Eating meat ethically Watch

Implication
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I'm mostly vegetarian, though I do eat free range/RSPCA approved chicken breast once or twice a week and beef/bacon occasionally. I do drink milk and eat free range eggs.

I was becoming more and more convinced that vegetarianism was the only ethical way forward, simply due to the effect that is has on the meat industry's supply chain - it ultimately reduces the number of animals that are farmed for meat, and thereby reduces the net suffering of sentient creatures in the universe. However, I since stumbled across a page from a book (Compassion, by the Pound: The Economics of Farm Animal Welfare, by F. Bailey Norwood and Jayson L. Lusk) where they attempt to quantify the lifetime suffering of various livestock creatures and come up with positive figures for some of them. I believe this was a US study so the standards may not be the same in the UK, but I suspect there is some correlation. I'd like to read the whole book but it's £40 and seems quite rare Anyway, page below:

Name:  Meat suffering quantified.png
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Why, then, should I be concerned about increasing the number of animals that are farmed if I'm careful to only do this for those which live net positive lives? What are the negative consequences and hence why should I treat it as unethical?
(inb4 population ethics - I know this could be a hard one. One person with a perfect life vs. millions with lives that are juuuuust about worth living etc.)

I'm hoping all of this will be irrelevant when lab-grown meat becomes commercially viable in the next decade or two, but in the meantime...


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viddy9
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(Original post by Implication)
Why, then, should I be concerned about increasing the number of animals that are farmed if I'm careful to only do this for those which live net positive lives? What are the negative consequences and hence why should I treat it as unethical?
Good topic!

Firstly, if we take those figures at face value, there are still problems with meat and dairy production, due to their major impacts on the climate.

Secondly, I'd not put too much weight on welfare scores estimated from a single source. I've seen this table before, and some of the estimates look quite aberrant to me, based on investigations of farms that I've seen as well as others' estimates. That said, it's still valid and useful.

For example, Norwood rates non-breeder chickens as having net-positive lives, whereas I would say that they have highly net-negative lives. Similarly, I'm confident that breeder hens in caged systems have net-negative lives. Finally, I'm skeptical of "free-range" systems, as numerous investigations have demonstrated appalling welfare standards in these systems - the law only requires free-range systems to have a small hole in a shed (which could be very overcrowded) through which the animals can escape for a few hours a day. Thus, I'm even more skeptical of systems which simply call themselves "cage-free". (See here, for instance.)

In addition, the estimates for humanely raised pigs are best-case scenario estimates. In reality, as I've documented here before, pig farms in the UK including RSPCA certified ones and ones run by people who have received awards from the Queen for animal welfare have been found to have atrocious welfare standards. Here are some examples of typical UK pig farms.

Nonetheless, I agree that beef cows have net-positive lives (though beef has a massive impact on the climate) and that dairy cows might have marginally positive lives. Dr. Sara Shields, another animal welfare expert, gives the following estimates:

Beef cows: 2
Dairy cows: 0
Pigs: -5
Fish: -7
Egg-laying hens: -7
Broiler (meat) chickens and turkeys: -8

Many other people whose rational judgement I respect (and who are, like you and me, focused on reducing suffering) give similar estimates: chicken, eggs, fish and pigs are the worst things to consume, with dairy and beef cows having potentially net-positive lives. Having said that, we may be at a stage where demand for dairy is so high that increasing it any further will result in factory-farmed dairy becoming increasingly prevalent: CIWF, a respectable animal welfare organisation (who are much too optimistic about 'humane meat' in my view) notes that 'zero-grazing' dairy farms are becoming increasingly prominent in the UK.

There are also other things to consider, too. For example, spreading anti-speciesist values is quite important, and being vegetarian can lead to greater concern for non-human animals to spread.

If we were to ignore the climate impacts and these other side effects, there is indeed the question of population ethics when it comes to beef cows and potentially dairy cows. I used to take the view that a being couldn't be harmed by not coming into existence so abstaining was better regardless of whether the lives were net-positive or negative; now I'm a classical, hedonistic, total utilitarian so I do take the question of net-positive vs. net-negative lives much more seriously, but for the reasons above still think that a vegan or near-vegan diet is beneficial.

