How I get away with eating meat and loving animals, too

By Lally Gartel

On Feb. 19. at a Kansas State basketball game, ardent fans of the Kansas State Wildcats threw live chickens on the basketball court to taunt their University of Kansas opponents, whose mascot is the Jayhawk. Shortly after the game, everyone’s favorite animal rights organization, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, issued a statement calling for the banning of the practice. PETA cited that chickens are “very intelligent and inquisitive animals” that were, at Kansas State, exposed to “deafening noise, bright lights, terror, abusive handling and likely death for the sake of amusement.”

For once, I kind of agree with PETA. We shouldn’t throw live chickens onto basketball courts and then senselessly kill them afterwards. The problem, though, is that animal rights activists (animal rights positions in general) go beyond just saying that we should not use animals senselessly; they assert that we should not use animals at all.

I’d like to explain, as clearly as I can, why it is that I support the banning of the Kansas State chicken toss, but still eat meat, support animal testing and own pets.

There are several different kinds of basic assumptions that animal rights activists can make, none of which seem to have any overall merit. One assumption is that every living thing has an inherent right to life. This is untrue on its face; no one believes that plants have the right to life. It could be stated more mildly, though: every sentient being has an inherent right to life, and humans have no right to use these beings for their benefit in any way.

But this also seems to fail upon further examination, since it is not the case that a poor zebra has any “rights-based” or even “interest-based” claims against the lion that is about to eat it.

Animal rights activists like to state that, as ethical beings, humans should understand that even animals which cannot understand their rights or interests must have them, and that we must respect that if we are to act ethically.

But this doesn’t seem true; if it were, then we would be ethically responsible for protecting that very same zebra from the sure death of being consumed by a lion. But no animal rights activist can be seen protesting the Discovery Channel for showing animals devouring each other (and no doubt causing some amount of pain) with no intervention from the camera men.

Like lions and zebras, we are animals. We are, in fact, the most efficient, smartest and most capable animals on earth. Like lions, we have the ability to devour other animals because of our strength. But we also entertain ethical considerations.

Thus, there are serious arguments to be made about meat consumption from an environmentalist perspective: we should not eat meat if the production of this meat makes living on Earth unsustainable for future generations. Organic meats, then, are a good alternative.

We should not senselessly kill all of one species of animal; again, it is not in the best interest of the environment generally to have many extinct species which may have contributed significantly to ecosystem stability.

We do, however, have both the ability and the right to use animals for our benefit if it does not mean harming our overall welfare.

This does not mean we should torture animals or waste their lives in senseless and painful events like the chicken toss. The great 18th century philosopher Immanuel Kant posited that torturing animals should be avoided because it legitimizes the use of torture in general (including on humans), believing that we have direct moral obligations only to other humans (who are moral actors) and indirect obligations to animals.

We can and should use animals to save or better human life. Humane animal testing in the medical fields, humane use of animals for food, keeping animals as pets and treating them lovingly are all ethically acceptable behaviors.

Anti-cruelty laws are important, but banning the human use of animals at all is inconsistent unless we are ready to protect animals from other animals, as well.