without human interference. As a consequence, he concludes that humans have a moral obligation to consume a vegan (use no animal products) diet and eliminate animal agriculture. However, production of an all vegan diet also comes at the cost of the lives of many animals, including mice, moles, gophers, pheasants, etc. Therefore, I asked Regan, "What is the morally relevant difference between killing a field mouse (or other animal of the field) so that humans may eat and killing a pig (or chicken, calf or lamb) for the same purpose? Animals must die so that humans may eat, regardless whether they eat a vegan diet or not. So, how are we to choose our food supply in a morally responsible manner?" Regan's response could be summarized by what may be called the "Least Harm Principle" or LHP (Regan, Personal Communication). According to LHP, we must choose the food products that, overall, cause the least harm to the least number of animals. The following analysis is an attempt to try to determine what humans should eat if we apply that principle.

Regan's Vegan Conclusion is Problematic

I find Regan's response to my question to be problematic for two reasons. The first reason is because it seems to be a philosophical slight of hand for one to turn to a utilitarian defense (LHP) of a challenge to his vegan conclusion which is based on animal rights theory. If the question, "What is the morally relevant difference?" can't be supported by the animal rights theory, then it seems to me that the animal rights theory must be rejected. Instead, Regan turns to utilitarian theory (which examines consequences of one's actions) to defend the vegan conclusion.

The second problem I see with his vegan conclusion is that he claims that the least harm would be done to animals if animal agriculture was eliminated. It may certainly be true that fewer animals may be killed if animal agriculture was eliminated, but could the LHP also lead to other alternative conclusions?

Would pasture-based animal agriculture cause least harm?

Animals of the field are killed by several factors, including:

1. Tractors and farm implements run over them.
2. Plows and cultivators destroy underground burrows and kill animals.
3. Removal of the crops (harvest) removes ground cover allowing animals on the surface to be killed by predators.
4. Application of pesticides.

So, every time the tractor goes through the field to plow, disc, cultivate, apply fertilizer and/or pesticide, harvest, etc., animals are killed. And, intensive agriculture such as corn and soybeans (products central to a vegan diet) kills far more animals of the field than would extensive agriculture like forage production, particularly if the forage was harvested by ruminant animals instead of machines. So perhaps fewer animals would be killed by producing beef, lamb, and dairy products for humans to eat instead of the vegan diet envisioned by Regan.

Accurate numbers of mortality aren't available, but Tew and Macdonald (1993) reported that wood mouse population density in cereal fields dropped from 25/ha preharvest to less than 5/ha postharvest. This decrease was attributed to migration out of the field and to mortality. Therefore, it may be reasonable to estimate mortality of 10 animals/ha in conventional corn and soybean production.

There are 120 million ha of harvested cropland in the US (USDA, 2000). If all of that land was used to produce a plant-based diet, and if 10 animals of the field are killed per ha per year, then 10 x 120 million = 1200 million or 1.2 billion would be killed to produce a vegan diet. If half of that land (60 million) was converted to forage production and if forage production systems decreased the number of animals of the field killed per year by 50% (5 per year per ha), the number of animals killed would be:

1. 60 million ha of traditional agriculture x 10 animals per ha = 0.6 billion animals killed.
2. 60 million ha of forage production x 5 animals of the field = 0.3 billion.

Therefore, in this hypothetical example, the change to include some forage-based animal agriculture would result in the loss of only 0.9 billion animals of the field instead of 1.2 billion to support a vegan diet. As a result, the LHP would suggest that we are morally obligated to consume a diet of ruminant products, not a vegan diet, because it would result in the death of fewer animals of the field.

But what of the ruminant animals that would need to die to feed people? According to the USDA numbers quoted by Francione (2000), of the 8.4 billion animals killed each year for food in the US, 8 billion of those are poultry and only 41 million are ruminants (cows, calves, sheep, lambs). Even if the numbers of ruminants killed for food each year doubled to replace the 8 billion poultry, the total number of animals that would need to be killed under this alternative would still be fewer (0.9 billion + 82 million = 0.982 billion) than in the vegan alternative (1.2 billion).