From a purely animal welfare perspective, I'm much more concerned about reducing consumption of chicken, eggs, fish and pigs (regardless of whether they're labelled humane or not) and I'm not too concerned about beef and dairy except from a climate change perspective.

[Just to cover all of the bases, there are other considerations related to wild-animal suffering which may count in favour of dairy and beef grazing (it probably reduces total insect populations, and insects probably have net-negative lives if they have the capacity to suffer), and comparing these positive impacts to the climate change impact is difficult. For me, I currently consume some dairy again now that I'm at university because it's cheaper than the alternatives, giving me more money to donate to charities and organisations that are fighting factory farming and researching wild-animal suffering. For beef, it's more expensive than the alternatives, its impact on the climate is even larger than dairy's, and I wouldn't psychologically last long eating it because of its health consequences. So, I don't eat beef.]
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ChaoticButterfly
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viddy9

Even though the welfare stickers produces stick on their products are flawed are you not still pleased that you are winning the propaganda war?

The fact appearing "ethical" (even if they are in reality not) is now good for business is a move in the right direction to actually making things better? Attitudes are shifting (albeit incredibly slowly).
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viddy9
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(Original post by ChaoticButterfly)

Even though the welfare stickers produces stick on their products are flawed are you not still pleased that you are winning the propaganda war?

The fact appearing "ethical" (even if they are in reality not) is now good for business is a move in the right direction to actually making things better? Attitudes are shifting (albeit incredibly slowly).
Yes. And, one of the best interventions to tackle factory-farming, being practiced by the most effective animal charities and organisations, is corporate outreach: convincing companies that it's in their interests to become more ethical. It's why Tyson Foods (the biggest producer of pork products in the United States, I think) and others are actually investing in companies that are developing lab-grown meat (or clean meat, as it's sometimes called).

There are potential downsides. The major one is that people's views on animals and particularly on speciesism won't change, just their eating habits, which is in my view bad for the long-term trajectory of humanity (if we're to tackle wild-animal suffering or deal with similar philosophical issues such as how we deal with sentient machines or alien civilizations, making moral progress on impartial concern for all sentient beings would be a good bedrock.)

Another one (which the limited evidence that we have seems to refute) is that people will just consume these supposedly ethical products to the same degree or to an even higher degree, which will keep total suffering constant. But, as I say, this effect is likely to be minor or even non-existent.

Overall, though, the pressure on farms and companies to make their products more ethical is a positive development: while I take the major downside I mention seriously, we can't continue to wait for people's attitudes to completely shift, and individual behaviour and attitude change is very difficult to do overall. The best we can hope for is gradual shift in people's views, and demand for more ethically-sourced animal products demonstrates that concern for non-human animals is rising, slowly.

You've probably noticed that I do tend to criticise free-range and 'humane' systems, but that's only because I think an even better gradualist approach is to call on people to reduce the overall amount of animal products that they consume, even if they don't eliminate them. This carries with it less of the risk and probably more short-term benefit for animals too.
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Mnemosyne.
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An incredibly interesting thread. I was vegetarian for six months and had the goal of becoming vegan however decided to consume meat ethically instead.

I hadn't seen this data before.
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macromicro
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The solution for eating meat ethically is already in advanced development: synthetic meat. There are several companies making a lot of progress in this area, most notably Memphis Meats (who have a new fundraiser here). It's the only viable solution for the future. It's speculated that becoming vegetarian/vegan but not buying meat substitutes could cause more harm to animals in the long-term, since investment in synthetic meat is determined by demand levels for meat and meat substitutes.

