Stephen Clark: 'We don't need to kill animals for meat'

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The Independent Online

Stephen Clark is professor of philosophy at the University of Liverpool. He sat on the Animal Procedures Committee until earlier this year, which advises the Government on animal testing. He argues that animals have a right to life.

People disapprove of causing animals pain, but they think killing animals is OK. We're not remotely consistent about this. If killing animals was morally neutral we wouldn't disapprove of someone killing their pets, but we do.

We talk about not inflicting unnecessary suffering on animals to legislate against practices we don't like, fox-hunting or setting cats alight for fun, but we assume that if we profit from some activity it is necessary even if we don't need to do it. We don't need to kill animals for meat. All that is unnecessary suffering. We only do it on the assumption that animals are there for us, material for not just our needs but our wishes, because of a superstitious belief that human life is radically different from animal life. That's a factual mistake. Animals manifestly have lives of their own, lives of value to them and killing them requires more justification.

Even creatures we don't easily or naturally think of, the more we find out about them the more we see them as fellow creatures. Darwin's last book was on worms. He thought earthworms were complex, intelligent creatures. He wasn't being absurd. Earthworms seem to be sentient creatures with strategies for dealing with problems.

The place where there are difficult problems is in the field of medical experimentation. Of course, as members of the first world we've gained enormously from trying things out on creatures. That doesn't mean it's OK. We shouldn't expect disease-free lives. It's a mirage. It's part of a fantasy of immortality. Struggling to get it at the expense of other creatures is silly. As soon as we solve some problems other problems come up.

Some tests are not necessary, some are dubious. And even if human beings are saved it's still probably wrong. These tests would be done much more effectively on a human. Would you do that? There are plenty of human creatures around that we could forcibly experiment on.

But in a civilized society it's wrong to treat others as means. It wouldn't make a difference to us if they were not very clever or they were not able to speak or whatever characteristic it is you use to say that animal life has less value than human. There are human creatures who are less reasonable than a beagle.

We have to accept that part of living in this fascinating cosmos means having a limited stay. Demanding more is a mistake.