“Nothing will benefit human health and increase chances for survival of life on Earth as much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet.” - Albert Einstein, in a letter to Hans Muehsam, 1954
We don’t all need the genius of Einstein to understand that the issue about vegetarianism these days is not so much the moral case against eating animals that can be solved by individual choice but the environmental one which will require social decisions about food production methods being made.
Our eating habits and manner of food production is not just a personal issue but a social question, as it is an environmental question. We cannot create a vegetarian/vegan world by individual conversion or changing personal taste inside a capitalist society. We are not, despite our advocacy of eating less meat, trying to impose a lifestyle on others but suggesting that such a conclusion will be by collective consensus in the interests of society as a whole when socialism is established.
“Preventing catastrophic warming is dependent on tackling meat and dairy consumption, but the world is doing very little,” said Rob Bailey, an environmental researcher. “A lot is being done on deforestation and transport, but there is a huge gap on the livestock sector. There is a deep reluctance to engage because of the received wisdom that it is not the place of governments or civil society to intrude into people’s lives and tell them what to eat.”(1)
Beef releases more emissions than pork and chicken per ton of meat traded. Dietary preferences are a strong driver of livestock emissions, with beef generally related to substantially more GHG emissions per ton of meat traded than pork and chicken, and much more than vegetables. Therefore, substituting pork, chicken or vegetables for beef in the diet could reduce livestock emissions. (2)
Livestock-related emissions and associated issues are not in the spotlight of international climate negotiations, partly because of the difficulty of measuring the emissions accurately. The result is a lack of awareness on the subject among global policy makers. When it comes to pigs and poultry their wastes emit another type of greenhouse gas called nitrous oxide, which is nearly 300 times more powerful than carbon dioxide. China’s livestock production contributed to more than half of greenhouse gas emissions in its agricultural activities, releasing emissions equivalent to 445 million tons of carbon dioxide in 2005—the latest data available. That only takes into account direct emissions. When considering carbon dioxide produced by the use of fossil fuels in facilities that raise and process animals for food, as well as greenhouse gas emissions associated with feed production and meat transportation, the overall climate impact of the livestock sector would be bigger.
“Production of one pound of beef protein causes 250 times the GHG emission as compared to the production of one pound of legume-derived proteins. Or another way for comparison, 20 servings of vegetables correspond to less GHG emission than one serving of beef. if the current cultural and diet trends continue to 2050. During this period, increase in global population by 36%, together with increase in dietary shift towards meat consumption, will cause an increase of estimated 80% in GHG emission from food production.
This increase in emission is equal to the total 2010 global transportation emission. Furthermore, a substantial increase in land needed for agriculture will be necessary. A global shift from the omnivore diet to the alternative plant-based diet can dramatically slow down this trend.
The scientists estimate that this global diet change with several other changes (such as reduced wastage of fresh produce) will reduce agriculture derived GHG emission by 30-60 % and reduce land usage by 20-30%.” (3)
We can throw figures and facts about all we want but a gradual transition of the world to as near as a meat-free diet as we can achieve is desirable in the long term and we can expect people in a socialist society will be debating and discussing such a prospect and how it can be achieved. What our position should be emphasising is once again to show there exists an alternative to the status quo, which is viable and feasible and rational.
Although we cannot and should not make vegetarianism or veganism a condition of World Socialist Movement membership, we should include it in our vision of a future socialist society, one without racism, ageism, sexism, AND speciesism, a world that does not inflict unnecessary cruelty on non-humans which emotionally damages the human within us all.
The contrary position of uncritically accepting that eating meat is a personal choice decision, and not a social question where we can make a generalised hypothesis on what should be done based on currently known data, is as faulty as those seeking change to vegetarianism as a lifestyle decision. We see no problem with taking a position (albeit covered with various caveats) that a world socialist society would in consideration of various environmental concerns aim towards reducing meat-eating as much as it could. In many of our environmental articles, we can take the general position and state that socialism would seek to predominantly use renewable sustainable sources as the basis for energy but we add the caveat that perhaps nuclear power will be used (and even possibly fracking) if socialist society deems it necessary and worthwhile.
