Veganism is on the face of it an extremely simple moral philosophy. If Animals have feelings, then eating animals is bad. Duh.

Effective Altruists tend to be people who actually take moral arguments at face value rather than ignoring them, and unsurprisingly many effective altruists are vegan.

But effective altruists also tend to be utilitarians, and as such are likely to want to minimise total animal suffering in aggregate, rather than taking the more deontologist view that you personally shouldn't cause suffering by eating animals.

So presumably vegan EAs assume that most farmed animals lives aren't worth living and so better not to eat farmed animals, even though this will cause them never to be raised in the first place.

It seems to me that most wild animals lives are just as terrible as those of farmed animals, especially for the vast majority of animals who give birth to thousands of young of which on average only 2 will ever reach adulthood. Their lives are presumably also not worth living.

As a utilitarian then, it should be far more important to wipe out as many animal habitats as possible rather than avoiding eating a relatively small number of animals by being a vegan.

I'm interested if anyone espouses such negative animal utilitarianism, or if anyone has any responses to it?

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The following is the list of titles in the subsection "Animals" on Essays on Reducing Suffering written by Brian Tomasik.  As you can see, Brian has written a lot about how wild animal habitats and biomass are affected by various things.

Food animals

Wild-animal suffering

Insects and other invertebrates


Welfare biology

Numbers of wild animals

Humanity's impact on wild-animal abundance

Crop cultivation


Cattle grazing

Climate change

Food scraps


The old Star Trek's Prime Directive is a good guideline: don't mess with something you didn't create and can't calculate the effects on. In general, remember the guardrails: any drastic action is bad by default, even if you can't prove how and it looks great to your boundedly rational brain. Utilitarianism together with decompartmentalization are guaranteed to lead you astray, and recognizing your own limitations is the most important lesson of rationality, and also the one we fail the most. Scott A's recent review (and many others before and after) is a good lesson in humbleness. 

Basically, any time you have a bright idea to change the world for the better with some sweeping actions, the odds are exponential in "sweepiness" against the outcome being net positive.

I switched from veganism to eating small amounts of pasture raised meat for these reasons.

The lives of well treated livestock do seem to be a net positive and considerably better on average than those of wild animals. Less stress, less suffering, quick and painless death.

There are some arguments for reforesting/rewilding pasture land, but even if this were done populations of large herbivores still need to be controlled.

One way to do this is reintroduce wolves, which I'm not against, but I still think death by human is the more humane option.

It doesn't many much sense to me to say it's bad for humans to kill and eat animals humanely so instead condemn them to be torn apart by wolves!

Yes, we should drastically change nature's status quo so that lives of wild animals (or any sentient creatures) are filled with positive experiences, worth living, pleasant, eudaimonic, etc... but only once we have enough technological capacity and gears-level understanding of the system we are dealing with. Needless to say, we are far from that. Also, our (i.e. human civilization's) survival and progress still depends on the environment remaining mostly as it is and there is still a lot of useful knowledge to be uncovered from studying it in a relatively nonperturbing way.

I think it's not clear at all that the average animal in the wild has a life of net negative utility, nor do I think it's clear that the average present-day human has a life of net positive utility.

If you compare the two, wild animals probably have more gruesome deaths and starve more, but most of the time they might be happier than the average human since they live in an environment they evolved to live in.

especially for the vast majority of animals who give birth to thousands of young of which on average only 2 will ever reach adulthood

Most animals to which this applies probably don't have the cognitive capacity to be upset by this. It just means that in those species, the vast majority of lives are short and end by being eaten by some other animal. From a human perspective this sounds terrible, but I don't think it's obvious at all that the net utility of these lives is negative (and I just mean the first person experience, not eco-system effects or anything like that).

David Pearce has a plan to genetically engineer wild animals to experience only "gradients of bliss" instead of a pleasure-pain axis, effectively eliminating suffering from their lives, while preserving their outward behavior. You might find his site interesting:

Hey Yair, I would highly suggest reading the Brian Tomasik articles under Lukas Gloor's comment on this. But you may also be interested in articles discussing '[Logic of the Larder]('. Initially when used would suggest cases of farmed animal welfare being directly positive, the farmed animals have a life better than not worth living. However, with time it has also been used to discuss that farmed animal land-use is counter-factually positive for animals on-net.

There have been discussions of the suffering of wild animals. David Pearce discusses this, see one of the other comment threads. Some other starting points:

>As a utilitarian then, it should be far more important to wipe out as many animal habitats as possible rather than avoiding eating a relatively small number of animals by being a vegan.

To utilitarians, there are other considerations in assessing the value of wiping out animal habitats, like the effect of such habitats on global warming.

You're ignoring an important aspect. Humans directly cause the suffering of farmed animals. It could be more important to eliminate the rape and murder humans directly inflict on farmed animals prior to optimizing the wild ecosystem. For example, there could be other negative utility from social technologies/institutions around industrialized animal rape and murder. I see the Holocaust as one such example of what those who rape and murder nonhumans will eventually (and inevitably) do to humans.