Even if true, this argument would not function as an adequate defence for eating animals. Nevertheless, it is used surprisingly often in this context. The argument holds that veganism as a worldview only cares about the rights of animals and excludes humans from its ethical considerations, and as such is inherently flawed.
The first and most obvious flaw with this argument is that it makes a not only unsupported, but unsupportable generalisation of all vegans. We cannot know what all vegans think about human suffering, since vegans exist across cultures, nations and religions. To judge something about “how vegans are” based on encounters with western vegans on tumblr is an obvious example of confirmation bias and prejudiced thinking. Despite the fact that by virtue of being vegan, vegans are usually, by consequence, interested in ethics and justice more generally, there are likely some vegans who do not care about humans. This however, is not a flaw of veganism as an ideology anymore than the existence of feminists who exclude some women from their feminism is a flaw inherent in all of feminism. Those making this argument are committing an association fallacy, that is, they are tarring all vegans with the same brush based on a limited sample size.
Sometimes however, what is being claimed is a little more nuanced than this. Often what is being argued is that while individual vegans do care about human suffering, veganism as an ideology ignores human suffering. This is a charge often levelled against social justice movements more generally, for example, it has been said that “black lives matter” should be “all lives matter” and that “feminism” should be “equality.” That a particular movement is focused on one area of oppression specifically is not a valid critique. No advocacy is completely intersectional, but a black rights advocate is not a sexist because their advocacy does not explicitly discuss gender. All veganism should be intersectional, as all feminism should be, but that a movement is focused specifically on women’s rights, or trans rights, or animal rights, is not an inherent flaw in any of those movements. A good women’s rights advocate does not ignore the suffering of male victims, it is just the case that their focus is on women. Considering that animals have been systematically oppressed for thousands of years, it is not unreasonable to suggest that someone should choose to focus on advocating for their rights.
Arguments like this one also ignore the inherent interconnectedness between human and animal oppression. Nearly all ideologies, cultures, religions, classes, and races oppress animals and fail to extend their moral concern to non-human victims of systematic oppression. Prejudice and oppression has long been understood to stem from the belief that a group differs from some arbitrary ideal, and therefore is less worthy of rights. This is the case for not only human oppression, but animal oppression too. Animals differ from the “ideal” so radically that they are often not even considered to be oppressed, when clearly, under any reasonable definition of the word, a being who is raised and slaughtered for profit, as well as having all of their most fundamental rights denied to them, is clearly being oppressed. Vegans recognise this, but when a post or an essay fails to address all oppression and focuses simply on animal oppression, it does not follow that humans do not enter into our world view. Most vegans see other issues like racism and sexism as a logical extension of the belief in justice that veganism arises from, but just because these are not explicit within every pro-vegan poster and leaflet does not mean that it is not within the scope of what veganism is about.
This critique is actually quite ironic, since few arguments lack intersectionality as much as anti-vegan ones do. Opponents of veganism routinely erase poor vegans and vegans of colour, barely a day goes by where I do not see otherwise politically conscious social justice advocates do this. To use another pressing example, critics are more than happy to use crop workers as pawns in their arguments against veganism, and while the struggles of crop workers is something that vegans absolutely must be conscious of, rarely, if ever, does this discussion seek to include slaughterhouse workers, victims of that very same capitalist oppression. Slaughterhouse workers are much more likely than average to have problems with alcohol abuse and with mental health issues like PTSD from working under extremely stressful conditions. These workers have astonishingly high rates of injury due to a high pressure, dangerous working environment. When workers do sustain injuries, The Human Rights Watch reports the industry avoiding administering their workers’ compensation programs by systematically failing to recognize and report claims, delaying claims, denying claims, and threatening and taking reprisals against workers who file claims for compensation for workplace injuries. These are most often poor immigrants with few other choices.
It is not only workers who are effected, industrial animal farming has a severe and devastating effect on their surrounding communities, polluting water, air and driving down land values. Those who try to speak against these corrupt industries either on behalf of these communities or on behalf of animals, are met with legal action and often even criminal charges. These “ag-gag” laws are devastating for the human victims of animal agriculture as well for farmed animals. Animal agriculture corporations routinely trample on humans rights for profit, for example, when Smithfield bought Polish company Prima and gained farming permits on the condition they would provide local jobs, they hired no one from the local area and 5,000 pigs were moved in during the dead of night. The now Smithfield owned Prima began dumping toxic animal waste on local fields and when farmers complained, they were told that the local government was powerless to oppose them. When we factor in this corruption and the potential health impact of some animal products, the poor and indigenous communities disproportionately effected by the environmental destruction caused by animal agriculture and the significant role animal agriculture plays in world hunger, we can make a strong case for veganism argued solely on the basis of human suffering.
To argue that veganism ignores human suffering is to miss the point of veganism entirely. Veganism holds that the lives and rights of humans and animals are both important, not that animals are more important than humans. Vegans simply advocate that some of the rights which humans have should be afforded to animals, not that any of those rights should be ignored or taken away from humans. Veganism, at its heart, is the logical conclusion to the belief that all sentient beings are of value, and as such, they should be afforded such rights as will most likely result in their dignity, autonomy and happiness.