Surely, we should say that a socialist society will aim for sustainable food production which will be based upon predominantly agriculture rather than animal husbandry with the added caveat that where geography (and perhaps culture coincides) there may be more emphasis on livestock farming but those will be exceptions and not the general rule. We should not appear to be advocating an austere, Spartan-like society of self-denial and self-sacrifice, but, again, we shouldn’t be promoting the idea of responsibility-free consumerism. Individuals should be free from community decisions in the name of choice and democracy, especially in regards to animal welfare. But NIMBY-ism will be a continued area of disagreement even in socialism.
Can we imagine volunteers to work in the de-humanising abattoirs and engage in the butchery of the carcasses when there is no pressing need? It is probable that those choosing to continue a meat diet will have to do their own slaughtering and butchering, rather than just being at the end of a production line, as workers in such distressing establishments will be disappearing from such institutions. An action that will most likely make more vegetarians than anything else. Once we begin to care about and begin to value our fellow humans, we will also start to treat animals with more concern and compassion.
“ The UK figures are almost too large to make sense of. We slaughter nearly one billion animals (cattle, sheep, pigs, poultry) a year for the sake of endless cheap meat. Farming on such a scale not only kills the animals, it deadens our perceptions of and respect for other forms of life.” (4)
“It is about us. Once we desanctify animals we desanctify all life. And once life is desanctified the industrial machines of death, and the drone-like bureaucrats, sadists and profiteers who operate them, carry out human carnage as easily as animal carnage.” Chris Hedges explains. (5)
We do not endorse the current lifestyle choice of boy-racers to have their sports cars over the priority of non-polluting vehicles and we support the rationalisation of logistic transport along with the common sense relocation of workplaces which means fewer lorries, less commuting and therefore fewer roads. Surely we can speculate with a high probability of what indeed will be likely. We aren’t advancing sci-fi scenarios that are not rooted in real life of everybody having personal helicopters, but simply stating the obvious that in a sharing system we will also share public transport which will be far better than we have now. It is idle utopian blueprinting to suggest certain trends that already are developing within capitalism will grow exponentially within socialism?
Some say that there is not a case for vegetarianism, but one only for eating less meat, eating less beef, in particular with the argument that sheep, goats and deer are sustainable as they can graze land that is not suitable for agriculture and so is a practical way of using land, while pigs and chickens are also permissible because they recycle human food waste in an efficient way. So strict vegetarianism is a no, however, eating less meat is a yes. It is the case for flexitarianism. There will be some meat consumption as a way to use marginal scrubland that we can’t otherwise till.
We cannot expect one size fit all especially across all the different regions of the world. But a substantial amount of what is called cash-crop farming will disappear. The supply of specific foods might well be drastically reduced as the people living and working in those regions may very well decide to switch the use the land to grow edible food for themselves. Certain foods possibly will disappear from the menu and supermarket shelves. Much of that will not be from a democratic process of a worldwide referendum or whatever but by the agricultural labourers simply voting with their feet, taking actions in their own interests to improve the quality of their lives. What the majority take for granted and still expect just might not be the case in socialism.
After the American Civil War, 40% of slaves left the cotton fields, and those that stayed only did so out of fear and uncertainty. It took Jim Crow laws designed to reverse the exodus to force former slaves back to the plantations. The Vagrancy Act provided that “all free negroes and mulattoes over the age of eighteen” must have written proof of a job at the beginning of every year. Those found “with no lawful employment . . . shall be deemed vagrants, and on conviction . . . fined a sum not exceeding . . . fifty dollars.” The Enticement Act made it illegal to lure a worker away from his employer by offering him inducements of any kind. Its purpose, of course, was to restrict the flow (and price) of labour by forcing plantation owners to stop “stealing” each other’s Negroes.
We won’t ban smoking in socialism or stop anybody from doing it but we feel confident the tobacco plantations with their health and safety risks to their workers will be transformed into growing much more nutritious crops.
