While every vegetarian and vegan agree that plants too have life and therefore they are taking away life when they eat vegetables, they justify it by saying that “plants do not feel pain as they do not have a Central Nervous System, pain sensors or emotional relationships like animals and hence it is all right to kill them.”
I am a vegetarian and yet that is not my philosophy or conviction. I believe that the above argument that we vegetarians give to why become a vegetarian is weak. If we do not give the above as justification for killing plants for food, then we will have nothing to eat.
And my reasons are as follows:
Is a Central Nervous System (CNS) necessary to feel pain?
Before we can answer that, I think we need to first define what is pain? According to me any response that an organism gives out to an adverse stimulus which threatens it or its gene pool’s continuation is pain. (If someone disagrees, then person has to let us know what this response to adverse stimulus is). The adverse stimulus could be of any nature – electrical, chemical, and physical or whatever that is unnatural.
I have not read of or come across any organism that lacks sensory mechanisms to warn it of outside threats to its life. You stimulate amoeba (one celled organisms and they react) and they respond as if they are trying to minimize threat to their existence. So do plants and other lower animals like insects, mosquitoes etc. This would mean that they do experience “pain” in their own way which may not be in agreement with the pain that we define in our Oxfords or Webster’s.
Therefore, a CNS is not a prerequisite to feel pain.
Invertebrates have no CNS, so can a vegetarian eat prawns?
It has been shown by the scientific community and accepted by parliaments that invertebrates do not feel pain. The Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs of the Parliament of Canada concluded that although it is impossible to know the subjective experience of another animal with certainty, the balance of the evidence suggests that most invertebrates do not feel pain. The evidence is most robust for insects, and, for these animals, the consensus is that they do not feel pain. It also states that, “Invertebrates are classically defined as animals, which lack a’ backbone’ or dorsal nerve cord, such as insects, crustacea (e.g. shrimp, lobster and crab), and molluscs (e.g. clams, snails, and squid). Traditionally, these animals have not been included in legislation concerning cruelty to animals.” That is right – these animals are not protected by legislation as well.
So should a vegetarian or vegan partake of prawns, lobsters etc?
Lobsters remind me of another study done in Norway “to determine if invertebrates should be subject to animal welfare legislation as Norway revises its animal welfare law,” also concluded that its unlikely lobsters feel pain.
That is also the reason why many countries where abortion is legal have an outside limit of 20-24 weeks. As per the medical fraternity there is a consensus that a human foetus does not feel pain before it is at least 20 weeks and some even put the age of the foetus to be around 26 weeks when it can feel pain. The reason again is that by that time the nervous system is not yet tuned to sense pain as we define it.
Why is it then, that we make abortion to be such a big deal? We do that because we believe that it is incorrect to take away the life of an unborn child – whether or not it has a CNS to experience pain or not.
A similar yardstick should also be applied to other organisms as well – if we are as compassionate as we would like to believe ourselves to be, then we should apply the same rules to all living beings – only then can we call ourselves to be wise, intelligent and highest in the life kingdom – next only to the Creator.
I therefore feel that just because a living being has no Central Nervous System and therefore is incapable of experiencing “pain” as we define it is no reason to justify depriving it of its life.
The only reasons that we can justify to killing vegetables for food are:
- a. that it is how nature is,
- b. All living beings feed of other living beings and hence there is nothing wrong in taking plant life to feed ourselves.
The argument in favour of being a vegetarian is therefore not that it is cruel to kill animals.
In my opinion there are only two arguments in favour of being a vegetarian and both are extremely strong:
1. It is unnatural for us human beings to eat meat – God Made Us Vegetarian, We Made Ourselves Meat Eaters, and
2. It is suicidal for us to eat meat for environmental reasons.