Whether it is unethical to eat the meat of those animals with a net negative welfare is a thorny issue, as is "speciesism". It's not something that has a right or wrong answer, whereas synthetic meat is objectively better in every aspect: it is amoral, more efficient to produce, greener, cheaper in the long-term, and leaves open a whole range of culinary possibilities in terms of tweaking the flavour/texture/etc. of different meats.
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macromicro
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(Original post by viddy9)
There are potential downsides. The major one is that people's views on animals and particularly on speciesism won't change, just their eating habits, which is in my view bad for the long-term trajectory of humanity (if we're to tackle wild-animal suffering or deal with similar philosophical issues such as how we deal with sentient machines or alien civilizations, making moral progress on impartial concern for all sentient beings would be a good bedrock.)
There will be no farm animals in the distant future. As soon as synthetic meat is commonplace and competitive with market prices of slaughtered-meat, farm animals will eventually become extinct.

The "long-term trajectory of humanity" is to inhabit other planets and we are hardly going to bring a cow with us to Mars; however fascinating that would be to see, mind you.
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viddy9
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(Original post by macromicro)
The solution for eating meat ethically is already in advanced development: synthetic meat. There are several companies making a lot of progress in this area, most notably Memphis Meats (who have a new fundraiser here). It's the only viable solution for the future. It's speculated that becoming vegetarian/vegan but not buying meat substitutes could cause more harm to animals in the long-term, since investment in synthetic meat is determined by demand levels for meat and meat substitutes.
I agree with your views on lab-grown meat, and I'd also recommend the Good Food Institute, which is an Animal Charity Evaluators top recommended charity, and New Harvest (a standout charity) which are both working on synthetic meat too.

(Original post by macromicro)
Whether it is unethical to eat the meat of those animals with a net negative welfare is a thorny issue, as is "speciesism". It's not something that has a right or wrong answer, whereas synthetic meat is objectively better in every aspect: it is amoral, more efficient to produce, greener, cheaper in the long-term, and leaves open a whole range of culinary possibilities in terms of tweaking the flavour/texture/etc. of different meats.
Did you mean "with a net positive welfare"? I'd say that speciesism has a right answer both in rational terms and in moral terms. Rationally, there's no justification for putting the comparable interests of a human being above those of another being simply because the human being is a member of the species Homo sapiens. Other justifications given, such as intelligence, aren't logical either, because many non-human animals are demonstrably more intelligent than severely intellectually disabled humans, or human infants.

Morally, this will often lead to the total amount of suffering in the world increasing - and speciesism certainly does that today.

I agree that factory farming and probably all forms of animal farming will become a thing of the past eventually, but the examples I gave include how we tackle the suffering of animals in the wild; how we deal with potential sentient machines; and how we deal with potential alien civilizations.

The recognition that we should equally consider the comparable interests of all sentient beings will serve us well in those situations, as well as in the situation you describe: if we do colonize other planets, I'd rather we didn't create the conditions for a second Earth - full of wild-animal suffering due to predation, starvation and disease - to develop.
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Trevish
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Eating meat twice a week doesn't makes you vegetarian LMAO ..Not even "mostly". You are just omnivorous like me

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macromicro
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(Original post by viddy9)
Did you mean "with a net positive welfare"? I'd say that speciesism has a right answer both in rational terms and in moral terms. Rationally, there's no justification for putting the comparable interests of a human being above those of another being simply because the human being is a member of the species Homo sapiens. Other justifications given, such as intelligence, aren't logical either, because many non-human animals are demonstrably more intelligent than severely intellectually disabled humans, or human infants.

Morally, this will often lead to the total amount of suffering in the world increasing - and speciesism certainly does that today.
No I meant negative; I was just alluding to the complexity of animal ethics in general, even when we know they are being harmed. We do not prioritise the human being simply because it is a member of the species Homo sapiens in the same way that vegetarians don't eat meat simply because it is atoms so arranged that we call meat. It is of course the implications and presuppositions of both. Humans on average are more intelligent than other animals - that we can agree on. Your argument is that other animals are more intelligent than children or the mentally impaired. In regards to the former, children will grow to become vastly more intelligent than even the most intelligent animal. This potential alone is grounds for prioritisation.

