Hi everyone, this is my first post on this forum. And I'm eager to learn more about ways in which I can reduce suffering in the world.

So regarding my question, Peter Singer's views have had a huge influence on my own ideas regarding ethics, especially in relation to animals. A lecture of his that I saw several years ago convinced me to adopt a vegetarian diet. However, about a few months ago, some uncertainty started to creep in regarding my views related to the welfare of animals, especially in the context of the country I live in, which is Pakistan.

According to Singer, factory farming contributes a great deal to the suffering of the farmed animals, so much so, that, at least in terms of the majority of these animals, their lives are not worth living. Therefore, the abolition of this system would significantly reduce the suffering in the world.

However, according to the Voiceless Animal Cruelty Index (https://vaci.voiceless.org.au/countries/pakistan/), most farm operations in Pakistan are small-scale, and therefore, it seems, that the suffering that is inflicted upon the farmed animals is significantly less than what the animals in factory farms might experience. Now, I do realize that they are still subjected to practices that are detrimental to their well-being, but there is still the possibility that these animals, or the majority of them anyway, have lives worth living. In other words, the good in their lives outweighs the bad.

I understand that it is also important to take greenhouse gas emissions into consideration since animal agriculture is a significant contributor. But, according to Our World in Data's assessment for the year 2022 (https://ourworldindata.org/co2/country/pakistan?country=PAK~OWID_WRL), Pakistan emits only 0.54% of the total global emissions.

Another consideration that might be worth taking into account is the level of poverty in Pakistan. As many as 10.47 million people were living under the International Poverty Line of $2.15 per day in 2018 (https://ourworldindata.org/grapher/total-population-in-extreme-poverty?tab=chart&country=PAK). And many people rely on animal agriculture as a source of income in this country.

Considering this data, do you still think that it would be more ethical to adopt a vegetarian or vegan diet as opposed to a meat-based diet? If so, I would appreciate it if you could go over the reasoning behind that.
 

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Hey DoGooder!

Welcome to the forum! This is indeed a super important, as well complicated question. I don't have a confident opinion, but thought I would point out some potential cruxes that might help you to form a view on this!

  • The specific type of the animal that people are eating is going to be pretty important, see this video for a quick summary as to why. Reading and thinking about moral weights is going to be relevant here too.
  • How would you balance suffering caused to animals vs. reducing poverty by purchasing products vs. harm caused by the emissions of such products. Huh this is a difficult one, perhaps reading "Important Between-Cause Considerations: things every EA should know about" can offer a start into thinking about this.
  • How bad do you think it is if a e.g. chicken is killed if they had a decent life? Reading about population ethics will be relevant here. On specifically the badness of death, I think HLI has a very good article that shows how different theories think about this.

There is probably a bunch of other considerations that don't come to mind at the moment, but hope some of these will be useful!

Also I just wanted to mention that I know a couple of EAs who are originally from Pakisan but live in Hungary, as well as a person living in Pakistan - if you would like to be connected to them ping me a private message! 

Thank you, grego, for the resources. I'll make sure to go through the links and carefully consider the information.

I'll provide some quick thoughts in case no one else answers in a better way.

I don't know anything about farming in Pakistan in particular, but I'd be surprised if there weren't the same welfare issues as elsewhere. E.g., egg-laying hens are probably raised in cages which is very bad for them. So by being vegan, you would save tens or hundreds of animals per year from suffering in expectation. It's particularly important for animal welfare to avoid eating chicken, eggs, some types of fish, and other small animals. 

However, you could potentially help millions of animals by becoming an animal advocate. I don't know about Pakistan in particular, but in most Asian countries animal advocacy movements are very small or non-existent and people who would start such movements and think about cost-effectiveness would be extremely valuable. I see there's an article about it here.

Also, Our World in Data's assessment you cite is about fossil emissions. It mostly depends on industries. It doesn't include cow burps which are a big contributor to climate change. I don't see much reason to think that choosing a vegan option for a meal in Pakistan would have less impact on climate change than doing it in a Western country. But this is not my area so I don't know. 

As per the point about poverty, I'm not sure if there's reason to expect that buying local plant foods would be worse than buying local animal products.

As I understand, chickpeas are a staple product grown in Pakistan, along with rice and millet. I think it would be pretty safe to assume eating hummus would economically support locals as much as eating meat would.

The point about whether the animals have lives worth living is interesting.

Thinking about this, I imagine if I were given the offer that, after I die, (before whatever afterlife or nothingness awaits) I could become a goat on a small farm. I don't think I would accept this offer. I don't think being castrated without anaesthesia or painkillers would be worth an extra ~6 months of life, where someone else who doesn't necessarily care about me has complete domain over me and my wellbeing. It is a very complicated question though.