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Horseshoe crab blood to remain big pharma's standard as group rejects substitute (theguardian.com)
171 points by _Microft 45 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 129 comments



According to Wikipedia [0], about 500,000 Horseshoe crabs are bled each year, with a mortality rate of 5-30%, depending on the source. In contrast, about 1,000,000 Horseshoe crabs are used as fishing bait each year, in the United States alone.

This fishing practice has been banned in New Jersey and South Carolina, and partially banned in Delaware. It remains legal elsewhere in the United States.

Personally, I'd much rather see the fishing-bait use reduced than the biomedical blood use reduced, since the fishing-bait use seems less essential. Of course, I'd love to see the synthetic option reach the same level of trust that the blood now enjoys, at which point both reasons to harvest Horseshoe crabs could be reduced.

[0]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Horseshoe_crab#Harvest_for_blo...


It looks like they drain 1/3 of the blood of 500k crabs a year and use 1m crabs as bait a year. Why can't they just take 100% of the blood of 500k/3 crabs a year and then give those crabs to be used as bait?


I think it's one of those convenient lies we tell ourselves so we can all feel better but doesn't survive real scrutiny. Saying 500k crabs will be drained with most of them surviving sounds better than 175k dies for sure... and we are giving the dead bodies to the fishing industry. The math is going to work out to be the same in the long run (and in fact better in your scheme) but one sounds better as a one-liner than the other.


That doesn't pass the smell test. We keep animals in effectively torture-houses then kill them to eat them. I doubt that anyone would actually give a fuck if they just killed a bunch of horseshoe crabs. I mean, like, vegans would, but vegans' concerns are already ignored by everybody else.


I mean.... we do try to use literally every part of those animals we kill, from their tenderloin to their skin and bones.

If we're killing 175k crabs per year, it'd still be better to use their bodies for bait (if the alternative is to throw them away, and kill another 175k + the rest for bait).


Neverminding the ethics, it would perhaps be ecologically better if we could farm horseshoe crabs, and fine-tune the bleeding regimen to manage the externalities as one does with lumber and forestry.


Exactly, this just appears to be a war of well monied groups. Group A makes a billion a year bleeding horseshoe crabs and group B wants in on that and has come up with a synthetic alternative. The group that wins will be the one that lobbies the best. This round appears to have gone to the horseshoe crab bleeders. The proponents of the synthetic alternative most likely have financial incentive to do so.


Maybe a drained crab makes poor bait?


This right here is smart. Maybe there are good reasons why that isn't possible but in the mean time we should be asking that question.


Probably because the bloodless crabs start immediately decomposing


Are "100%" drained crabs are effective bait?


> This fishing practice has been banned in New Jersey

No, non-medical fishing is banned, they are still harvested in NJ for crab blood.

If we switched to using the synthetic alternative, fishing would be allowed again and we'd be catching them to grind into bait and fertilizer like in the old days.

https://www.northjersey.com/story/news/coronavirus/2020/09/2...


I remember seeing a segment on the harvesting, bleeding, and releasing of Horseshoe crabs on some science/nature documentary channel.

One thing that stood out is that if you looked at the whole experience from the perspective of a Horseshoe crab, it looked quite a lot like the alien abduction stories that some humans tell.


Not really driven home in the article, but migratory birds that depend on horseshoe crab eggs are reliant on an abundance of horseshoe crabs (because eggs are normally buried out of reach, but become exposed when secondary waves of crabs dig up previously laid eggs).

Although the industry may be careful to not deplete the horseshoe crab population, it's the lack of an abundance of crabs that causes problems for migratory birds.

(As explained to me by a birder friend of mine last month.)



This is a great piece. If you've just come across this story and are wondering WTF is going on, you should definitely give it a listen!


This seems like bad news from an environmental perspective. We will end up with a synthetic alternative someday - the only question is whether we will be forced into it by the collapse of the horseshoe crab fishery.


Recombinant factor c (rFc) which is mentioned in the article is that synthetic alternative. I have no doubt that it will eventually replace horseshoe crab blood for the LAL test, but it takes time for these things to be approved. You need to be absolutely certain that this test works or you will kill people. We need more data to be sure everything is kosher and it's reasonable to be ultra conservative when you have a working method.

There is another method which is arguably worse than bleeding horseshoe crabs that also works. (the rabbit pyrogen test) So even if the entire horseshoe crab population died tomorrow we could still manage to keep everything working without our hands being forced.


A 2018 meta-analysis by Maloney et. al. [1] of 10 studies claims that rFC performs better than LAL. Higher specificity, less lot-to-lot variability.

Also, the method is old enough that the patent has already expired, and it has been included in the EU pharmacopeia since 2016.

[1]: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6200278/


The horseshoe crabs' eggs are also a food source for other animals in their ecosystem like birds.


Real Science channel on youtube did an episode on horseshoe crabs recently that is worth watching: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oXVnuG3zO_0


Saving horseshoe crabs, one by one: http://returnthefavornj.org/

Big ones can be surprisingly heavy.