As a consequence of lack of willing labour, many common products such as tea and coffee will become relatively luxury items for the occasional feast-day, meat reverting back to earlier days as a once a week dish and with choice of fruit and veg returning to being local and seasonal, just as it was before. Also other now less popular foods such as gooseberries and rhubarb again making their appearance on our menus, as well as foods and grains that remain regional tastes.
We can imagine that even pet-keeping will no longer be as prevalent to the same degree in socialism and not in the same numbers as nowadays. Producing pet food requires a lot of animal protein. Typical dog foods contain at least 20 percent protein, while cat food even more. Much of this is from animal sources, directly competing with the human food system. The impact on the environment through meat production is well-documented using more energy, land, water and with greater erosion, pesticide use, pollution. Dog and cat food is responsible for the release of methane and nitrous oxide, both greenhouse gases, equivalent to driving 13.6 million cars for a year or releasing 64 million tons of CO2 into the atmosphere. Cats and dogs are responsible for up to 30 percent of the environmental impact of meat consumption in the United States. And, of course, let us not forget that what goes in must come out. Pets in the United States alone produce as much faeces in a year as 90 million humans. Nor can the harm our pets inflict on nature be overlooked. Cats kill billions of birds, small mammals and reptiles year and represent a major threat to wildlife. In a future socialist society, vegetarian pets such as rabbits or guinea pigs might confer similar companionship benefits as cats and dogs do yet having less damage to the environment. In today’s world, our atomised culture that is becoming more prevalent in capitalism makes pets a substitute for human interaction and relationships. Loneliness and isolation are real social problems but as socialism fosters increased community, we can perhaps foresee less reliance on dogs as man’s best friend.
The World Socialist Movement is not projecting a draconian socialist system of vegetarianism or veganism to be imposed, but that eventually, a socialist society will naturally and organically evolve into one over the course of time that seeks to be in harmony with our environment. We try not to impose lifestyle decisions but speculating on a socialist future. We can, nevertheless, make recommendations based upon our understanding of the capitalist system.
We have three good reasons for doing so:
firstly, meat-eating is not an efficient method of food production,
secondly, that there is very good evidence that it is not nutritious or healthy, and
thirdly, it is reprehensible to impose pain and suffering upon other living beings where there is no necessity to do so.
Politically and economically, there is little an individual can really do, just in the case of the impotence of what an individual person can do to combat climate change and global warming. Change has to be social and systemic to succeed. Plus it is not for a small group of propagandists, as we presently are, to determine what the character of a socialist society should be. What we can do is suggest what the aim should be and leave the how to those with the responsibility of implementing these goals.
For many socialists it is a matter of pragmatic priority as these quotes from past years in various issues of the Socialist Standard demonstrate:
“All socialists are of course opposed to cruelty to animals but, just like the rest of the population, have differing views as to what constitutes cruelty. Some may go shooting birds and rabbits, some go fishing, some eat meat, some are vegetarians, some perhaps are vegans. There is no line or policy on the matter because we are an organisation of people who have come together to campaign for socialism and nothing else. We wouldn’t go so far as to say nothing can be done to improve the lot of animals within capitalism nor as to denounce the RSPCA and the Cat Protection League as reformist enemies of the working class. It’s just that they have different priorities from us and that we are not ourselves in the business of advocating reforms (legislative measures) in any field. It only remains to add that arguments over this issue will no doubt continue into socialist society” - March 2003
“Socialists are not unduly sentimental about animals, and consider that a human’s first loyalty should be their own species. Nevertheless, the degree to which human society is ‘civilised’ can reasonably be gauged by its treatment of animals and the natural world as well as by its treatment of humans, and socialism, in its abolition of all aspects of the appalling savagery of capitalism, will undoubtedly do its part to abolish all unnecessary suffering by non-human sentient creatures.” - November 2005
“We contend that humans and other animals do not have rights…but this does not stop some socialists responding to the cruelty that the profit system inflicts on the vast majority by becoming vegetarian or vegan. The Socialist Party, however, does not have a position on this but would agree with William Morris that “a man can hardly be a sound Socialist who puts forward vegetarianism as a solution of the difficulties between labour and capital, as some people do”…Those who advocate animal rather than human liberation put the cart before the horse!” - August 2003
“In a genuinely socialist system of this kind cruelty to animals can be expected to stop as it would have no basis for occurring. The ending of the oppression and exploitation of humans by other humans—and the cruel treatment meted out as a matter of state policy by soldiers, police and prison guards …will make humans generally less tolerant towards cruelty to other animals.”- April 1995
We can challenge and discredit religion and predict from our knowledge of it that it will decline and disappear but we recognise that we cannot decree or impose materialist or atheistic thought upon unwilling religious believers. We hold an evolutionary approach to the nature of society.