In conclusion, applying the Least Harm Principle as proposed by Regan would actually argue that we are morally obligated to move to a ruminant-based diet rather than a vegan diet.


Davis, S.L. 2000. What is the Morally Relevant Difference between the Mouse and the Pig? Pp. 107-109 in the Proceedings of EurSafe 2000; 2nd Congress of the European Society for Agricultural and Food Ethics.

Francione, Gary L. 2000. Introduction to Animal Rights: Your child or the dog? Temple University Press. Philadelphia.

Regan, Tom. 1983. A Case for Animal Rights. University of California Press, Berkeley.

Shapiro, L.S. 2000. Applied Animal Ethics, pp. 34-37. Delmar Press.

Tew, T.E. and D.W. Macdonald. 1993. The effects of harvest on arable wood mice. Biological Conservation 65:279-283.

USDA. 2000.


Stephen Vantassel owns Wildlife Damage Control and is a Certified Wildlife Control Professional. He is a nationally known writer including having been an assistant editor for Wildlife Control Technology magazine, author of numerous ADC articles as well as The Wildlife Removal Handbook rev.ed and the Wildlife Damage Inspection Handbook rev. ed. Mr. Vantassel is also a vocal critic of the growing animal rights movement. He has exposed the fallacies and deceptions of the animal rights protest industry through debate, lecture and publication.

Disclaimer: WDC seeks to provide accurate, effective and responsible information on resolving human/wildlife conflicts. We welcome suggestions, criticisms to help us achieve this goal. The information provided is for informational purposes only and users of the information use it at their own risk. The reader must consult state/federal officials to determine the legality of any technique in the reader's locale. Some techniques are dangerous to the user and to others. WDC encourages readers to obtain appropriate training (see our informational literature at our Store ), possibly hire a professional (for help in finding one e-mail after visiting the previous link) and understand that proper animal damage control involves patience, understanding that not every technique/method works for every situation or even 100% of the time. Your use of this information is governed by this understanding. All information here is the copyright of Stephen Vantassel (Wildlife Damage Control). We welcome potential users of the information and photos to simply ask for permission via e-mail. Finally, WDC welcomes e-mail but understand that all e-mails become property of Wildlife Damage Control.


TOPICS: Business/Economy; Constitution/Conservatism; Culture/Society; Editorial; Extended News; Front Page News; News/Current Events; Philosophy; Politics/Elections
KEYWORDS: a; animalrights; beef; dairy; diet; eat; environment; harm; humans; lamb; least; not; principle; should; suggests; that; the; vegan
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To: freepatriot32
We don't worship cows, if everyone here was a vegan there would be no cows or pigs. The species would have to be seen in the zoo. No one would keep them as pets,
there would be no reason for them to survive. This guy also talks about urbanization keeping animals from their habitat? Some animals need their space, elk, wolves to mention a couple but many co-exist very well with man. I live right in the center of Houston, at this minute I have 2 swamp rabbits, 6 squirells, 2 dozen doves, black birds & various other birds in my back yard. At night I find evidence of racoons, possums, armadillos & rats out there (I haven't smelled a skunk in several years). They don't care that this neighborhood was established 50 years ago. The east coast is eaten up with white tailed deer & other things that don't mind living with man. West coast mountian lions carry off joggers occasionaly. This writer is nuts.
21 posted on 08/29/2003 3:29:59 PM PDT by Ditter
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Comment #22 Removed by Moderator