Isn’t this shortsighted? Why would an entire industry rely on something that can be wiped out in an instant by some pathogen? Of all people that industry knows how powerful and sudden these pathogens can be. Why risk leaving one crucial aspect of their work flow to chance?


Horseshoe crabs have resilient immune systems; they do not have adaptive immune systems like humans that have to "learn" how to defend from a new pathogen. Instead, their immune systems are general purpose. This is exactly why their blood is valuable for testing for the presence of pathogens in drug and device testing.


Horseshoe crabs have been around largely unchanged for like 450 million years, I like their odds


And humans think being "smart" is going to get us to the end of time...


Earth will die eventually. It might be in ~5 billion years when the Sun itself dies, but the planet will not last forever. To have any hope of lasting on a cosmic time-scale as a species, you need to spread across the stars.

There is a very slim chance that somewhere in that vast time-scale horseshoe crabs might evolve intelligence and the ability to manipulate their environment such that they eventually build some kind of means of interstellar travel, but given we're using up resources like coal that will never be replenished, mining all the easy accessible metals, etc. I don't believe it will be possible for another civilisation to rise equivalent to humans in technology, let alone a star faring civilisation.

Being smart is what made us the dominant species on this planet, and being smart is the only thing that will get us out of the solar system - really, it's all we have going for us. The crabs might have better immune systems and so on, but I believe that eventually (if we don't destroy ourselves) we'll reach a point where our ability to edit the human body would allow us to patch in a better immune system.


> Why would an entire industry rely on something that can be wiped out in an instant by some pathogen?

Let me first say that I disagree with the use of horseshoe crab blood: but the industry isn't reliant on it, it's choosing (via lobbying) to continue to use it.

If your scenario came to pass, everyone would quickly agree to use the synthetic alternative. But, they don't have to agree on the basis that your scenario might unfortunately come to pass.


I am a horseshoe crab, actually.


That image of the horseshoe crabs being bled is certainly provocative.

> Some of which die after being returned to the Atlantic Ocean following bleeding.

I'm super surprised that they even bother. I would have thought this were a simple birth->death captivity cycle. Though I wouldn't be surprised if this were only out of necessity; perhaps the crabs simple don't thrive in captivity.

Or perhaps we have less of an ethical standard for the animals we farm just because we like the taste of their milk on our taste buds.

Unfortunately, as far as animal ethics go, it feels like progress is so slow that even etching out a comment is a waste of time. It's like being for women suffrage in the 1700s; people just roll their eyes at you, and you hope the people 100 or 200 or 300 years down the road wake up because it's not happening in your lifetime.

Then again, I admit it's no simple feat for us humans to have gone from bone and fur and tribal technology to a global technological civilization in just thousands of years. And every awakening and enlightenment is always obvious and taken for granted in hindsight. There's probably even a good benefit to having such glacially evolving ethics: taking a bad fork in the road can kill a civilization.


> I'm super surprised that they even bother. I would have thought this were a simple birth->death captivity cycle.

I'd think it's less about ethics and more about trying to minimize the damage to the crab population to avoid a potential depletion.


Its also about the law. Biomedical companies are required to return the horseshoe crab to the ocean.

http://www.asmfc.org/species/horseshoe-crab


From a random comment I read on reddit regarding this same issue, they made it seem like they are mostly just killed, ground down and used for bait. This bleed and release is more of a PR stunt. I have nothing to back up this claim however.


I'm surprised they survive this. Looking at the image [0], the amount of blood being drawn compared to the size of the crab is enormous.

[0] https://i.guim.co.uk/img/media/78bd72e9713cbe052ed080fe1f869...


Very dystopian. I'll file that image with the memories of dark red wildfire smoke filled skies that looked like Bladerunner as the future we want to avoid.


AFAIR the crabs in that image had their tail part cut off and will not survive.


Aren't there some ethical cow milking processes? Like regular, non-Mega AgriCorp farms?


The mental image of a green sunny pasture with an old farmer milking a cow that just magically happens to be there, ready to be milked, is a fantasy limited to package marketing on cereal boxes.

When you look into the details of how a dairy cow comes into being, the reality isn't quite so charming.

Though there's also the fact that, even if ethical milk existed, for 99% of people it's just a warm thought they have while they buy whatever factory-farmed milk carton their grocer sells, myself included.


My friend tried to do the “ideal farmer” route, rather unintentionally. He bought a cow, who escaped and mated with a bull down the road.

She had a calf, so he thought he’d share the milk the mother was producing with the calf. So he woke up at 6am to milk the cow.

The calf started waking up at 5:30.

So he woke up at 5am.

So the calf started waking up at 4:30am.

You see the pattern here. Turns out, calfs aren’t a big fan of having their milk taken, and there’s a reason they’re separated from their mother if you want to milk the cow.

Edit: some people are saying that dairy cows produce more than the calf can drink. I don’t know if this was a dairy cow.


