AR-FAQ - #59

#59 Don't farmers have to kill pests?

We could simply say that less pests are killed on a vegetarian diet and that killing is not even necessary for pest management, but because the issue is interesting, we answer more fully! This question is similar to question #57 in that the questioner's likely follow-up is to ask why it is acceptable to kill pests for food but not to kill animals for food. It differs from question #57 in that the defense that the killing is incidental is not available because pests are killed intentionally. We can respond to this argument in two ways. First, we can argue that the killing is justifiable, and second, we can argue that it is not necessary and should be avoided. Let's look at these in turn. Our moral systems typically allow for exceptions to the requirement that we not harm others. One major exception is for self-defense. If we are threatened, we have the right to use force to resist the threat. To the extent that pests are a threat to our food supplies, our habitats, or our health, we are justified in defending ourselves. We have the responsibility to use appropriate force, but sometimes this requires action fatal to the threatening creatures. Even if the killing of pests is seen as wrong despite the self-defense argument, we can argue that crop agriculture should be preferred over animal agriculture because it involves the minimization of the required killing of pests (for reasons described in question #57). Possibly overshadowing these moral arguments, however, is the argument that the use of pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, and herbicides is not only not necessary but extremely damaging to the planet, and should therefore be avoided. Let us first look at the issue of necessity, followed by the issue of environmental damage. David Cowles-Hamar writes: "For thousands of years, peoples all over the world have used farming methods based on natural ecosystems where potential pest populations are self-regulating. These ideas are now being explored in organic farming and permaculture." Michael W. Fox writes: "Integrated pest management and better conservation of wilderness areas around crop lands in order to provide natural predators for crop pests are more ecologically sensible alternatives to the continuous use of pesticides." The point is that there are effective alternatives to the agrichemical treadmill. In addition to the agricultural methods described above, many pest problems can be prevented, certainly the most effective approach. For example, some major pest threats are the result of accidental or intentional human introduction of animals into a habitat. We need to be more careful in this regard. Another example is the use of rodenticides. More effective and less harmful to the environment would be an approach that relies on maintenance of clean conditions, plugging of entry holes, and nonlethal trapping followed by release into the wild. The effects of the intensive use of agrichemicals on the environment are very serious. It results in nation-wide ground water pollution. It results in the deaths of beneficial non-target species. The development of resistant strains requires the use of stronger chemicals with resulting more serious effects on the environment. Agrichemicals are generally more highly concentrated in animal products than in vegetables. It is thus enlightened self-interest to eschew animal consumption! Organic farming and related methods eschew agrichemicals in favor of natural, sustainable methods. DG

SEE ALSO: #57-#58