Ethical Profiling Of Vegans, Vegetarians, And Meat-Eaters
It is estimated that between 1-9% of the population in North America and Europe is made up of vegetarians. While there are many reasons to choose a vegetarian lifestyle, ethical considerations are an important factor for many people. Among the general population, there are undoubtedly different ethical guidelines that people follow with regards to animals. This study, published in the journal Anthrozoos, used a large survey to determine how meat-eaters, vegetarians, and vegans differ in the animal ethical theories they follow.
Each survey question asked how the respondent viewed a certain ethical dilemma involving the use of animals, with each answer choice corresponding to one of five ethical perspectives: contractarian, utilitarian, animal rights, relational, and respect for nature. The contractarian view only considers human interest, whereas the utilitarian view considers the interests of both animals (in terms of welfare) and humans but allows for the interests of humans to trump those of animals. The animal rights view considers the interests of animals as equally important as the interests of humans. The relational view emphasizes the human-animal bond. Finally, the respect for nature view emphasizes biodiversity and the environment.
Of the 356 survey respondents, 166 self-reported as meat-eaters, 111 self-reported as vegetarians, and 79 self-reported as vegans. There were 9 survey questions. The authors of the study controlled for factors such as age, gender, nationality, and level of religiousness of the respondents. The authors found significant differences in responses between the three dietary groups. Meat-eaters responded with the animal rights answer choice on an average of 2.14 of the 9 questions, whereas vegetarians responded with the animal rights answer choice on an average of 4.82 questions and vegans responded so on an average of 6.60 questions. The utilitarian answer choice was chosen on an average of 4.39 questions by meat-eaters, 2.65 questions by vegetarians, and 1.43 questions by vegans.
These results show that meat-eaters most commonly use the utilitarian perspective of animal ethics, though the authors note that meat-eaters were more likely to draw on multiple ethical views in answering the survey questions. Vegans were the most consistent in how they answered the questions, drawing on the animal rights position most often. Vegetarians sometimes used animal rights reasoning and other times used utilitarian reasoning.
An interesting finding for the vegetarian group was that the animal rights score did not increase with the number of years the person had been a vegetarian. Additionally, some vegetarians did not choose many animal rights responses at all, which may be because some vegetarians choose their diet for health rather than ethical reasons. For vegans, however, the number of animal rights responses did increase with the number of years the person had been a vegan. The authors note that this may be because vegans with stronger animal rights convictions to begin with are more likely to follow the diet longer. Among meat-eaters, the authors found that those who ate fewer types of meat products were more likely to choose animal rights and relational answer choices.
A future study may want to further examine the role of the relational stance in eating fewer meat products. The authors additionally encourage further studies that use “a larger and more representative sample” and suggest the application of this approach to determine the animal-related ethical stances of other groups of interest. Advocates may use information from studies such as this one to develop more effective strategies for persuading groups of different diets to eat less animal products.[Contributed by Mona Zahir]