I worked on a small dairy farm (~100 cows) when I was in high school in the 90s. That's pretty much how it works. The cows start lining up at the barn door when the time comes.

This family treated their cows very well -- they were their livlihood, almost like family. Unfortunately, policy has impacted the small farm to everyone's detriment. I'm sure corporate farms treat cows as well as they treat their people.


> Unfortunately, policy has impacted the small farm to everyone's detriment. I'm sure corporate farms treat cows as well as they treat their people.

Pretty sure we know who the policy benefits.


> I'm sure corporate farms treat cows as well as they treat their people.

They eat their employees upon retirement from milking too?


Isn't the same true for almost everything? Clothing, electronics, disposal of electronics, plastics, etcetc. Which isn't an excuse, it's just that - i don't know if i can throw a stick and not hit something humanity is actively and aggressively exploiting.

The only way out of this that i see is to make "other things" our slaves. Eg, i don't think we can convince people to always pay for their shirts/phones/etc from ethical sources - even if they had the info to base those decisions off of. However once we get to the point where machines can outcompete slave wages that problem will start to realistically be mitigated.. i hope.

Same is true for everything we're destroying i imagine. Humanity has no moral compass when beyond arms reach.. it seems.


I'm not sure that's entirely accurate. I grew up in small-town America and 30 years ago that was (almost) the image. While the farmers definitely didn't milk the cows by hand, they did attach the apparatus to each cow by hand and check on them. Also had plenty of green pasture for the cows to graze every day.

Source: my best friend in elementary school was a "farm kid" and I thought it was fun to help do chores as a "city kid".

I'm not going to sit here and claim that was EVERY farm 30 years ago, but from what I've seen of the mega-farms it was a HECK of a lot better than what's going on today.


There are still plenty of countries where a dairy farmer milks a handful of cows that are pretty free-range, and then a truck does a run each morning to pick up that farmer's milk along with other farmers.


People here are proud of the "small scale agriculture" that is still somewhat common here but truth be told most farmers don't treat their cows any better just because they only have 5 of them.

I rarely see cows on pastures any more.


I live in Texas. I see tons of cows in pastures. However, they're not always there for dairy.


Ethical compared to what? Coyotes eating a cow alive while she laid down in a field to calve, starting with her hind quarters? A killer whale slowly nibbling another whale's calf to death over hours? So how do we measure the ethicality of a cow that has spent most of its life pampered, fed and protected, and in the end goes to a feedlot? How do we score that? What metrics do we use to compare? Because it certainly had a better life than a wolf casually stumbling upon it as a newborn.


I think one benchmark should be would "is this animal be better off to have never been born than the conditions we let it live in?"

And a second is "how much better or worse is this animals life compared to a similar animal in the wild?"

My personal opinion is anything that doesn't meet the first benchmark is evil. Anything that is between the too is in a gray area. And anything past the second I don't need to feel too concerned about, or I'd describe it as ethical husbandry.

It's clear that there are plenty of chickens whose lives are soo terrible that don't meet the first benchmark and their extinction would be preferable to their current experience


The first one is easy. Nearly every animal would be better off not being born. Not many animals have an easy fun filled fulfilling life. Most of them spend their days hungry and scared, and their last day is often being eaten alive or some other miserable death.

The second is also easy. Nearly every animal that is farmed has a much better life as livestock than as a wild animal. Want your last day to be a bolt through the brain after getting to gorge on food for weeks, or chased down and your guts ripped out and eaten while you're pinned down in terror?


> Nearly every animal that is farmed has a much better life as livestock than as a wild animal.

If you were a non-human animal, which life would you prefer?

https://vimeo.com/130694373

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1wkPMUZ9vX4


Hey I'm all for making agriculture humane and to end needless suffering. I'm just saying there's got to be a point on the ethical scale where farmed animals are better off than they would have been in nature. I live around massive cattle operations, and they are absolutely in every way possible better off than a bison wondering the Serengeti. If only because they can drink water whenever they want and never fear a giant croc will drag them into the water to be drowned.

And yes, pig and chicken operations like that should be stopped.


> and they are absolutely in every way possible better off than a bison wondering the Serengeti

Why is that, though? I would reckon that most animals on the Serengeti (not Bison, mind you) live out their average lifespan. Sure, some percentage of them are eaten or die to drought, but there is a reason that their average lifespan is 15--20 years, or whatever it happens to be. Compare that with the 5--6 year average lifespan of a factory farmed animal. It is hard to give you a more detailed argument without understanding the real reasons behind your value judgement.


Interesting take that whipingnout all eXAa


That first metric is highly subjective. There is a growing movement of anti-natalists that believe that having children is immoral, because being born a human is worse than never having existed, and people can't consent to their existence.

I don't think we'll be able to move beyond subjectivity for the morality of this, but I do think we can be more precise.


Such people, when met in real life face to face, inevitably remind me of Aesop's fable concerning a fox who wanted grapes but couldn't reach them.


Interesting. We tend to feel the same way about those who disagree with that premise.


It hardly matters. The ethics hold, or they don't.


