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Ethical Considerations When Feeding an Ever-growing World Population

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Environmental Studies
Wordcount: 2931 words Published: 23rd Sep 2019

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The ethical considerations when feeding an ever-growing world population



Currently the global population is expanding at a rate of approximately 1.09% per year1. Greenhouse gasses are gasses which can absorb infrared radiation, therefore keeping heat in the atmosphere2. Grazing animals, especially cows, produce polluting gasses, including methane which is a greenhouse gas and has a 21 times more warming effect than carbon dioxide3.  The amount of greenhouse gasses produced from animal agriculture accounts to approximately 14% of the global greenhouse gasses produces annually compared to the greenhouse gasses produced from transportation which is 13.5%4. To tackle this, a shift towards a different, meat free lifestyle is recommended5. Sustainable foods are foods that are essentially “waste-free”6 and aim to avoid destroying natural products, reducing contribution towards climate change6. This essay investigates the issues with a vegan diet in the United Kingdom (UK) to explore if this lifestyle is ethical for the environment. The ethical model which will be used in this essay is the utilitarian model. This model evaluates an action with regards to the outcomes of said action, hoping to achieve the most good for the population as a whole7. This model also takes into consideration the suffering of other species, not just the suffering of humans7.

Main Body:



Veganism is defined as a way of life which “seeks to exclude all forms of exploitation of and cruelty to animals for food, clothing and any other purpose8. Google trends show an increased number of searches in the past five years for ‘vegan’ compared to ‘vegetarian’ and ‘gluten free’9. According to

Figure 1 shows the number of searches of ‘vegan’, ‘vegetarian’ and ‘gluten-free’ in the past five years on google trend9.

research commissioned by the vegan society in partnership with vegan life society, the number of people who identify themselves as vegans had increased 350% when compared with research from a decade ago in the UK10,11. However as this information is published by a source in which promotes

veganism, the data may show bias toward Veganism, therefore may publish an inaccurate value. Environmental concerns and the idea of reducing their carbon footprint had seemed to have pushed people to have taken this step in changing their diet12. This shift has caused greater number of the population to adopt the vegan lifestyle which is said to be beneficial for the environment as the greenhouse emissions from anything associated with food would be halved12.



Health Benefits

Recently veganism has become a global trend and only seems to keep growing. Within the vegan population, there are two main types of vegans; ethical vegans who maintain this lifestyle due to ethical issues involved with using animals for food or anything else and there are health vegans which choose to be vegan due to the health benefits associated with it13. Generally, the benefits from eating strictly vegan foods include, but are not limited to, a lower cholesterol, lower risk of various types of cancers including prostrate and stomach, lower blood pressure and a reduced risk of cardiovascular diseases13. On average a vegan has a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 22.6 in comparison to a non-vegan who on average has a BMI of 28.814. However, some vegan foods which are grain based are usually high in sugars, salts and unhealthy fats13. Ethical vegans consume more sweets per day on average compare to health vegans13. Also, the data suggests that on average, ethical vegans eat less fruit/vegetables per day than health vegans13. So, depending on the reason as to why a person chose to adopt veganism, the health benefits may vary.


N: number of individual

ETH: Ethical vegans

HEA: Health vegans

M: mean

SD: standard deviation

Figure 2shows the differences in intake of food and beverages of Ethical and Health vegans13


