Coral Raven argues that there can be no compromise: Christians must not be carnivores
Mahatma Gandhi was right when he said, “There is sufficiency in the world for man’s need but not for man’s greed”. Has the West become gluttonous in its appetite for meat, factory farming being a consequence of this greed? Is it not unnatural and inhumane to cram livestock together to feed a population who eat far too much meat anyway? What about the effects of factory farming on global warming and environmental chaos?
Most of us abhor cruelty to animals, so why do we tend to be ostrich-like when it comes to farming practices where animals are denied their natural habitat. For example 95% of chickens reared for meat, live a short life intensively farmed in windowless sheds under bright light to encourage maximum activity, feeding and drinking for nearly 24 hours, not allowing rest. Sick birds can be trampled to death in the crowded squalor, and infections spread like wildfire. Ducks are frequently farmed in similar ways, never seeing the light of day; current UK law does not require water to be provided to ducks other than for drinking.1 Pig farming is also often highly intensive. Around 58 per cent of female pigs are kept for up to five weeks in farrowing crates in the UK around the time of giving birth.
It might be argued that these abuses are overcome by buying non-intensive, free-range and organically-reared animals. However, I am of the firm belief that animals are conscious, sentient beings, and it is immoral to kill them for food. We know that animals have a similar nervous system to us; it’s hard to deny a dog’s delight in play, or yelp of pain when hurt. Slaughterhouse CCTV, which agribusinesses oppose, has made evident the brutality that occurs even in the slaughter of organically reared or “freedom food”.
Christians have often been at the forefront in calling for an end to animal cruelty. William Wilberforce, famous for his role in abolishing slavery, was also a co-founder of the RSPCA. Charles Spurgeon said with regard to animals, “cruelty hardens the heart, deadens the conscience, and destroys the finer sensibilities of the soul … for the man who truly loves his Maker becomes tender towards all the creatures his Lord has made”.
Besides, intensive animal farming, dairy and beef in particular, carries a huge ecological burden. Cows emit large quantities of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, and liquid manure from cattle contributes to this too, as well as causing pollution of water courses. Each year, 32 million acres of rainforest are cut down for animal grazing and soya feed production.2 According to an International Food Policy Research Institute report, if we in the industrial world reduced our meat consumption by half, 33 million people could be saved from starvation. This is because intensive meat production relies on the importing of grain, soya and other foodstuffs from the
developing world as animal feed, reducing available land and resources for local food production. And that is if we only reduce our consumption by half!
Another report from the think tank Chatham House, argues that without concerted action to address over-consumption of meat, it will be near impossible to prevent global warming from passing the danger level of 2°C.3 And organisations ranging from the UN Food and Agricultural Organisation, to Friends of the Earth, and Tearfund also promote this view.
How healthy is meat eating anyway? Winston Craig, a Professor of Nutrition states: “The consumption of a diet of whole grains, legumes, vegetables, nuts and fruits, with the avoidance of meat and high-fat animal products, along with a regular exercise programme is consistently associated with lower blood cholesterol levels, lower blood pressure, less obesity and consequently less heart disease, stroke, diabetes, cancer, and mortality.”
Unfortunately some Christians respond to vegetarians by quoting isolated passages from the Bible, perhaps by stating that God allows us to eat meat. In the Genesis narrative, after the Fall, God’s relationship with mankind changes; violence and corruption had entered the Earth as a result of man’s sin. It is in this context, subsequent to the Fall, that the permission to kill for food in Genesis 9 should be understood. Furthermore, this permission to, “eat all flesh for food” is far from unconditional or absolute. See Gen 9:4,5.
“But you must not eat meat that has its lifeblood still in it. And for your lifeblood I will surely demand an accounting, I will demand an accounting from every animal. And from each man, too, I will demand an accounting for the life of his fellow man.”
Animal ethicist and theologian, Rev. Professor Andrew Linzey, interprets this as meaning that killing animals is allowed as a concession, requiring an account given, and not it seems according to God’s original will and intention.4 God’s command in Genesis 1 to “rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the cattle” is certainly no licence to abuse creatures or to use them as mere commodities. This rule should be understood as unselfish guardianship with love and compassion.
Was eating meat God’s original intention, or has it just become the norm in a corrupt world, as was slavery at one time, and just as poverty exists and yet is tolerated? I look forward to the day when we live together in harmony, as envisioned by Isaiah:
“The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them.
They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, For the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” (Isaiah 11: 6-9)
Coral Raven is a writer and animal welfare campaigner who lives in Wales.
2. Environmental Defence Fund, www.edf.org
3. Laura Wellesley 2015 Changing Climate, Changing Diets: Pathways to Lower Meat Consumption. Chatham House.
4. Andrew Linzey 2009 Why Animal Suffering Matters: Philosophy, Theology and Practical Ethics.