In the case, the fox did get to the grapes and verified that they are indeed sour.


The only obvious solution I can think of is every human having a piece of land big enough to support a small farm enough to feed the whole family.

A cow, a goat, chickens, sheep, whatever you want, managed by the family, free range, decent life before being slaughtered.

That seems like it would fit those benchmarks quite well.

It's how it was done in the past, people were self-sufficient when it came to food. Big agriculture companies could provide food for the people and these animals, so they would still exist and be profitable.

The problem is that land is limited, and spreading out would just result in extremely inefficient fuel usage, with all the pollution that entails.

Plus, some would say it would be a pretty inefficient use of man hours, although I think it would be a better, more "natural" life for humans, as well.


>It's how it was done in the past, people were self-sufficient when it came to food.

Everything I've read or heard says there was quite a bit of malnutrition and hunger.


Modern technology exists now, though. Back then there was no electricity, no medicine, pesticides, combustion engines, etc.

I know people who have chickens, ducks and vegetable gardens and work full time - indeed, only possible because they simply buy animal feed and have an automatic irrigation system.

It's still and extra hour of work a day, though, not counting harvest and slaughter time.

Of course, that's nowhere near enough to cover their needs.

But in this context, simply getting rid of the garden and having just an animal farm, while buying everything else from big farms makes a lot of sense.

You still get enough food, you still eat eggs and meat, and the animals live happier, longer lives.


Being self-sufficient with food was also what people did for the longest part of their days. I wouldn't want to go back there.


Plus regular famines and accompanying social unrest.


Wild animals also kill for sport, and rape, and steal, and eat their own babies.

I do think it's important to understand that humans are animals, and that they are not uniquely immoral within the animal kingdom, but the fact that something happens in nature isn't sufficient in order to morally justify it. Humans ARE unique in their capability to reflect on the morality of behavior at a high level.

Where I think your argument is strongest, as I said, is in response to the claims that humans are uniquely malevolent, as if most species aren't constantly maximizing their acquisition of resources within the boundaries of their capabilities. That just doesn't mean that we have carte blanche on all behavior we can observe in nature.


Why are you even comparing it to life in the wild anyway? These are animals that we're bringing into existence and the alternative is no existence at all.

You clearly have no clue as to the intelligence of these animals and the complexity of their desires beyond being "pampered, fed, and protected". If it were you, would you rather take a chance on surviving in the wild? Or being enslaved, separated from your children, shackled, fattened, and eventually butchered is preferable?


why are wild animals only used as an ethical measure tape when it comes to animal consumption?


What else can we use? We can compare against the natural state (as GP did), which is mostly horror. We can compare against what would happen if we suddenly left these animals to live by themselves - which is even worse, and followed by extinction. We can compare against hypothetically caring about all animals as pets - but that's beyond our logistical capabilities and thus would cause great suffering for both animals and humans.

There is no good measure tape available.


>There is no good measure tape available.

There's a difference between having moral worth and being a moral agent. Non-human animals (generally) cannot contemplate the ethical character of their actions, so they are not moral agents, nor should we consider them such. This does not mean they are unworthy of moral consideration. What is being evaluated is the ethics of the behavior of people who are moral agents, and there have been guide sticks for the behavior of people for as long as people have been thinking about ethics.


I don't disagree that animals (cows in this case) in nature (whatever that looks like at this point) do suffer and are constantly under fear of predators.

However, I think saying that there is "no good measure tape available" might be intellectually dishonest since we can probably come up with a rough model to optimize for the minimization of global suffering of all beings involved.

Obviously, most mental models have a higher weight biased for humans rather than animals, so a suffering factor for humans would have a higher multiple than for animals. That is where most of the controversy seems to be.


I'm not an expert but the extinct ancestor of the modern cow, the Auroch was quite a large mammal and at least according to wikipedia [citing van Vuure, T. (Cis) (2005). Retracing the Aurochs – History, Morphology and Ecology of an extinct wild Ox. Sofia-Moscow: Pensoft Publishers. ISBN 954-642-235-5] claims that the main predators were big cats (lions and tigers) and hyenas). Across much of the cows modern range those predators don't exist.

Possibly a wolf, Siberian tiger or large brown bear would predate a cow, similiar to the predators of a moose but it doesn't seem like they are under constant fear of predators any more. Cows are often left to pasture across vast unfenced area of basically wilderness and don't seem particularly afraid nor at risk of predation (otherwise they'd need to be guarded).


Hate to quote myself but "How do we score that? What metrics do we use to compare?"


The answers seem sort of trivial: using the same ethical framework that informs your decision-making process on other ethical questions. Regardless of the unique flavor of one's moral tradition, most seek to limit the suffering of sentient beings.


Most mammals have a similar brain architecture. Humans share the limbic system with animals like dogs, cows and pigs. This means these animals have extremely similar subjective experiences of pain, fear, joy and other emotions.

For a consistent framework of ethics, these animals should be treated essentially as lobotomized humans.


