• “I have never been to a seminar, where the discussion goes
    so deep around common industry challenges”
    Sten Estrup, Executive Vice President Christian Hansen, 2016

  • “An enormous learning experience”
    Gerald Wilfingseder, General Manager Gold Coin Group, 2016

  • “Excellent content, facilitation and format – outstanding”
    Tim Hart, CEO Ridley Corporation, 2016

  • “Tremendous opportunity to share experiences and perspectives”
    Simon Cheng, Managing Director BRF, 2016

  • “Thank you for the seminar, so much learning”
    Akiko Seyoum, CEO Orchid Business Group, 2016

  • “Much beyond my expectations – I will surely return”
    Gustavo Grobocopatel, Chairman Los Grobo, 2013

  • “Rich, useful, time extremely well invested”
    Stefano Vlahovic, CEO Produkti Pitania, 2011

  • “This is for people who want to get things done.”
    Hans Roelofs, CEO Refresco, 2009

  • “I have not been to an event yet where we got into the real issues so deep so fast.”
    Lennart Holm, CEO Perstorp, 2007

  • “There has not been one case that did not inspire me.”
    Wout Dekker, CEO Nutreco 2007

  • “Excellent. We should have had such a seminar much earlier”
    Hugh Grant, CEO Monsanto 2005

  • “It has been an inspiration, very well done, an audience of 50 likeminded peers that really ask relevant questions and it has helped me accelerate my thinking”
    Christoffer Lorenzen, EVP Chr. Hansen, 2017

  • “I did numerous studies, maybe hundreds of Harvard cases but this was one of the best I’ve ever read”
    Markus Länzlinger, CEO Migrolino, 2017

  • “Really enjoyed the seminar, very good cases, very good interactions, very practical, very lively and high-speed”
    Jeroen Wakkermann, CFO Nutreco, 2017

The Ethics of Meat

The Goods and Bads of Using Animals For Human Consumption And of Using Technology to Improve their Productivity

Most human consumption of animals, which today mostly means eating animal proteins, involves creating, raising and slaughtering such animals. Usually, these animals have been created as a species or breed and were born and raised for the sole purpose of serving a need of human beings. Stated differently, if humans did not make use of them, they would neither exist as an individual animal, nor as that particular breed, and often not as a species. This makes these animals different from whales for instance, which used to be slaughtered for human consumption, but which had been around independently of humans. By having created animals specifically for consumption, and guarding them, humans have a special responsibility towards them. Beyond economic considerations of property and utility, and legal considerations of rules and regulations, this responsibility is also governed by ethical dimensions.

An ethical framework, just as a legal framework, defines rights and duties, which structure and govern the responsibilities and gains from the subject under consideration. Together these define what is right and wrong, good and bad. A basic ethical framework needs to answer at least three core questions:

  1. On which AUTHORITY are humans granted their ethical rights and duties, and by implication to which such authority are humans accountable when utilizing animals for their own consumption?
  2. For which JUSTIFICATION (or reason) do humans have ethical rights and duties for these animals and, based on this reason, may or may not utilize the animals for their consumption?
  3. For what PURPOSE (or objective) are the ethical rights and duties exercised?

These three questions touch on central subjects of ethics: authority, justification and purpose. These are neither new questions, nor can finite and universal answers be found. They need to be answered for every new technology and cultural norm that humans evolve. The new technologies and challenges of utilizing animals in the 21st century will need such ethical guidelines as well.

21st Century consumers show a heightened interest in, and have the means to know, under which ethical conditions animals were raised and slaughtered. Similarly, they are concerned about the extent to which the animals are subjected to old and new technologies that increase their productivity. Such ethical guidelines have existed for a long time: for instance, kosher and halal codes have provided ethical directives concerning the treatment of animals for thousands of years. The Christian church used to impose many restrictions on which meats to eat and when and how. The influential Indian-Tamil Tirukurral song, a guideline towards ethical living probably composed in the AD 500s, states in verse 257: “With other beings' ulcerous wounds their hunger they appease; if this they felt, desire to eat must surely cease”. What may have changed, compared with previous times, is that with modern communication and sensor technologies 21st century urban consumers are better equipped to be directly informed about the ethical norms under which the animal product was created, raised and slaughtered.