“…We individually become vegan. We individually avoid products tested on animals or are made by child laborers. We individually refrain from traveling to ag-gag states or countries that practice bullfighting or consume dogs or permit female circumcision…being vegan doesn’t work to end slaughter…Instead of hoping to convince one consumer at a time of the cruelty of eating and wearing animals (the individual solution), we must adopt strategies to bring about institutional solutions to the institutionalized exploitation and murder of animals. While the individual approach is preferable to doing-nothing-at-all, it actually neutralizes activists. Convinced that not eating meat or boycotting companies is a viable strategy, activists are taken out of the struggle by not engaging in tactics that could result in success, or some measure thereof…Removing oneself from the marketplace does not mean the marketplace disappears.” (6)
Not all socialists are vegetarian nor seek to have socialism and vegetarianism to be linked. William Morris for one:
“Our readers will have noticed several letters amongst our correspondence on the subject of Vegetarianism, one or two of which were written in a somewhat aggrieved tone, apropos of attacks by Socialists on that doctrine, if one may call it so, though several comrades and friends are vegetarians. It seems to me that there is no need either to attack a vegetarian or to confer a vote of thanks on him, so long as he is one because he chooses to be so on any grounds that please himself, whether he makes it a matter of health, or economy, or sentiment. But a man can hardly be a sound Socialist who puts forward vegetarianism as a solution of the difficulties between labour and capital, as some people do, and as one may think very severe capitalists would like to do, if the regimen were not applied to themselves; and again, there are people who are vegetarians on ascetic grounds, and who would be as tyrannical as other ascetics if they had the chance of being so. I do not mean to say that Socialist vegetarians are likely to fall into these traps; they only make themselves liable to the sneer of an anti-Socialist acquaintance of mine, who said to me one day ‘All you Socialists have each of you another fad besides Socialism’.” - Commonweal, in September 1886.
George Orwell made a similar point in ’The Road to Wigan Pier’
“One sometimes gets the impression that the mere words “Socialism” and “Communism” draw towards them with magnetic force every fruit-juice drinker, nudist, sandal-wearer, sex-maniac, Quaker, “Nature Cure” quack, pacifist, and feminist in England…The food-crank is by definition a person willing to cut himself off from human society in hopes of adding five years on to the life of his carcase; that is, a person out of touch with common humanity.”
Henry Salt, another left-wing political commentator, offered another sort of argument:
“The truth is that Vegetarians do not pretend that their system can offer a complete solution of the social difficulty, but only that it is an important accessory consideration…When a Socialist sets aside the plea for humanity to the lower animals as a mere fad and crotchet, a Vegetarian might well retort that if the promptings of gentleness and mercy are deliberately disregarded in the case of the animals, it cannot surprise us if they are also excluded from consideration in those social questions where the welfare of human beings is concerned…. No community possessed of true refinement will tolerate such degrading and disgusting institutions as the slaughter-house and the butcher’s shop, both of them a disgrace to civilization and decency.” (7)
We must indeed avoid associating socialism with one particular lifestyle choice. Socialists are not on some crusade to proselytise for vegetarianism or veganism but as socialists, we envisage a rational well-planned society that will endeavour to be sustainable as far as possible which leads me to reach certain conclusions …that there will be a change of tastes and a different menu in socialism. “We will be what we eat” to paraphrase Feuerbach. Socialism should be a world of humane humans, not one catering for carnivores with carving knives.
