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Least harm: a defense of vegetarianism from Steven Davis's omnivorous proposal

By G. Matheny

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This paper analyses the article of Steven Davis entitled, "Least Harm," which argues that the number of animals killed in ruminant-pasture production is less than the number of animals killed in crop production. Davis concludes the adoption of an omnivorous diet would cause less harm than the adoption of a vegetarian diet. It is argued that Davis's argument fails on three counts. First, Davis makes a mathematical error in using total rather than per capita estimates of animals killed. Second, he focuses on the number of animals killed in production and ignores the welfare of these animals. Third, he does not count the number of animals who may be prevented from existing. When we correct these errors, Davis's argument makes a strong case for, rather than against, adopting a vegetarian diet: vegetarianism kills fewer animals, involves better treatment of animals, and likely allows a greater number of animals with lives worth living to exist.

Date 2003
Publication Title Journal of Agricultural & Environmental Ethics
Volume 16
Issue 5
Pages 505-511
ISBN/ISSN 1187-7863
DOI 10.1023/A:1026354906892
Language English
Author Address School of Public Health, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland, USA.
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Agriculture
  2. Animal production
  3. Animal rights
  4. Animal slaughter
  5. Animal welfare
  6. Crops
  7. Developed countries
  8. Diets
  9. Grazing
  10. North America
  11. OECD countries
  12. omnivores
  13. pastures
  14. peer-reviewed
  15. Plants
  16. slaughter
  17. Theories
  18. United States of America
  19. Vegetarianism and veganism
  1. peer-reviewed