As for the tiny percentage of the mentally disabled, we view them as entirely differently to other humans - we treat them and manage them; we don't hold them morally responsible as we don't other animals or children; they are the object of our objective attitude. Your reply to this might be that, while this is true, we don't kill and eat them. The reason for this is not simply because they are human but because they are within a society of humans, in which killing and eating the intellectually disabled would cause harm to friends and family who are intellectually normal, and because the negative implications it would cause for the rest of society are huge. It is also because we don't need to kill and eat them when we have other animals. To put this somewhat crudely, why would we farm disabled people to eat? It would be inefficient and superfluous when we already have farm animals - not to mention it is currently impossible for us to do so, i.e. we don't actually have the option even if for some perverse reason we wanted to.

Our greatest concern of suffering is therefore for humans. The problem with your position here is that it pushes you into a regress. If no being can be prioritised then we are left static since, for example, no-one could spend a single pound over what is deemed necessary for their survival - anything over that must be donated to starving Africans, since not doing so would be an act implying your superiority over an African's life, which could have been saved with that one pound. While this would cure inequality, it would leave static the human race and, in the long-term, cause our extinction. Equality and progress are mutually exclusive, at least for now.

(Original post by viddy9)
I agree that factory farming and probably all forms of animal farming will become a thing of the past eventually, but the examples I gave include how we tackle the suffering of animals in the wild; how we deal with potential sentient machines; and how we deal with potential alien civilizations.

The recognition that we should equally consider the comparable interests of all sentient beings will serve us well in those situations, as well as in the situation you describe: if we do colonize other planets, I'd rather we didn't create the conditions for a second Earth - full of wild-animal suffering due to predation, starvation and disease - to develop.
I don't see any real parallels with alien beings. We wouldn't kill and eat intellectually inferior aliens simply because a) we would want to observe them b) we already have methods for food production. If you're referring to the idea that it's very likely alien beings would consider us as intellectually inferior as we do other animals then you're right and there is little we can do about that. Neither our changing our opinion of non-human beings will change the opinion of those higher beings' opinion of us nor can we rationally say that the aliens would be culpable in their view of us. We can't blame them, in the same way we don't blame a cat for making rats suffer before killing them, thus viewing them as inferior. The benefit we have is that we are at least able to travel in space - this act alone sets apart so vastly from other animals on Earth that it gives us greater hope in surviving alien contact.
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viddy9
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(Original post by macromicro)
No I meant negative; I was just alluding to the complexity of animal ethics in general, even when we know they are being harmed.
There's no justification for unnecessarily inflicting suffering on another sentient being. Some things are complex, but this question isn't. That's why it's wrong to inflict suffering on human infants and severely intellectually disabled humans, too, regardless of their intelligence level or whether they have family members who would be saddened by it.

(Original post by macromicro)
In regards to the former, children will grow to become vastly more intelligent than even the most intelligent animal. This potential alone is grounds for prioritisation.
I don't accept that intelligence is grounds for prioritisation in any case: just because a being is more intelligent, doesn't mean it suffers more intensely. My argument was simply a reductio ad absurdum.

Let's take severely intellectually disabled people, though, and imagine that there was no family to sadden, and no negative implications on society either. People would still be outraged at the idea of treating them in the way in which we treat non-human animals, and rightly so, because, as I said, our concern for a being should not depend on its intelligence, but on whether it has the capacity to suffer. This is recognised in the case of the human, but not in the case of the non-human; I posit that this is speciesism in action.

And, you're only claiming that society doesn't employ speciesism. You've not defended speciesism itself, suggesting that you think it is more clear-cut than you initially implied.

(Original post by macromicro)
The problem with your position here is that it pushes you into a regress. If no being can be prioritised then we are left static since, for example, no-one could spend a single pound over what is deemed necessary for their survival - anything over that must be donated to starving Africans, since not doing so would be an act implying your superiority over an African's life, which could have been saved with that one pound. While this would cure inequality, it would leave static the human race and, in the long-term, cause our extinction. Equality and progress are mutually exclusive, at least for now.
I'm not saying that no sentient being can be prioritized. If you have a choice between two sentient beings who would gain an equal amount of happiness or have to endure an equal amount of suffering, you would just pick randomly. you wouldn't fail to prioritize one or the other. And, prioritization decisions can still be made based on other factors, whilst still equally considering the comparable interests of all sentient beings. For example, if one disease causes more suffering than another, but they both require the same amount of money to treat one person, then we should prioritize the people with the former disease over the latter.