This report does not take a position and does not make a recommendation as to which ethical norm is the right or wrong one, or is better or worse. The report wishes to structure the subject of ethics for using animals for human consumption in a neutral way. It analyses the above three core ethical questions and discusses the main ethical concepts for each of them. The report also discusses several technologies in the light of those ethical concepts, as illustrations of how different ethical positions arrive at different answers for how to utilize animals.

The report does recommend that every member in the value chain of creating, raising and slaughtering animals for human consumption, be it companies, governments or civil society groups, adopts an ethical framework for its operations, and then makes itself both controllable and accountable against this framework. The report assumes that such a framework represents an investment into the ethical capital of the organization. Such ethical capital earns dividends in terms of trust by the final consumers, and by being granted the social license to operate in society. This report assumes that organizations without sufficient ethical capital will struggle in the future to perform successfully, especially if they are directly or indirectly involved in creating, raising and slaughtering animals for human consumption.

The report assumes that such a framework represents an investment into the ethical capital of the organization

Summary of the Report

Animals have been an indispensable part of the development of human civilization. They were critical suppliers of work and services, yielded a broad array of organic materials, and provided nutrition in the form of meat, eggs and milk. Moving into the 21st century, the predominant function is for nutrition. In that purpose, animalderived nutrition, primarily proteins, remains paramount to the human diet. Humanity has been adapting traits of domesticated animals through selective breeding for more than ten thousand years, continuously increasing their productivity for humans. This has been a key contribution towards the healthy lives that the majority of global citizens enjoy today.

In this environment, it is critical that an organization, whether company, government or civil society group, creates for its operations an ethical framework that governs its processes, systems and structures concerning the creation, raising and slaughtering of animals. It is advisable that an organization makes itself transparent, accountable and controllable against this ethical framework.

It is advisable that an organization makes itself transparent, accountable and controllable against this ethical framework

Animal rights advocates operate extensive websites with downloadable background materials where ethical positions and ethical arguments are explained. These materials differ substantially in quality. There is also a vibrant scientific debate among professional ethicists at universities and think tanks. Their discussion, as is typical for scientific discourse, is difficult to digest for nonspecialized decision makers. This report is targeted at decision makers and outlines six different ethical perspectives around three ethical questions in a simplified manner, for which an ethical framework should have an answer or have a position.

The first question concerns AUTHORITY. The two main concepts are speciesism/humanism and anti-speciesism/equalitarianism.

The second question concerns JUSTIFICATION/ REASON. The two main concepts are utilitarianism/teleology and duty-based ethics/deontology.

The third question concerns PURPOSE/OBJECTIVE. The two main concepts are either sharing the world in cohabitation with nature, or sparing one part of the world, handed over fully to nature where it is to be protected from humanity, and the other part handed over fully to humanity to make use of its maximum potential with minimal restrictions.

The first two questions are either/or choices, where opportunistic ‘it depends’ will yield unsatisfactory results. The last question can have multiple answers, but it is important to have an understanding of which kind of nature is meant to be protected or exploited.

The three ethical questions are illustrated by evaluating three recent technology case studies under each question from each perspective. This demonstrates that it is possible to arrive at different conclusions depending on the ethical position one assumes. The three technologies are a) geneedited pigs that are immune to PSSR disease, b) gene-edited pigs that can become sources of xenotransplantation organs such as hearts or kidneys, c) artificial intelligence facilitated translation package for better communication with domesticated animals. Each case study is concerned with pigs. However, this is for illustration purposes only. The report is intended for all species of animals and the organizations working with them.

More background on each of the three ethical questions is provided in the overview chapters 4, 5 and 6 of this report.