If you look up the definition of ethical omnivorism you get this:
“Ethical omnivorism is a human diet involving the consumption of meat, eggs, dairy and produce that can be traced back to a farm that raises grass-fed, free range, antibiotic and hormone-free livestock, uses GMO-free feed, and grows pesticide-free produce and greens. Ocean fish consumption is limited to only, sustainably farm-raised and/or ethically and wild caught, without contributing to illegal poaching.” – Wikipidia
There are several things wrong with this definition which are actually unethical. It’s basically defining organic farming practices, as if that’s the gold standard of agriculture, but organic farming is not the same as ethical omnivorism in my opinion. Ethical omnivorism unfortunately suffers from much of the same misinformation and pseudoscience that engulf veganism and vegetarianism. The idea that organic farming is better is a main misconception, and that modern conventional farming is evil with it’s GMO’s, large scale monocultures and use of pesticides. The truth is that many of the practices of modern agriculture are actually better for the enviroment and for the animals welfare than the outdated and often irrational organic methods. Here I will address the various points from the above definition which I think are unethical and should not be part of ‘Ethical Omnivorism’.
‘Antibiotic and hormone free livestock’
This is a huge ethical issue. Denying antibiotics to sick animals means you are causing the animal to suffer and potentially die unnecessarily. This is definitely unethical! Antibiotics have an important place in agriculture, just as they do in human medicine, to ensure the welfare of the animals and the health of the herd, although their overuse is an issue the complete abandonment of antibiotics raises more imminent ethical issues regarding the health and welfare of the farm animals. Because antibiotics are not allowed in organic agriculture, many organic farmers resort to ineffective and unproven alternative therapies to treat their animals. Using something that doesn’t work is just as bad as using nothing; the animal suffers and can potentially die as a result. Antibiotics are found naturally in the enviroment in fungi, molds and bacteria, and as a result antibiotic resistant bacteria are also naturally present. This is not a specific man made thing, while the overuse of antibiotics for non-medicinal reasons is certainly a real problem, the fears over antibiotic use are often over blown as discussed in this paper Antibiotics in agriculture and the risk to human health: how worried should we be? in which the authors conclude:
“While the concern is not unwarranted, the extent of the problem may be exaggerated. There is no evidence that agriculture is ‘largely to blame’ for the increase in resistant strains”.
In regards to consumer health from eating animal products that have been treated with antibiotics, this is another unfounded fear. In farming there is a minimum withdrawal period between the use of antibiotics and the animal being used for meat, eggs or milk. Animal products are tested for the presence of antibiotics and if detected the product is rejected for sale for human consumption. So there is no antibiotics in your store bought meat, milk or eggs, as explained here:
“The withdrawal period specifies the number of days that must pass after the last antibiotic treatment before the animal can enter the food supply. FDA uses large margins of safety in establishing safe residue limits and withdrawal times to ensure that the antibiotic has sufficiently cleared the animal’s system before slaughter to ensure safe meat, milk and eggs. ”
It is possible, however, that antibiotic resistant bacteria can be present, along with a load of other bacteria and pathogens, on animal products as well as on your fruit and vegetables which is why it’s important to properly wash and cook your food no matter where it’s came from. Raw milk is a always bad idea guys, organic or not……
Hormones are another misunderstood agricultural practice. They are used to increase the rate of growth , mostly in cattle, to make them reach market weight faster. The faster they grow the less resources they use and the less effect they have on the enviroment. Side effects for the animals are uncommon and completely unheard of in humans eating the animal products. The levels of hormones used are minimal compared to the hormones you have naturally occurring in your body, so any mode of harm is also implausible as explained in this article from the Veterinary College of Norway:
“It is clear that in most cases the contribution from meat of treated animals is insignificant when hormones have been properly used, and must be considered to be biologically without impact. This becomes even more evident when seen in relation to normal endogenous hormone production in man, as illustrated in Table 5. It will be seen that even for oestrogens, the hormones considered the greatest risk, the maximal contribution from meat (assuming proper use of the hormones) is less than 0.01% in the prepubertal boy who represents the lowest endogenous oestrogen production.”