Actually, as a Utilitarian, I accept the conclusion that we should give away a substantial portion of our income and wealth away to causes, charities or interventions that are most effective at reducing the amount of suffering in the universe. You've not made an argument against this proposition; like a utilitarian, you've appealed to the consequences of having complete equality in order to suggest that it wouldn't be beneficial. I agree, but there's still plenty of room for individuals right now to donate to the most effective charities that reduce deaths from preventable diseases and bring people out of extreme poverty in the developing world.

Some degree of inequality in the current, market-based economies that we live in is necessary for progress, but not the degree of inequality that we see today. Even if you thought otherwise, you wouldn't be making an argument against the equal consideration of interests, you would be saying that in the long run it will lead to a greater balance of happiness over suffering if we keep levels of inequality as they are today. And, it wouldn't stop you from donating substantial portions of your income to the most effective charities that are tackling factory farming, pioneering synthetic meat or reducing the risk of human extinction.

The reason I don't think we should give all of our money up until we can only just survive is because we need money to be able to get an education and get a job so that we can earn more money to give.

(Original post by macromicro)
I don't see any real parallels with alien beings. We wouldn't kill and eat intellectually inferior aliens simply because a) we would want to observe them b) we already have methods for food production. If you're referring to the idea that it's very likely alien beings would consider us as intellectually inferior as we do other animals then you're right and there is little we can do about that. Neither our changing our opinion of non-human beings will change the opinion of those higher beings' opinion of us nor can we rationally say that the aliens would be culpable in their view of us. We can't blame them, in the same way we don't blame a cat for making rats suffer before killing them, thus viewing them as inferior. The benefit we have is that we are at least able to travel in space - this act alone sets apart so vastly from other animals on Earth that it gives us greater hope in surviving alien contact.
I wasn't making a parallel, I was saying that if the potential for conflict arises, we would likely discriminate against alien beings just as we've discriminated against other 'different' groups, including non-human animals. If moral values such as anti-speciesism and the equal consideration of interests of all sentient beings spread, we'll be less likely to spread wild-animal suffering to other planets, more likely to intervene in nature to deal with the suffering on this planet, less likely to discriminate against alien beings and less likely to discriminate against sentient robots.
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macromicro
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(Original post by viddy9)
There's no justification for unnecessarily inflicting suffering on another sentient being.
It's not unnecessarily. There is a purpose which is food production.

(Original post by viddy9)
I don't accept that intelligence is grounds for prioritisation in any case
You do. It's why you care less about stepping on an ant than dropping a baby on its head.

(Original post by viddy9)
Let's take severely intellectually disabled people, though, and imagine that there was no family to sadden, and no negative implications on society either. People would still be outraged at the idea of treating them in the way in which we treat non-human animals, and rightly so, because, as I said, our concern for a being should not depend on its intelligence, but on whether it has the capacity to suffer. This is recognised in the case of the human, but not in the case of the non-human; I posit that this is speciesism in action.
Capacity to suffer is of course part of intelligence too. It's not one or the other. 99.9% of humans are not mentally disabled and unconnected to anyone so your positing speciesism is limited to a negligible percentage that is barely worth debating over. And our treatment of that fraction of a fraction is much closer to animals than it is to humans. We cage them in psychiatric units, they lose responsibility and control over their lives, they are managed not related to, they are by all accounts separate to the rest of humans.

(Original post by viddy9)
And, you're only claiming that society doesn't employ speciesism.
I'm claiming that humans ought to be prioritised over other animals.

(Original post by viddy9)
If you have a choice between two sentient beings who would gain an equal amount of happiness or have to endure an equal amount of suffering, you would just pick randomly. you wouldn't fail to prioritize one or the other. And, prioritization decisions can still be made based on other factors, whilst still equally considering the comparable interests of all sentient beings. For example, if one disease causes more suffering than another, but they both require the same amount of money to treat one person, then we should prioritize the people with the former disease over the latter.
Precisely, so the computer you are now using is undermining your position since the general happiness you receive from it would be less than the suffering of a starving African and their subsequent death.