Ethical considerations

Ethics is defined as the “moral principles that govern a person’s behaviour or the conducting of an activity”15. As mentioned previously, the ethical model used will be the utilitarian model which evaluates an action by assessing the outcomes of the action7. This model hopes to achieve the most good for the population without inflicting harm or creating suffering to any species7.  An action is then considered unethical if it goes against these criteria7. By using the utilitarian ethical model for veganism, we can evaluate to see if this lifestyle is in fact beneficial for the population7. Firstly, producing vegan food alternatives such as almond milk requires 5 litres of water for every almond used16.  As in the UK we usually import almond milk from California where there are severe droughts, this may not favour the residents in California who may need the water16.  With regards to the Utilitarian model, this action benefits a section of the population as they receive a product that they require (almond milk), however it also has consequences on the residents as they have shortage of water which could be helped by stopping the production of this milk. Replacement foods for meat and dairy in a vegan diet such as lentils, chickpeas and soya cannot be made in the UK, which means they must be transported from across the world, increasing the amount of carbon emissions produced due to transportation of the foods16. This is not advantageous to the environment as this increases the greenhouse gasses which in turn promotes climate change. There are also many concerns for the workers which are involved in the production of these various types of foods. Especially in developing countries there are many issues raised with child labour claims17 who face long and hard hours of work with minimal pay and miss out on the opportunity of an education. The number of child labourers in agriculture in 2012 was 98 million which accounts for 59% of all child labourers17. Also, children working in these conditions are more likely to be expose to pesticides used on the crops which may have implication on the child consisting of acute or chronic toxicity18. This therefore is unethical as it does not promote good for the population as children are being treated badly and are suffering.

                            Figure 3 show the proportion of child labourers in different sectors in 2008 and 201217

On the other hand, there are positive associated with veganism. Firstly, if veganism became more prominent, less animals would be killed for food. The utilitarian model shows that if an action causes the suffering of any species, then it could be classed as unethical7, which why many people conclude that eating meat is wrong, therefore classing veganism as ethical in a sense. Moreover, the greenhouse gasses produced from animals which are being grazed significantly contribute to the climate change, causing harm to the environment and the people within it4. As veganism does not add to this effect, it is classed as ethical in comparison to using animals as food.




Sustainability is the “quality of causing little or no damage to the environment and therefore being able to continue for a long time”19. When feeding a growing world population, we must consider the implications of the food we eat on the environment and must decide if for the future they will be beneficial or raise a greater risk. As vegan cuisine is primary made from plant based foods, the climate in which the UK falls in, it may be difficult to produce a wide variety of vegan-friendly foods. Therefore, the main method in the UK of distributing these foods is through the exportation from different countries20. Exotic vegan-friendly foods, such as quinoa, which are exported across the world to the UK increase the emission of greenhouse gasses from the travel and therefore harm the environment further20. Also, the increase in importation in avocados from countries such as Mexico has lead to illegal deforestation taking place in these countries to make from for more of the prized vegetable20. To overcome this, more foods should be sourced locally where applicable even though this may face problems in the colder winter months in the UK. The climate in the UK in beneficial for the growth of fava bean, peas and hemp seeds which could be incorporated more into a British vegan diet to reduce the emissions of transporting goods20.











When feeding an ever-growing world population, many aspects need to be considered to ensure it is ethical for the environment and the people living within it, meaning that the action does good to the population and does not cause harm to any species7. Within veganism, there are many health benefits associated with the lack of meat and dairy products including a reduced risk of various conditions and diseases and a longer lifespan compared to non-vegans13. Also, not eating meat reduces the greenhouse gasses produced from animal agriculture4. However how sustainable this lifestyle is debatable. As we reduce the emission from animal agriculture by cutting meat from the diet, transporting vegan friendly foods to the UK produces carbon emission which contributes to the greenhouse gasses16; this harms the environment and can be deemed unethical. Treatment of workers in these environments can be poor which is wrong although this occurs in most agriculture and not solely for vegan crops17. To conclude, veganism has aspects which are ultimately favourable towards the environment such as less greenhouse gasses produced from animal agriculture and less animals being used for meat which harms the species. Veganism also allows for a way to feed the population in a sustainable way but as mentioned above, there are also ethical issues involved. When using the utilitarian model, an idea is considered ethical if the positives of the action outweigh the negatives of said action7. In this circumstance the positives of implementing a lifestyle of veganism are exceed the negative associated with veganism, therefore making it more ethical when compared to eating meat. However, as the world is ever-growing, the idea of veganism being implemented by everyone is most likely to stay an idea and not a reality as people cannot be forced to adopt this lifestyle.




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