Part 2: The Ethics of What We Eat by Peter Singer and Jim Mason

| No Comments

Another major ethical concern facing what we eat is the food production's environmental impact. In The Ethics of What We Eat, Jim Mason and Peter Singer find that the production of a number of different foods cause environmental concerns, including factory farm's meat production, some fishing methods, genetically engineered foods, and palm oil production. Of these meat production seems to be making the biggest negative impact. Mason and Singer find that one direct cause of pollution from factory farming is from the huge amount of manure chickens, pigs, and cattle produce. So much is made that farmers cannot work all of it back into cropland soil and the extra runs off into wetlands, lakes, and rivers where it creates algae growth that suffocates aquatic life. Poorly contained manure can also potentially devalue surrounding property, cause air pollution, and taint local resident's water supplies. Cows and pigs also create significant amounts of methane, a greenhouse gas that is 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide, thereby causing about 2.5% of the total effect of greenhouse gas emissions (206). One interesting note regarding emissions is that in Diet For A Hot Planet, Anna Lappe recommended farmers transition to organic and free range farming, but Singer and Mason found studies which show that these methods actually increase the amount of methane that the animals produce, due to their increased digestion of high fiber grass and hay. This would seem to be a point in favor of factory farming, except that the corn used in factory farming has more energy input than the grass and hay which grows naturally for the free range cattle, so perhaps this would equal out emissions or push it in favor of organic and free range beef.

Mason and Singer note that the reason these companies are able to make their products so cheap is because they are not responsibly paying for the pollution and environmental damage incurred. Instead, local fishers, homeowners, etc. are the ones paying the price in terms of damaged property and recreation areas. I don't know enough about environmental law, but it seems as though lawyers should be constructing numerous cases against these polluting farms and companies. With enough homeowners winning major cases against these polluters, there would seem to be enough of an incentive for the companies to prevent further damage on their own even without laws and regulations in place. However, since this seems not to be the case, I fully agree with the authors that consumers ought to refrain from purchasing these products because of the environmental damage they are causing. I think it is interesting that if companies were to take a longer term view on earning profit, it would be in their best interest to maintain the environment since the animals and their food sources need quality living and growing spaces- yet the companies are content with gradually degrading the areas and using high energy, expensive fixes like synthetic fertilizers. This makes me think that the best view a farmer could have is that he or she is a steward of the land, like Anna Lappe said, who is simply maintaining and utilizing it for future generations.


Singer, Peter and Jim Mason. The Ethics of What We Eat: Why Our Food Choices Matter. Rodale Books, 2007. Print.

Leave a comment

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by puch0022 published on December 3, 2012 11:11 PM.

Part 1: The Ethics of What We Eat by Peter Singer and Jim Mason was the previous entry in this blog.

Part 3: The Ethics of What We Eat by Peter Singer and Jim Mason is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.