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PETA VP: veganism a ‘moral imperative’

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Friday, November 21, 2008

Bruce Friedrich, a vice president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, called veganism a “moral imperative” in an “Ethics of Eating” discussion Thursday night. Friedrich, PETA’s vice president of policy and government affairs, debated Allegra Pincus ’11, who offered an alternative vision of how people can make ethical choices about the food they eat.

The Brown Debating Union and the Brown Animal Rights Club organized the event. Friedrich came to Brown “to raise some issues that people haven’t really thought about,” he said.

In a 25-minute PowerPoint presentation, Friedrich presented the three major “imperatives” that he said supported choosing a vegan diet: global poverty, environmental impact and animal mistreatment.

“I adopted a vegan diet based on the inefficiency on the meat industry and not wanting to contribute to global starvation,” he said.

According to Friedrich, 756 million tons of oats and corn go to feeding animals each year. These crops could instead be used to feed people who are starving, he said.

“In a very real way anybody who is eating meat is contributing to human starvation,” Friedrich said.

Friedrich also described what he said were the methods that farmers use to kill chickens, the amount of drugs that they pump into them and the carelessness with which the birds are treated. PETA did a series of undercover missions to poultry farms, only to find “sadistic abuse,” he said.

“It’s pretty hideous stuff. You’ll see people blowing up chickens with pipe bombs, ripping them limb from limb, jumping up and down on them,” Friedrich told the audience.

Friedrich concluded his presentation by saying that a vegan diet is the answer for the people who care about the three imperatives.

“You can’t eat meat and be environmentally conscious,” Friedrich said.

Pincus proposed an alternative model for eating ethically: “humanitarianism,” which she called more viable than a “worldwide conversion to veganism.” According to Pincus, “factory farming separates humans from the source of the food,” and it is, in fact, cruel. But traditional farming is sensitive to cultural traditions and is a much more moderate choice than expecting the world to change to a vegan diet, she said.

“Farmers really care about their animals. They don’t want to torture them,” Pincus said. “They have to see the cruelty that they give to animals.”

Pincus said meat was vital to several cultures, including native tribes in Alaska and the herders in the Sahara, whose caloric intakes depends on meat consumption. “A lot of these people really depend on meat, and I think it’s silly to force them to adopt a vegan diet,” she said.

“It doesn’t respect the history of generations of people who have lived their lives farming, who have lived their lives with their animals very happily,” she added. “Let me tell you, if you took cheese away from French people, they would be upset.”

Shifting to the question of animal cruelty, she said that getting rid of factory farming and choosing consciously what to eat is a better solution than universal veganism.

“Think about where your food comes from,” she said, adding that the decisions people make about food “matter not just for the animals,” but also for other human beings.

Offering a rebuttal of Pincus’ argument, Friedrich said that although traditional farming offers better treatment for animals, it ends up being even more wasteful. Since animals on traditional farms have more freedom to move, they burn more calories and need more food. The result is that animals are still killed, people still suffer and the environment is still hurt.

Adam Hoffman ’10, the president of the animal rights club, said he was happy with the event. “It is our biggest event so far,” he said. “Bruce Friedrich is one of the strongest, most articulate advocates for animal rights.”

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