So while the use of hormones is certainly not necessary, unlike for antibiotics, their use is not generally harmful to the animals and not at all to human health. By causing the animals to reach market weight faster they actually reduce the impact of animal agriculture, specifically cattle, on the enviroment. So maybe hormone use is a actually good thing?
‘Uses GMO-free feed’
The fear mongering against GMO’s is pretty spectacular and infuriating at the same time from a science perspective. The truth is there hasn’t been any significant negative effects directly caused by GM crops in the 30 + years they have been used in commercial agriculture. Millions of animals have been studied and fed for decades with GM feed with with no difference in health compared to non-GM fed animals. For example, in a systematic review from 2012 published in the journal Food and Chemical Toxicology, researchers looked at 24 long term and multi-generational studies on the health impact of animals fed GM feed. They state:
” Results from all the 24 studies do not suggest any health hazards and, in general, there were no statistically significant differences within parameters observed.” and “No sign of toxicity in analyzed parameters has been found in long-term studies. No sign of toxicity in parameters has been found in multigenerational studies. ”
“The scientific research conducted so far has not detected any significant hazards directly connected with the use of GE crops”.
This is just another method of creating new and improved varieties of crops, there is nothing hazardous about it. In fact in many cases GM varieties are better for the enviroment than the conventional varieties. They can be made to be resistant to pests and diseases which reduces the amount of pesticides used. By enabling the plant to produce it’s own pesticide, which only targets the specific pests which eat the plant, farmers don’t need to spray the fields which kills of beneficial insects as well as the pests and washes into the soil and rivers further polluting the enviroment. Crops can also be engineered to be drought resistant, so they can be grown with less water and in more difficult conditions, to be higher yielding to produce more on less land using less resources, and they can even be made to contain more nutrients, like the famous Golden Rice that was produced specifically to combat vitamin A deficiency in the developing world, where malnutrition causes millions of poverty stricken people to go blind, suffer and die, and which Greenpeace so violently opposes on ideological grounds because “GMO’s are bad!
Another myth is that organic farming doesn’t use pesticides, it’s simply not true. All farming uses pesticides, if they didn’t they wouldn’t get a viable harvest. I’ll let you in on a not-so-secret secret. My husband and I are small scale farmers, he’s also an agronomist working for an agricultural company and pesticides are his specialty. There is a whole range of pesticides that are approved and commonly used in organic agriculture, just as for conventional. Whither a pesticide is classed as organic or not isn’t based on how safe it is, its based on if it’s considered naturally occurring (with a few exceptions) and this tells you nothing about it’s toxicity. Chemical compounds such as copper sulfate and nicotine, which are highly toxic, are considered naturally occurring and so are approved for use in organic farming . Other chemicals which have been synthetically created are not allowed in organic farming (with a few exceptions) only because they are synthetic and not because they are more harmful. In fact many of the modern synthetic pesticides used today are LESS toxic, more effective and require less applications than the outdated organic pesticides. Yay science!
So these are the things i find wrong and unethical with the Ethical Omnivore definition. There is no need to reject science, especially when it reduces the harm of agriculture on the enviroment and on the farm animals that we raise for food. I would like to redefine the term to something like this:
“Ethical omnivorism is a human diet involving the consumption of meat, eggs, dairy and produce from sources that use the most ethical farming practices which cause the least amount of harm to the farm animals, the enviroment and the humans who produce and consume the food. This includes raising animals with access to grazing pasture and providing antibiotics and modern medical treatment when necessary. Animal feed as well as human grade produce should be produced using the least harmful methods on the enviroment, including the use of GM crops and modern pesticides when these are the more environmentally friendly option. Fish consumption should be sustainably farm-raised or ethically wild caught, without contributing to illegal poaching. Hunting of invasive and overpopulating species such as rabbit, deer and kangaroo is also promoted.”
Isn’t it better to use the most ethical farming methods, what’s best for the animals for the enviroment and for the people, regardless of whither it’s labeled as ‘organic’ or ‘conventional’? Why reject the most ethical options based on rigid anti-science ideology?
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