Because our ethics distinguish us in many other aspects of life. Rape, murder and cannibalism are generally frowned upon, we have international laws governing warfare, we're waking up go the destructive nature of our expanding population, we have medical care that generally exists to remediate the sick and wounded, etc etc etc. But slavery and torture are open questions in this millennium, and who would expect us to draw a line for animals where we're reluctant to do so for humans?


The only reasons cows give milk is because they gave birth. A cow’s life is to consistently be in a non-ending cycle of being artificially impregnated, giving birth and being milked dry while her young is not the sole drinker of her milk, as it should be. I am an avid milk drinker, who expects calcium deposits in his early 50s, and I know there is no ethical milk. I’m actively choosing the beautiful taste of cow’s milk knowing full well the pain and misery I’m inflicting on all those cows.


While provocative, this is the inconvenient truth that most of us have certainly accepted. I myself drink milk and eat meat while acknowledging the obvious moral superiority of veganism. It's even hard to argue against veganism without sounding rather selfish or even psychopathic, as your argument, sooner or later, is going to boil down to "but I like it". So it's amazing how hard it is to change this habit.

The path of least resistance and most convenience and least personal sacrifice is hard to leave despite living in violation of my own ethical standards.

There's also something weird about our relationship with animals and food. We use ethical justifications (or avoid them) that we don't use anywhere else. Our eating habits are deep cultural traditions that don't budge in the face of even the most agreeable arguments to change them.

"But it just feels too good to give up! XD" or "But if I stop, everyone else is still going to do it, so why stop!" aren't arguments we'd level at the carnal pleasures of rape, but when it comes to meat, they make everyone's head nod in agreement.


I guess I can't speak for the movement as a whole, but the vegan/vegetarian activists I know aren't very pragmatic. they tend to take a very all-or-nothing approach to convincing people.

I guess this is a personal moral failing, but I just can't commit to never ever eating meat, cooking with butter, etc. what I can do is stuff like saving meat for special occasions (or when I'm served it at someone else's place), and substituting olive oil for butter. the two things I have a really hard time cutting back on eggs (such a great way to get protein in the morning) and milk for my coffee.

anyways, I feel like "consume less" is a much easier message to sell than "consume none". I wonder if it wouldn't be more impactful to convince a large group of people to consume less than to persuade a small group of die-hards to abstain altogether.


Then again, the very statements of "we should eat less meat" or "animal cruelty" seem provocative to most people regardless who utters it. Any time those phrases rear their heads they seem to ignite a bunch of defensive hysterics.

Just like our enlightenment values such as liberty and reason, all progress on this issue certainly does depend on human conversation. However, I'm wary of tasking a single group of people to usher us into an enlightenment. I also think it's all too convenient to go "well, vegans should improve their marketing if they want me to change."

The thing is, we don't need vegans to convince us. They didn't invent animal ethics, they are merely the first practitioners. It wasn't the first human to rethink the ethics of rape or slavery that convinced everyone else nor had to.

We humans came up with animal ethics, slavery ethics, women suffrage ethics, liberalism, and everything else from first principles.

A first principle of animal ethics isn't vegan voodoo, it's "why should a sentient being be grown and killed for my pleasure?" After all, we already hold that standard for other humans and, for most people, even our pets. It's a small leap of reason to extend the courtesy to other animals.


call me cynical, but in my view humans rarely do anything for strictly moral reasons, at least not at scale. laws and customs are motivated much more by pragmatism (hard to have a flourishing society with frequent random killings) or at least reciprocity (I'll agree not to do X to you or people you care about as long as you agree to the same for me). modern democracy is an efficient system of control; it doles out enfranchisement just fast enough to prevent violent revolt.

bit of a tangent, but I think this explains a lot of why we don't see much progress with animal rights. exploiting them is pragmatic, and we can't negotiate with them. even if we could, what concessions could they offer? for the minority who currently care, the only viable strategy I see is to make veganism "cool" and to make it easier to join the club (ie, not demand total abstinence).


The problem is equating "progress" with doing less of something that historical progress has allowed more of. This is where part of the modern "progressive" movement runs into a bunch of walls, because it's actually calling for regression. Less travel, less fun, less food, less family, less space, less comfort.

If you want to continue progress on an issue you care about, you have to tie it into actual material progress. Don't try to ban things or turn them into moral dividers, try to make better things.


Alot of this stuff is decadent navel gazing.

Why is it virtuous to breed olives for a human purpose? Why is it immoral to be in a symbiotic relationship with a cow, which wouldn't exist without it?

Perhaps our bovine friends would be able to roam freely, if only we didn't isolate them from their habitats by growing vegetables and grain.

Just eat what you want.


Try Just Egg who knows you may even like it.


> We use ethical justifications (or avoid them) that we don't use anywhere else.

I don't really agree with that. We don't use those ethical arguments when it comes to conduct that has a direct, near-immediate effect on other humans, and we give a handful of animals we have particularly positive feelings about a partial exception, but we do use them basically everywhere else.