We associate ourselves with the steady-state, zero-growth model of the economy for a socialist society, explaining that we envisage an anti-consumerism trend to prevail and expect a drop in consumption levels with the important caveat that there will be an initial phase of higher production to raise people to a decent standard of living We say this sustainable future can come about because with socialism there will be little need for conspicuous consumption and public ostentatiousness to show status. This, to me, at least, is an issue about the environment, methods of food production and the type of society we seek to see in socialism. It is directly about working-class issues as much as the food adulteration industry described by Upton Sinclair in the Jungle which was originally meant to be about the dire straits of migrant workers in Chicago’s meat industry but quickly became a public health issue once the propertied class discovered what went into their sausages. Red meat, trans-fat resulting in obesity, heart disease, diabetes plus a host of other health problems inflicted upon workers can be attributed to the food production system of cheap nasty fare for the working class and big high profits for the corporations so it is, a class issue. When we describe food production in socialism and protecting the environment in socialism, there is no reason not to include vegetarianism or veganism as part of a solution option. Scientific evidence appears to back it up. Perhaps not fully vegetarian or completely vegan but our well-being benefits from a low meat diet and there is the humanitarian reason been offered that links with our case that the environment influences behaviour. We want respect for life and it will begin with our own species but spread to other life forms.
Livestock farming reduces the availability of land, water and results in less food production than if it was re-portioned to arable grain farming, and it adds more to pollution, although so does grain growing to a lesser degree, think of all that pesticides and fertilisers despoiling the soil through intensive chemical agriculture. Human behaviour is culturally not biologically determined so we can eat a wide variety of foods. We are neither “hard-wired” to eat meat, nor not to eat meat.
One of our arguments of what socialism will be like should recognise that meat-eating will for practical and not just for humane reasons decline substantially to a level that it will only be an occasional component in most peoples diets. Like the State and religion, eating flesh and abusing animal welfare will wither away because the material reasons for it will disappear. We will have the luxury of choice, not of the choicest cuts, nor will we have a whole food industry setting out the exact contents of our larders and fridges.
No one is saying it will be simultaneous or universal, just as many environmentalists make allowances for the whale and seal killing in the Innuit culture.
But it does offer an alternative narrative to the usual and reinforces the case for a mixed farming future.
1.3 billion people depend on livestock for their livelihood, out of which approximately 0.6 billion are poor farmers.
60% of agricultural GDP in some developing nations, and five of the six agricultural commodities that fetch the highest value come from livestock.
Access to nutritious meat, milk and eggs goes a long way to improving vitamin deficiencies, the major cause of “hidden hunger” which is estimated to affect around two billion people.
The nutrient-rich manure can provide a low-cost source of organic fertilizer for crops. It can even be used as renewable energy. Biogas produced from livestock manure is particularly suited to household use in many mixed crop-and-livestock production systems – which make up the largest category of animal production in the world – as it improves both soil conditions and household sanitation. Biogas digester systems capture and utilise methane directly, therefore limiting total greenhouse gas emissions from livestock.
A safer, fairer and more sustainable livestock sector that can be a lifeline for rural farmers and an engine for growth in the developing world is within reach.
Meat-eating is deeply embedded in our culture and the multi-billion-dollar cattle and dairy industries are powerful and politically connected, making change difficult.
Meat-eating will decline over time in socialism because the profit system will have been scrapped. We don`t expect to see hunting and eating of individual animals necessarily disappearing, or even the raising of animals for food, until quite some time, if ever. Socialism will provide a democratic forum that no one has today other than the capitalists, who will also have disappeared. Local and regional factors will also apply, with democracy working at a local as well as a global level. We don`t see anything being compulsory. Coercion is not compatible with socialism – unless it`s the coercion necessary initially in dispossessing the capitalist class. We are not requiring socialists to become vegetarians but expect them to see the interconnectedness of life. We cannot imagine that even as socialists we can free ourselves completely of its capitalist addictions. But upon saying that, we shouldn’t use it an excuse not to aspire to greater ideals that we personally don’t possess ourselves. Animal rights have the same complication.
