Despite the growing popularity of veganism, there remains significantly higher numbers of vegetarians in comparison. The primary reason cited for going vegetarian instead of vegan is not wanting to give up a particular animal product, usually cheese. If someone is a vegetarian on ethical grounds however, there is no morally justifiable reason to be opposed to the consumption of flesh but not other animal products, such as dairy, eggs and honey. I will discuss some of the main issues with these products individually.
Like all female mammals, cows only produce milk when pregnant and after childbirth. Cows therefore, are restrained and forcibly impregnated so that they will produce milk. Naturally, this milk is intended to feed their calves, however, in order to take her milk, farmers separate calves from their mothers shortly after birth, causing extreme distress and sometimes resulting in prolonged depressive states. While female calves will usually join their mother on the milk production line, male calves do not produce milk and are not considered profitable for meat production, so are often killed or sent for veal production. Due to the close bond formed between cows and their offspring, it is common for the mothers of dairy calves to quite literally scream for their lost calves, sometimes for days at a time. Cows are put through this agonising process three or four times, before they too are killed.
The life of an egg-laying chicken normally lasts 12 to 18 months. During this time, in most commercial egg operations they will be kept in constant bright light to manipulate their natural cycles and keep them laying all year round. These facilities are often extremely cramped, so it is standard industry practice to sear or cut off portions of the beaks of laying hens to prevent them pecking or cannibalising each other due to stress and boredom. This prevents chickens from engaging in most of their natural behaviours, including foraging and grooming. In order to maximise profitability, most hens are raised with the minimum required space of 600cm squared useable space per bird, which is less than the size of an A4 piece of paper. These laying hens are sourced from vast hatcheries, where male chicks are commonly ground up alive as they do not lay eggs and are not considered profitable for meat production.
Bees are often cruelly treated and exploited for profit by the honey industry. Queen bees are often artificially inseminated and many beekeepers cut off their wings to prevent them leaving the hive. It is standard practice for commercial operations to take all or most of the honey bees produce, and replace it with a sugar syrup substitute. When harvesting, beekeepers often use smoke to purposely disorient and panic bees, and some will even burn entire hives during winter to reduce costs. Many people are willing to overlook welfare concerns because it is popularly thought that consuming honey helps bees and the environment. Contrary to popular belief, Apis mellifera (the species of bee we use for honey production) are not even close to being endangered; but thousands of lesser known species are. The honey industry only boosts numbers of these captive bees, when in fact, wild bees are better pollinators and their populations being threatened by the presence of domestic honey bees.
If you oppose eating animal flesh because you think it is wrong to kill animals because we like the way they taste, then you should object to dairy, eggs and honey on exactly the same basis, since animal deaths are usually directly involved in the production of all of these products. If it wrong to kill an animal for their flesh, then surely it is equally wrong to kill them when their milk or egg production slows, or because you want to harvest what they make. All of these welfare concerns aside, even without animal deaths at the heart of these issues is the fact that animals are being exploited for human gain. In all of these cases, we are taking something which quite simply doesn’t belong to us, and causing harm to animals concerned in the process.
Even in those few cases where no deaths are involved, an animal does not have to be directly killed for this product in order for them to be harmed, breeding an animal and keeping them in captivity their entire lives, solely to make a profit from their bodies is harmful in and of itself, and regardless of whether or not they are killed during or afterwards, their entire lives have been taken from them because we enjoy the taste of what they produce. Treating animals as mere commodities to be manipulated, exploited, bought, sold and killed is denying them their right to their own lives, and that is the core of the issue.
There are cases where a person cannot eat 100% plant based, or is using vegetarianism as a stepping stone, both these cases are completely fine and that is not what is being criticised here. The issue is when someone chooses to be a vegetarian when they have the option to be vegan, despite the fact that the exact same reasons people oppose meat apply to other animal products, too. Sometimes this is simply a case of not knowing, and no one can blame you for that, but if you have read this post then you can never again say that you did not know, so it is now up to you to live in a way consistent with your values. If you any help going vegan I would recommend you look at these resources, and I would be more than happy to offer my support if you want to get in touch.