Embracing science for the animals

Compassionate lifestyles are backed by scientific facts.

by Juan Drewjn, Vegan GMO Latinoamerica

There are a lot of vegans who are wary of science.  This unease is likely based on misunderstandings about what constitutes “science” and how knowledge has been gained through use of the scientific method.

Here are some scientific facts that are helpful for the veganism movement.

1) Animals suffer

We know a lot about the central nervous systems of animals. We know that they have nocireceptors, that they release cortisol, that behaviorally they respond to stimuli in a manner consistent with our understanding of these mechanisms, etc. Ethologists agree that animals suffer — A conclusion derived from years of observation. Of course not all animals suffer the same way, and in fact there are animals that may not suffer at all. But most of the animals systematically exploited by humans do suffer. We have a scientific basis to argue for their moral consideration.

2) A strict vegetarian diet is perfectly viable

The collective scientific data on diet indicates that being a strict vegetarian is a healthy option for virtually every human in every stage of life. There is a great consensus about this fact and this is a very important point, because minimizing dietary consumption of animals is the fundamental first step toward reducing animal suffering. Science also tells us that Vitamin B12 can be a potential stumbling block. It is necessary to take supplements or foods fortified with vitamin b12, both available in abundance throughout the developed world thanks to scientific progress. Symptoms of B12 deficiency include concentration problems, anemia, loss of appetite, and depression. Prolonged deficiency may lead to irreversible neurological damage. That’s why most nutritionists recommend b12 supplementation.[i] Hard to imagine the vegan movement gaining much traction without this scientific knowledge.

3) Meat minus animals

Advances in the science of cellular agriculture promise humane and sustainable food production, including engineered proteins and tissues that perfectly mimic meat, eggs, and dairy. This is not only good for meat-nostalgic vegans, it is perfect for those who refuse to renounce specific animal products for reasons of taste. This innovation eviscerates hedonistic arguments against veganism. It is important that these enterprises develop quickly. Every order for cultured meat represents a dent in demand for the products of exploitative animal agriculture. This is innovation that reduces suffering in a very direct and systematic way.

Some examples:  http://www.vegangmo.com/real-vegan-dairy



4) Animal-free biomedical

Today it is not possible to replace all animal experimentation with non-animal analogues. But there are in silico and in vitro tests. The scientific community is beginning to consider animal ethics, and the 3R rule (reduce, replace, refine) [ii]. Much attention was given to in vitro human tissue alternatives to replace animal testing at the 20th anniversary meeting of the center for alternative methods in the use of animals for toxicology experimentation [iii]. A 2002 report by the House of the Lords Select Committee indicates finding alternatives is imperative because all sides of the debate conclude that animal tests are highly imperfect models [iv]. Over time we hope that we could replace animals of any kind in tests and experiments. So-called “organs-on-chips” are a promising new tool to simulate various human organ functions and effects of experimental treatments. Additionally science is continually eroding the need for animals in pharmaceutical production. Consider, for example, that insulin treatments were historically harvested from cattle and pigs before breakthroughs in genetic engineering made the practice obsolete.

5) Plant-based foods for companion animals

There are few issues as divisive in our community as vegan dog and cat food. Science will change that. Science informs us that non-human animals have specific nutritional needs. Identifying those needs opens the door to the possibility of plant-based foods fortified for specific nutritional profiles. Only the chemical composition of food matters—not the source. Meat-based chemicals like taurine can be synthesized. [v] Science enables us in move forward past barbaric practices like feeding animals to other animals.

6) Crops that prevent the suffering of insects or pests

Many insects and small animals are killed in vegetable and grain production. Without insecticide global food production would decline drastically. Historically, all farming involves some level of suffering. Obviously vegan diets involve less suffering than eating meat because fattening a cow requires cultivation of greater quantities of grains and legumes. This process is highly inefficient in terms of calories and nutrients. Advancement in agriculture and technology are leading to more efficient methods. One example is cultivation in closed greenhouses. These controlled environments preclude problems with pests. Hydroponics are also interesting. Rothamsted Research is developing technology that may someday allow wheat crops to repel aphids by mimicking the insects’ own biochemical alarm system; if successful, this approach could revolutionize our approach to agricultural insect control in favor of a no-kill solution.

7) Improved plant foods

Fortification through genetic modification can improve food through higher nutrient content. Today vegans find plant foods with b12 added. In the future it may not be necessary to fortify plant foods with b12 because they could be biofortified into whole foods. The unprocessed crop itself could already have b12. We can also have the convenience of soy milk with added calcium, which greatly facilitates those people accustomed to acquiring calcium through a glass of milk. The developing world could benefit greatly from crops like Golden Rice. Golden Rice is biofortified with beta carotene and is designed to offer relief to the 250,000-500,000 who go blind and/or die from Vitamin A deficiency each year. Compassionate vegans should need no further explanation for support of such life changing technologies.


We have to leave behind our resentments toward science and work toward understanding it. Science is based on review and improvement of methods and knowledge.

(This article has been translated and updated from it’s original version at Veganismo Racional.)

[i] Madry, E., Lisowska, A., Grebowiec, P., & Walkowiak, J. (2012). The impact of vegan diet on B-12 status in healthy omnivores: Five-year prospective study. Acta Scientiarum Polonorum, Technologia Alimentaria, 11(2), 209–212.)

Craig, W. J. (2009). Health effects of vegan diets. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 89(5), 1627S–1633S. http://doi.org/10.3945/ajcn.2009.26736N

[ii] Doke, S. K., & Dhawale, S. C. (2013). Alternatives to animal testing: A review. Saudi Pharmaceutical Journal, 23(3), 223–229. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.jsps.2013.11.002

[iii] Liebsch, M., Grune, B., Seiler, A., Butzke, D., Oelgeschläger, M., Pirow, R., … Luch, A. (2011). Alternatives to animal testing: Current status and future perspectives. Archives of Toxicology, 85(8), 841–858. http://doi.org/10.1007/s00204-011-0718-x

[iv] http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld200102/ldselect/ldanimal/150/150.pdf

[v] http://www.whathealth.com/taurine/overview.html


juanDJuan Drewjn is an Argentinian vegan and skeptic. More of his writings on veganism and scientific skepticism can be found at Veganismo Racional. His thoughts on art and science can be found at Barder-Zine. Juan is a proud member of the Alliance for Science and the Vegan GMO leadership team.