In animal intelligence, pigs are cleverer than dogs but octopuses are also cleverer than dogs yet we dismiss their sentient intelligence and lack any empathy with a squid. Our crime is not anthropomorphising all creatures. It will not be for a generation or two born inside a socialist society that we will see the full potential of people realised and revealed, totally freed from the effects of exploitations.
Today, apart from some speculative sci-fi imaginings like News From Nowhere, The Dispossessed or Woman on the Edge of Time, who knows how exactly we will behave and identify with one another.
The more anonymous the origins of the food we eat, the better we seem to appreciate it. We aren’t burdened with the responsibility of whether it is the suffering of the beast of the field or the suffering of the field-hand, poisoned by pesticides and fertilisers. Yes, even vegetarians cannot escape social culpability unless they only eat what they themselves grow or only choose organic but this being capitalism, money and economics will always come first both for producer and consumer.
Only within a socialist framework can a rational food policy not involving the mistreatment of animals be put into practice. Much of our case and propaganda is promoting the possibility and the feasibility of a sustainable future society. We suggest and accept that there must be changes in energy policy, to waste and pollution management, but most of all in our food production system. Our socialist case is that these necessary changes cannot and will not be permitted by capitalism. We argue that what you eat, the social cost of what you eat and the environmental and health consequence of what you eat are part of the class struggle. They are determined by the profit system and by those who own the means of production and distribution…the food and retail industry, I think it is no coincidence that most revolutions are spurred by the lack of affordable food and that one of the common demands concerns access to food. A look at history will see a correlation between food and politics.
We are not suggesting that vegetarianism will lead to socialism but that socialism will create vegetarians.
We tend to avoid saying that this will be necessary for fear of putting people off. But we aren’t in politics for popularity.
We are saying present society is not providing for people because of its economic imperatives and that we can change those by political action which will then permit people access to a better life, better well-being both physically and mentally. Are we not to say how that can be achieved? Too often we get accused of not talking about peoples daily lives, the bread and butter issues (pun intended) yet some members seem to say that what we eat and need to survive, what it is, how it is produced, the way it is distributed is in some way, not a class issue. Like many issues what’s now being called “food sovereignty” has become a political question that we must answer. It took us long enough to start raising our profile on the environment which we have not done sufficiently. We place food alongside nationalism and immigration as topics that have become part of the everyday fare of popular politics where we have to show that socialism provides the only permanent answer. Not every socialist prioritises food but neither do all socialists become involved in the trade union movement but we take a class position upon it. The food movement is an integral part of the environmental movement and it cannot be ignored. It isn’t about lifestyles and what to choose to recycle or choose to cycle than to drive or shop at the local charity shop instead of a fashion boutique but it is a fundamental question about politics and the socialist answer to capitalism.
Socialism is all about aspiring to live in togetherness with our fellow human beings and from that will arise living in harmony with the planet, whether a wild forest or a tamed farm. We are no defenders of the encroachment of farming into the wilderness, whether for cattle or soya when the evidence that it is not necessary and is harmful to the environment and animal life. This needs to be part of a global democratic debate, and we need common ownership in order to even begin to deal with the implications of this work.
If as a species we were to cut down on meat consumption or even eradicate it from our diet, we could rectify global warming more easily.
“Medicine assumes that human life has supreme value. When my patient has pneumonia, I try to destroy the invading micro-organism. I do not grant the HIV virus the same right to live as a human being. Survival demands that we value human life over non-human life. That does not mean that animals must be cruelly treated. However, it does mean that they cannot have equal rights…The fate of the animal world is inextricably tied to our own. As long as some people are allowed to exploit other people, animals will also be abused. Replacing capitalism with a cooperative socialist society will effectively end profit madness and all the human and animal suffering that goes with it…” (8)
The liberation of mankind through a real socialist society would be the liberation of the animal world, the planet, the plants, the forests and the natural resources from the hands of the capitalists. Socialists hold that our main priority is to work out the liberation of ourselves. Then unification of our human world with the natural world will come.
“I have no country to fight for; my country is the Earth, and I am a citizen of the World.” – Eugene V. Debs
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