> "But it just feels too good to give up! XD" or "But if I stop, everyone else is still going to do it, so why stop!" aren't arguments we'd level at the carnal pleasures of rape

These are exactly the kinds of things people say about why they still fly numerous times a year for leisure, why they're driving a large vehicle they don't need, and basically every other area where what people recognize as the ethical or societal ideal doesn't match up with how they want to behave.

Most people recognize it's not compatible with their ideals, but the vast majority still choose to do it anyway.


I think that is a reasonable clarification.

Of course, my point is to line up things where there's a short thread from our pleasure to another's immense suffering (rape, death, squalor) and how eating certain animals is the odd one out in our zeitgeist.

The only reason "well I like it" isn't enough to tip the scales on joy-riding our SUV or visiting family by plane or buying some child-labor Nikes is that the impact of the event can't actually be observed nor can we run the equation equation at all. And even if we could observe it, it's possible that the effect is so tiny that we can still largely justify our single trip or shoe purchase in a way that we can't justify raising an animal to adulthood in squalor just to feast on its muscles during a 20 minute meal.

There's always a spectrum of trade-offs at play when it comes to ethics. Ants are my favorite animal but knowing I'm going to step on 20 of them on my way to enjoy a single beer at the bar doesn't keep me home bound.

The question of ethics is surely to maximize the wellbeing of sentience and minimize suffering, so it's inherently a curve of trade-offs in a finite universe. It's hard to find a nihilist who really thinks that the optimal point on the curve is the elimination of all life.

So, barring that, we're left with the impossible task of balancing impossible equations like whether a lifetime of flying home from Christmas produces more wellbeing in the world than suffering. However, some questions are much, much easier than others.


> I myself drink milk and eat meat while acknowledging the obvious moral superiority of veganism.

There's no moral superiority of veganism. Vegans eat more animals than someone drinking milk or eating a steak. They just eat parts smaller animals like insects, rodents, etc ground up during harvesting.

Instead of getting your information from silly "documentaries" or vegans who've lived their privileged lives in cities, try going out to a farm.

Is it moral to spray insecticide to kill a gazillion insects? Set up traps to kill/hurt/shock animals from your vegetation? Is it moral to kill a gazillion rodents, insects, etc to harvest vegetation? Keep in mind that no vegan meal is devoid of animals. Everything from spaghetti to salads have animals parts in it.

https://www.cnn.com/2019/10/04/health/insect-rodent-filth-in...

I know it's counterintuitive, but a person eating a steak is eating less animals than a vegan eating a salad. A salad contains thousands of animals parts in it.

> Our eating habits are deep cultural traditions that don't budge in the face of even the most agreeable arguments to change them.

Our eating habits are derived from our biology and environment.

> "But it just feels too good to give up! XD" or "But if I stop, everyone else is still going to do it, so why stop!" aren't arguments we'd level at the carnal pleasures of rap

It's not only that it feels good, it's that it's the optimal diet for humans. A vegan diet is a suicide diet. No human being can survive, let alone thrive on it. That's why all vegan diets is supplemented by pills.

The best diet for humans, animals and the environment is the hunterer gatherer diet. Unfortunately, that isn't possible with modern civilization. So the current industrialized omnivore diet is the best we can do. If you truly want to destroy the environment and animals, then industrialized veganism will do that.


I doubt this actually holds, because thermodynamics. Since meat animals neither photosynthesize nor can they convert energy from plants with 100% efficiency, eating meat means you just indirectly eat even more plants.

Also, it's sophistry. We could farm people and kill them for meat by the same argument kill less animals by the numbers.


> I doubt this actually holds, because thermodynamics.

I trust vegan thermodynamics as much as I trust vegan logic, vegan honesty or vegan diet. So if I am a bit skeptical, I hope you understand.

> Since meat animals neither photosynthesize nor can they convert energy from plants with 100% efficiency, eating meat means you just indirectly eat even more plants.

Because humans can convert energy from plants with 100% efficiency right? Humans are much less efficient than herbivores. So using your logic, we are back to eating herbivores. Sorry.

> We could farm people and kill them for meat by the same argument kill less animals by the numbers.

"it's sophistry"

"The best diet for humans, animals and the environment is the hunterer gatherer diet. Unfortunately, that isn't possible with modern civilization. So the current industrialized omnivore diet is the best we can do. If you truly want to destroy the environment and animals, then industrialized veganism will do that."

If you truly care about the environment and animals, then go live a hunterer gatherer life. It's the absolute best diet you can have for the environment and animals. If you hate animals, environment and humans, be a vegan. I know your lack of nutrient has robbed you of your ability to concentrate and think, but try your best. Even a vegan suffering from vegan mental fog should be able to understand why the hunter-gatherer diet is so good for the environment and animals.

Who do you think harms the environment more? A privileged virtue signaling vegan consuming a globalized industrialized vegan diet or a native living off the land? Which do you think is responsible for more pollution, oil use, animal deaths, etc? The privileged virtue signaling vegan.