(Original post by viddy9)
Actually, as a Utilitarian, I accept the conclusion that we should give away a substantial portion of our income and wealth away to causes, charities or interventions that are most effective at reducing the amount of suffering in the universe.
A utilitarian would have to give away all their income less that which is required for survival since saving someone else's life is always higher in utility than any luxury enjoyed above the basic needs of their own survival.

(Original post by viddy9)
Even if you thought otherwise, you wouldn't be making an argument against the equal consideration of interests, you would be saying that in the long run it will lead to a greater balance of happiness over suffering if we keep levels of inequality as they are today.
Which necessarily requires unequal interests in the short and medium term.

(Original post by viddy9)
The reason I don't think we should give all of our money up until we can only just survive is because we need money to be able to get an education and get a job so that we can earn more money to give.
But that's clearly not true. If everyone got a minimum wage job requiring no education and donated all their excess over the essential requirement for survival, poverty would be solved. Better yet, if all countries stopped their operations and formed a global communist bloc, we could have perfect equality. The reason we don't do that is because interests are heavily and fundamentally prioritised.

(Original post by viddy9)
I wasn't making a parallel, I was saying that if the potential for conflict arises, we would likely discriminate against alien beings just as we've discriminated against other 'different' groups, including non-human animals. If moral values such as anti-speciesism and the equal consideration of interests of all sentient beings spread, we'll be less likely to spread wild-animal suffering to other planets, more likely to intervene in nature to deal with the suffering on this planet, less likely to discriminate against alien beings and less likely to discriminate against sentient robots.
Yes I replied to that. I also replied to the opposite and more likely scenario that the aliens are more intelligent than us.
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CookieButter
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I am an omnivore. my body is designed for the purpose of consuming both plant and animal. If animals are badly treated in the food industry then the food industry needs to change such that it treats them better. Me becoming vegetarian doesnt address the problem.

When I was younger my father took me to abattoirs to see and be involved in that process of preparing my food so that I can understand the process that the animal goes through. I was vey impressed by the method involved and how far people went in caring for the animal such that it did not undergo any unnecessary suffering. One part involved the farmer offering the animal water before its slaughter so that they made sure it did not die thirsty but this was in a different part of the world with different customs.

Methods of slaughter need to be addressed in this part of the world not our diets.
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evantej
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I do not really have anything to contribute to this topic. Except to say you that might all enjoy a book an academic who lives near me wrote on this subject. It is called Animal (De)liberation: Should the Consumption of Animal Products Be Banned?. It came out a few months ago. You can download it for free here.
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Implication
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(Original post by Trevish)
Eating meat twice a week doesn't makes you vegetarian LMAO ..Not even "mostly". You are just omnivorous like me

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do you have anything to add except unintelligent semantics?
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Trevish
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(Original post by Implication)
do you have anything to add except unintelligent semantics?
I don't know
Maybe ask your MOM if I can add something else?

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bnpos
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(Original post by CookieButter)
I am an omnivore. my body is designed for the purpose of consuming both plant and animal. If animals are badly treated in the food industry then the food industry needs to change such that it treats them better. Me becoming vegetarian doesnt address the problem.
What acomplete bs argument. Do oyu need meatto live ahealthy life style?


its like a rapist saying I am a rapist my body was designed to be one. Just **** off.
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Trevish
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(Original post by bnpos)
What acomplete bs argument. Do oyu need meatto live ahealthy life style?


its like a rapist saying I am a rapist my body was designed to be one. Just **** off.
Butthurt vegans! I love chicken . As if when you were a kid you never ate something related to animals!

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bnpos
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(Original post by Trevish)
Butthurt vegans! I love chicken . As if when you were a kid you never ate something related to animals!

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I didn't have much of a choice as a kid. You are indoctrinated into eating meat from the day you are born.
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(Original post by Trevish)
I don't know
Maybe ask your MOM if I can add something else?

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Mum insults?

How ****ing old are you?
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