Crops, rodents and grazing cattle

A perfect solution fallacy to justify one’s habits

This article still does the rounds:

It has been effectively debunked here:

…and here:

It has also been debunked there:

Here are my thoughts on the matter:

It’s true, growing and harvesting grains kills rodents. Raising cattle, grazing in specific parts of Australia is one example where the vegan option may kill more animals. I said “may”, because culling occurs in order to protect the cattle and its food and because cattle grazing is not without consequences on the environment.

In Australia, since this is what we are talking about here, grazing accounts for just over half of all land use. Environmental issues associated with sheep and cattle grazing include habitat loss, surface soil loss, salinity, and soil and water quality issues. Drought condition in 2002–03 exacerbated soil loss, leading to the highest dust storm activity since the 1960s. (Study)

Archer, the author of the article we are looking at, who claims that eating grazing cattle is better than eating vegan dishes, seemed to omit these facts and actually got his figures wrong.

Still, even if we entertain the idea that growing and harvesting cereals does indeed kill more sentient animals than having cattle graze in parts of Australia, it remains a dishonest point. It’s a perfect solution fallacy: it is claiming that just because at this stage some animals are killed when harvesting cereals then vegetarian and vegan options aren’t valid.

The Perfect Solution Fallacy (also known as the ‘Nirvana Fallacy‘) is a false dichotomy that occurs when an argument assumes that a perfect solution to a problem exists; and that a proposed solution should be rejected because some part of the problem would still exist after it were implemented. In other words, that a course of action should be rejected because it is not perfect, even though it is the best option available. From Perfect solution fallacy by Tim Harding

If meat eaters stopped eating grains and strictly only ate Australian grazing cattle instead, then, in a way they would have a point. But I’m not too sure it would be easy, healthy and conducive to any progress. But hey, who are we kidding here. They’ll have their meat. Any meat. In a bun. Accusing vegetarians of having more animals killed.

It’s a trick, choosing the most extreme vegan food item with most impact and comparing it with the most extreme livestock item with least impact. As if that’s all people ate.

Let’s be reasonable here. Eating Australian grazing cattle still sends the message that killing and not genuinely taking into account the interests of sentient animals is fine and dandy. Not eating animals, on the other hand, sends the message that we ought to care about the animals. It’s a clear statement. Why? Because most animals are sentient. As such, they have interests we should take into account. Not to suffer. To have satisfactory lives. Not to be killed. The animal industry inflicts plenty of unnecessary suffering while not eating sentient animals reduces considerably the amount of suffering and opens the way towards a society where non-human sentient animals are taken into account.

In addition, and importantly, raising and killing cattle hurts animals. These animals are bred for human consumption. What happens to them is on us.

Growing crops currently kills too many rodents. Does it mean we should not worry about killing even more animals? Or does it mean that we need to change something about how these plants are grown or harvested? Vertical farming where it is possible is one example. If society shifts towards considering the interests of animals, something which would only happen if more people reduce or abandon their consumption of killed animals, then research ought to be done in order to reduce the killing of other animals to harvest crops.

April 2016 Update: This technology (a rat trap that combines synthetic sex pheromones, food scents and baby rat sounds to lure rodents) could probably be used to attract and save plenty of them when harvesting cereals, clearing a field before the combine goes through. I wouldn’t think that this is where the money will be spent but it’s extremely interesting to know that it is becoming a realistic possibility.

Similarly, research into producing meat, dairy and eggs without exploiting and killing animals is helpful.

My problem is that many people hide under the perfect solution fallacy that an animal friendly lifestyle does not mean that zero animal is killed, in order to justify the killing and the suffering of billions (no, this is not an exaggeration) of animals for a moment of culinary enjoyment. It’s the XXIst century, not the XVIth and Descartes (who promoted the idea that animals don’t suffer) is long gone. Can you really keep on hiding behind modern regulations to believe that slaughterhouses are a workplace like another? That farmed animals are okay now? They are commodities. Treated as such.

Animals in sanctuaries have better and longer lives, and better deaths than both wild and farmed animals. We can choose to help other animals to have better lives without deciding to kill them as a payment. Like we do for humans and pets, since we consider them as individuals who have the basic right to live their own life.

I believe that many new sanctuaries will open as more people go veg. It’s already the case and I see no reason why it won’t continue. This gives me hope.

Further reading:

Note: Modern broiler chickens suffer most intensely of all traditionally farmed animals, due to their painfully rapidly growing bodies and constant ammonia burning from their waste. It takes about 200 chickens to make up the same amount of flesh as 1 typical cow. For both those reasons, a person eating cow flesh (or bison or deer flesh, especially if wild) causes much less suffering than someone eating chicken. Pigs also suffer much more intensely (due to their painfully rapid growth and confinement) than wild animals. Please visit One Step for Animals.

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