The phrase that jumps to mind is "Nobody committing atrocities thinks _they_ are a monster."


For the sake of accuracy of the inconvenient truth, let's remember it's not just about drinking milk, but also consuming all the products that use milk as ingredient. Want to stop the suffering of cows? Kiss cheese, yogurt and butter goodbye.


Of course. And just think of all the free labor that will evaporate if we abolish slavery; kiss your cheap and cotton-comfy textiles goodbye!

But that's just a justification from carnal pleasure, the same reasoning people have uttered over maintaining their harem of enslaved concubines.

That "but it tastes/feels so good" carries any water with anyone is one of my lamentations. I was with you when you said milk, but giving up yogurt and cheese? That's just too much pleasure to lose!

If that argument works with dairy, why doesn't it work with rape and sex slavery? Or keeping a Gattaca clone alive so you can enjoy some spare organs?

Though I don't think we actually believe this argument when we use it, it's so indefensible. I think we usually come up with kneejerk decisions and then make a bunch of splashes trying to justify it, perhaps without even realizing that the decision was made before the rationalization.


> If that argument works with dairy, why doesn't it work with rape and sex slavery? Or keeping a Gattaca clone alive so you can enjoy some spare organs?

Because cows aren’t humans? I don’t think this is the gotcha you think it is.


Given that 65% of the world's population [1][2] experiences lactose intolerance post-infancy, maybe this wouldn't be such a bad thing.

[1]https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lactose_intolerance#Epidemiolo... [2]https://medlineplus.gov/genetics/condition/lactose-intoleran...


Cheese and butter have very little lactose, and yoghurt has only a quarter of lactose content of milk. In many human populations without lactose tolerance, preparing these was actually a way to consume milk they couldn’t drink directly.


They still do have lactose though. I’m lactose intolerant and even a little butter used for cooking causes me to bloat up and gain 5-10 lbs within 30 minutes.

Some cheeses are supposedly lactose free, but seem to cause the same effects.


That’s highly unusual level of intolerance. A whole cup of butter contains only 0.1 g of lactose, and since cup of butter is 1500-2000 calories, in a typical meal that includes butter you’ll consume much less than that. If you just use 1-3 tsp of butter for frying, and then don’t consume everything you cooked, you’ll be consuming less than 1 milligram of lactose. For comparison, most people with lactose intolerance can consume around 10 grams a day, that is, 10 000x times as much. What you describe looks more like allergy than regular lactose intolerance.


Could it have been that lactose intolerance was developed by the various diets in Asia and not by a natural evolution of humankind universally? Because that's exactly what your second link states - that people from the West are less lactose intolerant compared to people from the East.


Lactose intolerance in adulthood is the default for most/all mammals. There is some subset of humans who grew to depend on drinking milk from cows who have adapted to continue producing lactase for their entire lives, but this has no spread to all humans.


> I myself drink milk and eat meat while acknowledging the obvious moral superiority of veganism.

In my moral belief system, the highest good is human pleasure and thriving. Eating meat and using animal products and using animals for research advances that.

Veganism tries to sacrifice human pleasure and thriving, and is therefore morally inferior.


The highest good or the only good? Do you actually try an quantify the suffering of an animal on a farm and make an honest comparison to the pleasure a human gets from eating them? Do you also support torturing animals and bestiality with the same justification?


Some good news. Modern dairy farms use sex selected semen to prevent males from being born, and use synthetic hormones to extend milk production. The combined result is that few excess calves are required.


You can sort-of argue that there are examples of ethical milking if you just consider the direct action of milking, however if we look to the bigger picture of dairy production — which includes how the cow came to be and what the milk is intended for and why the cow needs to be milked — it becomes more difficult because dairy cows have been bred to produce more milk to the detriment of their health: you’d need to find an example of the more broad “ethical dairy production” and that’s a lot more difficult, as almost all dairy production builds on the unethical behaviour of the past.


There is the same dilemma for many other animals too. What harm does it do to a chicken if you simply snatch the eggs it was already laying on your property, or shear a sheep that already had locks of wool?

Unfortunately the first harm was done by breeding species that ovulate daily or produce so much fur that it would die without human intervention.


My town has a Guernsey farm [1] just outside it, so that milk is available at our local food markets. It's wild how expensive it is. Like, the regular cheapo milk at the grocery store is $4-5 for 4L, and the Eby Manor milk is $5 for 1L, basically four times the cost.

Now, they're a small time operation doing a specialty product, so I'm sure that contributes a lot to this cost bump— they justify this mostly by touting health benefits rather than talking about the sustainability of their operation, but I suspect that getting many animal-based food products to a more sustainable place would require a similarly eye-watering bump up in price. Which is, of course, part of the argument for going part-time vegetarian/vegan— get used to the idea of meat and animal products being something we enjoy once or twice a week or a few times a month, rather than multiple times per day.