To: kafir
Actually, this is the greatest article I've seen in a long time.
23 posted on 08/29/2003 3:49:18 PM PDT by FastCoyote
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To: freepatriot32
I want you to know that that is the funniest thing I think I have ever read. I owe your kid brother and you dinner sometime, and I'm not kidding!
24 posted on 08/29/2003 3:53:48 PM PDT by ChemistCat (Focused, Relentless Charity Beats Random Acts of Kindness.)
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To: freepatriot32; mhking; MeeknMing; okchemyst
DO read freepatriot32's story. I busted some seams laughing.
25 posted on 08/29/2003 3:55:32 PM PDT by ChemistCat (Focused, Relentless Charity Beats Random Acts of Kindness.)
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To: freepatriot32
Do these janes not worry about the loss of this valuable habitat for the lice and fleas?
26 posted on 08/29/2003 4:00:57 PM PDT by Lurker 50001 (curious)
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To: CommerceComet
Yup. Our teeth show us the same thing. Plus, the microbiology. Dogs, who don't eat fruits, manufacture their own Vitamin C. Our diet requires additional vitamin B's, in fact some vegetarians suffer the effects of not enough B.
27 posted on 08/29/2003 4:06:12 PM PDT by djf
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To: freepatriot32
You should enter that one in a Christmas short story contest. It's great. You'd win!
28 posted on 08/29/2003 5:18:57 PM PDT by cinnathepoet (Why, oh why, oh why? -- Rabbit)
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To: freepatriot32
Great story!
29 posted on 08/29/2003 6:11:52 PM PDT by Sabatier
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To: RightWhale
he concludes that humans have a moral obligation to consume a vegan

Lemee see if I got this right. He concludes that we are morally obligated to be canibals? Oh, goodness, where's Idi Amin when you need him?

30 posted on 08/29/2003 6:23:48 PM PDT by upchuck (I will pay big bucks for a tag line good enough to make the next "Taglinus FreeRepublicus" post.)
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To: Trampled by Lambs
Animals have morals? Tell that to my dog when he's licking his private parts in public...

No one said they had good morals.
31 posted on 08/29/2003 7:25:41 PM PDT by George W. Bush
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To: freepatriot32
That is a very cool story.
32 posted on 08/29/2003 7:36:56 PM PDT by CobaltBlue (Never voted for a Democrat in my life.)
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To: freepatriot32; AAABEST; Ace2U; Alamo-Girl; Alas; amom; AndreaZingg; Anonymous2; ApesForEvolution; ..
Rights, farms, environment ping.

Let me know if you wish to be added or removed from this list.

33 posted on 08/29/2003 8:00:42 PM PDT by farmfriend ( Isaiah 55:10,11)
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To: freepatriot32
"sorry to be ther bearer of bad news but its [sic] true heck there is a religion in india called the janes that are so vegan the wont [sic] cut thier hair with scissors in case there is [sic] any lice or fleas in it that wil l get killed they pull all of thier [sic] hair out one strand at a time until they are completely bald"

Please. Jains.

Someone told me that Ghandi's parents were Jains and convinced themselves that they could not even consume plants they starved themselves to death.

Dunno if it's true. But it started me thinking...if you pick fruit that has fallen from the tree, carefully preserve the seeds, and eat it--and then plant the seeds, would that be morally acceptable to a Jain?


34 posted on 08/29/2003 8:20:54 PM PDT by boris (Education is always painful; pain is always educational.)
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To: freepatriot32
Feh! The real answer is to eat what you like within healthy limits. I had veal sznicel, kapusta, beets with chrzen, lettuce and tomatoes for dinner. Polish, yummy, and also OK for diabetics. No desert (sigh!).

So there!

35 posted on 08/29/2003 8:56:56 PM PDT by Salman (Mickey Akbar)
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To: farmfriend
36 posted on 08/30/2003 3:09:13 AM PDT by E.G.C.
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To: freepatriot32
That is a classic story and so unbelieveable, I know it's true.

Those kind of things DO happen.

What a good chuckle to start my day.

37 posted on 08/30/2003 6:24:19 AM PDT by happygrl
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To: farmfriend
Rights, Farms, Environment ... Bump!
38 posted on 08/30/2003 10:05:51 AM PDT by blackie
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To: ChemistCat
Thanks. bttt for later. My Comcast was out for 30 hours and I'm playin catchup ...

39 posted on 08/30/2003 11:48:58 AM PDT by MeekOneGOP (Check out the Texas Chicken D 'RATS!:
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To: freepatriot32
LOL! Could be a great kid's movie with Tim Allen as the Dad.
40 posted on 08/30/2003 2:21:32 PM PDT by Oorang ( Go put your best bib and tuck on, I feel like a spree)
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