[1]: https://ebymanor.ca/our-family-farm/


Most of that page is dedicated to how "nicely" that farmer treats his herd. But, there are a few omissions. How do they care for cows that are no longer capable of becoming pregnant? [0] How do they control the size of the herd when each cow is giving birth about 3-4 times over a 4-5 year "lifespan?"

Even at four times the cost, the industry doesn't look any better.

[0]: https://www.agweb.com/article/deciding-when-dairy-cow-starts...


Are you suggesting we cull dairy cows to eliminate the tainted breed?


This is a funny line that I hear a lot as a vegan and it’s based on a misunderstanding. Veganism is actually quite pragmatic, veganism is not driven by saving lives it is driven by harm reduction. If I thought that the greatest harm reduction outcome for dairy cows could be achieved by a mass cull, I would support it.


Not OP but I'm suggesting we never breed them into existence in the first place


Given human survival often relied upon farmed livestock how can you say this? By using this metric for a species's survival nearly nothing should be allowed to live. If you think farming animals is bad wait until you see a Hyena eating the guts out of an animal that is still alive, and will be for most of the meal.


>Given human survival often relied upon farmed livestock how can you say this? By using this metric for a species' survival nearly nothing should be allowed to live.

When considering an ethical question, typically one must have the "ability to have acted differently." To be grotesque: I may be justified in eating a dead relative to survive in some nightmare scenario, however its permissibility here doesn't allow me the opportunity to desecrate human corpses for pleasurable eating. Is it possible there was a point at which humans were required to perform otherwise unethical acts to survive? Yes, absolutely. Does that permit the same behavior when its necessity no longer exists? I wouldn't think so.

>If you think farming animals is bad wait until you see a Hyena eating the guts out of an animal that is still alive, and will be for most of the meal.

Hyena's aren't moral agents, they cannot consider the ethical content of their decisions. Even if they were, the bad behavior of one moral agent usually isn't a justification for another's unethical behavior.


hyenas or old human populations dont have the ability or opportunity to reduce harm

we do

farming animals is bad no matter what hyenas do, that's such a weird counterargument


I think the argument is that we have derived massive benefits from farming as a species that outweigh the amount of suffering we’ve caused in the process. I’m not sure I agree, but then I do eat meat.


Well, their argument is surely either "we benefited from X then, thus we should continue doing X now despite having other options" or it's "animals already do bad things in nature, so why care when we do it despite having other options?"

Neither of which is a very compelling position.


You obviously didn't even read the comment I was responding to or are misinterpreting my point so you can attack a straw man.


What moral questions are you comfortable using the actions of hyenas to justify?


How could this possibly pertain to the conversation you are responding to? Or do you just ask randos this question to make friends?


Oh I see you were the original commenter as well. Are you disputing the idea that you tried to use the actions of a specific wild animal to justify our treatment of animals? I mean, I get it. It's a really common tactic. I'm just confused by your surprise.


Why would you think I was the start of this thread, can't you see the usernames? A person said we should never have domesticated animals in the first place because it is cruel. I said that if being cruel to animals to ensure your species survival is wrong, nearly nothing deserves to live. You then took that out of context and made some bizarre assumptions about ethics and hyenas. You were wrong, and I get your confusion. Following these threads is hard. But it's okay.


It pertains pretty specifically to the comment I replied to. I'm not sure how that's not clear?


Since you don't seem to get the point, I'll turn it around. How many humans are comfortable causing the deaths of if you could go back in time and make sure no animals were ever domesticated for livestock?

Are you comfortable killing a million people? A hundred million? Do you have a maximum?


No, to produce milk a cow needs to be pregnant or recently pregnant so milk production requires forced insemination and giving birth to the calf. After birth, the calf is separated from the mother to be caged for veal, raised as a milking cow, etc., and the mother is re-inseminated so she can keep producing milk and the process starts over.


The process you describe is true for organic milk, but less true for regular milk. Modern dairy farms use sex selected semen to prevent males from being born and they use synthetic hormones to extend milk production. Not much excess calving happens in big dairy.


I'd like to see the citation for that and an example of its application outside of a laboratory setting (if there is one.)


you've gotten a lot of replies regarding the lives of milk cows and how they're bred - one other factor athat I didn't see mentioned is that only about half of the calves turn into dairy oows, and the world has very little use for living bulls.

The same issues arise in chicken farming, where it's impossible to have eggs or dairy without death.

I saw some image of genetically modified eggs where they supposedly were able to control the sex of the chickens pre-birth, but in general, you need to kill about half of the animals born.


Or you could raise them to adulthood and consume them for meat. Once a cow or hen passes the age for producing milk or eggs, they are often sacrificed.

The issue is that mass manufacture of meat has led to many bulls being killed at birth, because it's resource inefficient to raise them to adulthood. That's where we went wrong.


That's exactly where most veal comes from - the male offspring of dairy cows.


There's a distinction between big-brained animals vs. all the rest. Are horseshoe crabs any more conscious than ants?


Posted by Reuters on Sat 30 May 2020 22.53 EDT


We also get LAL from horseshoe crab blood which is used for a bunch of research.




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